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In the end, Quess was forced to concede the location issue, and allow the first part-time Sime Center to be placed in the Berrysville Community Clinic. The Clear Springs Sime Center would send a channel out for two half-days every week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. "Those are the days our Farmer's Market is open--" Mayor Mills explained "--so lots of people come to town."
The next item on the agenda, the Berrysville council's request for an armored room at the clinic, in which changeover victims could be confined until the Clear Springs Sime Center could pick them up, was almost equally problematic. As a condition, Quess insisted that it be staffed by a Third Order Donor during the Clinic's business hours. "There's got to be someone around who can take charge of changeovers, and give at least most kids First Transfer," the diplomat explained to Den. "Otherwise, that crazy Doctor Lennard would try to 'help,' and probably get himself killed for his trouble."
Doctor Lennard was quite happy to have a permanent victim for his incessant questions about in-Territory medicine. However, in return, he wanted relief from paying out-Territory taxes on the Sime Center wing of his building. The tax laws were clear enough when it came to entire pieces of out-Territory property which were declared permanent Sime Territory, like the Clear Springs Sime Center, or to rooms which were temporarily declared Sime Territory so a channel could work without retainers, like the mobile Sime Centers. However, there was no provision for portions of an out-Territory property being given over more or less permanently to in-Territory use, and the negotiations dragged on.
As they reached the end of their second month, Den was assigned a rotation transfer with Nerina. However, he continued to work mainly with Rital, since both she and her husband were required daily in Berrysville. It had been a long time since the Donor had given a transfer to a channel whose normal draw speed and capacity were high enough to kill him, and he found it a humbling experience. Nerina pushed him to his limits and beyond, leaving him violently post while her own need was barely blunted.
And this was three days early for her!
"Thank you," she said dully when she released him. "That was better than I expected. Most Donors couldn't have trusted a strange channel to work with such a small safety margin, particularly so soon after being burned."
As Den fetched her a cup of trin tea, he reflected that it was a bit unusual for him to let go like that with an unknown channel, particularly a Householder. However, he had learned to respect her husband over the winter, and he couldn't see Quess marrying someone untrustworthy.
Or has Rital just been holding back on me for so long that I'm willing to risk anything to feel post again? I'll have to watch that; it could get me into trouble.
It wasn't very reassuring when his cousin whirled to look at him when he was barely ten feet away, with a startled, "Den, I can hardly zlin you!"
Eventually, the tax question was settled, along with the building maintenance and upkeep question, the special hours for holidays question, and the emergency aid mutual assistance question. The decisions were turned over to the secretaries to write up, and both sides declared themselves satisfied with the final version of the agreement.
Doctor Lennard was ecstatic, and immediately began to empty out the back wing of his building. "I don't really require this much space for my patients," he told Den. "I always thought I'd take a partner eventually, but the practice just isn't big enough to justify that. I must say, the rent the Tecton's paying me more than makes up for the loss of space, even if I will have to make sure my coffee doesn't boil when there are Simes around. Now, what are those screens for?" And he went back to making a nuisance of himself, getting in the way of the Tecton staff responsible for installing the necessary shielding and equipment.
The Grand Opening was set for Faith Day, one of the few holidays celebrated on both sides of the border. Like most small towns, Berrysville tended to take full advantage of what little excitement was available. The City Council planned an elaborate ceremony at which the formal agreement would be signed by the appropriate in- and out-Territory officials. It would take place outside, on a raised stage erected on the Community Clinic's side of the town square, so that everyone could watch their elected officials in action. (Council members Viller, Dramlin, and Seebourgin were openly hoping that the sight would be inspirational enough to coax campaign contributions from those present, with which to fund their reelection campaigns in the fall.)
After the ceremonial signing, the stage would become a reviewing stand, from which the dignitaries would be able to observe every exciting detail of the town's annual Faith Day parade. Den had been breathless with anticipation ever since he had read the list of expected marchers proudly printed in the Berrysville Weekly News: two day care centers, the officers of the Small Business Owner's Association, the winner of the annual elementary school spelling bee and her teacher, three fraternal organizations, a real estate agent, nine of this year's brand new luxury tractors (complete with an array of harvesters, cultivators, and other useful attachments), a drama teacher from the middle school who had won a district-wide award for outstanding mentorship, seven assorted clubs for children of various ages, and Mynga Tailor with her prizewinning milk cow. In addition, both the middle and upper school bands would be marching. Apparently, the recent replacement of the upper school's band director had cast doubts on that band's ability to participate. However, after a frantic rehearsal schedule, the young musicians had been able to master several new pieces in time for the occasion.
I can hardly wait to hear them slaughter the Nivet Territory anthem.
The Donor had hoped to attend the Clear Springs festivities instead; the university's band was actually quite good. However, since the Clear Springs Sime Center was to provide the staff for the Berrysville clinic, Rital as local Controller would have to sign the agreement, in addition to Quess and the Berrysville officials. In honor of the occasion, the entire negotiating team and as many members of the Sime Center's regular staff as could be spared would be expected to attend. Den nodded unhappily when he heard the news, and resigned himself to the ordeal. With my luck, that prizewinning milk cow will deposit something odorous right where I'll have to smell it all morning.
