Sime Surgeon Copyright ©1978 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg -
Copyright 1999 Sime~Gen(tm) Inc. All rights reserved.
All rights reserved

FORWARD TO WEB EDITION:

by

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1997

Here is Part Two of the early draft of my Doubleday novel, Unto Zeor, Forever. I've done a little reformatting on this text sent to me by Ronnie Bob Whitaker after scanning and ocr-ing and proofing but I've again left in the page breaks from the fanzine. Where you see RBW initials in the text, those are Ronnie Bob Whitaker's proof reading marks and comments. This is an EARLY draft, and it was typed by a volunteer fan. Not only is it rife with my own typos and inconsistencies (names are spelled various ways I'm sure), but it gained a few in the retyping.

Furthermore, in those days, typewriters didn't have italics. The IBM selectric was the first to have changeable type faces, and they cost three times what any ordinary typewriter would cost. So most people didn't even think about getting a Selectric until IBM came out with the Correcting Selectric - a really high tech device that allowed you to correct mistakes by hitting a backspace key and retyping the letter. The correcting tapes that lifted off the mistaken letter were very expensive, too. And it wasn't recommended for use with offset printing.

In those days, publishers required that italicized words be underlined - and that is the protocol that we used for this typing, retained in the web edition. The "rule" is that worded thoughts should be italicized, but paraphrased thoughts are not. That is, if the character thinks, "I really ought to tell this guy where to go," it should be italicized in print (underlined by typewriter). If the writer narrates the character's thought like this, "Digen thought he should tell Mickland where to go," then it should be in regular type. As a writer, I made mistakes. The typist made mistakes while correcting my mistakes. You have the result before you. It is one of the most mistake-free examples of fanzine publishing you'll find of this vintage. So laugh. It's true.

Sime Surgeon

by

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part Two

CHAPTER SIX

Digen, Booker, and Durr spent the rest of the night in Branoff's office with Mickland and Imrahan, whom Mickland had brought along for Digen in a gesture of unexpected mercy.

Digen had refused to prefer charges against the nurse who had attacked him, and she had been put to bed under sedation. Poston, once the tension had gone, had declined to prefer charges against Digen for obstructing justice when he deflected the shot into the linens.

Booker, however, had remained adamant, even when Branoff declared, "Gentlemen, we will settle this amicably. We are not going to make a border incident out of a misunderstanding."

Throughout the whole, gruelling (sic RBW grueling) ordeal, Imrahan had sat at Digen's left, silently lending him strength. And in the end, Mickland, forced to defend the Householding customs before outsiders, had turned to Imrahan and made him repeat the acknowledgement phrases in the Sectuib's inflection until Durr admitted that what he had heard had not in fact been a pledge to Rior but an acknowledgement of Rior.

Mickland had then struggled to explain the whole physical and emotional involvement of a channel with a subject, and the nature of the deathshock occurring in physical contact. Imrahan hammed it up a little, watching Digen as if he expected him to keel over any moment. By the time Mickland had finished, he had everyone in the room except Booker apologizing to Digen.

Watching this performance, Digen knew why Mickland had been elected Controller. He was good. Though he couldn't make them understand why Digen had acknowledged Rior--because he himself didn't really understand--he made them forgive Digen under the illusion that they understood. But most important of all, he freed the whole incident of any taint of Distect involvement on Digen's part. It was a masterpiece of diplomatic craftsmanship.

Afterwards, Mickland insisted Digen take the day off, and he and Imrahan spent it recuperating in Digen's new apartment--which Digen had in fact not seen before. It was a welcome break in which Digen slept a full three hours and spent all the rest of the time working with Imrahan on sophisticated techniques.

Digen was able to concentrate on Imrahan's work only because he knew he had only eleven more days to train him. He knew that he would have to face Booker again that afternoon--that somehow, Mickland would find a way to make him pay for the defense he'd received. But he put it all firmly aside, for a few hours, at any rate.

As it turned out, he didn't encounter Booker that night, nor for many nights running. It was almost another week before the Emergency Ward staff, working with him through crisis after crisis, began to treat Digen as they had before.

One morning, after rounds, Digen met Branoff in the hallway. Drawing Digen aside for a moment, Branoff said, "I'm getting too old to be hauled out of bed by the police at midnight, Dr. Farris. I do not--nobody here--appreciates a troublemaker."

"Yes, Sir."

"I've spoken to Dr. Booker. There's no doubt in my mind, you were insubordinate and that is grounds for dismissal."

"Yes, Sir. But . . ."

Branoff halted him with one raised hand. "But Dr. Booker agrees with me--the matter is too complex to pursue at this time." Branoff's manner suddenly changed. "Translation" "you were right and he was wrong. This time.

"Yes, Sir."

7

(page break)

Just then the page called, "Dr. Branoff. Dr. Branoff, telephone."

Branoff began walking, drawing Digen with him, speaking softly but firmly. "Don't let it go to your head. We do not tolerate insubordination in this hospital. My only concern here was to prevent the newspapers from connecting the name of Zeor with the Distect. You saw what happened with Miss Hepkin."

An image of sharp pointed scissors coming at him. He shuddered. "You can't blame her, Dr. Branoff. She wasn't attacking a doctor. She was attacking the image of all she fears most."

"Precisely my point. So the next time you try to get yourself dismissed," Branoff said, picking up the page phone, "use a little more discretion." And into the phone, he said, "Branoff."

Digen said, "Yes, Sir," and went to visit Ditana Amanso. He had arranged, two or three times, for her sister to visit her under escort of two second order donors. But then, seeing the strain it was for her sister, Ditana had asked her not to come again. Now, Ditana, alone, was facing the necessity for a series of spinal operations that might or might not restore her legs--and could possibly kill her. Digen was sure she was going to make it. But not as sure as he had been.

As he gradually brought the two Center departments he was responsible for under control, he was able to allot a few minutes each morning to visit the Memorial to the One Billion--the billion Gens who had died before Rimon Farris discovered he didn't have to kill in order to live. Digen, like all Householders, had grown up with the habit of taking his most disturbing problems to a Memorial where somehow they always shrank to insignificance beside the long sweep of history.

Every Householding since Rimon Farris's time had set aside a room for this Memorial, and in modern times, when the Householdings were not buildings but organizations which met wherever there were members enough, the Centers always had such a Memorial tucked away in an insulated corner of a sub-basement.

During medical school, Digen had been unable to visit the Memorial nearest him. Now, he counted these visits as a luxury he had to afford himself. It seemed, with each passing day, the questions closing in on him were deeper and more insoluble.

He had begun to feel, since Rizdel and the razor fight, since Ditana Amanso and the Distect Commando, that he was senselessly beating himself against a solid wall. Nobody wanted him to do what he was doing. Nobody was going to let him do it. And everybody was actively obstructing him.

But he realized that depression such as this was a classic symptom of chronic transfer deprivation, and in this case aggravated by his sister's Lortuen mating. They had been permitted a transfer assignment only once in about three years--any more frequently would have put them in danger of Lortuen or worse. Now, Digen realized he had lived the last two and a half years with his eye firmly fixed on their next transfer date, setting aside every disappointment with the conviction that Bett's touch would wipe away all scars and give him the strength to face the operating room and anything the hospital could throw at him.

He had in fact accepted several prolonged deprivations in order to synchronize with her donation schedule, bringing her to him just about the time he would be assigned to the operating room. And now, all of that had gone for nothing.

Rationally, he realized that even a Farris had a right to be depressed under such circumstances. And so he set aside his reactions to each new blow and fixed his hopes on Imrahan. Surprisingly, the ambrov Imil Companion had quite a lot more talent than had seemed apparent at first. Digen found that spending time in the Memorial and with Imrahan kept him one solid jump ahead of collapse, and he began to hope again, despite himself.

