You hold in your hands the product of several years work by two of the most dedicated and talented writers in Sime/Gen fandom and you won't know the extent of their accomplishments until you read what they turn out after these novels.
"A Shift of Means" is a novel connected to Mary Lou Mendum's novellas previously published in Ambrov Zeor. "A Change of Mind and Heart" in AZ #19 and "A Legacy of Trust" in AZ #22. She also has a Sime/Gen mystery, "The Problem of the Pilfered Pen", in AZ #24 using different characters not connected to the other stories.
"My Life is My Own" is the final fruition of Cherri Muñoz's first story idea in Sime/Gen, though to learn to write well enough to write it, she had to join a writer's circle and publish a number of items in TV spinoff fandoms. It took years. She learned an entire profession to bring this story to you.
SHIFT is set in one small Gen-Territory town where the Tecton has just begun to penetrate. LIFE is set in another very similar Gen-Territory town with a brand new Sime Center and Sime presence in town. SHIFT is set in a town with a university surrounded by farms and other very tiny towns. LIFE is set farther from intellectual centers and peopled with workaday folks who just want to be left alone to raise their families in peace-and murder their Sime children in peace-until the Mayor of the town defies the town council to contract with the Tecton for a Sime Center (for economic reasons more than for idealistic ones).
These two towns, invented independently by these two writers are so similar that when they began discussing it they realized the towns couldn't be very far from each other. They are even set at about the same point in history-and the main characters are contemporaries.
In future books, it turns out, these characters will cross paths and interact in such a way as to affect their lives and possibly S/G history.
Both of these novels are written by and for fans-that is for those who have read a couple of the professionally published novels and have an idea of what the world background is. The authors have taken pains to remind readers of some of the more obscure points of background but not to over-burden the story with explanations of things you already know.
The joy of reading such fiction free of laborious explanations is-to me-incomparable and I'm proud and delighted to be able to share this with you all.
I have read each of these novels several times in various drafts, (each time eagerly, too!) and spent more time making extensive handwritten commentaries in the margins and on the backs of ms pages than it would have taken me to write the novels myself. I did that to challenge the authors to exceed their own personal bests as craftswomen. And they did it. Both of them. Not only did they exceed their own prior bests, not only did they turn out well crafted "good reads" they worked even harder to make each of these books hue to the very intricate and technical Sime/Gen background as I see it.
The result is two totally unrelated novels, each about different aspects of life in the Sime/Gen universe, which have the same delicious feel to them. Genuine Sime/Gen; Genuine s/f; Genuine Art.
SHIFT has a more s/f feel to it because it has a scientific thesis at the core of the novel concept. It will teach you about social dynamics in a painless and even humorous way. And I think you'll come away from reading this novel with the feeling that you've made two new friends from in-Territory.
"My Life is My Own" stands more on the fantasy side of the formula, telling a totally character-generated and character/relationship driven story. It is great art because it delves into the life-stage process of growing up, and does it with unfailing honesty and warmth. It is great science fiction because it tells the story of an out-Territory born Gen youth grabbing control of his own life in a universe where that simple act is fraught with complex, alien, significance and hampered by unfair laws and restrictions upon which the entire, fragile new social order depends. No Sime may step over the line and interfere between an out-Territory Gen parent and his/her Gen child-not even when that child will be crippled for life by the parent's ignorance and prejudice.
Each of these novels focuses on ordinary people in this universe-people whose acts, lives, and destinies won't be recorded in the history books, people who won't make World News Headlines regularly, people like you and me, people who don't seem to "count" in the scheme of things, but for the sake of whom the "scheme of things" exists.
Both of these unique and independent books give us the full range and intensity of Sime/Gen drama the way I had originally intended to write it-before I learned some very harsh lessons about "the world out there."
The professional s/f field will not publish novels such as these, even if the backgrounding were fully realized, because they are not action-adventure and don't fit the sf formula. Yet as far as I personally am concerned, these two novels (and the previous two novels Ambrov Zeor/Companion in Zeor brought to you-Icy Nager by Andrea Alton and Jacqueline Lichtenberg and The Only Good Sime by Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer and Jacqueline Lichtenberg-are far better than most of what's available on the stands today.
The zeal that Mary Lou Mendum and Cherri Muñoz have brought to the writing of these novels inspired me to make a serious try at introducing this style of s/f into the professional market place with the writing of Boxmaster's Home. Only the ensuing decades will reveal the results of that. For now, fanzines and the Web are an alternative source of really good fiction. Enjoy.
The walnuts in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to actual walnuts, living or dead, is solely the result of the author's deranged imagination.
If You apprechiate Mary Lou Mendum's writing and want more, tell her so with this handy form. tell her so with this handy form.
It happened like this.
I fulfilled a long-standing ambition in 1994 by completing my apprenticeship and becoming a full-fledged Mad Scientist. I managed to beat the recession and land a postdoctoral researcher position in the Pomology Department of the University of California, Davis, just outside Sacramento. Pomology is the study of fruits and nuts, which are particularly abundant in the Sacramento area, as anyone familiar with the California State Legislature knows. For the past two years, I have been running the genetic engineering portion of the nation's only plant breeding program for walnuts.
Several Sime/Gen fans who liked my earlier work published in Ambrov Zeor expressed opinions that making high-tech trees was a rather strange occupation for a writer. There were even a few derogatory remarks about walnuts! I found myself wishing to spread a proper appreciation for my research organism of choice.
However, I would like to make one point clear. Any allusions to walnuts which may have found their way onto these pages were inspired solely by the plant's many culinary, craft, aesthetic, and military applications, and have nothing to do with any grant proposals submitted to the California Walnut Marketing Board or the United States Department of Agriculture.
"This town isn't a decent place to raise children any more!" the Reverend Jermiah Sinth's resonant voice proclaimed. "Not when a Simekissing traitor like you thinks he can bring his slimy friend into what used to be a respectable school!" The preacher's dark, bushy eyebrows lowered like thunderclouds on the horizon of his domed forehead, and the sleeves of his long black cassock fluttered impressively as he pointed an accusatory finger.
Sosu Den Milnan controlled his temper with difficulty, wishing his own brown hair and Sime Center uniform looked half so impressive. He had hoped to slip his cousin, Hajene Rital Madz, into the Southside Upper School without being confronted by Reverend Sinth. After all, the preacher's main mission in life was to prevent local Gens from entering the Sime Center to donate. Harassing parents outside of the school was a new development. Though I should have known better, the Donor thought grimly. That lorsh never misses a chance to cause trouble.
Sinth and some of the more dedicated members of his anti-Sime group, Save Our Kids, had even spent six months confined to the in-Territory Valzor City jail, after they had staged a blockade on the Sime Center's property. However, the enforced life of meditation didn't seem to have dimmed their enthusiasm for ridding Clear Springs of Sime influence. On the contrary, just three weeks after their leaders' release from prison, the Save Our Kids membership was out in force, pressing copies of Sinth's most recent pamphlet, The Tecton Conspiracy, into the hands of all the parents entering the building. As they worked, they waved STOP THE CLASSES and Parents for Sime-Free Schools signs. However, when they saw just whom their leader was confronting, one by one the anti-Sime demonstrators stopped distributing pamphlets and drifted closer, glaring at Den and the channel by his side.
Rital moved a half step closer to Den, using the Donor's field to block the hate-filled ambient. Den placed a surreptitious hand on his cousin's left arm, just above the gleaming retainer, as the channel answered Sinth with quiet dignity. "We are attending this public hearing at the invitation of Principal Buchan and the members of the school board's duly appointed Curriculum Committee. They wish us to provide Clear Springs parents with accurate information on the proposed after-school changeover classes."
The assembled anti-Sime activists muttered angrily at this pointed reference to the imaginative contents of their pamphlets. When the channel politely requested, "Please step aside," the mutter turned into a collective growl.
At the sound, Sinth's eyes took on an all too familiar manic gleam. In combination with the crushed-tomato-leaf scent of the sweat pouring down the clergyman's face, which was far out of proportion to the relatively mild, late summer evening, this allowed the Donor to make an unpleasant diagnosis.
He's been chewing melic again. The dried leaves and seeds of melic weed contained an interesting collection of psychoactive compounds which produced a powerful and addictive high in Gens, during which the user felt invincible. There were also some unique toxic side effects which afflicted those who indulged frequently.
It was the short-term effects of the drug which concerned Den at the moment, though. Sinth was a very charismatic leader, and his followers weren't in the habit of questioning his orders. If his delusions of invincibility caused him to do something stupid, such as ordering an attack on the in-Territory pair, his flock would probably obey. Since Rital was wearing legal retainers, the out-Territory authorities might bestir themselves to punish the perpetrators of such an attack, but that wouldn't do its victims much good.
Fortunately, Sinth's anti-Tecton demonstrators weren't the only group of activists around. A contingent of pro-Tecton counterdemonstrators was lurking beside the concrete walk which led to the school's main entrance. A row of black walnut trees lined the walk, casting patches of shade and a liberal sprinkling of dropped fruit onto the sidewalk. The counterdemonstrators ignored the well-trampled mess underfoot as they diligently passed out Knowledge is Necessary buttons and Changeover Classes: the Facts in Brief information sheets to any parent who could be talked into accepting them.
