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Mayor Don Buffington stopped in the doorway of the council chambers to look around before entering. He'd loved this room from the moment he'd seen it. The wooden walls and long, oval table gave it a solid feel which made the council members seem unified even during the most heated discussions. He smiled as he thought of a few of those 'discussions' then continued into the room.
The Mayor took his place at the table to scan his notes one final time while the council members drifted into the room. When the last one arrived, he ran his fingers through his silver and black hair, then tugged on the lapels of his dark gray suit to verify that all was in place. The material of the suit caught his attention. His wife had insisted that he wear it this morning because she loved the way the green thread accented his hazel eyes.
When all were seated, the Mayor stood at the podium and pounded his gavel.
"This meeting is called to order." He shuffled a couple of papers before continuing, "If there are no objections, I'm going to forego all business today and cut to the most important subject-namely, my trip to Latana."
A foot shuffled and Jim Patterly coughed as Buffington raised himself up on his toes. "I believe my trip was a complete success. Before the annual meetings began, the Regional government had us visit the local Sime Center on the Sime Territory side of the border."
Holly Harboro, the Mayor's long time friend and the only teacher among the group, looked up from the papers she had been studying. "You went to a Sime Center, Don?"
"Yes, I did. The Simes were very informative. They explained how a Sime Center could help to keep our community safe by providing a place we could bring our children who are unfortunate enough to go through changeover. Once the channels-that's what they call the Simes who can take selyn from the humans without killing-have given what they call First Transfer to the new Sime child, they send the youngster to one of their training facilities on their side of the border. The training is free."
Ivan Kevler rolled his eyes up. "You can't train a Sime not to kill, Don."
"The channels are instrumental in keeping the Sime community healthy and free from killing." Mayor Buffington's eyes darkened. "Gladia and I watched a transfer between a channel and a regular Sime in a special room with windows, very similar to ones our doctors use to learn surgical techniques. It's really quite amazing."
Patterly shook his head. "It was a trick. It had to be. We've seen the murdering monsters. Remember Giavilli's daughter last month. You shot her yourself!"
The Mayor brought out a white handkerchief from his inside pocket to wipe his forehead. "I know. But the point is, she didn't have to die. If we'd had a Sime Center, her father could've taken her there. She did not have to die. She could've lived and not killed."
Larryh Cappa's face mottled in anger. "I think they addled your brain, Buffington." He pointed his finger at the Mayor. "Are you sure you're not one of them already?"
"Don't be stupid!" Buffington threw out his arms in graphic display. "Do I look like I've changed over?"
Cappa's eyes flashed with hatred as nervous laughter filled the room.
Buffington ignored the younger man who had always objected to every project he had proposed. "The channels have methods which retrain those who have killed, not to kill. The youngsters who receive their selyn from a channel when they first changeover..." he leaned over the podium to emphasize his point, "NEVER KILL!"
"And you believe that!" Cappa sneered.
The Mayor banged his gavel. "Out of order! Cappa, you are out of order. Sit down."
Buffington's eyes rested on Holly. "The Simes train their kids in skills so that the 'person' can earn a living. After all, a Sime has to not only put food on the table like you and me but also pay for the selyn we humans donate."
Kelver shook his head. Patterly and Cappa banged their fists on the table as Harboro exclaimed, "And who's going to be foolish enough to do that!"
Buffington's eyes twinkled. "I am." He glanced at each councilman. "Gladia and I donated before we left Latana." The Mayor studied his hand. "I don't look dead. What we found out was that with the selyn they get from the human body, they can power devices that we've only heard about. By having a Sime Center in our city, we can have lights in our homes instead of candles. We can have cars like they have in the big cities.
"The transportation in Latana was incredible. Gladia and I rode in a van. We toured the whole Sime City with the windows rolled up. That way we could see the city and feel safe. Ah...but that's another story."
"At least you had some sense," Harboro snorted.
"Sense. Yes, Holly, that's right. It all makes perfect sense now. With a Sime Center in Sanger, we could have refrigerators instead of ice boxes. With refrigerators, we can store food for much longer than before and therefore have much less waste."
"Stop!" Cappa put a hand to the air. "I don't care what they say. It's a pack of lies and you know it. Simes kill." He pointed to himself. "I've seen it." He turned his finger towards his fellow council members. "You've seen it. And even you have seen it, Mr. Mayor. I don't want a Center in my city. I say we vote this proposition down." He punctuated his last word with a nod of his head.
Patterly chimed in with Cappa, "I agree. I don't want that place in my backyard." His hands gripped the edge of the table as his eyes bugged out to stare accusingly at the Mayor. "And that's where you're planning to put it, isn't it? In the empty lot behind my house."
"But what about the children?" Buffington pleaded with palms outstretched. "What about the children like my son who turn Sime? Do you still want to murder them, when they can live!"
"Your son!" Cappa exclaimed. "Timothy turned Sime?"
"While we were there. I saw it. They put him in the same room I mentioned before, the one with the window." Buffington's face lit up with wonder. "After my son's tentacles broke out, selyn was provided and no one was harmed. Timothy said it was one of the most wonderful experiences he'd ever had and he didn't kill. Don't you understand what that means?" The Mayor appealed to each one of them. "Humans and Simes can live together. Safely. Without fear."
Cappa rose as he faced the council, his young features contorted with anger. "You believe that."
His open palm included the others in the room. "When Timothy didn't come back, I assumed it was changeover but I was polite enough not to ask. Mayor Buffington, I don't believe that your son is still alive and neither do my colleagues.
"I'll not have a Sime Center," he reiterated, "in my city, and I'm sure the rest of us will agree." Cappa looked around to verify his support then smirked with satisfaction as he reseated himself.
Mayor Buffington wiped his brow and cleared his throat. "I want this city to be modernized. I want to read by lights during the night. I want our food to stay fresh longer. And, I want the lives of this fine city to be eased."
The cold, silent reception of the announcement made the room appear as if it were in the deepest, darkest cavern. "But most of all, I want the people of Sanger to be safe. I want the children of our city to live. All our children deserve the chance to live. A Sime Center will provide that chance. They'll be safe; and therefore, we'll be safe. That means that we can love them no matter what. We can love them-without guilt-without fear-we can love them."
Cla...ap. cla...ap. cla...ap. "Very good, Don," Patterly oozed. "But I don't think you've convinced us.
"I'd rather live with candles than die at the hands...er...tentacles of those snakes," he spat. "I vote no."
"Hear! Hear!" the council chanted.
In a last effort to regain control, Buffington appealed, "If you don't want to think about the children, think about the town. Our town lobbied long and hard to get a sliderail station so we could export our fruits and vegetables and we have grown because of it. But that growth has created a problem. The extra sliderail cars we have requested for our businesses to expand require extra fuel. Since the Tecton charges ten times more to recharge a selyn battery in towns without a local Sime Center, the Regional government has refused our request until one is built.
"Which brings me to the point of why the Regional government changed the site of the annual Mayors' conference from the capital to the border town of Latana. That was the site the two govern-mental bodies had been using for the negotiations of our request.
"After much deliberation between the Sime government and our own concerning selyn battery recharging, the Regional government has made a blanket declaration that any city requesting additional sliderail cars which refuses to have a Sime Center built by the end of the year will be assessed a 5% refueling tax for each parcel of land."
Harboro snapped the pencil she was holding in two. "I'd rather pay taxes than let those snakes come here."
"Maybe you can afford them, Holly, but what about the citizens who can't? Even with the growth we have experienced, we are still a poor community. With a Center in Sanger, we can expand our businesses. Our city can collect the property taxes plus the Sime Center Land Use Tax, which will be a substantial sum since the Center will be required to purchase a minimum of two acres of land.
"Don't you see, those taxes could go to the schools. We could get better teachers. We could get new band uniforms." Buffington's voice changed to a leer. "We could get new football equipment and beat the pants off Danata High."
Holly glared at the Mayor. "Is that all you think about, Don? Beating Danata? I believe that people would prefer to sell their souls than to have the snakes in their backyard even if our Sanger Tigers could finally beat those arrogant Danata High Demons."
Buffington's shoulders drooped. "It's too late," he said quietly. "I've already signed the papers. The construction workers will arrive in two days."
"What!" Larryh Cappa's indignant cry was heard above the others.
"It's too late, I said. I repeat, it's too late. There's nothing you..." the Mayor pointed to the four council members, "can do about it. My authority to approve the building of a Sime Center is clearly delineated in Regional Ordinance 336."
"No!" Larryh rose but a sharp look from Harboro made him sit down.
"Don," Holly addressed the Mayor, "that ordinance was ratified after Danata County refused to approve the release of our own funds to help us build a hospital even after a kid died due to the lack of one. It does not give you the authority to approve a Sime Center."
Buffington crossed to the book shelf to pull out a thick binder. At the podium, he leafed through the pages until he found the right one. "Regional Ordinance 336 states: The mayor of a city has the authority to override the approval or disapproval of funds controlled by the city or the county during a Regional governing council meeting as long as the approval or disapproval signed is of benefit to the children of the city or town. As I recall, every one of you applauded the action at the time.
"I signed the approval on the condition that our schools would receive the tax funds. We're getting a Center in our city. Our people will have the additional sliderail cars required to expand their businesses. Our children will get new equipment and new uniforms besides having a safe place to go in case of changeover."
The council members were alternately screaming at Buffington and each other until Harboro slowly rose, then the others fell silent. "As senior council-woman of the city of Sanger and as sanctioned by the city charter, I am hereby relieving you from duty."
"I know you have that authority," Buffington acknowledged, "but kicking me out will not negate the contract that I signed with the Simes. Only a Gen territory mandate would accomplish a reversal in decision and since the Gen Territory government has been encouraging cities to get Sime Centers, I don't think they will nullify the contract I made."
Harboro's cold, hard voice added to the spite which showed in her face. "Maybe not, but I intend to let it be known that the Center is not welcome. I'll encour-age the people not to associate with that place or anyone who deals with it." She glanced around the room to verify her support. "I think the rest of the council will back me up."
Buffington stared at her for a long moment before leaving the podium and taking his seat at the council table. He put his head in his hands, then looked up. "It's too late. Sanger will have a Sime Center."
"Go home, Don," Harboro pronounced. "Go home and stay there. I'd have you impeached, but it's not worth the effort. Elections are in ten days. You're to withdraw from the race. If you leave your house before the elections are over, I can guarantee you'll be shot the same as if you were Sime, and may the All-Mighty forgive you for what you have done to this city."
The Mayor closed his eyes in pain as he heard the vote of approval from each member.
The councilwoman's opinion of him was clear.
"You'll have your Center, but no one will donate. I'm sure that our people will never go near that place. I wonder what your Sime friends will say about that."
Don Buffington was saddened by the realization that these people were no longer his friends. He looked around the room to try to recapture the feeling of warmth and security the oaken walls had given him when he had arrived but the feeling did not return. It was over. In his enthusiasm to get a better life for his people, he had lost his friends, his job, and his city. In return, he had won the lives of the children and that was a more important victory.
He placed his hands on the table to push himself up and to feel the wooden table one last time.
"Buffington," Kevler called to the Mayor, "my wife will stop by for a shopping list every day." The local grocer looked like he was smelling the odors from an outhouse. "Just leave it in the mail box. I don't want her near you or your wife."
Mayor Buffington nodded, started to leave, then squared his shoulders. "One day, Larryh," he pointed to the young man, "or you," he pointed to Ivan, "may have to face the question of whether to shoot your child or take that child to a Center where he or she will be given the chance to live without killing. Then, you'll realize that without the Center nearby, you would've had no choice in the matter. Your child would be dead, and that death would be by your own hand. On that day, you will thank me for what I have done."
"As for you, Jim..." Buffington pointed to the man who looked to be in his mid-thirties. "You and your missis may never have children, but what would happen to your wife if you were killed by a ber-serker? What would happen to you if she were the victim? There are very few single women in Sanger who're your age."
"And as for you, Holly Harboro." He turned his attention to his longtime friend. "Your first grand-daughter is old enough to change over at any time."
Before he could say another word, Holly began screaming at him, "Get out! Leave! Don't you ever speak to me again. Get OUT!!!!!!!!"
Seven years later
The ancient pine trees Mark Cappa and Petir Zachary leaned against were two of the oldest that lined the Tinusa River. The boys sat facing each other with their legs stretched in front of them. Mark had dark-brown hair and a teenager's slim body with developing muscles, while Petir was tall with a gangly, thin build topped by a mass of flaming-red curls. Even though the boys were in the same grade at school, Petir looked younger.
As they watched their cork bobbers gently ride the waves, the rush of water cascading down the nearby waterfall added to the peace created by the tall trees that surrounded the river banks.
Mark yawned, then gazed over the water. "This is the life. Am I glad it's summer. I didn't think school would ever end this year. Mrs. Robenly had to be the meanest teacher we've ever had."
"Isn't that the truth?" Petir's curls bounced with his agreement. "We've only been out for three days and yet I feel as if three tons of weight have been lifted from my shoulders. I hope she moves away so we never have to see her again."
"Me too." Mark picked up a pebble and threw it in the river.
They sat for a few minutes listening to the birds screech and the leaves rustle in the light breeze.
Petir grabbed a twig, played with it for a moment, then turned to Mark and observed, "You're looking great. You seem to get bigger every day."
Mark shrugged. "One of my cousins told me to chop wood to build up my muscles. I guess it works. Why don't you try it?"
Petir groaned. "I have. I've been chopping wood for my mom and four neighbors for the past six months. Nothing seems to work."
There was a prolonged silence before Petir spoke again. "I'm scared! I'm getting older but no matter what I do and no matter how much I eat, I seem to stay skinny. I catch my parents looking at me as if I'm a monster. And..."
Water lapped at the river bank as the question lingered in the air.
"And what?" Mark repeated.
Frustration clear in his voice, Petir muttered, "Oh, never mind." He threw the tiny branch into the river, jumped up, and reeled in his line. The worm wasn't moving but its fat body was still intact on the hook. The spot near the dead branch seemed to be a better place for fish so he tossed the line in that direction.
Once Petir sat down again, Mark broached the forbidden subject but avoided the word Sime. "There's always the Center."
His friend grabbed another twig and single-handedly broke it in two. "Would you go there? I mean..." Petir tossed the pieces away in anger then picked up a larger branch and swished it in the air. "What if it's true, and in changeover you're given one of your neighbors? Or even worse, one of your rela-tives?" His eyes flashed. "I'd rather die first!"
The boys sat in silence as a light breeze blew through their hair.
To avoid meeting Petir's eyes, Mark studied the water. "Have you ever attended one of their meetings at school?"
"No. My parents wouldn't sign the consent even if I asked them to sign one. You know how it is. All Simes kill. Period. End of story. Why did you ask? Your parents are the same as mine."
"I know but..." Danielle's face danced in front of Mark's eyes. "Well, I was curious one day and asked someone I know who did attend what it was about."
Alarmed, Petir exclaimed, "Do you know what your dad would do to you if he ever found out?"
"Of course I know." Mark shrugged. "But I was curious."
Petir waited but Mark continued to stare at the flow-ing river. "Well, give," Petir said in exasperation. "What did you find out?"
"Do you really want to know?" Mark gently pulled on his line.
"Yes! Now give. What did you find out?"
Mark wriggled around to face his friend as Petir leaned forward so they could speak in whispers. "They said to come to the Center as soon as you suspect you're in changeover. They don't sleep as much as we do so the Center's open around the clock."
Touching his arms, Mark continued, "One of the early signs of changeover is tenderness on the forearms." He paused. "But the strangest thing I remember is..." He looked both ways. "If you're going to be a channel, you go through changeover very quickly. And something else. You know you're going to be one of them. You know you're going to be...Sime." He mouthed the forbidden word, not even willing to risk saying it aloud in the isolation of the woods.
Petir paled. The thin boy leaned back on the tree as if it were the only thing that could support him. "That can't be. No one knows for certain. No one."
"That's what I thought, but my source was positive about that point." Mark wasn't sure why he wanted to add the last piece of information he had heard, but he did. "They said if you think you're going to be a channel, they'll give you a job so you can be near the Center. Some parents even sign a form to allow their kids to stay there until changeover."
Petir closed his eyes as if to ward off the rest of the information.
"Remember Cindy Ann?" Mark asked. "Her parents told everyone she'd gone to their cousins to live. The truth is, she stayed at the Center for six months. She changed over last year. She's a channel. They sent her to one of their schools."
"How do you know?"
"Her ex-best friend, Jenea, told me. So, on the day the snakes sent her away, I just happened to be at the sliderail station. Cindy Ann had on retainers and everything. Her parents just stood back and talked to her from a distance. I hid behind one of the barrels so I could hear part of the conversation without being seen."
"What did they say?"
"That they loved her. Can you believe that! They love her. She's Sime and they love her. Then her mother told her about an aunt who had changed over during a family vacation. Since the vacation was at a border town, the aunt had made it to a Sime Center before she was murdered. Cindy Ann's mother passed an envelope to one of the Center's humans to pass to Cindy Ann. My guess is that the letter was addressed to her Sime aunt. Afterwards, her father explained that in his family, there were stories passed down the generations of an ancestor who escaped from Sime Territory. He gave her a list of names which might give her possible family connections. Once Cindy Ann was on the train, the Center human told her parents not to worry. She'd be able to help many Simes avoid the kill." Mark snorted in disbelief. "If you can believe that."
He settled back against his tree. "What do you think? It's all so confusing. Who do you believe?"
Petir swished his branch thoughtfully. "I don't know. All I know is that I don't want to be a snake."
"Ahh, let's go." Mark reeled in his line. "The fish aren't biting and I'm hungry."
"I wish I were," Petir said under his breath.
Mark pretended not to hear.
Mark sat at the round patio table in the backyard. The large blue, flowered umbrella deflected the afternoon sun from his eyes. Nearby, a lemonade glass dripping with condensation made an ever widening ring on its napkin while Mark read.
'Did ya hear?' Berin told his wife. 'Nancy Doler's eldest son, Dabney, established last week. Instead of it escapin' to out-Territory, the Gen defected to a householdin'. I wish I had've killed it myself. Better'n it goin' to them perverts.'
Mark was so absorbed in reading the forbidden book Mr. Buffington had loaned him that he didn't hear his mom shout his name even though a squirm of his body indicated that part of his mind must have.
J'oani Cappa leaned out the back door to try again. "Mark!...Mark! Did you hear me?"
He looked up, blinking his eyes until he under-stood that someone had called his name. Finally realizing who it was, he smiled then said, "Hi, Mom."
As she walked towards him, he quickly but calmly closed the prohibited book, placing it face down so she couldn't see the cover. He then turned on his most impish smile to dispel the anger he had heard in her voice.
"Hi, yourself," she laughed. "Good book?"
"Yeah!" Mark enthused. To bring his mom's attention to his growing body, he stretched out his arms and flexed his developing muscles. Mark glanced down to assure himself the muscles were really there and not something he'd imagined. They were a good sign. A sign that he might become human. Not a killer Sime.
Mark looked back at her in time to see her eyes widen in recognition of his maturing body. She noticed, he thrilled.
The chair creaked as he leaned back in it. "What's up?"
His mom brought out the envelope she'd hidden behind her back. "I delivered all of the invitations to the annual Mayor's Barbecue weeks ago." She looked forlornly at the envelope in her hand. "Except this one. It goes to the Buffingtons on Riverdale Drive." Her body shuddered from head to toe. "I just can't bring myself to take it to them. I know I have to invite them but you know how your father is."
Mark nodded in agreement.
"He just hates them." She shuddered again. "Sime-lovers." She rubbed her arms to calm the fear that was clearly present. "I just wish Mr. Buffington weren't a former Mayor. Sanger would've been a much better place to live if he'd never been elected."
She waved the invitation in the air in a fit of exasperation. "I thought Larryh would behave differ-ently after he was elected Mayor, but he hasn't. If the Buffingtons come to the party, your dad will cause trouble just like he does every year." Her eyes got a far away look. "Maybe the Buffingtons will decline the offer this year."
Afraid to give his opinion, Mark remained silent.
His mom looked back at him. "I know I shouldn't ask, but could you take it to them?"
Mark firmly clamped down on his delight at having an excuse to go there. "Sure. I'll do it." The afternoon sun had just begun to fade to evening. "Time's about right. Can I go fishing afterwards?"
Tension released, she laughed. "That's fine. But don't forget to take your stringer to keep the fish on. Throw them back if you don't get enough. You know how I hate it when you only bring one or two home."
He enthusiastically grabbed the book and got up. Since he stood at least three inches taller than his mom, he leaned over to kiss her on the cheek, then plucked the envelope from her hand before running into the house.
Mark stopped to look around his room. The bright blue bedspread covered his freshly made bed while his rod and reel and tackle box were in the corner near the window where they belonged. His mom had cleaned his room. A momentary glow warmed him. She usually wasn't so kind.
The invitation and book were carelessly thrown on the bed so he could check that the stringer was still in the box. Satisfied, he stuffed the book in the back of his pants before retrieving the envelope and fishing gear. The door banged shut behind him as he left.
His mom was standing in the kitchen, potato and knife in hand, staring into nothing as he rushed pass her and out the door. Halfway across the yard, he stopped and trudged slowly back to the house. I wonder if Mom thinks that I've passed the age of changeover. I'm growing bigger and more muscular every day. I eat as much as my dad. Sometimes more. Surely by now, I'm human.
His shoulders sagged with a sigh. When will my dad ever trust me again? Maybe he'd trust me if he knew for certain that I was already human. I bet Mr. B would know if there's a test to find out if I'm human. I'll ask him.
Mark ran up the porch stairs to pop his head in the kitchen. "Thanks, Mom!" he yelled.
Using the hand with the potato, she waved him good-bye. With his mom's laughter still echoing in his head, he headed towards his favorite short-cut to the Buffingtons'.
Mark had been eight the first time he'd met Mr. B. At that age, he'd been very distressed when he had caught his fishing line on a low-lying branch at one of the local fishing holes. Mr. B had helped him un-tangle it by demonstrating how to unknot each twist as the line was carefully straightened. Mark had been amazed when the man started teaching him how to properly cast the line so as to avoid the problem in the future, since no other adult in town would bother to help a child.
Afterwards, Mark had gone home with Mr. B to meet Mrs. B. He had known he shouldn't go with strangers but he couldn't help himself. Mark would never forget that day.
Only later did he find out that the Buffingtons were Sime-lovers. By that time, it was too late. Mark knew them as kind and gentle people. The Buffing-tons offered him the care he craved.
His home life was difficult. Although his mom could be kind like she was today, she usually sided with his dad, who was very opinionated and violent. So whenever possible, Mark would sneak to his friends' home to drink trin tea, talk about fishing, and relax in the atmosphere of love and caring.
One day, he asked Mr. B why he liked Simes and got the most surprising answer. "We have a son." The gray-haired man's eyes asked Mrs. B for consent before he continued the story. Seeing her nodding approval, he told Mark about his son's changeover.
Mr. B's forehead creased in thought. Speaking slowly to emphasize each word, he related, "My son didn't kill the Gen who was given to him. I saw my boy and the Gen put in a room together. When they came out, the Gen was grinning from ear to ear. The man walked right up to me, stuck out his hand and said, 'Congratulations.'
"Congratulations! Can you believe that?" He shook his head. "The man said that my son had provided him with one of the most satisfying transfers he'd ever had."
Mr. B looked down, touched his fingers to his forehead then waved them off in dismissal as he looked back up. "I'm sorry. You don't know that lingo. Transfer means that the Sime has been provided with selyn." He saw Mark's confused expression and added, "That's the stuff they take from our bodies. I don't understand exactly what it is myself and I've had the opportunity, not only to read about it but also to donate it. The closest word in our language is energy. Whatever it is, it gives them life.
"But, Mark. The best part of this story is that my son became a channel. A healer. A Sime who can pro-vide the selyn to other Simes so those Simes, renSimes they call them, don't have to kill. My boy is a healer," he repeated thoughtfully. "Had we been in Sanger, I would've had to shoot my own son to save myself and my family."
Mark widened his eyes at the shock of the news. "Your son never killed? Are you positive it was the same human who went into that room with him?"
"I'm sure." The old man smiled a bit. "I'm sure."
He had a hard time believing Mr. B on this point. After all, channels were Simes. His dad had told him often enough that the Sime Territory propaganda was nothing but a pack of lies. All Simes killed.
He'd accepted what his dad had told him without reservation until his tenth birthday. That day-Mark still got a lump in his throat whenever he remembered it-he'd become afraid of growing up. His dad had rummaged through the hall closet for the rifle he used to hunt down and kill changeover victims.
The man who was his father had suddenly become a stranger. As his dad had oiled the gun, he had occasionally looked up to glare at Mark with a frightening combination of hate and fear.
Mark had always known his friends in town would kill him if he turned Sime but it was disheartening to think that his dad would be so eager to kill him as well. After that, his dad never had the rifle far from his side. The picture was clear. There was no room for a son who turned out to be Sime. The only good Sime is a dead one, Mark's mind recited in his dad's tone of voice.
He closed off the confusing thoughts when he realized he had approached the Buffingtons' house from the back by habit. Mark smiled. This time he had a legitimate reason for coming here so he skirted the house to approach from the front. Placing his fishing gear next to the stairs, he fearlessly mounted the wooden steps of the freshly painted white house to knock at the door.
While he waited for someone to respond, Mark inspected the sign that was boldly displayed on the door. SIME TERRITORY, it read above a weird scratching he assumed was in the Sime language.
Mr. B had explained about the sign when he had asked. "Many changeover victims can't make it to the Sime Center before being shot. Our house is on the other side of town from the Center. The missis and I put anyone who requests help in a locked room until a channel can rescue them. Since we've had the sign up, only two children who've come to us haven't survived. A girl's father shot her before she could make it to our home. She bled to death on our doorstep while we held her. The other was a boy who arrived in the last stages of changeover. Since he was a channel, his changeover progressed rapidly. He died before the Center could pick him up."
Although Mark had seen the sign attached to the door countless times, a shiver still passed through him every time he read it. Simes! Those mutants with the snakes on their arms.
Even after reading the Sime Territory books the Buffingtons had allowed him to read for years, it still made his skin crawl to think about them. How could anyone like Simes? Mark thought. The Buffingtons said that Simes could take their selyn from channels. They no longer had a need to kill humans as long as there were humans who were willing to donate to them. And yet, his dad told him that the Simes were natural liars. All Simes kill. Who's telling the truth? It was so confusing.
No matter how he felt about Simes, he continued to read the forbidden books. His favorite ones were those which had mini-cities called householdings where adults and children were safe. Sometimes, he would dream he was in a householding then wake up crying for a society which was some writer's fantasy.
Finally, Mark saw Mrs. B through the blue trimmed window wiping her hands on her green pinafore apron as she approached the door. She was dismayed at the sight of him in plain view and attempted to rush him inside, whispering, "Come in quickly, boy! What are you doing coming to the front door like that? Mrs. Harding's coming up the road. If she recognizes you and tells your dad, he'll skin you alive."
He stepped back to elude her grasp then spoke in a voice loud enough for the lady passing by to hear. "Mrs. Buffington." Mark used her full name instead of the shortened version he preferred. "My mom sent me to deliver this." He held out the envelope. "It's the invitation to the annual Mayor's Barbecue on Saturday. She'd like a response by Thursday."
Leaning in close to her, he lowered his voice as he giggled. "Mom really did send me," he explained. "She said I could go fishing afterwards. Where is 'he'?"
The gray-haired lady's eyes twinkled as she played along with his charade. "Why! Thank you, Mark. And you can tell your mother that we would be delighted to be there on Saturday. Is there anything we can bring?"
Lowering her voice before he had the chance to reply, she suggested, "Try the old West Bend Road site."
Mark answered for the world to hear, "Mom didn't say." A grin spread across his maturing face. "Thank you," he mouthed.
"Could you drop by tomorrow to tell me what she'd like me to bring?" Mrs. B continued in a louder than normal voice.
"Sure, I'll ask Mom."
She pointed to his things by the stairs. "I see you're going fishing. Good luck."
"Thanks, Mrs. Buffington." He waved good-bye as he ran down the steps, then turned towards the fishing hole he knew Mr. B would be trying.
At the end of West Bend Road, Mark headed down the trail which led to the Tinusa River. As he walked in the forest, he felt the calming effect of the cathedral-high trees wash over him. He stopped at the river to look upstream. The roaring white water rushed over huge green slime-covered rocks before it plunged into the pool before him. Eyes closed, he listened for a moment to the peace the place provided before following the trail downstream to Mr. B's favorite fishing hole. Once he had rounded the bend, Mark saw his friend sitting against a tree.
Mr. B had a red and white checkered handkerchief clenched in one hand while he held his rod and reel in the other. His legs were stretched out in front of him. His favorite hat, which was full of colorful fishing lures, covered his eyes.
Without saying a word, Mark paused a moment to watch Mr. B's bobber before he threw his own line farther downstream. He chose a nearby tree and settled down to companionable silence.
After a while, Mr. B sat up and removed his hat to mop his brow. "How're you doing?"
"Fine." Mark's distracted thoughts made his reply come out in a whisper.
The old man replaced his hat then looked over to ask, "Why so solemn?"
"I just came from your house. My mom asked me to deliver your invitation to Saturday's barbecue. Of course, when I appeared at the front door, Mrs. B was alarmed until she knew I had a legitimate reason for being there.
"Mr. B," Mark's voice rose an octave higher as he remembered the sign on the door. "Aren't you afraid to donate?"
The older man scrutinized him for a moment before speaking. "The first time I was but I felt that it was something I had to do. I thought that it would furnish my son selyn for a month.
"As it turned out," Mr. B continued with a far away look in his eye, "since my son is a channel, he has to take selyn from a special kind of Gen called a Donor. A Donor likes to give his selyn to a channel in a way that would kill another Gen. And because they like it, they don't get hurt. Donors are very rare. They're highly respected and well paid in Sime Territory. I envy them. Had I been younger when I ended my fear of Simes, perhaps I could've been one of those special few."
Coming back from his fantasy, Mr. B refocused his eyes on Mark. "The Donors keep the channels sane so the channels can keep the rest of the Simes sane. Anyway, after that first time, I wasn't afraid because I knew what to expect."
Mark gripped his fishing rod tighter, curiosity forcing him to ask, "And what do you expect?"
"Well." Mr. B's eyes twinkled in delight at the question. "I expect to feel tentacles on my arms, the channel's lips touching my own, and then the channel letting me go. I've never felt anything in-between. So you see...there's nothing to fear."
Mark gritted his teeth as he imagined each step Mr. B described. In a whirlwind of thought, he tried to sort everything out. But Simes kill. Or, at least, he knew the berserkers killed. His dad said they all did while Mr. B claimed that they didn't have to with the help of the channels. And then, to add to his confusion, the book he was reading said only the householding Simes didn't kill. Who was right?
And what about the Donors mentioned in Mr. B's book? I wonder what it would be like to be a Donor to a channel. A secret smile crossed over his face as he remembered a scene involving the newly established Gen, Dabney, from his book. Putting himself in Dabney's position, Mark fantasized.
Arms open in the sign of welcome. He watched as they were suddenly wrapped in a steely vise of corded strength. After being pulled forward, Mark felt hard lips touching his...
The tug of a fish waging a desperate battle at the end of his line ended his dream. Mark jumped up to reel in what felt like a big one.
"Bring him in gently," the older man told him. "That's right. Re...el him in ni...ce and slo...ow."
As Mark backed away from the shoreline, Mr. B knelt down to grab the line. The huge rainbow trout was lifted from his watery haven then the hook was carefully removed. Mark retrieved the stringer from his box and handed it to Mr. B. The fish was secured and slid into the water without delay. They watched it try to get away as Mark thrust the other end of the stringer into the soft ground.
"One or two more like that," Mr. B said as he reached down to wash his hands in the icy cold water, "and you could have a meal."
"True. But I always suspected Mom would still get angry even if I brought four or five home." He threw up his hands. "I don't think she likes to clean them."
Patting Mark on the shoulder, the older man laughed, "My Gladia is the same way. She's perfectly happy to cook them, as long as I clean them myself."
"If I get enough fish today, maybe you could teach me how." Mark beamed as he cast out his line.
He'd started to sit down when he heard a tree being deliberately rustled down the trail. Two men appeared. A sun ray which had filtered through the trees glinted off a retainer. With a sharp intake of breath, Mark realized that one wasn't a man but a Sime. An instant later, he relaxed. The retainer meant that the Sime wasn't a berserker. The two must be from the Center.
He looked at the tranquil face of the human who accompanied the Sime. How could any human be so near a freak and yet be so calm?
Mr. B noticed his tense young friend. "Relax, Mark. Simes have a difficult time dealing with frightened people."
With a nod, he took a deep breath and slowly let it out. As the men approached, Mark observed the mutant. The Sime wore black pants with a clinician's jacket covering a white shirt. If the jacket had been long sleeved instead of short, he would've looked like a human doctor just coming from the hospital.
The short, thin man came close enough to talk without shouting. His nose wrinkled. "Smells like you had luck in your barbaric undertakings. I could smell the foul scent on you from far away."
Mr. B frowned. "I'm sorry you're seeing me this way, Luigi. I'm always careful to clean up before we meet. What's wrong? You must want to see me urgently to come this far into the woods."
The Sime smirked. "There's nothing wrong, Don. I have some news which I thought you should know right away. We're getting a new first order channel assigned to the Center." He paused only long enough to take a breath before continuing, "It's Timothy, your son."
Joy spread over Mr. B's face and Mark could see him shaking with excitement. Barely able to speak, he said in a disbelieving whisper, "My son. He's coming here. When?"
Mark watched the Sime soften with the warmth of the radiating love which emanated from Mr. B as he spoke of the older man's son. "Tomorrow on the noon train. I understand he requested this assignment. It took him a year to convince the Controller that he truly wanted to move here. I'd like to stop by tonight to talk with Gladia and you. I know that you're comfortable around Simes; however, I think we should discuss the subtler courtesies."
"Yes! Please come."
Gathering up his gear, Mr. B turned to rush home but Luigi stopped him cold by saying, "Don, what about the fish?"
