My Life, My Trust. . .
by Kerry Schaefer
(later known as Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer)
Reprinted from Ambrov Zeor #13
Holding tightly to the last ragged shreds of his composure, Hajene Frevven Aylmeer hastily followed his escort through the main entrance of the Innsfrey Island Sime Center. As soon as he was safely inside, he took hold of the heavy wooden door and pushed it closed, leaning his slender body thankfully back against the carved mahogany until he heard the latch click into place. Oblivious to the water dripping steadily from the edges of his rain-soaked wool cape, he stood savoring the blessed relief of being once more safely amongst his own. Then he belatedly realized people were staring at him. Well, they might be used to living and working out-Territory, but he certainly wasn't. The long trip from the mainland had been wretched, and he supposed his feelings must be pretty plainly written on his face.
Kurtiss, the young Gen who had accompanied him, smiled easily and looked away, busying himself with removing his own wet jacket and setting it on a chair. Frevven felt the young man unobtrusively try to mesh with him, offering reassurance and support. But the Gen girl standing behind the reception desk continued to stare, her soft brown eyes wide with curiosity. In one swift glance, Frevven took in the long, unruly hair, the heavy sweater and floor-length skirt, but his eyes were drawn immediately back to her face, and a haunting sense of familiarity played around the edges of his mind. Familiarity, mixed with aversion. Realizing he was still standing like a hunted animal with his back against the door, Frevven drew himself up to his somewhat less than medium height and glared at the girl sternly. She turned and disappeared through a door directly behind her desk, leaving Frevven and Kurt alone in the Center's empty reception area. Carried by a gust of wind, the freezing rain rattled loudly against the dark windows in the early evening silence.
"Hajene Aylmeer," Kurtiss said carefully, "I'll take your cape if you wish. And you can take off the retainers now."
Frevven replied distractedly, "Oh yes. Of course. Thank you." Relieved of the soggy cape, the channel sat down in a chair and pried uncertainly at the clamps along the seam of one retainer with shaking fingers.
"Here, let me do it," Kurt offered, deftly helping Frevven extricate himself from the awkward devices.
"I'm afraid I'm not used to wearing retainers," Frevven said, inspecting his mangled forearms in dismay.
"That's pretty obvious," Kurt remarked. "Don't worry, it's not so bad once you get the hang of it. Or so I'm told."
Beginning to feel less miserable, Frevven stretched his cramped handling tentacles gratefully. Maybe things weren't so bad after all.
The door behind the desk opened once again to admit the young woman Frevven had previously noticed, only now she carried a stack of fluffy towels over one arm. Behind her appeared another woman, this one Sime. She was older, and just the way she held herself let everyone know that she was someone in authority. No doubt about it, this has got to be my new Controller, he thought with foreboding, getting quickly to his feet as the two women crossed the room.
"So you're Frevven Aylmeer," the Sime woman remarked, looking at him thoughtfully.
Frevven flinched, wondering what she knew about him already. Well, she'd soon know more, he reflected unhappily, looking at the dispatch case that Kurt had left lying just inside the door. Along with all the letters and official notices, there was sure to be a copy of his own personal file meant for his Controller.
He watched uncomfortably as she bent to pick up the dispatch case and tucked it neatly under one arm. "My name is Shanneh Reish, and this," she continued, nodding towards the Gen girl who stood beside her "Is V'lissia Chalmers, but we usually call her V'lis or V'lissa."
Frevven nodded and tried to think of something to say to the young woman with the various names, but before he had a chance to open his mouth, the girl bustled over and thrust the towels at him and Kurt, smiling pleasantly and saying, "Here, you two, dry off. You look like a pair of drowned rats. Besides, you're dripping all over the new carpet."
Frevven took the proferred (sic RBW proffered) towel and dried his light brown hair, at the same time wondering how he was expected to stop dripping on the rug. Self-consciously, he took off his glasses and polished the moisture off the lenses, trying to ignore the disconcerting effect of seeing the world only through his very nearsighted eyes while at the same time being able to perceive everything quite clearly with his Sime senses. Without the glasses to bring the visual image into focus, his brain could not comfortably reconcile the violently conflicting information it received. He had been told this was because his eyes were extremely bad, while his sensitivity, on the other hand, was higher than average. Whatever the reason, all Frevven knew was that he felt dizzy and disconnected any time he was duoconscious and without his glasses.
Using his dorsal tentacles to settle the wire-framed lenses once more in front of his eyes, Frevven noticed the girl (What was her name again? Lissa? V'Rissa? Something that sounded like that,) looking at him from the corner of her eye. He dismissed her curiosity as innocent rather than insulting, figuring she'd probably just never seen a Sime wearing eyeglasses before. Meanwhile, Kurt was hopping around on one foot pulling off a sodden boot and filling the others in on the details of the long and stormy voyage out to Innsfrey.
"The wind was against us most of the way and it was really rough," he said enthusiastically. "I'd have liked to have been able to stay up on deck to watch the action and see how they handled the sails, but everyone was sent down below to the passenger cabin as soon as we got on board. Shanneh, the CORMORANT is one beautiful boat, much nicer than that old wreck that used to make the run out from Easthaven."
As Kurt went on eloquently praising the schooner that brought cargo and passengers to and from the mainland, Frevven sat down and began unlacing his wet shoes, thinking wryly back over his own somewhat different impressions of the voyage; the stuffy, dank cabin with its rows of uncomfortable wooden benches, the sickening lift-twist-and-drop as each wave threw the boat around; his absolute conviction that the already steeply-canted cabin would surely turn over completely each time a fresh gust of wind hit the straining sails; the loathesome (sic RBW loathsome) and unaccustomed retainers interfering with his senses and sending a stab of pain along his arms any time he moved carelessly; but worst of all, the other passengers, the cold-eyed, staring group of Gens who made a point of sitting as far as possible from the lone Sime and his escort. The ambient nager in that dismal cabin had been hostile enough to make Frevven's hair stand on end, even through the insulation afforded by his retainers. There were times when it just didn't pay to be too sensitive, and he had absolutely no desire to repeat that particular experience again soon, no matter how fine a boat Kurt thought the CORMORANT was.
As V'lissa began gathering up the wet towels and coats, Shanneh suggested that Kurt locate some dry clothes for Frevven, as his baggage would most likely not be delivered for several hours yet.
"And when you're changed, come down to my office and we'll talk. Oh, by the way," she added as she turned to go, "Welcome to Innsfrey."
Shortly thereafter, Frevven presented himself at the door of the Controller's office, trying not to seem as nervous as he always was when faced with a new assignment.
"Come in and have a seat," Shanneh invited, looking up from the stack of papers on her desk. She picked out the folder that Frevven recognized as his and tapped one tentacle significantly against the cover. "So tell me, what are you doing way out here?"
"Controller Jerriss told me I was to do a genealogical survey of the population of the Out-Islands," he replied carefully.
"That's not quite what I mean."
Frevven shrugged. "That's all I was told."
"Oh, great," Shanneh said in exasperation. "For the past year I've been requesting that someone who knows genetics be sent out here to investigate why our changeover rate seems to be steadily decreasing, and what do I get? A channel who's never been assigned out-Territory before in his life, and a disjunct channel at that. They might at least have sent me someone I could rely on."
Frevven stood up stiffly and turned away, trying to control the anger that he knew was all too obvious to the other channel. How many times must I go through this?
But when he turned back to face the older woman, the fire had gone out of his green-gold eyes. All that was left was desolation. "Controller Reish," he said formally, "you can send me back to Warrington if you wish. It is your prerogative."
To his surprise, the woman's exasperation faded. "No," she said gently, "No, I think not. I'm sorry. That was unfair of me. Just because I've never had to work with anyone like you before doesn't mean I should assume you can't do just as good a job as anyone else."
She was trying to be fair, but Frevven read doubt in her nager. Nevertheless, there were many who never so much as tried. He resumed his seat, nervously readjusting his glasses on the bridge of his nose as he did so. The Controller looked at him thoughtfully.
"You seem awfully young. I didn't think the Tecton would allow the training of disjunct channels anymore. Seems to me I've even heard they're about to pass a law against it."
Determined to remain calm and composed, Frevven said only, "They weren't exactly enthusiastic about me, but I convinced them." It was an incredible understatement, but it would have to do. "Besides, that was almost ten years ago," he added lamely.
"I see," Shanneh remarked when Frevven volunteered no further explanation. "Well, maybe you were just born into the wrong generation. There were a fair number of disjunct channels around when I was a child. But in those days right after Unity, the Tecton would take just about anything they could get. Things are different now."
Yes, now they can afford to be more particular, Frevven reflected bitterly, finishing the unspoken thought. But he said nothing.
"All right, let's see where I can fit you into our work schedules," Shanneh went on. "I don't suppose you know anything about boats, do you? No, I thought not. This Center's main function is as an emergency receiving station for children going through changeover, and we're responsible not only for Innsfrey Island itself but for the four other Out-Islands as well. That means a fair number of our pick-ups are made with the help of our boat, the MORNING STAR."
Shanneh went on to explain that the Center had only been established eight years before and cooperation from the local population had been slow in coming. Even now the mortality rate was close to 50%, predominantly because of the difficulty involved in reaching the more distant islands in time. Frevven listened as she read off a list of statistics covering the past few years, trying hard to ignore the gruesome reality they represented.
"And that's it," Shanneh concluded. "You can see how the number of changeovers we've been getting appears to be decreasing."
Looking over the sheet of paper she handed him, Frevven nodded in agreement. "Decreasing, yes. But not drastically. Maybe not even significantly. In a small population such as this, wide fluctuations from the norm are to be expected."
"Well, that's for you to determine. I've gotten permission from the local authorities for you to have access to the population records, but they won't allow anything to be removed from the Town Hall, so you're going to have to go over there in order to do your research."
Frevven winced at this piece of news. That meant working amidst out-Territory Gens. And wearing retainers. His left hand closed protectively over his right outer lateral, which seemed to have taken the worst punishment from his retainers during the voyage to Innsfrey.
Shanneh's quick eyes caught this gesture, and she asked doubtfully, "Do you think you can manage?"
"Of course," the channel replied, wishing he felt as confident as he was trying to appear.
"Then that's settled. Now, how much time will you require for your survey, and where can I fit you into our other work schedules?"
As Frevven left the Controller's office, he looked down ruefully at the packet of duty assignment sheets he held in his hand. For such a small Center, there certainly was a lot of work.
Finding that his baggage had arrived, he located his room and unpacked, quickly stowing his clothes in the small closet and chest of drawers. Glad that he had listened to advice and brought along some warm things after all, he pulled on a heavy sweater. Winter wasn't over as yet, and the high-ceilinged rooms were hard to heat. He went over to the window and stared out into the darkness. The wind had died, but the rain still fell in a steady, drenching downpour. He could just see the tops of several buildings beyond the high stone wall enclosing the Center's grounds. If he stood close to the damp glass and looked at an angle, he discovered that he could even get a glimpse of the ocean, disturbingly close. And out there, obscured by the curtain of rain, the small town snuggled in the protection of Innsfrey Harbor, following the curve of the beach.
But the thought of a cozy little village by the sea inspired no feeling of security in Frevven's heart. He was out-Territory again. The knowledge had been there all during the long days it had taken to reach Innsfrey, but it had never quite penetrated into his mind during that seemingly endless trip. He was out-Territory again. And the town was too much like the place where he had been raised. Although Chilton Lake had been isolated by mountains rather than an ocean, the feeling was much the same. In the slick black glass of the window, Frevven saw reflected the stern face of his father, Thomas Aylmeer, standing in front of the classroom, listening to one of his students recite. And the sad, delicate face of Jozanna, always more a mother than the older sister she really was. No! I will not remember this!
Closing his eyes, Frevven wiped the perspiration from his forehead with a shaking hand. When he opened his eyes again, there was only rain beating against the window pane. And the blurred images of houses. And the town.
When the sun rose the next morning, Frevven was in the process of rearranging the small office which had been set aside for him. He had just about finished when V'lissia came to the door and asked if he would care to join her for breakfast.
"I'm not quite done here," he replied coolly, trying to discourage her.
"Oh, that's all right. I'll wait."
She sat down on one corner of his desk and watched as he sorted stacks of forms and laid them out neatly in the drawers. Picking up a small framed portrait from the desk, the girl asked curiously, "Who's this? One of your relatives?"
I wish, Frevven thought. Retrieving the picture from V'Lis, he said, "That's Klyd Farris. A friend of mine painted it for me."
"Oh," she replied, looking closer. "Of course it is. How foolish of me. Did you know him?"
Utterly exasperated with her ignorance, he replied acidly, "No, how could I have known him? He disappeared when I was barely three years old. Didn't you ever study history?"
She laughed. "Well, you don't have to bite my head off over some old-time Sectuib. You're as touchy on the subject as my cousin, but then he's ambrov Zeor." Glancing down at the ring on Frevven's hand which showed only the Tecton crest, she continued, "And you're not."
Frevven wanted nothing more at that moment than to pick the girl up bodily and throw her out of his office. Then he realized that there was no possible way for her to know how very much he wished he were entitled to wear the Zeor crest on his ring. She couldn't know how he hated himself for not being good enough. She had probably only sought him out in the first place in an effort to make a new arrival feel welcome. Returning Klyd's picture to its place on the desktop, he stood up and tried to look pleasant. "Come on. Let's have some breakfast," he offered.