Most of the counterdemonstrators were college student members of the Organization for Legal Disruption of Save Our Kids' Strategies, familiarly known as OLD SOKS. Den couldn't fully approve of OLD SOKS' habit of serenading Save Our Kids with the most obscene ballads they could find, especially given their collective lack of musical talent. He also felt that the group's creative incorporation of well-used hosiery into their outfits left something to be desired as a fashion statement. However, the Donor had to admit that without OLD SOKS' willingness to escort people through Save Our Kids' demonstrations, day after day, the Clear Springs Sime Center would have attracted few, if any, general class donors. Den was willing to overlook minor details like a total lack of good taste in an out-Territory group which was so willing to help the Sime Center's staff out of difficult situations.
Like this one.
Reverend Sinth and his followers had ignored Rital's calm request for passage. Instead, the preacher had launched into an impromptu sermon on the evil nature of Simes, and the physical and spiritual damage incurred by those who conspired with "the foul and despicable minions of Hell" to destroy the sacred purity of Gen civilization.
His followers were hanging onto every word, nodding in time to his rantings, with the sole exception of his niece, Bethany. A pretty Gen of fifteen with long, dark hair, she was dressed in the exacting standards of modesty and cleanliness which her uncle and guardian's faith demanded of youngsters her age. She looked faintly disgusted when the preacher temporarily forgot that he wasn't in front of the Sime Center, and lapsed into his favorite diatribe on the horrors of donating.
Unlike her uncle, Bethany actually knew what donating was like, since she'd done it herself, both at the Clear Springs Sime Center and while she had been jailed in Valzor with her uncle and twenty-five other Save Our Kids members. Twenty of her fellow out-Territory convicts had also yielded to the contempt of the in-Territory inmates (not to mention the threat of solitary confinement if they remained high field) and agreed to give selyn, although they had insisted on donating to Rital rather than to the sour, humorless channel who ran the prison infirmary. However, none of these Gens had had the nerve to confess their sin to their leader, and the experience didn't seem to have changed their attitudes towards Rital to any appreciable extent.
As the sleeves of Reverend Sinth's cassock snapped with the force of his gyrating arms, Den managed to catch the eye of Annie Lifton, one of the more enthusiastic members of OLD SOKS. When she saw the Donor's plight, Annie grinned at the prospect of some action, the gesture puckering the thin white scar on her left cheek. She tightened the tattered grey kneesock she wore as an armband, then bent to whisper in the ear of OLD SOKS' official Subversive Strategist, law student Silva Vornast. Silva assessed the situation at a glance, waved reassuringly to Den, and put down her box of buttons. She readjusted the black fishnet stocking tied around her waist as a belt, then reached over and playfully tugged at the faded pink piece of footwear securing the ponytail which dangled down the back of her fellow law student and fiancee, Tohm Seegrin.
Tohm turned with a wolfish grin, both hands extended and prepared to tickle, then sobered as Silva called his attention to the developing situation. As Chief Rabblerouser, it was Tohm's duty to mobilize the OLD SOKS membership and direct them for best effect. His eyes lit up at the prospect of relief from the relatively tame task of passing out fliers, and he immediately prepared to launch a rescue attempt.
Unfortunately, the OLD SOKS members were scattered the length of the entrance walk. Calling to them would have attracted Sinth's attention and lost the counterdemonstrators the advantage of surprise. So, Tohm sent Annie Lifton down one side of the walk to spread the word, her older brother Rob down the other side, and himself went after those sluggards who had strayed back to rest in the shade underneath the trees.
While Tohm chased after his friends, Reverend Sinth's sermon was building steadily to a climax. The preacher's followers were becoming increasingly restless as they anticipated his announcement of a target for the rage he was invoking in them.
Den didn't require his cousin's Sime senses to recognize the potential for mob violence. The glazed eyes and snarls on the faces surrounding the in-Territory pair were more than enough to make that danger clear even to Gen eyes, and OLD SOKS wasn't quite ready to move. A diversion was in order, the more spectacular the better, so Den looked Sinth in the eye and let his lip curl with all the contempt he felt for the man and his reactionary agenda.
"Reverend-" he said, in a voice which dripped scorn "-why don't you go peddle your irrational hatred somewhere else? Or better yet, find something useful to do with your life for a change!"
Like most self-elected leaders of movements dedicated to Saving the World from Evil, Sinth tended to take himself and his cause very seriously indeed. Confronted by open ridicule, he hesitated a moment from sheer disbelief, and lost the thread of his sermon.
Den didn't wait for him to find it again. "You can spout your fairy tales about Sime conspiracies from now until next Sunday-" he continued "-but you won't convince either of us we're part of a plot to undermine Gen society, because we know better. And we've got better things to do than listen to your paranoid rantings!"
Freed of the hypnotic rhythm of Sinth's resonant voice, the incipient mob slowly dissolved back into a collection of individuals. They blinked and looked at each other in confusion. Some of them turned to Sinth for direction, but the clergyman was still off balance from Den's attack and failed to provide it. The whole group began to mill around aimlessly.
One muscular young man with hair the precise orange-red of turmeric and a ginger-colored mustache, both of which clashed violently with his military surplus clothing, shook his heavy NO SIMES IN SCHOOL sign at Den and growled, "I oughta tan your Simelovin' hide for you!"
Rital tensed at the threat to his Donor, but the man subsided when his friends failed to support his threat.
That was when OLD SOKS struck.
A flying wedge of students swooped down upon the disorganized anti-Sime forces, two husky athletes forming the point. They hardly slowed as they plowed through Save Our Kids to surround Den and Rital. With practiced efficiency, they joined hands and reversed their wedge, shoving back through the path they'd made.
Once they were free of Sinth's followers, the OLD SOKS members dropped hands and opened their circle, depositing Den and his cousin safely on the school's entrance walk. Tohm called a cheerful greeting, then turned back with his friends to prevent Save Our Kids from pursuing the in-Territory pair.
The scuffle had been brisk enough that several of the anti-Sime demonstrators had ended up flat on the sidewalk. With a grin, Tohm led OLD SOKS in taunting them: "You can't even keep your feet! Gee, you're easy to defeat!"
Mindful of the steady trickle of parents making their way around the combatants, Sinth started his own followers on a more germane chant: "We'll fight to see that Heaven rules; there'll be no Simes in Clear Springs schools!"
However, Silva was ready with a reply. As Den and Rital made their way up the path, the students were gleefully shouting, "Just hear Sinth and his braying asses claim a school's no place for classes!"
Den glanced over his shoulder to enjoy the preacher's reaction to this latest taunt, only to have his attention reclaimed by his cousin.
"Den, just what did you think you were doing, baiting Reverend Sinth like that?" the channel hissed furiously. "Were you trying to get us both lynched?"
"Well, your attempt at sweet reason wasn't getting us anywhere," the Donor argued, letting a bit of indignation creep into his nager. "If Sinth'd had another minute or so to listen to himself talk, he might have forgotten himself and ordered an attack on us, bad press or no."
"So you thought it would be smart to make his already questionable judgment even worse by getting him angry?" The channel shook his head, then pointed at the sidewalk and advised, "Watch where you're stepping, this sidewalk is overdue for a good cleaning."
The warning came an instant too late: Den's right foot had descended on one of the fallen walnut fruits. While most of them had been ground into pulp by stampeding youngsters just liberated from their summer school classes, a few of the more recently fallen fruits were still whole. Den had been unfortunate enough to select one of this second category to trample. The green husk split under his shoe with a moist squelching sound, squirting juice onto the pavement. The hard nut inside skidded on the slick sidewalk, and the Donor's foot went with it.
Before Den could fall, Rital grabbed his arm with augmented speed. As soon as the Gen regained his balance, the channel went on scolding as if nothing had happened. "Den, if the Tecton authorities find out you insulted a respected, out-Territory religious leader to his face, even you won't be able to talk them into letting you stay in Clear Springs any longer."
The Donor shrugged. "Do you think it's the kind of thing that the Tecton authorities are likely to find out?" he asked, with patently false innocence.
Rital sighed, acknowledging that his bluff had been called. "Look-" he tried again "-as far as this town is concerned, you and I are the Tecton authorities. Will you please try to act the part? At least when we're in public?"
"Oh, all right," Den agreed, as they reached the end of the walk.
Apparently satisfied with the promise, Rital reached for the handle on the heavy fire door which guarded the main entrance.
"I'll get that," the Donor said sharply, belatedly recalled to his duty. Retainers made any task requiring wrist rotation awkward and dangerous for a Sime, and treating a pinched lateral was definitely not on Den's agenda for the evening. Before his cousin could start grumbling about overprotective Donors, Den pulled the door open and stepped through first, so that his selyn field could moderate whatever nageric chaos might lie beyond.
The lobby and the hallway which connected it to the gymnasium were crowded with parents and other interested citizens, including a few children. They filled the room with a quiet hum of conversation as they milled around impatiently, casting frequent glances at the gymnasium doors, which were being guarded by faculty volunteers. A loud clanging as the janitors unfolded a section of bleachers explained the delay.
Hank Fredricks, owner and editor of the daily Clear Springs Clarion, was taking full advantage of the reprieve. He was circulating through the crowd, briefly interviewing anyone who seemed willing to voice an opinion, however uninformed. These exchanges would provide "local color" and "human angle" quotes to enliven his coverage of the event. The young photographer at his side was trying very hard not to appear too bored in front of the boss.
The lobby gradually fell silent as first one group, then another, saw the Sime and paused to stare. Some people backed nervously away, while others pushed their way to the front of the group for a better look. It wasn't a hostile crowd like Save Our Kids, but the attention of so many untrained Gens was still enough to make Rital shift his weight back and forth nervously, like a high-strung racehorse waiting for the starting gate to open. Den moved a step closer to his cousin and thought soothing thoughts. He was rewarded when the channel relaxed.