Mr. B blinked up to stare at the Sime. "That's right. And where are my manners?" Mark was pulled forward. "Luigi. Paul. This is Mark."
Mark automatically held out his hand until he realized what he was doing, then he pulled it back. "I...I'm sorry but..."
The look of relief on the Sime's face spoke volumes. The fish, Mark remembered. He doesn't like fish.
"It's quite all right," Luigi assured him. "I'm very glad to meet you. Don has told me many good things about you." He redirected his attention to Mr. B. "The Center's probably half crazy right now with my absence. I came as soon as I heard the news. I'll see you tonight at eight." And with that, he left. Paul went after him but the Sime had already disap-peared down the path.
"Wh...Where?" Mark stuttered.
"They ran," Mr. B mused.
"Ran! But I didn't even see the Sime go."
His friend smiled at him. "Simes can run very fast when they want to. I admire the Donors who have to keep up with them. Paul's one of the best sprinters I've ever known. He won all the first place trophies in track when he was in school, but even he can't run as fast as a Sime."
Mr. B put his gear down then turned to the river bank to check the fish that was captured there. "It's time that we both got back to town."
Mark looked forlornly at the fish. "I can't take it back. Mom'll shoot me if I only bring one home. It's big enough for the two of you. Why don't you take it?"
"I would, but Luigi's coming over tonight and I don't want the fish smell in the house when he gets there."
Mr. B reached down to lift the trout from the water. "You, my pretty fat friend, are the luckiest trout in the river." Once the stringer was gently removed he placed the fish back in the water. The creature floated for a brief moment before it felt its freedom. Twisting its entire body to create a noisy splash, the fish sped away in a silvery streak. Mr. B handed the stringer back to him then stooped to rinse his hands. After he was done, he dried them on his pants and picked up his gear. "You look like you have something on your mind, young man?" he asked Mark when he saw a frown of consternation on his face.
Mark didn't acknowledge his friend's question. Instead, he gathered his belongings then headed down the trail with Mr. B beside him. Just before they reached the road, he asked, "Why would the fish smell bother a Sime?"
"They don't eat meat. Something about," Mr. B gestured with his free hand, "they can feel living flesh die. It's in a book I read."
They walked a short distance before Mark said, "The book you gave me mentions Simes eating soup. I guess I just assumed it had meat in it. Simes have a strange way of living, don't they?"
"Maybe strange to the way you and I live but it's not strange to them-just normal. If you're curious, the next time you're at the house I'll show you a pamphlet which explains the lifestyle of Simes and channels. Here we are. You go on ahead to town and I'll follow in a couple of minutes. Don't want anyone to see us together, you know."
"No, you go on. I know you want to tell Mrs. B about your son's arrival. I'm not late this time. I'll sit over by that tree and read a few minutes. I won't be late. Promise!"
The excited man hugged him. "Thanks. Don't lose track of time or your mom'll be angry."
"I won't!" Mark chuckled.
For a moment, he watched his friend's rapidly receding back disappear down the path then he turned towards the tree.
Mark placed the tackle box next to the tree trunk then propped his fishing rod against it before sitting down. Instead of reading, he closed his eyes. This was the first time he'd seen a Sime outside the school or the Center grounds. Dad's right. If you can't shoot them, they should be confined to their Territory. His heart raced at the thought of a Sime so close. What if he became one? He'd have to leave and he couldn't eat fish. I love fish.
He thought of how close the human stood to the Sime and the look on his face when the Sime was talking. Was it adoration or was it longing? Why does he like to be near one? Why! What's so special about the Sime that a human would seek out his company? That man's suicidal. He should go to a mental institution.
Enough! The book was retrieved from his pants pocket and opened. After reading the first sentence, he stopped and flipped to the last chapter.
Dabney had been dogging Lonie for days and now it was finally time. Time to give his first transfer.
Installing the channel on the contour couch, Dabney went to the kitchen to lay out the makings of trin tea. He was so excited. He'd been looking forward to this ever since Sectuib Keven had given him the assignment. He noticed that the channel's body seemed too tense. Chastising himself, he quickly used the relaxation technique of thinking about himself as a rag doll and was rewarded by the grateful look on the channel's face.
Sectuib Keven and his Companion en-tered the room.
"Good work. You have him in perfect condition. We'll be monitoring you during the transfer but I anticipate no problems. Are you ready?"
"I'm ready," he assured them.
"Come on, then."
Dabney watched as Lonie's handling ten-tacles wrapped themselves into position. His heart beat in anticipation of what was to come.
The Sectuib instructed. "When you're ready, initiate the fifth contact point."
Dabney leaned over and pressed his lips to the channel's.
The feeling was sensational until he felt a slight frustration coming from Lonie. Speed. Lonie wants more speed. He began to push the selyn towards the channel. The speed in-creased. He pushed it faster and faster. It was fabulous. His body sang to the outpouring of his being and then-it was over. He was released and everybody was congratulating him.
Mark closed the book then stuffed it back into his pants. He took his equipment and headed for home.
What an imagination the writer had. A human who likes being around a killer. Who gives himself to be killed and doesn't die. And on top of that, a safe place for children to live where love and under-standing are given freely no matter whether you're destined to change over or to become human. I wish it were true. I wish my parents could love me no matter what.
Mark refused to think about it any longer. Instead, he thought of Petir. He wondered if his friend was enjoying his vacation at his grandmother's.
The next day, Mark returned to the Buffingtons' house to request that they bring a potato salad.
"Mark," Mr. B called as he entered the familiar back entryway. "How about a cup of trin? Gladia is making some now."
"Thanks. I'd like that." He sat at the kitchen table. "Have you seen your son?"
"Yes. And except for being Sime, he looks healthy and happy. He asked me if he could go to the party on Saturday. How about it? Is it too late to change our reservations from two to four?"
Mark waited until Mrs. B had poured the trin and everyone had had the opportunity to add sugar before he answered, "Do you think that's a good idea? My dad..."
"...is the Mayor and should behave himself," Mr. B retorted.
"Why would Timothy want to go to a party where everyone would hate him?" Mark asked.
His friend stopped his cup halfway to his mouth before he replied, "He said he wanted the people of the town to get used to him."
The older man slurped the hot tea. "Some of his childhood friends will be at the party. He'd like to see them. Besides, if they can come to accept him maybe they'll send their children who go into changeover to the Center. This party could be the first step towards the trust this town should have always had in the channels."
"So, Mark," Mrs. B took over. "Is it too late to change the number of our reservations?"
He looked from one to the other. "I'll add two more to the guest list. No one will know the difference since I'm in charge of it."
It was Saturday. The sun was bright and the air was clean from the light rain which had fallen the night before. A breeze whisked from the back screen door to the front entryway where Mark stood. He could hear the babble coming from the backyard where people were enjoying themselves. Occasionally, the air carried a whiff of barbecued meat that made his stomach growl with anticipation.
Mark studied the new screen door for a moment. His mom had been very proud when his dad had hung the two doors yesterday afternoon. She'd told him that it was made from the same stuff that was used to make the sliderail. What she didn't say was that it was also the same material the Simes used to make the ten-foot fence which surrounded the Center. He felt the slick surface. I doubt that even a Sime could climb a fence made from this.
He rubbed his stomach to stay the growl that threatened. Mark frowned. I'm starved! When are the Buffingtons going to come? He looked over the guest list again to verify that everyone had arrived. Everyone except the Buffingtons.
Mark shivered. His father would cause trouble when he found out that the channel was coming. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do about it, since traditionally, all of Sanger's past mayors and their families were invited to the annual event.
Mark pushed away the unsettling thoughts on the pending trouble to search his feelings. He should've been terrified that a Sime was coming to his house. Instead, he was anticipating it. He swallowed. What if Dad were right and all Simes killed! But what if Mr. B's book was right and some Simes didn't kill? I want to live! He decided that if he became Sime, he wouldn't kill. He'd go to one of the channels-maybe even Mr. B's son.
A devious smile lit Mark's face. He'd shake the channel's hand. If he were to be Sime, he'd have to learn to touch one. And if he were human-Mr. B and the book had said that the channels were dedicated to the safety of their Gens. It was risky, but the Sime would have on retainers. He should be safe enough. Decision made, a peace descended over him.
The loud sound of a throat being purposefully cleared came from the other side of the screen door. Brought back to reality, Mark greeted the Buffingtons. Mrs. B was delighted that he noticed her new pink sun dress matched Mr. B's wine-colored shirt and gray pants. Finally, Mark turned to the Sime and the stranger who stood beside his friends.
The Sime, who he assumed was the Buffington's son, wore a short-sleeved dark blue shirt with a symbol embroidered in red over the left breast. His forearms were covered by the heavy looking retainers which confined his tentacles.
The human, who stood protectively close to the Sime, wore a matching shirt with the colors reversed. The bright shirt and the sun accented the red in his brown hair.
Mr. B made the introductions. "Mark," he an-nounced "this is my son, Timothy, and his Donor, Viktor."
Determined not to be afraid of the Sime's touch, Mark steeled himself as he offered his hand to the brown-haired animal with crystal blue eyes. He watched Timothy stare at the outstretched member for a second before glancing at his Donor in silent communication. Hand suspended in air, Mark noticed the Donor step closer to Timothy as the Sime seemed to brace himself for something exceedingly unpleasant.
At the same moment, Mr. B interceded by taking the hand. "Mark," he began nervously, "it's not polite to touch a Sime unless the Sime offers to be touched."
Disappointment plainly written across his face, Mark withdrew his hand in a clenched ball as he looked past the older man, stammering, "I...I'm sorry...I didn't realize...I didn't mean...I mean...I won't..."
In almost a whisper, the Sime said, "Mark, I sense your sincerity." He waved a hand to indicate to his Donor that the crisis was over. Mr. B stepped to his wife's side.
"Viktor," the channel commanded in a terse voice.
Mark barely heard Timothy's next words as he watched the Donor place his hand on the Sime's left shoulder. Timothy then offered his hand but Mark only saw the retainer wrapped around the channel's wrist. He stared at it until the metal glinted in the morning sun to remind him why the hand was there. Finally, Mark reached out slowly. When the Sime's hot skin touched his palm, Mark screwed up his face in concern. "Are you sick?"
Tension broken, Timothy smiled. "No, Mark. I'm Sime. My normal body temperature is higher than yours."
With weary concern, Mark looked into the crystalline eyes. "You must suffer a lot with a day as hot as this one." I'm doing it. I'm touching a Sime. I'm actually carrying on a normal conversation with him and nothing is happening. He's just standing there calmly looking at me.
Mark withdrew his hand as Timothy said, "Sime normal. If you were this temperature, you'd be very sick."
"You're right. By the way, I understand you don't eat meat. I'm sorry but you do know this is a barbecue. I hope you're not too offended."
"No, I won't be. I used to love barbecues before I changed over, and Viktor," indicating the man who stood by his side, "who also grew up in Gen Ter-ritory, loved them as well." He peered into the house. "I'll be fine."
"Oh!..." Mark exclaimed. The Buffingtons were still standing at the door. "Won't you come in? The party's in the backyard."
"Would you take the potato salad?" Mrs. B handed the bowl to him.
"Sure." Mark led the way to the back door. After departing their company, he headed straight for a long table filled with every variety of food you could imagine. He was relieved to find that the other guests had already had the opportunity to eat.
Great, he thought. I can eat as much as I want.
He put the salad bowl in an empty spot then took a plate. He piled on barbecued chicken and ribs, baked beans, Mrs. B's potato salad, and bread.
"Want some tea, Mark?" Mrs. Bernard held out a glass.
"Thanks." He took it from her chubby hand then raised the glass to her before sipping it. She used to be so thin. She looks like her stomach is going to burst. I hope Mom's right about her losing the weight after the baby is born.
"There's some chocolate fudge cake and strawberry ice cream, Mark." Mrs. Bernard pointed out.
"Looks great," he said, drooling over the desserts, "but Mom'll have a fit if I take any until I've finished lunch."
She laughed. "You're right. I hope my baby will be as obedient as you are."
Mark snickered and was about to reply when they heard the sound of arguing voices close to the pecan tree.
"What's happening over there?" Mrs. Bernard wondered.
He grimaced. That's got to be where the Sime is.
"I'm not sure but it's probably my dad. The Buffingtons are here."
"Oh! In that case, you'd better go someplace else to eat. Rumor has it that you're more friendly with the Buffingtons than you're supposed to be. If you're smart, you won't go there."
Mark pressed his lips together. "Perhaps you're right." Pointing with his plate, he indicated the tree swings at the far end of the yard. "I'll go there."
He walked away, carefully balancing the food so the bread wouldn't fall. Maybe it wasn't so bad, since one of the nearby pine trees shaded the area, making it look cool and inviting.
The swings reminded him of the hours spent there as a young child. He and Petir would play all day. His mom would bring them lunch or milk and cookies because they never wanted to leave. As they grew older, they would just sit and talk.
But mostly he remembered the times his dad would push him. He would pretend he was a bird as he soared higher and higher, laughing with the joy of freedom the air gliding over his skin would invoke. That was when his dad knew he was a kid...before he was ten...before the rifle.
Mark sat down on the seat which had seemed so wide when his dad had made it and seemed so narrow now. He took a bite out of a succulent but gooey chicken leg. I wonder if Petir has returned from vacation. He said he would only be gone a week.
A groan came from beneath the trees. Mark wiped as much of the goo off his fingers as possible then settled his plate on the wooden swing before he investigated the sound he'd heard. A bush partially covered a curled up figure.
"Petir!" Mark ran over and knelt beside him. "What's going on?" He tried to straighten Petir's body by grabbing wrist and leg, but his friend screamed at his touch.
Petir fell back as Mark released him.
His friend's response was to try crawling away but Mark grabbed an ankle.
"No. Stay with me. Tell me. What's wrong?" he repeated, his tone fearful.
"Got. Got to get away. Leave. Leave me, Mark." The boy feebly tried to push him away. "Go away. I knew... Should have left before... Have always known... Just like you said at the fishing hole that time... Always knew. That makes me a channel. Oh...it hurts...it hurts so bad!" His voice faded from exhaustion. "Leave me. Get your dad. Hurry!!"
Mark gazed into the pain-stricken brown eyes as he contemplated his friend.
"It's changeover?" he shouted. "You're saying you're in changeover! My god. You're in change-over!" He backed away in panic.
"Nooo!" Petir cried. "I don't want to be a killer. Please! I don't want to be a killer. Help me. Go get your dad. He can shoot me before I kill."
"No!" Mark wailed. He thought a moment. "A channel!" he exclaimed. "Petir, a channel! You can use a channel! There's one at the party. He won't let you kill." That is, if Mr. B is right. I have to believe. I have to... It has to be true. "I can get him. Stay here. And try not to moan too loudly or someone will find you!"
"No. I don't want to kill. Your dad...get your dad," the boy pleaded. "I don't want to be Sime. Hurry!"
"Don't worry." Mark disregarded his friend's pleas for death. "I'll get help." Not waiting for an answer, he ran to the pecan tree where he had last thought the channel to be.
Mark's dad had his rifle aimed at the unwanted guest when he arrived. The angry man screamed at the Sime, "What're you doing here?"
Mr. B indicated with a shaky hand. "Mayor, you remember my son. This is Timothy."
"He's not your son. He's a Sime and he's loose," Mark's dad shouted at Mr. B.
Mark ignored his dad and stepped close to the Sime. "Come meet my friend, Petir!" He pleaded in such a way that the crowd would think he was only trying to defuse the situation. "Come to meet Petir!"
Apparently trying to make sense of what Mark was telling him, Timothy asked, "Who?"
"Petir!" Mark panted. "My best friend! He wants your hel..."
The channel cut him off before he could complete the sentence and frighten the already fearful crowd. "Where?"
Mark pointed. "There. Behind the large pine trees with the swings."
Timothy ignored the threat of the gun and sped away.
Mark ran to catch up to the channel and his Donor but was greatly outdistanced. Wow! Viktor must be used to chasing Simes. Look at him go!
Suddenly, he realized there were pounding foot-steps close behind.
Fear welled in him. These people wanted to mur-der his friend.
His father. His mother. The other former mayors and their wives. All wanted Petir dead. But what if it's true? What if Timothy can save him?
When he arrived, he noticed that the Donor was in the same position he had used when Timothy had shaken hands. The channel was probing behind Petir's neck.
Petir cried out in pain or fear, Mark didn't know which.
His father's angry voice growled, "Move out of the way, Sime! Maybe I can't shoot you, but that one," he waved his gun toward Petir, "is fair game and I want him."
Mark shouted, "No, Dad! Petir's my friend. You can't!"
His dad turned on him. "What are you? A Sime-lover." He drilled his son with a hateful stare.
"No, Dad! Please! He's my friend! Let the channel help him! Then he won't kill!"
The Mayor fired his gun at Timothy's feet and shouted, "Move! Or I'll blow your head off next!"
The channel slowly stood up then backed away from Petir with an anguished look on his face which told Mark what was about to happen.
Mark looked to Viktor in an appeal for help but only found a suppressed panic directed at Timothy. The Donor stepped in front of the channel as if to shield him.
At that moment, Petir screamed.
Mark's breath caught.
Blood and fluids had gushed forth to splatter Petir in a gory mess but it couldn't hide the twelve tentacles which grossly extruded from his friend's two arms.
The berserker's face had grimaced into a twisted snarl. His teeth were bared. His hands and tentacles had stretched towards the nearest human. His eyes were blank, blind to everything but the need that drove him to survival.
His dad shouted, "Stand back. I've got him!" He aimed his gun.
Mark dove to Petir's side and screamed, "No!"
His dad fired.
The sound was deafening.
Mark felt nothing.
He heard his dad cry out in shock.
He couldn't move. He knew Petir was under him. "Petir," he tried to say, but his lips barely moved and no sound passed his throat.
He opened his eyes to see worry clearly written across his dad's face then closed them in total exhaustion.
Someone lifted him up. "The bullet went right through him and into the berserker's heart. The snake's dead."
No! Not Petir! It can't be. He can't be dead! Not my friend!
Something was pressed to his back before he was laid down. In the background, he heard Mr. B's son appealing to his dad, "Please Mayor Cappa. I can save him. There's no one here to save him but me. An ambulance can't get here before he bleeds to death. I can save your son but I'll require a room with a locked door so I can remove my retainers."
Retainers. Sime! The Sime wants to save me. Death. He said death. I'm dying. But if he touches me, won't I die anyway? I don't feel a thing. Maybe I am dying.
He concentrated hard but he was barely able to listen to what the people around him were saying until he heard his mother shouting, "You stubborn ol' man. That's your son! Don't you want him to live!?!"
"Of course I do, J'oani-but-a Sime-touching our son. A Sime will just kill him anyway. You know that!"
"Larryh...I don't like or trust Simes any more than you do. But maybe the channels really are different. There's no choice left! He's bleeding to death! What's the difference? Dead is dead. I want my son to live and that thing is the only hope our son has."
Reluctantly, she added, "I'll be in the room to make sure he doesn't kill him." She reiterated, "I want my son to live."
"It'll be on your head then!" Mark heard his dad bellow.
He felt himself being picked up by strong arms. A sharp pain jabbed his right shoulder. He moaned.
Next thing he knew he heard a lock click and Timothy instructing his mom, "I know you want to be present to assure that nothing happens to Mark but by just being here you're threatening his safety. Go to that corner and stay as far away as possible... And whatever you do, stay calm. Do Not Interfere!"
"It's lucky I never go anywhere without my field kit," Timothy told Viktor in English. "Put a demurin wafer under his tongue. Then we can remove his shirt."
Mark sensed his mouth being opened and shut but if something were placed inside, he hadn't felt it.
"Viktor." He heard the urgent appeal. "Help me remove my retainers."
The Sime's going to remove his retainers. Let me out of here, Mark thought, but he couldn't move.
A few indecipherable words were exchanged before the human's voice lowered to an under-standable whisper. "Drink this. I hope you know what you're doing. Even through your retainers, my high field wasn't able to shield you entirely from the deathshock. Are you sure you'll be able to do this functional? After all, we're scheduled for transfer in less than two hours."
"Yuck! This fosebine is too strong," Timothy protested.
"Finish it!-then maybe you can get through this," Viktor insisted.
After a brief pause, Timothy said, "Our transfer will clear the rest of the deathshock from my system. That's not the major problem."
"Then what is?"
In a normal voice, Viktor said, "Hold still. The catch is jammed. There!"
Mark's mother's panicked intake of breath echoed through the room as a groan of relief followed the snap pop of each released retainer.
Mark couldn't move or say anything but he heard the channel whisper, "I zlinned the beginnings of establishment when I picked him up."
"Keep it quiet, will you? You'll just panic her more. Besides, you heard me."
"Do you know what you're about to do to him?" Viktor hissed.
"Induction" was the heavy reply.
"Induction is right. And that's the Mayor's son. If he ever finds out, he'll run the Center out of town."
I don't understand. Induction? What does that mean?
"But he's not going to find out, is he?" Timothy's voice threatened. "Besides, there's nothing I can do about it. The changeover victim was a channel. The boys were best friends so Mark tried to help him. His system must've been activated by the victim's own rapidly developing system, and since his only two options are to die or for me to heal him, there is no choice. I'll heal him and he'll learn to live with the consequences."
The human's voice changed to soothing tones. "Calm down. I know you have no choice. I'm sorry. Better get on with it. I'm looking forward to our transfer. It's been a long time since I've been assigned to a channel of your capacity and I intend to enjoy it to the fullest."
The Sime laughed and gabbled something incom-prehensible which made the human groan and reply in a hopeful tone of voice.
Mark heard the bed creak as if someone had just sat on it.
Strange, I can hear the Sime and his Donor but I don't feel anything. It's as if this were happening to someone else. Wait. What is happening? The Sime. He's going to touch me. No.
Suddenly, Mark felt that it was extremely important to look at his arms. He used all the energy he had to crack open his eyes. There, wrapped around his forearms in snake-like cords were tentacles. Tentacles! He wanted to struggle. He tried to struggle, but his body just lay there. Finally, Mark peered into the Sime's eyes. The look Timothy gave him was one he knew he would never forget. It was a look of caring but more. He couldn't gave it a name, but he knew it was special. He tried to smile but couldn't. He knew he'd be well soon. Someone cared about him.
Mark heard Timothy tell his mom, "Mrs. Cappa, your son's very fortunate. I feel a faint trace of selyn production. He must've just established. Since he's Gen, I'll have a better chance of repairing the damage, and he'll have a better chance of surviving."
I'm Gen, he thrilled. What did he mean that I'd have a better chance of surviving since I'm Gen?
He was confused by the statement. The wafer must be doing its trick, I can't think anymo...
A month after he'd been released from the hospital, Mark lay in bed thinking. Mom seems to love me again. Is she like this because dad shot me, because I've been sick, or because I'm Gen? Did it matter? Yes, it mattered. What happened to the unconditional love she had promised him when he was younger? Every time he got in trouble she'd always say, 'You know I have to punish you but just remember, no matter what happens, I'll always love you.' Since he'd been shot, his mom had been that way again but only when they were alone. As soon as his dad came home, her attitude would change. Whatever his dad said, she would do or think.
And his dad...he didn't want to think about him. The only difference in his behavior was that the rifle was back in the closet. Everything else was the same. He still seemed to hate Mark and to look at him with suspicion. Mark knew that look. It was the same one he used every time they'd passed Mr. B on the street. It said, Sime-lover.
But, he wasn't a Sime-lover. Just knowing and talking to the Buffingtons wouldn't make him a Sime-lover. So why did his dad think he was one? I don't care. I don't care what he thinks or does or says. I know I'm not a Sime-lover, I'm just curious about Simes. That's all.
He began to drag himself out of bed and dress. It took every effort he could muster but he did it. It was time to beg his mother to let him go fishing. She'd refused him so far, but each day he could see her softening. She's got to let me go. It's the only way I'll ever get to see the Buffingtons.
Mark, dressed in old pants and his favorite gray fishing shirt, swaggered into the living room where his mom was sitting. He felt stronger and was deter-mined that today was going to be the day.
"Hi! What cha doing?" he asked as lightly as he could.
"Knitting a sweater for your father," she answered automatically. His mom furrowed her brows as she fretted, "What are you doing out of bed?"
"I'm fine, Mom. I've been telling you that I'm fine for the last two weeks. Isn't it time that you believe me? I want to go fishing." I want to go the Buffingtons. "The summer is almost over, and I've only been a few times.
"Come on, Mom," he grumbled. "Pleeease."
"I don't know, Mark. I don't think you should be out of bed. You still seem pretty weak."
"I'm fine," he reiterated. "After breakfast, I'll go for a couple of hours. It's peaceful by the river. If I get tired, I'll sleep for awhile. It wouldn't be the first time that the roaring river soothed me to sleep." He headed for the kitchen with her at his heels. "You can even make me a cup of that herbal tea that Mrs. Wilkinson said was good for healing." I can't believe I asked her to make that tea. It's the worst tasting stuff I've ever had.
The table was a welcome sight. His smiling face bespoke normality as he carefully slid into a chair and watched her fill the blue enameled kettle with water before setting it on the stove.
A groan almost escaped his lips when a wave of fatigue hit him. She won't let me out of the house if I show any sign of weakness. He sat up a little straighter.
Eggs and toast were prepared. Butter, strawberry jam, a napkin, and utensils were laid out while the food was cooking. The kettle whistled for the begin-ning of his torture. The tea was too hot to drink immediately so he decided to let it cool off. Once the meal was set before him, his mother poured herself some coffee and sat down opposite.
His appetite was beginning to return so he ate the food with gusto.
She scrutinized him over her tilted cup. "At least you're eating better."
Judging this to be the right moment to make his point, Mark gulped down the dreadful tasting tea, then took a bite of the toast with jam to cover the flavor.
"All right, Mark," his mom laughed. "You've convinced me."
He started to get up.
"Stop!" she yelled. "Sit back down." She pointed to his chair. After he sat, she began listing conditions as she counted on her fingers. "First, you have to finish all your breakfast. Second, I want you back before lunch and third," she paused to make sure he was listening, "you will promise to take a nap after you eat lunch. Promise all that and you may go."
"I promise." He took a huge bite of eggs. "Thanks, Mom. It'll be great. You'll see. I may even bring home enough fish for tonight's meal."
"I hope not!" she said under her breath, but he heard and just laughed.
"Don't worry. I'll take the stringer."
The last bite hadn't been swallowed when he got up. "I'll see you at noon."
He retrieved the fishing gear from his room, then paused briefly at the front door to allow his eyes to adjust to the bright morning sun. As he descended the wooden stairs, the window curtain moved. His mom was watching his progress. He had no choice but to continue down the street towards City Park. He would have to pick a route from there.
Mark had barely walked one block when his body began to tremble. Refusing to give in, he squared his shoulders and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.
As he approached the park, he considered his options. The best paths he'd used in the past to fake a fishing trip so he could visit his friends in their home were too long and too strenuous for his present physical condition.
So, he thought. I'll have to use the South Main Street path. It's the shortest distance.
His shoulder throbbed as he rested against the large trunk of an old pine tree. Rays of sunlight filtered through the branches to warm parts of his face. Once he found a position which was totally shaded, he closed his eyes and dreamt of his soft bed for a moment. The Buffingtons. The name gave him strength to peer through heavy branches. The tree on the other side of Parkway Circle appeared to be distressingly far away. No. It's not that far away.
After long, agonizing minutes, the last person in sight disappeared into the police station. Mark ran, each step jarring his pain-racked body.
Just before he threw his fishing equipment under the branches and scrambled in after it, he saw the door to City Hall open. My dad. His heart pounded. The Mayor looked in his direction as if he'd seen something then shrugged and continued on his way.
Petrified of being caught, Mark praised himself for having had enough sense to wear gray instead of his bright red shirt he had come close to selecting this morning.
When the pain eased and no one was in sight, Mark took his fishing gear and scurried from one tree to the next until he was at the corner of Main and Baker. He looked at his dad's empty corner office and breathed a sign of relief. All clear, he thought as he sprinted to the tree in back of the first house of the block. His heart pounded with fright and exhaustion as he threw himself against the trunk just in time to see a woman opening a burgundy trimmed window.
Mrs. Febriana hated Simes and Sime-lovers as much as his dad. Ever since she had seen him talking to Mr. B, she had hated Mark. The embittered lady would be delighted to turn him over to his dad for whatever sadistic punishment the man decided to dish out.
"Mommy!" a little girl called from inside the house. "Can you help me?"
Distracted from her original task, Mrs. Febriana said, "What is it, dear?"
No matter how much he required rest, he ran. The tree at the corner house of Main and Riverdale was young and spindly so he barely stopped there before crossing the street to the block of empty houses which surrounded the Buffingtons'.
The overgrown path down the back alley covered him from the family of screaming kids who were walking towards the park. Once they were past, Mark forced himself to move.
Without knowing how he did it, he found himself hiding the fishing gear under the porch and climbing the stairs to the back door. He was about to knock when someone came rushing out the back door, picked him up and deposited him in a chair at the kitchen table before he had time to react. It was Timothy, the channel who had saved his life.
Mark's body tingled from contact with the hot Sime flesh. Timothy. Mr. B's son. He picked me up. What's happening to me?
Simes kill, he heard his dad's voice say. But, he thought, I want him to touch me again. His whole body ached with the desire. He's Sime. Don't be a fool. He'll kill you.
That's what Dad always said. I can't trust what he says. He tried to murder me. Timothy saved me. He's touched me twice and I'm still alive. Mr. B must be right.
He looked up at the Sime. I want you to touch me again. I really want...
Timothy settled the young Gen into a chair at the kitchen table just as his parents came rushing into the room.
"What's wrong?" his mother asked before she noticed that Mark was there. "Mar..."
Timothy interrupted, "I'll make some trin. Mark looks like he could use some."
He winced at the faint fish smell emanating from the Gen's hands. Mark must have brought his fishing tackle to cover his intentions of coming here.
At the ancient stove, Timothy zlinned the young man as he put water in the kettle and set it to boil. His field seemed to grow stronger with every pulse of selyn he produced. Induction. I feel his desire beating through me. That's what I did to him. And he doesn't know or understand what's happening.
Mark's desire flared again. Selyur nager. He hadn't touched the Gen for more than a couple of seconds but it was enough. Enough for his nager to lock onto the only Sime here.
Timothy flicked his senses down to hypocon-sciousness as he leaned against the counter. That young Gen is dangerous, he thought as he switched back to duoconsciousness, but with such a nager he could be trained to rival an in-Territory Donor. He soaked up the induced nager. And the Tecton has given me permission to have First Transfer with him if... no, when Mark asks for it.
"What are you doing here?" his mother asked Mark as she sat opposite the sick young man. "You look as pale as a ghost."
Timothy turned around in time to see Mark's look of worship for his father. "I wanted to see you, Mr. B." Mark said, resting his head in the palm of his hand.
I wish I'd kept my Donor with me. I thought I wouldn't require one since I'd just be at my parents' house. I guess Sectuib Clarinda was right. He heard her voice as he thought her words. No matter where you are in your cycle, when you're in Gen Territory, always have a Donor with you. The one time you don't will be the one time you'll want one. Since his last transfer was three days ago, Timothy hadn't thought he'd require one but he hadn't counted on the untrained high-field Gen showing up on his parents' doorstep.
"Thank you for saving my life, Mr. Buffington," the young Gen man addressed him.
On impulse, Timothy waved a hand in the air, exposing a tentacle-coiled arm to judge the Gen's reaction. "It's Timothy and you're welcome. I'm just glad I was there for you."
Mark's eyes widened at the sight but he said nothing. His field, however, gave a pulse of fright then settled down to open curiosity. A wave of dizziness emanated from the sick man.
"You don't feel so good, do you?"
"No. I don't," Mark muttered, a grimace crossing his face.
His father sat next to the young Gen. "What were you thinking of to come here when you hadn't recovered yet?"
Love colored Mark's fields. "I missed you all summer long, Mr. B. I wanted to see you. Talk to you."
His father leaned over to embrace Mark like a long-lost son. "I missed you too, but you should've waited until you were better."
Timothy realized that the Gen had won the hearts of his parents. Since he couldn't be the Gen son they'd hoped to have, he was glad they'd found Mark. He could tell that the young man was im-portant to them.
I wish things had been different. If Mark hadn't been induced, he could've lived with my parents after he became a Gen society adult. That would've made Mom and Dad very happy. But now, I just hope my parents will forgive me when they find out that they've probably lost him to the Tecton also.
Timothy continued to zlin Mark's field patterns. They were fascinating. The touch of love and com-passion had made the young Gen literally glow. The channel pulled his eyes away from the scene to take four mugs out of the cabinet using only the tentacles on his right arm.
This time the ambient shattered as Mark cried out.
Determined to stay duo, Timothy stopped with the mugs suspended in the air and zlinned Mark as the Gen passed through terror, wonder, and finally curiosity.
Once he'd adjusted to the sight, Mark asked, "How do you do that?"
Timothy was pleased by the question. "The ten-tacles have a stronger grip than my hands." He didn't say it, but he knew that Mark understood 'They're strong enough to keep a Gen from escaping'.
Timothy walked over to Mark and offered, "Try to take one of the mugs. Don't worry. I'm only holding the handle, you can take the cup part."
Mark's eyes bulged at the sight of tentacles so close but his fascination overcame his fear. He tried to take the mug but gave up after a couple of tugs. "I can't," he said. "My left hand isn't strong enough, and it'd hurt if I tried to use my right." However, the spectacle of suspended mugs continued to fascinate him so he asked, "Why don't they slip out of your grasp? Aren't tentacles slimy?"
Good! Healthy curiosity. Maybe he can overcome his childhood background. Timothy started to laugh. "No. They're not. Only the laterals become slightly wet during transfer and even then they're not what I'd call slimy."
Mark indicated his desire to touch a tentacle by pointing to one of them. "May I?"
Timothy didn't want this untrained Gen to touch him but if he could get Mark to overcome his fear, he might eventually ask for training. The Tecton could use a Donor with his potential. Shen. I could use a Donor with his potential. He steeled himself before he answered, "Yes. Of course you can."