Of course, Mickland was unhappy with the amount of Imrahan's time Digen was taking up. Imrahan was on staff as a licensed therapist, and Digen was not on the therapy list. In the official tests, Imrahan's performance had indicated that further training would not improve his skills significantly. Digen made Mickland even more unhappy by claiming a Household dispensation, in writing.

Tecton law provided for the preservation of Household transfer techniques, and officially the World Controller was always glad when one Household would teach another.

8

(page break)

Most of the spectacular advances of the last four decades had come from such interactions, especially where Zeor was involved. So Mickland could do nothing.

Digen made good on his claim by teaching Imrahan a method of dealing with the nightmares the Rizdel business had left him with. He felt he had to get over them before he actually entered need or the common night mares (sic RBW nightmares) of need coupled with the indelible ones of the Gen fears would surely drive him insane.

Toward the end of that second week in Westfield, late one night in the Emergency Ward, Digen picked up a discarded Gen newspaper, his eye attracted by a picture on the front page. It took him a moment to place the man's face, and then he had it. Hajene Elkar.

The banner headline over the picture:

TECTON CHANNEL COMMITS SUICIDE

The article only stated that Elkar had committed suicide and then went on to editorialize about the thin edge that separated all Simes from homicidal insanity.

Only the Tecton and the channels stand between us and the stark terror of the uncontrollable Sime nature. And now, this channel has had to kill himself rather than risk harming a Gen. Does this not raise serious questions about the reliability of the Tecton and the stability of its channels? If the Tecton cannot provide for its channels, how can it be trusted to provide for its renSimes? And if the channels are not well provided for, might they not consider turning to--other sources?

Considering the stories that had been printed lately about the Frihill dig at Leander Field, the history of the battle there, and lately, the lone Distect commando, the innuendo was quite clear. What if the channels turned to the Distect?

As soon as he could get away, Digen went up to Ditana's room and borrowed the newspaper he had brought her that afternoon without taking time to look at it.

The Elkar story had the entire centerfold section of the paper with a detailed account of what had happened plus publication of all the Controller's decision charts and graphs demonstrating that none had been guilty of malfeasance or negligence--all had been done by the book.

Digen read with absorption. Elkar had spent the first year after changeover in the same training camp as Digen, and they had been good friends for a while, though over the years they had completely lost touch. Elkar, Digen remembered, had been sensitive and frail, qualifying as a First Order channel only after making Third and Second order qualification, whereas Digen, like most Farrises, had qualified First at his first transfer. Elkar had not resented having to slave over skills that came naturally to Digen, and Digen had spent many evenings tutoring Elkar.

Elkar had been sent, a year ago, to serve a small but important crossroads town on the northern border where he was the only First Order channel in the sparsely settled and remote District. Somehow, despite all the local and surrounding District Controllers could do, for seven consecutive months, there had been no proper transfer for Elkar.

Scribbling his own calculations in the margins of the paper, while Ditana slept peacefully, Digen verified that there had in fact been no malfeasance. There simply weren't enough first order donors. Not there, and not anywhere. So in the end, Elkar had taken his own life rather than risk violating his Tecton oath by harming a Gen. In the Tecton newspaper, Elkar was a hero.

Digen tucked the paper under Ditana's pillow. If I hadn't helped him qualify First Order--if he had stayed a Second--he would never have had a problem.

Strangely enough, the thought held no guilt for Digen. But it was heavy with an awareness of responsibility. I didn't kill him; I couldn't have prevented his death. But I support the system that made him what he was and exposed him to the danger of such a death.

It didn't help that Digen knew himself to be in even worse danger of the same kind. With the loss of Bett from the rotation rolls, the shortage at Digen's level was worse than it had ever been in his lifetime. He felt the irony of it even more

9

(page break)

when he brooded too long on the waste of people like Rizdel--the could-have-beens. It was never anybody's fault. It was the system.

Within a few days, Elkar had become the rallying point for a renewed drive to locate and train more higher order donors from the ranks of the TN-3's. The bulk of the publicity fell to Rindaleo Hayashi, Westfield's famous Trainer and his experimental training techniques. Suddenly, funds and programs were being thrust upon him from all sides, and the Center building's security force had to be increased to deal with the reporters and others who came to town looking for Hayashi.

The day before the halfway point in his need cycle, Digen was called to Mickland's office. He took himself up to the ninth floor by a back stairway and went in through the rear door that led through the little shower room and into the workroom.

Mickland was there, pasting up one of his balance sheets and dictating letters over his shoulder to his secretary. He dismissed her when he saw Digen coming and said, "Hajene Farris--good, good." He picked up Digen's file chart from the desk and flipped pages. "According to this, you should be able to handle a QN-2 Dependency problem."

"Uhm yes, I've done it. Who?"

"In a moment. First, I want you to know that I've decided not to record that little affair over at the hospital on your permanent record."

Digen blinked. Nothing had happened that ought to be recorded - he'd taken a deathshock, fairly minor as such things go, and worth nothing more than a note on his monthly workchart. There would be no permanent effects. What was Mickland driving at?

"Your subcontroller's log need be no more detailed than mine, Hajene. Understood?"

Click. Got it. If a Second Order Channel develops a dependency on some particular Donor, technically it is always the Controller's fault. Mickland was attempting to bribe Digen into not mentioning the Dependency he'd been called to treat.

"It has always been my habit," said Digen, "to treat the patient first and worry about the chart entries afterward. Is this Second in active need?"

Mickland nodded. "I'm not going to delay to discuss the matter. I only wanted to point out that your judgements have cost this Center heavily. Vancho Remmers, forty-eight hours for a slight vraimic turbulance. (sic RBW turbulence.) Rizdel, committed to Hayashi for nearly a year--Hayashi, of all people, for a transfer-shy GN-3! And now this - one of the Seconds on your own service caught in a dependency. Not to mention monopolizing Imrahan when I require him most . . . am I quite clear?"

"On (sic RBW "In) my own service? Who?"

Mickland moved to the door to his front office and opened it for Digen. "You may work in here." As Digen went through the door, Mickland flicked on the privacy indicator, and shut the door behind Digen.

The room was as Digen remembered it, from the Ilyana Dumas transfer, but now, on the contour lounge lay Madhur Sharma curled in on himself and fretting audibly.

"Madder!" said Digen, going straight across the room. "How--I had no idea--"

The boy sat up. He was in hard need, fighting for control. "Sectuib Farris! I can't--I can't do it. You can get her for me--you can . . ."

Digen sat down beside the boy, taking his small, frail body into his arms. "Oh, Madder, you know I can't do that. You know. I've got to get you out of this, not deeper into it."

Digen was already matching his field and at the same time, reading the boy's internal flows and counterflows. Digen had, just once, seen a case of dependency even more advanced than this. But never in a child.

"Sectuib--Digen--please, please believe me. I can't. I tried. I aborted, three times. Only Derina can do it for me. I know it."

10

(page break)

Digen summoned the boy's chart to memory. There was nothing there to indicate anything like this was happening right under Digen's eyes. He was amazed that in two weeks he had not picked up some sign, some indication. The only item of suspicion was that Derina Otep, TN-2, had been Sharma's assigned Donor two months running. She would have to be disciplined--perhaps sent for retraining.

"Madder, I must have your help. Now!" said Digen, slipping his hands down to take the boy's tentacles in the Sime/Sime transfer grip. "You're going to take transfer from me."

"No, no! I'll abort again. I can't stand it!"

Sharma was very near the edge of his endurance, Digen realized. The need was more psychological than physical, but he was only a boy--despite the forced, early maturity of the channel's training, he was still only fourteen years old, barely two years out of changeover. Digen knew all too well what it was like. He had gone through changeover at ten and to work at barely twelve. But he had had his father and mother to look up to. Sharma was alone.

He shook the boy, once, hard. "Madder, listen to me. I face this kind of abort every bloody-be-shen month! Worse than you've ever had it. I never know when it's going to kill me. I know all about aborts."

He had the boy's attention now, and he drove his point home--knowing it was cruel, but unable to see any other way. "And--I--don't--have any crybabies on my staff. Is that clear?"