The disturbance caused by Rital's entrance had attracted the attention of the Southside Upper School's chief administrator, Principal Ed Buchan. He was an eminently practical Gen whose stocky build could still command obedience from unruly youngsters, despite the inroads of middle-aged spread. His sensible approach to discipline had been equally effective in earning the respect of their parents.
As principal, it was Buchan's job to "dispose" of any of his students who were unfortunate enough to go into changeover. Usually, this meant simply confining the child in a special locked and reinforced room in the school's infirmary, and then contacting either the police or the Sime Center, depending on the preference expressed by the child's parents. However, if the proper authorities were unable to respond in time, Buchan was required to shoot the unfortunate child himself, and risk being killed in the process.
It was no secret to the Sime Center's staff that Buchan was a bit of a Simephobe. It was obvious even to Gen eyes, in the way he was so careful to maintain a safe distance between himself and the channels, despite the open support he offered for their rescue efforts. However, the principal had never let his phobia interfere with his professional actions. He'd never donated, which Den felt showed an uncommon degree of consideration for the channels under the circumstances, but he had enrolled his daughter Jain in the changeover class the Clear Springs Sime Center had offered at the public library, three months before. She had been the only student to attend every session.
Jain was tagging along behind as her father bustled over to greet the in-Territory visitors. She was a slender adolescent on the verge of womanhood, and she moved with an athlete's grace even though a growth spurt had added nearly an inch to her height in the six weeks since Den had last seen her. Despite this, she looked frail beside her father's imposing Gen bulk.
"Sosu Milnan, it's good to see you again," Buchan said loudly, as he stepped into the open space which had instantly formed around the Sime. The principal smiled broadly and held out a hand. Den had spent enough time out-Territory to learn the ritual, so he was able to shake hands smoothly, murmuring an appropriate greeting.
Then Buchan turned to the channel and continued, "And Hi-jane Madz, I'm particularly glad that you were able to come tonight. Your insights will be invaluable." Still forcing the smile to remain on his face for the benefit of the watching parents, he swallowed nervously and offered his hand again.
Shen, Den swore silently, as he felt his own polite smile begin to slip. Why'd the man have to pick a time like this to get brave? Rital was already stressed from wearing retainers, and from their earlier confrontation with Save Our Kids. It wasn't fair to ask the channel to endure skin contact with an out-Territory Simephobe as well, especially not in the middle of a crowd of nondonors, where Den couldn't possibly block all of the interfering fields. And if Buchan should flinch, some of those watching parents just might decide to "rescue" him.
However, before the Donor could intervene, Jain spoke up.
"It's pronounced 'Hajene,' Daddy," she announced, twisting a lock of her long, pale hair around one finger. "And they don't shake hands in Sime Territory."
Her father's smile broadened with ill-disguised relief as he was provided with a perfect excuse to avoid touching the Sime. Den relaxed as the crisis appeared to pass, but unfortunately, Rital had other ideas.
"We're not in Sime Territory here, Jain," the channel pointed out. "Don't you think we should follow Gen Territory customs today?" Blithely ignoring the sudden dismay radiating from both Buchan and his Donor, he reached for the hand the principal had not yet had time to withdraw.
Shen you, Rital! Den swore silently, I hope you know what you're doing. He hastily turned the full force of his trained attention on his cousin, as if supporting the channel during a difficult functional. In the nageric chaos of the crowded lobby, though, he doubted even that would be enough if Buchan spooked, and alarmed the other out-Territory Gens surrounding them.
Fortunately, Buchan was just as surprised by the channel's action as Den. Rital was able to give the principal's hand one firm shake and let go before the man quite realized what was happening. The photographer's reflexes were a bit better: his camera flashed, preserving the event for posterity.
The principal stared at his hand for a moment, then shook himself. "Umm, yes," he stammered. "It sounds like the janitors have finished with the bleachers. We should be ready to seat people in a few minutes, and then we can start as soon as the rest of the committee arrives. Why don't you let me show you to your places before the rush?"
"That would be very kind of you," Rital responded politely.
The assembled out-Territory citizens moved aside and stared silently as the in-Territory pair followed their guide down the hall to the gymnasium. Jain, obviously uncomfortable with the attention, murmured an excuse to her father and wandered over to the nearest water fountain.
When the little procession reached the entrance to the gymnasium, the teachers guarding the doors nodded polite greetings to their principal, but seemed unsure whether to greet or back away from his guests. They compromised by doing neither, and returned with relief to their assigned task of convincing the impatient crowd that the meeting wouldn't start until everyone had been seated, so there was no point in rushing the door.
"I'm afraid we're all rather proud of our gymnasium," Buchan admitted, pausing just inside the door to let his guests admire it properly.
The gymnasium was easily the largest room in the building, with a ceiling two stories tall. The bleachers which lined the walls on three sides had been freshly painted for the upcoming school year, and the odor of turpentine still lingered. The central floor itself was covered with an odd patchwork of gymnastics mats, old shower curtains decorated with colorful splashes of paint, and loose swaths of turquoise carpeting.
The wall which didn't have bleachers was occupied by a spotlighted scoreboard, on which the results of over a dozen athletic contests were posted under a black and tan GO COUGARS! logo.
It appeared that most of the student athletes representing the Clear Springs Cougars were doing quite well, although the home team had lost the Tri County Gymnastics Tournament Semifinals to the Oak Ridge Alligators by a considerable margin two months before. A large poster glued to the wall behind the scoreboard listed upcoming events. The dates made it obvious that unlike regular classes, the athletic program didn't slow down over the summer.
Under the scoreboard and in front of the poster was a long table borrowed from the cafeteria. There were four microphones more or less evenly spaced along its length, with half a dozen chairs behind them, facing the bleachers. A well-worn notebook and a clipboard on the table showed that two of the committee members had arrived, but their owners had wandered off to fill large cups at the water fountain at the opposite end of the gym.
A few more chairs had been stacked against the wall beside the athletic schedule, just in case. The Donor observed with some amusement that the person responsible for this chore had gone to some trouble to ensure that the audience's view of the poster would remain unencumbered. A janitor was busy testing a fifth microphone which had been set up on a tall stand in front of the table, so that people could be heard by everyone as they voiced their concerns.
"Our gym is a recent addition, only two years old-" Buchan said, with the institutional pride of administrators everywhere "-and you folks at the Sime Center made it possible."
Den lifted an inquiring eyebrow, and the principal gladly elaborated. "The New Washington government assesses a 5% property tax on all cities which have a sliderail station, but no Sime Center. It's supposed to cover the exorbitant rates the Tecton charges for exported selyn." The out-Territory Gen gave the Donor a skeptical look. "I've never really believed that 'transport costs' could amount to ten times the cost of the local product, myself. Personally, I think the Tecton's just trying to blackmail cities into letting them build Sime Centers."
Den and Rital both did their best to look pure and innocent, with only moderate success.
When his accusation failed to arouse a response, Buchan continued with his explanation. "Anyway, when your Sime Center was approved, our City Council voted to lower the property taxes by only 4%. The extra 1% was earmarked for improving the schools. We built the gym first, of course, and last year we purchased a new bus for the athletic department. That means Head Coach Farrow and his staff won't have to make do with those breakdowns-looking-for-a-place-to-happen which the school district laughingly calls a bus fleet. Our academic teachers are glad, because now they don't have to work field trips in around the game schedules any more. This year, we purchased modern weight-lifting equipment, and we still had enough money left over to put carpeting in the library. By next year, we might be able to increase the school librarian's hours to three quarters time, instead of just half time."
The principal began to lead the way towards the end of the gym which didn't have bleachers. "Watch your step," he warned, as he picked his way over the odd assortment of floor coverings. "The footing's somewhat hazardous. We were a bit worried when we discovered that there weren't enough tumbling mats to protect the area, but the art teacher and the janitors were able to loan us their paint cloths, and the new carpet hasn't been installed in the library yet, so we were able to fill in the gaps. It's a nuisance, but Coach Farrow insisted that nonathletic shoes would scuff up the floor, and we've only just gotten it refinished."
Den and Rital trailed after their guide as he led the way towards the score board and the table beneath it. The channel was shaking his head in disbelief.
"They're refinishing the floor in a two-year-old gym, but they can't afford a full-time school librarian?" he muttered softly in Simelan. "This school system has some seriously warped priorities. How the blazing shen do they expect to prepare kids for the future, if all they teach is games?"
Den shrugged. "As far as the adults out here are concerned, one third of this school's students don't have a future for which to prepare," he murmured. "The rest are too scared to learn much. Why not let them spend their time playing? If sports provide a distraction from the fear of going into changeover, that benefits all the kids. That's more than you can say for geography or spelling."
"Den, how..." Rital was so scandalized that he forgot to keep his voice down. Den urgently shushed him, and the channel asked in a quieter tone, "How can you say such a thing?"
"Because in a community where all Simes must be murdered at changeover, it's true," the Donor said. At his cousin's dismayed expression, he continued, "That's how Clear Springs survived before we arrived, cousin, like it or not. And a lot of those people out there in the hall still see nothing wrong with it."
Rital drew breath to respond, then paused so that Den could give his full attention to negotiating a particularly hazardous junction between a tumbling mat and a piece of carpeting which seemed intent on regaining its former rolled state.