V'lis got cheerfully to her feet, her dark eyes almost level with Frevven's, much to his annoyance. He thought wistfully that if he were just a little bit taller it would be a lot easier to look disdainfully down his nose at her. Again he noticed that feeling of deja-vu, as if he'd looked into those same eyes often before. And not liked it very much. This is getting ridiculous, he fretted to himself as they walked along the hall. No more of these idiotic fancies.
Between bites of toast, V'lis informed the channel that she had been assigned to accompany him on his visits to Town Hall and to help out in any way she could.
Trying not to appear disappointed, he asked, "How come you? I thought maybe Kurt would be going with me."
"Oh, he's too busy with the MORNING STAR these days. It's about time for her spring fitting-out, and he's the one in charge. Besides; he's the First Mate and probably the best sailor we've got, so Shanneh wouldn't want him sitting around Town Hall shuffling papers. Me, on the other hand, she can spare for a while. When would you like to get started?"
Mentally reviewing his schedule, Frevven suggested, "How about tomorrow afternoon?" I'd like to kind of find my way around the Center today and maybe locate a book that would give me some background on Innsfrey first. Oh, that reminds me, I'm supposed to be 'on watch' pretty soon. What's that?"
She made a face, "Come on, I'll show you the spiral staircase up to the tower. Mostly you just sit and watch for distress signals. We all take turns. You won't like it; it's boring."
After four hours of staring at nothing but the silhouettes of the other islands and squinting his stinging eyes against the glare of the sun, Frevven decided he agreed with V'lis on at least one point. It was boring. Very boring.
The Innsfrey Town Hall was only a short walk from the Center, but to the uncomfortable little channel the distance seemed to get longer every day. He hated the way everyone stared at him as he went down the street with V'lis. One day he took Kurt's advise to 'Look arrogant and stare right back' and that helped a bit. But each morning he dreaded the moment when he had to leave the Center.
The town officials offered him their grudging cooperation, even providing a small room where he and V'lis could work undisturbed, much to Frevven's relief. But it was difficult to get used to hearing English spoken again after so many years in-Territory. After a couple of hours of reading through piles of birth certificates, he would even find himself thinking in English and this displeased him immensely.
Deciphering the handwriting on many of the documents was a challenge in itself, and Frevven found he was grateful for both V'lissia's assistance and her keen eyes. They painstakingly transcribed information from the family records onto Frevven's survey sheets. Back at the Center, V'liss' ren-Sime friend Anieva would help to recopy the scribbled entries onto the master data sheets. Eventually Frevven hoped to be able to use the final copies to compare and collate what they had found. It was a long and tedious process, but it was the only way to collect the statistics necessary for him to come to any conclussions. (sic RBW conclusions.) Although it was still too early to be sure, nothing in the records thus far seemed unusual or out of the ordinary. He had half-expected to find some trace of a family which produced a disproportionately large number of Gens, perhaps a family which had grown rapidly over the last generation and was only now having a noticeable effect on the population statistics. But that hadn't happened. Everything seemed within normal limits. As the days turned into weeks and he found no simple answers, he resigned himself to the idea that this assignment was not going to be as easy as he had at first hoped.
When the time for his transfer drew near, Frevven found it more and more intolerable to work at Town Hall. Quite often now Kurt would be around when he returned to the Center. The young man would usually manage to get rid of V'lis graciously and then spend some time trying to soothe the channel's increasingly more ragged nerves. Frevven found himself wishing that Kurt had been assigned as his Donor this month, rather than Shanneh's. But neither he nor V'lis were in phase with Frevven, so the District Controller at Easthaven would send someone out to Innsfrey at the proper time, someone Frevven knew as nothing other than a name on a sheet of paper.
Shanneh had already suggested tactfully that he might like to postpone his research for a while and concentrate on sorting out the information he had already collected. "Soon," he'd promised her. "Very soon."
One late afternoon as they were leaving the Town Hall, V'lis pointed out that as the main street was unusually crowded with people, perhaps they might be better off going around the block and taking a quieter route. Frevven agreed. All he really wanted to do was get back to the Center and get out of his retainers, and he didn't feel up to mingling with a mob of Gens on the way. He followed V'lis down a narrow alley and along a deserted cobblestone street. As they passed an open window at the rear of what looked to Frevven like a rather large and ornate building, they heard a chorus of voices singing, backed by the majestic tones of a pipe organ. Half-listening, Frevven hummed the tune. It was familiar and his lips shaped the words softly, almost without effort, Then he froze in his tracks, abruptly realizing what he was singing.
"Frevven, what is it? What's wrong?" V'lis asked anxiously, taking his arm and starting up in alarm at the vacant look in his eyes.
Lost in his memories, the channel didn't answer at once. When he spoke, it was from a great distance. "I know that song. I used to sing it as a child. My sister played that hymn for me on the piano at home. One Sunday we even sang it as a duet in church. Jozanna enjoyed it so. We would . . ."
"Frevven, stop it," V'lis said, trying to break into his train of thought. "This is just the back of the church. They're holding choir practice. You're all right. You're here, not back home. Listen, they're not even singing the same thing anymore."
And indeed they weren't. This was a different tune and the words were unfamiliar to him. His eyes focused with an effort on the girl's face. "Let's get out of here," he said brokenly.
After that, Frevven decided the Controller was right. Further visits to Town Hall could wait for a while.
The Donor sent from Easthaven turned out to be a reasonably competent woman, much to Frevven's relief. The transfer was pleasantly routine, almost boring, but he didn't mind that too much. There was always something missing, and probably always would be; he was used to that. This time was no worse than many, and better than some.
The following day dawned unseasonably mild, and Frevven ventured out the back door of the Center into the early spring sunshine. Eyes squinted against the glare, he pulled the brim of the cap he had borrowed from Kurt down further on his forehead. Yes, that helped somewhat. He'd have to get a hat like this. Except for his forays over to the Town Hall, the channel had stayed mostly indoors since he'd arrived. Now he stepped cautiously onto the wooden planking of the long pier which ran far out over the beach and on into the deeper water, widening into a T at the end where the MORNING STAR was berthed. He went over to one side of the walkway and leaned against the railing, measuring the distance down to the damp sand below. From this angle he could see the signs posted at intervals along the side of the pier bearing the Sime warning symbol. Anieva had explained with amusement that the pier was considered to be part of the Center by the local authorities, but it was only allowed to be used as an accessway to the boat, so they had forbidden any ladders or stairs to the beach below. "It doesn't really make much sense, as any Sime could jump down from the pier fairly easily," she had explained, "but they seem to like it that way. There's a door from the garden leading out to the beach, but we hardly ever use it."
Looking back towards the Center, Frevven saw Shanneh emerge from the shadow of the door and walk out the pier in his direction. Every so often, she would stoop down and look at a section of planking, jotting down notes in a book she carried. Frevven watched in silence as she stopped just a few yards away from him and dug the tip of a small knife experimentally into the wooden walkway.
"Well, that makes seven rotten planks so far, and I'm barely even out over the water yet," she said as she straightened up. "Good morning, Frevven. Lovely day, isn't it? Too bad this warm weather won't last."
She came over and leaned against the railing, looking out across the sun-sparkled bay. "How's it going? Ready to go back to the Town Hall again?"
"I suppose so," he replied reluctantly. "Thank goodness there isn't too much more I have to do there."
"You mean you're almost finished?"
He nodded. "Yes. Then all I'll have left to do is sort through the information. I've got and try to make some sense of it."
"Any ideas yet?"
He shrugged. "Not really. The only abnormality I've noticed is a somewhat higher than usual death rate among the children. And the death certificates don't go into much detail in many of the cases. I mean, 'natural causes', or 'drowned, body never recovered' doesn't really tell me much. Do many children drown around here? I'd have thought they would have learned to be more careful, growing up so close to the water and all."
"That's true," she replied. "But then, lots of kids go to work on the fishing boats while they're still quite young, and there are a number of accidents and people lost overboard every year. Perhaps that would account for it?"
"Perhaps," Frevven said doubtfully.
"But you don't think so, eh?"
"At this point, I'm not sure what to think."
"Why? What else is wrong?"
"Nothing definite," he replied reluctantly. "Just a feeling I've got. Have you noticed that most of our general class Donors are very ill at ease? Almost as if they're afraid of something?"
"Afraid?" she queried. "Of you, perhaps?"
"No," he answered, too quickly. Then he admitted, "That had occured (sic RBW occurred) to me. But it's not that it isn't even that they're afraid of Simes. It's something else, but I can't tell just what. Haven't you felt it?"
"No, I can't say as I have. You sure you're not imagining things?"
Frevven sighed. He had expected this reaction. "Maybe I am," he answered. "After all, you've been here longer than I have. You certainly ought to know." Readjusting his glasses on his nose, he decided he would do well to change the subject. Shanneh obviously didn't believe him. "What's going on aboard the MORNING STAR?" he inquired. "There seems to be a mob of people out there this morning."
"Oh, just getting things cleaned up and sorted out after the winter. You haven't been out to the boat since you've been here, have you? Come on, I'll show you what she looks like up close."
They walked out to the end of the pier and stood gazing at the trim little cutter. Shanneh pointed out various interesting details and rattled off information regarding length, breadth, draft, and sail area, while Frevven simply looked at the incomprehensible maze of rigging and wondered how anyone could possibly figure out how it all worked. After the miserable experience he had had sailing to Innsfrey in the first place, he was none too anxious to go out on another sailboat, and a considerably smaller one at that. Having grown up by a lake, he had no particular fear of the water. He had learned to swim as a child and had often played around in an old rowboat, but Chilton Lake wasn't large enough for sailboats. And there was a most definite difference between the tiny, mountain-bordered lake and the unbounded and forever restless expanse of ocean confronting him here.
Several nights later, Frevven had almost forgotten his misgivings over the MORNING STAR when he woke up abruptly and found that the raucous clamor of the alarm bell was not after all a part of the nightmare he had been having. Jumping quickly off the bed and reaching for his glasses, he pulled on some clothes and was halfway down the stairs before it dawned on him that this was for real, and he might be about to go out on his first rescue mission.
The downstairs hall was crowded with people, but Frevven's eyes sought out Shanneh. She stood at the foot of the spiral stairway to the look-out tower, in tense conversation with Anieva, who had apparently just stopped ringing the alarm. Several Simes stood by the back door, watching Shanneh and awaiting her orders. Kurt was with them, hurriedly pulling on his heavy coat.
Shanneh turned from Anieva toward the group by the door. "Arendell Island," she said grimly. "Get the boat ready. I'll be right there."
The Simes took off through the door and out the long pier, almost literally dragging Kurt along with them. Shanneh stepped up on the first step of the stairway and looked over the heads of the surrounding crowd. Making a come-along gesture with one tentacle, she said, "Frevven, I want you to see how this works." Then she turned and disappeared out the door. Frevven stood a moment in shocked hesitation as the crowd parted in front of him. Then he ran for the door. By the time he reached the MORNING STAR, the jib was already set and the boat was beginning to move forward in the brisk wind.
From her place next to Kurt at the wheel, Shanneh looked up at Frevven and ordered, "On board! NOW!!" So he jumped, clearing the steadily-widening gap between boat and pier by inches and grabbing wildly for the shrouds. When he could breathe again, the channel moved over beside Shanneh, trying to find a place where he wouldn't be in anyone's way. The incomprehensible orders and the resulting scurry of the crew around the deck served only to confuse him and make him feel more of an outsider than he already was.
When all the sails were set and adjusted to Shanneh's satisfaction and the little cutter was dancing nimbly along toward the beacon on Sandy Point, Shanneh turned and smiled briefly. "The wind is with us tonight, but Arendell is the most distant of all the islands. We might make it in time if the signal was sent soon enough."
As a wave unexpectedly smacked into the bow, and Frevven felt his feet slipping on the wet deck, he grabbed for the lifelines running around the boat. Hanging on for dear life with fingers and tentacles, it suddenly occured (sic RBW occurred) to him that they were all outside the Center and no one was wearing retainers. He asked Shanneh if this wasn't illegal. Looking up at the flag on the masthead which indicated the angle of the wind, she quietly told Kurt to steer a point more to leeward before she answered the question.
"We can't leave the boat without retainers, but they allow it on board. After all, we have to get where we're going as fast as possible. All the rigging is arranged for use by Simes, and not Simes half-crippled by retainers. If it weren't, we would still be back at the dock hoisting sail."
Frevven supposed that made sense, but he was surprised that the Gens had been willing to allow even that much of a compromise. Then he forgot to worry about it any longer as the MORNING STAR rounded Sandy Point and encountered the first real ocean waves Frevven had ever seen. He braced one foot against the binnacle and held on even tighter as the boat heeled over more steeply. Just as he was getting used to this state of affairs, Shanneh yelled, "Stand by to come about!"
