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On the first day of summer, Bethany Sinth and Rob Lifton were married in the Clear Springs Rational Deist Meeting Hall. Thaddus Webber presided over the event with aplomb, smoothly cueing the families and the attendants in the performance of their various duties. As a result, no one would have guessed that none of them were familiar with the Rational Deist wedding ceremony.
"Of course Thaddus got them through it," Professor Ildun told Den and Rital at the reception afterwards, over a glass of surprisingly good punch. "He's had a lot of practice. Strictly speaking, there's no such thing as the Rational Deist wedding ceremony. Rational Deists come from many different backgrounds, and like everyone else, we get married for all sorts of reasons. It wouldn't make any sense to try to design one ceremony or one set of vows to fit everyone."
I should have guessed, Den thought.
"As a Rational Deist minister, Thaddus meets with each engaged couple, and helps them design a ceremony that validates their personal decisions to marry," Ildun continued. "The content of the vows to be exchanged is also discussed, until everyone finds a wording they feel comfortable with, and vows they feel are binding. I've often wondered if the unusual stability of Rational Deist marriages is due to this process. So many marriages fail because the couple had never discussed their expectations of each other. The psychological implications..."
"Please excuse us," Rital apologized hurriedly. Like most people who spent any time listening to the professor, the channel's eyes were slightly glazed. "We haven't paid our respects to the groom's family." He grabbed his unresisting Donor's elbow and slipped away through the crowd.
"Thanks," Den muttered.
"You should know better than to get him started," the channel scolded affectionately.
The mother and grandfather of the groom were barely visible to Gen eyes, half hidden behind a rubber plant which had grown too large to remove from the room, however much it clashed with the other decorations. Carla Lifton was crying quietly into a handkerchief. "I can't help it," she told her father as he tried to comfort her. "I just can't feel my boy is properly married after that strange ceremony. It was bad enough when you joined the Deists, but to have my little boy leave the Church and forsake his God, too..." She choked on a sob.
"Give the boy some credit," Mr. Duncan said bracingly. "Just remember, Rob and Bethany only got married in this church because your spineless new minister decided to honor the wishes of the bride's late unlamented uncle, and refused to let them have a Conservative Congregation ceremony. They haven't changed their beliefs in the God of their fathers, any more than I have."
Carla was so startled that she stopped crying. She looked up at her father, reddened eyes wide with hope. "They haven't? You haven't?"
"Carla, my love--" Mr. Duncan said with a smile "--the Rational Deists would never dream of making me accept a concept of god compatible with their own as a condition of joining their congregation. After all, they freely admit that a good third of their membership doesn't believe in any god at all."
"Oh!" Overcome with joy, Carla hugged her father.
Mr. Duncan returned the hug, nodding a greeting to the channel and Donor over her shoulder. When she let him go, he patted her gently. "My faith is as strong as it ever was. Now, why don't you go wash your face? We should be circulating among the guests."
Carla nodded and hastened off to the ladies' room. When she was out of sight, Mr. Duncan turned and winked broadly at Den and Rital. "Of course, my faith never was strong enough that you'd notice," he commented. "I only went to Conservative Congregation services because it meant so much to my late wife."
"There are worse reasons for joining a church," Den assured him.
"I told myself that every Sunday for forty-three years, when I sat next to Tanya listening to some fool like Reverend Sinth spout nonsense," Mr. Duncan said. "She's not around to object anymore, though, so now I can please myself." He fixed Rital with a stern glare. "So, tell me how Flora's really doing. She insists she's just fine, but she's stubborn enough to say that, no matter what."
"Flora's still pretty weak--" the channel admitted "--and it will take time for her to adjust to losing three fingers, but I expect her to make a complete recovery. It helps that she's got a practical attitude towards life, and a good sense of humor."
Mr. Duncan chuckled. "That she does," he agreed. "The last time I visited her, she told me that when she agreed to give a hand with the preparations for the signing, she hadn't meant it so literally." He shook his head in disbelief. "She's quite a woman."