Shen, it's going to be a channel's nightmare here in a few minutes, Den thought as he stepped carefully over the obstacle, when all those Gens in the hall start running across this mess in search of the best seats. Although at least any Gen who tripped and fell was more likely than not to land relatively safely on a mat.
"You've been spending too much time drinking beer with OLD SOKS," Rital complained, when his Donor was safely past the hazard. "It's giving you weird ideas."
Den rolled his eyes in disgust. "Come on, Rital, how do you expect to change these people's 'weird ideas' if you won't even bother to learn what those 'weird ideas' are?"
"There's a difference between learning out-Territory beliefs and accepting them," Rital said, only partially mollified.
"I didn't exactly come here tonight to support their bloodthirsty traditions," the Donor pointed out.
The channel nodded reluctant agreement with Den's position, but he didn't look happy, and the Donor knew the topic would reappear when they had time to discuss it more thoroughly.
"If you'll find yourselves a seat, gentlemen, I believe we'll be starting shortly," Buchan interrupted their quiet conversation as they reached the edge of the last paint cloth. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I should see if the rest of the curriculum committee has arrived." He hurried off, as if to ensure that the channel wouldn't insist on shaking hands again in farewell.
Den waved his cousin to the end chair, and moved the second chair closer before sitting in it, placing his nager firmly between the channel and the notetaking paraphernalia which marked the places claimed by the two members of the Curriculum Committee who had already arrived. As the two wandered back across the gym with their water glasses, the Donor leaned back in his chair and did his best to radiate relaxed confidence. He hoped the demonstration would send a clear message to the out-Territory Gens that his cousin wasn't a threat to anyone.
"I'm fine, Den," Rital said softly. "You don't have to hover."
"I know-" the Donor admitted "-but this is probably going to be a very long evening, and most of the audience will be staring at you the whole time. If you look nervous, they're likely to start wondering if you're about to rip off your retainers and kill someone."
Rital sighed and nodded, accepting the necessity. It was Tecton policy, after all, for channels to present a calm, controlled, reassuring demeanor to out-Territory Gens at all times. As far as Den was concerned, it was one of the few Tecton policies which actually served a useful purpose: winning the trust of Gens who lived in constant-and justified-fear of being killed by their own Sime children.
If all went well, today's meeting might be an important step towards reducing that fear. The previous spring, Den had asked the school board to let him and Rital offer basic changeover training as an after-school activity. The school board had been reasonably pleased with the idea, particularly after their most anti-Sime member, Ephriam Lornstadt, had joined Reverend Sinth in jail. However, like most out-Territory politicians, they had refused to endorse a controversial change until they'd found a way to escape personal accountability if anyone complained.
So, they had duly appointed a citizen's committee of parents, teachers, and community leaders to investigate the issue over the summer. Den had provided the committee with copies of the lesson plans he and Rital had been using for their library-based class, as well as the textbook, supplementary pamphlets, handouts, filmstrips, and other materials. The committee had already held several meetings over the summer, during which the Donor had been grilled on the general reasons for having such classes, and the particular reasons for including specific topics.
With the exception of Cessly Lornstadt, Ephriam Lornstadt's wife, Den had found the committee members to be at least somewhat open to the idea of changeover training, although none of them had had any clear idea what it was at first. The Donor hoped that this openmindedness would survive the community hysteria sparked by Sinth's misinformation pamphlets.
Not to mention the committee members' first meeting with a real, live channel, he thought. Den had handled the previous contacts with the committee, since it was much easier for a Donor to travel among out-Territory Gens. However, tonight Rital had insisted on attending the meeting himself, despite the pain of having to wear retainers. To Den's objections, the channel had merely replied that it would be worth the discomfort, since it would be much more difficult for the community to see him as a faceless menace to their children once they had actually met him.
The two approaching members of the curriculum committee seemed much more interested in their discussion than in the Sime who was to share their table. The first, Thaddus Webber, who chaired the committee, was the highly respected leader of the Clear Springs congregation of the Church of Rational Deism. The white-haired theologian looked like a friendly polar bear as he nodded an absentminded greeting to Den, then went back to discussing some of the more esoteric aspects of social change with the bearded young sociology professor and parent, Willum Ildun.
Den did his best to eavesdrop, but although they seemed to be speaking standard English, he couldn't understand half the terms they were spouting with such abandon. He didn't know if the people whose ideas were being quoted were philosophers, scientists, or something else. He did his best to memorize a few of the names, so that he could ask their fellow committee member, Head County Librarian Ada Dilson, about them later. She had an encyclopaedic memory for people who made important contributions to her world of ideas.
Miz Dilson herself chose that moment to bustle in, calling out a cheerful greeting to Webber and Ildun, both of whom were too preoccupied to notice. Den was glad that she had been appointed to the committee, and not just because she had become a personal friend over the past year and a half. Far more important, the librarian was an outspoken opponent of Reverend Sinth and his followers. Her animosity stemmed from an incident the previous spring, when Save Our Kids had lobbied the City Council in an attempt to force her to remove an "objectionable" award-winning children's book from her library, simply because it portrayed in-Territory life, and Simes, in a positive fashion. In retaliation, and in response to patron requests sparked by the controversy, the librarian had purchased several similar titles for her collection, and accepted a number of others from the Sime Center as gifts.
Miz Dilson had never made a secret of her opinion that the Sime Center was an asset to the community, so the Donor wasn't surprised when she came over to greet him despite the Sime sitting at his side. He introduced her to Rital with a flourish, an ordeal which the librarian weathered with far more aplomb than Principal Buchan had managed.
Always a model of efficiency, Miz Dilson then sat down beside Den, opened her notebook, retrieved a pen from her voluminous purse, and began to grill channel and Donor on titles of books which could provide accurate information about changeover and establishment, particularly those written for young children.
"The materials you provided our committee are fine for adolescents-" she explained "-but no matter what the school board decides to do about your classes, there are going to be a lot of younger children who overhear just enough to start them asking some awkward questions. Then their parents will come to me, and Heaven help me if I don't have some answers for them!"
"I think I saw a few books for young children in the Sime Center's library," Den said thoughtfully. "But I can't remember which language they were in. I'll see what I can find."
Rital leaned around the Donor to add, "If we don't have anything at the Sime Center, I can telephone a friend of ours in Valzor. Liren has three young children, so she's probably much more aware of what books are out there than either of us."
As Miz Dilson nodded her appreciation, the faculty members guarding the doors stepped back, allowing a wave of Gens to sweep into the gym in search of seating. Rital tensed slightly as the wave broke against the assortment of navigational hazards which protected the sacred floor. However, all of the adult Gens who struck out for the bleachers on the far wall managed to keep their feet, although a few children did take a tumble. Actually, several little boys managed to tumble each time they crossed a mat. Their shrieks of laughter as they thudded into the padding, and their lack of the approved gymnastic style, led Den to conclude hopefully that perhaps the Clear Springs elementary schools placed a bit more emphasis on academics.
Along with the audience came a fourth committee member, biology teacher Nat Ulman. The EDUCATE FOR EXCELLENCE sticker glued to the notebook she carried made it clear that she didn't favor enforced ignorance. Den wasn't surprised; in a town where most children had no changeover training, being a Gen teacher of adolescents was a high-risk profession.
Den and Rital both scanned the milling audience, looking for familiar faces. After a moment, the channel leaned over and said softly, "I can zlin a scattering of our general class donors out there, but except for Jain Buchan, our changeover class students don't seem to be here." The channel's forehead wrinkled with worry.
"Rital, as a general rule, most children don't attend curriculum planning meetings," the Donor said, suppressing a grin at the typically Sime comment. "Furthermore, if you will recall, I handled registration on the first day of our class, since you were rummaging around in the supply closet trying to find a replacement light bulb for the slide projector. That's the only time most of our students' parents ever entered the classroom. You're a talented channel, cousin, but even you can't expect to recognize the nager of a Gen you've never met!" He nodded towards the right-hand set of bleachers. "I think that's Sheely's mother on the third tier, wearing the blue dress, and Gavvin's parents are on the other side."
The channel sighed with relief, even though the two students Den mentioned had had rather spotty attendance records.
The stream of people coming into the gym had slowed considerably, giving Den hope that the meeting might actually begin in the near future. Even Hank Fredricks and his photographer had stopped circulating through the crowd in search of colorful statements, and found themselves seats with a good view of the proceedings. Principal Buchan and Jain had settled down nearby.
OLD SOKS and Save Our Kids were among the last to arrive, although both groups had sent a few members ahead to reserve good seats. Fortunately, the scouts had been prudent enough to stake out sections of bleachers on opposite sides of the gym, so major conflict was avoided.
However, there was a moment of confusion when the two groups tried to enter the gym simultaneously. Bethany, who was tagging along in the wake of her uncle's followers, used the involuntary mixing of the two groups as an opportunity to exchange a few hasty but heartfelt words with Rob Lifton.
"So, those two are still interested in each other," Rital said in amusement, pointing out the exchange to his cousin.
Den grinned. "And won't that make her uncle happy!" Rob Lifton wasn't as active in OLD SOKS as his sister Annie, but he had been donating off and on for the past year and a half. The Donor doubted that Reverend Sinth would approve of a relationship between the young Gen and his niece.