One finger lightly rubbed a steely gray dorsal. He almost didn't hear Mark say in awe, "It's soft." The Gen bravely cupped the appendage. Timothy reacted to the breath-taking sensations which throbbed through his body. Take me. Take me. Take me. He withdrew the member and stepped back.
"Ah...yes...ah...it is." Timothy forced himself to turn and place the mugs on the counter. The kettle had begun to whistle. "The tea'll be ready as soon as it steeps." He was sure Mark heard his voice shake.
To break the tension, his father shook Mark's hand, "I'm so proud of you, Son. Didn't I tell you there was nothing to worry about?"
Mark smiled weakly. "I guess so."
"You did great!" His father hugged his mother. "I'm so proud of him," he repeated then kissed her.
As Timothy's parents continued to talk to Mark, he focussed on the love which permeated the ambient like a soothing balm to help shake the desire Mark's field had evoked in him when the young man had touched his tentacle.
"Mark," his father's sympathetic understanding was clear, "I'm sure your parents didn't tell you but-Petir had a proper funeral. I arranged for it myself. Gladia, Timothy, Viktor and I were the only ones to attend it. We explained to Petir that you would say your farewells when you were well again. Before we left, we said a prayer. May he rest in peace."
The news caused Mark's nager to shatter for a split second then it solidified and molded around Timothy's field in a protective cocoon. Once the shield was in place Mark began to cry.
Timothy rested on the solid shield. How did Mark know to do that before he cried? Induction, he painfully reminded himself.
His mother and father arose from the table, walked over to Mark, and hugged him. "When you're up to it," his father promised the young Gen, "I'll take you to the grave site."
Mesmerized by the sight, Timothy zlinned and watched as Mark constantly shifted his body so that the migrating fields his parents caused by moving around the room were always in harmonic unison. It was fascinating. Mark seemed to instinctively know the exact place to be for a channel's maximum comfort. Only Donors who've worked in the Tecton for many years know how to handle the fields to such perfection. What a priceless gift he has. But will he thank me when he finds out? Timothy wondered.
Mark looked at Timothy curiously as if he'd spoken then turned back to listen to his father.
It's amazing. No training and he's behaving like an ol' pro. Shen! What would it be like to have transfer with him? Timothy dreamed. Please ask for the training. For all the Tecton. For all the 4+ channels who've been shorted because there are so few qualified high level Donors. Please, Timothy silently begged Mark, please ask for the training.
He placed a hand on Mark's uninjured shoulder. "I'm sorry. Petir would've been a great channel had he lived." And you will be a great Donor. No. You are a great Donor. I hope that one day you'll forgive me for forcing this career on you.
Another tear rolled down Mark's cheek. Timothy's mother handed the young man a clean handkerchief. "Thank you, Mrs. B," Mark auto-matically replied.
Mark blew his nose then met Timothy's eyes. "A channel. Petir was a channel." He paused, wiped his nose once more, then answered his own question, "Yes. He was. Just before I came after you, Petir told me that he always knew he'd be Sime. He was my best friend. I would've been Sime for him if it'd been possible. He was so afraid of becoming one."
"And you weren't?" asked Timothy. Mark's nager flared fear then dissipated into neutrality.
"Sure, I was afraid, but ...," a wave of fatigue washed over Mark as the young man played with his handkerchief. "Did you know that your father lent me books from Sime Territory which were written in English?"
Timothy looked over to his father. His elder grinned sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders. "I would imagine that's why he asked me to send him a new one every month. I always thought the type of book he wanted was a bit juvenile for him but I never said everything about it."
Mark looked at the two of them. "Mr. B gave me the impression that he'd read all of them before he loaned them to me. From what I read, I felt that the different stages of changeover symptoms had to be true since every book described them in the same way. I was constantly on the lookout for my own symptoms in case I had to run to the Sime Center. So, in a way, I wasn't scared. But Petir. He was scared all the time. I should've told him about the books. He was my best friend, and I never told him." Mark buried his face in his hands and cried again, "If only I'd told him. But I was afraid I'd lose him. And now I've lost him anyway. He's gone, and I murdered him."
"No!" Timothy protested. "You didn't. I did." If I hadn't been at that party, Mark would've tried to get Petir to the Center. It would've been close, but with Mark's support, Petir probably would've made it in time. "The Tecton would've rejoiced to have another native born out-Territory channel of my strength."
Upset with all the 'could have beens', Timothy withdrew his tentacles further into their sheaths. "I zlinned Petir's strength only momentarily. Your friend would've made a great channel. If only," he despaired, "he'd had the same opportunity I'd had when I changed over.
"I was lucky. I was in the right place at the right time. After changeover, my parents encouraged me to become the best channel I could be. Whereas, Petir was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this society, there was no hope for him. You did the best you could. Besides, I'm responsible for all the Simes in the area; therefore, I'm to blame. I didn't save him. Petir was my responsibility, and I couldn't save him."
"Stop!" Timothy's father admonished, "What are you two trying to do? Make a 'who's the guiltiest person' fraternity? Neither one of you murdered Petir. Mark's father, the Mayor, did the shooting. He's the one responsible."
"You're right, Mr. B. It was my dad." Mark stared at the kitchen table in defeat.
"And there's nothing you could've done about it. Remember, it almost got you murdered as well," Timothy's father reminded Mark.
As his father rebuilt Mark's courage, Timothy turned to the stove. Upon inspection, he decided the trin was ready, and began to fill the mugs. Suddenly, he zlinned the sick Gen faint. By augmenting, he was able to set the tea kettle down then dash to Mark before the Gen's body had time to tilt.
"Ah!" his parents cried at the blur he made when he passed them.
Holding Mark like a baby, he apologized, "Sorry I startled you. Mark fainted." Timothy gently pushed a lock of Mark's hair out of the way with a tentacle. "He's so weak. He shouldn't have tried to come here."
"Is he going to be all right?" His mother reached over to feel Mark's forehead. "He's got fever."
"Can you help him, Son?" his father worried. "Like you did before?"
"Let me zlin him before he wakes up, then I'll know more."
Timothy carried Mark to the living room and waited while his mother brought out a pillow and a blanket from the hall closet. After she'd put the pillow down, he placed Mark on the couch.
He covered the sick man with his mother's favorite green and white afghan then turned to his hovering parents. "Mom. Dad. I know you'd like to help; but, just by being in the same room, you're disturbing the fields. Please wait in the kitchen. When I call you, bring a mug of trin tea for Mark. He'll require it."
Timothy sat on the couch next to Mark. As he removed the Gen's arms from under the blanket, he caught another whiff of fish smell. Closing his mind to it, he wrapped his tentacles around the frail arms. If it weren't for the Sime Territory sign his parents had nailed to the door, he wouldn't be able to do this. As it was, if Mark's dad, the Mayor, found out what he was about to do, there'd be hell to pay. I just hope Mark has learned to keep a secret.
When Timothy made the fifth contact point, he was surprised at how much fatigue Mark had been shielding from him. He zlinned all parts of Mark's body before zeroing in on the gun shot wound. The site was very irritated with particles of gun powder, dirt, and cloth. With each pulse of selyn production, the massive infection grew.
As soon as he engaged the fields, the wound began to respond. He was able to wash away a thin layer of contaminants by increasing Mark's blood supply to the area. It wasn't enough to eliminate the young Gen's pain entirely, but he wasn't willing to remove more until Mark could give his consent.
When Mark awakened, he found himself on the couch in the living room with Timothy's tentacles wrapped around his arms. "No!" he screamed as he struggled against the Sime who wouldn't release him.
The book he'd read at the beginning of the summer became vivid in his mind.
I had him. No matter how much he struggled, he was mine. I leaned over to give him the kiss of death. I drank of his essence until his mental scream had ended and his body had gone limp.
The Sime talked to him but he couldn't make out the words.
"No! Please! No!" he begged. Blind with fear, Mark continued to twist and turn to try to free himself.
"Mark. Listen to me," the calm voice spoke to him. "I'll release you when you relax. I'm a channel, Mark! I will not harm you. Please, Mark. Stop. Stop struggling and I'll release you." The channel repeated the words over and over again.
Something finally penetrated. Channel. This Sime is a channel. The book! He recalled one of the later chapters.
The channel sensed the beginning of the Gen's pain and anguish. He remembered the oath he took. I pledge the safety of all Gens. I will die before I harm one. Without another thought, he released him. The backlash from the transfer gone wrong hit him and the channel died instantly.
The channel could die. No! Mr. B's son! Mark heard the plea, 'Stop struggling and I'll release you.' How to relax?! Be a rag doll, he remembered. His body went limp. The tentacles were withdrawn.
"No!" the young Gen screamed while his field shrieked. Timothy gasped as he knocked himself down to hypoconsciousness for the second time that day. I've learned my lesson, he chastised himself. I'll never go anywhere in Gen Territory without a Donor again. I could easily handle these wild oscillations with even a Third Order Donor.
His parents rushed into the room just as Mark's body relaxed.
He watched his mother take a step toward him and stop. He was grateful she held herself back.
"Timothy? What's wrong?"
It must have been her mothering instincts which told her that he was experiencing some kind of stress because he was sure that he was showing no outward signs.
After a couple of deep breaths, he got up. "I'll be fine, mother." Two tentacles brushed back his hair. "I'll get the tea. I think I could use some."
Shen. What a field. An induced field. His guilt pounded him. If only I hadn't let him shake my hand. If only Petir hadn't been a channel or been in changeover. If only I hadn't touched him. If only...if only...
Timothy was in and out of the kitchen in an instant. As he handed mugs to his parents, he zlinned their shock then noticed the looks on their faces. "Sorry I startled you." He blew on the steaming liquid in his own mug. "Augmenting helps after a healing session."
"That's quite all right, Son," his father grinned, "but next time, it might help if you warned us in advance."
"I promise," Timothy told him as he thought of Mark's field which had been so wildly out of control one minute and so protectively soothing in the other.
Timothy started to say more to his father but he saw one of Mark's shaky hands raise to his forehead.
"What happened?" the sick man asked.
"You fainted." Timothy put Mark's mug on one of the red crocheted coasters placed there to protect the polished wood of the end table. After he sat down, he took another drink from his own mug before placing it on a coaster next to Mark's.
To distract him from further questioning, Timothy helped Mark to sit up as he asked, "Why did your mother allow you out of the house in this condition?" then put the mug to his patient's lips for a sip of tea before he had a chance to answer.
After a tiny sip, Mark pushed the mug away. Timothy almost gasped with relief when the Gen flicked his field into a protective cocoon around him. Induction, the pang of guilt hit him again. Mark's fully manifested talent was stupendous.
He was relieved that his distraction had worked when the young Gen lay back and closed his eyes to gain strength. "I've been telling her that I'm fine for the last two weeks. I wanted to come here. I wanted to see your parents. I wanted to tell them to thank you for saving my life." He frowned. "I feel so bad. I guess it wasn't such a great idea after all."
What am I going to do with him? His body's been turned into a massive selyn producing machine and he doesn't have a clue. An in-T Gen who'd always wanted to be a Donor would love to be in Mark's condition. But him. He's just confused by what his body's telling him.
He'd have to be very careful around this young Gen, or he could set history back a few hundred years. There are only two paths for Mark because of me. One is to request training and the other is to move so far out-Territory that the only Simes he would see would be berserkers. The question was how to get him to want what the Tecton offered.
Timothy put down Mark's mug and picked up his own. "No, it wasn't a great idea. You're not in good shape. You still have a lot of healing to do. Had you been under my care, you'd have been well by now."
"What do you mean? I could've been well by now? The doctors said that only time would heal me."
"Channels are healers, Mark. We can-sense-what's wrong and encourage your body to mend. After I did the initial healing to save your life, the Gen doctors arrived and I was sent away."
"Could you help the pain right now?" Mark's hope was clear.
"I could, but I'm not sure it's a good idea."
"Please help me. I don't think I can make it back home like this. I won't tell. Promise," he begged. "My mom thinks I went fishing. I swore I'd be home by lunch. If you don't help me, I won't make it home. If she finds out I came here," his nager radiated fear, "she'll tell dad. She tells him everything."
Timothy sat back in his chair, sipped his tea, and contemplated the legal situation as he studied the young man. "Technically, we're in Sime Territory. I'm obligated to help any Gen who requests my help." He put his mug on the table. "All right. But you must know, I have to touch you with my tentacles again. Look at me," he commanded. "Do you trust me enough to stay still while I'm touching you? You won't feel a thing. You can even sleep if you want." And not be so afraid of me?
"Sleep," Mark said drowsily. "I'm so tired." The deep breath he took made him wince from the pain. "So tired. I trust you, Timothy. So tired." He slept.
Timothy took a deep breath after he had retracted his tentacles. He looked at the sleeping Gen for a moment, zlinning the improvement, then silently walked to the kitchen.
He went to the stove in search of another cup of trin. "Mom. Dad."
"How is he, Son?" His father's field held concern.
Timothy sat down before answering him. "Better. Now that I've cleared away most of the infection, Mark should start to recover."
"That's wonderful." His mother glowed with affection.
Timothy took a long soothing drink of the tea. "Tell Mark that he'll require a few more treatments before he'll be completely recovered. If he agrees to the additional treatments then you must come for me as soon as he has arrived. Tell the front desk that it's a Code Three. That Code will pull me out of ninety percent of all situations."
"Code Three," his father repeated.
His mother's eyes glistened with tears while her nager stroked him with love. "I'm glad you care this much about your patients. Your father and I are so proud of you, Son."
He smiled at her. "Don't make me so noble. My body has given me no choice about a career. Lucky for me, I happen to love being a channel. I love to heal, and I love to give transfer."
Timothy stopped the mug in the middle of the air and frowned. "You don't have a clue about Mark."
His father shrugged his shoulders. "What about him?"
"He has Donor potential." Because of what I did. "His nager is untrained and out of control. It was extremely difficult to work with him today. Next time, I'll have my Donor with me. That is, if there's going to be a next time. Do you think he can overcome his childhood background to ask for training?"
"He might. Mark's read every book you sent me. Which means, his childhood background includes those stories. I didn't give the books to him to be malicious, it's just ... You know, Son. I want all children to have a chance to live and the awful propaganda his dad filled him with gave him no hope."
His father started to say something more but Timothy looked towards the door. "A Donor's here. They must want me back at the Center."
Timothy finished his tea as he arose. "Stay here. If you go in there, you'll wake Mark. Make sure that he's up in time to get home by noon." He kissed his fingers, blew the kiss to his mother, then winked at his father. "Bye, Mom. Dad."
Timothy zlinned Mark with satisfaction as he passed him. After putting on his retainers, he silently left.
"Mark?" the voice belonged to Mrs. B. "Mark? Wake up, honey. It's time to go home. It's almost noon. Remember what your mother said."
"Mom?" He moved his head from side to side. "Oh!" He woke up and threw off the blanket. As he got up, he said, "Timothy." Tentacles. Touching. Healing. "Timothy!" His right shoulder moved freely with almost no pain. "How?"
Mr. B's eyes twinkled with amusement. "He's a channel. And he's gone. He had to get back to the Center. He said to tell you that you'd require several more treatments before the shoulder is completely healed. He wants you to think about it. If you decide to get more then I'll arrange a time for the two of you to meet." He held up a hand to stay Mark's immediate response. "Don't decide now. Think about it. Really think."
"Of course I want the treatments. I feel so much better." Mark gingerly moved his shoulder again. "How fast do you think that he could heal me?"
"I'm not sure, but if your dad finds out why you've healed so fast, he might run the Center out of town. If that occurs, what will happen to those children who'll change over? You know they'll all be shot."
Mark's face fell. "You're right."
After a moment, the older man said, "I believe Timothy can heal you slowly. That way, your dad'll think that it's the normal healing process."
"Can he do it like that?"
"I think so. After all, Timothy's as interested in keeping the Center open as I am."
"That would be great," Mark enthused. "Tell Timothy I won't talk to anybody about this. Promise."
Mark slipped out the back door and gathered his fishing equipment. This time he could take the safest and most direct route back home which was the Riverdale back alley located directly behind the Buffingtons' house.
Although he was slightly late, he didn't care. There was much to think about. Timothy. Tentacles. I wish I could remember what it felt like. Why did I have to fall asleep? his thoughts echoed back to him. Because you were tired.
Next time, I'll stay awake. Next time. Will there be a next time? "I hope so," he spoke aloud.
When no one was in sight, he crossed Jef'rson. From now on, the pines would have to cover his movements from the people inside the houses. After he'd passed the second one in the alley, he cut through its side yard to cross Riverdale. Once across, no one would challenge his right to be in his own neighborhood.
As he continued through the yards, all the dogs came to greet him with wagging tails and a desire to lick his face. Andrea was the most frantic of the bunch since she was the one from the house directly behind his own. At the first sight of him, she came barking over. The big, red dog whined and jumped until he stooped down to pet her. She'd missed the loving Mark lavished on her while he'd been ill. He hugged her neck as he rubbed her back which helped him to avoid as many licks as possible. When he released her, he allowed her to have one final kiss before he arose.
The dog continued to jump but he ignored her as he rotated his arm while he watched his mom through the black-trimmed kitchen window. She was washing something in the sink.
The pain still jabbed him with the movement but was greatly reduced. My shoulder feels so much better than this morning. I have to find a way to return to the Buffingtons. With Timothy's help, I may be able to go to school in two weeks. I'll do anything to be able to go away to college and get away from my dad.
After opening the door, he yelled, "Mom! I'm home!"
"There you are. I was going to call out the cavalry if you didn't get back soon."
"I fell asleep under the tree. Didn't even get a nibble." He sounded disappointed. "Guess it was the wrong time of day for fish. Maybe I can go later?" he asked with just the right amount of hope in his voice.
"Not a chance. Food, then bed. You promised." She shook a finger at him. "Any other outings you might have planned, we'll talk about after your nap."
After Mark had gone to bed that night, J'oani sat next to her husband on the couch. "Larryh, I let Mark go fishing today."
The dark-haired man put down his paper. "You what!"
"I let him out of the house. He's been begging me for the past two weeks."
"You shouldn't have done it, J'oani. He's still too weak. You know the doctors said he may not be well enough to attend school this year. That boy is going to be the death of me yet. He probably found his way to those Sime-lovers again."
"I don't think so. Mrs. Hellcat said she saw him at the park. She thought he might've gone to the Tuckersville site. It's the closest one. When Mark came home, he mentioned that he'd slept under an old pine tree. I just assumed it was there. And frankly, I think it did him some good. I made him take a nap this afternoon but when he woke up, he seemed happier, healthier."
"Well, if you think it'll do him some good, it's fine by me. Anything, to get him through school and out of my hair. If it weren't for the law about minor children, he would've been gone by now. I don't want anything to do with anyone who allows themselves to be touched or influenced by Simes. The only good Sime is a dead one and that goes for Sime-lovers as well." He looked at her suspiciously.
"I wanted our boy to live," the brown-haired lady said in quiet defense of her actions.
"I know, but was it worth it? Our neighbors can't tell their children all Simes kill. Mark's living proof that a Sime can touch a human without killing. We should've let him die."
"No. Don't say that. He's our son." Her hazel eyes pleaded for understanding.
"I can say it because ... well, think about it. How many people will die now because they think that they won't get killed? We're losing. We're losing our battle to clean the land of these heinous creatures."
The angry man looked disgusted. "I received the statistics from the school this morning. A higher percentage of parents have consented to changeover classes for their children than ever before." He rubbed his face with both hands. "It's my fault. If I'd been brave enough or strong enough to let Mark die then perhaps we could've rid ourselves of these animals."
"No, Larryh." She put a hand on his knee. "It was my fault. I couldn't bear to let our only child die."
"I know, but at what cost to our community? As Mayor," he pointed to himself, "people look to me for guidance. Look at what they've received." He threw his hands in the air. "A coward. I can give the changeover monsters a quick, dignified death but I couldn't give my son the same. And before you say it, I believe he would've been better off dead than to be branded Sime-lover.
"At least I was able to get the new tax laws passed." He smiled with the thought. "If we can't run them out of town, perhaps we can tax them out."
"What are you going to do with the new revenue?" J'oani asked.
"I'd like to buy better lawyers, but the council voted me hands down. They'd like the money to go to the lobby specialists called the Wagner Group. The Group would be working towards an agreement for the second sliderail line which would come from Clear Springs and connect with our Tinusa River line. Peg and Neal think that the people who live here now will become wealthy with very little effort if the connection is approved. I don't really care as long as we're bleeding the Simes dry."
"Come on, Mom. I'm fine. It's been more than a week since you let me go. Please," Mark begged.
Hands on her hips, his mom looked at him sternly. "You were so tired the day you came home that you slept for eight hours straight. Then you ate a small bite and slept another twelve. And now you want to do it again? I don't think so."
"But Mom. I've only slept eight hours a day since then and even you admitted yesterday that I looked stronger. Come on. I'm going crazy cooped up in this house. No fishing. No playing around." Almost under his breath, he added, "No Petir."
She stiffened slightly at the mention of the dead Sime's name. "Oh, all right. You can go after lunch if you lay on the couch or in your room the rest of the morning. School starts soon. I want you to be well enough to attend."
"Great!" The couch shifted under his growing bulk.
She laughed at him. "Even if that Sime hadn't said you were human, I would know it. You're getting bigger every day." She ruffled his hair. "I don't think I've said it, Mark, but I sure am glad you're human."
"Thanks, Mom." He hadn't meant for his voice to come out cold but it did.
She straightened up and quietly walked back to the kitchen.
Maybe he should regret the way he said it, but he didn't. She would've killed me if I'd turned Sime. She only loves me because I'm human. Because I'm Gen. He forced himself to think. She didn't care that I could've lived without killing. She only cared that another Sime would be dead.
To stop any further thought, Mark picked up the paperback book his mom had brought home from the library. The adventure story was similar to all the ones she had selected previously. They were even similar to the ones Mr. B had loaned him with one huge exception. They were told from the human-Gen-point of view.
He was too bored to even throw the book across the room because reading was the only source of entertainment he was allowed.
The problem was that all of the books she brought him were the same. Simes attack humans. Humans-Gens-he forced himself to think the word again-murder Simes. They live happily ever after. The end.
Dad used to read me children's versions of this kind of book. Together we would say, 'The only good Simes are dead ones,' and laugh. Sometimes, we played Simes and Humans. He always let me be the human so I could pretend to shoot the nasty animals. As I reveled in watching the Sime die, he'd praise me for a job well done.
Animal. Who was really the animal? Timothy or my dad. How could Timothy be an animal when he makes me feel so good to be near him? How could my dad murder? Who was right? I want Timothy to be right. I want the Buffingtons to be right. But... What if dad's right? He closed his mind. He didn't want to think about it. Instead, he opened the dreadful book and began to read.
The satisfying bang of the gun followed by the scream from the dying Sime made my heart glow with pride. My first one. The community will honor me tonight as an adult. Perhaps they'll consent to my request to marry Dora Lee.
Shaking his head, Mark thought, Dad would love this book. He loves murdering Simes.
He continued to hold the book as if he were reading. The words blurred on the page as he began to daydream about the last book Mr. B had loaned him where Simes and Gens lived together peacefully. All of the children felt wonderfully safe. All the children felt loved. When they changed over or -what was the word they used? - established, they were simply sent to school for training.
He woke up suddenly with the book on his chest and his mother calling him to lunch.
Food. I'm hungry.
"Mark!" Mrs. B exclaimed as she ushered him inside. "How do you feel?"
He sat down. "Better than before." The bright morning sun filtered through the lacy kitchen window curtain to display intricate patterns on the table in front of him. "Where's Mr. B?" he asked as he watched the beams of light dance over the back of his hand.
"As soon as Don saw it was you, he left through the front door to go to the Center. I'll make some trin while we're waiting for him to return with Timothy and his Donor."
"Thanks, Mrs. Buffington. I really like your tea. I'm sorry I haven't been here before but it took me forever to convince my mother to let me out again."
She filled the kettle and set it on the stove. "Oh, we understand, Mark."
He watched her dig in the pig-shaped cookie jar then place some fresh cookies on a small white plate. "As I recall, you like peanut butter." He nodded enthusiastically. "You may have some after I've taught you how to properly clean up. Come to the sink."
"Isn't washing my hands enough?"
"A Sime can smell the fish odor on your hands from the fishing gear you've been touching. What you have to do is wash your hands and your forearms with this green bar of soap. Here. Give me an arm and I'll show you how to do it," she said as she started to scrub, "then you can try it with the other."
She help him dry off using a big towel she had taken off the rack.
The kettle began to whistle. "Perfect timing. Let's have some refreshments, shall we?"
Timothy closed the front door behind his father and his Donor, Alex.
Suddenly, Alex stopped to smell the aroma of freshly brewed trin. "I know you promised me good trin tea but I just didn't believe an out-Territory Gen could accomplish it until now. The smell of this house reminds me of my mother's."
Timothy snapped open a retainer. "My parents have it imported from in-Territory." He slid the offending thing off and put it on the round table his mother had placed there for his convenience.
Mark and his mother joined them in the living room at the same time as the tall, black-haired Donor said in his heavily accented English, "You shouldn't be doing that. Let me help you with the other one." The retainer was gently removed and laid next to the first.
Timothy laughed, "Mom, this bossy Gen is my Donor, Alexdro ambrov Slader."
"Nice to meet..."
Mark's field flickered with surprise and curiosity.
"What is it?" Timothy interrupted.
"Ah...ah...ambrov?" Mark's nager was doing the strangest oscillations. Alex stepped over to block Mark's field in time for Timothy to hear the young Gen say, "Doesn't that mean...?"
"...that I belong to Householding Slader," Alex completed.
Mark turned to his father. "But I thought that was only in the books you lent me, Mr. B?"
"No," Timothy answered Mark's question. "Alex and I are both in householdings. My name is Timothy ambrov Tien. And before you say it, yes, I get teased constantly about it. One of my best friends thinks it's so funny that he calls me TAT."
Almost under his breath, he said in Simelan, "Back off a little, Alex."
Hope and desire wove an intricate pattern through Mark's field. It was fascinating to zlin. It was almost mesmerizing. He was completely caught up in it when Alex's field lightly brushed him. Shen, his Donor was good. His time sense told him that the others hadn't noticed the momentary lapse so he continued with his introductions. "Alex, this is Mark, the young Gen who requires my help."
"Pleased to meet you." Timothy zlinned Alex's awkwardness at having to shake hands in the out-Territory tradition.
"Likewise," Mark replied.
Before the young Gen could say another word, Timothy turned to Alex, "I'll bring you a cup of trin. I have the feeling that you work best with one in hand."
His Donor blushed deep red.
Just as he was about to enter the kitchen, Timothy heard Mark ask why the channel always made the tea when he was around. He didn't hear Alex's reply but he zlinned Mark's surprise. Alex must have told him how terribly Simes hurt when a Gen is in pain.
As Timothy reentered the room with the tea in tentacles and hands, he heard Alex say, "So most Simes won't allow Gens to pour tea for fear that we'll spill it on ourselves."
"And what wicked things have you been telling this young man?" Timothy asked playfully.
"Oh, nothing much. I just explained to Mark why Simes have a phobia about Gens hurting themselves."
"Phobia? I don't know about that. We just like to feel safe, and we definitely don't like to feel pain. Here's your tea. But be careful," he admonished. "It's very hot."
Alex laughed. "See what I mean? But you know...," his Donor looked at him. "It's kind of nice. The way they take care of us Gens. It makes us feel special. Loved. I like it."
The young Gen's field swirled blue at the mention of love. Mark turned to Timothy's father. "When you gave me the books to read, I didn't realize that they were true, that Simes were so vulnerable."
"They're not unless they're exposed to the field of an untrained Gen with Donor's potential," Alex interjected.
Timothy turned to business. "When did you sprain your left ankle?"
The ambient pulsed with Mark's surprise.
"I did it on the way over. I tripped over a rock and fell on an old branch." Suspicion laced the Gen's field. "How'd you know? I don't feel it now unless I think about it."
"The pain in your ankle is very irritating to me. May I heal it at the same time I'm working on the other areas?"
"You can do that?" Mark asked. "That'd be great!" the young Gen enthused then stopped. A flicker of emotions crossed his face. "Will it hurt?"
"No. You may, however, feel the area I'm working on become slightly warm. "Are you ready?" Timothy only paused long enough to zlin Mark's acceptance before continuing. "If so, let's sit on the couch."
Once Timothy was certain of Mark's comfort, he asked again, "Are you sure you want this? Because if you're not absolutely positive, I won't touch you."
Timothy zlinned his sincerity.
"I want this."
Timothy nodded to Alex.
"Mom. Dad. I know you'd like to be here but it's better if you're not. I'll be able to accomplish more if I don't have to filter your fields out of the matrix. We'll join you when we're done."
"That's quite all right." His mother smiled. She walked over and hooked her arm around his father's then the two started for the kitchen, "Don, I've been meaning to talk to you about repainting..."
Timothy zlinned a shiver coming from Mark and perceived the Gen to be cool. He pulled a light blanket out of the closet along with a pillow, saying over his shoulder, "Lie down, Mark." After he put the pillow behind Mark's head, he placed the blanket over the lower half of the Gen's body.
His Donor would require a place to sit nearby so he moved the love seat next to the couch.
Timothy indicated the Donor should join him as he sat next to Mark. "I have to clarify a few things before I do this."
Fear gripped Mark's nager, but instead of saying anything, he just nodded his consent.
"As I explained before, there'll be no pain while I'm healing you. You may, however, start to itch. That's a good sign. It means you're healing. If you do itch, don't scratch. Simply relax. You did an excellent job of relaxing a while ago. Whatever you did, do that."
"I pretended I was a rag doll. I read it in one of the books Mr. B lent me." Mark looked at the Donor. "This is just like what's in the Zeor Learning books, isn't it? It's not just fiction. It's real."
"Yes, it is," Alex confirmed.
Timothy brushed a lock of hair off Mark's forehead. "It won't hurt. I'll wrap my handling tentacles around your arms, then my laterals will be added, and finally I'll complete the fifth contact point which is lip to lip. The last contact point is the reason the Gens call transfer the kiss of death, only you won't die. What I'll be doing is 'zlinning'-scanning your body-in an initial examination. This zlinning will allow me to explore every part of your body. Once the examination has been completed, I'll retract all of my tentacles.
"The next step of the process is the easiest. Sometimes, I'll just sit next to you, and we'll talk, while other times, I'll position my tentacles close to the areas which require healing. And that's all there is to it. Do you have any questions?"
"Why is it called the fifth contact point?"
"There are two lateral tentacles on each arm. The laterals are smaller than the handling tentacles and more delicate. Unlike the handling tentacles, the laterals are always slightly moist with a substance called ronaplin. They, along with the lip to lip contact, complete a circuit, which makes a system. With this circuit, I can look at your internal organs. For instance, the last time I healed you I found a large amount of debris around the old gunshot wound area causing a low-grade chronic infection. When I have encouraged your body to clear all of the debris and fight off the infection, you'll be well."
"And all I have to do is lie still?" Mark asked in disbelief.
"That's right." Timothy smiled. "Are you ready?"
With a slight squeak to his voice, Mark asked Alex, "Have you had this done?"
"Many times. It's wonderful. The channels love to heal. While they treat you, they find places to heal you don't realize are sore. Every time it's done to me I feel like a kid again."
Mark wriggled one last time to get completely comfortable.
Timothy zlinned the young Gen's confidence. "When you're ready, give me your arms."
Without hesitation, Mark gave them to him.
As Timothy slowly extended his tentacles, Mark's eyes widened to saucer size. His nager shrieked into red fragments which striated into pink tips. The young Gen took a deep breath. His field suddenly settled into the dull, non-provoking gray haze of acceptance. What a display! Timothy decided he should request all the files the Tecton had available, concerning how an induction could affect a Gen's nager. He looked at Mark. "Tell me when you're ready for me to make the fifth contact point."
After Mark nodded, he leaned forward to begin the examination.
As soon as the lip contact was made, the young Gen struggled, but before it really started, Mark relaxed.
Timothy zlinned the sore ankle then the gunshot area. Upon consideration, he decided to clear only half of the gunshot wound's debris. After all, he didn't want Mark's dad to get suspicious. He relinquished lip contact. "Hold still for just a moment longer while I retract my tentacles, and this part will be complete."
Tentacles safely sheathed, Timothy breathed a sigh of relief. "You did a great job. That was perfect. You stayed still, without fear, and allowed me to do what had to be done."
Mark beamed with pride.
Timothy sat back, took a big breath, and slowly released it. Since he was still more than a day from turnover, he would have to simulate need to encourage the Gen's body to heal.
It wasn't difficult. Alex was rated slightly below his capacity so their transfer had been far from perfect. But in defense of his Donor, what Alex lacked in capacity, he made up in knowing his job; and in Timothy's opinion, he was one of the best.
Mark's nager locked onto his need. If Timothy didn't know better, he would've thought that the Gen's nager had drawn his into the perfect resonance for the maximum benefit.
Unaware of what he was doing, Mark asked, "Now what?"
"Now, you lie there. We can talk, or you can sleep, whichever you feel is the most comfortable," Timothy explained as he started to rub the back of his own neck. When his Donor took over the task, he switched to Simelan. "Thank you, Alex."
Mark furrowed his eyebrows. "How is your sitting next to me going to help me to heal?"
"I'm going for another cup of trin," Alex interrupted.
"Sure, go on, I'll call you if I require your help," Timothy said to the disappearing back. Sly devil. Alex left because he knows that it would help Mark understand what his body's telling him. When I answer Mark's question, and he realizes he doesn't have the support of a fellow Gen in the same room, I hope the young man doesn't panic.
Turning back to his patient, Timothy zlinned Mark's increased selyn production. "The Gen body is built to produce the energy we call selyn, whereas, the Sime body is built to use selyn. What the channels have found is that the Gen body will respond to the energy surrounding a Sime. The word we use for that energy field is called nager."
"Na...ger." Mark tried the word.