The Tecton contingent duly arrived in Berrysville, a formidable collection of six channels and seven Donors, with five Gens and three renSimes to represent the support staff. They discovered to their dismay that they weren't the only Clear Springs residents in attendance. Reverend Sinth and about thirty of his people had decided to take advantage of the law which made any town square a haven for political expression. They were setting up a demonstration on the lawn of the City Hall, directly across from the Community Clinic and the temporary wooden stage in front of it. Despite the cool morning, Sinth was sweating freely, and his eyes had a familiar manic gleam.
He's been getting enough financial contributions to buy melic weed again.
As Mayor Mills bustled forward to greet his in-Territory guests and show them to their places, the preacher was directing his followers as they unfolded a long banner. TREATY SIGNERS ARE GENRUNNING TRAITORS! it screamed in blood-red letters two feet high. A skull and crossbones was artistically rendered at either end of the text. Other signs read Stop the Tecton Takeover, Simelovers don't go to Heaven, and Tentacles are Trouble. Den spotted a familiar turmeric-colored head under a Sime Kissers are Scum sign.
Den nudged Rital and nodded towards the man's heavy backpack, commenting, "From the looks of it, he's brought enough supplies to stay all day."
The channel turned his attention on the demonstrator and frowned. "Whatever's in there, it's too dense for food or water. I can't zlin clearly in this crowd, and through these flecking retainers, but it could be a metal pipe of some sort."
"Shen, I hope they're not planning another riot," Den muttered as the mayor shook hands with Quess.
"I don't think so. None of the others are carrying anything worse than their signs." Rital zlinned the turmeric-haired man again, and added, "I'll have someone keep an eye on that odd-haired fellow after the demonstration breaks up, just in case he decides to try something on his own. The situation here is too explosive not to take precautions."
The Donor nodded his agreement, and the two dropped the subject as Mayor Mills finished pumping Nerina's hand and reached for Rital's.
The demonstrators began to wave their signs in unison and chant, "We'll remember in November!"
The mayor chuckled. "It won't do them a bit of good to remember anything in November," he remarked cheerfully. "Not one of those folks is a Berrysville resident, so they can't vote in our elections."
Indeed, the demonstrators were largely ignored by the crowd of Faith Day celebrants who gathered in the square. It was a jolly group, laughing as they jostled for the best views, then abandoning them to chase after yet another friend they had spotted in the press, calling loud greetings. It appeared that almost all of Berrysville's seven-hundred-plus residents had turned out to watch the official signing and parade.
Mostly the latter, Den suspected. At least, the scattered scraps of conversation he overheard as Mayor Mills escorted them to their places on the stage mentioned various friends or relatives who were marching, and people seemed much more concerned with their view of the parade route than of the platform.
So much for the historical importance of the signing.
The in-Territory guests were to share the stage with the members of the City Council and their families, and various local dignitaries who wished to demonstrate their high standing in the community. Den ended up seated in the second row, between Rital and a weathered, suntanned farmer named Sam Kutchins. Kutchins proudly informed the Donor that he was the current president of the Walnut Marketing Board, and he was certainly dressed for the part. His blue cap had a decorative patch on it, with Berrysville Walnuts embroidered in bold letters. For the benefit of the illiterate, there was an illustration: a life-sized cartoon of a very relaxed walnut, sunbathing in its jogging shoes, sunglasses, and cap.
As Mayor Mills took his place at the podium, chest inflating with pride, Kutchins retrieved a plumply filled, knobby cloth bag from under his chair. It had the same well-tanned walnut logo, but underneath, in smaller letters, was printed the warning, "Packed exclusively for the Walnut Marketing Board, not for resale."
"I always bring a few samples to munch on when I have to attend these events," the farmer confided to Den as he picked apart the stitching at the mouth of the bag with his pocket knife. "It makes listening to long-winded speeches a bit more appetizing. Would you care for some?" Without waiting for an answer, he scooped a double handful of walnuts into the Donor's lap, put the bag in his own, and reached into his coat pocket to pull out a nutcracker.
Den had had to rush through breakfast, so he accepted the nutcracker gratefully. The two began to munch contentedly, passing the nutcracker back and forth, as Mayor Mills leaned forward to speak into the microphone. The crowd quieted until the chanted repetition of "Who's it safer to believe? Scripture says all Simes deceive!" could be heard distinctly.
The mayor turned to glare at a woman in city worker coveralls who was preparing to photograph the event. "Isobel!" he bellowed indignantly, in a voice loud enough to be heard halfway down the block. "I thought you said the sound system was working!"
"Try turning on the microphone," the woman shouted back. "Not that someone with your big mouth requires one, Jon!"
Even some of Sinth's people stopped chanting long enough to laugh. The mayor fumbled with the microphone a moment, then his voice boomed out over the speakers. "Can you hear me now?"
"Yes!" chorused the crowd, and someone added, "That's the problem, Jon. Why don't you turn the sound off again?"
Ignoring the heckler, Mayor Mills gave a dazzling display of his dentist's handiwork, and started his speech again. "First, I'd like to extend a warm welcome to all of you friends and neighbors from Berrysville for gathering here today to celebrate this historic occasion, and to our distinguished guests from across the border who have worked with the City Council so closely, hammering out the details that have allowed us to be the smallest community in the Territory ever to have its own Sime Center, even part time."