With Sinth's group came the fifth and last member of the Curriculum Committee, Cessly Lornstadt. After a last-minute consultation with the preacher, she headed for the committee's table. As usual, she looked strangely artificial, with her frizzy hairstyle, heavy makeup, and the mechanically sweet smile which was never so evident as when she was dissecting someone else's character.
She didn't bother to greet her fellow committee members, who had already proved much too openminded on the subject of fraternization with Simes for her taste. Instead, she mimed well-bred horror at the sight of Rital, and rushed to claim the seat at the far end of the table, ostentatiously scooting her chair over to place as much distance between herself and the channel as humanly possible. Although, as Den noticed, she was careful not to move out of reach of the closest microphone.
There were a few ribald hoots from the section of bleachers occupied by OLD SOKS, and an anonymous voice called, "That's right, 'Motormouth' Lornstadt, stay away! We wouldn't want Hajene Madz to catch your cooties."
Cessly flushed, but before she could grab the microphone to respond in kind, Thaddus Webber quickly spoke into one of his own. "It looks like we have a lot of people who want to speak tonight-" the theologian announced "-so if you will quiet down now, we can begin."
There was a last-minute explosion of coughs, grunts, and throat clearings. A number of people stopped talking to friends and got up to move to other seats, where they would have a better view. Several others started new conversations, only to be hushed by their neighbors. A few shouts of "Quiet!" rang out, and some even louder cries of "Shhh!" quickly followed.
Webber waited patiently as the noise gradually lessened, and when something vaguely approaching quiet had been reached, he spoke again. "This meeting of the Clear Springs Unified School District's Curriculum Committee is now called to order. As you know, last Spring Sosu Milnan from our Sime Center..."
"It's not MY Sime Center," someone objected from Save Our Kids' section of the bleachers. Den thought the culprit sounded like the turmeric-haired man who had threatened him outside.
"...Sosu Milnan from our city's Sime Center-" the theologian repeated "-came to the school board and offered to provide free after-school changeover classes for our children. The school board referred the matter to our committee for study, and we hope that we will be able to provide them with some useful recommendations when we make our final report."
Cessly Lornstadt gave what she no doubt intended as a ladylike snort, which Webber blithely ignored as he continued, "We have already spent quite a bit of time talking to Sosu Milnan about what topics such classes might cover, and we have read through the educational materials which would be used. We have also met with teachers and educational experts, to find out whether, in their professional opinions, such a class would be a sound addition to our current curriculum."
"What do those so-called 'experts' know?" yelled a woman with a manicured hairdo which rivaled Cessly Lornstadt's. "They're our kids!" Webber shot an annoyed look in her direction, and she smiled sweetly at him.
"Tonight, though-" the theologian persevered "-our job is to find out what concerns the ordinary citizens of Clear Springs have about the proposed classes. I also hope that those of you who came just to find out what the fuss is all about will have your questions answered." Webber carefully did not look at Reverend Sinth as he explained, "There have been more than a few myths making the rounds, about exactly what changeover training is and what it's intended to do. Several of the rumors have been pretty wild, and judging by the phone calls I've been receiving, some people who have heard them have gotten a bit upset."
Den thought that the smug expression on Reverend Sinth's face would not have been out of place on the muzzle of the proverbial feline which had just supplemented its diet with its owner's pet cagebird.
"And so-" Webber explained "-rather than spend all evening listening to objections about material which is not, in fact, part of the proposed curriculum, I'd like to start by asking Sosu Milnan to briefly outline exactly what he does propose to cover, if the classes are approved."
Den had never been particularly fond of public speaking, but he had done enough of it in the past few years to be confident of his ability. After thanking Webber graciously for the introduction, he launched into what had become his standard introductory speech on changeover training and what it did and didn't do. He was careful to justify the classes in terms the out-Territory Gens would understand. Instead of dwelling on the current unacceptably high death rate among those local children who turned Sime, even among those who made it to the Sime Center, he emphasized the Gen victims of those few changeover victims who survived breakout outside its grounds. He was rewarded by seeing nodding heads among his audience, and a lessening of tension among them as some fears were discarded. It felt a bit hypocritical, though, not to mention the other victims of these attacks: the young Simes who at best had to suffer through the agonies of disjunction, and at worst were hunted down and shot like rabid dogs. However, the Donor had discovered that even the ultra-liberal members of OLD SOKS had rather little sympathy for Simes who killed, however inadvertently.
When Den finished giving a broad overview, he introduced Rital to cover some of the specifics. "Just don't tell them too many details they don't want to hear," he warned softly, as he passed over the microphone.
Having the channel address the meeting was a calculated risk, upon which the two had agreed only after some heated discussion. Den knew it was sure to offend the Sime-haters present, and might spur them to greater efforts in their fight against the classes. However, as Rital had pointed out, the anti-Sime faction was dead set against the classes anyway. On the other hand, there were probably quite a few people in the audience who only half believed the rumors of Sime conspiracies against their children. Such people might respond favorably to seeing the human being behind the dreaded tentacles.
As Controller, Rital had had the right to make the final decision, and Den had reluctantly allowed himself to be overruled. It seemed to be working, though. Even allowing for his own prejudice, the Donor couldn't see how anyone could look at Rital's slight frame and earnest, open sincerity and see a threat to anyone. The very idea was preposterous.
You've always been good at winning the trust and confidence of the out-Territory Gens who come in to donate, cousin, he thought. I just hope you can do the same thing for a crowd of Gens who don't.
All in all, Den thought his cousin did rather well, for someone who was not particularly familiar with the way out-Territory society conducted its debates. Rital did provide a bit more detail on a few of the more controversial topics than was strictly necessary, despite his Donor's warning, but Den was ready to offer his congratulations right up until the channel reached the end of his presentation. That was when his cousin made the mistake of mentioning the forbidden phrase "take donations" in the context of how channels prevented the Kill, and then compounded his error by ending, "The more familiar the Sime Center is, the more likely students will be to make use of our services."
"That's the problem, ya slimy snake!" the turmeric-haired man heckled.
"I wouldn't have phrased it so crudely, but I have to agree with that remark," commented their first critic, a stylishly dressed young woman who had introduced herself as "the mother of two future Cougars."
"I've got nothing against you folks helping out kids who turn Sime," she hastened to assure the in-Territory pair. "However, there are some other services the Sime Center offers that I'd rather my kids didn't use, if you know what I mean."
The next person at the microphone was an older, worn-looking woman who expressed a similar concern. "I lost two kids to changeover, before the Sime Center opened, and I've got three younger ones who should know what to watch out for, just in case," she said. "However, this class seems to go a bit farther than that kind of basic information. For instance, doesn't the outline say that one class period will be reserved for a field trip to the Sime Center?"
Rital bent over his microphone and said, "That's right."
"Well, I'm not sure that would be a good thing for my kids. A few years ago, I went along as a chaperone when my eldest's History class took that Faith Day tour over at the Old Sime Center in Valzor. At the beginning of the tour, they showed a movie about the origins of the holiday."
Den suppressed the urge to gag. The previous spring, when he had been assigned to the Valzor Sime Center, he had been pressed into service as a tour guide at the Old Sime Center during the Faith Day rush. As a result, he was all too intimately familiar with every sickeningly sweet, totally sanitized moment of the film in question.
"It's all well and good to educate our children on how we finally won the war against the Simes," the woman continued. "However, in my opinion, that film went into a little more detail on the New Washington Territory Army's emergency provision of selyn to the Sime Army than was strictly necessary for historical accuracy."
As a swell of agreement broke out across the gym, Den suppressed a snicker and muttered to Rital, "I wouldn't use the words 'historical accuracy' in connection with that film, even loosely. After the way Householding Frihill sugarcoated the less palatable parts, a better description would be 'unabashed donor recruitment propaganda.' And they call themselves historians!"
"You should know," Rital agreed. As soon as the noise died down, the channel hastened to assure the woman that the particular film used by the Valzor Old Center would never be part of a Sime Center tour in Clear Springs, ignoring the heartfelt relief his Donor was projecting.
The next speaker, who introduced himself as the psychology teacher, Mr. Sigs, was also concerned with the possible similarities between the proposed Sime Center field trip and the tour available at the Valzor Old Center.
"At the end of that tour-" the man said, visibly agitated "-they let people watch a donation-live! Even the kids. Now, that's hardly an appropriate sight for young and impressionable eyes. Why, it might convince innocent youngsters that it's all right to donate, even if they have to do it behind their parents' backs! Correct me if I'm wrong, Controller Madz, but the pamphlets you people left over at the library said Gens are paid a substantial sum for donating."
"That's true," Rital admitted readily. "The actual amount of money earned varies with the number of dynopters donated, but there are a number of university students who are able to cover textbooks and spending money out of the fees they earn from donating."
Mr. Sigs was even more upset by this answer, and Den whispered angrily, "Did you have to go into so much detail?"
"It's true-" the channel pointed out "-and the kids should know."
"But you didn't have to tell their parents as well!" the furious Donor hissed as emphatically as he could, and still maintain the appearance of solidarity for the Gen audience.
"Earning extra money is fine for college students-" Sigs said, when he had regained his composure "-but I can't approve of letting younger kids get their hands on substantial sums of money. They might spend it on anything: fancy clothes, recordings of strange music, wild parties with lots of drinking. Why, some kids might even use the money to support drug addictions. Just think what that would do to our city!"
This time, Den was fast enough to appropriate the microphone himself, before Rital could make the situation worse by letting any more unpalatable information slip.