Amidst more scurrying and shouted orders, the boat slewed rapidly around and headed off on the other tack. Feeling the deck tilt suddenly in the opposite direction, Frevven wrapped himself around the boom crutch, looking up just in time to see Shanneh and Kurt duck their heads. Wondering what was going on, he looked around in puzzlement, and found himself hit smack in the face with a heavy burst of spray that had just come over the bow. Grabbing hastily for his half-dislodged glasses, he let go his grip on the boom crutch and went slipping across the deck, fetching up abruptly against the leeward rail. So much for Sime grace and agility, he reflected in embarrassment as he hauled himself gingerly back to his place beside Shanneh. Next time he would remember to keep a firm grip on something solid with at least one hand at all times. But he didn't feel the slightest bit sick, despite the wild ride. In fact, he was beginning to enjoy the excitement of plunging through the darkness, with the palely-luminescent spray flying alongside. As he pushed his wind-shipped hair back from his face, the channel decided he just might like to learn something about sailboats after all.
No sooner had the MORNING STAR come to a stop than Shanneh and Kurt were up on the pier conferring with one of the local policemen, who had been waiting there. Frevven was still getting into his retainers, but he scrambled up the wooden ladder in time to hear most of the conversation as they hurried towards the town.
"I'm afraid this may be a wasted trip. The kid was in pretty bad shape when they brought him in. Seems his mother attacked him with a kitchen knife when she realized he was in changeover. He was barely conscious when we got him, so I wouldn't be too hopeful."
They had reached the police station by now and Shanneh was already waiting impatiently for the man to unlock the door to the steps leading down to the basement. As she and Kurt hurried down, Frevven followed hesitantly. The policeman tossed them the keys to the cell and said as he closed the upstairs door, "His name's Jeffrey Lorell. Good luck!"
Shanneh was rapidly stripping off her retainers while Kurt unlocked the heavily-barred door. But Frevven's shocked attention had already focused on a crumpled figure in the far corner of the cell. As Shanneh moved towards him, the boy unexpectedly pulled himself up and screamed hysterically for her to go away and leave him alone. She stopped where she was, seeing the blood soaking through his shirt afresh as a result of his struggles, and tried to speak to him and calm him down. But her efforts were useless.
Frevven leaned wretchedly against the barred door, trying to make some sense of the situation. The insane terror and loathing was painfully clear to him, even through the insulation of his retainers. It was a feeling he knew all too well. Too many memories rose to his mind and he struggled to shut them away. "Shanneh," he managed to say, "he's not going to let you near him because you're Sime. Let Kurt try."
Shanneh looked around in surprise. "What are you talking about? No child in changeover could possibly object to help from a channel."
"This one does."
"Ridiculous," she replied, turning her attention once more to the boy, whose fear blazed up again and knifed through Frevven's brain unenduringly.
Frevven took two quick steps closer to the source of that fear, grabbed his Controller's shoulder roughly and flung her back against the bars.
""Shidoni," he swore through clenched teeth, "I know what I'm talking about. Do as I say!"
Utterly astonished, Shanneh gestured Kurt over to the boy. Jeff quieted down immediately and let the Gen examine him. Kurt pulled off his scarf and made a crude pressure bandage, trying to prevent the boy from losing more blood. He examined Jeff carefully and then looked up anxiously at the two channels.
"I think he'll be coming up on breakout pretty soon. Frevven may be right. Let me take care of him. He'll be in better condition afterwards and we can surely manage to stop the bleeding then."
Shanneh nodded briefly. "Call me when you want me," she said. Then, to Frevven, she added, "Let's go sit on the stairs. Maybe if we're further away Jeff will be less afraid. I've never seen this happen before. Why is he so scared of me? Doesn't he realize what's happening?"
Sitting down heavily on the stone steps, Frevven thought about this. "He knows, but he doesn't want to know," he said at last. "He's afraid, afraid of something worse than death."
"Shanneh," Frevven went on hesitantly when the other channel didn't reply, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have . . . I mean, I had no right . . ."
The woman looked at him wearily, and Frevven realized what he should have known all along. She was only a few days from need. And Kurt was to have been her Donor this month. It couldn't have been easy to turn him over to Jeff.
Shanneh smiled reassuringly. "You had every right. You saw what the boy feared. I didn't. Forget it."
"Oh, and by the way," she added, "you can take off your retainers while we're down here. It's allowed."
"I don't think I really want to." He nodded his head toward the two figures in the far corner. "This is bad enough as it is."
After that, they sat in miserable silence, all too aware of what was happening in the nearby cell but unable to offer any assistance.
"Shanneh, now," Kurt's voice, barely above a whisper, cut through the gloom. Instantly, the two channels were on their feet, Frevven following Shanneh once again into the barred cell.
Kurt was holding Jeff gently, the boy's new tentacles still wrapped around the Gen's arms. Shanneh went over to the half-conscious child and gently slid his hands onto her arms, carefully making lateral contact with him. She said softly, "Now, Jeff, I'll show you how to stop the bleeding and we'll take care of you. But you've got to help me. That's right, just like that." And for a few seconds the boy cooperated perfectly. Kurt breathed a sigh of relief. But as soon as Jeff revived enough to realize what was happening, his eyes opened wide in terror and he began to struggle again, violently breaking contact with Shanneh and pulling away even from the surprised Kurt. Shanneh stumbled back against Frevven, dazed, while Jeff pushed himself over against the wall, insisting everyone stay away from him. He pulled a silver medallion out from under his shirt and broke the thin chain holding it around his neck with a savage jerk. Then he lifted the strange talisman up in front of him, as if to ward off evil. Kurt tried tentatively to approach the boy, but Jeff just shrank further away. Then his eyes focused on his own hand, one tentacle entwined in the chain of the amulet he was holding up in front of him.
"Oh no, no, no!" he shrieked miserably and flung the medallion at the two Simes. His eyes turned wild, and he began raving that there was no hope for him now, he was damned forever. Then he turned to Kurt, screaming insanely, "It's all your fault! You should have let me die!" And he launched himself at the astonished Gen, fingers and tentacles closing and tightening around Kurt's throat. Frevven was on top of the boy immediately, forcing him to relax his grip and prying him off Kurt. Jeff struggled fiercely with the channel for a few seconds, but then he went limp. Horrified, Frevven felt the tenuous thread of life unravel and snap inside the child, and he was suddenly conscious of the boy's blood soaking stickily through his own shirt. "He's dead," he heard himself say calmly.
Kurt staggered to his feet, bruises already showing on his neck. Frevven stood motionless, staring at nothing. He wanted desperately to cry, scream, curse, anything. But he didn't dare. If he let himself feel anything right now he knew he would fall apart completely. Later. Cry later. Just hold on for now.
"Let me take him," Kurt said gently. "You see how Shanneh is doing."
Frevven relinquished Jeff's body to Kurt. He watched as the Gen laid the boy on a rough cot along one wall and wrapped him tenderly in a ragged blanket. Then, composing himself with an effort, he went over to Shanneh. She was still somewhat dazed, but there seemed no serious damage.
"There's nothing we can do here anymore. We may as well go back to the boat." Kurt suggested.
"What about Jeff?"
"That's for the local authorities to decide. If his parents won't claim his body, he'll be sent to Innsfrey later for burial."
As they were leaving, Frevven's eye fell on the little silver charm Jeff had hurled at them. He picked it up and stored it in a pocket for future consideration.
It was a wretched sail back to Innsfrey. Shanneh stayed below for most of the trip. Frevven kept hearing the boy's last words over and over again in his mind, "You should have let me die!" As he stood next to Kurt at the wheel and stared out over the cold, black ocean, it seemed somehow more ominous and menacing that night than it ever had before.
Everyone spent the following day in varying degrees of shock. Although there was much speculation over the circumstances of Jeff's death, no one could come up with any good reasons for what had virtually been suicide. Frevven stared for hours on end at the medallion he had brought back, certain that it held the answer to his questions. The symbol it bore resembled a somewhat lop-side cross, or perhaps a crooked letter "K" leaning slightly forward, the whole thing enclosed in a circle. No one he asked could recall seeing anything like it before.
Word came from Arendell Island that Jeff's parents had refused to recognize him as their son, and the body would be sent over to Innsfrey as soon as possible. This did nothing to lighten the dreary mood which had settled over the Center.
The following afternoon as Frevven came down from his room he noticed Anieva waiting by the front door. "What's going on?" he inquired of the Sime girl. "Are we expecting company?"
"Yes, Hajene Aylmeer. V'lis went down to the dock to meet her cousin and they should be back any minute. She just got word this afternoon that he would be on the CORMORANT today. He's been assigned as Shanneh's Donor this month, since Kurt won't be able to do it now." She smiled apologetically. "I guess I'm kind of excited about it. We don't see too many new people here, and V'lissa has told me so much about him."
"That's nice. Well, I hope he lives up to your expectations. I'll be in my office if anyone wants me."
And he had gotten just about as far as his office door when V'lissa and her cousin arrived.
The front door swung open, and V'lis, face flushed with excitement, burst out, "Anieva, we're here!" Then, more formally, she continued, "Anieva Chariton, this is my cousin, Schalchiachaynechtym Vorlek."
Frevven stopped in mid-stride, his back towards the new arrivals, and his mind unwilling to accept the information his senses had just registered.
V'lis turned to the man by her side and asked hopefully, "Did I pronounce your name right this time?"
"Well, almost," he conceded with a grimace. "Make it just Chaynek, please."
"O.K., Chaynek it is," Anieva responded. As they walked down the hall, she queried curiously, "Where did you get such an impossible name in the first place, if I may be so bold as to ask?"
Frowning in mock puzzlement, he replied, "I'm sure I don't know. Must have been my parents' idea of a joke. Wonderful people, but they never did have much of a sense of humor."
The Sime girl laughed, but V'lis only smiled, as if she were as familiar with that line as Frevven was.
"Seriously," Chaynek went on, feigning a severe look while his nager remained painfully cheerful, "it's a combination of two old family names. Although what I did to get saddled with both of them at the same time, I really can't imagine. Something quite awful, I suppose."
"Oh, surely not so very awful," Anieva said in pretended commiseration.
As the others proceeded down the hall towards him, Frevven was forced to admit the reality of what was happening. But as he turned around for the unavoidable meeting with Chaynek, a terror-stricken voice in his head begged softly, "Not him. Oh, please, no, not him!"
Although he fought desperately to push them away, a flood of disconnected images swamped Frevven's mind. Images of blackness, pain, insanity; of the burning desire he dared no longer even admit, much less satisfy; of the long, long struggle against himself, and the even longer struggle against others. And despite his best efforts, somewhere always Chaynek, never satisfied, never truly expecting anything but failure. He could still hear that inexorable voice as it insisted calmly, "No, Frevven. You've got to do better than that." Always judged, and found wanting. Oh, no, not him!
Frevven pushed the hateful images resolutely back into a far corner of his mind and locked a door on them. He realized now why V'lis had seemed so disturbingly familiar all along. If Chaynek were twenty years younger and a woman, it was quite easy to imagine that he would look exactly like his cousin. The same soft brown eyes, the same unruly hair, the same face. And, he belatedly realized as the two Gens approached, not only did she look like Chaynek, she even felt like him. No wonder he was never comfortable in her presence. He should have known what it was long before now.
V'lis led the little group over towards the dismayed channel, exclaiming obliviously, "Oh, Frevven, you must meet my cousin Chaynek!"
Frevven tried to pull himself together before Anieva could notice how shocked he was. He attempted to smile, with a noticeable lack of success.
"We have . . ." Frevven replied with effort, "met."
Chaynek regarded the channel steadily, making no move toward him. "Yes, we have indeed met. However, I was not sure if you would choose to remember, Hajene Aylmeer."
"I remember," Frevven said cautiously. But, oh, how I wish I didn't! He managed to sound relatively composed as he continued, "I was not aware you were V'lissia's cousin, Schalchiachaynechtym." The correct pronounciation (sic RBW pronunciation) of Chaynek's full name came easily to Frevven's lips, causing V'lis to look at him in surprise. "I hope you enjoy your stay. And now, if you will excuse me, I have work to do."
But as he retreated into his office, he knew he wasn't fooling anyone, least of all Chaynek.
Even the presence of a newcomer from the mainland couldn't dispel the melancholy atmosphere at the Center for long, especially when a wooden coffin was delivered later that same evening by a group of unsmiling and official-looking Gens. Frevven watched glumly as Shanneh signed the necessary forms and had the coffin placed on a table in the library, awaiting burial in the morning.
That night was even more endlessly dreary than the preceding day, and it was almost with relief that everyone gathered downstairs in the dim light of early dawn. The sun rose golden and bright, in seeming mockery of the somber funeral party.
The streets of Innsfrey were completely deserted as the funeral procession made its way through town towards the section of the cemetery that had been set aside for Simes. As they walked through the old gravestones near the main entrance, Frevven's eyes swept over the cracked and moss-covered stones. He tried to take an interest in his surroundings; names, dates, verses, statues, bunches of flowers, anything to keep from thinking about how terrible he felt. The grief in the collective nager of the small funeral party was overwhelming. V'lis, walking sedately next to him, was making a reasonably successful effort to control her emotions and shield Frevven from the feelings of the others. That helped somewhat. Chaynek was up ahead with Shanneh, whose normally cheerful face was drawn and pale with strain. Frevven knew she felt responsible for their failure to save Jeff, despite the fact that there was little more she could have done. It was with great relief that he walked under the archway marking the Sime section of the cemetery and took his place alongside the open grave.