"She is," Den confirmed. The admiring gleam in the old man's eyes showed that his interest in the widowed Flora was more than casual, even if he didn't know it yet. They'd make quite a pair, too, the Donor thought. Though I wouldn't want to get between them when they decide to argue!
When Carla returned, her face freshly washed, Den and Rital excused themselves and sought out Quess and Nerina. Bethany's grandparents were seated discreetly at a somewhat isolated table, where the sight of the channel's retainers wouldn't spoil the appetite of the more timid guests.
"So tell me--" Den inquired when they had exchanged greetings "--it's only three weeks since Rob and Bethany finally decided on this date for their wedding. What deep, dark secrets did you two threaten to reveal, to get permission to come all the way out here on such short notice?"
Quess laughed. "I merely pointed out that Bethany's children are quite likely to be channels if they're Sime, or Donor material if they establish. Either way, it's in the Tecton's best interest to allow us to maintain a close relationship with our granddaughter. Missing her wedding would hardly be the best way to do that."
"Speaking about Bethany's children, Rital--" Nerina said "--I had a long talk on the subject with her and Rob, about the extra risk she'll have in childbirth. When they decide to have children, they'll ask you or Tyvi to monitor the pregnancy. If it's a channel, Bethany has agreed to stay in-Territory until the baby's born." She smiled in relief. "We won't have to lose Bethany to out-Territory medical incompetence, the way we lost Liss."
"And our great-grandchildren will grow up knowing they have a home on our side of the border, if they require one," Quess added with satisfaction. "We may see our daughter's descendants pledge Shaeldor yet."
The bride and groom were with their younger guests, unaware of the plans being made for their future offspring. When Den and Rital sought them out to offer their congratulations, Bethany was showing her new sister-in-law the steps of Nivet Territory's newest dance craze, which was weird enough that even Liren had refused to tackle it at first. Annie was doing a creditable job at imitating the complicated steps, although there were a few places where she came dangerously close to crossing her feet the wrong way and tripping.
No wonder Simes tend to discourage Gens from learning it.
Rob was watching his new wife and sister with a look of infatuated pride. "Sosu Milnan, Hajene Madz," he greeted them. "Want to show us how those steps are supposed to go?"
Rital looked appalled, and Den chuckled. "Maybe later. So tell me, have you two found a place to live yet?"
The young Gen nodded. "We found a nice house in Oak Ridge, much larger than anything we could afford in Clear Springs. Bethany's trust fund made a good down payment, and if we both keep donating, that will cover the mortgage and taxes. I've got enough saved up to support us until we can find work, so we should do pretty well."
"Oak Ridge?" Rital asked. "Isn't that a bit remote?"
Rob shrugged. "It's just about perfect, I'd say: close enough that we can get to Clear Springs whenever we want, and far enough away to discourage unwanted visitors. It's a small town, but we both want to get away from big city hassles. Particularly the ones that come with a Sime Center, if you'll forgive me for saying so. We've spent the past two years living both sides of that fight, and that's enough for anyone."
"Well, you can probably escape that particular conflict in Oak Ridge, at least for a while," Den said noncommittally. "The Oak Ridge Rational Deists seem to have lost interest in hosting mobile Sime Centers. All their efforts are going into that lawsuit against the chemical plant which threw a load of toxic waste into their reservoir."
The young Gen grinned. "I'll bet that company has already fired the manager who scheduled the illegal dump for the first day of trout season!"
When they had fulfilled their social obligations, Den and Rital refilled their glasses with punch and slipped out a side door. They found and occupied a polished wooden bench under a mixed orchard of cherry, peach, and walnut trees. They sat quietly for a few minutes, admiring the brilliant yellows and purples of the pansies which lined the paths of the church's grounds. Their silence was comfortable, the result of having nothing important to discuss at the moment, and no festering differences left unsettled.
Not after yesterday's transfer, Den thought smugly. It was definitely worth the time and effort to bring you around, cousin.
"You know--" Rital remarked at last "--life in Clear Springs is kind of strange, now that we don't have Reverend Sinth and his demonstrators on our front sidewalk every day. It's almost like being in-Territory again."
"I know what you mean," the Donor agreed. "I was almost late for our Collectorium shift two days ago, because I forgot that I couldn't depend on the chanting for a ten-minute warning any more."