"Mr. Sigs-" he said "-while I can't guarantee that young donors won't spend money on clothing or music, the Tecton does insist that any Gen who wishes to donate be in good physical health. A channel can easily detect the changes which occur in the nager of a Gen who is sick, drunk, or high on a drug such as melic." The Donor couldn't resist throwing a pointed look in Reverend Sinth's direction. "While we are happy to offer appropriate treatment to such individuals, they are not permitted to donate."
This rebuttal made no difference to the next three speakers, who were all Save Our Kids members. They happily offered dire predictions of lurid debauchery among the young Gens who would be seduced into donating by the proposed changeover classes, as if repeating the baseless accusation could give it merit.
The following speaker, a childless woman who ran a real estate company, wanted to know "what an active Sime Center in general, and the presence of changeover classes in particular, would do for the business community in the long term."
Professor Ildun, who had effortlessly fallen into the open-eyed doze with which academics endured their colleagues' seminars, started awake. He grabbed a microphone and remarked casually, "Actually, if the classes convince enough youngsters to donate, it might be a rather good thing for the Clear Springs economy." Ignoring the shocked looks he was receiving from all sides of the auditorium, but particularly from the section of bleachers occupied by Save Our Kids, he began to pontificate contentedly.
"I happen to have done some preliminary research on the subject of sliderail transportation, with emphasis on its positive and negative effects on a number of social, political, and economic factors in various cities and towns," the bearded academic announced. "As you may know, the freight rates per ton of cargo shipped from a particular station are determined by the Office of Transportation in New Washington, according to the percentage of that town's Gens who donate. Towns with a high frequency of donors, and therefore lower shipping costs, are advantageously poised to become transportation hubs. Halzov and Eustead recently published a study showing that some companies assign a high priority to such factors when making the decision to relocate their factories. That results in an expanding economy, better employment opportunities, and many other advantages for communities with a high degree of utilization of their local Sime Center's services."
The young professor nodded benignly and replaced his microphone, convinced that he had made his point despite the obvious confusion of his audience. Or perhaps he's just lectured before so many freshmen that he's become used to blank faces, Den thought.
Fortunately, Webber was able to offer a partial translation. "So Professor Ildun, you are saying that the Sime Center is actually good for business, particularly if it can recruit lots of donors, because it lowers freight costs?"
"That's what I said," the sociologist agreed. "Although there are a lot of mitigating factors which haven't been fully studied yet. For instance, you might consider the availability of raw materials, which..."
"We'll leave the qualifications for another evening," Webber interrupted, hurriedly cutting off the incipient lecture. "Sosu Milnan, Hajene Madz, have you anything to add to Professor Ildun's statement?"
Unfortunately, Rital never had learned when to let well enough alone. Despite his Donor's less-than-discreet nageric "shut up" signal, the channel blithely announced, "Only that at the present time, Clear Springs has almost enough donors to qualify for the next lowest shipping rate. The addition of as few as twenty new donors each month would lower freight costs for goods shipped out of Clear Springs by five percent."
"I'm sure the Chamber of Commerce will be glad to hear that," the real estate agent remarked. "It would certainly be good for business." She shuddered delicately, and added, "Although you will forgive me, I'm sure, if I say that I'm not volunteering to be one of your twenty new donors."
Her aversion to Simes wasn't universal, however, as Den discovered when a thin adolescent stepped up to the microphone. The youngster fumbled with the height adjustment on the stand, trying to lower the microphone so that he could speak into it comfortably, then gave up and removed it from the stand entirely. His first attempt to speak was drowned out by a squeal of feedback. He moved the microphone a little farther away from his mouth, and tried again.
"My name is Jerree Bolin, and I'm thirteen," he said. He flushed with embarrassment as his voice cracked, then continued speaking in a rush. "I'm starting school here this fall, and I hope the changeover class will be approved because it would help kids like me, and I want to take it just in case, and anyway it would be interesting to learn about changeover and see what a Sime Center is like and..." He paused, considering, then ended, "...and that's all I have to say."
Rital chuckled indulgently as the youngster replaced his microphone. "I'd be happy to arrange a tour of the Sime Center for you, Jerree-" he offered "-but I'm afraid that we'll have to limit attendance at our changeover classes to those who haven't already established."
"I'm Gen?" Jerree squawked, managing to hit three octaves in two syllables.
The channel smiled. "You're Gen," he confirmed good-naturedly. "Congratulations."
The good will sparked by this announcement was fleeting. Although the changeover classes did have some supporters, these were few and far between, compared to their opponents. As the ill-informed complaints and speculations continued to fly, Rital's expression became increasingly grim. Even Den's muttered reassurance that this was entirely to be expected, and didn't mean that the classes would be voted down, wasn't sufficient to cheer his cousin.
However, even Den found himself ready to cheer when Webber acknowledged Mr. Duncan, Rob and Annie Lifton's feisty grandfather. "It seems to me that I've been sitting here all evening listening to a lot of 'what ifs' and 'might bes'-" the elderly man began, pointedly looking at a few of the worst offenders "-and all of them assuming the worst possible motives on the part of the Sime Center's staff. Now, I happen to have a passing acquaintance with our resident friends from across the border, as some of you may be aware."
There were a few muffled chuckles, and Reverend Sinth turned purple with rage. Mr. Duncan had been the very first Gen to donate at the Clear Springs Sime Center, an event which Hank Fredricks had immortalized with a two-column photo on the front page of the Clarion. The elderly Gen's act of defiance had been particularly embarrassing for Reverend Sinth, since Duncan had been a member of the preacher's own church, the Conservative Congregation. In fact, Duncan's daughter Carla Lifton, Rob and Annie's mother, had been coordinating the anti-Sime demonstration outside the Sime Center that day. Duncan had been summarily expelled from the congregation for pro-Sime heresy, of course. However, instead of showing proper guilt and repentance, he had promptly joined Thaddus Webber's Rational Deists. Much to the distress of the more self-righteous element of the Conservative Congregation, he showed every sign of being completely content with his new religious community.
Now the old man turned to look sternly at the assembled citizens. "In the two years the Sime Center's been open, I've never heard of them offering a child the slightest harm," he said. "However, they've sure helped a lot of kids-and not just the ones who turn Sime, either. There are quite a few youngsters and their parents in this town who are mighty glad to know, beyond a doubt, that the kids are Gen."
Duncan's accusing glare elicited a whisper of shamed agreement from some of the parents in question. The old man nodded with guarded approval, and continued, "I've raised a family of my own; I know how hard it is to trust a stranger with molding your child's values. But even so, you'd best have a 'for instance' before you go accusing your neighbors of undermining children's morals, even if some of them do have tentacles!"
"That snake and his Simekissing friend aren't any neighbors of mine!" a heckler shouted from the portion of the bleachers occupied by Save Our Kids. Den thought the culprit might be the turmeric-haired man again, but the voice was distorted by echoes and he couldn't be sure.
A sudden, indignant bellow rang out from the front row of the bleachers, "You want a 'for instance?'"
Mr. Duncan nodded gravely. "Justice demands it, Coach Farrow."
"Well, then," the school's athletic director rumbled, his booming voice requiring no amplification. He got slowly to his feet: a giant, heavily muscled Gen with light brown hair cut in the regulation military bristle affected by the New Washington Territory Army. With the deliberate pace of an elephant which knows that it is too big and strong for anything else to overcome, and so fears nothing, he crossed the gym floor in an arrogant amble. For a moment, Den thought that the huge Gen intended to trample right over Mr. Duncan, but Farrow stopped half a pace away. "I'll give you your 'for instance,' then," he growled, glaring down at the frail old man with all the raw aggression with which generations of drill sergeants had intimidated the hapless new recruits of the Gen Army.
However, as a retired lawyer, Mr. Duncan was made of sterner stuff than any young ploughboy. The old man simply raised a politely skeptical eyebrow and waited for his opponent to make his case.
Slightly disconcerted, Farrow cleared his throat and began, "For centuries, the only thing which kept our Territory whole, and its citizens out of the Sime Pens, was our ability to work together against a common enemy. Individually, none of us could hope to stand against even one Sime, but together, as a group, we fought whole Raider bands to a standstill, kept the border intact, and stayed free!"
Scattered cheers broke out at what was obviously a familiar and time-honored story. Den and Rital exchanged amused glances, knowing that the primary reason the Gen Army and its local militias had usually been successful in defending territory, was that the Licensed Raiders who had been their primary opponents had been interested in capturing Gens, not land. On those rare occasions when the Sime government had moved to expand its borders, it had been successful as often as not.
However, it was obvious that Farrow didn't consider such minor details important. Massive chest inflating with pride, he continued his speech. "It was teamwork which made us great, the ability to put the welfare of the group before...individual convenience." He tossed his head in scorn at the thought. "Now, I'm well aware that the border's been secure for a hundred years, more or less, but that doesn't mean we have to throw away the values we live by, which have served us so well for generations. As a teacher of adolescents, I know better than anyone that the end of the border raids hasn't eliminated the Sime menace in this town. Those classes the Sime Center wants to put in our schools-even the Sime admits they won't do a thing to prevent changeovers from happening, but they will teach our kids that putting self-interest ahead of the common good is acceptable!"
Mr. Duncan shook his head. "I've read over the proposed curriculum quite closely-" he said mildly "-but I don't recall any mention of such a lesson."