After Shanneh recited the brief funeral service, they all stood for a moment in silence. Then Anieva leaned forward and gently let a handful of dirt fall on the plain wooden casket in its lonely grave among strangers. Her eyes glistening with tears, she began to sing a slow and mournful song. V'lis slipped her arm around her friend's waist and joined her voice to Anieva's. Frevven recognized it as an old mourning song dating back to the Householdings before Unity and simply entitled "Death Count". The song told of grief for a very dear relative or friend, and it seemed out of place at the burial of a stranger. The haunting melody reminded him of other funerals he had attended. Tomithy Marston's widow had sung that same song, but her voice had broken uncontrollably on the final refrain, "I'll count the days of your death as once you counted the days of your life / This is the first day of your Death Count, and the worst day of the rest of my life". Frevven knew he wouldn't ever forget the look on her face as she had stood weeping by the grave. Nor would he forget that she hadn't ever blamed him for her young husband's death.
Pulling himself out of his reverie, Frevven looked around the little group of mourners. Apparently the song had stirred memories in other hearts than his own also. He realized that the tears on their cheeks were not solely meant for Jeffrey, but for other people, other times, and other losses.
When they had finished singing, V'lis gently led Anieva away, leaving Frevven standing alone by the grave as the dirt began to fall on the coffin. For an instant, he was angry at her thoughtlessness and considered calling her back. After all, she was supposed to be his escort. He leaned sickly against a nearby gravestone, trying to adjust to the sudden absence of her comforting nager. Then he noticed Chaynek watching him and knew the Gen was about to come to his assistance. Frevven drew himself up straight and squared his narrow shoulders. Glaring at Chaynek and shaking his head slightly, he turned away and started toward the cemetery gate alone. Before he'd gone a dozen paces, V'lissa came hurrying back, shamefacedly mumbling an apology. Frevven said nothing, but he was very glad she was once again by his side.
After finishing his shift in the collectorium the following morning, Frevven prepared to make another visit to Town Hall. He was in reasonably good spirits, as this phase of his research was just about completed and further trips to the official archives might not be necessary if he could wrap everything up today. Discovering that V'lis was not waiting in his office as usual but was instead across the hall in the library, he went to get her.
The library door was ajar and Frevven could just see the end of a brightly-glowing log in the fireplace. He pushed the door open and walked cheerfully into the room "V'lis, are you just about ready to . . ." Shock. Fear. Confusion. Taken entirely by surprise by this onslaught of emotions, the channel staggered backwards against the wall. What on earth?
V'lissa sprang up from the table, at the same time bringing her feelings under control. "Oh, Frevven, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that. You startled me, coming in all of a sudden while I was reading." she apologized, hastily gathering together a scattered array of books and magazines.
"You call that startled? Good heavens, girl, if that's the case, I sure wouldn't like to be around when you're really scared," he replied, still shaken. Wondering why she still seemed nervous, he walked over to the table. "What are you reading that's so interesting, anyway?"
"Oh, nothing, really. Just a few books and things," she mumbled, frantically trying to pick up the entire stack of publications in her arms.
But she was already too late. Frevven had read enough of the titles to recognize what she was up to. "Just a few books and things?" he asked coldly, taking them away from her and setting them back down on the table.
"How dare you?" he said fiercely, glaring at the frightened girl with hatred in his eyes.
"But, Frevven, I only . . ." she stammered, backing away from the furious channel towards the open fireplace behind her.
Shaking one of the magazines under her nose, he demanded, "Where did you get this?"
"I brought it to her," a very quiet, very carefully neutral, and hatefully familiar voice replied.
Frevven turned to see Chaynek standing in the doorway. Totally wrapped up in his own anger, he had failed to notice the Gen's approach. "Truly, Frevven," Chaynek went on calmly, "if you back my cousin much further into the fireplace, her skirt will catch fire. Regardless of how annoyed you are, I hardly think you would enjoy that."
The channel turned away from V'lis and stalked over to the table. "Look at this," he fumed, opening one of the volumes to the place bookmarked and thrusting it before the other man's face.
" 'Some Considerations Regarding the Training of Disjunct Channels: A Case in Point' by Sylvik Blaney," Chaynek read. "So?"
"Shen and shid, Chaynek, you know that's about me!" He snapped the book closed and dropped it scornfully back onto the table. "And you know I eventually proved him wrong. He claimed I'd never make First Order, and I did. And look at this one," he continued irately, opening a magazine. "There's another article about me in this technical journal. Do you expect me to believe that V'lissia can understand this sort of thing? Why, I'll bet she doesn't even know what she's reading."
"V'lissa?" Chaynek asked questioningly.
"I . . . I understand some of it," she replied hesitantly. "Not all, but some."
"She has no right reading up on me like this," Frevven fumed. "It's none of her business."
"On the contrary, Frevven," Chaynek replied. "V'lissa is your Donor this month. That makes you her business, and she's entitled to read anything that isn't confidential. All these books are readily available from the Center Library at Danversport. She had a request in for them, so I brought them along with me when I came. She's entirely within her
She was, and Frevven knew it. But this did nothing to mollify him.
"I don't want her looking up my background. It isn't necessary. If she has any questions, she can ask me."
"And I suppose you'll tell her?" Chaynek smiled ironically. "My dear Frevven, you don't even like to admit to your own past, much less describe it to someone else. And I still maintain that you'll never really be any good at anything unless you can stop hiding from yourself."
"Since when is it up to you to give me advice?" Frevven asked caustically.
"I helped make you what you are. That gives me a certain responsibility for the results, wouldn't you say?"
"You? You never wanted to see me trained in the first place."
"Frevven, you know perfectly well that I wasn't the only one. The limits of a disjunct channel are in general much lower than those of a non-junct channel. That's a matter of fact. Just because you didn't always test out according to the equations . . ."
Frevven slammed his hand down on the table in exasperation. "Shenoni, Chaynek, what would I have to do to convince you that I'm as good as anyone else?"
"Well, for one thing," the Gen replied in an annoyingly calm voice, "stop acting like a raging maniac just because V'lis wanted to find out more about you."
"All right," Frevven said, coldly furious now, "And what would the curious little girl like to know first?" He turned towards V'lis, who hadn't moved from her spot by the fireplace. "I was raised out-Territory by a father who was a strict adherent to the Church of the Purity. Who or what my mother was, I have no idea. My father never spoke to us about the past, and I was never able to find any trace of my family's background, even when I later tried to investigate. At the age of fifteen, I went through changeover and killed my sister Jozanna." The words came harder and harder as he went on, but Frevven continued despite the choking sensation in his throat. "When I finally managed to reach the nearest Sime Center, I killed the Donor who first tried to help me, a young TN-3 by the name of Tomithy Marston. After that, I managed to survive disjunction. I even persuaded the Tecton to train me as a channel, no thanks to your precious cousin Chaynek and others like him." He whirled around to face Chaynek. "You never believed I could do it, never liked it when I did, and still don't trust me."
"Truly, is it my doubt you so much hate, my dear Frevven? Or your own?" Chaynek responded carefully.
This was entirely too much for the irate channel. "Ayendi D'huvish!" he spat at Chaynek, combining the epithet with an abrupt one-handed gesture using both fingers and tentacles.
"That is uncalled for," Chaynek said icily. "It is also most discourteous, especially in front of V'lissa."
For a long moment, Frevven stood looking up into the other man's eyes, torn between anger and embarrassment. Once again, Chaynek had managed to goad him into losing his temper. He wasn't sure if he was more annoyed with Chaynek, or with himself. He walked to the other end of the room and stood looking out the window. From the corner of his eye, he saw V'lis move cautiously over to her cousin. "What did he call you?" she whispered softly, but not so softly that Frevven couldn't hear. "I can guess at the meaning of the ---" and she tried vainly to imitate the gesture Frevven had used, at which point Chaynek smiled and said quietly, "Don't. It's impossible without tentacles anyway. The insult he used is an archaic expression vaguely similar to the English term 'son-of-a-bitch', except that it's a bit more inclusive. He just expressed the opinion that all my female relatives, ancestors, and descendants are, were, and will be, nothing better than pen-bred females suitable for use only as breeding stock."
"Oh," V'lis replied simply, but Frevven felt her indignation flare as she realized that as one of Chaynek's female relatives, she had just been insulted also.
By now totally disgusted with himself, Frevven started across the room towards the door. Halfway there, he changed his mind. No. This time he wouldn't run away. Turning to face the two Gens, he said wretchedly, "Schlalchtachaynechtym, I must apologize for losing my temper. You are right; my behavior was deplorable and my language discourteous." Pushing his glasses back up against the bridge of his nose with one dorsal tentacle, he chose a thin volume from V'lissa's controversial stack of books. Holding it out to the girl, he said politely, "If you must read about me, I would recommend this one. It's Chaynek's official report, and" he glanced up defiantly at the other man before he went on, "probably the best of the lot."
Frevven allowed himself several moments to savor Chaynek's utter and complete astonishment before he left the library and crossed the hall to take refuge in his office. Once he was safely behind his desk, he collapsed into the chair, carefully took off his glasses, buried his face in his hands, and cried.
It wasn't until the next day that Frevven got over to the Town Hall to finish his survey. Late that afternoon, he pulled on a jacket and walked far out on the pier, seeking a quiet spot to sit and ponder over his still incomprehensible statistics. He watched as the sun sank slowly towards the distant smudge on the horizon which was all that could be seen of the mainland. There was no wind, no waves bigger than ripples. The tide was low and the wet sand glistened in the dying light. It was as if the world had paused briefly in order to watch the brilliant sunset.
As the clouds faded from red and orange into blue and black, he got up and began walking back to the Center, figuring on a bit of supper before he went on watch. Out of the corner of one eye, Frevven caught a glimpse of a small figure moving erratically along the beach. It was hard to see in the dying light, but it might be a child darting warily from shadow to shadow. The channel stood motionless and watched the approaching figure.
Yes, it was positively a child, and he seemed to be afraid of being followed, judging by his actions. Changeover? But with the stranger almost underneath him now, Frevven should have been able to feel some indication of that. Instead all he saw was a dim shape disappearing into the darkness below the pier. Now why would an ordinary child be hiding outside the Center?
Frevven stretched out full length at the edge of the wooden walkway and leaned under the railing as far as he could, trying to locate the small stranger. The child moved warily out of the shadow of a piling, staring up at the Sime above him. "Please," he pleaded, "I've got to talk to you. How can I get up there?"
Frevven pointed to the stone steps leading to the gate in the seawall. "Over there. I'll go let you in."
The channel got to his feet and hurried away. He left a wake of surprised stares as he ran in the back door and then out the side door, narrowly missing several people who were in his way.
He unlocked the heavy wooden door and swung it inward on its rusty hinges. The child was already there and unhesitatingly ran inside. Frevven pushed the door shut, then dropped down on one knee to face the intruder. The boy was shaking violently, tears running down his cheeks, face contorted into a grimace which might have been fear, or hatred.
"Help me," he choked out. "Please help me. Don't let them get me." And the boy threw himself into Frevven's arms, sobbing. Frevven tried to calm the child as best he could, but the channel was far from calm himself. The boy's words would have made sense if he were in changeover, but he wasn't. Puzzled, he picked up the boy and carried him into Shanneh's office, the child still crying softly and clinging to him.
Shanneh did her best to comfort him and when there were no more tears, she offered a cup of hot soup to the shivering boy, insisting that he drink before he tried to talk.
The boy obediently drained the cup and wiped his face on the handkerchief Shanneh offered him. He looked from one of them to the other, almost as if he had only just realized where he was. But he didn't appear frightened of them.
"I'm sorry if I've been any trouble. I just didn't know where else to go. If they find me, they'll kill me."
"Who'll kill you? And why?"
Frevven felt the slight body stiffen with remembered terror as the child shrank back into the channel's arms. "Please don't let them get me. No one else would help. They're all too scared. Even my parents. There was no where else I could go. I know what happened to Jeff. You've got to help me."
"Calm down now and tell us what this is all about. Perhaps when we understand we'll be able to do something," Frevven said reassuringly.
"I'll try," the boy replied. "My name is Kembric Lorell. Jeffrey Lorell was my brother." He looked hopefully at the two channels, as if he were trying to see how they would react to this information. "I've been hiding since he died, but I couldn't get off of Arendell Island until yesterday. I stowed away on a boat, so I don't think they know I'm here yet. You've got to do something. They'll kill me like they did my brother."
"Wait a minute now," Shanneh interjected. "Jeffrey was still alive when we got to him. No one killed him."
Kem looked at her bitterly. "Oh? If I hadn't sent up the flares to call the MORNING STAR do you really think anyone else would have? The Watchkeepers would have kept him at the Church until he died and you'd never have known anything about it. Just like the others."
"I'm not certain I follow all of this," Shanneh objected.
"I think I do," Frevven said coldly. "I told you there were too many 'accidents' happening to the children around here. Maybe this is the answer. Kem, exactly what happened to your brother?"