The cheers from the audience didn't quite drown out the boos and screams from the demonstrators.
"I'd also like to welcome our other out-of-town visitors in the back," the mayor said with a grin. "The Chamber of Commerce has been telling the City Council for a long time that we ought to do more to increase tourism. I'm glad our efforts in that direction have finally paid off." When the laughter subsided, he continued on a more serious note. "Friends, the signing of this agreement today just may be the most important step in interterritorial relations since the First Contract, which stopped thousands of years of war between Sime and Gen Territories..."
It was obvious that Mayor Mills intended to pontificate for as long as possible, so Den tuned him out. He entertained himself by munching on his walnuts and watching the crowd, which was happily watching him back. Or maybe it's Rital they're watching, he thought, noticing the channel's tension. He placed a discrete hand on his cousin's wrist, just below the retainer. He shouldn't have to cope with a crowd like this when he's in need. The channel relaxed as Den let himself anticipate their transfer, which was scheduled for early afternoon. Maybe this time he'll finally believe that I can keep up with him, no matter what happens.
Den pulled his attention back to Mayor Mills before his frustration could overcome the good his work had done Rital.
"...and so, the signing of this formal agreement between Berrysville and the Tecton, which creates a new kind of Sime Center for small towns like us, will help protect us from Sime attacks. In this sense, we are continuing the work our ancestors did when they formed a similar alliance with the Tecton to halt the Sime raiding parties which used to loot and kill across the Territory. This historic alliance was formalized in the First Contract..."
And indeed, the Donor reflected, those responsible for organizing this circus had gone to great lengths to drive the comparison home. The table on which the document would be signed, when seen from a distance, might have been taken directly from the famous painting of the First Contract's signing, even to the old-fashioned ink well and quill pens on its polished surface. However, from his closer perspective, Den could see that the "inkwell" was made of cardboard, the quill pens looked more than a little motheaten, and the elaborate scrollwork on the table legs was painted, not carved.
They must have stolen the props from the upper school's last Faith Day play.
Still, there were worse ways to spend a morning than sitting idly in the spring sunshine, Sumulo's open yawns notwithstanding. Den was actually a little disappointed when Mayor Mills finally finished summarizing the agreement and asked Quess to come forward and say a few words.
As usual, the older Donor's Tecton uniform was immaculate. Over it, he wore a formal, full-length Shaeldor cape, decorated with the symbols which indicated his House rank. It was quite a barbaric display, and Den saw more than one pair of middle-aged female eyes gleam in appreciation. The rest of the crowd was starting to get a bit restless, however, so the diplomat wisely limited himself to a few sentences.
Then it was Rital's turn to address the audience, and Den hastily shoved his last nut into his pocket as he stood up to Escort the channel. A few hasty brushes disposed of the nutshell fragments clinging to his pants, and by the time the crowd could see him, he was once more the picture of a respectable Tecton Donor.
Rital's remarks were even briefer than Quess's, since the channel was able to zlin his listeners' impatience. He simply introduced himself, congratulated the City Council on their persistent efforts to open a part-time Sime Center in Berrysville, and ended by maintaining his eagerness to get to know the people of Berrysville better as they worked closely together in the future in pursuit of their common goals.
The audience cheered this expression of cooperation. However, the Donor reflected, it's a good thing that they haven't the faintest idea of what a work-starved channel means by such an invitation!
Then, with great ceremony, Quess, Rital, Mayor Mills, and the other members of the Berrysville City Council signed the document. They used fountain pens, Den was glad to note. Historical imitation could be carried too far, and the old-fashioned quills had a tendency to splatter ink all over the page, the writer, and anyone else in the vicinity.
Mayor Mills invited his mother, Flora, "whose informal efforts to bring the Tecton to Berrysville started the process which has given us our new Sime Center," to help him hold up the document, so that everyone could see it. A round of applause swept through the onlookers. As it died down, a man's voice screamed from the back, "You'll burn in Hell for this day's work, you renegade Simelovers! And you can tell the Devil I sent you!"
"My goodness, is that a pipe bomb he's holding?" the mayor yelped. He was too far away for the microphone to pick up his voice, but that made little difference.
Beside Den, Rital stiffened in alarm, and the dignitaries on the platform all sprang to their feet and began milling around like a confused herd of sheep, tripping over their chairs.
The crowd drew away from the speaker with a collective gasp. In the sudden opening, the Donor could see the turmeric-haired man grinning with a wild ecstasy, his eyes gleaming with fanatical conviction. He had set his sign aside, and in his left hand was a lighted candle. The other hand held the thick piece of pipe which Rital had zlinned in his backpack. A short length of fuse dangled from the top of it. His ginger mustache puffed as he laughed with delight.
"It's a bomb, all right!" he cried. "And it's going to give you all a little preview of where you're going to spend eternity!"
"Shen, he means it," Rital muttered in Den's ear.
"Now, mister, just calm down a moment," the mayor rumbled. "There's no reason to hurt anybody." He scanned the crowd until he located Berrysville's finest, one part-time, the other semi-retired, and neither armed with anything more than a baton. He finally found them at the edges of the square, where they had been keeping the crowd out of the parade route. They were much too far away to do anything about the turmeric-haired man.