"That's right," Timothy confirmed. This is great, Mark hasn't realized we're alone yet. He continued his explanation, "When a Sime and a Gen are next to each other, the Gen's body will attempt to produce enough selyn to match the capacity of the Sime. Some Gens, like Alex, are able to produce enough selyn to serve a channel, some are not. It doesn't matter, however, if the Gen ever produces enough selyn to serve transfer. What matters is that the Gen body responds to the stimulation and attempts to match the Sime need. The response to the Sime's need is what heals a Gen."
"Need?" Mark's brow crinkled. "Oh! Like in the books. You're in need!" His field striated in fear.
"Calm down. Remember, I'm a channel," he reminded the young man.
Mark tried to get up, but Timothy pushed him down with a hand. "Don't panic. I'm not in need. And even if I were, it wouldn't matter."
The Gen lay back, but his nager still held fear. Timothy zlinned that Mark's healing had slowed down.
"Then how are you healing me?" the distrustful young Gen asked.
Timothy half smiled. "As a channel, I can simulate need whether I'm in need or not. Since I'm not presently in need, your body is responding to the simulation. However, you'd heal faster if I were in true need, and it goes without saying that the closer to my transfer I am, the better the Gen body responds, and therefore, the faster it heals." Good, he's relaxed again.
"I'm going to stimulate the healing in your ankle by surrounding it with my tentacles," Timothy said as he matched action with explanation. "This is the time I told you about when you might feel the area become warm, and it might begin to itch."
Mark raised up on his elbows to see what Timothy was doing. "Oh. I see what you mean. Kinda feels good."
Timothy didn't reply. Mark's nager swirled and pulsed with the light blue color of trust except for the area surrounding his ankle which blazed in red. As he stimulated the area with his laterals, the ankle changed through the color spectrum until the area almost matched the rest of the nager. After he removed his tentacles from Mark's ankle, he still had them extended as he requested. "Lie back down so that I can do the same for the gunshot wound area."
The young Gen's eyes bulged as tentacles loomed close to his face then settled over his wound.
"Easy, Mark. Remember that for transfer to take place, there has to be a fifth contact point," reassured Timothy. "The only thing I'm doing right now is helping your body to heal." Mark relaxed again while his nager swirled slightly faster than before. He's really getting good at relaxing on command.
Timothy continued to zlin Mark's field as doubt, resignation, and fascination crossed the Gen's face but Mark said nothing.
With a mischievous smile on his face, Alex slid into the chair. "What have you two been up to while I was away?"
Timothy wove Alex's field into the matrix as he started to speak. Suddenly, Mark's field flared fear, but as quickly as it had come, it had disappeared and in its place was open curiosity. I guess he just realized he's been alone with me.
"Alex," Mark's voice wobbled. He cleared his throat. "Aren't you afraid of giving transfer? I mean-do you really like it? What made you decide to do it, or did they force you against your will?"
"Whoa!" the Donor laughed. "The answers are no, yes, and no."
Timothy chuckled at Alex's response.
Alex began, "I'm not nor have I ever been afraid of giving transfer. My mother's a channel, and my father's a Donor. When I was born, the channels judged that I would either be a Third Order Channel or a Donor."
"Your parents are Sime and Gen? Wow! Wait, I thought only the channels knew they'd be Sime?" Mark questioned.
"That's right," Alex agreed. "However, there is another sign. A mother's selyn consumption will rise during childbirth. If the consumption is very high, the child will become a First or a Second Order Channel. The next level under the predictable consumption rate chart is for a Third Order Channel or a high level Donor-class Gen. I was in that category. So, when I was old enough to understand about Simes and Gens, I announced that I didn't feel like I was going to be a Sime. After my realization, I began to study in preparation for becoming a Donor. English was one of the classes I was allowed to take before establishment. That's how I learned your language.
"So," Alex continued, "I wasn't forced to become a Donor. I wanted to. And as for a Sime forcing you to become one, it would be impossible. Any Sime knows that forcing a Gen to have transfer results in a dead Gen. Simes don't want to kill. They don't like to kill, and with channel's transfer, they don't have to kill. However, a channel must have a direct Gen transfer to stay healthy."
"If that's true for the channel, why isn't it true for the re...enSime," Mark stumbled over the word.
He's learning. He's talking to us without fear. I hope he doesn't take too long to ask for the training, Timothy agonized as he shifted his tentacles to a new position. "The renSimes," Timothy took over the explanations, "are unable to take transfer from a Gen without killing because they're unable to control their transfer speed. Since they don't like to kill either, it's unhealthy for them to have direct Gen transfer.
"Luckily, we channels have a secondary system in our bodies which allows us to store extra selyn. That system allows a channel to take selyn from a general class donor and store it until a renSime needs it," Timothy lectured.
"For a renSime to have a satisfying transfer, he needs not only selyn but also the right emotional experience. That experience is a diluted version of the channel's personal transfer experience which only a trained Donor can provide."
"And Donors," Alex turned his attention to Timothy with a smile of adulation, "love to provide that experience through transfer. I always look forward to it."
Timothy laughed. "Donors. They're all the same. But who's complaining? If it weren't for them, our society would be just like it was a thousand years ago. At that time, they didn't know about the channels; and therefore, all Simes did kill. We're lucky we live now. We know what to do in changeover, and so we're learning to live together."
He retracted his tentacles. "That's it for today."
"That's all?" Mark asked in wonder.
Timothy had to continually mesh Mark's changing field with Alex's steady one as the young Gen traversed through several emotions.
Mark sat up and moved his right shoulder. "That's great. I only have a small twinge when I move now. The pain's almost gone."
"Good, that's the way it should be. Now give me your hands. I'll help you off the couch," Timothy said.
"Oh no, you don't." Alex pushed his way between them. "I'll help him."
Alex's nager swirled in a blanket of protection which seemed to say, You're my channel; and therefore, my responsibility. Don't you know better than to allow an untrained Gen to grab your hands?
The Donor was right, of course. I should've left it to him, but Mark has to know that I trust him and that he can trust me.
"I don't understand." Mark looked perplexed. "Why won't you let him touch me now? He did it before."
"You can injure a Sime if you don't understand how to handle one," the older Gen explained. "Simes are strong, but only a trained Donor has enough knowledge to safely take care of a channel."
"How do you learn to handle them?" Mark asked as Alex stepped between himself and the young Gen.
"Training. You have to be trained," the Donor said.
This is excellent, Timothy thought. Mark's asking the right questions. Suddenly, the 'Take me. Take me. Take me.' in Mark's field was back.
The ambient snapped. Timothy heard Alex's demand from the far regions of his brain. "Stop it, Mark. You're hurting him."
Timothy focused on the shining field Alex had created for him.
"How? How am I hurting him?" the young Gen replied in despair.
"Look at me! How many fingers am I holding up?" Alex demanded of Mark.
The ambient burst into one glowing light.
Two large sighs of relief echoed through the room.
Confused by Timothy and Alex's reaction, Mark asked, "What happened?"
"You were offering transfer," Alex explained.
"What!!" Mark looked to Timothy with fear.
"Timothy'll be all right. I was able to distract you before you harmed him," Alex assured him.
"Him! What about me!" Mark squeaked.
"You? What do you mean, you? There was never any danger to you. Timothy's a channel," Alex huffed as if that were the only explanation required. "You should know that. You'll never make it through the training if you don't."
Mark was stupefied. "Training? What training? What are you talking about?"
"Too soon," Timothy snapped at Alex in Simelan. "You're pushing him too soon. He hasn't even asked me for the training yet. Leave him to me."
"It's too dangerous," Alex said through his teeth.
"Don't worry. I promise you, I'll never see Mark again without a Donor. Satisfied?"
Alex replied, "I guess I'll have to be. What are your plans for him?"
"The Tecton could use another field like yours, and he's got it. My goal is to have him ask me for training. He's already showing the signs of a Donor. I hope that the conversation we've had today will encourage him to ask. But..."
"What are you saying?" Mark asked. "And what did he mean by that remark about training?"
Timothy turned to him. "I'm sorry, Mark. We slipped into Simelan, the language we use in in-Territory. Alex is more comfortable with it since he grew up there. Let's go to the kitchen."
"No! Explain what he meant first," Mark demanded.
"All Gens who were raised in Sime Territory naturally believe that all Gens want to be trained, that's all," Timothy clarified.
Mark screwed up his face as he asked Alex, "Is that true?"
"Yes, it's true. Sorry, Mark." Alex dismissed the matter with a shrug. "I forgot."
"Come on." Timothy pointed to the door. "Let's go visit my parents before we have to leave."
When they entered, Timothy's mother got up from the table, where she'd been drinking tea with his father, and hugged Mark. "How are you? Did my son treat you well?"
"Yes, he did. It didn't hurt me. I just lay there. I don't know what happened, but I feel much better." As Mark moved his arm to demonstrate to her he could do it without wincing, the young Gen's field reached out to Timothy, but Alex was there to block it.
His mother addressed the Donor. "I'd very much like to hug my son. In your opinion, do you think he's recovered enough after his healing session with Mark?"
Alex's eyebrow rose. "I'm impressed, Timothy. Your mother knows whom to ask."
The Donor then lectured the young Gen as if Mark were one of Tien's new Companion candidates. "Just remember that the Donor should always be asked before making contact with a channel."
Alex then directed his attention to Timothy. "Would you like to hug your mother?"
The channel stopped in the middle of making a new pot of tea to look at her, "It's been a long time, hasn't it?"
Decision made, Timothy smiled as he requested his Donor to attend him.. "Come here, Mom."
When he zlinned his Donor was in position, he raised his arms. "Hug my body. I'll put my arms around you then you can squeeze as hard as you like. I know that's what you want. It was always your favorite thing to do when I was growing up."
His mother's nager glowed with love as she complied.
"It's been so long, Timothy. I love you, Son." Tears glistened in her eyes.
As she laid her head on his shoulder, he looked to his father and winked. The love emanating from her flowed through him like balm to his soul. He remembered how it had been when he was a child.
Timothy allowed it for a very short time then stepped back and traced a tentacle down her face. "You're a brave lady."
She smiled at him as tears streaked down her face. "I miss the hugs you used to give me. Thank you. You've made me very happy."
He kissed her forehead.
Alex turned to Mark. "You've just witnessed a very strange scene. This is the only Sime I've ever known who'll allow himself to be hugged by an untrained Gen."
"I trust my mother," Timothy said to Alex. "Don't you trust yours?"
"Yes, but if I were Sime and my mother were an untrained Gen, I don't think I'd allow it. Come to think about it, my mother's a channel, and she doesn't let my kid sister, who just turned Gen, hug her."
"You're trained," Mark said to Alex. "Do you get to hug your mom?"
"Occasionally," the Donor replied. "Usually after I've given her transfer."
Mark's field quivered each time the word 'transfer' was spoken.
Alex changed the subject. "Isn't that tea ready yet?"
"Coming up, you impatient Gen," Timothy laughed.
"I've got to leave," Mark said. "I've been gone a long time. Since I'm feeling better, I should let myself be seen fishing so people can report my whereabouts to my mom. When can I come back?"
"How about a week from today? I don't want to do the treatments too close together, or your parents may get suspicious." And, I'll be entering week three of my cycle.
"Great. See you then." The young Gen turned to his father. "I'll be at the Old West Bend Road site by 7:00 tomorrow morning if my mom will let me. I'm determined to catch enough fish for a dinner at least once before school starts."
"Oh!" Mark looked at him with embarrassment. "Sorry. I forgot."
"I understand because I used to be the same way that you are. Before I changed over, I was always going fishing so that we could have a fish meal." He snapped a tentacle in the Donor's direction. "Alex is probably more offended than I am. He's never eaten meat."
Mark's nager swirled green with confusion. "But I thought only Simes didn't eat meat."
Timothy explained, "The native in-Territory Gens don't eat meat simply because their parents were usually Sime. The out-Territory Gens don't eat it because they know it offends the Simes. In any case, it's very rare to find it served in Sime Territory."
"Remind me not to go there, the young Gen laughed, "I'd probably waste away. Mark poked his head out the door, looked both ways and called over his shoulder just before he disappeared. "Thank you for letting me come over, Mrs. B."
The cool ground Mark sat on contrasted with the warm streak of sunlight that played across his chest. His red fishing bobber was gently riding the waves, but he didn't notice it. Instead, he stared at the green frothing water which spanked a bleach-white boulder in the center of the river.
Desire. Revulsion. Desire. Tentacles. Longing. Killing. Fear. Desire.
He looked at his arms. There were no visible marks. Half of him wanted to go screaming to his dad that the Sime had touched him and the other half wanted Timothy to touch him again.
He thought a moment. No. He'd never tell his dad.
Something. Something had happened. He couldn't get Timothy from his mind. Ever since that first time, the Sime had been in his thoughts and in his dreams. He wanted more. He looked at his arms again. Wrong. The way he touched me was wrong. Something was missing.
One day he'd find out what it was.
"Hi!" Mark jumped at the deep, male voice. "How're they biting?"
They both laughed as Mark said, "I've had one nibble. Stole the whole worm. But since then, nothing. I was thinking of trying the site just up the trail near the bend but I promised Mom I'd be home soon so I decided to stay here until I'd have to leave." Perfect. Mr. Febriana'll tell his wife who'll tell Mom where I've been.
They talked a bit longer, then the man moved down the trail toward the site Mark had mentioned. As soon as Mr. Febriana was out of sight, Mark left.
Mark walked home from school with his jacket bundled close to him. The sky was dark with the threat of rain. Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees leaving multi-colored piles stacked against everything. It's been two months. More than two months since- no, more than two and a half months and I still occasionally ache where the bullet entered. He shuddered. He had almost died. Dad sh... He cut off the thought before it started.
Although the physical pain was almost gone thanks to Timothy's help, the mental pain seemed to plague him constantly. Since I was shot, at least dad's put the gun away. Is it because I'm Gen or because he shot me? No matter. He shrugged. I feel safer. That's the important part. Isn't it?
He skirted a puddle, but continued to think about his ordeal. He still shuddered when he thought about his dad killing Petir. Rotating his arm and feeling a slight twinge, he decided to go to the Buffingtons' in hopes that he would be there. As they say, any excuse is a good one.
The last time he'd seen Timothy and Alex was four days before school started. The channel had seemed nervous. Alex had stayed protectively close by his side.
It felt so good for the channel to touch him. Mark didn't know when he decided that it felt good. But it did. He should've felt guilty that he wanted to touch a Sime. He didn't. He wanted it, and he didn't care why.
His dad was wrong. Not all Simes kill. Timothy didn't. His new friend had touched him six times and nothing had happened. The channel was so caring. Someone like that could never kill, he decided.
Mark couldn't tell Timothy how much the channel's caring meant to him. After all, men weren't supposed to show feelings. Instead, he'd tried to project his feelings of care and gratitude to his friend. But for some reason, Timothy had collapsed. He still didn't understand why Alex had demanded that he leave at once. Naturally, he was disappointed, but there'd be another time. Maybe he would be able to tell Timothy this afternoon.
Coming out of his reverie, Mark looked around to take his bearings, then headed toward the Buffingtons'.
Just before he was ready to knock at their door, Timothy opened it.
Timothy decided to wait until Mark was at the door before he opened it.
"Ah!" Mark exclaimed. "Oh, it's you."
The channel zlinned the Gen while Mark's startled reaction quickly turned to delight then to concern before the young man asked, "Is something wrong?"
"No. No. Mom and Dad had some shopping to do in town, and I knew you'd be on your way home from school, so Alex and I dropped by in hopes that we'd see you. Come in. Have some tea. You know Mom always imports the best. Some of this can curl your toes if you're not used to it."
Mark laughed, "I thought all of it did that. I've been coming here since I was eight. I remember the first time your mom served it. Being the polite boy that I was, I didn't make a face. Just endured. After a year, I guess I got used to it. Now, I like it." He patted his middle. "It does soothe the stomach."
After he poured Mark's tea, Timothy joined Alex and the younger Gen at the kitchen table. "I wanted to speak with you privately."
Alex surrounded Timothy with his soothing nager as the Donor edged his chair closer.
Mark noticed Alex's actions and scooted his chair closer to the channel also. Timothy zlinned both fields then realized that Mark was challenging Alex for the Donor's position. Although Mark's nager was interesting to zlin; and his field was much higher than Alex's, its chaotic swirls made him slightly nauseated. Alex's clean, steady Tecton standard nager made him feel safe. Now what can I do, he thought for a moment. Got it.
Timothy edged closer to Alex. In Simelan shorthand, he explained to his Donor the entire situation in five short words. Alex was ready.
He switched back to English. "Alex is my Donor this month. Do you know what that means?"
The young man looked from one to the other. "That you will try to kill Alex." Mark turned to the other human, "Aren't you afraid?"
It worked. Mark's no longer focused on me.
"No," the Donor said firmly. "I give of myself freely. And, I have confidence in my abilities because of the training program I completed."
With Mark no longer challenging the Donor, Alex's nager shifted to a better position and Timothy mentally sighed with relief.
"Training? How long did you train before you gave," he stumbled on the word, "transfer?"
"My first transfer occurred a month after I established. The training I mentioned is in the form of medical classes designed to help a Donor recognize the subtle signs a channel, or any Sime, in trouble may display. Sometimes, we spot a problem before they do. The important thing to know is the right action to take to achieve the maximum comfort of the Sime and the people around him. The training also involves learning Simelan to the best of a Gen's ability. There isn't a Gen alive who understands the language one hundred percent, but we do the best we can."
"But that's not what we wanted to talk to you about today," Timothy said. "Now that Ophena has been reassigned to a Sime Territory Center, our Center requires a groundskeeper. It's general work. Grooming the lawn. Picking up the leaves at this time of the year. Planting a garden of some of the Sime foods we can't buy but are essential to our health. The pay is good for a student. How about it? Would you like a job?"
Timothy could zlin Mark's relief at the change of subject. The young man smiled. "Dad's been wanting me to find a job, but I never knew what I wanted to do. Groundskeeper," he enthused. "I'd like that. I could see you and Alex every day. But what about the other Simes?"
"Yes...well... There is one catch," Timothy said. "You'd have to be a donor to work for the Center. Of course, you'd get paid for your donation in addition to your salary."
Mark's nager splintered at his revelation. Sitting back, the young Gen gripped the table. "Donate? Me? I...I haven't thought about it before. I...I don't know. I'm afraid."
Alex reached over to pat his hand. "Calm down. You're not being asked to give transfer, only to donate. You've already experienced Timothy's tentacles several times. It's a simple process very similar to those times when he zlinned you to check your healing progress."
"Besides," Timothy continued, "why should you be frightened? You've seen me twice during hard need and nothing has happened to you."
The channel had to reinforce his barriers against the powerful, frightened Gen nager. "Twice," he confirmed. "The second time was a week and a half ago when I completed your healing."
Before Mark could ask when the first time had been or even make further comments on Timothy's revelation, Alex said, "Now that your healing has been completed, I won't allow you to come near Hajene Timothy for two weeks out of four. Your lack of training, along with your high field, is dangerous, not only to him but also to any Sime within zlinning distance."
Timothy took over the conversation. "At the Center, I could take your field down then we could see each other as often as you like, and you could meet other Simes while you're working there. You'll find they're just like me. They don't want to hurt Gens either."
The young Gen looked at him as if he knew that there were more to be said but when Timothy didn't say it, Mark realized that it was time to drop the matter.
Finally, the young Gen asked, "What do I do?"
Timothy took the papers he had hidden on top of the refrigerator to place them in front of Mark. He was grateful that, by law, Mark was only required to have one of the two papers signed by a parent.
As Alex took their two mugs to the sink to wash, Timothy explained, "Fill out these papers. An inside dorsal tentacle pointed to the top form. "This is a Consent to Donate form, while this," the channel shuffled the bottom page to the top, "is an Application for Work form. By having one of your parents sign this form," he tapped the page, "you can come to work. Once signed, you can start immediately after your first donation. Tomorrow would be good. Here's a booklet about donation. Read it."
Timothy waited impatiently for Alex to dry his hands then handed the Gen his jacket from the old fashioned, wooden coat rack which stood in the corner. As he carefully put on his retainers, he said, "We have to get back to work. If you have any questions, I'll answer them tomorrow before I take your field down; that is, if you can take the job. Lock up before you leave."
Without another word, he and Alex left.
Mark looked at the closed door. He was alone. The house was warm, but he shivered. He shivered with the knowledge that he'd once again been in a room with an unretainered Sime. But more impor-tantly, he shivered to think about having to donate to get the job at the Center. How could he possibly donate since even the word donate instilled terror in him, yet how could he not donate since giving donation was the only thing that occupied his mind.
He drank half of the rapidly cooling beverage but that didn't dispel the cold dread he felt. Timothy had assumed he wanted the job.
Do I? Do I want to donate? Could I do it? Alex said it was no different than Timothy's treatments. He shivered again. But something inside him remembered. Remembered the feel of the channel's tentacles. Remembered the desire Timothy evoked every time he was near.
His dad only knew that berserkers killed, but he had never been close to a mature Sime. Would his dad feel the way he felt if he forgot about the killings and listened to his body?
I'm going to donate. I'm going to work at the Center and I am going to donate.
He picked up the pamphlet. The Facts About Donation and Donating, published by Householding Zeor, the cover read.
Donating is a simple and a normal part of living.
By donating, you are:
providing extra income for your family
powering the lights in your home
helping renSimes to live without killing
making your everyday life easier.
Too restless to read the rest of the page, he finished the tea then flipped to the next subtitle.
What to Expect, it stated.
A brief medical history will first be requested by the attending channel. Once completed, the channel will escort you to the contour lounge usually located in the center of the room. This lounge will provide the maximum comfort for both you and the channel during the donation process.
The procedure is very simple. You will be requested to give the channel your arms and at your signal of readiness, the chan-nel's lips will meet yours.
At this point, you must be very still until the channel signals that the donation has been completed.
The amount of time that it will take depends on:
1) the amount of selyn you have produced
2) the amount of selyn the channel is able
3) how easily your body is willing to
release the selyn
You will not feel anything during the donation procedure except the physical con-tact as described above.
Please remain relaxed until all tentacles have been removed.
Afterwards, the channel will record the amount of selyn you have donated then you will be directed to the payment window.
He turned the page.
There are six types of donors: three general orders (GN) and three technical orders (TN). The trained TN's are the only ones who provide a direct transfer of selyn to a channel.
The GN's offer selyn only from the shallow levels of storage in their bodies and never feel selyn movement. A GN1 will donate more selyn and, therefore will receive a higher payment than a GN2, while a GN2 will receive a higher payment than a GN3.
The largest difference among the six orders lies between the GN1 and TN3. The Technical Order Donors are specially trained to be physicians and healers to the channels as well as to provide for a channel's personal need, that is to provide Transfer. In Transfer, a TN does experience selyn movement. The TN3's serve the Third Order Channels. The TN2's serve the Seconds, and the TN1's serve the Firsts. Technical Order Donors all work for the Tecton and assist the channels in their daily work. Since the Firsts deal in the largest volume of selyn, and take on other administrative duties, the First Order Donors are among the highest paid employees of the Tecton.
There was more but Mark didn't have time to read it. Leaving the pamphlet on the table, he grabbed his bag and pulled out a book. After folding the forms, Mark stuffed them inside the book then returned it to his bag. Before he left, he washed his mug. As he put on his jacket, he looked around to assure himself that he hadn't missed a dish or forgotten something. Satisfied that he hadn't, he left, locking the door behind him then hurried home. It was even colder now than an hour ago. Or was it the idea that he'd have to pass the papers off as simple consent to work forms? Maybe that was part of it but it was definitely colder.
Picking up his pace, Mark cut through the familiar yards. The smell of rain prickled his nose just as large drops slowly began descending through the air. First, they landed on his face and then on his hand before coming down in earnest.
The crack of lightning prompted Mark to run for it. Even though he had only a half a block to cover, he was soaked by the time he got in the house.
"Mark!...Mark!...Is that you?" his mom called from the kitchen. She laughed at his drenched look. "Go get changed, I'll make you some tea."
He went to his room wishing for another cup of trin instead of the ordinary one his mother always made.
After he'd changed clothes, he sat at the kitchen table with the aromatic tea warming his face as he watched his mom prepare dinner with fluid, efficient moves. His heart pounded with fear that she'd discover where he wanted to work. "I've decided to take Dad's advice and get a job." He sipped the hot liquid carefully. "On the way home from school, I saw a sign advertising a gardening job. I thought I'd try that."
As she lifted the lid on a steaming pot, she said in a lilting voice, "That's wonderful, dear! Do you know what they pay?"
He took a breath to calm himself before continuing, "I didn't ask. I saw the storm coming and felt that I just had enough time to ask for the job application. The receptionist explained that at my age I'd have to have parental permission. So," he pointed the pen to the forms, "please sign at the red 'X' on both pages."
She turned around quickly and signed the first page. He willed his hands not to shake. When a pot was about to boil over, he held his hand over the top of the second page which clearly stated, 'CONSENT to DONATE'. He pointed to the dotted line. She signed it without a thought and returned to the stove. "Be sure to bring an old set of clothes with you so you don't ruin your school clothes."
"I will," Mark assured her. "I promise."
"Great! Now out with you," his mom laughed, "before I burn my entire dinner."
Mark left his half finished cup of tea on the coun-ter as he grabbed the pages and went to his room.
The next day, school was absolute torture. He thought he'd put the fear of Simes behind him as he'd become accustomed to Timothy. Instead, all he could think about was turning in his Consent to Donate paper and what would come next. One moment, he was terrified and the next, he was exhilarated to finally be able to do what he'd secretly dreamt of doing. By midmorning, he was simply a zombie, going to his classes, answering the teacher's questions, and writing the next day's assignments down as his head pulsed alternately with fear and excitement.
During lunch, he went to the rest room. After he closed the ugly green door with graffiti etched into the paint, he sat on the pot and pulled out the Sime Center forms. Although he felt he'd be safe enough in the tiny enclosed stall, he listened for signs of trouble while he reread each form.
Chill bumps ran up and down his arms as he looked at the Consent to Donate form. Do I really want to do this? Yes! I don't know why but I want to be close to Timothy. What about other Simes? His heart beat rapidly at the thought, but he felt his desire raise another level.
Why? Why am I like this? My dad taught me to fear Simes. Why do I want to be near them? His resolve hardened. I don't care why, I just do. Timothy saved my life. Dad was wrong. Simes don't kill. At least, not as long as Gens donate, they don't. His inner voice changed to determination. And I'm going to be one of them, just like Mr. B.
Mark looked at the signature box with his mom's name scribbled in and smiled but then the words underneath her signature caught his eye. "Oh, no!" he despaired. That blank was for my signature, not Mom's. Mom doesn't even have to sign the paper. What do I do?
The bell rang. Startled, he yelped. Time to go to the next class. He quickly placed the folded forms between the pages of his math book since he'd already had that period then he headed to his Language class.
Mark saw the teacher moving her lips, but he ignored her words. What do I do? He thought over and over again. What do I do?
The teacher gave him a funny look, but she didn't say anything when he pounded the heels of his hands on his forehead. From then on, he nodded in agreement as she lectured, although he hadn't a clue what she was saying.
I know. When I get to the Center, I'll ask for another form. Then all I have to do is copy the old one and sign the new one myself.
"Mark," the teacher asked, "explain to the class, what the difference is in the word, lie, spelled, 'L I E' and the word, lay, spelled, 'L A Y'.
"Uh..." he stalled for time while he gathered his thoughts. Then it came to him, the only thing he remembered studying last night before he gave up to think about Simes and donating was this question. As he began to explain the difference, he thought about how lucky he was not only to know the answer but also to have heard the question.
When the final bell rang, Mark picked himself up and made himself take first one step then the next toward his goal, the Sime Center. After the first few steps, realization hit. I have permission to work, and I've chosen to give myself permission to donate. I can be like the Buffingtons. If Mr. B can do it, so can I. What did he say he did when he donated?... Stayed calm...That's what I'll do!...I'll stay calm. Pushing all of his fear and panic aside, Mark lifted his head and rapidly walked towards the Center.
"Aren't you going home today?"
Mark clamped down on his instant reaction. Good. I did it. The books say you have to learn to stay calm.
He continued to walk down the road. "Why do you ask, George?"
The other boy turned to walk backwards so that he could face Mark. "I thought we could go fishing."
"I only go alone." Mark stopped to look up at the taller boy. "You know that. Ever since..." He stared into nothingness. "Ever since Petir died, I..."
"Oh, come off it. The Sime's dead. Why should you mourn? He was just another animal," George taunted.
Mark put his book bag down, balled up his fist, and threatened to hit the obnoxious boy. "Petir may have turned Sime, but he was the best friend I ever had," he said between his teeth. "So if you continue to talk about him that way, I'm going to introduce my fist to your face. Understand?"
George must've forgotten that Mark wasn't as muscular as he had been before the accident because he backed off. Instead, the skinny boy began accusing him in a loud voice so that the other school kids who were walking home would hear, "Sime-lover!" He ran as he called over his shoulder, "You're nothing but a Sime-lover."
Mark yelled back, shaking his fist, "At least, I know I'm human! You're so skinny, you'll probably change over within the year."
The other kids decided to take Mark's side and began chanting, "You're a Sime."
The boy disappeared down the next street.
Danielle placed a hand on Mark's arm. "We understand." He picked up his book bag. "We miss Petir, too." She smiled at him.
"I know. It's just..." She's pretty, he thought.
"...too many think like George," she completed for him.
I wonder what she would say if she knew where I was going. Probably nothing. She's one of the few who've taken the changeover classes. Also, I think her parents donate.
"Yeah." He frowned.
She brushed her long, golden hair back from her temple. "Look. I've got to go. I promised Mom I'd come home from school right away. She's taking me shopping."
"Thanks..." Mark's hand circled the air, but he didn't know what else to say.
"Sure. No problem." Her slight embarrassment colored her cheeks.
"Have a good time!" he called after her.
She waved then rounded the next corner in the direction of her house.
As he walked down the street, he noticed the bells on the front pouch of every house. They were used to warn everyone within hearing distance that a berserker was loose.
Mark remembered the first night he'd ever heard the bells and understood what they meant. He was seven years old. He had dashed downstairs in time to see his dad loading up the gigantic rifle. Clad only in his nightshirt and night-socks, his dad rushed up to him before kneeling down to look him in the eyes. "I'm going to shoot me a Sime. Just like we played yesterday. Only this time, I'm really going to do it. That is, if I get to the animal first."
His dad shook his arm. "Now you keep the doors locked until I tell you to unlock them and stay with your mother to protect her." A wink was directed toward the living room door where she stood with her arms crossed. "I'll be back soon."
As he pulled on the heavy jacket, his dad kissed his mother then left.
To pass the time, his mom had made coffee milk. The aroma drifted through the air as they quietly talked and listened to the rain which splattered gently against the window.
Mark shivered. Just as he'd drained the last of his drink, two gunshots rang out in the crisp, clean air. He'd never told his mom that that was the reason he now hated to drink coffee milk.
An hour later, his dad had come into the kitchen, beaming with pride that he'd been the lucky one. The Sime was dead. All three of them had gone to the living room to chant in joyous unison as they threw up their hands, "The only good Sime is a dead one. Yea...ah."
Since it was too late to go back to sleep, Mark and his father had sat at the kitchen table while his mom had made the best breakfast he'd ever remembered eating.
He wished he could forget.
Mark shook his head to clear his thoughts then decided that he could probably walk down Madsony Avenue without anyone thinking he was going to the Center. But if someone saw him, they might report to one of his parents that he was there. It would be safer to use the back alley route which ended across from the Center gates.
He cut between the Teaberrys' and the Knights' houses then walked down the alley. When Mr. Knight let the dog out, Mark slid inside the shed. As soon as the little black dog had finished his business, he ran over to greet Mark with a wet kiss.
As he hugged and patted the dog, Mark listened for the footsteps of the only man on the block who donated. At least, he'd heard Mr. Knight donated. Just the same, even if Mr. Knight were sympathetic towards the Simes, Mark didn't want anyone including him to know that he had been near the Center much less might be employed by it. It was too potentially dangerous.
"Scotty! Here boy! Where are you?" the man called.
Mark gave the dog a last pat and Scotty sped away, barking happily.
He scanned Madsony Avenue before looking across the street.
The Center was protected by a nine foot wall which had closely spaced foot high spikes on top of it. Since the only time the gate doors opened were when the Center used the ambulance to retrieve a changeover victim, a smaller entryway was provided for people.
There were no trees near the fence. The only landscaping Mark could see was some small shrubs and a few barren flower beds.
Attached to the fence closest to the entryway was a sign which boldly stated, SIME CENTER, City of Sanger, on one side and some weird scribbling on the other. The stark white background of the sign was in direct contrast to the black of the fence.
What am I doing? His heart pounded. What you want to do! Now get on with it.
When the coast was clear, Mark ran across the road. After carefully closing the door behind him, he walked down Farris Lane. He noticed that the first of the large pine trees which lined the Lane began far enough down the road that no Sime could possibly use one to leap over the fence.
As he climbed the stairs to the front entrance, he refused to listen to the half of him which screamed, "RUN!" He opened the door and strolled up to what appeared to be the receptionist's desk.
"May I help you?" the Sime asked just before the wooden stir stick she held snapped in two.
Sime! She's too pretty to be Sime...no...she's just pretty.
Placing the two pieces to one side, she inquired, "Are you Mark Cappa?"
Congratulating himself on not reacting to her with fear, Mark started to say yes but the only thing that came out was an embarrassing squeak." Clearing his throat, he was able to say, "Yes, I am. I'm here to apply for the groundskeeper's job. Also, I require another Consent to Donate form. The other one got messed up in the rain yesterday."
He held his breath.
She gave him a strange look then pulled out the requested form and gave it to him. "I've been expecting you. There's a pen attached to the table over there," she indicated with a tentacle. "When you're ready, please come back to this desk."
The high table in the corner was especially designed to fill out forms. As Mark copied the information, he heard the pretty Sime receptionist process several other donors. He kept his head down and his back turned when he heard Mrs. Elderly arrive. She was one of the biggest tattletales in the city. If she recognized him, his parents would know within the hour. Fortunately, her name was called right away.