"Well, it was late at night. I woke up and Jeff was feeling sick, so I called Mom and Dad. They made him get up and get dressed really fast and said they were taking him out and I should go back to sleep. He wanted to know where they were going and they said to the church to ask for God's help. Jeff's always been very religious and he seemed happy enough to go with them. But another friend of mine disappeared like that last year and I was worried. My Mom said it was nothing and God would see that Jeff was all right, but her face looked funny, sort of scared, and I didn't believe her. Besides, I know the symptoms for changeover. I made it my business to find out. And I knew they would turn Jeff over to the Watchkeepers and he'd disappear and never be mentioned again. My folks told me to go back to sleep, but I didn't. I followed them to the church and peeked in the window to see what would happen. When I saw them take Jeff down to the basement, I knew what was going on. I almost went inside then to try and stop them, but I figured that wouldn't do any good. Jeff would do whatever the Watchkeepers told him anyway, and I'd just get in trouble.
"So I ran down to the pier and stole some flares from the shed where they're always kept and set them off. Then I hid and watched to see if you'd come. I saw the MORNING STAR arrive and later I saw you all leave and heard you talking on the way, so I found out I hadn't saved Jeff after all. But I knew I was in trouble. I couldn't go back to my parents; they'd turn me over to the Watchkeepers the same as they did Jeff if they were told to. All I could think of to do was come here. You will help me, won't you? Nobody on the Islands will stop them. Other than Master Watchkeeper Richt, we don't even know for sure who they are. They all wear hoods. Nobody trusts anyone anymore. Please. I'm afraid they'll punish me. And kill me." Kem was trembling violently. Surprising even himself, Frevven hugged the child securely and smoothed the touseled (sic RBW tousled) red-brown hair, as a part of his mind wondered if perhaps this could be the source of the unexplained fear he had noticed in the local Gens who came to donate. They were afraid, all right, but not of Simes. What they feared was their own neighbors.
"We'll take care of you, don't worry," he said gently. But his eyes met Shanneh's over the boy's head and he knew they had a big problem on their hands.
"Let's see if we can't get you some supper and then find you a place to sleep. How does that sound?" Shanneh asked cheerfully.
Kem wiped his eyes and tried to smile.
"That's the spirit. Now maybe I can even find someone to keep you company and put you to bed while I'm at it." Putting a finger to her lips conspiratorially, she tip-toed toward the office door and opened it with a sudden jerk. V'lissa, walking down
the dim hallway carrying a stack of folders, looked around in surprise. She blinked her eyes in the unexpected light from Shanneh's office.
"Aha!" Shanneh announced triumphantly, "A volunteer!"
Kem laughed at the puzzled expression on the girl's face. After Shanneh explained what was wanted, V'lis was only too happy to take the boy from Frevven and lead him off in the direction of the dining hall, leaving the two channels to worry over his presence at the Center.
At Frevven's urging, Shanneh sent a message to the District Controller in Easthaven, advising him of the situation. A week later, they had still received no answer and they were beginning to wonder if the message had ever arrived. Kem made himself useful whenever he could, and Frevven often noticed the boy in the kitchen, washing dishes or just cleaning things up. But V'lis appeared to be Kem's special favorite. They spent hours on end playing card games or just sitting talking together on the hearth in front of the big fireplace in the library. Sometimes Chaynek would join them, telling one improbable story after another until everyone was laughing so loudly that Frevven could hear them all the way across the corridor in his office. At such times, the channel would get up and close the door gently, half annoyed but half wishing that he could tell amusing anecdotes and make people laugh also.
After a time, Frevven began to wonder at Chaynek's continued presence on Innsfrey. Perhaps he had gotten permission to visit with his cousin for a while and was merely enjoying an all-too-rare vacation. But every so often Frevven would notice Chaynek looking at him unobtrusively. At such times, the Gen's nager was always carefully neutral and unreadable, but Frevven recognized too well the appraising look in those deceptively gentle brown eyes. He wondered uncomfortably if Chaynek was officially watching him, or if he himself was imagining things. He hadn't the nerve to actually ask Chaynek, so he took to avoiding the Gen as much as he could.
One day Kem brought a cup of tea to Frevven's office while the channel was engaged in his usual task of sorting through his data sheets and trying to reach some conclusions. While he was becoming more and more certain that the answers he sought lay elsewhere, he still had a survey to complete.
Kem set down the teacup carefully amongst the papers and stood watching quietly as Frevven drank his tea, scribbled some notes, turned a page, and readjusted his glasses on his nose all at the same time.
Involved in what he was doing, Frevven didn't notice the child's eyes following his tentacles until he looked up.
"Don't they ever get--well, you know--tangled?" Kem asked hesitantly.
"What? Oh, I see. No, not really. Do your fingers get tangled?"
"No," Kem admitted, then added hopefully, "But my feet do sometimes."
The channel actually laughed.
Something on Frevven's desk caught Kem's eye, and he reached diffidently over and picked up the silver medallion the channel had brought back from Arendell Island the night of Jeff's death.
"Interesting, isn't it?" Frevven remarked casually. "I have no idea what it stands for, though."
"You don't?" Kem asked in disbelief. "It's the symbol of the Salvation Church. Look, I've got one too." And he pulled an identical silver disc out from under his shirt. "They give one to all of us kids. Supposed to protect us." He laughed bitterly and unfastened the chain from around his neck. "You can have this one if you want it. I don't guess I want their protection anymore. Besides, it didn't protect Jeff very well, did it?"
"Protect him from what?" Frevven asked as he took the proferred (sic RBW proffered) medallion, comparing it with the one he already had. He was familiar with most religious symbols, but this was something new. And that strangely crooked design suggested something vaguely menacing, but he couldn't quite tell what it was. Perhaps it was only his imagination, since he had reason to distrust anything relating to the Church of Salvation after hearing Kem's story.
"Why, from changeover, of course. What else?" Kem answered.
"This is supposed to protect you from changeover?" the channel asked in disbelief.
Kem was absolutely serious as he replied, "Yes. If you pray, and believe strongly enough, and do as the Church says."
"That's ridiculous," Frevven replied. (But a timorous voice echoed down the years, reciting the phrase he himself had repeated fervently every night at the end of his bedtime prayers, "And please, dear God, don't let me be a Sime.")
Kem looked at the channel. "I never could completely believe it myself. But lots of people do. And Jeffrey sure did. He used to say he'd rather die first. At least then he wouldn't be damned." Frevven saw the desperate anguish in the child's eyes as Kem asked forlornly, "He isn't really damned, is he?"
"Do you think he is?" Frevven replied gently.
Kem shook his head.
"I don't think so either." Becoming aware again of the medallion he held in his hand, Frevven asked curiously, "Did they ever teach you what this symbol means, or where it comes from?"
"No. But there are lots of things they never tell us kids."
"These medallions are accurate representations? I mean, do they look exactly correct?"
The boy thought this over. "Yes, except that in church the designs are in color."
"Could you draw one for me, in the right colors?"
"Sure. We used to do that in Church School all the time."
Frevven sat the child down at the desk end gave him paper, pens, and some colored inks. Kem began by drawing a heavy black circle. Next he took a red pen and drew what appeared to be a simplistic version of a lightning bolt in the circle. Then he picked up the black pen once more and sketched in a diagonal slash, intercepting and covering the horizontal portion of the lightning bolt. It seemed a strange way to draw the design, involving some rather unnecessary effort.
"You always make it just that way?"
"Yes. That's how we're taught to do it."
"Draw me another one."
Watching the small fingers repeat the design, precisely in that same sequence, something occurred to the channel. What if that red lightning bolt wasn't meant to be a lightning bolt at all? It could just as easily be a stiffly-pointed letter "S", couldn't it? It just might make sense to draw it that way, trapped inside the circle, with the black diagonal finally crossing out and cancelling the stylized letter. And somehow he doubted that red "S" stood for the Salvation in Salvation Church. Or was he just getting paranoid?
The boy looked up at Frevven. "Shall I make more of them for you?" he asked politely.
"No, thank you. Would you like to draw something else with the pens?"
"Go right ahead. But take them into the library please. I've got work to do here."
After Kem had left, Frevven went back to his paperwork, but he had trouble concentrating. He kept seeing Kem's innocent fingers carefully coloring in that black diagonal line, deftly obliterating the pointed "S".
As soon as Frevven received Shanneh's summons to her office a few days later, he knew there was trouble. She merely looked up at him as he came through the door and worlessly (sic RBW wordlessly) extended an official-looking document in his direction. Scanning it quickly, Frevven could see that it was an order from the Gen authorities for the return of one Kembric Lorell to his lawful parents. He glanced over to Shanneh questioningly.
"We knew this would happen sooner or later, Shanneh. Someone must have seen him here."
She nodded unhappily in acknowledgement. "I just wanted you to know, that's all."
"But you can't mean to just turn him over to them?" Frevven objected in disbelief.
"What else can I do? If only we had some proof to back up Kem's story, some way we could justify keeping him out of the hands of the Watchkeepers."
"If what Kem says is true, no one would dare stand up against them even so." Frevven pointed out. "Besides, as far as we know, they've done nothing illegal. No law says that children in changeover have to be turned over to us. If they're killed instead, it isn't even considered murder. But if they know Kem is here, they probably know he's told us what happened. If we just give him back to them . . ."
"What else can we do? We're breaking the local laws as it is by keeping him here," Shanneh replied hopelessly.
"I know the laws and I know you're right. But there's got to be something we could do."
"What choice do we have?"
The argument went around in circles, getting nowhere. Unable to come up with a workable alternative, Frevven eventually had to agree with Shanneh. There was nothing else they could do.
"No, you can't! You wouldn't" (sic RBW wouldn't.") V'lis exclaimed in dismay when they tried to explain to her. "You won't really make him go back to them, will you?"
"V'lissa, please. We're trapped. We have no choice." Shanneh replied miserably. "I don't like this any better than you do, believe me."
"Maybe you don't like it, but you're willing to do it anyway, aren't you? How could you? And I suppose you agree with her?" she inquired of Frevven.
"V'lis, be reasonable. Of course I agree with her. We have one day to turn Kem over to his parents. It's the law."
"Well, damn the law! And damn you two also! I won't let them get away with this! I won't!" And she ran from the room, to the immense relief of both channels.
It wasn't until later that afternoon that they realized V'lissa was perfectly serious about not letting Kem be taken back. Frevven was in the library looking through a book on sail handling when he noticed the uproar just outside the back door. Annoyed by the disturbance, he went over to investigate.
". . . can't be, but it's gone!"
"This is ridiculous. Who would steal the MORNING STAR?"
"Is that it out by the Point?"
"Could be, but who's on board?"
Shanneh came out of her office followed by Kurt, who had obviously run to alert her just seconds ago. As soon as she saw what was going on, her eyes met Frevven's and her lips formed one word-- "V'lis!"
Shanneh raced up the spiral stairway to the lookout tower, with the others close on her heels. Picking up the telescope, she focused it on the MORNING STAR, which was just rounding Sandy Point and turning northward.
"I only see two people on board, and one of them is small enough to be a child. Run up the signal flags. Order them back here at once."
Frevven unfolded several of the bright flags, desperately trying to remember the code. Swiftly clipping them to the flag halliard, he hauled his message up to the top of the flagpole above the tower. Shanneh continued to watch the shrinking silhouette of the little cutter in the distance.
"They see us. They're going to answer our signal. Whatever possessed that girl to sneak off alone in that boat? She and Kem can't manage something that big by themselves. Not in this wind."
Then she frowned and lowered the telescope, and Frevven saw her lips form a silent curse. "What's the matter?" he asked, sensing anger and agitation.
Wordlessly, she handed him the telescope. Struggling to focus on the faraway boat, he could just make out the single red-and-white striped flag whose only meaning was 'No'. He was dumbfounded at V'lissia's audacity.
Quickly recovering her composure, Shanneh ordered everyone down from the tower except for the regular watch and sent a messenger off to the local ocean rescue patrol, advising them of the situation and requesting that they search for the MORNING STAR and bring her back.
"Where can they go, Shanneh?" Frevven asked, after things had calmed down a bit. "Can that boat reach the mainland?"
Tight-lipped, Shanneh replied, "Oh sure, if V'lis were a better sailor. But the wind is wrong and I doubt whether she or Kem know these waters well enough in the dark to avoid all the rocks and shallows. Besides, that boat is rigged for a crew of Simes. One Gen and a child won't be able to handle it once they reach the open ocean."
"So what do we do now?"
"We wait," she said grimly.
And wait they did, for the rest of that night and most of the following morning. Frevven stayed in his office, trying to work on his research, but mostly pacing back and forth. The fact that his scheduled transfer with V'lis was now only a day away made it that much harder to endure the tension. And the wind whistling by his window reminded him constantly of what could be happening far out at sea on the little boat. When he reached the point of seriously considering pitching his paperweight through the window from sheer frustration, he finally forced himself to lie down for a while and concentrate on some of the standard meditation techniques to regain some of his calm.
By the time Anieva came to his door with the news that the MORNING STAR had been found by one of the fishing boats and was being towed in, he felt reasonably under control.
Everyone was out on the pier watching as the cutter was towed in. Chaynek stood off to one side of the walkway, making a deliberate effort to keep his anxiety at a manageable level.