A quick glance around showed the Donor that Nerina, the most sensitive channel present, was standing at the back of the in-Territory delegation, where the nagers of the other channels, Donors, and staff, not to mention the out-Territory Gens, prevented her from zlinning the situation clearly. Rital, however, had not had time to return to his seat after signing the agreement. The platform on which they were standing was built high enough to give him a relatively clear perception of the terrorist, over the heads of the milling crowd.
It's Rital's call how we respond, then.
Den didn't envy his cousin the task. The Tecton required its channels to protect the lives of out-Territory Gens at all costs. The obvious solution was to have the channels charge the turmeric-haired man and snatch the bomb away. Unfortunately, with so many of the out-Territory Gens to be protected standing between their would-be rescuers and the target, it would be difficult for even an augmenting Sime to push through the crowd before the fuse could be ignited.
"The odds of reaching the fellow in time aren't good, Den," the channel murmured.
"Not to mention that having several augmenting Simes charging through the crowd to attack a fellow Gen would undo all the effort we've put in to convince them that channels are harmless," Den completed the thought.
Eda Seebourgin wasn't waiting for the channel's decision. She tiptoed over to the edge of the platform, making for the steps which would allow her to get off the stage and hide behind the crowd.
"Get back with your traitor friends, Seebourgin, or I'll set this thing off right now!" the turmeric-haired man screamed at her. He waved the candle perilously close to the dangling fuse, and the councilwoman gasped and returned to her place.
"So much for having one of us slip off the back of the stage and get closer," Rital grumbled.
"I don't think even that fellow is enough to prevent a crowd of out-Territory Gens from reacting to a Sime pushing through them," Den consoled him. "He'd spot the disturbance immediately."
The terrorist grinned with pleasure at her obedience, then surveyed the crowd. "Nobody else better move, either," he ordered. The people on the fringes continued to edge cautiously away from the action, but the bulk of the crowd was trapped between their neighbors and the stage, unable to escape while they were being so closely watched.
"I just can't zlin anything to do that won't make things worse," the channel said, clenching his fists in frustration.
I don't want to die, Den thought as he mechanically tried to minimize the effect the chaotic ambient was having on his cousin. If the lunatic threw his bomb onto the stage, one of the channels might be able to catch it and throw it away from the crowd before it exploded, if they could find a clear enough route through the Gens and children huddled on the platform.
On the other hand, if the turmeric-haired man was unable to reach the platform with his missile, and the bomb went off in the crowd, the nageric shock resulting from the simultaneous death or injury of so many Gens might prove fatal to the channels in itself. If flying fragments injured the Donors, like me, there would be no one to treat the channels even if they survived the immediate shock. And Rital, at least, might die of attrition before a replacement Donor could get out here. Nerina had a slightly better chance; she'd come up short after her inadequate transfer with Den, and had taken an early transfer from Quess two days before.
However, a slim chance for survival was better than none. "Signal the channels to run if he makes the decision to throw," Den advised his cousin. "If you can get far enough away, you might be in some condition to do the rest of us some good after that thing goes off."
The channel didn't dignify this suggestion with a response.
The terrorist grinned at the fear on the faces of his intended victims. Slowly, enjoying every moment, he cocked his muscular arm, preparing to throw the bomb toward the assembled dignitaries. As he started to move the candle towards the fuse, several of the Save Our Kids demonstrators started to cheer and chant, "Throw it! Throw it! Throw it!"
Shen! Den felt his cousin's hands grip him, and gently tried to remove them. That idiot won't have a chance to get clear if he tries to haul me with him. He couldn't budge the Sime's hold, and a quick glance around showed that the other channels were being just as stubborn. Even Sumulo had his arm around Kamrin's waist. The Donor knew that abandoning one's Gen to die ran counter to the most basic of Sime instincts, but even so...
What a waste!
Then an authoritative voice rang out from the group of demonstrators on the far side of the square. "I forbid you to do this!" Reverend Sinth commanded.
Rital looked at Den in astonishment. "I wouldn't have thought he would lift a finger to save us," he whispered.
"He can't afford not to," the Donor commented cynically. "If one of his people murders a lot of innocent bystanders as well as us, his whole movement would be discredited."
The channel zlinned the preacher carefully. "Well, whatever his reason, he seems to be sincere about stopping that terrorist."
The turmeric-haired man turned around to face his leader. "But Reverend, the Scriptures are plain," he protested. "All Simes must die."
"The Scriptures say God will reward those who destroy demon Simes, it is true--" Sinth agreed, as he casually walked towards his errant follower "--but there are Gens and even children on that platform. Will you murder them, too?"
"Execute, rather," the bomber corrected, tossing his head defiantly. "They're traitors, who've plotted to deliver their fellow Gens to the Simes."
"Yet the worst sinner may win God's grace through sincere repentance. Will you deny them a chance at salvation?"
"If they want to repent, they'd better do it quickly," the turmeric-haired man threatened. "Bunch of Simelovers." He spat on the ground to show his contempt, then turned back to gloat over his chosen victims again, swinging his bomb back and forth in clear warning.
As the only channel relatively clear of the milling crowd on the stage, Rital had been preparing to take advantage of the terrorist's partial distraction to attack. However, as the man's gaze returned to the platform, the channel had to abort the action.