For just a moment, there was a spark of the old Sharma, proud, a little arrogant, totally self-confident. Then it was swept away by the rising need. By Digen's reading, Sharma had about twenty hours to live if he didn't get a transfer. That was uncomfortably close to the panic line for a Second Order. Damn Mickland!

But then, thought Digen, Mickland had probably been fifteen or sixteen before he went through changeover.

Digen was raising his show-field steadily, preparing to offer transfer. He wished he knew more about Derina Otep, so he could imitate her style, if he had to. He would just have to take his cues from Sharma's demand pattern. "All right, Madder, here we go." Digen gave him terse instructions. He didn't feel the scar tissue was going to be a problem during the outflow--his major difficulties always occurred with an inflow of selyn. But anyhow, he said, "Don't fret if I run a bit lopsided--it won't be beyond your tolerances."

An imbalance that could throw Digen into an abort wouldn't even be perceptible to most channels. Here, dealing with a Second, Digen was well able to play the role of Gen, supplying selyn at the speed and quantity Sharma demanded--faking the Gen barriers, even approximating the emotional responses.

This was the art the channels of the Householdings had developed, by painful trial and error, over many generations, though it was never intended to be used on channels. Digen worked now to the very limits of his own abilities--fast, delicate, responsive to Sharma's demand to micrometric accuracy. At one and the same time, he fit himself into Derina Otep's pattern, and still broke the threads of dependency, one by one, refusing each departure from the Tecton standard code of transfer.

Wherever she had slipped into feeding one of Sharma's individual quirks or preferences, Digen offered instead a perfectly executed Tecton approved response, and held to it until it was accepted. Several times, Sharma went wild under Digen's grip, thrashing and groaning frantically.

Each time, Digen pulled him back by strength of will. And when it was over, he held the boy tight to him while he cried and cried. Oddly, Digen could find no tear to shed. He felt only numbness, not the stinging resonances of nerve and flesh such a donation should have left him. What have I done? Why does it have to be this way?

But he knew the answer. At all costs, the out-Territory Gens had to be protected from the renSimes in need. The collecting and dispensing of selyn had to go on, smoothly, absolutely dependably, regardless of the births, deaths, marriages, loves lost, migrane (sic RBW migraine) headaches, shaking plague, menstrual cramps, or vraimic turbulances (sic RBW turbulences) among the channels and their donors. Every channel, every donor, had to be able to step in and take any other's place, smoothly, efficiently maintain the flow of

11

(page break)

selyn from the general class donors to the renSimes as if personal lives hadn't come crashing down in despair.

Over the years, the Tecton had built a reputation as solid as Zeor's for absolute dependability. Through fire, famine, flood, riot, and epidemic, through blizzard, sandstorm, collapsed bridges, train crashes, and civil war, never had a renSime asked and not received.

Digen looked down at the boy who had cried himself out. Some corner of his mind noted professionally with satisfaction that his donation had sufficed to throw the Second into post-transfer syndrome. But inside, Digen still felt the raw wounds weeping.

He's had a glimpse of what it is we must deny ourselves. He'll never be the same again. Another victim. Why? How long?

Would it have been so terrible, Digen asked himself with a sense of betrayal, if the kid had been allowed one more month--but he knew, in the end, that would only have made it harder.

Digen, himself, had held Exclusives with Donor Therapists who had to cater to his peculiarities, after his accident. He knew, intimately, the hell of breaking an Exclusive. Sharma had gotten off easy--this time. If ever--he forced himself to finish the thought--If ever Bett had to break her Lortuen Exclusive, I hope I'm not there to watch it.

But he knew he would be. He was probably the only channel in creation who could do it for her. And there's nobody who could do it for me.

He told himself sharply not to dwell on such things. He'd be going into need the next day, and he was already depressed enough without getting morbid.

"Madder? Madder! Don't go to sleep now. I have to leave."

"Oh! Oh." He shook his head back. Some of the old fire had returned. The physical strength was there, but Digen distrusted the emotional balance. Kid needs a Gen, or maybe just a woman.

Digen said, "You're not married, are you?"

"No. Engaged. Third Order Donor. She was sent over to Eastfield this month--she's a therapist." He added proudly, "I think she'll qualify Second by the end of the year."

Digen said, "Why don't you take a car and drive over there this afternoon. By this time tomorrow, I'll have your work schedule straightened out and your new orders will have come through. Meanwhile, you've earned a rest."

Digen let him use the shower while he phoned down to ready a car. Mickland was nowhere around, so Digen just sat down at the desk in the workroom and began filling in the forms, pondering just how to enter this on Sharma's permanent record.

When Sharma left, Digen was still wrestling with the problem of what to do with him and Derina Otep. He had completely forgotten about Mickland's warning. He decided to consult Hayashi about the Gen, and put through a retraining order on the boy--sending off copies of his comments and recommendations directly to Rialite.

Before he sealed the envelopes, he looked at the form again. Rialite was one of the camps where channels were trained during the first year after changeover when learning capacities peaked, sometimes at as much as nine or ten times normal. After the thirteenth or fourteenth transfer, a Sime's learning capacity dropped quickly back to more reasonable limits. Rarely was anyone ever sent back to a First Year Camp, especially not a channel.

It could be humiliating. There was no way to compete with a first-year Sime. But Digen was sure he was doing the right thing. Sharma had trained at a very shabby, second rate camp. He'd missed a lot. Digen had trained and even taught at Rialite. Most Farrises did. And there were a lot of Farrises in the administration there. They'd know how to handle the boy.

He sealed the envelope and dropped it in the mailbag, leaving the Controller's file copies on the desk. Then he took himself off for another night in the hospital's

12

(page break)

Emergency Ward.

The next morning, when he was paged to the Controller's office within moments of flicking on his name light on the big board, Digen knew what was wrong. It all came back to him in a rush.

Digen reported to Mickland in the big, formal office, and stood straight before the desk. Mickland had the file copies of Sharma's forms on his desk. He threw the stack at Digen. "Where are the originals?"

Digen caught the flying papers. He didn't have to look too closely to see what they were. "I mailed them yesterday, as per standard procedure."

"I should never have made you a subcontroller. You have no sense of--of--value. Don't you know what it's going to cost? A year? A QN-2?"

"Controller Mickland, if you'll consult line K, page seven, you'll see that I calculated the cost within a mean deviation of . . ."

"Hajene!"

Digen stopped.

"It can't be justified, no matter how much or how little it costs, it can't be justified. This Center is not clearing an expense margin large enough to afford a case of heatrash, let alone this."

It took Digen several slack moments to catch up with the Controller's thought. Digen's action, he knew, had been totally justified in terms of Sharma's life, his future productivity, his personal development, his eventual worth to the Tecton. He had always been taught that you figure out what you must have, then find a way to afford it--not vice versa.

Digen said, "Wait. Wait a moment. I don't think the Center will run up any deficits on the World Board because of any action or decision of mine. If you'll check the yield and cost statistics on my department for the last two weeks, you'll see the beginnings of a marked shift back towards their norms. I have made a few expensive decisions which can be classed as investments. Some of them have begun to pay off."

Mickland shook his head. Digen said, "Sharma will only be a student for a few weeks, then they'll put him to teaching. Good, productive work. And it will also help him develop to the point where there's no danger he'll ever get caught like that again. It won't debit Westfield more than . . ."

Mickland opened a drawer and took out Digen's chart, the black one with the blue diagonal band. "All right. All right. If that's the way you want it--on the record--then we'll put it all on the record. Every last item. I'm not even going to take you off the subcontrollership until you've dug yourself in so deep not even--not even Muryin Farris could get you out! (sic RBW out!")

"But . . ."

"Out. I don't want to see you here until the next crisis hits. I've got work to do."

Digen went. By the door, he turned back and said, "Hajene Mickland, I think you should realize that by sending Madder away, I've deprived myself of my best Second Order in the Changeover Ward. I didn't do it to spite you."