When he had completed the form, he signed it with a flourish, thinking, This is it. I'm going to donate. Is it what you want? The little voice couldn't help but get in the way. Yes! I WANT to donate. I'm going to donate.
He crumpled the old form and stuffed it into his pack to be disposed of later. Then, he took the new one, carefully folded it and placed it with the Application to Work. Satisfied that he was ready, he allowed himself to think only positive thoughts about donating as he walked to the desk with his shoulders back.
The receptionist noticed him approaching so she picked up the phone, dialed a number, and waited patiently for a moment. "Riva. This is the front desk," she said in perfect English. "Mark's arrived...Yes, that Mark. Please tell him he's here. Oh...in that case, I'll take him to room one if you'll cover for me. Yes. Yes. OK. Great. See you then. Bye." She put up a sign that said, 'Will return shortly.' then came out of the booth. She pointed a tentacle towards the hallway entrance. "Follow me."
As Mark walked through the entryway, he felt as if he were being devoured by a huge maw. He tried to breathe, but his breath was shallow and painful. This must be the way a fish feels when he's out of the water. The gray walls seemed to pulse with the desire to grab his soul. Since each door they passed had a sign with the same illegible script above the English, the pathway looked alien and uninviting.
They finally stopped at a door marked 'Donation Room One'. Mark swallowed hard as they entered. The Sime girl indicated the chair in front of the large, oak desk. Above the desk was what he thought could be the Tecton crest.
"Please be seated," she requested. "Hajene Timothy will be with you momentarily."
She went to the alcove set to the left of the huge desk then paused to ask, "Would you like some trin tea?"
"Yes, please. I could use some to settle my stomach." His brow furrowed as he evaluated her expression. "What's the matter?"
She hesitated before saying, "Most first time donors don't know what trin is and if they do, they make a face when they think about it."
He laughed. "I've been drinking trin for seven years and I prefer it."
"That's surprising. I still prefer regular tea but I agree, trin is soothing to the stomach." She placed the kettle on the burner.
When she came out of the little kitchen, she paused. Her expression changed to one of stress. "Time for me to get back to the front desk." She ran for the door. "Hajene Timothy will be here shortly."
Not understanding what frightened her, he continued to think about donating to a woman instead of a man while he looked around the room. Although there were no windows, several paintings of Simes and Gens living together in harmony decorated the soothing light blue colored walls. Each painting had a strange symbol in the upper left hand corner as if that were an explanation of what the scene was about. In addition to the desk, there was a strange looking blue upholstered lounge in the center of the room. A comfortable matching sofa chair sat nearby.
He stared at the lounge. That's where. He swallowed hard. That's where the donation is taken. The kettle whistled for attention. Mark pulled his eyes from the lounge to look at the alcove where the annoying, high-pitched wobble continued.
He stood up, looked back at the lounge, and thought, I'm going to donate. It's what I want.
Mark went to the alcove. The trin had been carefully measured in three cups so he decided to pour the water himself. I wonder what spooked that Sime girl.
Timothy and Viktor walked briskly down the hall with their steps echoing in unison. Although Timothy was sorry to see Alex leave, he'd been overjoyed to hear that his best friend, Viktor, was returning to Sanger.
The channel relaxed as he zlinned the Donor's rich, pulsating nager. Viktor was more closely matched to his own capacity and speed than Alex. We're going to have a great transfer.
"Do you think Mark is ready for this, Timothy?" the Donor asked in Simelan.
"I can't be one hundred percent sure but the last time Alex and I were at Mom and Dad's house to heal him, he called me friend. He trusts me." Timothy glanced at Viktor. "I think he's ready.
"I assigned Kathy, the renSime who was born out-Territory, to the Collectorium front desk today since she speaks English with an out-Territory accent."
Viktor laughed, "And," he counted on his fingers, "since she's pretty, and she's just about Mark's age."
"That, too," Timothy chuckled.
Viktor's nager pulsed with concern. "Do you think that wise?"
Timothy was about to reply when the door to Donation Room One was flung open and Kathy fled down the hall. He zlinned her fright as he caught her.
"No!" she cried in Simelan as she struggled to get away. "No!"
Timothy had to augment to keep her from breaking free. He gave her a small nageric zap. Suddenly, she stopped.
Judging by her selyn storage, Mark was probably fine. He'd just raised her intil. Higher than it should ever be raised for a renSime. Mark's more of a walking time bomb than I thought.
As he handed her to Viktor, Timothy started speaking in Simelan shorthand, "Kathy's going to require a Donor therapist for at least a week. Take her to Paul. I know he's preparing to leave on the six o'clock train, but tell him to work with her until Costel gets back from town. His ETA, according to the location board, is four."
"What about you?" Viktor stroked Kathy's hair. The girl had relaxed on his Donor's nager.
"I'll be fine. I can handle myself." Timothy indicated the wall phone. "I'll send the emergency codes over the intercom then go to Mark. Just don't take too long. I'm going to hit turnover soon, and I want his field taken down long before that time."
Timothy knew from Viktor's frown that the subject of allowing Kathy anywhere near Mark was not closed.
Mark had just begun to pour the second cup when the door opened. "Mark!" Timothy called softly.
He slopped some water over the side.
"What are you doing, you silly Gen?" Timothy took over the kettle and finished pouring the water before cleaning the counter.
Mark was slightly hurt at being treated like a two year old. "The Sime girl who brought me here was making tea. Something happened." No, he treated me like a Gen. Like Alex. The thought warmed him until he remembered, A Donating Gen. "I have no idea what. Before I knew it, she said you'd be here shortly and ran out the door. Do you know what was wrong with her?"
Timothy frowned. "Yes, I do but none of that now." He snapped a tentacle in dismissal. "Since you're here, I assume," the channel smiled at him reassuringly, "it's because you want the job."
Mark nodded his agreement. I wonder what was wrong.
The channel took a cup in a tentacle and another in a hand, then indicated that Mark should follow him back to the desk. "Do you have the forms for me?" Timothy asked congenially. He set each cup on an unglazed stone coaster.
Oh, well. Timothy seems fine now. His smile reminds me of his father. I bet Mr. B looked like him when he was that age.
"Sure." Mark smiled back. He opened his bag to dig for the math book in which he'd hidden the papers. Once the carefully folded forms were handed over, he picked up his tea cup only to realize that the coasters had the same crest as the plaque which was displayed on the wall behind the desk. "What does that stand for?" he asked as he peered at the design under the cup.
Timothy lowered the form he was reading to look at what had caught Mark's interest then smiled, "It's the symbol of the Tecton, the governing body of the Sime Territories. Every channel and Donor works for the Tecton." He reached across the desk and pointed to his ring with a tentacle. "You can see the same design on my ring. The other symbol, which is superimposed over the first, is the symbol of my House. Householding Tien."
"Tien." Mark tried the strange word. Mark ambrov Tien. A householding. What would it be like to be accepted as a member? To be loved. To be respected. "Your House. How did you choose your House, or did they choose you?"
T I E N
Timothy withdrew his hand and sampled his tea before continuing, "I was sent there because they specialize in training people from out-Territory. During that time, I had the opportunity to decide if I believed in the same ideals as the House. Once I decided it was what I wanted, I applied for consideration."
Mark watched the faraway look of supreme happiness on his friend's face as he related his story. "In the meantime, Sectuib Clarinda evaluated my abilities and had the opportunity to decide not only if I would be an asset to the House but also if I would fit in with the other House members."
"How long did it take?" Mark asked curiously as sipped his tea then made a face at the unexpected, awful taste.
Timothy's eyes twinkled at his reaction to the tea but the channel didn't comment on the subject. Instead, he answered Mark's question as if nothing had happened. "After six months training, you may apply for evaluation; however, the announcement of new inductees is never posted until the channel's training is over. The training usually takes a year." Timothy leaned back in his chair and took another sip of tea. "Donors are different. Their training takes longer than a year so they may be inducted into a House at the end of their first year."
The faraway look was back. "There were six of us who were accepted when I pledged. What a party we had," Timothy reminisced.
Mark's friend seemed to radiate excitement while
he continued to talk about his House. "Householding
Tien also designs and manufactures the batteries used in the selyn power plants. I spent an additional year studying engineering, but in the end I realized that what I really wanted to do was return to Sanger so that I could help my father with his dream of getting the community to accept the Center."
A wistful smile crossed Timothy's face. "And, of course, in a city like Sanger, I have more opportunities to give first transfer to change over victims, which is one of the greatest pleasures a channel can have."
Mark laughed as his friend turned serious again with an "Enough of that. It's time we got back to work. Let's see..."
Taking another sip of tea, he watched one of Timothy's tentacles run down the form the channel was reading. "You're right. This trin isn't nearly as good as Mrs. B's."
"I'm afraid that it's Tecton standard," Timothy responded without looking up. "I hope it's at least acceptable." The crystal blue eyes finally rose to meet Mark's. "Getting high quality trin plants imported to us is one of the first things I want you to do. Tomorrow, I'll show you the catalogs and explain what plants in addition to trin should be ordered. Normally, I'd have you look through the catalogs on your own before seeing me, but since you don't read Simelan we'll do it together."
Thank goodness, my stomach has settled down, Mark thought. Timothy made an occasional note on his application as he scanned the information and sipped his tea.
"Excellent. I see your mother signed your work form. I hope you didn't have too much trouble." Mark suppressed a squirm under the channel's scrutiny.
"No. Not much." After all, he hadn't had much trouble-not the kind of trouble the channel had meant.
Timothy looked at him for a second longer, then made an additional notation.
Finally, his friend looked up and smiled. "Ready?"
Unable to keep all his apprehension from showing, Mark said, "I...I guess so."
Timothy's smile reassured him as much as the channel's cheer. "As soon as Viktor has arrived, we'll proceed."
Mark asked, "Viktor? What happened to Alex?"
"Alex was reassigned. Viktor is here to replace him."
Curiosity piqued, he asked, "Isn't that the Donor who came to the party with you?"
"Yes...it is. I'm surprised you remember him. This's the first time he's been assigned here since that day... And here he is now," Timothy said just before Viktor walked through the door.
Mark's insides were constricting as he was reintroduced to the handsome, brown-haired man with green eyes who had helped to save his life. I thought I was over this fright.
He looked first at Viktor then turned back to Timothy. "Why do you always have a Donor around? I thought the only time you'd require one was when you had transfer?"
The channel's blue eyes danced with excitement. "Donors are trained to use their nageric field to support a channel while he or she works. That support makes it easier to hold all the fields steady within zlinning distance. So, whether I'm healing or taking a donation, the Donor's support is always welcome."
Mark looked apologetically to Viktor. "But the only thing I've ever seen Alex do is sit in a chair drinking tea."
Viktor laughed. "From an untrained Gen's point of view that's all it'll ever seem to be. However as a trained Donor, I can feel when the channel engages my fields, I know how to lend the proper support, and I know when to back off. And it feels so good to be near one."
Mark watched the Donor's eyes unfocus as they seemed to caress the thought of what he'd said.
"All right! Enough shoptalk." Timothy laughed. "Time to get to work-shall we?" The channel indicated the lounge in the center of the room as he got up.
Mark nodded. He crossed to the strange-looking lounge he'd been trying to ignore, hoping his shaky knees wouldn't betray him. This is it.
Viktor pulled a comfortable chair closer as Timothy settled on the other side of the lounge.
"Roll up your sleeves so that they are above the elbow," Viktor instructed.
Mark tried to do as told but his shirt sleeves were too tight.
Viktor went to a small cabinet. "Since you're unable to roll up your sleeves, remove your shirt and I'll get a transfer jacket."
Timothy patted Mark's hand. "Don't worry, Mark. Everything will be fine. It's just called a trans-fer jacket. All it is, is a short sleeve shirt that can be wrapped around your body to keep you warm."
Viktor draped Mark's shirt over the back of his chair then helped him to put on the jacket.
As Mark lay back on the lounge, he heard Timo-thy repeat some words over and over. He wasn't sure what the channel was saying, he only knew that the words were somehow reassuring. I'm going to do this, Mark thought as he presented his arms.
He watched as the channel slowly reached out for him. Timothy's handling tentacles were seated into place before the laterals slid into position.
Looking first at one arm then the other, Mark turned his gaze into Timothy's blue eyes as the soothing sound of the channel's voice continued.
Mark wasn't sure if he thought it, or if the voice were requesting it; but he took a breath and relaxed.
"You're doing fine," Timothy soothed. "When you're ready, tap your finger on my arm, and I'll make the fifth contact point."
Mark immediately did as instructed. He stared at the face as his friend's lips loomed closer. Mark thrilled with the knowledge that it was happening. It was happening now. He closed his eyes and told himself to relax.
Lips pressed to his. His body momentarily pulsed as if he were being stroked. He waited without moving as his friend's touch burned with the heat of his body. He wondered if the channel were doing anything at all. He couldn't feel a thing. When the lip contact was broken and the tentacles were retracted, he blinked to clear the haze.
Timothy's eyes danced with approval. "That's it. You're free to work now."
Looking down at his arms, he tried to say something, but no sound came out. Finally, he cleared his throat enough to croak, "You did it?" Is that all?
Timothy smiled at him, "Yes. It's over. You did great. Most Gens couldn't have stayed as still as you did. I'm impressed."
Mark beamed with the praise as he removed the transfer jacket and put on his shirt. He frowned. "I'm just surprised that there wasn't more."
"Viktor!" He saw the channel gesture towards the desk. "Please join me."
As Mark sat down opposite them, he noticed that Viktor took the chair next to Timothy's. He watched the channel shuffle a couple of papers to the Donor then begin scribbling on a form attached to the chart. Before his friend put the file aside, he took another look at the job application and made a few additional notations.
"Do you still want to work for the Center?" Timothy inquired.
"Yes. Of course, I do. Why?" Mark squeaked with alarm.
"Most young Gens would be satisfied with the amount of money you just made by donating," the channel explained.
Mark straightened in his chair. "How much is that?" he asked. I forgot. The booklet said I'd be paid for my selyn.
"Twice the monthly salary I'm authorized to offer," Timothy stated.
Mark gulped. "Ah...Well...Ah...I'd still like to work here." If I don't get this job, my parents'll wonder where I've gotten the money. "How do I get started?" He smiled.
The channel leaned back in his chair. "I expect you to be responsible. Look around. Make a plan for the grounds. If the leaves require removal, remove them. If the flower beds are ready to be planted, do so. You already know my plans for the garden, but you should make an appointment with me to discuss the other plants I have in mind. Riva keeps my calendar. Have her fit you into my schedule tomorrow. You'll have a budget, but you'll have to learn how to control it. Use it wisely. Always verify that the plants you buy locally aren't poisonous to Simes."
"A budget?" Mark said bug-eyed. "That's a lot of responsibility. And you're going to trust me?"
Viktor and Timothy laughed then the channel explained, "Of course. In Sime Territory, as soon as you establish, you're considered an adult and treated as one. You'll do fine." A serious expression crossed his face. "I just want to clarify a few rules. First: You may call me Timothy only when I'm at my parent's house. The rest of the time, you'll address me by my title, Hajene Timothy. There's one exception. You may call me Timothy or Mr. Buffington in the presence of your parents, or in those situations where you feel it will cause less friction. Understand?"
Mark nodded. "How do you say it? High gen Timothy?"
"Ha-jene," the channel enunciated as he flipped a tentacle towards his Donor.
"Ha...jean," Mark said with effort. "How's that?"
"Close enough." Timothy ignored the other Gen. "Also, Donors are addressed as Sosu. Therefore, Viktor should be addressed as Sosu Viktor."
"So...su Viktor," Mark repeated. 'Sosu Mark,' Timothy said....Sosu. Stop. He blinked to refocus his eyes. Is Timothy waiting on me, or is it my imagination?
"Second:" the channel continued, "When you enter the building, always enter through the Gen employee entrance.
"Third: Always follow any request a channel or a Donor makes of you. That is as much for the safety of our renSimes as for you.
"Fourth: You must learn that it's perfectly safe to be near Simes as long as you stay calm. Even at low field, you're carrying more selyn than most of our regular donors so this rule is doubly important.
"Fifth: You must donate on time or when a channel deems it necessary. One more thing, Mark, you'll be donating to a different channel each month." A tentacle was raised to stop his protest. "I'll try to be the one at least every other month but, as a channel and as head of this Center, I must insist that you get to know other channels than myself."
"I'll follow your rules," Mark grumbled, "but I don't have to like the last one."
"That's true. But such is life. There are many things we have to do that we don't like, but we still have to do them." Timothy opened a drawer and brought out a booklet. It looked similar to the pamphlet he'd read at the Buffingtons except it had about ten pages. "I want you to read this. You'll be given a locker. You can keep it there if you like. It's about becoming a Donor."
"A Donor?" Mark heard the peculiar emphasis on the word. "You mean like Viktor?" He looked at the human in question. Mark's eyes glazed as he pictured himself at the chair by Timothy's side. Sosu Mark. I like the sound of that. Stop thinking that. Radiating curiosity, he asked, "Why do you say that?" Why not? If Viktor can, why can't I? He was from out-Territory originally.
Timothy watched Mark read the title of the booklet he'd just given him. "Every donor who has the capacity," he explained, "in other words, one who produces a large amount of selyn, is given this booklet. You've certainly got the capacity for it, and you seem to be losing your fear faster than most. You just have to learn that you are completely safe around Simes, but that will come with time. Well." He paused to zlin Mark's shifting fields. "Think about it."
He looked at the duty roster. "There's only one more hour left in your work period. Take a half hour to inspect the grounds before reporting to Riva. She'll assign you a locker, measure you for the Sime Center coveralls, then show you how to fill out your timecard and collect your pay from your donation today. Tell her that you started to work at three."
"Three!" the Gen exclaimed. "I haven't started today. I haven't done anything!"
"Mark! Listen to yourself!" Timothy demanded. "I can't have you working here if you can't learn to stay calm.
The young man glanced down. "I'm sorry. I'll try to remember."
"That's better." He picked up a pen and tapped it under his chin. "Viktor, I'm not so sure he can do it on his own. Schedule Mark for fifteen minutes of training every day. I'll have Riva place him on my schedule for an additional fifteen minutes once a week."
He looked at Mark. "If you haven't learned how to remain calm under most situations within two weeks, I may have to let you go."
"No," Mark breathed.
Timothy intertwined his tentacles as his fingertips touched. "I barely finished explaining all the rules, and you immediately broke two," the channel mused.
"Two," Viktor affirmed. "The first one was to learn to stay calm, and the second one was always follow the channel's request."
"Donating," Timothy continued, "is considered work time because it's mandatory."
Mark hung his head like a beaten dog. "I guess I already messed things up."
"No, you didn't," the channel assured him. "We don't expect you to learn it overnight like a new Sime would. However, we do expect you to become trustworthy as soon as possible. Viktor will work with you and so will others as you get to know them. Don't worry. You'll be fine. No harm was done this time, but let this be your first lesson."
"I've decided that you should skip the inspection," Timothy told Mark.
He handed the forms to Viktor. "Take Mark with you when you give these to Riva. That way, he'll know where her desk is located. Then show him how to get to the Gen entrance." The channel laughed, "Now out with you. It's time I stopped drinking trin and got to work."
Mark and the Donor started to leave.
"Viktor," intoned Timothy. "It's great to have you back. I'm looking forward to sharing another cup of trin with you after the supper hour."
"Sounds good to me." Viktor beamed. "See you then."
"Oh, and Mark..." Timothy redirected his attention, "welcome aboard."
"Thanks." Mark grinned from ear to ear then followed the Donor out the door.
As Mark and Viktor walked down the hall, the Donor explained the symbols and words which were posted on each door. They stopped at a door which stated Riva, Administrative Assistant. With his hand on the doorknob, Viktor said, "Just remember, a door marked Simes Only can not be opened by a Gen. Those rooms are tiny safe havens for emergencies. You'll find them scattered throughout the Center. They have a burner to make trin, a small medicinal cabinet, a phone, and a lounge. If you find yourself overly curious about the rooms, ask Hajene Timothy or our other channel, Hajene Sumulo, to show you one. Don't make the same mistake I made when I started working at a Center," he admonished. "A renSime was showing me one when another came tearing through the door. Lucky for me, I was trained enough to know what to do until a channel arrived."
Fear and envy gripped Mark. He started to ask a question, but Viktor had already pushed through the door. He swallowed hard as he followed close behind. I'm going to meet another Sime. Nothing to worry about. Viktor's here.
The Donor walked up to an attractive woman with long blond hair and light brown eyes. "Riva," he introduced, "this is Mark. I believe you were expecting him."
"Nice to meet you. May I have his paperwork?" she asked the Donor pleasantly.
Viktor handed it over.
"How would you like to be paid?" she asked Mark as she glanced through the forms.
"I...uh...cash." He blushed in embarrassment over the subject.
"In that case," she smiled. "Would you like in-Territory or out-Territory currency?"
Mark looked to Viktor for an explanation.
"She means," the Donor said. "Would you like it in Sime script or New Washington currency."
"Oh!...New Washington currency, please." Mark smiled.
Riva grabbed a large amount of bills from a cash box and counted most of it out on the counter. She closed the lid after she replaced the small remainder of bills inside. Once the box was returned to its original place, she turned to him and counted the stack of bills in front of him.
"What!" he shrieked. "This can't be right!"
Mark saw Riva pale before Viktor pulled him behind his back. When he peered around the man, he saw that the Donor had leaned over the desk to place his hands on her shoulders. She was practically purring from his attentions.
I want. I wish I could. I wonder what it would be like to make someone feel that good. She looked up to smile at him. SOMEONE. That's a Sime. What are you thinking about? She caught her breath.
"Mark," Viktor warned. "Direct your attention elsewhere or leave."
Mark was confused until he saw the distress in the Sime woman's face. "How?" he asked wretchedly.
"Go look out the window," Viktor commanded.
Mark did as he was told.
At the window, Mark inspected the grounds while he listened to the cadence of the language Viktor was speaking to the Sime woman.
He realized he'd been the cause of the Sime lady's stress but, Why did I cause her stress while Viktor, who's also human, was able to help?
"Mark?" A hand was placed on his shoulder.
He turned around to face the man.
The Donor's voice was gentle. "I know it's hard, but you have to stop panicking every time you think about touching a Sime."
Mark looked over the Donor's shoulder. The Sime was drinking from a tentacle-coiled cup while she pushed her hair back with another. "I'm sorry. It's just...I'm so confused."
Viktor moved enough to block his view of the Sime.
"You did a great job of relaxing when Timothy took your field down. Whatever you did to relax then, use it now. If you conquer your fear of Simes, you can live in harmony with them," Viktor assured him. "One of the great pleasures in life is to be able to make a Sime feel safe. Why don't you try it?"
To make a Sime feel safe. Like Viktor. I'd like that. Mark looked into the Donor's eyes. I used 'Rag Doll'. He felt the tension drain from his body as he thought the words. He smiled. "Is that better?"
"I don't know." Viktor turned around. "Riva, I think he's ready. Are you willing to expose yourself to him again?"
"As long as you stay close," Mark heard her shaky reply.
Viktor backed away. "How's that?" he asked her.
Riva nodded. "Is he going to be like that all the time?"
As Mark and Viktor returned to stand beside her, the Donor explained. "I'll be working with him every day. He's assigned to the groundskeeper's job. That will keep him away most of the time. He's promised to work on staying calm." He looked to Mark. "I think that you just gave him a graphic demonstration of why we Gens, especially we Donors, must keep ourselves under control."
"I'm not a Donor," the teen protested.
"No," was Viktor's flat reply. Mark thought he heard the Donor say under his breath, "And that's the problem."
Mark looked at the pile of money on the counter. "I can't take this home. What am I going to do with it?"
"Why can't you?" the Donor's brow furrowed.
"My dad will take it," he told them. "Is there a place where I can store it?"
"You can put it in your locker." Riva handed him an envelope with the Tecton symbol printed on the outside. "It'll be safe enough there."
Mark stuffed the bills inside the envelope. As she got up, she said, "If you'll follow me, I'll show you where your locker is located."
"Before you do that," Viktor stopped to remind her. "Hajene Timothy said to put both Mark and Kathy on my daily schedule." Riva interrupted with a burst of Simelan which Viktor responded in the same language then continued in English, "and to put both of them on his weekly schedule. In addition, he wants to see Mark tomorrow after four o'clock."
She noted his request as she shook her head, mumbling what Mark thought might be explicatives in the indecipherable Sime language.
"He'll require Center coveralls and access to the showers," Viktor continued to explain.
"Fine." She stared at Mark. "Let's go. We'll give him the grand tour. Just stay close, Viktor." Riva looked at the young Gen. "I don't think I can take another attack." She batted her eyes at the handsome Donor. "But then again, if it means I'll get to see you..."
Viktor laughed. "I'm married and you know it."
She sighed. "More's the pity."
Mark was surprised to find that Riva accompanied them inside the locker area. After closing the door behind them, she led the way to the back of the room. As Mark followed, he was struck by the similarity between this place and the school athletic facilities. Long wooden benches set in front of each row lined the hallways. The floors were concrete. Even the air had the same damp smell as the locker room at school. However, the similarity stopped there because the air was warm and each locker had a small throw rug which stretched from the locker door to underneath the bench.
At the end of the row, Riva stopped and pointed. "The door to the right is the Gens' restroom. The one to the left is for the Simes. The door in front of us leads to the shower room."
Without another word, Riva started down the back hall. She passed the Gens' room then turned down the next aisle. Three quarters of the way down, she opened a door. "Your assigned locker is number 132." Riva patted the top shelf with a tentacle. "A fresh coverall will be placed here every day."
Rag Doll, Mark thought. It's just a tentacle. Timothy uses them all the time. Why should she be any different?
Riva was looking at him strangely. When he met her eyes, she nodded and continued, "I've already placed a Donor's travel kit on the bottom shelf." She pointed with the same tentacle as before.
Donor. I'm not a Donor. Rag Doll, he thought.
Again, her eyes widened fractionally then she continued as if nothing had happened. "Each item is marked in Simelan and Genlan-I mean English. It should have all the toiletries you'll require. You can put your money in the kit."
"Where's the lock?" Mark asked.
"No lock," Viktor explained. "Simes know when you're lying. If anyone steals something, every Sime the thief passes in the Center will know about it."
Rag Doll. Rag Doll.
Mark realized that he must have made a face because Viktor quickly stepped in front of Riva.
The Donor apologized to the Sime. "Sorry, Riva. It's surprising what you take for granted. I should've remembered how shocked I was when I learned that one."
"It wasn't too bad this time." She smiled as she looked around Viktor to peer at Mark. "I think he's learning."
Mark beamed. I'm learning.
After the Collectorium had closed, Viktor met Timothy at the channel's office. While Timothy made trin, Viktor gazed at the Tien crest which his friend had hung on the wall behind his desk.
"We survived Mark's first day with only minor injuries," Timothy called to him from the alcove.
"What?" He refocussed his attention on to what the channel was saying.
"I said, we survived Mark's first day with only minor injuries."
"Yes, we did. We got lucky." This time. "If anything had've gone wrong," Viktor rubbed his face, "I don't want to think about it."
"It didn't, so relax."
Viktor stared at the Tien crest again then muttered, "But it could have."
"Everything will be fine. You'll see."
"If the Tecton knew what you'd been up to, you would've found yourself fighting entran for the rest of your life."
Timothy turned off a light with a ventral as he left the alcove. "I know, but a channel has to know when to take risks. Mark is going to be a great asset to the Tecton. He's worth the risks."
"I know you think so, but will the Tecton see it your way?"
"I think that's academic now." The channel handed him a well-deserved cup of trin then sat down. "So, what do you think?"
"I think Mark's confused," Viktor blew over the hot liquid, "but then we knew he would be."
"That's not what I meant," his friend grumbled. "I meant, do you think he'll ask for the training?"
"Does he have a choice?" Viktor asked quietly.
"No, I suppose not." Timothy tasted his tea and rubbed his temples with dorsal tentacles. "I just wish..."
"...that the induction hadn't happened?" Viktor finished. "Come now, we both know that the only option you had was induction, or do you believe Mark would've been better off dead?"
"No!" The tentacles retreated into their sheaths.
Viktor waved his hand to dismiss the subject. "Then stop with the guilt trip. You saved Mark's life. Even Sectuib ambrov Tien doesn't blame you."
He watched the channel's tentacles pop out to rub weary eyes at the same time a cup was suspended in the air. I wish I could do that. "You know Sectuib Clarinda believed the letter we sent her after the incident. She even said that Tien would hold a place open for Mark until he decides to request the training."
The channel's depression blanketed the man as his tentacles slowly coiled around his arms. "And for that, I'm grateful."
"You also know that Tien's the best place for him," Viktor reasoned, "since our householding specializes in training the young adults who come from out-Territory."
Viktor recalled his first days at Tien as he paused to drink his tea. Only later had he understood how fortunate he'd been to be sent there. Simelan was extremely difficult to learn for a Gen who'd never heard the language spoken before. That lack of understanding made some of the other householders treat an ex-out-Territory citizen with disdain and criticism. He felt thankful that Tien had taken him.
He stopped himself from thinking about the past to reassure Timothy. "Mark'll adjust quickly. He's bright enough."
Shifting tactics, he related, "Sectuib Clarinda told me that she had every confidence in you that you'd be able to guide Mark until he realizes what his body's telling him."
Viktor let his nager ooze with approval. "And now, I see you've taken the first step. Offering Mark an opportunity at the groundskeeper's job was brilliant. The job will give him a legitimate reason for being close to Simes. His body will do the rest."
"I know." Timothy picked at a thread on his Tecton uniform. "But what I don't know is if Mark will thank me when he realizes what I've done."
"You saved his life. Mark isn't some religious fanatic so he shouldn't have the same problems as that newly changed over Sime had in Clear Springs."
"Clear Springs?" the channel replied with interest. "What happened?"
Viktor was pleased that he'd distracted Timothy from his worry for the moment. "Oh, it was the same old story but worse. The kid grew up believing that all Simes are devils. When he changed over, he almost killed his uncle, who was the religious leader of the Conservative Congregation church in that city."
Viktor raised his eyes to the air as if in wonder. "The man got lucky. He was so doped up on melic weed that he didn't get scared until the transfer was almost over."
A hand ran through his thick hair then scratched the back of his head. "A First Order Donor was unable to prevent the attack because the uncle, in his stupidity, had locked him inside a power house. A channel arrived in time to save the man's life, but the idiot refused any further treatment after the initial one stating that," Viktor used two curling fingers on each hand to make quote signs in the air, "'he would never allow the devil to touch him.' It's amazing the Gen survived."
"In the meantime," he swallowed some tea, "the young Sime ran away. Later on, he kidnapped his sister, took her to the top of the school building, and threatened to kill her. The same Donor persuaded him to give up the girl and ended up giving the Sime a direct transfer. You think it would've been over then, but no!" Exasperation punctuated the word.
"Remember, he'd been taught all his life that Simes were devils. He couldn't face being a devil so he chose to escape by jumping off the roof." Viktor shook his head in disbelief at what he was about to relate. "The whole police force was waiting below. They probably put fifty bullets in him before his body reached the ground. So be grateful Mark only has to fight his Sime-hating upbringing, not an irrefutable religious belief."
There was a look of disbelief on Timothy's face. "Are you sure about the reasons why the Sime jumped?"
Viktor paused a moment. "Oh, yes...I'm sure," the Donor said thoughtfully. "You see, I was also brought up in that church. I remember the anger and the fear instilled by the Sime-hating minister." Viktor closed his eyes at the painful memory. "I remember the delight that the members had in caging their children during changeover."
Timothy and Viktor shuddered at the thought before the Donor continued, "They'd watch the agony as they prayed to their god for the forgiveness of the child's sins. Once, I even saw the minister reach in and slash the forearms at each bulging orifice." Tears rolled down his face. "You were lucky. This city doesn't have a large religious following and even though your parents would have murdered you for changing over, you knew that you wouldn't be tortured."
Suddenly, Viktor realized what he was doing to his friend. Wiping his eyes, he apologized and set to work to clear the ambient of the negative emotions.
He watched Timothy closely as they both finished their cold tea. When the channel had gotten himself under control, Timothy asked him, "Then how did you decide you wanted to be a Donor?"
Viktor grinned. "Let's just say that a beautiful channel changed over at an opportune time, and I gave my life to her."
Timothy laughed. "So you ended up at Tien. What happened to the girl, as if I didn't know?"
His eyes twinkled. "I married her."
Timothy raised his empty cup in a toast. "I have to admit. Stephany is a lovely woman. Well worth a life!"
Viktor turned serious again. "But getting back to Mark." He paused to assure himself that Timothy was listening. "Sectuib wanted me to make some-thing perfectly clear to you. Mark is not to be influenced in his decision by you or anybody else. When the young man feels the time is right, he'll come to you. Believe me. I've been there, he'll come when he's ready. All we can do now is help Mark through it.
"Look, Timothy-even a Farris couldn't have avoided this mess."
"I guess you're right," Timothy grudgingly agreed. "I just wish it had been different."
"That's understandable. But look at the bright side. Mark did seem to respond to your nager even if he didn't know what to do with it."
"He did, didn't he?" Timothy brightened at the thought.
Viktor breathed a sign of relief as he watched Timothy's depression finally begin to lift. He decided to reinforce that feeling by reminding him about Mark's confusion. "And remember, Mark did say that he was surprised there wasn't more."
"You're right. Maybe it will be all right after all."
Viktor was pleased by his small success with Timothy. Maybe the channel would be able to sleep better tonight.
Mark heard his mother calling from the kitchen, "Mark! Larryh! It's time to eat! Come sit down!"
The small wooden table was laden with three place settings, various platters and bowls, glasses, and a pitcher of iced tea. The matching dishes were white with small pink roses lining the edge.
As his mother poured the tea, Mark looked at the new bright green-colored apron she wore. It had an appliqué of a pumpkin sitting in front of a hay bale surrounded by the fallen leaves from a nearby tree. "Nice apron," he complimented.
"You like it?" She looked down and brushed the crumbs off. "I bought it at last Saturday's bazaar. What do you think, Larryh?"