"Many of the people here came to see the parade," Sinth argued, taking advantage of the turmeric-haired man's turned back to advance a few steps closer.
The only reply was a coolly indifferent shrug. "They arrived early enough to get good places, and we both saw them cheering their elected mayor as that agreement was signed. They're no innocents."
"What about the children?" the preacher demanded, taking three more careful steps. This time, the terrorist glanced back in time to see the advance.
"Stand back!" he screamed, and Sinth slowly obeyed.
But he only took two steps backwards, and they were small ones, Den thought in sudden hope.
"You know Scripture better than I, Reverend. 'The sins of the parents shall be revealed in the changeovers of their children.' With parents like that, I don't think there's any doubt what those kids will become. What does it matter if they die now or later, perhaps after they've killed someone?"
"I follow a higher law, God's law, as you claim to do!" the turmeric-haired man screamed. "They are Genrunners; we both agree on that." He waved the hand holding the bomb at the banner the preacher had brought. "One who truly believes must act on his convictions. By God's law as you have taught it to me, death is the only just penalty for those traitors! And may their deaths send a clear message to all Simeloving scum!" He held up his candle, preparing to light the dangling fuse.
"Shen, Sinth is almost close enough to jump the terrorist, but not while the fellow's paying attention," Rital complained.
The tension was almost unbearable. Den put his hands in his pockets to hide their shaking, and discovered a round, hard object. Pulling it out, he grinned.
"So distract the lorsh," he suggested, holding up the walnut.
Rital snatched the nut from his Donor's hand and sent it on its way in a burst of augmentation. The missile sped to its target with unerring precision. With poetic justice, it caught the turmeric-haired man on the cheek just as he turned his head to check that none of his intended victims was sneaking up to ambush him from behind. The walnut didn't have enough mass to cause a serious injury, but the terrorist yelped indignantly at the sting. He scanned the closest parts of the crowd, trying to locate the source of the attack.
That was enough to provide the opening Sinth required to make his move. "I forbid you to do this!" the preacher bellowed again, triumphantly closing his fist over the hand which held the bomb. "I'll not have you destroying support for my holy mission with such ill-advised destruction!" The two men wrestled for possession of the device. "You have no right..."
The turmeric-haired man suddenly screamed, and with good reason. In his effort to win back control of the bomb, he had forgotten the lighted candle which he still held in his other hand. During the struggle, candle flame and fuse had managed to come in contact with one another.
Several men who had started forward to help Sinth subdue the terrorist jumped back, shouting urgently for the crowd to "Get down!" The turmeric-haired man desperately tried to throw or drop the bomb before it exploded, but the preacher's melic-enhanced grip kept his hand firmly clamped to it. In his drug-induced singlemindedness, Den doubted that Sinth had even noticed the sputtering fuse.
Den's own view of the fuse was abruptly replaced with a close-up of a wooden plank, as Rital unceremoniously shoved him to the floor with augmented strength and speed. The Donor grunted as his cousin's full weight landed on his back, forcing the air out of his lungs. Before he could draw breath to complain, the pipe bomb exploded.
It wasn't a very loud bang. The screams which followed, as hot pieces of metal hit living targets, were much louder. Particularly the one in his ear. "Did you get hit, Rital?" Den asked as his cousin rolled off him, limp with shock. The Donor sat up carefully. When the movement didn't hurt, he decided that he wasn't injured and concentrated on blocking the ambient nager from the channel's perception.
"Thanks," Rital muttered, relaxing a little. "None of the fragments hit me, but this ambient is hellish. Is any of that pain yours?"
"I'm fine," the Donor reassured him. "Although I think I've got a splinter in my nose." He gingerly rubbed the appendage in question.
Unable to zlin with diagnostic precision through the retainers, and not really willing to brave the chaotic, pain-filled ambient anyway, the channel leaned closer for a visual inspection. "It's just skinned a bit," he said. Finally convinced his Donor was safe, unharmed, and able to give transfer, Rital was able to turn his attention to evaluating the other casualties. Den followed his cousin's example.
One glance at the half-charred red lumps lying on the blackened pavement in the middle of the town square told him that both Reverend Sinth and his turmeric-haired follower were beyond the help of even the most talented channel. Indeed, it might take some inspired guesswork to determine which pieces belonged to which corpse.
Fortunately, that's not my job, Den thought, fighting down nausea as he turned away quickly. There were plenty of living victims of the blast, and he couldn't help Rital with them if he was losing his breakfast. Not to mention those walnuts...
It appeared that Sinth and the turmeric-haired man had absorbed the worst of the blast. Many of the Berrysville residents who had been gathered in front of the platform had obeyed the warnings of Reverend Sinth's would-be helpers. Those who had crouched down before the blast, placing children behind them for protection and shielding their heads with their arms, had mostly light injuries. Even those who had not responded in time were conscious and alert enough to complain loudly about their pain.
With the magnitude of the emergency clear even to Gen eyes, Den checked his colleagues to determine the available resources for dealing with it. The other channels appeared to have followed Rital's example and protected their Donors from injury with their own bodies. The renSimes had done the same for the Gen attendants. A few of the Simes had minor cuts or bruises, but Den saw nothing which would prevent them from working.