"The lesson's right there in front of you, fool!" Farrow barked, turning to point a condemning finger at Jain Buchan, who sat next to her father on the same row of bleachers her accuser had occupied. "Young Jain there used to be a model student. She was active in the gymnastics team, and she worked closely with her teammates. But that wasn't enough for her, oh, no." He glared at the girl, who shrank back against the comforting protection of her father's side. "She wasn't content to learn how to live as a Gen. She wanted to learn how to be a Sime as well, just in case. She signed up for changeover classes, and every night for three weeks, she spent the evening at the library, hanging out with that Sime and his friend. Of course, she didn't have time to practice with her teammates any more, or even to compete in the Tri County Gymnastics Tournament Semifinals. She had to resign from the team. And what was the result?"
He turned and pointed at the scoreboard, almost shaking with outrage. "The Clear Springs Cougars were smashed by the Oak Ridge Alligators, because the Alligators weren't trying to make up for a so-called teammate who couldn't be bothered to support them!"
"I didn't want to miss the competition," Jain wailed, tears running down her flushed cheeks.
"But you did miss it," Farrow said, without a trace of sympathy. "And your teammates lost because you let them down." He turned back to Mr. Duncan. "And that's how these so-called changeover classes will undermine our children's morality. The problem isn't the specific material the classes cover, it's the time they steal from more important lessons. The evening classes were bad enough, but if the school board allows them to be taught directly after school, when most of the athletes have their practices, there will hardly be a team left intact. What's the point of teaching our kids how to survive turning Sime, if it makes them forget how to live and prosper as Gens? How will our students learn to be proud of their heritage if their classmates-and teammates-put learning about Simes before their pride in being a Clear Springs Cougar?"
Several students at the back of the gym began chanting, "Cou-gars! Cou-gars! Cou-gars!" and others joined in. With a proud smile, Coach Farrow held up both hands, fingers bent into claws. The chanters responded with similar gestures and a loud, "Rrroooowll, TEAM!"
Jain flinched visibly at the sound. Her father gave her a comforting hug, then got to his feet and commandeered the nearest microphone, which happened to be Cessly's. He ignored her overplayed imitation of well-bred shock, and bellowed, "Now, just settle down a minute, all of you!" When a semblance of order had been restored, Buchan continued, "Coach, I'm just as proud of the Cougars' record as anyone, but before you go accusing my little girl of treason, you should know that having her quit the gymnastics team to take the changeover class at the library was my idea, not hers. She was being an obedient daughter to her father-and if that's not an example of the kind of values our school is supposed to be teaching, I don't know what is!"
There was a scattering of response, about evenly split between cheers and boos.
"Furthermore, Jain wasn't the only gymnast on the team who couldn't compete in the tournament. Ned and Hanna were both lost to changeover, and Hanna killed her teammate Larra before you were able to dispatch her. That last was less than a week before the tournament. With no time to rework the routines properly, the Cougars might well have lost even if Jain had been able to compete."
"Maybe so-" Coach Farrow admitted reluctantly "-but with her wasting time at those so-called changeover classes, we didn't stand a chance."
"And if Hanna had 'wasted time' by taking a changeover class-" Buchan retorted crisply "-she would have known to get help, and Larra would have been able to compete. I'm the first to agree that it's important to teach our children team loyalty, but there are other lessons which might be equally valuable to them as adults. I've spent thirteen years teaching Jain how to be a good Gen when she grows up. To my mind, having her spend three weeks learning about..." the principal hesitated, unwilling to say the word, and settled on a euphemism, "...other possibilities, was a worthwhile investment in her future."
Faced with such passionate support from a parent who also happened to be his boss, Coach Farrow decided not to press the issue of his errant student. With a grumbled, "Well, I still think changeover classes are a waste of good practice time," the athletic director returned to his place on the bleachers. Mr. Duncan gave a nod of satisfaction and followed suit.
At the sight of such cowardly capitulation, Reverend Sinth could no longer remain silent. He sprang to his feet and, in a voice perfectly modulated to fill the large room, demanded, "Principal Buchan, the Scriptures tell us that if a child has faith in God's grace, and is good and obedient, God will grant that child the mercy of becoming Gen. How could you, as a supposedly loving parent, bring yourself to destroy your own daughter's faith, the faith that could make her Gen? What have you given her in exchange? A few lessons on how to be a Sime?"
The preacher shook his head in a theatrical gesture of pained disbelief. "Well, I hope she paid attention to them, because Scripture clearly tells us that when people defy God's will and associate with evil, that evil will mark them. By sending your child into the Sime Center's clutches, to have her learn about Simes 'just in case,' you did her no kindness. Instead, Principal Buchan, you have doomed your own daughter to becoming a Sime!"
There was a collective gasp from the bleachers, as if they had seen the girl sprout tentacles before their eyes. Jain herself cried out in horror and swayed on her seat, her face as wheat-pale as her hair.
Den knew that some of his students had been teased for taking changeover classes, and he had long since lost any remaining illusions that Reverend Sinth would play fair. Even so, he was appalled at the viciousness of Sinth's attack. Rital was equally outraged. The channel started to reach for his microphone, but Den stopped his cousin with a touch.
"We can't help Jain," he murmured, knowing that the channel would zlin his frustration. "If we jump in and try to defend her, when we're the ones being accused of subverting her, it will be seen as an admission of guilt. Unless she's conveniently established in the past few weeks?"
Rital shook his head slightly, lips pressed tight with displeasure, and placed his hand back on the table.
Fortunately, Den and Rital weren't the only ones who were offended by Sinth's willingness to abuse a child to make a political point. Thaddus Webber's round face was stern with displeasure, and as a nondonor with no children of his own, he could hardly be accused of undue bias.
"Reverend Sinth-" he began sternly "-I realize that your Conservative Congregation makes it a matter of principle never to let secular facts interfere with your strict interpretation of Scriptural doctrines. I would not presume to ask you to change your beliefs. However, may I remind you that this gymnasium is in the public school? For the public good, the schools must accommodate students of all faiths, and those who belong to no church as well. I submit that your unwarranted attack on young Miz Buchan for violating the doctrines of your denomination (but not, I believe, her own) comes perilously close to upsetting the delicate balance between observing one's own faith, and allowing others to be true to their own, different doctrines."
"There is only one true Faith!" Sinth objected.
"I expect you're right," Webber agreed, his eyes beginning to twinkle at what was obviously a well-loved discussion topic. "Even though we don't seem able to agree on which faith that is. I would be happy to debate the matter with you at some other time, but I believe we are here tonight to talk about changeover classes."
The white-haired theologian dismissed his colleague with a polite nod, then looked around for another parent who wished to offer an opinion. He took some care to pick a woman who was not seated in the same section of the bleachers as Save Our Kids, but this effort to put the discussion on a more constructive format was only partially successful.
"What if the classes do turn our children into Simes?" the woman wanted to know.
Webber sighed. "Hajene Madz, Sosu Milnan, for the benefit of those who do not subscribe to Conservative Congregation doctrines, could you tell us whether there is any objective evidence to support Reverend Sinth's belief that taking your classes would increase a child's chance of going through changeover?"
This time, Den didn't try to stop his cousin as Rital reached for the microphone. "The chances of a child going through changeover are two in three if both parents are Sime, one in two if one parent is Gen and the other Sime, and one in three if both parents are Gen," the channel explained patiently. "A child is Sime or Gen from conception, just as it is male or female. It's just that unlike sex, Simeness or Genness isn't detectable until adolescence. I know of nothing that happens after birth that can alter which a child will become."
Rital settled back into his chair, satisfied with his rebuttal, but Den saw that some members of the audience still looked confused. The Donor reached for the microphone himself, long enough to add some clarification.
"Taking changeover classes can't make Gen children go through changeover. By the same token, keeping children ignorant of Simes and praying that they'll become Gen has never made a single Sime child establish. However, Sime children who've never been taught how to recognize changeover are less likely to get help, and far too many of them end up attacking someone they love." Den couldn't resist adding, "Reverend Sinth, you of all people should know that even the most devout child can't pray away a changeover. Your own nephew was a model of piety."
Rital deftly removed the microphone from his cousin's grasp, frowning with disapproval. However, Den was satisfied with the impact of his statement. The preacher had paled at the mention of his late nephew, as well he might. Young Zakry Sinth had remained true to Conservative Congregation doctrines throughout his changeover, rejecting all offers of assistance from Den. At breakout, he had attacked and almost killed his uncle. Reverend Sinth had survived only through a combination of prompt treatment, dumb luck, and a generous dose of melic weed, which had prevented him from believing that a berserker had had the nerve to target him for a few crucial fractions of a second.
The preacher had his own interpretation of that evening's events, however. "My nephew was a model child, devout and obedient," he proclaimed. "Zakry should have been Gen. He would have been Gen, if his sister hadn't fallen victim to your lures. She donated at your Sime Center, and as the Scriptures warn, one week later God's just wrath fell upon her family!"
Unlike Jain, Bethany was accustomed to being the target of her uncle's sermonizing. She remained quiet and kept her face blank, hands clasped in her lap in a show of proper modesty, but her knuckles whitened, and her lips firmed with suppressed anger. After a moment's consideration, her uncle decided not to continue attacking her in hopes of breaking her composure and getting a public show of contrition. Instead, he skipped directly to the moral of his anecdote.
"Yet after God has spoken so clearly, showing us His wishes..." Sinth shook his head in pained amazement, "...with His displeasure plain for the whole city to see, you and your slimy friend have the utter gall to ask our schools to help you spread your poison, and seduce our children into evil!" He turned to survey the bleachers. "And from what I've heard tonight, there are some people here who are quite willing to let that happen. And for what? The security of knowing that the child you have doomed to life as a Sime won't kill you? That is, if the Sime Center can reach your house to make the pickup in time?"