"Very nice dear, but don't you think you have too many aprons?"
"Not really. I usually use two a day. I always have to change it after I make the bread. Or, would you prefer that I not make your bread?" She smiled sweetly.
"No. No. You're right," his dad conceded. His mom laughed as his father reached for the rice bowl. His dad continued to fill his plate with each item on the table. When he finished, he passed the platter or bowl to his mom; and she, in turn passed it to him.
Silverware clinked on plates as Mark and his parents silently consumed baked chicken and savory rice. Once the initial hunger had been satisfied, his dad said, "Your mother told me that you applied for a gardening job. Have you heard anything about it yet?"
Mark finished chewing a piece of chicken while his dad waited for a reply. What do I tell him? "The job is at a place on Madsony Avenue, close to the police station. They hired me on the spot. I started today."
"That's excellent, Son," his mother enthused.
Mark smiled shyly.
A greedy gleam filled his dad's eyes. "What's your salary?"
Mark's heart started to pound. No. Why should I fear him? He was learning not to fear Simes and his dad was a lot less scary than they were. Rag Doll worked when facing Simes so it'd probably work for other situations. Rag Doll. He felt the tension drain from his body. It worked.
He matter-of-factly said, "The going rate." Then to distract his dad from the question, he added, "I'm to work from after school until dark every day. Don't worry. I'll have plenty of time to do my homework after supper. I'll keep up."
Larryh opened his mouth to ask another question when the doorbell rang.
After his dad left, Mark asked, "May I please be excused? I have homework to do."
He took a huge, final bite of rice.
"Yes, of course." As he stood up, she added, "And Mark...I'm so proud of you."
"Thanks Mom," he called over his shoulder, rushing out of the room.
On all three days since Mark had started his job, he had used a slightly different route with one exception-he always ended up in Mr. Knight's shed. Grateful that Scotty hadn't greeted him today like he did yesterday, Mark peeked through the crack in the partially open door and impatiently watched as several people entered and left through the Sime Center gates.
Mark was ready to cross Madsony Avenue when he recognized the Buffingtons. He started to follow them, but had to stop himself when he noticed a group of kids two blocks away. Hopefully, he could go when they'd passed.
After the road was clear, he ran. As soon as the Buffingtons were within earshot, he called, "Mr. and Mrs. B!"
They stopped and waited.
"Hello, Mark." Mr. B grinned. "What are you doing here on this crisp, clear day?"
"I work here. Ti...Hajene Timothy gave me the job of groundskeeper. I started three days ago," Mark said with pride.
"That's wonderful," Mrs. B gushed. "Timothy said he was thinking of offering you the job. How do you like it so far?"
"It's great! Hajene Timothy and I have ordered some bare root trin plants."
"If it's not imposing too much on your job, I could help you plant the trin when it arrives," Mrs. B volunteered.
"That'd be fantastic! The plants are expected to arrive within the week. With you helping me, the Center will have the best trin in the whole Territory-with the exception of yours, of course."
Mrs. B laughed. "I'll have Timothy tell me when they arrive so I can meet you after school on that day."
"Well. Now that that's settled, I think we'd better move on." Mr. B grinned. "We're on our way to see Timothy. It's our day to donate."
"Speaking of donating, did Hajene Timothy tell you that I was required to do it before I was hired?"
"No!" Mr. B exclaimed. Raising upon his toes in his excitement, he questioned, "How did it go? What did you think about it? Didn't I say there was nothing to worry about?"
Mark chuckled. "No problem. I didn't feel a thing. It was just like you said it would be, but Mr. B?" His brow knitted. "Is that the way it should be? I mean...don't you feel...what I'm trying to say is...shouldn't there be more?"
"More? I don't know. Donation is donation. I lie on the lounge while Timothy does all the work. If there is more, I don't know about it." Mr. B turned to his wife. "How about you, dear? Do you feel there should be more than what you've experienced?"
"Sometimes," Mrs. B introspected, "but I know that at my age, I'm unable to change so I'm content to sit still and do nothing."
Mark could see that Mr. B was stupefied when he said to her, "You never told me that."
"I'll tell you what," she promised. "We'll talk about it this afternoon after our donation. But, Mark," she touched his face with motherly affection, "if you feel there should be more, you should talk to one of the Donors. Maybe that's why you feel the way you do."
"No!" Mark drew back. "I could never be one. I..."
"Calm down," Mrs. B told him. "You're in Sime Territory. Relax."
Sime Territory. Relax. Rag Doll. His body obeyed.
"I didn't mean to offend you," she explained. "I only meant to suggest a possible way to get an explanation."
"I know." Mark hung his head down. I'm sorry."
"Oh, Mark." She pulled him over and hugged him. "Don't be so hard on yourself. Becoming a Donor isn't for everyone. But for those who can, I understand it's a very rewarding career."
"Yes, well..." Uncomfortable with the conversation, Mark declared, "I'd better go to work."
Mr. B added, "And we have an appointment to keep. Come, Gladia. Let's go see Timothy."
They waved good-bye to him as he sprinted towards the Gen entrance.
At his locker, Mark pulled on clean blue coveralls. He loved the feel of the soft cotton material. He couldn't help but touch the breast patch which he now knew to be the Tecton crest.
He thought about Mrs. B's suggestion of talking to a Donor about his donation then he thought about Viktor's explanations of Sime behavior, the Sime way of life, and how to behave around them. No, Mark panicked. Viktor's not teaching me those things to become a Donor, he's teaching me so I can work here. Closing his mind to the whys, he smiled at his remembrance of his last success in relaxing on cue. I'm learning, he thought then sobered, but am I learning fast enough?
He called the front desk to check for in-coming messages and to sign out to the garden area. "Mark," he heard Kathy's voice. "Be careful. There's a bad dog who lives on the other side of the fence."
"I like dogs. What's his name?"
He heard some papers rustle. "The file says his name is Brut."
"Don't worry, Kathy. There isn't a dog around that I haven't been able to make friends with."
"Just be careful," she reiterated. "Ophena, the last groundskeeper, said the owner, Mr. Patterly, beats the dog daily while he shouts Sime."
"Mr. Patterly? I didn't know he had a dog. Oh well. Thanks for the warning. I've got to get to work. Bye," he signed off.
After putting a spade and a shovel in the wheel-barrow, he started for the garden. To assure himself that no one would recognize him while he was close to the front entrance, he pulled his coat hood over his head. The last thing he wanted was his dad to find out about his new job.
When he'd almost reached his destination, he put the wheelbarrow down to scan the fence. The ten foot wall was made of a slick one-inch thick material that had thousands of round holes which were large enough to allow him to see through, but small enough that a Sime's handling tentacles could not pass through.
Picking up his wheelbarrow, he continued to the garden. Once there, he observed the only tree which stood close to the fence. It was in the Patterlys' backyard. The councilman probably refused to cut down the old, gnarled tree when they'd built the Center. He must've decided that a vicious dog would discourage a Sime from using the thick tree branch, which hung over the fence, as an escape route. Mark felt confident that he could deal with the dog since he'd been able to win over every dog's friendship in the town.
He turned his thoughts back to the garden.
Yesterday, Timothy and he had decided that the entire area should be planted in trin. Since the size of the garden was two house lengths long and one house length wide, the overgrown land would require a week to prepare. He smiled as he remembered that Mrs. B had volunteered to help him plant the trin. Timothy-Hajene Timothy-had given him permission to use this area for trin and to create a second garden for the vegetables Simes required for a healthy diet. He would plant that bed in early spring.
Starting at the corner closest to the Patterlys', Mark began to turn over the soil.
Mark kept his voice soft and friendly as he walked towards the big black dog with a partially red-brown muzzle. "Hello, Brut. How are you, boy?"
The dog bared his long white teeth then began a low, deep growl.
"Come on, boy. It's just me. Mark. That's a good boy."
The growling became deeper and louder.
Mark shrugged then resumed his digging but continued to talk to the dog. After a while, he quit. Tomorrow, he'd bring some dinner scraps to try to win Brut over.
Mark had been working at the Center for a week, and therefore today was payday. Again, he'd been surprised at the amount he received, but this time he didn't overreact. Riva had even complimented him on how soothingly calm his nager had become since the last time she'd seen him. A warm glow filled him. I'm learning.
He left the Center, gently closing the door marked Gen Entrance behind him. Being as cautious as he could, he hurried through the first leg of his trip home. When he reached Baker, he popped through the bushes and walked down the middle of the street.
Now that the danger was past, he slowed his pace and looked up.
A display of brilliant orange colors streaked the sky surrounding the setting sun. First, one cloud then another would cover the fireball. A breeze gusted down the street to penetrate Mark's light jacket. He shivered. The temperature was dropping rapidly now that the sun was almost down.
To free his hands, Mark draped the strap of his book bag over his head so that it rested on his left, uninjured shoulder then he turned up his collar. After he buttoned the jacket all the way to the top, he tucked his hands under his armpits and shrugged into it. Head down, he quickened his pace towards home.
Mark thought about his salary. He stared at Mr. Westmore's house on the corner of Madsony and Baker as he passed it. Yesterday, he'd asked the older man how much he was offering to pay for his yard upkeep. It was a fourth of what he presently earned.
The wind kicked up again and created a whirlwind of dancing leaves which moved down the street directly in front of him. He watched for a minute then thought about the additional envelope he'd placed inside his locker. It contained half his salary. The remainder, which was twice as much as what Mr. Westmore had offered, was neatly stuffed into his pocket. If I know Dad, he'll want all the money I earn for my 'college' fund then he'll spend it himself like he did summer before last when I worked as a delivery boy. But then again, if he were lucky, he might be able to find the right words to convince his dad he should keep a portion for spending money.
However, no matter what, his dad wasn't going to find out about the envelopes in his locker. I earned it. A determined look crossed his face. That money is mine.
"I'm home. I'll be upstairs doing my homework," Mark called to his mom as he raced up the stairs two at a time.
He flopped down on the bed then flipped through the pages in his math book until he found the one that was assigned as homework. He copied the first problem and thought about how nice his dad had been to him since he'd started his job. For the first time since he was ten, his dad had smiled at him. Maybe, it will last. Maybe, he'll never find out. Maybe...
The crash of the front door banging open squashed his dream.
"Where's Mark?" the angry voice shouted. His heart sank to the pit of his stomach. His dad had found out.
He heard his Mom say, "Upstairs, Larryh. What's going on?"
"It's Mark," his dad yelled. His father's heavy steps pounded the stairs. "Do you know where he's been working?"
His mom's voice conveyed fear when she said no.
Busting into his room, his dad's murderous glare accused him of unthinkable acts. "The Sime Center." Fear welled up in Mark. A finger pointed at him. "Aren't you?"
"Y...Yes, sir," he answered. Real fear gripped him until he remembered that he had decided to learn not to be afraid. Rag Doll. His body obeyed his thought command. In Sime Territory, I'm an adult. He raised his head proudly and sat straight up. "I work outdoors as the groundskeeper, Dad. The only time I actually go in the Center is to handle administrative matters such as collecting my salary. It's a respon-sible, well paying job. I even have my own budget."
"How could you, Mark?" his mom wailed. "You know how your father and I feel about Simes! I thought we raised you better than that."
He appealed to his mom. "You also taught me to know a good deal when I see one. By working at the Center, I'm being paid more than I would if I worked at any other job. This way I'll have my own money for college when the time comes." He looked to his dad. "Isn't this what you always wanted, for me to earn my college tuition?"
His dad grumbled, "Yes, but I don't want my son near those snakes." The last word was snarled with pure hatred.
Mark stood up, dug into his pocket, removed the wad of bills, and shook it in front of his dad's nose. "So, what is it, Dad? Do you want me to earn my college tuition, or do you want to pay for it?"
His father barely glanced at the money. His face was mottled with anger.
"Do you know how much is here?" Mark waved the money around.
His dad smacked his lips with greed. "Why would they pay you more?"
Mark's voice was as cold as ice. "Do you know any human who'd take this job?"
"No one would be crazy enough." His dad pointed to him. "So why would you?"
"Money," Mark deadpanned. "In my opinion, it's worth the risk. I want to go away to college. I haven't decided what I want to study yet, but I have two years to make up my mind. Just think." He quivered with excitement. "At the current salary I'm making at the Center, I can live on campus all four years without working. When I found out about the deal, I couldn't pass it up. It was too good a business opportunity."
His dad's eyes never left the cash in Mark's hand. "I suppose you had to talk with one of those snakes to be hired?"
"Yes, I did. But it wasn't too bad. When I was hired, one of their humans was in the same room. I felt safe enough since he stayed between the two of us."
His father grabbed the money from Mark's hands and began to count it. "I'll invest this for you."
"Dad. Please," Mark appealed. "Let me do it. I've got to learn how to save."
The cash disappeared into his father's pocket. "Come on, Dad. At least let me have a portion of it as spending money. After all, I earned it."
A stubborn expression crossed the man's face.
"Larryh," his mom began. "Mark's right. He worked for that money. He should be able to spend part of it. If you don't give some of it to him, then he'll have to come to us whenever he wants to buy something."
She looked at Mark. "He's going to require new clothes soon. If he has his own money, he'll have to use that. However, if you keep all of it, then I'll probably end up spending more money in buying clothes for him than you have kept in the first place."
His dad counted out half the bills. "This is the only time," he grumbled, "I'll be giving you this amount. I know clothes are expensive. In that way, your mother is right. But from now on, you only get ten percent of what you earn. And you'd better count yourself lucky to get that. The rest of the money I'll invest for your college fund."
Mark wanted to say, 'Yeah right. Like you did last year,' but he didn't, instead he waited for the final approval.
His dad looked to his mom. She nodded. "I guess you can try it. As long as you stay on the grounds and not in the building." Disgust in his voice, his father snarled, "As they say - money talks. And although I wish I wouldn't listen, I will. But remember," he shook his finger at Mark, "I'm only letting you do it to earn your way through college. If I hear that those snakes have so much as put a finger on you, I'll take my gun after you and everyone at that place. Do you understand?!"
"Yes, sir. I understand." Oh, yes. I understand, he thought as he remembered that awful day last summer.
"I just have one more question, and I want to know the truth." His dad shook a finger at Mark. "How did you get your mother to sign the Consent to Work form?"
"What?" Mark asked in disbelief. How does he know?
"You heard me. Answer the question," his father said through gritted teeth. "I understood why your mother allowed the snake to touch you when you were shot."
You mean when you shot me.
"...but I know J'oani, she hates the snakes..."
Simes. They're not reptiles, they're Simes.
"...as much as I do. So tell me. How did you do it?"
Mark looked apologetically to his mom. "I...I asked her to sign the paper while she was cooking. Sorry, Mom." He glanced down in embarrassment. "I just had to. I wanted the money. And I thought it was the only way to get permission."
"I remember that day." She glared at him with hatred in her eyes. "From now on, I'll not sign any of your papers including your school papers. Get your father to do it."
My father. Great, he thought with derision. I'd rather get an F.
"How'd you know?" Mark asked his dad. "How'd you know about the form?"
"I'm the Mayor. The Center is obligated to send the Consent to Work form to my office. I'm in charge of verifying that every person who works for the snakes has volunteered," his dad sneered the last word. "So, you were deluding yourself if you thought you were going to get by with that one." His dad screwed up his face as if he were going to vomit. "Come on, J'oani. Let's let our snake-lover do his homework."
Once Mark was alone, he sank back onto the bed. Realizing how tense his body was he used his favorite trick once again. Rag Doll. He smiled as he felt the tension drain from his body then thought about the rag doll his Cousin Rebecca had played with the last time his family had visited hers. The doll was made of socks and had a red and white checkered skirt. The silly thing couldn't even sit up. A rag doll was the perfect image of relaxation. It was such a nice trick to know and he did feel better for it. So much better in fact that he picked up his math book with the intention of working on his assignment. But as he was about to write down the next number, he sud-denly realized what had just happened. Tossing the book aside, he thought. I can't believe it. I actually have permission to work at the Center. He lay back with his hands under his head to stare at the ceiling. I can work at the Center. I can go there, and no one will stop me. WAIT. Oh my gosh. He couldn't believe it. He didn't have to sneak around to get to the Center anymore. He wouldn't have to hide in Mr. Knight's shed. He'd never again have to wait what felt like forever until he could cross the street unseen. He could simply walk up to the gate and go inside.
Now if I could just figure out how to make friends with Mr. Patterly's dog, life would be perfect.
"Sime-lover!" George's chant was accompanied by several of his other classmates.
"We sided with you last week, Sime-lover, but George was right. You're nothing but a Sime-lover."
Mark continued to walk down the center of the road.
"If I find you alone," the school's wrestling champ called, "I'll beat your ass."
Danielle's sweet, clear voice rang over the others. "Mark!"
He stopped long enough for her to catch up. "Aren't you afraid to be seen with me?"
"No. Why should I be? Everyone knows my parents donate, so I'm already labeled a Sime-lover. My being with you isn't going to change that," she said as she walked beside him.
"I guess you're right."
They walked in silence for a block before Danielle asked, "I heard that you were working at the Center. Is that true?"
Mark glanced at her. Yes. I'm the groundskeeper." He stopped. "Aren't you going the wrong direction? I thought you lived close to Jentop Way and Mill Street."
Danielle tossed her hair and laughed. "I do." She caught his arm to get him to face her. "I go to the Center every week to be tested."
Mark frowned. "I thought you were already human."
"No," Danielle whispered. "I'm not." She gazed into his eyes. "Can you keep a secret?"
He took her hands. "I can."
The girl took a deep breath. "It would be nice for a friend to know. I'm not going to be human. I'm not going to be Gen. I'm going to be Sime."
Mark squeezed her hands. "Like Petir?"
"Yes. Like Petir," she confirmed. "Hajene Timothy checks me for any signs which may develop. I doubt that I'll change over by the end of the year, but if I haven't, my parents have consented to send me to Nivet Territory to live with some relatives."
Mark said nothing, but continued to hold one of Danielle's hands as they resumed their walk.
"I'm glad you told me," Mark said at last. "I don't know if I should feel sorry for you or congratulate you. I'm still getting used to being around Simes." He stopped and hugged her. "A channel. You're really going to be channel?"
She chuckled, "Yeah!" Danielle's shy beam radiated her face. "You don't mind, do you?"
"Why should I?" Mark replied. "That is...if you don't mind that I have to donate to keep my job?"
"That's wonderful! It seems congratulations are in order for you as well," she beamed. "Maybe...one day," she wriggled her eyebrows, "I can take your donation."
The sexual overtone in her voice was clear. Mark hoped his jacket covered his problem. To take his mind off his dilemma, he said, "Please don't tell anyone, not even your parents, about me. If my parents find out about the donation part of my job, it could mean big trouble."
"Don't worry. My lips are sealed. I know your father's reputation, but how did you get his permis-sion to let you work there?"
"Before or after he found out?"
"Oh. I see." Danielle frowned. She thought a moment about what he said then replied, "After."
"I told them the truth. The salary the Center pays will allow me to attend all four years of college away from home without having to work."
"That's good, but what about your job?"
"What about it?"
"Isn't it important to you?" Danielle inquired.
"Yes, but when I go to college, I'll have to quit."
"But, what about the Simes?"
"I don't understand what you're asking." Mark glowered.
She pursed her lips. "Donating?"
"Why should I do that if I don't have to?" he laughed.
She eyed him a moment but said nothing more.
When they arrived at the Center, he held the gate open for her then followed her inside. What did I say? Mark thought as they silently walked down Farris Lane towards the Center's main entrance.
As she ascended the stairs to the Center door, Mark hoped to reestablish the easy camaraderie they had had before he talked about his salary by saying, "See ya around."
Sounding less than enthusiastic, she called over her shoulder, "Oh. Yeah. See ya," then disappeared through the door.
Girls, he thought. What did I say? What did I do?" He shook his head. Oh well. He wasn't going to try to figure it out by beating himself up. After all, what was really important was that he was here. Right where he wanted to be.
Two weeks after his first donation, Mark was surprised to find a notification in his message slot.
Assigned Channel: Hajene Sumulo ambrov Fijord
Please report to:
Donation Room: One
Time: 4:00 PM.
Signed:Hajene Timothy ambrov Tien
Take the rest of the day off with full pay.
Since he had half an hour before his appointment, Mark tracked down Viktor. He found him enjoying a cup of trin at the Center commissary. As soon as Mark entered the room, the Donor flagged him over.
Viktor watched Mark slide into a chair across the table from him. The young man waved the card around. "I don't understand. I thought a Gen was only supposed to donate once a month."
He quirked an eyebrow at Mark. "Are you forgetting one of the rules?"
"No. I'm not," Mark reassured him. "I'll donate as requested on this card, but I'd like to know why I'm being asked early."
Viktor put down his cup and stretched his arms across the table. "Because you're carrying too much selyn in your system for the renSimes to be comfortable around you. Hajene Timothy feels that I should work with you for at least two more weeks before you're allowed to produce a full twenty-eight day supply." I hope you know what you're doing, Timothy. Putting Mark in phase with you won't necessarily mean that he'll want to have transfer with you. "Personally. I think it's a test to see if you'll not only donate to a different channel but also do as you're told."
"Oh. There's no doubt that I'll do as I'm told," Mark avowed. "It's just...I'm so new at this, I didn't know if I'd done something wrong or not. Will you be there?"
"No. Sosu Costel is Hajene Sumulo's Donor this month. You've met him. Just do precisely what they say, and you'll be fine. And remember, Mark...relax, and don't think about a thing," Viktor advised.
Mark pushed his way into the room at 3:55 PM. No one was there. Unable to stay in one place, he went to the alcove to make trin tea. Once the kettle was filled and placed on the burner, he ladled the appropriate amount of trin Mrs. B had taught him to use into each mug. Just as he was returning the spoon he'd cleaned to its proper place, the door opened and the channel named Sumolo along with his Donor swished in.
"And what do you think you're doing?" the channel asked.
Although Hajene Sumulo didn't show any outward emotion, Mark felt that the young channel was upset. "I...uh...Viktor...uh...I mean...I thought I would make some trin. Isn't that the normal procedure after a donation is given?"
Sosu Costel crossed to the alcove and peered over what Mark had done. "Looks like you have every-thing under control. Even the servings are correct. However, I hate to tell you this but a normal donation usually doesn't involve drinking trin afterwards."
"It doesn't?" Mark looked from the Donor to the channel. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
Sumulo stared at him a moment longer than was comfortable before saying, "No harm done. But next time, ask."
"All right. I promise," Mark assured him.
A tentacle indicated a chair. "Sit there while I look over your file."
As Mark waited, he began to compare the actions of the channel-Donor pair to the ones of Timothy and Viktor.
Costel like Viktor was sitting next to his channel, but instead of the friendly banter Mark was used to, the two in front of him sat in complete silence. When the Donor cleared his throat, the channel glared at him as if he'd committed the worst breach of etiquette.
Finally, the three of them settled on the lounge.
Mark decided to use one of the techniques that Timothy and Viktor had been trying to teach him while Hajene Sumulo wrapped tentacles around his arms. He took a breath so when he slowly released it, he could image himself floating on a sea of peace.
Before he could complete the exercise, Sumulo tapped his arm impatiently, breaking Mark's illusion of total acceptance. Since he didn't want it to get back that he wasn't cooperating, he didn't try to reestablish his lost peace. Instead, he immediately signaled his readiness for the fifth contact.
The channel gripped his arms even tighter. The sensations felt different and yet the same as the ones he remembered when Timothy had taken his donation. At first, Mark wallowed in them, but he quickly became frustrated. There's something missing. I don't know what it is.
Suddenly, Mark couldn't help himself. Against Viktor's advice, his whole being was crying out, I want more.
He heard Sosu Costel shout his name while the Donor urgently tapped his shoulder. Viktor's going to be mad at me. Rag Doll. He blanked his mind until he heard his name spoken again.
When he opened his eyes, the channel's arrogant sneer had disappeared. Sosu Costel handed Hajene Sumulo a strange, pearlescent drink which he downed in one gulp. Then without a word, the channel returned to the desk.
"I think we all could use a cup of trin after that one," Costel said as he handed the mugs around.
Mark barely had time to take his first sip when Sumulo handed his paperwork to Costel. "Take him to accounting. I'll be in the Recovery Room."
"I should stay with you." The Donor's concern about the Channel was clear to Mark.
"Sosu Costel," Sumulo continued tersely with a few indecipherable words.
The Donor nodded and then indicated to Mark that he should followed him out the door.
Once in the corridor, Costel halted him long enough to make a brief call on the hall phone. After they stopped by the cashier's desk to collect his donation money, Mark posted himself as 'home early'.
Mark buttoned his jacket before he left the building then he ran to the river in anticipation of its calming effects. He sat on a big rock to watch the waterfall cascade down in sheets of foaming white as he agonized over his donation. What did I do to the channel to make him so upset? Why did the donation seem wrong? Mr. B said that he never felt anything during his donations so why do I feel that there's something missing?
With his elbows propped on his knees, he put his head in his hands. There's got to be more. There's got to be.
Mark looked up at the squawking bird flying close to the water in search of fish then rested his head on his tightly clenched fist as he thought about the conversation he'd accidentally overheard between Viktor and Costel. They'd spoken as if there were more. They don't donate. They give transfer. Direct transfer. Is that what I want? Is that why I feel that there's something missing?
He shivered then tucked his knees closer to his body as if the cool breeze were the cause of his sudden chill. Viktor had told Costel how incredibly satisfying it was to have a channel so closely matched to his own speed and capacity.
What would it be like to have transfer? the forbidden thought surfaced. No. He ran.
He ran back to the Center. Without checking in, he put on a fresh set of coveralls. Before he knew it, he was standing in front of the back end of the freshly planted trin garden with a hoe in his hand. He hacked at the loose soil, his mind a total blank.
Brut suddenly growled deeply then began to bark.
"Ahhhh!" Mark dropped the hoe then started laughing hysterically.
"Brut. You scared me to death. Stop that barking," he demanded. "You know who I am. I'm Mark. The one that brings you leftover steak. Come on boy. I'm not in the mood for your barking," he pleaded.
The dog continued. He looked at the vicious animal for a moment longer, then said, "OK, boy. I'm leaving."
Mark started to go, but he saw Mr. Patterly come out with a whip. "Good boy, Brut."
"What are you doing over there?" the angry man called.
"Tending the plants. Nothing more." Mark walked towards the fence. "Why does your dog bark all the time?"
"I don't talk to Sime-lovers," Patterly spat.
"But there's got to be a reason?" Mark insisted.
The council member looked down his nose at him. "Brut is here to keep Simes and Sime-lovers away from my property," the man scoffed then cracked the whip over the dog's head. "Sime! Sime!"
Brut gave a sharp yelp. The black dog stared at Mark. Suddenly, he realized he was standing too close to Brut's territory. The dog charged. Mark stepped back just as Brut banged his nose against the fence. The blow was so hard on the rigid barrier that the fence vibrated for a few moments. Undeterred, Brut jumped up and down and clawed at the slick surface. He snarled and snapped, frantically trying to get at Mark. The dog's sharp nails clackered in desperation to break the barrier so he could bite him. Mark was horrified by the sight.
He picked up his hoe. Although he tried not to listen, Mr. Patterly's laughter followed him as he slowly walked away.
Sundays were days of endurance. It was always boring. Mark wasn't allowed to work at the Center, and homework never interested him enough to bother doing. So, he usually did nothing, but lay back on his bed all day and daydream...about Simes.
"Mark!" his dad called from the bottom of the stairs.
He groaned as he put his arm over his eyes.
"Come down," his dad demanded.
He sat up, looked at the door in hopes of escaping, but knew it was impossible. Finally, he decided that he might as well get it over with, whatever it was.
When Mark entered the living room, he noticed his parents were in their usual places for a Sunday afternoon. His mom was sitting on the sofa while his dad had chosen the love seat.
What was unusual was that his mom wasn't knitting, and his dad wasn't working from his briefcase. Instead, the cobalt blue sweater his mom was currently making was piled on her lap while a skein of yarn with a pair of needles stuck in it lay next to her. His dad, on the other hand, had placed his briefcase next to the love seat, but as yet, it remained unopened.
Mark's parents were silently staring into nothing awaiting his arrival.
He shivered. The love seat and the sofa had been angled so that anyone in the chair would feel as if they were in the hot seat, and indeed that was the way Mark felt at the moment.
He stood next to the chair, but when his dad indicated that he should sit down, Mark shook his head in refusal. His dad pursed his lips in anger, but didn't insist. He was relieved by his small victory, but he didn't show any outward sign of being so.
His dad began in a 'let's be reasonable' tone of voice. "Your mother and I have decided that you'll have to quit your job at the Center." His dad looked at his mom for reassurance. "I'll be coming up for reelection next year, and the other members of the council are making waves about my son working with the snakes."
Mark's fists clenched. "They're called Simes, Dad. Not snakes. And I'm not quitting."
"Don't you talk to me that way," roared his dad.
"Fine," he intoned. "But understand this. I don't care about your election. I don't care about your friends. I care about my life, and how I'll survive after you've kicked me out of the house."
"We wouldn't kick you out of the house, Mark," his mom fretted.
He turned to her. "Maybe you wouldn't, Mom, but Dad," his eyes narrowed as he looked at the man who had hated him most of his life, "he can't wait until I'm sixteen. And that's," he looked back at her, "three weeks from today. No. I'm not quitting. This is the job I want," he pointed to his dad, "and I'm keeping it."
He walked out to his dad screaming, "Come back here." Mark ignored him. When he got to his room, he locked the door. He breathed a sigh of relief at having the foresight to change the lock so that he could keep his parents out of the room instead of them keeping him inside of it.
The scraping noise of a rake scratching across the ground was a constant drone at the Center. Although no trees were allowed to grow close to the fence, there were numerous ones scattered throughout the grounds; and at this time of year, Mark was hard put to keep up with the job.
He filled the wheelbarrow then placed an old cloth over the pile of leaves so that they wouldn't fly away when he took them to the trash barrels. As he transferred the leaves to a trash bin, he wrinkled his noise at the thought of the composting barrel his mom kept. However, he couldn't deny that his mom's garden was always one of the best in town. She'd said that her secret was the use of compost since decomposed leaves made a fantastic soil builder.
Mark's stomach growled. He was hungry and since it was time for a break, he decided to go to the commissary. Maybe a cup of hot chocolate would help to stay his hunger until he got home. He covered the remaining leaves in the wheelbarrow then stripped off his gloves and headed for the Gen entrance.
In the restroom, he slowly washed his frozen hands in warm water as he contemplated the leaves. With Timothy's approval, he could make a temporary pile by covering it with an old blanket held down by a few well-placed stones. Later, Timothy could decide whether he wanted him to continue using the designated area or the channel could approve the purchase of a composting barrel.
As Mark dried his hands, he decided to go ask Timothy what he thought about the idea.
In his excitement, he hurried down the corridor. Just before he entered Timothy's office, he saw Viktor rounding the corner at the far end of the hall. Without thinking, Mark pushed his way through the door.
"Hajene Timothy!" Mark called.
The channel stood up. "Mark-you must leave quickly," he said then doubled over as if in pain.
Mark rushed to him. He reached over the desk to place his hand on Timothy's shoulder in support. Rag Doll, he thought then relaxed. All tension and pain left Timothy's face.
The channel spoke a few words Mark didn't understand.
Viktor rushed in. "Mark...don't touch..." The Donor stopped, looked at Timothy's pleased face then at him.
"Mark..." Viktor repeated his name in a soothing tone of voice. "You don't know what you're doing. Remove your hand. Keep your eyes on me. Count my fingers."
Mark took a deep breath and calmly looked into the channel's eyes. I can help you. I feel. I know. I can help you.
"Mark," the Donor called his name again but he was still unable to move.
Finally, he felt Viktor's warm hand cover his own as the Donor gently removed it from the channel's shoulder.
Viktor spoke softly, "Go to my office. I'll meet you there as soon as I've assured myself that Hajene Timothy is unharmed."
But I feel good. I want. Mark nodded to the Donor then did as he was told without a word.
In Viktor's office, his heart began to pound. What was I thinking of? Timothy's a Sime.
He shook his head. Am I crazy? 'Does it matter?' his inner self demanded. No. It doesn't. He had felt something. It had felt good. No! It had felt right. I want more of that. But what is it?
The door opened. Viktor crossed to his desk. "Sit quietly, and think about what you've done while I make a few notations on Hajene Timothy's file."
Mark watched the Donor pull out a form as if in slow motion then write a few numbers in several places. The bang of the paper echoed in hollow resonance when it was thrown into the IN basket.
Viktor's hands clasped together in front of him in a show of finality. He stared at them for a moment. "Mark," the sound of his name being called was like it was spoken in a barrel. "Mark," the voice insisted.
He gazed up at Viktor.
The Donor started to say something, but Mark couldn't take it anymore so he blurted out, "It felt good." Tears welled up. "It felt good, and he's Sime, and I want, and I shouldn't want, but I do want." He dropped his head then shook it in the palms of his hands. "What's happening to me?"
"You tell me?" was the gentle reply.
"I..." swallowing hard, he met his friend's eyes. "I want to be around Simes."
"You're around Simes every day."
"No! It's not the same as being around Hajene Timothy or even Hajene Sumulo. I want to be around them." Mark despaired.
"Then, what you're saying is that you want to be near channels," Viktor stated.
"Yes. I guess so." Mark looked down to cover his embarrassment. "Yes. That's what I want."
"You're around channels."
"It's not enough," he emphasized. "There's got to be more."
Mark realized what he had said. "That's what you have, isn't it?" he accused. "It's transfer. That's what's missing. Isn't it?"
"If that's what you believe," was the Donor's quiet reply.
"You're not giving me a straight answer. Why not?" Mark complained.
"You must make the decision on your own. From your heart. I won't influence you in any way." Viktor leaned back in his chair. "I will, however, answer any questions you have."
Mark nodded. "Does transfer make you feel good?"
"Were you afraid the first time you did it?"
He could see the emotions crossing Viktor's face as the Donor explained. "I was a little apprehensive before I made my final decision; however, once it was made, I wasn't afraid. As soon as the transfer began, it felt so good that the only thing I could think about was to give of myself."