The only real casualty among the in-Territory delegation appeared to be Quess. Not only had the senior Donor been in the more exposed front rank, but Nerina had stayed behind when he came forward to sign the agreement, and thus had been unable to shield her husband. The diplomat was seated on the absurd "First Contract" table, his face pale. The lower half of his formal Shaeldor cape had bright red patches on it, and his wife was examining a gash in his left thigh. She couldn't control the bleeding properly with retainers on, of course, but the older Donor didn't look like he was in immediate danger.
Nerina can handle it herself, once she gets him inside, Den decided. Though it's lucky we equipped the part-time Sime Center's changeover ward to care for trauma emergencies.
Rital had come to the same conclusion, as the channel was looking around for a patient of his own.
Preferably one who will consent to being treated by a Sime, the Donor qualified.
The channel didn't have to look very far, because Flora Mills was swaying on her feet, bending over her left hand, and blood was spurting onto the platform beside her.
"Mother!" her son called, and reached to catch her as she crumpled without a sound. He spluttered as a splash of blood caught him in the face.
Rital was at Flora's other side in a flash of augmentation, with Den half a second behind. They lowered the unconscious woman safely to the stage, then Mayor Mills jumped to his feet again and began yelling loudly for someone to fetch a medical team quickly.
What does he think we are, Den wondered indignantly, a pair of plumbers?
The Tecton allowed some kinds of emergency first aid to be provided without consent, if necessary to preserve a life. The channel grabbed Flora's left wrist and squeezed hard. The spurting blood slowed to a trickle, and the Donor saw that most of the woman's left hand was missing, along with three of her fingers. He put his hand on his cousin's shoulder, knowing that between the ambient and his retainers, the channel was helpless to apply a backfield and stop the bleeding properly.
"We could save her easily in-Territory--" Rital muttered "--but I can't take an out-Territory Gen into our half of the clinic for treatment without her consent, or the permission of her next of kin." The channel was tense with the shock of feeling so much pain and death. He needed to heal some of it, and if anyone in Berrysville had earned that healing, it was Flora Mills.
Before the Donor could get Mayor Mills' attention and ask for permission to take his mother inside for treatment, they were interrupted.
"Damn, that looks nasty!" an all-too-familiar voice swore in English. A black physician's bag landed on the stage with a solid thunk, and Doctor Lennard knelt on Flora's other side. "Looks like she's going into shock," he continued. "I'm sure glad you channels are here; I'd have a hard time taking care of all these folks by myself."
Mayor Mills had been staring in horror at his mother's waxy pale face, as his fellow City Councilors gathered behind him with sympathetic expressions. However, when he heard the young physician's remark, the mayor straightened with a jerk. "That's right!" His sudden hope would have been comical in another situation. "We've got an emergency assistance arrangement with the Tecton, so we don't have to wait for help to come from Clear Springs."
"Point of order," Mont Viller objected, holding up the blood-spattered agreement and pointing to the relevant section. "Paragraph thirty-seven here says emergency assistance can't be supplied by the Tecton until requested by an official action of the City Council."
"An official action?" the mayor repeated enthusiastically. "Nothing simpler!" He gestured for his colleagues to come closer. "This meeting of the Berrysville City Council will now come to order," he said rapidly. "I move that we dispense with reading the minutes, the treasurer's report, old business, and all that other nonsense."
"Seconded!" Jules Tansky called.
"All in favor?"
"Aye!" the rest of the councilors chorused.
"Good," Mayor Mills said. "I hereby move that the City Council officially request emergency medical assistance from the Tecton, as represented by Hajene Madz here and his friends."
"Seconded!" Tansky called again.
"All in favor?"
"Aye!" the others repeated.
"Passed unanimously," the mayor declared with satisfaction. "Meeting adjourned, and I wish they were all that short." He turned back to Rital. "You got your official request, Hajene. Now get busy and help my mother!"
Rital nodded sharply and scooped up his patient. He made a beeline for the Community Clinic and its insulated Sime Center wing, directing the other channels and their Donors to follow with a few clipped words. Since Nerina had long since carried Quess inside to treat his injury, there was no one of sufficient rank to dispute Rital's orders.
Not that many channels would turn down a chance to do something after they've been working minimal shifts for so long.
Den paused long enough to issue his own orders, directing the one unpaired Donor, a TN-3 named Dontha, to get the non-technical staff organized to deal with the emergency. Then he sprinted after his cousin, who was almost out of sight. By the time he caught up, Rital had already installed Flora on the changeover ward's treatment bed, and was struggling with his retainers.
"Here, let me help you with those," Den offered. With the skill born of long practice, he carefully but quickly slipped the heavy manacles off of his cousin's need-swollen forearms. The channel grunted with relief, and extended his laterals over the ruined hand to apply a backfield.
The Donor slipped automatically into support mode. A moment later, he remembered that he didn't dare trust his habits, and brought his attention sharply back to his field control. However, he discovered to his surprise and joy that his long struggle against his outdated reflexes had been won. His automatic response had been the proper one.
With a broad grin, Den stopped paying attention to the configuration of his fields and let instinct take over. Instead, he watched Rital work on the shredded hand. By anticipating the minute shifts in the channel's field as he shifted his focused concentration from one patch of pulped tissue to the next, the Donor was able to respond as they occurred, instead of half a beat behind.