Annie Lifton got up from her seat in the section of the bleachers occupied by OLD SOKS, and marched up to the microphone. "Reverend Sinth-" she said angrily "-before you go passing yourself off as an expert on the causes and treatment of changeover, let me remind you that my brother also donated, and we both read a book about Simes as well, and a week later I turned Gen. Not that you would know a Gen when you try to murder one."
With one finger, she traced the thin scar which crossed her left cheek, and the preacher stuttered incoherently for a moment, unable to come up with a suitably cutting reply. After all, it had been his misdiagnosis of stomach flu as changeover which had led Annie's mother to attack the girl with a carving knife. Only luck and her brother Rob's intervention had saved her life.
"By your own anecdotal method of 'reasoning'-" Annie continued with well-feigned innocence "-if you will forgive such misuse of the term, it appears that children who read books about Simes are immunized against the changeover-inducing effects of having a member of their family donate. By your own logic, shouldn't you be supporting the changeover classes?"
Cheers and whistles broke out in the OLD SOKS section of the bleachers, and even Thaddus Webber chuckled as the red-faced preacher sat down.
The next speaker, Len Dusam, was a former candidate for mayor, who had run on an anti-Sime platform and lost to the more liberal Ann Kroag a year ago. A long-term Save Our Kids member, he had spent the past six months in jail with his leader, and Den wasn't surprised to hear him toe the party line.
"Scripture tells us that raising a child is a sacred responsibility," he insisted, wiping his perspiring brow with a handkerchief drawn from the pocket of his suit. "Like all sacred callings, it has its dangers. Parents who fail to teach their children the faith they must have to become Gen, risk being killed when their children turn Sime instead. But friends, that's God's way of telling us to try harder. It's not an excuse to give up and stop trying to teach our children morality!"
There were some uncomfortable squirmings among the assembly as the point struck home.
Then a tall, white-haired woman stalked up to the microphone. "I'm Flora Mills, from Berrysville," she introduced herself. "I've been sitting here for two hours now, listening to you folks complain about having a Sime Center in your town, and I'm sick of hearing it." She sniffed with well-practiced maternal disapproval. "All your questions have done tonight is confirm that the Sime Center has never hurt anyone. Donating provides extra cash for those who want it, and the rest of you have a better economy and fewer berserkers to worry about. I wish Berrysville had those advantages."
"So move the Sime Center out there!" someone called.
Flora Mills didn't dignify the heckler with a response. "And for all of what those two and their friends have given to your city-" she pointed a stern finger at Den and Rital "-they have never asked anything from you in return but to be left in peace. Now they're willing to teach your children how to recognize and survive changeover, and once again, they're not making you pay a penny for the privilege. You should be singing your gratitude for their offer, not accusing them of fostering juvenile delinquency-" she turned her finger on the hapless Mr. Sigs "-or whining about possible conflicts with the sacred athletic schedule."
Even Coach Farrow couldn't keep himself from squirming under her contemptuous disapproval.
"The Sime Center has brought nothing but good to this town, and if any of you don't realize that, you must have a brain the size of a walnut! That's all I have to say." She nodded sharply in satisfaction, then stalked back to her seat.
As the meeting dragged on, with the same arguments being repeated over and over, Den began to follow Professor Ildun's example. He left just enough of his attention on the proceedings to catch any interesting tidbits, and respond appropriately to any questions addressed to him. He let the rest of his mind dwell on the creature comforts which awaited him back at the Sime Center: a hot shower, a change of clothes, and perhaps some dessert to go with the historical novel he was reading. Ref, the Sime Center's talented chef, had mentioned a "Death By Chocolate" cake garnished with walnuts that morning, and Den was more than willing to be its first victim.
At long last, there were no more concerned citizens willing to brave their fellow attendees' wrath by prolonging the meeting for one more inane comment. With a sigh of heartfelt relief, Webber declared the meeting officially closed.
"But nothing was settled," Rital complained, as he and Den waited for the crowd to thin before leaving.
"I know," the Donor said. "That wasn't the purpose of this meeting."
The channel blinked. "It wasn't?"
Den laughed at his cousin's astonishment. "Of course not. There were far too many people present to agree on anything unanimously, and it would have been too time consuming to take a vote. Since they were all Gens, they couldn't reach a consensus by discussing various possible solutions and reading the ambient to determine which is most acceptable, as we would in-Territory."
"So why bother to hold a meeting at all?"
Den shrugged. "I assume the school board wants to ensure that whichever side eventually loses this little campaign won't be able to claim that they weren't allowed to present their views for consideration. Of course, it's probably a good thing for us that having your say isn't quite the same thing as having someone else listen to it and take your advice."
"I suppose so."
The crowd had vanished by then, and the members of the curriculum committee had all departed, with the exception of Thaddus Webber. The poor theologian had been cornered by Hank Fredricks, who was determined to extract some instant analysis of the event for the next morning's paper. Den and Rital had no wish to be the newsman's next victims, so they got to their feet, stretching to relieve the stiffness from sitting still for so long. At a leisurely pace, they picked their way across the well-protected floor of the gymnasium, and wandered down the hall to the lobby. When Den pulled open the door, a cool evening breeze wafted through it, bearing with it the unmistakable sounds of two conflicting chants.
"Oh, shen," the Donor said in disgust. "Couldn't they have just gone home like normal people?"
Save Our Kids and OLD SOKS were deployed on opposite sides of the entrance path, forcing anyone trying to reach the street to pass through a gauntlet of waving signs and forcefully offered pamphlets. Just in case any of the hapless citizens who had come to the meeting happened to be blind or illiterate, Save Our Kids was chanting loudly, "Don't do as the Tecton bids! Keep our city safe for kids!"
To which OLD SOKS responded at full volume, "'We love your kids,' the morons cry, 'Especially when they bleed and die!'"
Rital zlinned the scene with growing dismay. "I don't think they're in any hurry to leave," he reported.
"Well, I am," Den snapped. He focused his attention narrowly on the channel for maximum support, then seized his cousin's arm and stepped through the door.
Caught up in their valiant efforts to coax a few more decibels out of already hoarse throats, and well aware that neither Den nor Rital was a likely target for conversion by either side, the dueling groups ignored the intrusion of the in-Territory pair. Step by step, the cousins made their way down the path towards the sidewalk.
They had almost reached it when a voice from the Save Our Kids side yelled, "Why don't you just keep goin' all the way outta town, you stinkin' Genrunner? You can take yer slimy friend with you, while you're at it."
Den turned to locate the speaker, and was not surprised to find that it was the muscular, turmeric-haired man.
"Yeah, I mean you, you Simelovin' traitor!" the man bellowed even louder, when he saw that he had attracted the Donor's attention. "How does it feel to look inna mirror every morning and see a Simekisser?"
"I expect it feels a bit better than looking into the mirror and seeing someone who yells nasty things at strangers," Den retorted.
"Why, you filthy scum!" Overcome with an anger too great to express with his limited vocabulary, the turmeric-haired man settled on a more primitive means of expressing his displeasure at the Donor's chosen profession. He picked one of the crushed walnut fruits off of the sidewalk and hurled it at Den. The missile caught the Donor on the left cheek, stinging sharply. Rital yelped at the pain, and jumped to put himself between Den and his attacker.
OLD SOKS was equally quick to spring to the Donor's defense. With a yell of "Stop that, you ignorant fanatic!," Annie Lifton scooped her own ammunition off the pavement and returned fire. Unfortunately, her aim didn't quite match her enthusiasm, and the half-rotted fruit hit the woman next to her target.
The turmeric-haired man jeered, and then ducked as Annie's brother Rob and three other OLD SOKS members leaped to avenge her honor with noxious projectiles of their own. Since they weren't quite sure who her intended victim had been, they settled on peppering as many of the Save Our Kids members in the general vicinity as they could.
Their innocent victims naturally took offense at this unprovoked attack. Several of them fired off a broadside of their own, with predictable consequences. Within seconds of the initial attack, the airspace immediately above the entrance walk was thick with the exchange of rotting fruit. Yelps of outrage mixed with the cheers of those who had reached their targets, and brown stains appeared like magic on signs, clothes, and hands.
With Sime reflexes, Rital had pulled Den clear of the danger zone. From the neutral territory of the sidewalk, the channel watched the battle rage in dismay. "We've got to stop this," he said.
"How?" Den asked, restraining his cousin with one hand just in case the channel decided to plunge into the fray. The other hand was occupied in wiping half-fermented walnut juice off of his cheek. "Besides, they look like they're having fun," he added, as he ducked a nut which had ricocheted off a Schools are for Education sign.
"But the ambient might provoke..." Rital began, then stopped when he realized what he had said.
"...an attack from the nonexistent renSimes?" the Donor finished ironically. "I don't think we have to worry about that, cousin. Although we may have to deal with some equally nasty consequences." He nodded towards the school doors, where Webber, Fredricks, and the photographer were trapped on the other side of the riot. At his boss's direction, that enterprising young man was aiming his camera directly down the path, attempting to capture as much of the action as possible.
"Let's get out of here before we end up on the front page," Rital counseled.
"An inspired suggestion," the Donor agreed.
The two made a hasty but strategic retreat from the battlefield, just as a police siren began to wail.
End of story
Proceed to next chapter