Mark looked to the door. "What happened in there? Did I hurt him?"
"Luckily, no. You didn't hurt him." Viktor frowned. "What you did was unforgivable. I should reprimand you harshly for entering Hajene Timothy's office without invitation or warning. But since no harm was done and Hajene Timothy seems to be fine, I'll tell you what happened." The Donor looked at him. "What you experienced was his turnover."
"Turnover? What's that?"
"It's the moment when a Sime has used half his personal supply of selyn." Viktor lectured. "After turnover, the Sime becomes...nervous...about where his next source of life energy is going to come from. I knew that Hajene Timothy was close to turnover so I was on my way to help him through it; however, I got delayed when I was asked to handle an administrative matter.
"Fortunately, you did exactly what a Donor would do-and I don't mean placing your hand on his shoulder, although that may be part of it. You gave him support. Your nager soothed his despair. Your nager said to him, 'Don't worry, I'll be there for you.'"
"Meaning transfer?" Mark squeaked.
"Meaning transfer." Viktor confirmed. "But don't get it wrong. Just because you were there for him at turnover, doesn't mean that you've committed yourself to have transfer with him."
Mark breathed a sigh of relief.
"In the Tecton," Viktor continued, "the Donors always try to be there for turnover, but that doesn't necessarily mean that that particular Donor will be assigned to that channel. Donors are constantly being sent to different channels. Sometimes, we arrive only hours before the transfer's scheduled. That instance is unusual, but occasionally unavoidable." He looked at his wall clock.
"It's time I got back to work," the Donor arose. "From now on, my job is to keep a close eye on Hajene Timothy by making sure he's as comfortable as possible. When I left him, he seemed fine. You did a great job."
"Th...thanks," Mark stammered.
Viktor cocked an eye at him. "But from now on, use the trick I taught you to signal your desire to enter."
"I will," Mark assured him. "I promise."
Since Mark still wanted to talk to Hajene Timothy about the compost idea, he dropped by Riva's desk to make an appointment for the following day. He started to leave when he noticed the case of pamphlets placed conveniently nearby. On the day he was hired, Timothy said that reading the booklet about becoming a Donor was considered work, and therefore he should read it on Center time.
Mark thought about how cold the day had become and how nice it'd be to simply read with a cup of hot chocolate in hand. He changed directions to stop by his locker where the booklet was conveniently stored then he headed for the commissary to get the hot drink he'd promised himself.
Timothy and Viktor had been working the Collectorium all morning. A bus load of Gens from the nearby town of Tinusa had arrived. The channel never truly understood this particular collection of Gens.
The town refused to have its own Center. However, once a month, everyone in Tinusa would come to the Center, donate, then use the rest of the day to spend the money they'd earned on frivolous folly. At the end of the day, the whole bus would go home with the majority of people, including some of the kids, drunk.
As the channel handed the latest Gen his credit slip, Timothy shook his head. It may be a strange situation, but it's kept this Center in the black.
Viktor poked his head around the corner. "Time for tea?"
With a weary nod, Timothy sat back and rubbed his eyes with two tentacles, basking in the moment of doing nothing while the Donor went through the motions.
When the kettle whistled, Timothy got up to pour. Finally, they sat at the desk with a mug in hand and drank in silence, letting the tranquillity stretch as the trin was consumed.
Suddenly, thunder shook the building then rain furiously began to pound the roof. Timothy and Viktor looked up as if they could see the sight. They listened to the sound for a few minutes before Timothy broke the silence. "I found out why Mark was in such a hurry to see me yesterday."
"He wants to build a compost pile to use in the garden." He paused, his voice hoarse with fatigue. "I told him that he could do it."
"But you were hoping that the visit was to ask for the training so that you could have him in transfer," Viktor finished.
Timothy nodded despondently.
"He'll come around," Viktor reassured the channel. "Maybe not this month, but soon. I forgot to tell you that shortly after the incident, Mark was spotted in the commissary drinking something hot and reading the Donor booklet you gave him."
Timothy looked up.
"Don't get too hopeful." Viktor held up his hands. "Remember, he has to come to you of his own free will. If you interfere, he'll always wonder if being a Donor was what he really wanted or what you wanted."
"I know, it's just...his biological clock." Timothy took a long drink. "It's been three months since he established. He's losing time and flexibility. The induction will help, but Mark has to overcome his Sanger upbringing, and that's not easy."
Timothy contemplated his empty mug. "I remember how hard it was for me, but what's worse," he insisted, "is that his nager reaches out to me every time I come close to him." He paused. "He's ready, Viktor. I can feel it. He's ready."
"You know it, or is that need talking?" Viktor paused to let Timothy think about it. "I, personally think you're right about Mark but the problem is that he doesn't know it. Not yet." Viktor reminded his friend.
He went to the channel and laid a hand on his shoulder. "I'll be there for you, Timothy." Viktor let his desire to have transfer with his friend show for a moment before he cut off the feelings. "If you need me, I'll be there."
The channel nodded then looked up and motioned to Viktor that their appointment had arrived.
Viktor moved his chair in the position of support while Timothy answered the door.
"Come in, Hajene Sumulo." Timothy indicated the chair in front of his desk.
Once reseated, the channel removed a file from his drawer.
Without preamble, Timothy stated, "The District offices have received my report on your behavior during Mark's donation. I've been instructed to inform you that they've accepted my recommendation that you receive an additional three months of training at Householding Tien."
"But why!" the other channel exclaimed.
"Your reactions to out-Territory people. And that includes myself," he flicked a tentacle to his Donor, "and Viktor. I recommended Tien, and the Tecton agreed. Since almost all the people who run Tien were originally from out-Territory, you'll have to learn that their support is as good as those who were born in Sime Territory. While at Householding Tien, all your Donors will be from out-Territory. If, for some reason, the Tecton finds that your attitude is unchanged after retraining, I've been instructed to tell you that you'll be banned from any Collectorium which handles out-Territory Gens. And as you'll recall, there are very few of those available and the ones which are, are usually considered as undesirable."
"But that's not fair! I can do my job," Sumulo retorted with both words and nager as he glared at Viktor.
"It wasn't just Mark, Hajene Sumulo," Timothy explained. "Sosu Costel has been telling me for weeks how your arrogance is turning people away but I didn't take his word for it. I've been tracking your donors and have found that twenty percent have requested a different channel in their following visits. Since I'm the only other channel, that means me." He pointed to himself then leaned forward. "But what's totally unforgivable is that ten percent haven't returned at all. You know we can't afford to lose donors, especially at this Center."
Timothy handed Sumulo a card. Clasping his hands in front of him, he entwined his tentacles around them before saying, "A replacement channel will be here in a week. You're to have five days to show Hajene Klaser the ropes before you leave."
"In the meantime," Viktor said with such a small amount of pleasure coming from his nager about what he was about to say that Timothy doubted that the second order channel could read it, "I'd suggest that you learn to get along with us uncivilized, backwards out-Territory heathens."
Sumulo stood and cast a scathing glare at Viktor, "I may be at Tien, but at least, I'll be in Sime Territory." He stalked out as if he had dismissed Timothy and not the other way around.
Viktor puffed out his breath to release the last of his tension. "How'd he make it through the training without someone recognizing his attitude?"
"His uncle is Sectuib Enrie ambrov Fijord," was Timothy's only reply.
Every time Mark walked up the sidewalk to his home, he couldn't help but see the bell which hung next to the door. It was the bell of death. The bell of the berserker. He shuddered. It hadn't rung since last Spring. Mark hoped he never had to hear it again. He groaned when he opened the door to find his mom and dad waiting for him.
"Mark," his dad began with a predatory gleam in his eye. "You promised that you'd keep up in school if you worked at the Center. You have not. So..." he rocked back on his heels, "you will no longer be allowed to work there."
Without a word, Mark reached into his book bag. "I explained to my Math teacher, Mrs. Kelly," he gave his mom the paper he'd removed, "that the day we'd had the exam, I was sick to my stomach. She let me take a makeup test after school today. I got an 'A'."
Mark stared at his dad. "Now, if you'll excuse me. I'm not hungry. I'll be in my room."
With the door firmly closed and locked behind him, Mark breathed a sigh of relief. That was close! He avowed never to allow his school work to get that far behind again.
He flopped on the bed. Another hungry night. He rubbed his stomach. At least, he'd had some hot chocolate at the Center. Oh well, he guess he'd just have to get up early enough to have breakfast there. Dad's alarm sounded at six so if he left before then, his mom and dad wouldn't hear him go.
One problem resolved, he pulled out his math book to begin today's assignment, but instead, he thought of the booklet he'd read that afternoon. I can't believe I even read it.
He solved the first equation. ME? Become a Donor? That's ridiculous.
Mark turned to the solutions in the back of the book, verified the answer was correct then started on the next one. Dad'll murder me.
His heart squeezed. Rag Doll, he thought.
Pleased with the results his secret code word had given him, he decided. I can do it. I can give transfer.
As soon as the thought surfaced, Mark stopped, pencil hanging in the air, his mind a complete blank. He closed the book and opened a calendar. Counting the squares, he realized his birthday was only ten days away. Ten days, and he'd be considered adult enough to cross the border. What am I saying? That I want to live with the Simes. That I want to train. He gulped hard. That I want to give transfer.
He thought about Timothy. He looked at his forearms then closed his eyes, remembering what it felt like to have the strong, hot tentacles holding him-supporting him.
Mark looked at the math book on his bed. In disgust, he picked it up and flung it across the room. That's not what I want. I want to go to Tien. I want to train as a Donor. That's what I want. That's what I'll be.
His mom knocked at the door. "Mark," she called, "are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Mom." He reassured her. "Don't worry, I'm fine."
Mark crossed the room to retrieve the abused book. "Ten days," he said aloud. But until I'm sixteen, I have to keep up this pretense. He reopened the book to finish his assignment. When he was done, he went to bed. Tomorrow was going to be an early day.
Mark had finished his last bite of pancakes when Hajene Timothy arrived at the commissary. Wiping his mouth, he got up from the table and approached the channel, but stopped a few feet away and waited patiently. After selecting a Sime-sized bowl of oat-meal, Timothy turned to him and smiled, "Nicely done." The channel paused. "What can I do for you?"
"I'd like to speak with you privately," Mark requested.
Timothy put the bowl back. "I owe you one. You saved me from having to eat this. Follow me."
Once inside his office, Timothy made a short phone call then asked, "So, what's this about that it couldn't wait until after school?"
"I want Donor's training," Mark blurted out.
He watched Timothy tense, then sit back as if to compose himself. The channel sighed. "Mark."
Mark realized that Timothy was reacting to his nager and quickly thought, Rag Doll. "Sorry."
The channel relaxed and rubbed the back of his neck and head with his tentacles. "You're not sixteen, I can't legally offer it to you until then."
"But I will be in nine days," Mark protested.
Timothy smiled at him, "Mark, you're not listening. I said I can't legally offer it to you until you're sixteen." The channel grinned and nodded, "Now, do you understand."
Mark looked at him. "Oh!" he giggled. "Now, I do." He nodded back then stood up, "I'd better get to school. Thanks for your time."
Just as he was going to leave, Viktor walked in.
The Donor glanced from Mark to Timothy.
Mark beamed at him. "Sosu Viktor, I'm afraid that I disturbed Hajene Timothy's breakfast." He looked apologetically to the channel. "After all, the book said that one of the responsibilities of Donors was to make sure that channels eat. You," he pointed to his groaning friend, "missed breakfast because of me."
Viktor laughed, "We Donors do have to stick together, don't we?"
A warm glow filled Mark as he realized that Viktor had understood and accepted his status as a potential Donor. "Yes, we do," was his confident reply.
Mark walked down the now-familiar corridor of the Sime Center. Yesterday, he realized that the walls were powder blue instead of the gray, lifeless color he thought them to be. Today, he had seen a cheerful painting with buttercups and daisies in a field. A huge grin filled his face. The Center was no longer ominous and sinister to him since Viktor had started to teach him how to read the signs in the building. He beamed. I belong here. This is my destiny.
He'd been smiling like this since the day he'd had his talk with Hajene Timothy. Even a couple of teachers and his mom had noticed and commented to him that he seemed happier. Happy. I'm happy. Five days until my birthday. Five days until freedom. This is what I want. I'm going to be a Donor.
His chest tightened. Hajene Sumulo was at the far end of the hallway. Mark felt tingly all over. A strong desire to be near Sumulo washed over him. Before he came any closer to the channel, he forced himself to neutrality by thinking of his code word.
Just before Mark crossed the hallway intersection, Sosu Costel came around the corner. The Donor started to wave at him when he tripped over a forgotten mop bucket and fell.
Mark reached out to catch him, but Sumulo instantaneously arrived out of nowhere to shove him out of the way.
Mark's breath caught.
Sumulo's eyes were blank. His teeth were bared. He was blind to everything but the need that drove him. The channel's hands and tentacles had stretched towards the injured Donor. His face had the same grimace as that of Petir's when his friend had changed over.
All Mark's fears returned. That look. He couldn't believe it. The look on Sumulo's face as he'd grabbed the Donor. It wasn't human. It was savage. I've got to get out of here. How could I ever think about living with Simes? of donating? of being a Donor? They're killers. Animals. SNAKES.
Mark kept his eyes on the Sime as he started to slowly back away. Suddenly, Sumulo relaxed and regained his look of sanity. The channel began the very familiar routine of healing, but Mark couldn't shake the memories of what he'd just seen.
As he turned to leave, someone took him by the shoulders and led him way. Next thing he knew, he found himself on a lounge in a Donation room with Viktor sitting beside him.
Mark started to get up. "I'm leaving."
Viktor pushed him back down. "You should lie there until the shock has worn off."
"I want to go now," he insisted. He tried to get up again, but collapsed back onto the lounge. "Ah...my head."
"This will help." The Donor pressed a glass to his lips. As soon as he tasted the bitter liquid, he pushed it away. "Drink it." Sosu Viktor insisted. "It'll make you feel better. You can go as soon as you feel well enough."
"I don't care about feeling better." Fear shown in his eyes as he demanded, "I want to leave."
"The fosebine," Viktor explained, "will help your headache. Until then, stay put. We'll talk. You can leave when I'm sure that the shock has worn off."
Mark ignored the weakness in his legs. "I want to go now. I can't believe that I ever thought about becoming a Donor. Simes are killers. Period." He grabbed Viktor's arm, "Did you see his eyes?" He quivered with fear. "They weren't human?"
"Mark," Viktor's gentle voice called his name as the Donor pressed the glass of fosebine to his lips once more. "Listen to me."
Without thinking, Mark drank.
"I've lived with Simes for more than ten years." Viktor placed the empty glass on the floor.
I'm not going to listen. Mark shook his head in a defiant gesture.
The older Donor looked sad. "I know and understand channels as much as any Donor can. What you saw today was a special situation. Sumulo and Costel were scheduled for transfer within the next two hours."
I'm not going to listen.
Viktor continued, "That means that Costel is carrying a full twenty-eight day supply of selyn while Sumulo has almost none left."
I'm not going to listen. Mark closed his eyes and shivered as he tried to forget the rage in Sumulo's eyes.
"When Costel fell, he cut himself. The only thing a Sime can 'see' is that supply draining away. Mark," Viktor called his attention again. "How would you react if you saw your life bleeding away? For you...you see the blood. For them...as Simes, it's a hundred times worse for they not only see the blood but also zlin the selyn, their life source, dissipating."
"How will Sumulo live without having a transfer from Costel?" Mark worried. Why'd I ask that?
Viktor shook his head. "Hajene Sumulo is a young channel. He overreacted. Sosu Costel only got a minor cut on his arm when he fell, but since Sumulo's close to hard need, he lost his head. By now, the channel has that wound healed. You know how the Gen body reacts to a Sime in need. When the time comes, they'll have a totally satisfying transfer. Believe me, Mark, I'd never lie to you about something as serious as this. I know it frightened you. Sumulo shouldn't have lost control."
"I don't know," Mark said in doubt. "It seems pretty foolhardy to me. Does this only happen to new Simes, or do they know better as they get older?"
"I tell you what." The Donor patted his leg. "Why don't you save those questions for Hajene Timothy? I'll call him, and we'll wickedly play hooky from Center duties for a while. I can see you're feeling better now so why don't you make some trin tea."
Mark got off the lounge intending to leave immediately, however, it was a little too quickly because one of his knees collapsed from under him. Viktor reached out to steady him then let him go when he felt that he was under control.
Embarrassed by his weakness, Mark went to the alcove. "I...guess I could use some."
"I know I could," Viktor assured him as he picked up the phone on the desk.
Mark knew that the Donor just wanted him to be near Timothy. Fine. He'd play along, but he wasn't convinced about Simes. Not yet anyway.
The next day, Mark had chosen to rake the leaves around the Center gate. He wasn't sure why he'd returned, except that it was his job. In any case, it was better than being around the house. As the monotonous scrape of the rake soothed him, he occasionally glanced up to verify that the gate was nearby. Good, he could escape from the Center at any time.
Although he tried not to think about yesterday's incident, he couldn't help it. First, he thought about Sumulo's reaction to Costel's accident. Then, he thought about serving trin to Timothy. He stopped suddenly to look at his right hand. Removing his gloves, he rubbed the place on the hand where a tentacle had brushed him when he'd passed the mug to the channel. He shivered. He could sense Timothy's need for transfer. And I want to feel that need. He shook his head and firmly told himself not to think about it any longer.
The gate creaked open. An unfamiliar Sime with the cape markings of a channel entered the grounds. The females from the Center gossip mill had said that Hajene Klaser, the new channel who was scheduled to replace Hajene Sumulo, was tall, dark, and one of the most handsome Simes to walk the earth. Mark didn't care how the Sime looked. He sensed the channel's need and clutched his rake tightly. The two of them stared at each other, but a second later a Donor clad in different cape colors followed the Sime inside.
Because of his body's response, Mark would've known the Sime was a channel even if his cape didn't identify him as such. The channel didn't look at Mark as his Donor helped him remove his retainers. The Sime's relief was obvious as the catches snapped open, and he freed his tentacles.
No, Mark thought, but he couldn't help it. His body reacted strongly to the strange channel's need. He forced himself to think, Rag Doll. That's not my channel, that's his. He moaned in frustration.
Without saying a word, the two continued toward the Center.
I must be stupid, Mark realized. I want to be with Simes. I want to be trained like Sosu Viktor. Relieved by his decision, Mark began piling the leaves in his wheelbarrow. I can't let one incident frighten me away from what I really want.
On Sunday, Mark woke abruptly. Today was his birthday. Today, he was sixteen. That meant that he had a higher level of freedom. It also meant that his dad could kick him out of the house at any time. He went downstairs in anticipation of his parents wishing him a happy birthday. His dad was nowhere to be seen. When he entered the kitchen in search of breakfast, he found that his mom had left a plate of food on the stove. After pouring himself a glass of juice, Mark sat at the table and ate in silence. As soon as he was finished, he rinsed off his plate, left it in the sink, and returned to his room.
It hurt that his parents had ignored him on his birthday, but what could he do or say, he thought guiltily, when he was planning to run away? After several hours of lying on his bed, Mark decided to go out. Yesterday, he'd stayed in his room since he couldn't work because of the rain. Surely, his parents wouldn't object today. He dressed in warm clothes, putting on his jacket as he went downstairs. Just as he reached the front door, his dad came out of the living room to demand, "And where do you think you're going?"
"Out. I'd like some fresh air," Mark explained. "I've been in the house all weekend."
The look of pure hatred his dad gave him only reconfirmed his decision. He had to leave. Tomorrow. He'd ask for the training tomorrow.
"You got enough fresh air after school every day this week. Get back to your room." His dad pointed to upstairs. "Do your homework. And if that's done, clean your room. Your mom'll bring your meals to you. I'll be up later on to see that it's been done."
Mark clenched his fist then slowly relaxed. His dad waited until he'd reached the top of the stairs before returning to the living room. Mark closed the door and removed his jacket. It's only one more day he told himself. I can wait that long.
At six the next morning, Mark asked Kathy, who was manning the information center, if he could see Hajene Timothy. After checking her clipboard, she called the channel then tactfully requested that Mark sit across the room from her station while he waited.
Mark grinned in understanding then did as he was told.
Ten minutes later, Hajene Timothy appeared. Mark remained seated while the two Simes exchanged a few words. Once the channel had turned to him, Mark said, "I probably should talk to you about this in your office, but I haven't had breakfast. Let's talk in the commissary; besides," he told Hajene Timothy, "you look like you could use some food."
"I'm afraid that the most I could get down today," Timothy grimaced, "is a cup of trin. Why don't we drop by to get you a couple of muffins. Your hunger's driving me crazy."
Cheered by the thought of food, Mark said, "Fine by me."
By the time they had returned to Timothy's office and the channel had the mug of trin in front of him, Mark had eaten one muffin and had almost finished a second. Before picking up the mug, he looked at the muffin, and firmly told himself that this was what he wanted. I'd rather live with Simes than eat meat or fish anyway.
Unable to wait any longer, Mark blurted out, "I want the training. I want more. I want to give transfer."
"I want the training," Mark enthused as soon as he took his mug.
Timothy sighed with relief.
"I want more. I want to give transfer."
Timothy released himself from hypoconsciousness to hyperconsciousness to zlin the Gen's sincerity.
Mark's field pulsed in a spectacular brilliance which radiated in all the hues of blue. Each move the Gen made caressed his tattered nerves with a stroke of calm. Timothy almost swooned as his tension unknotted with Mark's desire and anticipation for fulfilling his need. He's ready. I feel it. I know he can do it. And his induction will make the transfer so perfect. Induction. His guilt gripped him again. He had done this to Mark. No, it wasn't his fault. Petir had started the process. He had just finished it. And he, and all the other channels Mark would serve in the future, were going to reap the benefits.
Timothy refocussed on Mark in time to hear him say, "I turned sixteen yesterday. Now, I can decide, and I choose to be trained. Simes make me feel so..." his hand circled a few times, "so good...so right. I know this is the right decision."
Timothy reached under his desk to press the 'Get my Donor quick' emergency button, before going to the file cabinet. He pulled out a packet of forms then gave Mark a pen. "Fill these out. You might be a little late to school, but it's important that you do this before you leave so I can process the forms while you're away."
The young Gen looked at him in disbelief. "Hajene Timothy. Do I have to go to school?"
"Yes, you do." Under other circumstances, Timothy would've laughed, but since he was in need, the only thing he could manage was a weak smile. "How would you like to start your training tomorrow evening by learning the fine art of escorting a channel back to Sime Territory?" Mark's nager burst into hot pink then pulsed with green before striating in blues again.
"Me! Escort a channel?" Mark's voice rose in anxiety.
"Well...you and Sosu Paul. I'm sure he would be glad to have you along. He's a wonderful teacher. One of Tien's finest."
"I'm going to Sime Territory tomorrow. That's great!"
"Oh, and just so you'll know, once you've crossed the border, Hajene Sumulo will be the one escorting both of you so you'll have to obey his signals when you get there. It works both ways," he explained as he continued to zlin Mark's fascinating nager.
Getting back to the original subject, Timothy said, "Now. About school. If you don't go there today, your dad will realize that you're leaving. He'll make a lot of trouble if he knows what you've decided; therefore, I'm ordering you to go to school today and tomorrow."
Timothy zlinned Mark's emotions as the young Gen went from defiance about attending school to realization that if he didn't he'd be breaking one of the rules he'd been given when he first accepted work at the Center.
Reluctantly, Mark began to fill in the forms. "Yes, Hajene," he said under his breath.
"You'll find..." Timothy stopped mid-sentence when Viktor rushed into the room wearing only a robe. The intrusion of the unwanted nager rankled. I called him, he sternly reminded himself. As he began to weave Viktor's calm, trained nager into Mark's swirls and starbursts to make an intricate, cohesive pattern, he felt the same fascination he'd felt when he'd first changed over.
He almost didn't hear Viktor say, "What?...Oh." The Donor looked at Mark." You decided. Congratu-lations," then he added the traditional Simelan words.
Shivering from the sensation of Viktor's cold, bare feet, Timothy augmented to the supply cabinet to retrieve a pair of slippers which were kept there for this kind of situation. "Sorry, Viktor. It's just..."
"...that you needed me...?" Viktor inquired before looking at Mark. "Or do you?"
In Simelan, Timothy tried to explained to Viktor, Mark's nager, the Gen's true desire, and his own need for the young Donor. Viktor held up a hand. Timothy paused then zlinned his best friend's total acceptance and agreement.
Mark had stopped filling out the forms to look from one to the other. Timothy zlinned the young Gen's hope and envy.
"Mark," Timothy switched back to Genlan. "You say you want transfer. How badly do you want it?" Mark's confusion, then fright was clear. Stop that Mark, he almost groaned. Suddenly, Mark flipped back to hopeful.
The young Gen zlinned of hungry eagerness. "Are you offering?"
"He's offering," Viktor assured Mark. "But if you accept, the qualifying transfer will be monitored. That means that the new channel, Hajene Klaser, and myself will be in the room with you. It also means no more yard work. When you're not with me, you'll be with Timothy."
"Or at school," Timothy gazed at Mark to verify that his point was made.
Viktor hesitated long enough to understand what Timothy was telling Mark then said, "Fine, but I'll be with you when Mark's not."
"Agreed." He glanced at Viktor then confronted Mark. "Do you accept?" Please say yes.
Mark's nager agreed before the Gen spoke the words. "Yes. Oh, yes. I agree. I can't believe it. It's what I want more than anything."
Timothy held his breath. "Back off a little, Mark. You're offering yourself right now."
Suddenly, he could breathe. "It's too soon. Tomorrow afternoon," Timothy explained through his teeth, "an hour before the train leaves is my scheduled time. If we have transfer before then, it won't be satisfying to either one of us. Waiting will put the right," he paused, "edge on it. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
"Since you have agreed to the transfer, you should know that there's an oath of Donors which is administered immediately following first transfer. It's similar to the one used when a person becomes a doctor in Gen Territory."
Mark's nager swirled. "I'm going to be like a doctor."
"Yes and no." Mark tore his eyes off Timothy to listen to Viktor's explanation. "The pledge is an oath of trust between all channels and Donors. It simply says that you, as a Donor, will be there for any channel or Sime that needs you. In other words, you are pledged to the union of Simes and Gens. However, at this point you haven't been trained. By the time you've finished that training, you will be the equivalent to a Gen doctor but much, much more. Both you and a Gen doctor will have the ability to recognize symptoms and administer medications. The difference is the trust placed on you as a Donor. You have to know the seriousness of the pledge. This is not just something to try and see if you like it, this is for life, Mark. Do you understand?"
There was a starburst of excitement and sincerity to Mark's field when he told Viktor, "I understand."
Timothy felt a blanket of protection surround him. "This is for life." Mark confirmed.
He basked in the young Gen's soothing nager for a moment then reached in his top drawer to pull out a card. He scribbled on it before giving it to Mark. "This is your transfer appointment card. It's in Simelan but what it says is that you've been assigned to me for transfer at 4:58 tomorrow afternoon." Which barely leaves us an hour for post-syndrome, but it will have to do.
Timothy zlinned Mark's frustration at having to wait, then enthusiasm washed through his nager as the new Donor looked at the forms in front of him. "If you don't let me finish these," he grinned, "I'll be late to school." His face glowed with such happiness that Timothy wondered how long Mark would manage to fool his parents.
"We'll leave you to it, then," Timothy said as he and Viktor started to walk out. "Oh. I forgot to tell you that one of the papers is simply a list of what you should take to training camp. Keep in mind that the fashions in Sime Territory are different from the ones here so bring only enough clothing with you for travel. After you arrive, you'll be issued everything including clothing and uniforms.
"Where will I train?" Mark's body tensed as if he dreaded what he might hear.
Timothy and Viktor looked at each other, grinned, then said in unison, "Tien."
Mark cried with joy, "Really! That's great!"
"Forms." Timothy pointed with a tentacle, and the two friends walked out.
That evening brought another storm to Sanger. To avoid any confrontation with his dad, Mark had eaten dinner in his room and gone to bed early. But, as the storm's intensity increased, sleep became impossible.
The thunder boomed after each flash of lightning. Mark lay in bed watching the sheets of rain which cascaded down the window pane. He could hear the rustle of the remaining dead leaves as they were whipped around in the strong winds.
Even without the noise of the storm, Mark knew he wouldn't sleep. He pulled up his covers and closed his eyes. For the umpteenth time, he reviewed the list of things he was required to take to Tien:
Clothes: shirts, pants, socks, underwear
A few personal items, light and easy to carry
Gen travel bag
Mark sighed with relief. At least, the document folder was one thing he didn't have to smuggle out of the house since Timothy would be the one to gather his documents and give him the folder. Viktor had said that he'd require three days of clothes. Tien, the Donor had explained wasn't that far away. However, to get there involved several delays which included four sliderail changes, the border, and stopping at every little town along the way.
He grabbed the clock and stared at it, waiting patiently until the next flash of lightening could illuminate it enough to read. It was 3:10 AM. He sighed in despair. Only fifteen minutes had passed since the last time he'd checked. Closing his eyes, he decided that it was ridiculous to stay in bed any longer than necessary. His alarm was set for 5:00 AM. If the storm let up, or he found four o'clock staring him in the face, he would get ready to leave. After all, he didn't want to be caught carrying his old book bag filled with clothes. Besides, the Center's commissary was open twenty-four hours a day. He could eat breakfast there. He hoped the storm would continue, and his parents would still be asleep until he had finished packing and was ready to leave.
Having reached that decision, he fell asleep. His mom shook him by the shoulders, waking him up. "Mark," she called gently. "Time to get up. It's 6:00 AM."
Mark was immediately wide awake. "Six!" Oh no. I must've accidentally turned off the alarm the last time I looked at the clock. He wanted to get up, but his mom was still sitting next to him on the bed. I'll never sleep in the buff again, he vowed.
"Thanks for waking me, but I've got to take a shower and get out of here." He raised on his elbows in hopes that she'd take the hint and leave, but she didn't.
Instead, she remained where she was. "Why?" his mom asked in a bewildered tone, "You don't have to be at school for two hours. There's plenty of time to let your father get ready and for you to eat breakfast."
Thinking quickly, he blurted out, "I promised to help paint posters in the gym at seven. There's a big game on Friday."
"Oh! In that case," she smiled as she patted his arm, "put on your robe. I'll make breakfast for you, now. By the time your father has finished getting ready, you'll have eaten, then you can exchange places with him."
Why was she being nice to him? She hadn't even wished him a 'Happy Birthday' the other day. He returned her smile. "Fine. Uh...thanks, Mom."
"See you in five minutes," she said as she left.
He put on his robe and shoes. Since the bathroom was occupied, he found a favorite tree to water in the backyard. As relief came, Mark looked at the glistening leaves which were piled on the ground. He laughed. Gathering leaves was no longer his problem. He had a new job now, and it was much more important than the work he'd been doing. As he walked back to the house he saw that the sky already had patches of blue. It was going to be a clear, cold day.
When he arrived at the kitchen, scrambled eggs and toast filled his plate. He washed his hands in the sink. "Thanks, Mom. I appreciate what you've done. The food smells great."
"You're welcome, Son," she beamed. "Now eat up before it gets cold." But what Mark really heard was, 'eat up before your father gets here.'
He did as he was told, and was back in his room just as his dad emerged from the bedroom dressed and ready for breakfast. Mark smiled. Mom's sneakier than I am. I heard her wash my dishes and put them away before I got to the top of the stairs.
He bathed, dressed, and was out the door in record time.
Mark knew his mom was watching him walk down the street with both his book bags. He hoped she wouldn't realize their significance.
He dropped off the old book bag at the Center, then ran to school. Halfway there, he had to stop long enough to catch his breath; the old gunshot wound could still cause him pain. As he waited for the ache to pass, Mark thought about Viktor and Alex chasing Timothy and hoped that his problem wouldn't mean he'd fail at Tien.
At the gym, his friends were surprised to see him, but gladly accepted his help. What was he doing he thought as he painted the word, 'GO!' in big red letters. He was leaving his friends. People he had known all his life. Don't be stupid, Mark! He knew he'd never be happy living in Sanger. His classmates were scared of Simes. He didn't have to be scared ever again. I'm a Donor. Well, not yet. He started on the black letters of the word, 'TEAM'. But I'm going to be after my transfer with Timothy today.
He sat back on his knees and looked at the partially painted word then looked around him. His friends were busy painting other posters. The buzz of excitement for the coming game had an undertone of worry. He realized that that undertone was always there. It was the tone of dread...the fear of death. Everyone, especially those of his age, was constantly on the lookout for the signs that a friend was in changeover.
The Center atmosphere, on the other hand, was entirely different. There was a confidence there that he'd never known until he'd become part of the staff.
Mark remembered Sumulo's attack on Costel. The Donor's look of gratitude and pure affection for the channel was what had diffused the situation. That confidence, Mark realized came from humans knowing how to handle Simes.
As he looked around again, he decided that even if he never became a Donor, he'd live at a Center or a householding so he would never have to worry about friends in changeover or death.
No, I'm not going to miss this. Not at all, he thought as he returned to painting the 'M'.
The bell rang. It was time for class.
Two more strokes of the brush and Mark had finished the letter. Reluctantly, he put down his brush and left the gym.
Every minute was torturous. He stared into space during class, between classes, and even during lunch. He knew that he'd promised to act normal, but he couldn't help it. One moment, he felt joyous that he, Mark Cappa, was going to do what he wanted to do. The next minute, his chest would constrict with fright that he'd agree to transfer with Timothy. And the moment after that, he'd be excited.
At last, the final bell rang. It was over. Never again would he have to see this building or these people.
To simulate normality as best he could, Mark forced himself not to run to the Center. Instead, he walked as briskly as he always did. At his locker, he removed his school books from his bag and put them on the shelf. He'd ask Viktor to return them to the school after he was gone. He quelled the urge to slam the locker door and run to Hajene Timothy's office. I'm a Donor, he told himself. Donors stay calm.
He walked to the office and signaled.
Viktor let him in.