The neat little boat looked much the worse for wear, with the staysail flapping forlornly in tatters, and the rigging tangled and snarled. Frevven could feel Kurt's dismay as he surveyed the damage to his beloved boat.
The fishing schooner sailed expertly alongside the pier and passed the towing lines to several waiting Simes, who easily hauled the MORNING STAR into her berth. Seeing no trace of V'lis or Kem on board, Shanneh hailed the other boat and asked where they were.
A figure in oilskins and heavy boots cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted back over the water, "I couldn't say, ma'am. There wasn't no one on the boat when we found her. Likely they was washed over in the night and drowned."
Chaynek's momentarily uncontrolled shock at hearing this news flooded Frevven's mind with grief, but he fought it into focus before it was too late. Sorting through the emotional morass surrounding him, the channel concentrated on the nager of the fisherman who had spoken to them. Distant though he was, Frevven was getting some unusual readings. He pinned down part of it, but the fishing boat was moving quickly beyond even his range of sensitivity.
"Shanneh, that man is lying," Frevven whispered intensely.
Her face and nager registering shock and dismay, the Controller replied distractedly, "Lying? Why should he do that? And even if he were, you couldn't know for sure at this distance."
"I tell you, he's lying!" Frevven insisted desperately.
"Chaynek," Shanneh asked dubiously, "could he tell about something like this from so far away?"
His grief now rigidly held under control, the Gen regarded Frevven appraisingly. "Maybe," he replied, "but I doubt it. More likely a case of wishful thinking."
"That's what I figured," Shanneh remarked, turning to walk back to the Center.
"No," Frevven objected, "I'm certain . . ."
Chaynek put one hand gently on the channel's shoulder, steering him back along with the others. "Calm down now and be reasonable. You're overwrought. You and V'lis were scheduled for transfer today and you just don't want her to be dead, that's all."
"You don't believe me?" Frevven queried hopelessly,
The Gen shook his head. "I only wish I did," he replied wearily. "I loved V'lissa as if she were my own child. She and my daughter practically grew up together. Do you think I want to believe her dead?"
Frevven felt Chaynek's carefully-assured professionalism start to crack, but the Gen pulled himself together once more. "Come along back to the Center with me now and I'll . . ."
"Stop humoring me." Frevven replied irately.
"Truly, Frevven, you must listen to reason," Chaynek went on steadily. The Gen was well above mid-field and as he focused his attention on the little channel, Frevven was hard put to resist the calming effect this produced. But he didn't want to be calmed down, and especially not by Chaynek.
"Stop it!" he snapped, twisting away from Chaynek. "You're about to go to pieces yourself, and if you don't realize that, you're a fool. I'm O.K. Just leave me alone." He strode angrily towards the Center, leaving Chaynek standing alone on the pier in the harsh morning sunshine.
Later that day, Anieva came to stand hesitantly by Frevven's door.
"Yes? What is it?" he inquired impatiently.
"Just a letter, Hajene Aymeer. (sic RBW Aylmeer.) Shanneh asked me to bring it up to you," she replied in a hurt tone of voice.
Frevven sighed and extended his hand to take the envelope. "I'm sorry, Anieva. I didn't mean to be rude. I know how upset you must be. I'm not myself these days," he apologized lamely.
Saying only, "That's all right. I understand," the girl left.
Frevven wondered vaguely who would send him a letter. It didn't look like anything official, just a plain envelope with nothing on it but his name and the Center's address. He ripped open the envelope and unfolded the message inside.
"The Lord giveth me strength in battle;
my enemies He hath delivered unto me;
the accursed ones He shall destroy.
They cry for help--but no one saves them;
to the Lord--but He answereth them not.
I will crush them fine as the dust before the wind;
like mud in the streets will I trample them down.
For my heart is pure and the Lord is my salvation.
Of whom shall I be afraid?"
Frevven stared at the paper, which quivered slightly in his trembling hand. He recognized the verses, having heard them fairly often in church as a child.
When he brought the note to Shanneh, she shrugged and said it was nothing, just some religious crank trying to scare them. Frevven insisted vehemently that it was more important than that, but this only succeeded in making Shanneh angry. Telling Frevven to sit down and be quiet, she asked Anieva to find Chaynek and bring him to her office.
Frevven obediently sat in the chair the Controller had indicated, in a black funk over this unwanted turn of events. He stared steadily down into his lap at his clasped hands and elaborately-twined tentacles, not even looking up when Chaynek entered the room.
"Chaynek," Shanneh said wearily, "I'm sorry to have to ask this of you right now, but you're the best qualified person I have available. I want you to take care of Frevven until Dovric Remny arrives. With any luck, he'll be on the CORMORANT tomorrow."
"Oh, they're sending Dovric for Frevven this month? I was wondering who it would be now that V'lis is gone. Well," Chaynek continued, "I'll do what I can, but . . ." He shrugged.
"I know you're almost a week out of phase with him and you're not quite high field yet, but do the best you can. He's a day overdue now and he's driving me crazy with his hysterical imaginings."
Hearing himself discussed as if he weren't there only made Frevven angrier. And being called "hysterical" was the last straw. "I don't want him around me, Shanneh," he said tautly.
Chaynek came over in front of Frevven's chair and squatted down, leaving the channel with no choice but to look at him. He ran one finger appraisingly along the Sime's forearms, and Frevven knew there was no way he could fail to notice the trembling laterals and swollen ronaplin glands. Nevertheless, he pulled away from Chaynek and stood up, clasping his hands uneasily behind his back. "Damn it, I'm all right," he muttered uncomfortably.
Chaynek raised one eyebrow and looked at Frevven with amusement. "Oh sure, you're perfectly all right," he said ironically, "and I'm the Sectuib in Zeor." Turning suddenly serious, Chaynek continued, "Enough nonsense. Come on along with me now, before your Controller gets really angry."
Reluctantly, Frevven went.
Even though he hated to admit it, Frevven had to admit that Chaynek did indeed make him feel a lot better. He gave up trying to convince people that the man who had returned the MORNING STAR had been lying about V'lis and Kem not being on board when the boat was found. He had to admit that it did sound unbelievable. After all, why should anyone lie about that? But, try as he might, he simply couldn't dismiss the notion that they were alive somewhere. And he had a pretty good idea of where he would like to start looking. But Shanneh had forbidden anyone to leave the Center until things settled down. The townspeople were none too pleased that Kem had been allowed to remain hiding at the Center for as long as he had. The entire incident had stirred up a lot of ill feeling, and the Controller felt it would be best for everyone to keep out of sight until the whole mess blew over. Frevven dutifully tried to convince himself that there was nothing he could do at this point.
A heavy fog blew in off the water that night, covering the little town in a damp grey shroud. The horn out on Sandy Point began to sound shortly after dark, wailing forlornly at brief intervals. Frevven fell asleep with the sound of the foghorn echoing dismally through his room, while Chaynek hovered protectively over him. He hadn't wanted to take a nap, but Chaynek had insisted. He slept fitfully, dreaming of Kem's lifeless body sinking down into the unwelcoming ocean, and V'lissa, her face contorted in a last desperate effort to breathe where there was no air, but only water. She choked and strangled, and Frevven felt her terror and despair. And knew she was calling to him for help.
He fought to wake up, struggling for his own breath. As the last shreds of nightmare faded away, the foghorn's wail sounded once again. Frevven could almost imagine that it stood alone on its narrow strip of land, continually mourning for all those who had sailed out to their deaths. The image was so vivid and the sorrow so real that he wondered if he had managed to wake up after all. He lay perfectly still, trying to separate the reality from the dream. V'lissa's terrified face still swam before his eyes in the darkness. But the sorrow? . . . was Chaynek's, he realized abruptly. Without his glasses, Frevven saw only a dim shadow against the dark-gray outline of the window, but his Sime senses picked up Chaynek, and the Gen was totally distraught and trying not to cry without success. Never having seen Chaynek so upset before, Frevven was considerably surprised.
Almost as if he feard (sic RBW feared) that his grief had awakened the channel, Chaynek stopped leaning against the cold glass of the window and came cautiously across the room to stand over Frevven. Frevven closed his eyes and pretended to be still asleep, not wanting to intrude on Chaynek's sorrow. Apparently satisfied, Chaynek sat down in a chair and propped his feet up on the windowsill. Frevven could feel his deliberate attempt at relaxation, as Chaynek tried to pull himself together and get some sleep.
Once he knew for certain that the Gen was no longer awake, Frevven got noiselessly to his feet, retrieving his glasses gratefully from the small table by his bed. Picking up a blanket, he walked over to Chaynek and carefully covered him against the damp chill in the room. Looking down at the man who had for so long been his nemesis, Frevven breathed softly, "Chaynek, she's alive and I'll find her. I swear it."
He took his long wool cape from its peg by the door and settled it over his shoulders. Picking up his retainers, he hid them inconspicuously under the folds of the cloak. Tiptoeing out of his room, he crept stealthily down the stairs and out the back door, being certain that no one noticed him along the way. He stopped just outside the door, staying close to the building so he wouldn't be seen by whoever was on watch in the tower high above him. Ascertaining that no one was on the pier, he took the retainers out from under his cape and very carefully put them on, for the thousandth time cursing the retainer laws. He went to the side of the walkway and climbed over the railing, lowering himself as far as he could and then dropping down the rest of the way. He sloshed through the cold sand under the pier until he reached the shadow of the seawall and then struck out along the beach. The fog still swirled thickly in off the water, carried by the damp breeze, and Frevven was glad for the cover it afforded him. At the first opportunity, he got off the beach and headed into town. The streets were deserted at this late hour, and it wasn't at all difficult to find his way, even though he'd never approached this particular building from the fron (sic RBW front) before.
As the imposing facade of the white-painted church loomed up in the hazy darkness, Frevven couldn't help but be impressed. Churches always gave him that feeling, and this one was no exception. The building was in the same traditional style as the churches where he had grown up. He went over to the signboard mounted on the fence in front of the building and read it quickly.
THE CHURCH OF SALVATION THROUGH FAITH
Sunday Services: 9:30 and 11:15
This Week's Sermon: "As Dust Before the Wind"
Fellowship Meeting: Wed. 8 P.M.
Master Watchkeeper: Clarendon Richt
The latch on the fence was open, but the wide front doors of the church were locked. Not intending to give up so easily, Frevven went around the side of the building, seeking another entrance. He found a back door, and he found it unlocked. Suppressing a growing feeling of uneasiness, he went quietly inside.
Looking around in the gloom, the channel noted that he wasn't in the main part of the church, but rather in a large room set up with chairs and tables as if used for meetings or classes. He prowled noislessly (sic RBW noiselessly) around the room, aware that there were at least two other people in the building and possibly more. Even wearing retainers he could tell that much. Carefully opening a door, Frevven found himself looking into the main body of the church. It was set up much like all of the churches he remembered. Except for one small difference, he could almost imagine himself back in Chilton Lake. White floral arrangements on either side of the altar stood out in the dimness, but over the altar, where he would have expected to see the familiar symbol of the Church of the Purity, there hung a huge replica of the symbol Kem had drawn so carefully that day in Frevven's office. Even though the channel had fully expected that this would be the case, the reality still caused him a shock. However, this part of the church appeared completely empty, and his Sime senses confirmed this impression. The ones he sought must be elsewhere.
Closing the door gently, Frevven continued his search around the meeting room. After finding several closets he eventually located a short passageway leading to a flight of steps. The readings were more defininte (sic RBW definite) now, but they were rather confusing. There were six Gens somewhere down there, but two of them read out as Donors? One was extremely frightened, and that could be V'lis. But the other?
With much the same feeling as a fly might have when deliberately walking down into a spider web, Frevven went down the steps. He was beginning to wonder if he shouldn't turn back when he noticed that there were now several people in the room upstairs. The door behind him closed with a loud click, and he was left in total darkness. With nowhere else to go, Frevven continued down the stairs and along the passageway. He walked into the folds of a heavy curtain hanging across the corridor. Noticing that it was made of some sort of insulating material, he thrust it aside and found himself in a large room dimly lit by several lanterns. There were a number of people wearing grey hoods and robes, and one of them was holding a terrified V'lissa, revolver cocked and aimed at her head. The Gen with the strange field was off to Frevven's left and as he turned to see who it was, a very self-satisfied voice remarked smugly, "Good evening, Hajene Aylmeer. It certainly took you long enough to get here, didn't it?"
The voice and the extraordinary nager belonged to an imposing figure in a dark maroon robe. Frevven just stared.
"You're not going to do anything foolish now, are you?" the man continued mockingly. "The nice little girl might get her pretty head blown off if you do. Understand?"
Frevven understood. He squared his shoulders and tried to sound confident when he asked, "What do you want from me?"
The other man opened a small bottle he had in his hand and poured its contents onto a cloth. He came a few steps closer before he answered the channel's question in that same taunting manner, "For now, I only require that you hold still. Later on we'll discuss it further." And the man unhesitatingly grabbed Frevven and held the cloth over his nose and mouth.