Mickland looked up from his writing. "You think I can believe that . . ."

Digen met his eyes. Mickland was Sime. He knew, beyond all doubt, that Digen wasn't lying. Digen said, "No. I guess maybe you aren't able to, even though it's true. I was grateful, for the way you defended me that night in the hospital. You're good at your job. But, Hajene, sometimes that's not enough."

Back in his office, Digen threw himself into the chair, grabbed the newspaper, and put his feet up on the desk. He had hit the half-way point in his need cycle, the point where everything started to come apart and he felt as clumsy as a Gen. He knew he hadn't handled Mickland right. But today, of all days, it just didn't seem worth the effort.

13

(page break)

He noted idly that they still hadn't found the other bomb at the Frihill dig. There was a statement from Anthelli Zehrin--the Dig Controller--saying that he didn't think there was another one. Digen wasn't so sure. He wanted to drive out there and look around, but there just wasn't time. He had tea, and spent the rest of the morning clearing away a backlog of decisions, and worrying what he would do for a Second to cover the Changeover Ward in the evening.

About noon, Mora Dyan, the First Order Channel who ran the Dispensary--located on the other side of the elevators across from Digen's office--came through the little corridor beside the elevators, the one Digen had stumbled through the first time he came up to the Ward.

Digen watched her skirt around a group of arriving changeover patients and come into his office. She put a box of Digen's favorite mint twists on his desk and said, "Happy turnover day. Think you'll live through it?"

"I've had my doubts," he answered, helping himself to the confection. "What can I do for you?"

"I heard about your little--umm--disagreement with Mickland over Madder. Like to hear your side of it."

He told her. She said, "It's too bad. I really was beginning to like that kid. He could be obnoxious, but he never missed a beat running this place. And there's really none better than a kid to run a changeover ward. Gives the patients confidence."

Digen nodded. It was where he'd started himself, at the age of twelve. "The way Mickland's feeling, I don't know how long it will be until I can get a replacement. Or what I'll get for a replacement."

"Tell you what. Meantime, I'll split it with you. I'll cover Madder's functionals while you're gone. You'll have to do his paperwork--I couldn't possibly handle any more than I've got, and you know how Mickland is on paper."

Digen grinned, offered his tentacles. "Deal."

They drank tea together while they ironed out the details. It would work out for a few days, until Mickland assigned somebody to take Sharma's place. But it would take time for Digen's recommendations to reach the top and come back in terms of orders to Mickland. And Mickland, Digen knew, would be fighting a delaying action with counter-recommendations. From the World Controller's office, it would all appear very ugly indeed.

Later that afternoon, a group representing the renSime employees of the Center presented Digen with a petition for the removal of Ilyana Dumas from the Center.

"This belongs in the Controller's office," Digen protested.

The spokesman answered, "Mickland would take six months to refer the matter to higher authority, and in the end nothing would be done about it. You're the Farris here. If you say she goes, she'll be gone tomorrow."

Digen had argued that he did not run the Tecton, but in the practical minds of the janitors, repairmen, carpenters, cooks, and supply clerks, the secretaries, gardeners, plumbers, and librarians employed by the Center, Ilyana Dumas was a threat.

Specifically, the charges were Indecent advances, Unlawful behavior with renSimes, Possessing a Disruptive Demeanor. As per the law in such cases, five counts of each offense were documented and attested. But somehow Digen felt that the "Jess and Muryin" rumors had more to do with the demand that she be removed than any amount of misconduct.

As soon as he could get away, Digen went up to Rindaleo Hayashi's top floor laboratory suite. In a way, he was glad that he would, at last, meet Hayashi face to face. They had worked together now for two weeks, but only knew each other as scrawled initials on interdepartmental memos.

On the way, Digen pondered how odd it was that he had lived perhaps six years without hearing or seeing the word Distect more than three times, yet here, in his first few weeks, he had been almost swimming in it.

As far as he knew, the back of the Distect movement had been broken at the Battle

14

(page break)

of Leander. There was nothing left but a few families living out their lives up in the high mountains never bothering anyone. It was only out-Territory that the word "Distect" held connotations of armies, conspiracy, and serious warfare. In-Territory, it meant merely an abomination long since stamped out, one which would be kept out at all costs.

A lot of people distrusted Ilyana Dumas's presence at a Tecton Center. But what could one very sick girl do to the Tecton except provide Hayashi with a wealth of research data before she died--and Digen knew she would not live many years--underdraw victims like that rarely did.

Digen was not totally naive. He knew that Mickland was using Ilyana in his quest for the World Controllership. If he could stabilize her in the Tecton mode, it would make history. It would prove that the Tecton was indeed more powerful than the Distect.

And that was the crux of the matter, Digen realized. It was said that any Tecton channel--or renSime--who once tasted of the Distect mode of transfer would never accept the Tecton again; that the Distect mode was the more natural way for any Sime to live--and thus, that the Tecton was unnatural.

Digen found the lab where Hayashi was working and paused by the glass window set in the heavily insulated door. Hayashi was working before another window which overlooked a very heavily insulated instrument room where Ilyana Dumas was installed in a recliner.

Digen observed for a moment as Hayashi worked the knobs and buttons under his fingers and tentacles. In the room beyond, Ilyana tensed visibly and then, as she relaxed again, lights in the monitors all about her flashed and winked from one color to another or went out altogether.

Digen had no idea what it all represented. He had, of course, read up on some of Hayashi's theories, but as in all science, what was published was already old news. Hayashi had developed these new methods of training Gens to respond to selyn field variances when it became obvious that the shortage of trained Donors would not let up until it didn't take the full time of one channel to train one Donor.

If Hayashi's machines ever came into general usage, one channel could train a dozen Donors and still do his normal work. The Donors would not be subjecting him to systemic fatigue and all the attendant dangers.

Digen, having trained his share of Donors, was heartily in favor of that.

Abruptly, Hayashi turned, realizing by Digen's shadow that somebody was there. He beckoned, and Digen entered the tiny cubicle, his hands and tentacles outstretched. "Digen Farris," he introduced himself.

Hayashi joined his hands for a moment, grinning, "At last! Didn't you bring Imrahan?"

"Oh, I haven't come for myself. I must speak with you and Ilyana Dumas. It urgent--or haven't you heard of this petition?"

Ilyana, who had been seated with her back to them, turned when Digen came into the room. Hayashi said, into the microphone, "Ilyana, finish up and meet me in my office immediately."

As they walked back to Hayashi's office, Digen noted that the famous channel was of medium height, balding, and had a pronounced limp. That interested Digen. Very few Simes survived any injury which could leave them permanently maimed--and Digen was one of those few. He'd never heard that Hayashi was another.

Hayashi's office had once been designed as an executive office suite for the one who presided over the top floor research laboratories. Hayashi had turned the rooms into a working office, with an overflowing musty smelling library, and partitioned off cubicles for the students who came--sometimes halfway around the world--to work under him.

With great ceremony, Hayashi installed Digen in the most comfortable chair, behind the great desk, offered tea, and made a fuss about hosting the Sectuib in Zeor. Hayashi himself had no Household connections, but he revered Zeor and Frihill as

15

(page break)

prime movers of the Tecton. He confided that his greatest ambition had been to meet the Sectuib in Zeor, Digen's father, and that his death had been the most crushing blow of his life.

Uncomfortably, Digen steered the conversation back to the petition which Hayashi inspected, saying, "I've never seen her do any of these things. But it wouldn't surprise me. I have not, if the truth must be known, had a great deal of success with her."

At that point, the door opened and Ilyana tilted her head around it. "Am I intruding?"

Hayashi, who had seated himself on the windowsill, said, "No, no, come in, come in."

She came into the room past the empty study cubicles. To Digen, it was as if a bright mellow C-natural toned light entered the room. He was drawn to his feet resonating to it. Shen! Talk about selyur nager!