"Am I late?" Mark peered into the dark room. His body surged at the sight of Timothy lying on the lounge. The channel's hands were rubbing his face while his handling tentacles lay across his head and shoulders.
"No," the Donor said. "Come in. I was working with Timothy, but now that you're here, come and sit next to him. You can make him feel better by allowing yourself to look forward to the transfer without desiring it."
Mark sat down and looked at the channel, "What do you mean by that?" he asked Viktor without taking his eyes from Timothy.
"It's called 'support'. Be confident that you'll be there at the appointed time," Viktor explained.
"Too much." Timothy spoke for the first time. The channel's tight voice along with his rigid ten-tacles and hands indicated how tense he really was.
"Relax, Mark," the Donor instructed.
Rag Doll. "What's wrong, Hajene Timothy?" Mark whispered.
"Now that you're here, nothing." The channel re-tracted his tentacles as he sat up. "I feel much better."
Viktor broke the hushed silence of the room by laughing, "I bet you do."
"Did you bring everything on your list?" Timothy asked.
"Everything's in my book bag except the documents folder," Mark told them.
"Yes." Timothy got up and crossed to his desk to pick up a folder. "Here it is. Give me your birth certificate then the file'll be complete."
Mark looked at him with disbelief. "Was I supposed to bring it?"
"Didn't you read the forms I gave you? The history file clearly states that you must verify your age with a copy of your birth certificate. How else could you prove how old you are at the border?" Timothy's flat reply was cold with tension.
"I'm sorry, Timothy. I was just so excited this morning. I just filled in the blanks and didn't bother reading the rest. "I guess I'll have to go home to get it."
Viktor stepped in-between the two of them. "Take your book bag home. That'll make it seem normal. Find the certificate as quickly as possible, then return. I'll stay with Hajene Timothy until you get back. Don't worry. Everything'll be fine," he assured Mark. "Just do it quickly. The train leaves at six. Since it's four already, you have less than two hours to get your birth certificate, give transfer, and catch the train."
"Can't we have transfer first before I go home?"
"No, Simes aren't allow to take transfer before their appointed time," Viktor explained. "Now go!"
Mark backed away, sensing how terrible it was for him to leave Timothy at this time, but there was nothing he could do about it. He had to have his birth certificate. He grabbed his book bag and departed. Although it was difficult, he waited until he passed the Center gates before he ran.
"Who's there?" his mom called, as he rushed upstairs.
"It's just me!" he yelled. Throwing his bag and jacket on the bed, he went downstairs.
His mom stared at him while he searched through the hallway desk drawers. "What're you looking for?"
"My birth certificate," Mark said, out of breath. "The banker said I'd have to show it to prove my age before I could open an account."
"Oh. That's in my bedroom." She pointed. "I'll get it for you." Oh, Mom. Will you ever forgive me for this? I'm sorry. Truly, I am.
Mark followed her upstairs, but stopped just outside the door.
Reappearing moments later, she handed him an envelope. "Here you go."
"Thanks, Mom." He kissed her cheek. "You're great. I'll put it in one of my books so it won't get messed up." He hurried into his room. "Thanks again."
His mom laughed as she called back, "You're welcome!" It'd been so long since he'd heard her laugh. I'm sorry. I have to do this, he apologized to her silently.
In his room, he removed a book from his bag, and placed the certificate inside. He started to leave when he saw the blue sweater on his dresser. It was the one his mom had been knitting the day his dad had told him he had to quit the Center. This must've been her way of saying 'Happy Birthday'. After all, she knew blue was his favorite color. He put on the sweater, found that it was longer than the jacket, but decided that he didn't care since it was the only inconspicuous way of taking it with him. He snapped the overfilled book bag shut and draped the strap over his shoulder, then ran down the stairs and out the door.
Business had concluded early that day so the Mayor had arrived home an hour earlier than usual. He and J'oani were carrying cups of coffee to the living room when Mark breezed out of the house without seeing them standing there.
"Where's he going?" Mark's dad asked his wife.
"Oh," she laughed. "He said he was going to the bank to open an account. I gave him his birth certificate to prove he's sixteen."
"You what!" he shouted as he put his cup on the hall table. Mark's mom added hers then the two of them ran out of the house. Mark was already a block away.
"Don't you see?" he grabbed her arms and shook her. "The banker wouldn't ask Mark for his birth certificate. He already knows. I told him myself this morning when I went there to withdraw some money. Mark's running away. He's got his birth certificate! He's sixteen!" He shook her again. "That means he's running away!"
"No!" J'oani said in disbelief. She pulled away from his grasp to look at Mark's fading back. "That can't be. He wouldn't...
"You're right!" she cried. "Look. He's trying to hide the blue sweater I knitted him for his birthday by wearing it under his jacket! What are we going to do?"
"Don't worry. I'll handle it!" Larryh dashed into the house and grabbed his rifle. Running to the middle of the street, he yelled, "Mark! Mark! You come back here! You come back here right now."
"Mark!" he heard his dad shout his name.
"Oh, no!" Mark turned and disappeared between two houses. Abruptly, the ring of the warning bell shattered the peacefulness of the day. His worst nightmare was happening. His dad was calling out the townspeople to prevent his escape. The berserker bell! Nobody would ignore that signal.
He cut through another backyard as he began to hear men coming out of their homes. A minute later, the high-pitched voices of women added to the hubbub. His dad was quick. He must've already told them it wasn't a berserker who was escaping, but that his son was running away to the Simes.
Mark took advantage of the fading light and the numerous hedges that hid him from sight. When he reached Mr. Knight's shed, he went inside then pressed back against the door as his heart pounded wildly. Peeking outside, he found that a mob had already gathered in front of the Center gates.
What was he going to do? Timothy was going to be in hard need soon, and he had to get to him. It was so unfair! His dad didn't want him. Why didn't he just leave him alone?
Timothy and Viktor stood just outside of the Sime entrance to the Center.
The channel's tentacles were stretched toward the Center gates to help Timothy zlin for Mark's return.
"You shouldn't be out here." Viktor worried. "Mark will make it back. He's very resourceful."
Suddenly, the berserker bells started to ring.
Viktor flexed his field to get Timothy's attention.
As Timothy withdrew his tentacles, Viktor said, "We have to go. Someone needs your hel..." The Donor stopped.
Timothy stared vacantly at him. "Are you sure it's a berserker? The bells could be for Mark if the Mayor found out his son was running away."
"Does it matter whether the bells are for a berserker or for Mark?" Viktor asked in Simelan. "Those bells mean trouble. Someone requires our help."
Timothy eye's refocussed on him. "You organize security. I'll get my retainers."
A few minutes later, they met again. Just as they were going to climb into the Center's ambulance, Kathy raced over to them. "Hajene Timothy! Sosu Viktor! There's a crowd forming at the gates."
"Find Hajene Klaser." Timothy directed. "Tell him to bring the ambulance in case there is a changeover victim. If there's not one, tell him to return to the Center and wait for us. Go!"
As Kathy sped away, Viktor asked, "Is that wise to expose yourself to the townspeople?"
"I'll be safe enough. Since most of the people are afraid to come on Center grounds, I can escape them if I have to."
"I still don't like it." Viktor insisted.
"It's too late now." Timothy bristled. "That crowd is demanding attention."
Viktor wanted to say more but Timothy held up a tentacle.
He and Timothy started down the path towards the Center's gate. Blood reds, brilliant oranges, and several shades of blues swirled in the sky while the sun rapidly descended. As the light disappeared, Viktor could see men with torches outside the open gate. The crowd seemed to multiply with every step they took. He straightened his shoulders. "Ready?" he asked the channel.
Timothy nodded then set his face into a mask.
Mark banged his head with his fist, desperate to escape. From his hiding place, he could hear the crowd growing angrier as it multiplied. All the dogs began to bark at the raising noise of the gathering people.
As he listened, he tried to devise a plan to allow him to escape into the Center grounds without being recognized but he knew it'd be impossible. Everyone in town knew what he looked like because he was the Mayor's son.
He ground his fist into his eyes. What was he going to do? In the distance, he heard Brut's distinctive deep-sounding bark. He tried to forget that bark so he could think about how he was going to get to the Center grounds. Brut. Stop barking, he thought.
He looked up. The Patterly's tree, he remembered with dread. It's the only way. He wanted to cry. Why did his father have to torture him this way? He didn't want him. Brut. He didn't care. The dog. He's only doing this because he hated Simes and 'Sime-lovers'. What about the dog?
He had to get to Hajene Timothy, and that tree was the only way. But what about the dog? He didn't care about the dog, he told himself firmly, he had to get to Timothy now.
Mark ran. He didn't think. He simply ran.
When he arrived, Mark threw his book bag over the fence and into the Center grounds next to the Patterly's backyard.
Next, he found their gate. Without thinking about what he was doing, Mark pushed open the door and ran to the tree.
The sound of crunching leaves under paws moving rapidly in pursuit frightened him enough that he screamed, "NO!"
He jumped. With the lower branch in one hand, and the branch just above it in the other, Mark hauled himself up as he used his feet to climb the tree trunk.
The crowd saw the united front Timothy and Viktor made as they slowly progressed towards their goal. By the time they'd arrived at the gate, the crowd had tripled, but as yet no one had dared to enter the Center grounds.
They stopped before the gate. Slowly, Timothy began to put on his retainers in an exaggerated display. The message for all to see. Viktor saw immediate relief on the sea of Gen faces. The people of Sanger fell silent.
Then Timothy spoke. "This is my Territory. I don't require retainers here. But since you obviously wish to speak with me, I'll put these on according to your laws. And when I'm done, we'll talk in your Territory."
As soon as the retainers were in place, Viktor stepped through the gate just ahead of the channel.
In a calm manner, Timothy asked the crowd, "How may I be of assistance?"
Viktor placed himself as best as he could to shield the channel from the angry ambient nager, but there were so many Gens around, it didn't help much. Besides, his wasn't the nager Timothy wanted. That nager was somewhere else. He just hoped Mark could make it back on time. If he had to give Timothy transfer, he knew the channel would abort several times before it was over.
The crowd parted. Mayor Cappa and his wife walked through.
As Cappa raised his rifle towards Timothy, the channel inquired, "How may I be of assistance to you, Mayor?"
"You kidnapped my son." Mark's dad accused the channel. "I want him back."
"Your son's not here." Timothy gestured, palm out to indicate the gate. "Come in and see for yourself."
The mob had quieted down so they could hear the men speaking.
Suddenly, Timothy gasped, "Mark! No!" then turned and augmented through the Center gates. The channel had covered half the distance between the gates and the side fence before Viktor could follow.
The Donor saw Timothy stop, work the catches on his retainers then continue. He groaned as he realized that Timothy's destination was the trin garden and Patterly's old tree.
To get out of the dog's reach, Mark grasped the next tier of branches and pulled his right foot to safety. He looked up to see Timothy running towards him with the Sanger crowd close behind.
Mark began to pull up the other foot when a sharp pain lanced through his left ankle. He saw the channel collapse as he brought his injured foot to the branch.
"Timothy!" he cried in desperation.
A deep growl came from the back of Brut's throat just before the dog began jumping up and down frantically trying to bite him again.
Mark looked down. The black dog's eyes were filled with hatred for him. Even though he knew he was out of reach, Mark pulled his feet up a little further.
The backdoor to the house crashed open as flood lights lit up the tree and a large area of the Center grounds. "Who's there?" Mr. Patterly demanded.
Mark saw Viktor helping Timothy to his feet as he called to the frightened man below, "It's me, Mr. Patterly. Mark. I'm human," he reassured the councilman.
A whistle went to the man's mouth. Brut stopped and obediently sat down.
"The Mayor's son?" Patterly's rifle was thrust towards him. "What are you doing up in my tree?"
"I'm the groundskeeper at the Center," he said through gritted teeth. Pain. Stop it. You're hurting him. Don't think about it. "I'm just trying to get back inside the grounds. I have work to do."
"Then why didn't you use the front gate of the Center," Patterly questioned, "You better come..."
"Mark!" Timothy called. "Crawl out on the branch then jump." My ankle. The pain. Don't think about it. "I'll catch you. Hurry! The crowd..."
"What's going on?" Patterly shouted. He pointed the gun. "Don't worry! I'll shoot the Sime!"
"NO! DON'T!" Mark cried as he hurried to obey Timothy. "The gun..." He tried to distract Mr. Patterly by talking to him. "The bullets can't penetrate the material in the fence!"
Mark looked to Timothy. So far down. Fear welled in him. Stop it. Rag Doll. You're hurting him. He forced himself to stop thinking about the pain or the distance. Just jump. Timothy will catch me, he assured himself.
"Come down, Mark!" Patterly turned his attention back to him. "That Sime wants you."
He briefly met the man's eyes, then looked down at Timothy and smiled. "I know."
Mark was safe. Timothy's arms and tentacles cradled him like a baby. As he locked his arms around the channel's neck, Mark heard his dad bellow, "Get away from my son! You...you SNAKE!"
"No, Dad!" Mark cried out. The hated gun was pointed in his direction. "What are you going to do, shoot me again? I'm not going home. Not now. Not ever."
"Yes you are, young man!" The gun punctuated every word. "You're coming home right now. I don't want to hear about your college fund. I'll pay for it."
Before he could answer, his mom pleaded to Timothy. "Please! Let my son go!"
Ignoring his mom, Mark raised his voice high enough so that all the townspeople who had gathered around could hear. "You're not listening. I'm not going home. I'm staying here...with the Simes. It's what I want! Do you understand? It is what I want."
Mark started to say more, but Viktor caught his attention by waving his arms. The Donor was in the back of the crowd near the place Mark had tossed his book bag. To cover his delay, he tightened his grip on Timothy's neck. Viktor pointed to his book bag, then gave it to Sosu Paul who turned and sprinted towards the Center.
Smiling, Mark cleared his throat, and in an authoritative voice similar to his dad's when the Mayor gave a speech, he began, "Hajene Timothy. At the Center, I have my birth certificate which proves I am now sixteen. By the legal rights which have been agreed upon between the Sime and the Gen governments, I request training to become a Donor. As you can see, my parents do not want me to have that training so I am formally requesting your protection."
"I formally accept your request." Timothy clutched him protectively.
Viktor stepped to Timothy's side just as his mom cried, "NO!" then collapsed to her knees. "It can't be. Please, Mark," she begged him. "Surely, you don't want to live among these creatures."
"Mother." His determination was clear. "I want to be a Donor. I want to give transfer to a channel." Mark allowed himself to feel his desire to serve.
"Back off a little," Timothy whispered to him as the channel's tentacles gripped him tighter.
Rag Doll, he thought.
"A Sime-lover." His dad turned to walk away, head shaking in disgust. Mark halted him by saying, "At least Mr. B loves me. You stopped loving me on my tenth birthday. That's the day you polished your rifle. Remember, Dad? I know I do."
His dad shuddered.
Mr. B walked over to the Mayor. "Accept life," Mark's friend appealed to his dad. "Your son is part of the new way. People are tired of the killing and of the dying we grew up to know."
His dad's right fist was being drawn back when Viktor stepped in front of Timothy to shield him from the coming blow. Mark didn't see what happen but he heard the thud and Mr. B's fall to the ground.
The crowd gasped at the sight then stepped back as Timothy, who was still carrying him, went to stand by his fallen parent.
Mrs. B sat down next to Mr. B. "This is what Don has been trying to tell you for years." Mr. B groaned. She cradled her husband's head on her lap. "Violence begets violence. We had hoped you would understand after Larryh shot his own son in order to murder Petir Zachary."
She smoothed Mr. B's hair off his forehead. "Yes, I said murder. Mayor Cappa's action was unfor-givable since Petir could've been saved by my son, Hajene Timothy. But the true tragedy was that Petir was a channel. He was going to be one of the few Simes like my son who have enough control to remove the substance that a Sime so desperately needs to live and he could've done it without killing a human."
Mark could see her shake with reaction.
"And now, Mark wants to be part of that new life. Mark's decided that he has the courage and the desire to keep a channel sane. It's Mark, and others like him, who are the new hope for a better way of living."
"She's delirious," his dad bellowed. "Don't listen to her."
"WAIT!" Mrs. B called. She appealed to the women. "Look at the Mayor. For years, men like Larryh have kept the town safe by killing any child who changed over. Look into his eyes. His whole life has been for the purpose of killing children. In fact, he's enjoyed it. Don't let him keep this town in the dark ages."
"Shut up, old woman!" his dad threatened her with a clenched fist.
"Look at him," she yelled. "He wants to hit me, too. Violence. That's his life."
"So what do we do?" a woman in the back of the crowd called.
"We end the killing. Now is the time to let our sons take over. Let the channels serve transfer to the changeover victims and let men like Mark serve the channels. The difference between the Mayor's method and the Sime Center's is the difference between life and death."
Mark was relieved to see Mr. B move. Mrs. B hugged her husband then continued. "Death." She shuddered at the thought. "How many of you polished guns on your children's tenth birthday like the Mayor did when Mark turned ten?"
"Didn't any of you bother to listen to what Don and I tried to tell you? Only a handful of this city's children has had changeover training. And yet, how many of your children..." she paused, "and how many of your friends," she reminded the townspeople, "have died? Why!"
Mark saw Mrs. Febriana raise her fist as she started to give her angry retort but Mrs. B cut her off before the lady could say one word. "I'll tell you why. Because you're afraid of Simes, but you wouldn't have to be. Instead of polishing your guns, you and your children should attend changeover classes. That's a better and a healthier way to stop the killing."
"Don't listen to her." Mark's dad cried in desper-ation. "Mark's been brainwashed by the Simes and those Sime-lovers. And since he's been brain-washed," the Major took two steps towards Timothy and him, "we don't recognize this snake's right of protection." His dad glared at the channel. "Come on," an overhanded gesture emphasized, "help me get Mark back."
Viktor raised his hands. "WAIT! Listen to me. My father tried to do the same thing when I decided to become a Donor. Three days later," he held up his fingers, "the Gen government handed my dad over to Sime government officials to spend a year in Sime jails. What you're thinking of doing is a violation of the border treaties. It is, therefore, handled with all expedience. Remember, Mark is sixteen. He has formally requested and has been given the protection of the Sime government. In addition, you're in Sime Territory so the sentence would be much more severe."
"I'm not spending time in jail for you, Mayor Cappa." Mr. Febriana backed away. "I have a wife and children to think about." The crowd turned to follow the man when Timothy halted them, "Wait! Listen to me."
They stopped. The channel begged for under-standing. "Before you go, I want you to know with the Sime Center in Sanger, you can love your children. You don't have to fear them. You can love them."
"How? You ask. First: by knowing the symptoms of changeover. Early identification will give you plenty of time to get that child to the Center. At the Center, your child will not kill. Not now. Not EVER! So what if your child is Gen?"
"The Center is also your choice," Timothy lectured. "A channel can tell you if your child has established, and therefore, is already Gen. Then you both will know and will no longer have to look for changeover symptoms.
"My father was right to bring the Center here, but you've been unwilling to give up murdering and terrorizing your children." He looked down at Mark. "Do you love the hunt that much?
"How many of your friends died from berserkers because you refused to learn? How many of your children died because they happened to turn Sime? Whose fault is that?" Timothy looked at Petir's mother.
"That's not the changeover victim's fault. That's yours," he pointed to the crowd, then turned to Mark's father, "and yours. You want to murder. You like the hunt. Don't you, Mayor Cappa? You didn't want the Center here because you live for the day that a child goes into changeover."
Mark interjected, "I remember the day my dad came home, smiling from ear to ear because he'd been the one 'lucky enough' to shoot the berserker." He looked over the crowd. "No more. It's enough!"
Viktor took over again. "Let the channels deal with berserkers. That's what they're trained to do. Instead of using the bells on your doorsteps to signify a child in changeover has to be murdered, let the bells be the Sime Center signal to come pick up that child."
The Donor looked around the crowd. "Your children are safe with you if you love them enough. That means that you promise to love them even if they're Sime. Especially if they turn Sime. As a parent, nothing should matter except that your child will live. They'll have to live in a different place, but you can still write to them. What's the difference between having to write to a child who moved out of town and having to write a child who changed over and has to live in Sime Territory?"
Viktor took a deep breathed and began again. "And have you thought of the other benefits? Selyn-powered lights. Refrigerators. Cars. When there are enough people donating in this city, it can have a power station. Come visit the Center to see how these things work. Or better yet, visit Mr. Patterly. As a compensation to building the Center in his backyard, his house was connected to our generator. The light you see is coming from his backyard."
The crowd gasped with anger when they realized that the councilman didn't care whether the rest of the townspeople had these amenities because he already had them.
Mark quickly hid his smile at Viktor's small triumphed.
The Donor continued. "Another benefit is the medical facilities. The channels are doctors. Hajene Timothy proved that last summer when he saved Mark's life. They're able to heal the human body quicker than your doctors. Try it. Let the channels heal you. They're good at it. When they heal you, it feels good. You'll see."
Mark whispered, "Let me down, Timothy."
The channel put him on his feet. Mark groaned as his pain increased from the rush of blood to his ankle. He hobbled on one foot until Timothy grabbed his arms to support him before he fell.
The crowd gasped at the sight as Mark's mom exclaimed, "You're hurt!" She walked towards him then suddenly stopped with the realization of what she was about to do.
"Mr. Patterly's dog bit me on the ankle before I was able to climb the tree to safety." Mark looked at the bloody sight. "I'll be fine. Hajene Timothy will heal me when we get back to the Center. The technique the channels use to heal humans is painless."
"But what if he's in need?" his mom despaired. "Pain makes Simes attack. I know what they do."
"Mom," Mark said. "Timothy's in need, but he's a channel. He'll be fine. Can't you see? Look at him. This hurts a lot," he gestured to his ankle, "but nothing's happening to me." He tried to laugh.
"Oh...let'm go, J'oani." His dad turned up his nose in disgust. "He's nothing but a Sime-lover. We've known that since we caught him fishing with Don Buffington years ago."
He turned to Mark. "You want to be with the snakes?" his dad screamed. "Be with them. I'm going home. As far as I'm concerned, I no longer have a son. J'oani?"
A small part of the crowd followed him as he left, but the rest stayed to hear what Mark's mom had to say.
She looked at her husband's retreating back. "Please son," she clutched her hands in a final appeal, "please come home."
"No, Mom." His jaw clenched. "I can't. I belong here. If you want to write, give the letter to the Center, and they'll make sure I get it."
She shook her head. "I wish I could hug and kiss you good-bye."
Mark looked to Timothy. The channel swallowed hard, then released him and backed away.
After a brief hug and kiss, she turned away, crying on the shoulder of Petir's mother.
Everyone but the Buffingtons followed.
Timothy zlinned that his father could walk back to the Center with the support of both Viktor and his mother. After he picked up Mark, but before the five of them had started back, the floodlights from Mr. Patterly's backyard snapped off.
He wanted to augment, but he told himself Viktor and his parents wouldn't be able to see well enough to arrive safely; besides, the crowd of people leaving the grounds might see and panic.
"Soon." Viktor encouraged him.
He nodded stoically.
"Just do as we talked about." He heard Viktor instruct Mark. "Focus your attention on him without offering yourself. Try to think about your trip."
"I'll do the best I can, but my ankle hurts pretty badly."
"We'll deal with it," assured Timothy. "It's not as bad as it feels."
"Is Timothy all right?" His mother whispered to Viktor.
"He will be as soon as Mark has given him transfer," the Donor replied.
"Mark?" his father questioned. "Is he ready?"
Timothy felt reassured when Viktor responded. "He's ready."
He zlinned his father's love which blanketed his nager.
"Mark." His father's eyes filled with glistening tears. "Son. You're going to give the gift of life to my son. The gift that I wanted to give him when he first changed over. My sons. Together. In harmony." His father leaned into his mother, giving her a squeeze. "I'm so proud of both of them."
His mother looked at Mark. "Yes. We are so very proud. And now you'll discover the part that was missing when you gave a simple donation."
Mark's nager pulsed with desire for a moment then abruptly stopped and changed to anticipation with just the right edge to keep him as comfortable as he could be under the circumstances. Induction.
"Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. B...for everything."
They continued their walk in silence until they reached the Center stairs.
"We'll miss you, Mark," his mother choked, "but we'll know you'll be happy at Tien. Don't forget to write."
"I won't forget, Mrs. B. How could I? You're more than family to me...and," Mark's nager pulsed once again with that tantalizing desire, "I'll take care of Timothy."
His father looked around his mother to face Mark. "We know you will."
Viktor's jealousy peaked through his nager then cut off to be replaced by a strengthened support. "Mark will do fine."
Riva and Hajene Klaser were waiting for them at the top of the porch.
"Mother. Father. Go with Riva. She'll take you to Treatment Room One. Hajene Klaser, come with us."
Timothy started through the door when his mother called Mark's name so he stopped. Waving good-bye, she told his young Donor, "Mark. We love you. Study hard. Make us proud."
"I promise, Mrs. B."
His father choked, "I'll miss you at the river, Son. Fishing won't be the same without you."
Mark waved back. "I know. I'll miss you, too. Bye."
With barely another thought, he entered the Center in anticipation of healing Mark's ankle so that they could have transfer.
As the newly-arrived channel followed them, Timothy began to weave the fields by masking Viktor's and putting a neutral gradient on his own. Suddenly, the only fields left were Mark's overly stuffed one and his own depleted one.
Timothy sat Mark on the contour lounge, then took off the Gen's jacket, but left the sweater on. He helped Mark to lay down, removed his shoe then cleaned the wound without saying a word. Wrapping his tentacles around the ankle before placing his laterals at the teeth marks, Timothy gave into his growing, aching need.
Mark's selyn production soared. The channel continued to tell himself that he was only a half hour behind his scheduled transfer. But facts were facts. He'd been using more selyn than normal in his worry that Mark wouldn't come to him for this transfer. In addition, he'd had to augment several times in the last two days. On top of that, he'd had to use a tenth power augmentation to catch the Gen when Mark jumped from the tree. All in all, it meant that his reserves were much lower than he was used to having and therefore very uncomfortable at the moment, but at least it would help Mark heal faster.
Then what? Timothy didn't want to think about it. Mark didn't have any idea what was going to happen. Timothy despaired. He thought he'd have an hour with Mark for post-syndrome before the new Donor would have to leave. As it was, he'd barely have time to heal him before he'd have to help him escape to the sliderail station. He didn't think that Mayor Cappa would give up so easily. Would Mark leave him if he understood the meaning of post-syndrome? No, he firmly told himself. Mark's not going to know. Viktor would help him through it. But he didn't want Viktor.
Mark watched the tentacles retract. He moved his ankle around a little bit, but only felt a small twinge.
Timothy sat back with his eyes closed, breathing deeply.
"Mark," Hajene Klaser said calmly. "Do you still want transfer with Hajene Timothy?"
Mark looked at the channel...his channel. "Yes, I do," he affirmed more to himself than to the others.
Viktor stepped around where he could see Mark, but since Timothy didn't move Mark suspected that the Donor hadn't disturbed the fields.
"This time there will be more." Viktor assured him. He breathed in and opened his hands until they appeared like a blossoming flower. "Then...let your-self feel your desire for transfer."
The words unleashed Mark's thoughts. Take me. Take me. Take me.
He held out his arms as he met Timothy's now-open eyes. Mark felt the tentacles whip around his arms. The steely cords felt tighter than he'd remem-bered, but it didn't matter. He wanted this.
Timothy leaned forward. Mark met him halfway.
Mark's body began to sing with the outpouring of his soul. There was more and this was it. Under-standing what his body had been trying to tell him, he began to push his selyn forward faster and faster. As each new level was achieved, the rush intensified, and Timothy absorbed all of it including the joyous emotions Mark felt.
Then...it was over and Timothy retracted his tentacles.
"Congratulations, Mark. You are now a TN1." His channel's huge grin lit his face.
"A TN1? Isn't that the highest level?" Mark aspirated in awe.
"Yes. It is." Viktor pounded him on the back.
"Yes, congratulations, Mark." Hajene Klaser added.
Timothy's tentacles suddenly rewrapped them-selves around Mark's arms.
Mark didn't startle at their warm sensation. It felt good. No. It felt right.
"Mark." He barely heard Timothy say his name. "Repeat the Oath of Firsts after me."
"I hold this oath above all other oaths."
"I hold this oath above all other oaths," Mark squeaked.
"...so sacred that I will never write it down nor mistake it for a lesser oath."
Mark cleared his throat, then repeated the line.
"A First has opened me to my First Level. By this truth will I be known." After waiting for him to repeat the lines, Timothy continued. "I see now that the price of freedom is obligation..."
Mark's breath caught. As he repeated the oath, he thought about freedom and obligation. His chest swelled with his commitment.
He listened to Timothy's next words. "I was free, and now I am bound. The bonds placed upon me by the one who opened me are not so strong as the bonds I have placed upon myself."
Yes. These bonds are the ones I choose.
Mark felt Timothy's tentacles tighten with the channel's next words. "As one First has been to me, all Firsts will be to me."
I'm a First. I really am.
"This is the foundation of my being, from which I reach out to all humankind."
That's right. Even Simes are a part of humanity.
Timothy's words crescendoed. "These are the things I pledge and vow and affirm, forfeiting all desire to be other than I am by this sacred oath unto all Firsts."
"...unto the Tecton forever," Mark whispered.
Everyone's breath was held until Viktor brought the moment back to reality when he gently spoke the channel's name. "Timothy?"
Spell broken, Timothy retracted his tentacles then used a couple of them to wipe the tears from his eyes.
Mark looked from one to the other. "What's wrong? Didn't I do it right?"
"It was perfect. But Mark, you're going to have to leave now. The train departs at six o'clock and it's 5:45. If you're not on that train, your dad may find a way of keeping you here indefinitely," Timothy worried.
Mark stood up. "Then I'll get my bags and we can be on our way."
Viktor handed him his jacket. "Your Birth Certificate was placed in the bag you packed and it's been sent ahead."
Timothy pointed to his ankle with a tentacle. "It hasn't completely healed so I'll have to carry you to the fence."
"I can walk..." Mark protested then remembered the rules. He held out his arms so his channel could lift him up, but Timothy turned his back and gestured with a tentacle. He climbed onto his friend's back and rested his head on his shoulder. Timothy carried him outside then augmented towards the back fence.
"Isn't Viktor coming?" Mark inquired when the other Donor didn't follow.
Timothy tensed. "There's no time. We must hurry."
I didn't get to tell him 'Thank you', Mark thought as the channel continued to run.
Timothy stopped near a ladder which spanned the back fence of the Center.
As he put on his retainers, Mark asked, "How did that get here?"
"The ladder?" He closed the last catch. "It's the Emergency Escape Route."
Without elaborating more, Timothy climbed to the other side then once again augmented so they could cross the hundred-yard, cleared strip of land before being seen.
They quickly disappeared into the forest but didn't pause until they reached the Tinusa River bridge. At which point, Timothy put him down. "From now on, we can be seen so you're going to have to make it on your own. We don't want anyone thinking that I've kidnapped you."
Mark tried a couple of steps. It wasn't too bad so he began to run across the bridge.
The train whistle sounded its arrival just as they reached the middle. "We've got to hurry!" Timothy exclaimed. "The train is early, and it doesn't wait for anyone."
As they approached the station, Mark's ankle began to hurt with every step so he slowed down.
"Run, Mark," Timothy appealed. "Your dad could've heard the train whistle and figured out that we're trying to get you out tonight."
Mark set his mouth and ran. His only thoughts were of the next step and the next one and the one after that. He knew that the station wasn't that far away, but it seemed as if he'd been running for hours.
Finally, the train was in front of him.
Costel came out of a car, handed him a ticket, wished him luck then stepped into the Donor's position of support beside Timothy.
As Mark stepped on board, Hajene Sumulo leaned out to pulled him inside. Sosu Paul, standing behind the channel, had his book bag. He looked at the channel, then back at Timothy and said between panting breaths, "I wish you were coming with us."
Timothy shook his head. "I know you do but my place is here. After my mother's speech today, I may even become busy. Your place is at Tien. Our transfer was great, but you still have a lot to learn. That learning includes Simelan, which is essential in the work of a Donor. Work hard, and someday..." Timothy grinned, "I'm sure the Tecton will assign us for another transfer."
"All aboard!" the train master yelled as the train jerked into motion.
Mark stepped back. "I'll write." He promised.
Too late, Mark's dad rounded the corner. "Stop that train!" the Major shouted.
His dad started to raise the rifle, but a man grabbed it and yelled, "Are you crazy? If you do that, we'll never get that new sliderail line in here."
The train moved away. "Bye, Dad," Mark called sadly as he waved. "Tell Mom I love her."
As he turned around, Sosu Paul handed his book bag to the channel. "Hajene. I do apologize but I urgently require the use of the facilities. Will you be all right with Mark until I can return?"
Sumulo started to make a remark, hesitated then simply nodded his acceptance. Without another word the channel started down the aisle to the back of the train.
"You'd best follow him, Mark," Sosu Paul said urgently. "Before he gets into trouble."
"That's right!" Mark hurried after the channel but Hajene Sumulo was already at the entrance to the next car. When he finally arrived, the channel continued on.
By the time they had passed through three cars, Mark's ankle was really throbbing. After he sat down, he crossed his bad ankle over his other leg in an attempt to level it, then looked up to see the trees rushing past. Mark was fascinated by the spectacle for a while, until he saw Sumulo sitting quietly next to him with a pained look on his face.
Mark studied his ankle briefly, but found that the elevation was working and it no longer hurt.
Closing his eyes, he realized how stressed he was. Rag Doll, he thought. Tension drained from his body. He focused his attention on the channel. He had done it. Sumulo appeared to be more relaxed.
Then he turned his thoughts back to Timothy and Viktor. Sometimes they spoke in that weird language called Simelan. Simelan. I'm going to learn Simelan. His heart began to race.
Sumulo shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
Rag Doll, he relaxed again. Satisfied with Sumulo's response, Mark continued his train of thought. He decided that he had a lot to learn. Viktor always seemed to be so sure of himself. How many other secrets were there that Tien could teach him?
Tien. A real householding.
A place to be safe.
A place to be loved.
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