"Keep that up, and I'll be able to save most of what's left of this hand, before I have to bring Flora out of shock or lose her," Rital remarked with surprised pleasure.
When the channel was satisfied that the blood clots sealing the damaged hand would hold, he moved his laterals to the back of Flora's neck and concentrated on raising her blood pressure. Her clammy skin warmed slightly as her circulation improved, but she didn't regain consciousness.
"Shen, I was afraid of that," Rital said, his tentacles knotting in frustration. "It isn't just shock keeping her unconscious. She's lost so much blood her entire circulatory system is on the edge of collapse."
"If she dies under our care, there's going to be trouble," the Donor pointed out unnecessarily.
"I know. The only thing that's keeping her alive at the moment is her response to my need." The channel glanced up at the Donor and grinned wryly. "Don't worry, Den. I won't tell her or any of the other out-Territory Gens about that part of it."
"Good--" Den said "--because it sounds like Doctor Lennard's making that fuss out in the hall."
"You might as well let him in for a few minutes, before he breaks down the door," Rital said with a sigh. "If nothing else, that will give us a witness to prove that Flora's survived this long. He's lowfield, and with you to block his nager, I can manage to keep supporting her."
"Your folks out there seem to have everything under control, so I thought I'd check how you're doing with Miz Mills," the doctor explained when Den let him in. "Besides, the mayor's busy pacing holes in my carpets, and I just replaced them." When the out-Territory physician saw their patient, his jaw dropped. "That's amazing!" he crowed, dancing a little jig.
"She's not out of danger yet," Den warned. Quickly, he explained his cousin's diagnosis. "She'll require a channel's support for quite a while, until she's replaced some of the blood she lost," he finished.
"Low blood volume?" Doctor Lennard repeated. "Why, that's not a problem." He poked his head out the door and yelled a string on incomprehensible orders. "I'd've suggested a transfusion outside--" he told Den with the look of a hurt puppy "--but I didn't know you could stop the bleeding so fast, and it wouldn't have done any good to pump blood into her when she was pumping it out again twice as quickly."
When he finally realized what Doctor Lennard was proposing, Den swallowed hastily, fighting not to let his disgust interfere with the support he was providing Rital. He had heard rumors of the gruesome out-Territory habit of treating excessive bleeding with infusions of selyn-dead blood, dripped directly into the poor victim's veins. However, such casual mention of the practice was unsettling.
Rital won't be able to help Flora or anyone else if his Donor is throwing up all over the floor, he reminded himself sharply. Though from the look of him, the channel was busy fighting his own reaction to the prospect.
Doctor Lennard's nurse arrived promptly with a collection of needles and tubes which would have done a torturer proud. She set to work with professional dispatch, ignoring Den and even Rital completely. The sight of the woman calmly stabbing their patient's uninjured arm with her needle was worse than Den had imagined, but at least Flora was unconscious and unable to feel it. However, after half of the little bag had been emptied into her, he had to admit that the dead blood seemed to be doing their patient some good.
Although I don't think anyone on our side of the border had this sort of thing in mind when they approved that "mutual aid in emergencies" clause of the agreement.
With Flora out of immediate danger, there was time to check on the other victims of the bombing. While they had been occupied, Dontha had been directing the mixed Clear Springs and Interterritorial Affairs team as they rapidly sorted the patients according to the severity of their injuries. Those who would have to wait were being provided with ice, sterile pads to discourage bleeding, and other stopgap measures to tide them over until they could be treated.
Unfortunately, the three out-Territory nurses had a slightly different idea of which patients should be seen first, and what should be done with the rest. "They're obsessed with shock--" Dontha complained "--but they keep trying to just bandage cuts and punctures and send them home without having them healed."
Many of the less severely injured casualties had concluded that they were in for a long wait if they insisted on seeing Doctor Lennard. A few of them had accepted the urgings of the in-Territory staff, and agreed to be treated by a channel. When these initial patients emerged unscathed, others followed, particularly when they learned that the channels would heal them for free. Even Sumulo had pitched in with a will, and with weeks of near-total inactivity to inspire him to behave properly, the young channel had managed not to scare any of his patients too badly.
The Sime Center wing of the Community Clinic had never been intended for so many channels and their patients, so the in-Territory staff had been forced to spread out into the rest of the building. The groans and complaints of the casualties mixed with the bilingual babble of the clinic's interterritorial staff, as the in-Territory personnel tried to make sense of the strange patient evaluation forms used by Doctor Lennard's three nurses, and the equally strange devices they used to gather the information on them. The channels were fast running out of the emergency supplies with which the part-time Sime Center had been stocked, and the search for replacements was leading to some creative substitutions.
Den and Rital took over one of the insulated collecting rooms and pitched in, seeing an endless stream of burns, cuts, and punctures, with an occasional sprain thrown in for variety. None of the injuries was particularly severe, but the out-Territory Gens required endless coaxing and reassurance before they could relax enough for the channel to work on them.
It's just as well that most of them haven't the faintest idea what that transfer lounge is for, the Donor concluded. They'd never let Rital lay a tentacle tip on them.
After an hour and a half of steady work, Den insisted that his cousin take a short rest. "The Seconds and Thirds have already had several," he pointed out.