Recognizing the smell as that of a relatively harmless drug commonly used to produce unconsciousness, Frevven overcame his initial moment of panic and suppressed an automatic attempt to hold his breath. He knew they'd had him from the moment he'd seen the gun at V'lissia's head, so there was nothing to do now but cooperate. He closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe normally, trying not to think about the inevitable horror he would face when he woke somewhere else. The last thing he heard was the other man's mocking laughter.
Frevven came to with the terrifying feeling that he was falling off the world. He bit back the scream that rose to his lips, trying desperately to readjust himself to his new position in the universe with the part of his mind that was still rational. Hold on for a second, and another second, it can't go on forever, it has to stop soon. But it didn't, and the panic grew and threatened to overwhelm him entirely. Instinctively, he tried to reach out and hold onto something, but as soon as he moved, a searing shaft of pain ran up either arm, slicing through the turmoil of disorientation and providing a focus back to reality. He dared not move again, but simply concentrated on lying very still and waiting as his mind came to accept his new location.
Realizing that he was now in the open ocean just about halfway between Innsfrey and Arendell Islands was a bit of a shock in itself, but he rapidly concluded he must be on a boat. He was lying on his back on what felt like a rather hard matress, (sic RBW mattress,) and he pictured a bunk belowdecks on a fishing schooner, unless his nose was also disoriented and not to be trusted. Under other circumstances the smell of fish would have been enough to make him sick, but just now he was too scared to bother about the unpleasant odor.
Very carefully Frevven tried to move his hand, only to discover that he was quite efficiently tied down. Moving his arms even slightly away from where they were tied at his sides was enough to result in an exceedingly painful pressure on his laterals. With a further shock of surprise, he realized he was no longer wearing retainers. Very strange. Whoever had tied him like that had known exactly what he was doing.
Looking around in the nearly complete darkness of the small cabin, Frevven noticed that his retainers weren't the only things missing. He was also without his glasses. Someone obviously wanted to make him feel as vulnerable as possible. So far, he reflected unhappily, they're succeeding admirably. Well, at least without retainers he could get a clearer reading of his surroundings. Yes, this was definitely a good-sized boat, judging by the number of Gens on board. He concentrated, seeking for V'lissa. Good, she was here, but not close by. And the other one from the church, he was here too. But closer. And coming this way.
The door opened and the maroon-clad figure strode into the cabin. Hanging the lantern he carried on a hook overhead, he looked down at Frevven and smiled. He was no longer wearing a hood, so Frevven squinted his eyes and tried to make out the man's features. He was pretty sure this was the same person who had brought back the MORNING STAR and said V'lis and Kem had not been on board. When his captive said nothing, the Gen asked impatiently, "Well, aren't you at least going to ask who I am?"
The man's nager was wrong somehow, distorted, or twisted. It was irritating simply to be in his presence. "Let me take a wild guess," Frevven replied. "You're Clarendon Richt."
"That's right. Master Watchkeeper of the Innsfrey branch of the Church of Salvation Through Faith."
"The Church of the Purity wasn't bad enough? Now we've got another one?" Frevven inquired distainfully. (sic RBW disdainfully.)
"Indeed you do, but we'd have preferred that the Salvation Church hadn't come to the attention of you people as yet. We'd rather have had more time to expand our influence first. And it is expanding, believe me. Our membership is growing all the time. Why, here on Innsfrey alone we've converted a large part of the population in only a few short years."
"Converted them? Or terrified them?" Frevven asked.
"Well, extreme measures are sometimes required to get results, but most people come to us of their own free will."
"Like Jeffrey Lorell, for instance?"
Richt shrugged his shoulders. "You can't win them all. If the child had truly believed . . ."
"You're crazy," Frevven replied heatedly. "Faith has nothing to do with it."
"I do not intend to debate theology with the spawn of the Devil," Richt said serenely.
"You'd better debate it with somebody. And soon," Frevven responded.
"Aylmeer," Richt said, "may I remind you that you're in no position to tell me what to do?" His hand closed over one of Frevven's bound arms, fingers tightening painfully over the swollen ronaplin glands. The channel stiffened and bit his lip "Nothing to say?" Richt continued. "That's much better. Now listen. When I found out the girl had taken Kem away in the MORNING STAR, I decided to send some of my people after them. I wasn't too sure what I was going to do at that point, but it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. After we had them safely captured it occurred to me that V'lissia would make perfect bait for a little trap I had in mind. I have ways of finding things out, so I knew Kem had been doing some talking, but I also knew that only one person at the Center was taking him seriously. I thought I might silence you all at the same time. And I knew you would be, shall I say, extremely anxious to locate V'lissa right about now? So anxious that you might be inclined to take somewhat drastic action, in fact. Kem would have told you about the basement room in the other church, so it was just a matter of waiting to see when someone came looking. I rather thought it might be you, especially after I sent you that little note as a reminder," Richt smiled triumphantly.
Frevven shook his head, trying to clear his mind enough to absorb this information. But it still made little sense. "What do you want me for?" he objected. "If you wanted me dead. certainly you'd have killed me by now."
"No," Richt replied, "I don't especially want you dead, not just yet, at any rate. Actually, what I have in mind is a little demonstration to some of my followers of the efficacy of faith. In particular, my faith. Have you any idea of the publicity the Salvation Church would get if a Tecton channel attacked one of our Watchkeepers?"
Frevven stared at Richt in disbelief. He really doubted he was hearing things right anymore. This got worse all the time. Why could this crazy Gen want to force a channel into a transfer with him? Granted, the man had a reasonably high field, but he was no First Order Donor. Frevven concentrated on the strange field, ignoring the jarring dissonance that set his teeth on edge. He calculated that Richt might have been a TN-2, but certainly no more. Might have been a TN-2? Where did I get that idea? he asked himself in surprise. But it made sense. The field was right. And it would explain Richt's all-too-thorough knowledge of Simes.
"You could very easily get hurt," Frevven warned him.
"I doubt it," Richt replied. "But even if I did, even if I got killed, I would be a martyr. I'm prepared to take that risk."
He let Frevven consider this for a moment before he went on, "If, on the other hand, I survive, it will be yet another proof to my followers of my power and the favor I have found with God. My prayers will have been answered, and others will grow stronger in their faith as a result."
"But," Frevven protested in dismay, "this is ridiculous. Some Gens survive transfer anyway, especially if they aren't afraid. It wouldn't prove anything. And it seems to me that you must have had some Technical Services training anyway."
"Oh, now, I never said that. Besides, I'd like to see you try and prove it. I've covered my tracks fairly well, and none of my people would believe you anyway, would they? No, if this goes according to plan, I'll have believers flocking to my church. Even the stubborn ones will see the light. And you," he pointed out, "what will your people do to you if you attack an out-Territory Gen?"
Frevven glared at him and said determinedly, "It doesn't matter. I won't do it."
"Oh, is that a fact? Maybe you'll change your mind by, shall we say, tomorrow? Or tomorrow night? I have all the time in the world; I can wait. Everyone breaks sooner or later. You ought to know that even better than I do."
Richt was altogether too right, but Frevven refused to give the satisfaction of hearing him admit it. He focused his eyes blearily on the beams above his head and tried to ignore the Watchkeeper.
Richt only laughed. "I've got you, Aylmeer. And you know it."
Then he turned and walked out the door, leaving Frevven to stew over his situation alone.
After several minutes of frenzied squirming in a futile attempt to get loose, Frevven concluded that he was doing nothing but hurting himself. He resolved to lie still and relax, conserving his strength and remaining selyn resources for the inevitable confrontation to come. He considered attempting suicide before he could be driven to attack Richt, but that left V'lis, and probably also Kem, still in the hands of the Watchkeepers. And he had a strong suspicion that Richt would be able to turn his death to his own purposes anyway. But if he killed Richt, he was as good as dead anyway. Frevven was certain he could never survive disjunction again, even in the unlikely event that he would be allowed to try. And a Tecton channel killing an out-Territory Gen, and a respected religious leader at that, would create an incident that could undermine the always-shaky foundations of Sime/Gen cooperation and trust, especially in connection with recent rumors of the rapid growth of the underground movement known as the Distect. He didn't dare risk that.
Ah, but to destroy Richt! It would be so easy. And so nice. To feel the self-satisfied Gen's nager shatter in fear and terror in the inevitable instant when he realized that he was doomed. No matter what happened next, it would be worth it just for that one split second of ecstasy.
When he realized just what it was that he was contemplating so gleefully, Frevven was abruptly shocked back to reality. No, it couldn't be like that, not now, not ever, no matter what the provocation. He wouldn't kill Richt; that was all there was to it. He had to hold onto that conviction, no matter what. There had to be some way to get out of this mess. There simply had to be.
Frevven tried to wait patiently for Richt to return. It would be dawn in a fairly short time, and he hoped fervently that he wouldn't have too much longer to wait. If the Watchkeeper didn't come back pretty soon, all of Frevven's steadfast determination not to kill wouldn't amount to much anyway. And he knew it.
When Richt did return several hours later, he had Kem with him. Hoping to fool Richt into thinking he was worse off than he was, Frevven did his best imitation of a Sime desperate with need, struggling wildly to get loose and calling the Watchkeeper several choice names in Simelan. Richt laughed at the shocked expression on Kem's face and shoved him towards the channel, saying, "O.K., boy, there's your friend. Untie him and tell him we're waiting up on deck." Then he ducked back through the open doorway.
"Frevven? Kem whispered shakily.
"Don't worry, Kem," he replied, trying to sound calm, "I'm all right. It was only an act." An act that will soon be all too real. "Come over and untie me."
Looking at the intricately-tied thongs around Frevven's forearms, Kem hesitated. "I'm not too sure how--I mean, I don't want to hurt you."
"Just get me loose from whatever it is I'm tied to and I can do the rest," Frevven assured him.
"That's easy," Kem replied, going down on his knees next to the bunk and prying at the knots holding the thongs to the deck.
With one arm free, Frevven quickly extricated himself from the bindings. He massaged his arms cautiously, actually surprised that they weren't as mangled as he had feared. He noticed Kem's curious eyes watching him as he wiped his ronaplin-slicked wrists on a corner of the blanket, but he had no time now to worry over the boy.
"Stay here, Kem. Please just stay here."
Frevven saw rebellion in the child's eyes, but there was nothing further he could do. He walked through the doorway and climbed the short ladder that led up to the deck.
As he stepped out into the open, Frevven looked around warily, taking in the entire scene at a glance. Dense fog lay over the water. Except for the wind blowing through the rigging and the creaking and groaning of the boat as it rolled heavily in the waves, there was an eerie silence. V'lissia stood by the starboard rail, flanked by two of Richt's gray-robed followers. When she saw Frevven, she tried to run over to him, but her captors were too quick.
"Oh, no, you don't, missy," one of the grey figures said, grabbing a handful of the girl's thick hair and yanking her head painfully back against his chest.
Responding to V'lissa's beautifully high field, Frevven turned towards her instinctively. But before he could make a move in her direction a shattering pain exploded inside his head and he fell to his knees. Abruptly jarred out of his concentration on the girl's blazing nager, he saw V'lis' limp body sag backwards against the man who had hit her over the head with a heavy belaying pin. Before the dazed channel could fully comprehend what was happening, V'lissa was lifted up and dumped over the rail. As her body hit the water with a dull splash, Frevven's first impulse was to go after her, but he saw the ring of armed figures, pistols and rifles cocked and aimed at him, and he knew he would never reach the water alive. Coldly he discarded that choice as suicide and of no possible help to the drowning girl. Then he saw Kem's slight figure darting across the deck from behind him. In one long leap Kem disappeared over the rail and began swimming after V'lis.
"Let the boy go," Richt ordered softly, his attention on Frevven. "He'll never make it to shore himself, much less save the girl."
Driven beyond endurance, Frevven felt something inside him snap. He turned towards the Watchkeeper then, with a look in his eyes that should have been enough to shake the confidence even of a religious fanatic. The other man only laughed. And in that moment Frevven knew he would kill Richt gladly if he could. Regardless of the consequences, revenge at least would be sweet. And he was almost within reach of Richt, who stood there smiling in triumph, arms held out towards the channel, too infernally sure of himself to have the sense to be afraid. But just before his tentacles closed over those mockingly-extended arms Frevven saw his chance and resolutely thrust aside all thoughts of revenge on the possibility that it might just work.
Richt's gloating expression rapidly turned into surprise and then horror as Frevven unexpectedly grasped the Watchkeeper by the shoulders and pushed him backwards, deliberately forcing them both against and over the side of the boat. As they hit the icy water Frevven realized from Richt's unreasonable terror that the man probably didn't know how to swim. But that wasn't his concern now. Still underwater, the channel swam off towards V'lis and Kem, leaving Richt to save himself as best he might. He heard the muffled crack of gunfire from the boat, but he knew they were shooting blindly into the water. Surfacing only a few yards from his friends, he was already out of sight of the boat in the thick fog. Kem was just barely managing to keep V'lis' head above water in the choppy seas. Frevven took hold of the still-unconscious girl and supported her easily. Although they were drifting rapidly away in the strong current, they could hear shouting and commotion from the direction of the boat.
"We'd better get out of here," Kem whispered. "And we've got to get out of this water pretty fast or we'll freeze to death. But I don't know where we are."