He wondered why he hadn't noticed it the first time he'd met her. Selyur nager, the distinctive mark of the Donor, was not something a Sime would overlook at a first meeting. And then Digen realized that at their first meeting, she had been at absolute maximum field. Now, she was low enough that her selyn production rate was perceptibly affected by his own field and Hayashi's.

Her selyur nager fluctuated as she moved into their fields, spiking upwards disturbingly. Digen was now fully into the need half of his cycle, responsive and aware of her, and he realized he himself was producing the fluctuations he found so unsettling. She has no control at all, he thought, no wonder the renSimes were complaining!

Hayashi, seeing how Digen was falling into resonance with her, limped across to interpose himself between them, skillfully using his own field to disrupt their inadvertant (sic RBW inadvertent) harmony. "I see you've noticed my lack of success," said Hayashi, bringing Digen to with a jolt.

"Uh," said Digen. "Hmmm." He sat down heavily.

Hayashi made the introductions, explaining that Digen was the problem assignee Imrahan had been training for while he seated her in the guest chair, provided her with a glass of trin tea, and introduced the topic of the petition, all to give Digen time to collect himself.

Digen, in the midst of making the adjustment to need, had to work hard to bring his showfield up to match hers, and then stabilize himself just above her potential. He reduced his emotional nager--the modulation of his selyn field by his emotions--to as near zero as any Sime could so that he in effect went deliberately blind in one of the most basic Sime senses--empathy.

Hayashi, cutting off in mid-sentence, had to turn to look at Digen before he could believe what his senses told him.

Moving carefully, aware of the fragile threads of tension that let him do this, Digen went around the desk, past Hayashi. The older man put out his hand to stay Digen, but Digen signalled (sic RBW signaled) with two tentacles--I've got it.

Digen knew that Hayashi could see her responses stabilize under his steady field. But since they had only just met, Digen was afraid Hayashi would interfere, considering Digen too much a cripple to take such a risk as this. Quickly, before Hayashi could think it all through, Digen drew himself to his full height, and closed the distance to Ilyana.

He looked down at her in the chair. For a moment, her eyes strayed to Hayashi, and Digen knew she too was measuring him, making allowance for his disability. He took her face between his hands, tentacles extended, and drew her eyes back to his. "Can you feel what I'm doing?"

Hardly breathing, she nodded.

Digen got the curious impression that she believed she was letting him do it. He wasn't reading her emotional nager close enough to verify the impression, but he approved. It was a good healthy attitude for a Gen, and was, he realized, probably

16

(page break)

responsible for her curious second order barrier reflex unaccompanied by anything like Rizdel's fear responses.

He said, "You must learn to do this for yourself, Ilyana, or you will not be permitted to remain in the Center."

"I've tried. I can't."

Despite the blocks he was holding on his empathic responses, Digen felt her despair like a twist deep in his body. He seized the answer in one intuitive leap. "It's not that you cannot--it's that you want-not."

She closed her eyes. "No! I've tried."

"Ilyana, do you remember what you said after the transfer with Controller Mickland?"

Negation flared in her. "I was hysterical--I always get hysterical, but never like that--never before."

Again Digen found himself oddly convinced she was holding back something. He wanted to pursue it, but he said, "You said the only way out was to die, but you didn't want to die. You can't accept our way, and you can't survive--your old way."

Her eyes were closed, two tears seeping from the corners. "I said that? Well, it's true, it's true, it's true!"

"You haven't learned, Ilyana, because everything in you rejects that learning."

She looked at him, then, the tears flowing freely and unheeded. "Don't let them send me away. I want to live."

Way inside Digen, at that last vestige of empathic awareness he could not shut off, he resonated to her cry. As he responded, her emotional nager flared, and he could not help but respond to the increase--her will to live, her plea to him for the gift of life, touched him at the deepest channel's response. In seconds, his control over his empathic responses was shattered.

Barely, just barely, he managed to retain his grip on his showfield. But he was caught up in her fierce will to live, her deep dedication to her innermost sense of rightness, and the demand of the Tecton that she violate that sense of rightness in order to live.

It came to him not as thoughts or words but as a feeling deep, deep in the pit of his stomach. I can't! and I must!

It would have meant nothing to him if Digen, himself hadn't lived his entire life in this condition. He knew it not as it was for her--Distect morals versus Tecton demands--but in terms of Zeor and the Tecton constantly requiring of him what he could not give--the entirety of his being.

All at once, as her plea struck a chord that reverberated through him, he saw his life as he had never seer it before. He knew why he was so obsessed with surgery. It was to be his contribution, to establish his identity separate and apart from Tecton and Zeor, to keep them from swallowing him up as they devoured so many souls. He sensed himself at the center of three forces, pulling in opposed directions, and he had to win or his life--his eternal life--would be forfeit.

The urgency of that drive to win was hers, fuelled (sic RBW fueled) by all the power of her selyn field, but the response was Digen's. That specific, peculiar note of urgency she had touched off was the distilled essence of the need experience--I must live!

And finally, at the apex of it all, I'm afraid! I'm losing. I'm dying.

And the kill. No! I refuse to die! I'll take what I need.

And the Gen's reflexive response, exploded in Digen anew, ongoing nightmare he had lived with for ten days, unable to shake it off, unable to banish it, evan (sic RBW even) with Imrahan's help.

He never felt Hayashi's hands tearing them apart, never remembered afterwards how

17

(page break)

Hayashi had gone into a Donor's contact with him and brought him, step by step up out of the nightmare heedless of the personal cost.

As Digen came to, the Rizdel nightmare was forced back, buried behind thick walls. He was in the guest chair. Ilyana gone. Hayashi said, "I sent her for Imrahan."

Digen gulped down great lungsful of air, throwing off the last traces of the reaction. "It's nothing. Just turnover day jitters."

"Digen, don't be an ass. I was in there with you. Why didn't you come to me with this a week ago?"

"What could you do?"

"I've been working with Rizdel and Imrahan both. I recognize their work on you. Surely . . ."

Digen shook his head. "It never interfered with my work before. I don't know what happened. Her chart says she's not a Farris, but, shen, does she ever have a nager!"

"I know. That's why I stepped in."

"Actually," said Digen, getting unsteadily to his feet and testing his strength gingerly, "you shouldn't have. If I could have worked against a field like that for a few moments more, I might have been able to rid myself of this thing."

"I always knew Farrises had a deserved reputation for being chronically insane, but this is ridiculous."

"Oh, I wouldn't have hurt her! I don't think I could. She's really something outside normal experience."

"True. But she's far too sensitive. Do you know what you were broadcasting? That kind of fear syndrome is a communicable disease. What would I do if I had to treat the likes of her for it?"

"If she hasn't picked it up from Rizdel yet, why do you think she could get it from me?"

Hayashi looked at Digen strangely. Digen stared him back, questioning. He truthfully did not know what Hayashi was driving at until the man said, "It's the first time you ever met a matchmate of yours, isn't it?"

"Matchmate?" said Digen, startled. Then, "Rin, a joke like that is in very bad taste." He sat down in the desk chair, the pit of his stomach churning.

"It's hard to believe a channel of your caliber wouldn't recognize it, Digen, but it's true. I've seen it too often not to trust my own judgement. Her selyn production rate is an exact match for your selyn consumption rate."

Digen's mouth went dry. Lortuen was possible only between matchmates. I should have known. The feel of it is so different. At the same time he was berating himself for professional sloppiness in missing that diagnosis, another level of his mind was in shock--Shen! She's Distect. And mitigating it, there was the thought, Thank God I'm not sexually sensitive.

As long as he could not respond to her sexually, he was safe from Lortuen. And a Sime was sexually active only when not in need. Digen had been chronically in need so long he'd almost forgotten what sex was like.