They paused to watch a fledgling blue jay make an awkward landing on the path. It scolded them impudently and bent over to peck at one of last year's walnuts.
"I would never have thought Save Our Kids would just give up," the channel said. "Not after they'd devoted so much of their lives to opposing us."
Den shrugged. "They lost in Clear Springs. They couldn't stop people from using the Sime Center, or sending their kids to our changeover classes. When even blatant terrorism didn't prevent them from losing again in Berrysville, well..." He shrugged again.
"The surviving leaders of Save Our Kids claim that turmeric-haired fanatic wasn't one of their members, and they had nothing to do with his criminal actions," Rital reminded his cousin.
"I know," the Donor said. "They could even be telling the truth; the way Reverend Sinth tried to stop him would tend to support that. On the other hand--" Den pointed out "--ever since the Clear Springs Sime Center was first proposed three years ago, Sinth and his crowd have been preaching to anyone who'd listen that Simes and Simelovers have no right to exist, and that any action is justified in the fight against us. When you keep issuing that kind of open invitation to violence, someone's going to take you up on it eventually. It doesn't require a formal conspiracy."
After cocking its head for a closer inspection, the young blue jay decided that the walnut was acceptable. Snatching up its prize, the fledgling fluttered awkwardly into the bushes so that it could eat in safety.
"Whether or not Save Our Kids was involved, they certainly seem to have been judged guilty, as far as public opinion goes," Rital commented.
"What do you expect? They let that unstable paranoid participate in their demonstrations for months, and cheered every threat he uttered. They helped him attack Principal Buchan's truck, and followed him on the riot which destroyed the Clearston City Hall. Some of them were even yelling encouragement when he tried to throw his pipe bomb." Den shook his head. "No, I can certainly understand why Save Our Kids is taking the blame, particularly when there wasn't enough left of the real culprit to identify him. It'll be a long time before Save Our Kids will be welcome in Clear Springs, or in Berrysville, either."
"Still, moving the entire local membership to Clearston seems a rather drastic solution."
The Donor thought for a moment. "It's the only way they can give themselves a future," he decided. "By isolating their community on that farmland Reverend Sinth bought, they can live as if the First Contract never happened."
"I suppose that's true." Rital watched the blue jay eat another walnut, then stood up. "We've been gone long enough," he said, holding out his hand. "People will start to wonder where we are."
"You're right. Besides, the dancing will start soon." Den put his hand in the channel's and let himself be pulled to his feet. "It should be an interesting evening. I understand that in- and out-Territory bands will be playing alternate sets, so that 'everyone will have the opportunity to make fools of themselves trying out unfamiliar things,' as Bethany put it."
As his cousin groaned, the Donor nimbly tried a few steps of the dance Bethany and Annie had been practicing. The fledgling jay was startled into flight, pumping frantically to remain airborne on half-grown feathers.
"You're lucky," Rital complained. "People expect Gens to trip over their own feet, but if we Simes so much as stumble, we're never allowed to live it down."
Den threw back his head and laughed. "Well, cousin, now that Clear Springs has accepted us as part of their community, we'll just have to put up with their strange customs, especially the ones which bring them together to acknowledge their common past and affirm their future. They'll do the same for ours, and complain about the strangeness just as loudly. Maybe our kids and theirs will finally find a way to live together."
"Well, if you put it that way..." Rital mustered a sickly grin. "Let's join the dancing."
The blue jay called triumphantly from its lofty perch. The branch bent under the weight of the bird, the lush summer growth, and the growing, healthy fruit. The cheerful scolding followed the cousins as they returned, side by side, to celebrate the future they had built with their neighbors.
FROM JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG: Don't forget - this is a fanzine novel (I know it doesn't READ like one, but it is) and so therefore you owe the author commentary. If you found someplace where it dragged or you lost interest, tell her. If you couldn't put it down, tell her. She has plans for writing sf in her own original universe. Everything you say about this novel will help insure that you will enjoy her future work even more. If you're not on the Sime~Gen Listserve then you can reach her via AmbrovZeor@aol.com.