The channel agreed, but after the Donor had installed him in the break room with a cup of tea, he sent Den to discover Quess's condition. "I saw Nerina working, so he can't be in any real danger, but I'd like a more detailed report."
Den finally found Quess lying on a cot in the back room of Doctor Lennard's office. The older Donor's bandaged leg had been elevated with several folded blankets, and his ruined trousers had been replaced with an elderly pair of wrinkled, pea green sweatpants scrounged from some cabinet. It was hardly up to the diplomat's usual sartorial standards, and Den had to suppress a smile at the incongruous sight.
"Sosu Den, come in," the older Donor invited, his voice slightly slurred from the drug he had taken to prevent his pain from disrupting the ambient too badly. "Nerina tells me that this will heal properly in time," he said, nodding at his injured leg. "I'll be limping for a while, of course, but I should be able to give her transfer next month as scheduled."
"Rital will be relieved to hear that," Den commented. "Finding an emergency replacement for a high-rated First Order Donor isn't easy at any time; just after the holidays, it's next to impossible."
One of the remaining casualties gave a yelp of pain, quickly soothed by a professional reassurance.
"I understand that a surprising number of the locals have decided to ask us for help," Quess remarked after a moment. "You realize, I hope, that the agreement signed today won't become binding until it's ratified, so this entire 'emergency aid' effort is on rather shaky legal ground. However, judging by the results, it appears that your cousin's decision to honor the City Council's petition was the correct one."
"I'm a little surprised to hear you say that," Den admitted. "There's a reason that a treaty doesn't become binding until it's been approved by both governments. The extra scrutiny provided by the ratification process provides a lot of the stability that makes interterritorial cooperation possible. After the way you threatened to take away my out-Territory license a year ago, just because you thought I'd cut a few corners dealing with Save Our Kids, I'd have thought you'd insist regulations be followed to the letter."
"I suppose I deserved that," the older Donor said with a wry smile. "It may surprise you to hear this, Den, but there have been plenty of times when I've done things which weren't precisely by the book. The trick is to have the good judgment to know when it's appropriate to ignore the rules." He inspected the younger Donor closely. "Last year, you didn't have that judgment. You were taking crazy chances just for the fun of it, and making trouble for everyone as a result. Now, I think perhaps you've gained the maturity to know when to follow the regulations and when to ignore them."
"Thanks," Den muttered, "I think," and went to rejoin his cousin.
Most of the day had passed before all of the casualties had finally been treated, even those followers of the late Reverend Sinth who had insisted on waiting until Doctor Lennard could take care of them. Thanks to the blood and Rital's nageric support, Flora had recovered an astonishing amount of strength. Just as the sun was setting, she regained consciousness long enough to swallow a few sips of water. After that, Den insisted that his cousin let Nerina take over the vigil for a while.
With the promise of a cup of trin tea, he lured his channel into the now empty changeover treatment room and shut the door. Despite his active need, Rital relaxed a bit as the newly-installed heavy insulation cut off all fields but his own and his Donor's. He accepted the mug of tea Den handed him and sipped at it gratefully.
"Shen, what a day!" he groaned, extending his handling tentacles to relieve the pressure on his swollen ronaplin glands. He moaned with pleasure as Den massaged the tension from his shoulders, then stiffened as the Donor began to work down his arms. "Don't, Den," he warned. "I'm raising enough intil already, and it's a long way back to Clear Springs."
"Why wait?" the Donor asked, continuing his ministrations. "This room isn't quite as elegantly furnished as our usual transfer suite, but it'll do in a pinch, and you're already four hours overdue for transfer."
"Believe me, I know that." Rital edged away from the Donor, although to Den's practiced eye, he wasn't trying very hard to escape. "My need is all that let me save what's left of Flora's hand..."
"But there's nothing more you can do for her now," Den interrupted. "Nerina is quite capable of offering all the support Flora requires. The waiting room is clear, and even Quess is sleeping peacefully. You've taken care of all your responsibilities to your patients, cousin. Now it's time to look after yourself. And me," he added, insinuating his hands between his cousin's tentacles.
"My control isn't very good just now," Rital objected weakly, but his laterals were already extending.
"Good," the Donor said. "You don't require it. Didn't you read Nerina's report on our transfer? If we went into test just now, I might well come out with a rating a few points higher than your own."
Den looked the channel in the eye. "Fair warning, cousin," he said. "If I catch you holding back on me this time, even a little bit, I'm going to grab control so fast it'll make your head spin. So behave yourself!"
Rital tried to draw slowly despite this admonition, but it had been months since the channel's last good transfer, and the events of the day had taken a heavy toll. The Donor found himself feeling, as never before, exactly what speed the channel craved--and how far below it they were.
He adjusted his resistance, speeding the flow slightly, and met his cousin's need with his own long-frustrated desire, taunting the channel and daring him to draw even faster. He felt the moment Rital gave in to Sime instinct.
The flow jumped to the speed his cousin had used on that day, months before, when the channel had last dared to seek full satisfaction from Den, and scorched him in the process. However, this time, the Donor found himself able to meet the demand easily, sending shivers of joy through them both.
At long last, Rital was forced to concede that he couldn't accept one more dynopter. He dismantled the contact reluctantly, staring at Den in disbelief.
The Donor grinned. "Remind me to threaten you more often."
Proceed to Chapter 17 - the Ending!