At that point, Imrahan came to the door and Hayashi let him in. Digen, bathed in Imrahan's disciplined field, suddenly realized how tired he was. He couldn't think, couldn't listen to the involved conference the two held over him. He heard sentences snatched out of context: "It could cause unpredictable glandular reaction, especially near active need." "The transfer will be a few days early for him, I have the figures here . . ." "Just remember, Farrises are never predictable." "I thought the Rizdel thing was whipped, that's why . . ." "Let's check his chart." "Look, he's fallen asleep." "Not quite. Let's get him onto the bed."

Movement, and then the long unravelling (sic RBW unraveling) fall into sleep.

18

(page break)

CHAPTER SEVEN

For the next week, Digen met regularly with Imrahan and Hayashi. Together they banished all but the last ghost of the Rizdel experience. After that, with a deliberate professionalism, they worked to strip away layer by layer, all the inhibitions Digen had acquired working with inadequate Donors.

Digen knew what was being done to him and cooperated fully. But it wasn't easy. He'd had too many consecutive transfers in which he had to maintain his control to protect his Donor. He couldn't quite dare to let himself go now.

Yet he had to learn to trust Imrahan. If he couldn't, the transfer would be unsatisfactory and he'd be left another month with the dull throb of chronic need nagging at him day and night.

Imrahan was an experienced therapist, not in Bett's class, of course, nor quite in Digen's, but a skilled professional. He worked with a subdued intensity as the week neared its end. He took to meeting Digen in a little glade along the path between the hospital and the Center just a few steps from the Territory border in order to help Digen off with the retainers which became harder to endure as need approached.

Often, on hot days, Digen would sleep there beside the little talking brook, in the shade of the weeping willow. Imrahan's skill at managing these rest periods increased steadily with practice, and Digen began to dare to hope this transfer would be one to remember.

Meanwhile, during this week, Digen continued in the Emergency Room of the hospital. Hardly anyone spoke to him except Joel and a couple of the nurses. A lot of his time, he spent in the laboratory and blood bank, though once in a while he would take a history or listen to an Attending Physician explaining something to Dr. Carry or Joel Hogan. He knew that Booker was just waiting for an excuse to have him dismissed. So he worked hard, but never at anything a medical student wouldn't have been allowed to do.

He knew that if he had a run-in with Booker now, while Hayashi and Imrahan were deliberately provoking his need, he would certainly lose his temper and his chance at surgery. At the Center, everyone compensated for the personality shifts during need. In the hospital, as at school, Digen had to do all the compensating.

For example, he knew that nobody could be as much of a villain as Booker seemed to be, and Digen steadfastly put off judging the man until after his transfer. But he could not help the deep growing conviction that the leaders of the teaching boycott against him, and Booker in particular, were violating their Hippocratic oath. And Digen knew himself perfectly capable of telling Booker so right to his face and in public, regardless of the consequences to his career.

The last day before Digen was due for transfer and two days' leave from the hospital, a man was brought into Emergency from the Corridor Road construction site, complaining that he'd cracked some ribs in a fall.

During the early part of the evening, Digen had spent a few hours comforting a little girl who had lost both parents and a brother in an auto accident. He'd kept her quiet and reasonably calm until an aunt had come to take charge of her. Then Digen had been thrown out of the room. He left as the little girl broke out in hysterics.

He spent a few hours in the lab helping the night technician catch up, did some reading, and studied several charts he expected to present during rounds in the morning. It was a busy night in the EW, and since there were always plenty of Residents and Interns making sure Digen didn't get any patients, Digen stocked a few cabinets and generally kept out of the way.

He was at the nurses' station filling out a requisition form when the Corridor Road worker was brought in. He took a blank chart and began asking the routine questions.

The man was Flip Normeth, twenty-seven years old and built like a wrestler with the bulging muscles seen only on a Gen. His major complaint was a backache, and he was convinced he'd just bruised some ribs in a fall. All he wanted was for a doctor

19

(page break)

to sign an insurance form so he could get back to work--they were paying handsome overtime money for night work.

Copying the information off Normeth's insurance card onto the chart, Digen said, "Well, you know, the office will have fits if we don't do all the tests and fill out these forms right. Besides," he said, shrugging disarmingly, "I could use the practice. It'll only take a minute, if you'll just step this way."

He led Normeth to one of the examining rooms, expecting some other doctor to step in on him at any moment and lift the case out of his hands. He didn't want that to happen. This looked like an interesting case. Normeth didn't move like a man with bruised ribs. Maybe appendicitis? thought Digen.

When Normeth didn't object, Digen examined his ribs and palpatated (sic RBW palpitated) his abdomen--there was a tenderness high up near the ribs and some muscle guarding. Not appendicitis, thought Digen, but not bruised ribs either, not even cracked ones.

Digen questioned the man about the fall, but though he stuck to his story, Digen was sure he was not telling the entire truth. He ordered X-rays, making the protesting Normeth ride upstairs on the gurney, and assuring him it was all just routine. But Digen was worried.

While Normeth was gone, a woman came in while passing a kidney stone. She was nearly hysterical, convinced she was going to have a heart attack from the pain. She did have a history of heart disease, but this was the fourth time she had come in with the same complaint. They gave her a shot, and put her to bed in one of the far end rooms promising a nurse would look in from time to time. But everybody was too busy to pay much attention. So Digen sat with her until they brought Normeth down, and then he excused himself to have another look at his diagnostic problem.

The abdomen was even more tender, and Normeth wasn't complaining about lying down any more. He looked a little shocky. Digen ordered a type and crossmatch just in case, not that it would do any good if his suspicions proved out. As the nurse was leaving with the blood specimen, Dr. Booker came in, his whites disheveled, stethoscope dangling casually from his neck.

Digen faded into a corner leaving the patient to Booker and the three nurses who followed him everywhere. Booker glared at him anyway, eyebrows raised in open challenge. Digen kept silent as Booker glanced through the chart and asked the patient several questions. Normeth gave the same story. "All I want," he said struggling up to his elbows, "is for somebody to sign me out of here. I gotta get back to work." The man was good at hiding his pain, but Digen could feel it despite the retainers, clear across the room.

Booker wrote his findings on the chart saying to Digen over his shoulder, "Doctor Farris, we don't prescribe an expensive diagnostic test like X-ray for a simple contusion. This patient has no sign of any neurological . . ."

At that point, the night duty radiologist brought in the fresh dripping X-ray films and clipped them to the viewbox saying, "Dr. Booker, come look at this."

Booker went to look, following the radiologist's pointing finger. He shook his head. "Van, you've mixed them up again. You'd better find out who this film belongs to and get him up to surgery fast, okay?"

Digen moved to Normeth's side. "Those are your films. I think it's time you told the whole truth about how you got hurt. It must have been a terrific blow to the solar plexus?"

"Dr. Farris!" said Booker, turning. "Are you calling this patient a liar?"

Digen shook his head, but Normeth answered. "Uh, Dr. --uh--Booker. I didn't mention that I fell into the trench because this guy I was fighting with kicked me in the stomach---if they find out we were fighting . . ."

Booker turned to look at the X-ray again, grabbing the phone set off the wall and punching for Surgery. He said into the phone, eyes fixed on the film before him, "Tell Dr. Durr he has an emergency splenectomy in ten minutes . . . bleeding into the capsule, could rupture at any moment." He hung up and began ordering whole blood and pre-op routine.

20

(page break)

In the swirl of activity, Digen got out of the room and went back to the woman with the kidney stone. He could hardly contain his fury. As he saw it, a man had almost been sent home to die of blood loss, peritonitis, or paralytic ileus, or all three, merely because Booker wanted to discredit an intern. He didn't know whether to blame Booker for placing his private vendetta above the welfare of a patient, or to forgive him for being merely human.

If I felt the way he feels toward a subordinate, could I function any better? He sat washed in the woman's pain, almost using it as a crutch to keep need at bay, to still the questions in his mind. That man almost died because I want to be a surgeon. Do I have any right . . . ? What would I have done if Booker had signed him out/ (sic RBW out?) What could I have done?