Kem looked at him in surprise when Frevven told him they were about a half mile south-southeast of Innsfrey Island and were drifting northwest towards the gap between Innsfrey and Westerly Island.
"That puts us almost at the Inssfrey (sic RBW Innsfrey) Shoals," Kem replied. "They can't follow us very far this way because the water's too shallow, but the current will sweep us right by the islands and we won't stand a chance after that." Looking thoughtful, the boy went on, "Can you tell me which way is west?"
Frevven pointed. Kem replied, "That's where we want to go then. Maybe we can reach Westerly. It's worth a try."
He looked to Frevven for confirmation. Rather amazed at the child's presence of mind under the circumstances, the channel nodded. He should have suggested that himself. They began swimming at an angle to the current, Frevven towing V'lissa's limp body and trying to ignore the torture of her high field but totally unresponsive nager.
As they were drawn further into the shallow water between the islands the waves got steeper. V'lis' face was dangerously pale and her lips blue. Kem was tolerating it a little better, but his teeth were chattering and he was beginning to shiver uncontrollably.
"There!" Kem pointed suddenly, "I see the waves breaking on the beach!"
Without his glasses Frevven could see nothing, but he knew that's where the land would be. As they got closer, the waves began to break over the desperate group. Frevven shifted his arm to a more secure hold across V'lis' chest and grabbed Kem carefully with his other hand. Together they fought their way into the surf. Frevven's feet were just touching bottom when a large wave knocked him down and swept them all under, but at least they were being pushed toward the shore now. Augmenting desperately and struggling to his knees, Frevven pulled V'lissa's sodden body up onto the land, with Kem hanging onto his jacket and stumbling to his feet behind him. They dragged V'lis up further onto the beach and collapsed. Between gasping breaths, Kem asked apprehensively. "Is she alive?"
Frevven nodded. He could tell she was still alive. Half-frozen and still unconscious from the blow she had taken, but unmistakably alive even so.
"Good," Kem continued. "I've been on Westerly lots of times. Bradenton isn't more than a short distance from here. There's a road not far behind the beach. As soon as I catch my breath, I'll go for help."
"You stay with V'lis. I can move faster," Frevven replied.
Kem shook his head. "No, they'd kill you first and ask questions later. You're not wearing those things on your arms."
Frevven had forgotten all about the retainer laws. The boy was entirely too right, especially considering the terrified state of mind of the local population due to the recent happenings. He realized he wasn't even thinking clearly anymore, and that was bad.
"You're right," he conceded bleakly. "You go. But do you think you can convince them to call the MORNING STAR?"
"Sure," the boy replied confidently. "I'll make up a story or something."
As Kem's small figure disappeared through the trees, Frevven tried not to think about how little time he had left. He was beginning to be amazed he was still thinking at all, even if only confusedly. And then he realized he was here, alone, with V'lissia. But she was unconscious, and to attempt transfer with an unconscious Donor was dangerous even under the best of circumstances. Now, with the girl not far from death from exposure, near-drowning, and a possible concussion, it was no longer a risk; it was a certainty. But her nager attracted him nevertheless, and he knew he would not be able to resist that temptation indefinitely. He got to his feet and staggered off along the beach, determined to get as far away from her as possible while he still could. She at least might have a chance if Kem could bring help in time.
As the darkness slowly closed down around his mind, Frevven was conscious only of the roar of the waves breaking on the shore, and of his desperate desire to get away, far away. After a while he didn't even know what it was he was running from. And when he finally collapsed, he wasn't aware if he was running away from something, or towards it. By then it didn't matter too much anyway.
Once the black mists swirled away from him briefly and he realized with horror that he wasn't dead, yet. But it was cold. And he was cold, absolutely and deathly numb. Nothing burned inside his heart, no fire lit the darkness of his soul, nothing, nothing, emptiness and desolation. He was alone and there was nothing out there, no one, no earth, no stars, no universe, eternities of nothingness. Useless to resist, nothing even there to resist, why bother to fight what isn't there? Why bother to fight what is? It made no sense anymore, maybe it never had. He made no sense. Give it up, don't bother. I'm dead, there's nothing left but to bury me, it's only a matter of time. And time itself is warped and twisted, distorted sickeningly out of shape. Oh, who cares anyway? It'll all be over soon. It has to be.
But as the darkness closed down around him again, and he tried to will himself to merge with it, something somewhere inside screamed in defiance, "NO! NO! NOT YET! NO!!"
Then later there were voices somewhere. He listened for a while but couldn't quite grasp what they were saying.
"Let go of me, Anieva! There isn't much time." "You shouldn't. You're not in phase with him and it's too soon." "Truly, I can manage." "Don't be a fool." "I owe him for V'lissa's life. I will not stand by and do nothing." "But--" "No buts. Go look for Shanneh and Kurt and leave me here." "I can't do that. I . . ."
Disturbed by the anxiety surrounding the voices, he pushed them away and sought refuge in the comforting peace of the darkness.
Then, sometime after, something warm touched him, faintly at first, but definitely there. Existing comfortably now with emptiness, he shrank back in horror and struggled away from its touch. But, try as he might, the warmth grew, and he couldn't escape. "No," he moaned in agony, "Let me be. I'm all right now. It doesn't hurt anymore. There's nothing here but me. Go away. Please."
And a very faint whisper rustled down eternity and echoed through his desolated universe, "No, precious little one, you are not alone. I'm here. Let me help."
Starting to get angry at this insolent creature which dared not only to invade his space but also to presume that it was welcome, he retorted, "I don't want you. Just leave me alone."
And somewhere, soundlessly, something seemed to laugh. Confused, he tried to look around. There was definitely something there. What could it conceivably want of him? He searched through the blackness, looking for he knew not what. He felt something solid and grabbed it, but it seared him with an unbearable heat, and he tried to pull away, but it held him and he couldn't get loose.
The mocking echo shivered through his mind, louder now. "Stop struggling or you'll hurt yourself. Hold still. It's all right."
Didn't really want to get loose, come to think of it. This wasn't at all so awful anymore, and he was starting to wonder what was going on. And the echo, which was an echo no longer but rather an extremely persuasive voice, said gently, "That's much better. Now just relax and I'm going to---" But it never got a chance to finish. He felt as if he were pinned, transfixed in a radiance of incredibly bright light. And the light was familiar, and he knew who it was and what it was doing and what it used to do to him--over and over and over--calmly, dispassionately, deliberately.
Desperately he wrenched himself away and sought the merciful emptiness of the dark. But that awful light followed him, focused on him, closer now, and he knew he hadn't the strength to fight it off for much longer.
"Stop it. Please. Relax. Don't fight me." The voice again, but it wasn't as calm this time. Good; perhaps it would go away. He resolved to ignore it. It was pleading desperately now. "Please, please, Frevven, let me help. Trust me, as I trust you. I won't shen you this time. I swear unto Zeor."
Zeor? What was that? The word had held some meaning for him once, he was sure. It sounded familiar, but . . . And for the briefest of instants, he forgot he hated that voice.
Then he truly wasn't alone, and he was alive, and he could feel the warmth burning through him. His empty universe shattered into billions of pieces and flowed away in a river of sparkles, shimmering and blazing like a galaxy of stars. Relief and peace at last, and a fading of the constant gnawing hunger it seemed he had never been without in all his life.
And he became aware of someone holding onto him, someone who cared for him. He wanted to respond, but suddenly something was wrong. He felt sick, deathly sick, and his arms hurt. He forced his eyes open and in absolute horror looked into the pale and frightened face of his sister.
He tried to turn away, but she held his hands tightly clenched in hers, her eyes turned heavenwards and her lips forming the prayers they had recited together so often as children. Through spasms of pain, he gasped out to her that she must run, get away, leave him alone. But she didn't, wouldn't, hear his words. He cursed at her then, cursed her as a fool and an idiot. You can't help me like that, stop it! Stop it! Don't you know what I am? Don't you know what's going to happen? Can't you see?
Then he looked down at his hands and they weren't his anymore, but bloody, dripping horrors, no longer under his control. And his sister wasn't praying anymore, she was screaming and fighting, her fear at last overreaching even her love for her little brother. Sickly he realized that it had indeed been love, love and faith, that had kept her with him so long. And neither was diminished but only displaced by her rising panic. And it was too late, too late, too late. The blazing terror in her body and soul fed the terrible emptiness in his, driving him desperately further and further, clawing for what it seemed he must find or die. Waves of pain seared through him, her pain thrown back to him.
No, not quite right, he realized abruptly. Not Jozanna, not her at all. It wasn't her panic he felt anymore, it was his own. And someone else who was responding to it. This one had come into his arms with confidence and assurance, catching his battered and needing body as it collapsed on the doorstep. This one, miraculously, had actually wanted to help and didn't pull away. At last, at long last, the child knew he had found safety. Until that other, forced violently and unexpectedly beyond his limits, had tried to resist. Frevven had felt the man's total astonishment as he discovered that he was hopelessly overcontrolled by the half-dead boy he wanted only to save. Astonishment; becoming pain; becoming fear; becoming a wild effort not to panic, with underneath still compassion, and the desire, even now, to help; becoming . . . nothing.
No. Not nothing. Not yet. This was someone else. But this one wasn't fighting. And somewhere in the scarlet mists behind his eyelids, he realized this was no longer an incident out of his nightmares. He wasn't a child anymore. That was over and done long ago and nothing he could do now would change it. This was for real. And he heard again the echo of that long-hated voice, "Trust me, as I trust you. I won't shen you this time. I swear unto Zeor."
The red haze burned away around him like paper in a flame, and he knew what was happening. And he realized that the choice had been given to him once more.
". . . As I trust you."
All the control he had fought so hard to establish during the long-ago terrible time of training fell once more into place. And he struggled to stop before it was too late, although his body and soul cried out against him, to stop no matter what the cost, stop short of paradise if it must be obtained through another's hell. For he couldn't betray that trust.
And it worked. But there was no use telling himself he didn't still want to kill. That was a lie. Wearily, Frevven recognized the still-hungry and forever insatiable monster in his soul as nevertheless an integral part of himself. And accepted what he was. And, at last and finally, stopped hating himself quite so much for it.
Frevven opened his eyes then and just had time to focus them on Chaynek before the Gen collapsed on top of him. The shock of the abruptly-terminated transfer folded him in on himself in pain, and the sustained horror of the past several days caught up with him all at once, threatening to overwhelm his mind. He fought against it, wanting desperately to know if Chaynek was all right. Unfolding himself stiffly from the tight knot he had unwittingly curled into, Frevven got to his knees. Without his glasses and so soon after transfer he could neither see nor zlin effectively, but the dim shape just off to one side had to be Chaynek. Frevven reached hesitantly towards the crumpled figure lying face down on the beach, hoping it was not only his imagination that sensed life in the unconscious Gen. He turned Chaynek over, carefully brushing damp sand from the man's face. Only with difficulty could Frevven sort out Chaynek's pain from his own, so he wasn't sure if the other man was badly hurt or not. But he had to have help, and soon. They both did.
"Chaynek, don't die, Please don't die," Frevven pleaded hysterically. "If you're here, the others must be somewhere on the island also. They'll find us soon, They must. Everything will be all right. Just don't die."
So involved had he become in willing the Gen to live that he hardly realized that he had seized Chaynek by the shoulders and was actually shaking him insistently, as if attempting to wake him up. The distraught channel was therefore entirely unprepared when Chaynek's eyes fluttered open, and he said weakly, "Truly, Frevven, I have absolutely no intention of dying. That is," he went on, with a wan attempt at a smile, "unless you intend to keep shaking me like this. I have one hell of a headache already and I doubt I could stand it much longer."
Frevven stared, torn between laughter and tears.
"Then I didn't kill you, did I?" he finally said in amazement.
"Apparently not," Chaynek replied, wincing as he propped himself up on his elbows and looked around. "Did you really think you would?"
"Yes . . . er . . . no . . . that is . . . I don't know," he stammered in confusion.
"Frevven, please listen to me," Chaynek said intently. "I know I took a chance in doing what I did I was prepared to die." The Gen's brown eyes caught and locked with Frevven's as he continued, "But, truly, I expected to live."
"Why the sudden vote of confidence?" Frevven asked suspiciously.
"Maybe I owed you one for V'lissia. Kem told us what happened, or at least as much as he knew. To be perfectly honest, I never expected to find my cousin alive. When we did . . ." Chaynek shrugged, and smiled his infectious smile, "Truly, I just might have been wrong about you all these years after all."
Frevven was by now beyond amazement; he was totally flabbergasted. Then he sensed a group of people approaching, but couldn't make out any details. "Someone's coming," he warned Chaynek. The Gen looked around through the thinning fog.
"I think our rescuers have finally made it," Chaynek said with relief, as Shanneh and Anieva came racing up to them, closely followed by the rest of the search party.
The resulting melee of relief, surprise, worry, curiosity, and concern was quite too much for Frevven, especially since it was combined with a barrage of questions. He shuddered and closed his eyes, lying back on the wet beach where so much had happened in so little time. He wasn't sure he'd be able to sort it all out, but one thing was for certain: something inside him had changed. He couldn't quite say he felt at peace with himself; it was rather more like an armed truce. Still, it was an improvement, and Frevven was content with that. For now.
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