He felt he had to find answers to these questions. He knew it would only be a matter of time until the situation was upon him. He could not act blindly. Yet he was in no condition to think it through clearly. So he sat through the night offering what comfort his presence could, doling out painkillers and trying not to think.

In the morning, he made rounds with Dr. Goe, proud that his demeanor betrayed no sign of need that these Gens could recognize. And then he was off duty. Joel went up to their room saying, "I'm too exhausted even to sleep!" Digen made his way to the side exit nearest the Center, his mind already out the door and climbing the hill up to the cool little glade where Imrahan would be waiting. Forty-eight hours free!

Suddenly, as he got out of the elevator on the ground floor, he felt dizzy. He leaned against the wall trying to localize and identify the problem. At first, he thought it was just a lingering afterimage of the kidney stone pain. But then, he noticed how tight his retainers had become.

His glands were swelling rapidly with the onset of active need. The pressure bars of the retainers were cutting into gland and nerve. He realized it had probably been building for hours. It wasn't the first time he'd ignored a serious condition until it became critical.

He hauled himself away from the wall and made for the doors thinking that Hayashi would probably give him a fatherly scolding when it was all over. He had, after all, been warned, and he of all people ought to know how his body would react to the kind of workload he'd been carrying.

As he went out into the fresh morning air, moving briskly, he began to feel a little better. The dizziness receded, the pain was manageable, and it was only a few hundred yards to the Territory Border. Once he got the retainers off, he'd be all right.

The terraced path wound lazily up the gentle little hill before him. As he began to climb, he thought of Imrahan waiting in the little glade beside the lake just beyond the border markers. It would be cool there, under the trees. He particularly enjoyed listening to the scurry of squirrels and watching a blackbird nest he'd found. He fixed his mind on these things, ignoring the searing ache along his arms. Only little farther.

Off to his left, the hill sloped down between the Center and Hospital buildings to join Westfield's main street. There was a little park with shaded benches among winding paths that separated the two buildings, and on the street at the entrance to the park was the kiosk of the Border Guard Station, warning all Gens they were entering Sime Territory, and keeping all Simes from leaving Sime Territory without all appropriate certificates. Technically, the border itself was still ahead of him, but in practice, nobody ever used this path unless they considered themselves inside Sime Territory.

Behind him and to his right there was the tall ugly fence behind the hospital, marking the Sime border, and ahead to his right where the Center's property began, was a dam that formed a small lake at the top of the hill. The path, at this point, took him through a manicured garden of flowering shrubs and gravel mosaics, rising in shallow steps with the slope.

After it passed through the glade, the path wound through a stand of trees and then to the side door of the Center nearest the in-Territory Collectorium.

The throbbing pain was getting rapidly worse. It was an effort for Digen to lift

21

(page break)

his foot at each of the shallow steps, and he found his vision blurring at the edges. No, not my eyes, he thought, worried now. It was the deeper Sime awareness that was fading, narrowing. He increased his pace, thinking only that the problem would disappear once he reached the border, and got rid of the retainers.

He wasn't even slightly tempted to remove them one step on the Gen side of the border, even here. There were good reasons for observing the retainer laws scrupulously. Mere discomfort couldn't exempt anyone, least of all the Sectuib in Zeor. Spotting Imrahan above him, he waved.

He was just about thirty meters from the trees that overhung the border when his right arm and leg went numb. He stumbled over one of the shallow risers and pitched forward on momentum, spinning to his right as his leg collapsed under him. Half paralyzed, he wasn't falling with the inherent Sime control, and he could not turn himself by deliberate effort. His muscles would not respond. And he was falling directly on the outside right arm lateral.

With one last, panic driven effort, he managed a half twist and then he hit, striking the outside of his right arm, not directly on the retainer encased lateral, but near enough to knock him unconscious.

(sic RBW no tab) Before Digen's retainer had struck the pavement with a metallic thunk, Imrahan was bounding down the steps, certain that something was seriously wrong. A Sime in need, at the peak of his phenomenal agility, does not fall over his own feet.

He skidded to a halt beside Digen and went to his knees, puzzled that Digen should be completely unconscious even after such a fall. The slightly dented retainer told the story. And Imrahan was too good at his trade to risk moving an unconscious Sime in such a situation. He knew, from the traces of glandular secretion at the edges of the retainers that the increased pressure of the retainers themselves would probably keep Digen unconscious until he died of attrition. The retainers had to come off.

He waited a few minutes in an agony of indecision. It was a serious matter to violate the retainer laws, and he knew that Digen would be furious with him if he did it. He knew he must do nothing to arouse anger so close to a donation, and yet, as the moments passed and Digen showed no sign of regaining consciousness, he knew he had to risk it.

He was concentrating so deeply as he threw the latches and cracked open the retainers that he didn't hear the running footsteps until they were nearly upon him. He removed the right retainer cautiously, and then eased the left downward, with all the special care Digen had taught him.

Then, the footsteps registered and he turned, startled. The Gen who stood there was tall, slender, wearing the intern's hospital whites. But Imrahan knew, many of them were Digen's enemies. Which was this one?

The intern looked from the bared Sime arms to the border markers still a long way above them. Licking his lips, he said to Imrahan, "What happened?" in the flat, incurious tone of the doctors. Then he made to move closer, and Imrahan, who had to struggle to find a few shreds of the Gen language to offer, stood to bar his way. "No, stop."

"Look, I'm a doctor. Maybe I can help."

"No," said Imrahan, not quite certain what the Gen wanted.

"I was at the window, up there," he said, waving vaguely toward the hospital. "I saw him fall. If he has concussion . . ."

When Digen came to, he heard Joel's voice and simultaneously realized he was no longer wearing retainers. The pain was bearable, and though he felt as if he'd had a mild bout of the shaking plague, he could still sort Joel's field from the overwhelming presence of Imrahan. He struggled to sit up, to paste the fragments of the world back into sensible order. Imrahan was there, immediately, solid and responsive.

He leaned against the Gen gratefully. Everything seemed too bright, too loud, to sharp to bear, as if he had suddenly shed retainers after a long sensory depri-

22

(page break)

vation. But the paralyzing pain was subsiding. He could actually feel his right leg and arm again.

Joel moved in, saying, "Digen, I saw you fall. Did you hit your head?"

Digen, struggling to focus the multiple, fragmented images his senses were feeding him, warded (sic RBW warned) Joel off, inarticulately. Joel said, worried, "Digen, blurred vision is a sign of . . ."

"Joel," Digen said. He wanted to add, shut up, but it was then he realized where he was. He said, "Give me a hand. My leg is not--not--"

As Digen struggled to his feet, the two Gens helped, and together they made it into the glade at the top of the hill. Digen made for a large rock, limping but recovering fast. He sat exhausted and listened to Joel and Imrahan trying to talk to one another.

When he had recovered his breath, he said, "Imrahan, this is my roommate, Dr. Joel Hogan, I told you about." And to Joel, he said, "Imrahan doesn't speak much English, but he's a fine physician."

Joel grinned and stuck out his hand. "Glad to meet you."

Imrahan self-consciously touched the ends of Joel's fingers. "I meet you."

"Digen," said Joel, "tell him what I was saying about a blow on the head being a very serious thing."

"I didn't hit my head. I took a bad blow on the lateral. All the symptoms of concussion and worse, but it's almost all cleared up now. Imrahan is good medicine."

As he spoke, Digen peeled himself away from the rock and knelt by the brook to bathe his arms. Imrahan moved in beside him, on the left, between Digen and Hogan. "Sectuib, will he report this to the Gen authorities?"

Digen, startled, gave a wait-a-second wave of his tentacles. The cool water had laved off the crusted ronaplin. Fresh ronaplin was oozing copiously from the lateral orifices. The coolness took the fire from the swollen glands along his arms, but he had to keep a stern check on himself. Their transfer appointment was set for early evening, and it wasn't noon yet. The Tecton had to be strict about such things.

Splashing water on his face and neck, Digen pushed all such thoughts firmly aside. Then he sat on the soft grass, motioning Joel to join him.

Slowly, choosing his words carefully, Digen told Joel what had caused the swelling, and how the pressure of the retainers had caused the fall, which could have killed him had Imrahan not taken the bold decision to remove the retainers. He skirted the details surrounding his chronic state of need and the various complications Imrahan and Hayashi had been battling, laying most of the blame on his lateral injury and a certain innate stupidity in ignoring danger signals. "You know," he finished, "If Imrahan hadn't removed the retainers for me, I'd still be lying there. Probably collecting a crowd. Possibly even dead by now."

Joel, who had listened with absorption, said, in a way which reminded Digen of Branoff, "Are you asking me to judge whether Imrahan did the right thing or not?"

"Of course not!" said Digen instantly. But then he caught himself and said, "No, I take that back. I think if you hadn't come along, I'd probably be raging mad at Imrahan right now, which is not a healthy attitude to take toward one's Donor."

Joel mulled it all over and slowly came to a realization. "Lord! Digen, if they ever find out what happened, they'll crucify you! Without retainers. In Gen Territory. In need."

They both knew that the press would ignore the fact that the path was actually way behind the border station and used only by In-Territory traffic. They would talk only of the hospital's side door which was supposed to be for out-Territory Gen use.

Digen said very quietly, "Imrahan and I are not going to make a point of it.

23

(page break)

They didn't notice anything at the Guard station or they'd have sent someone up to check it out."

"That's right," said Joel. "And if I don't . . ."

Joel stopped, obviously wrestling with his conscience. Without retainers, and in such a keen state of need, Digen felt Joel's emotions so strongly that he could almost deduce the thoughts behind them. If I don't report this, and something happens, I'll be responsible. Digen rose to his feet, unconscious of the controlled menace of the hunting Sime that pervaded every movement. He said, "Joel, this is a good opportunity to demonstrate something once and for all. Come here."

"But . . ." said Joel, inching away from Digen.

Imrahan moved between them, but Digen motioned him aside. "No. I'm going to show him why there's no point in reporting this incident."

"It isn't worth it, Sectuib. Not now. After transfer . . ."

". . . will be too late. The point is that even now, I'm not a danger to any Gen. I have to live with him, Imrahan. He has to learn to believe this."

"What's the matter?" asked Joel, getting to his feet.

"Imrahan doesn't want me to do this because the exertion will make me harder to live with for a while. But I think it's worth it."

"Do what?" asked Joel.

Hands outstretched, Digen moved up to Joel. Imrahan took his position to Digen's left. Joel clamped down on his fear and took Digen's hands, letting Digen guide his fingers onto the Sime tentacles, then onto the laterals.

Digen said, "Feel that?" The laterals were quivering in the Gen field, and Joel could feel the vibration even through the lateral sheaths. Speaking with clinical detachment, Digen pointed out the engorged glands, the ronaplin seeping from the tentacle orifices despite the rigor of the sphincter muscles, the myriad reflexes that hadn't been there on that first day when Digen had made Joel examine the tentacles for the first time. Digen said, "You'll never see me in need like this out there. This is no minor inconvenience, it's the real thing. I think you can tell the difference."

The Gen's leaping fear was all the answer Digen had to have. It was eating away at the ragged shreds of defense Joel had patched together. Digen said, "Listen to me, Joel, and listen with more than your ears. I am not now and never will be a danger to any Gen. Not ever."

Hogan's terror almost broke loose. It took a supreme effort for Digen to remain free of the attack reflex a Gen's fear induced in any Sime. He could do it because Joel's field was virtually zero as far as Digen's personal need was concerned, and Imrahan, whose field was almost Digen's match, was working hard to counteract Hogan's fear broadcast. Digen spared a glance to Imrahan. They were so closely attuned that one look spoke paragraphs.

"Joel," said Digen, "you must learn to trust me. Absolutely. Under any conditions." Joel had only seen need once before, and it had placed him in mortal danger. That scar ran deep, and Digen knew that this was probably the only chance he'd have to heal it. He had to, if he wanted to live with the man. He had to, if he wanted to save his medical career, hardly yet begun. Digen said, "So I'm going to offer you absolute proof that you have no reason to report this incident."

Slowly, Digen moved into transfer position, exposing his laterals, going for the lip contact point. "Relax. I'm not even going to allow a microdynopter flow. Then you'll see, you'll believe . . ."

Hogan was held in a stasis of fascination, unable to panic and pull away, unable to submit. Digen knew that even the proverbial microdynopter selyn flow would send Hogan into a soaring panic which would strike Digen down instantly--possibly causing his death.

For a moment, Imrahan faltered, himself caught up in the fearful possibilities. Then, to his credit, he steadied to the job of supporting Digen in the task the channel

24

(page break)

had set himself. It was a supreme demonstration of the Companion's art.

Digen made the contact, held, and on Imrahan's signal, dismantled and withdrew. Imrahan moved closer on Digen's left, his own bare arm brushing Digen's. They watched together as Joel absorbed the implications.

Hogan sat down heavily on the rock Digen had vacated. Catching his breath at last, he said, " Shen! Is that the right word?"

Digen exchanged grins with Imrahan, and said, "Well, I might go as far as shenshi in a case like this. But let's not split hairs to prove the scalpel's sharp. Are you convinced?

Hogan looked from Digan (sic RBW Digen) to Imrahan and back, licking dry lips. He ran his fingers into his hair and flipped it out of his face. His eyes fixed on Digen's hand, now draped across Imrahan's shoulder.

"I'd have to be some kind of a fool not to be convinced. Suddenly, the whole affair seems insignificant."

Digen left Imrahan and went forward a few steps, measuring Joel's nager carefully. "But somewhere, deep down, something is telling you you are breaking a rule, right?"

Joel looked startled and Digen went on, "You've lived the last--mmm, eight years it is--conditioned to rules. The most minor infraction, and you're out. It's natural enough to squirm a bit at the idea of simply disregarding one of the most rigidly enforced laws on the books anywhere--the retainer laws: Don't feel guilty about that."

"Guilty?" Hogan rubbed his eyes with the same tired gesture common to all the interns. "Any doctor worth his training has to have a sense of responsibility."

"Yes," said Digen, kneeling in the dirt beside the rock and sitting on his heels.

"Look, the retainer laws don't protect Gens--certainly not from the likes of me. I obey them because it's the only way the out-Territory Gens will permit themselves to associate with a Sime. Little by little, they're getting used to us. Eventually, retainers won't be necessary any more. People will realize the retainers never protected anyone. If a Sime wants to kill, he'll kill, and nothing you can do will stop him.

Hogan shifted his gaze to Imrahan, and Digen nodded. "Yes, of course, no Sime could ever hurt Imrahan." Except maybe me, thought Digen, and scolded himself for lack of trust in his Donor. He added, "But how many like him are there, out there?" He swept one arm vaguely out toward Gen Territory.

Hogan followed his gesture. Digen finished. "There's nothing any of them can do to make me hurt them. Not ever. If you report this incident, if the press gets hold of it--especially now with all the furor over the bomb scare at the Frihill dig, the whole Elkar thing making the Tecton suspect in their minds--and me, the Sectuib in Zeor, guilty of such a crime--Joel, can't you see what a mess it would all be? And all so futile."

Hogan said, "What little good the retainer laws have done would all be lost, wouldn't it?"

Digen waited. After a while, Hogan said, "Maybe, maybe you're right. Maybe I have come to obey rules instead of doing my own thinking."

Digen said, "Joel, I firmly believe that blind obedience to rules is the best course for people who don't understand what they are doing. But when you do understand every implication, every cause and effect in your situation, you are morally bound to think it through yourself and act on your own judgement.

"Think about it, Joel. Talk it over with your uncle if you think you should. Then, do what you know you must." Realizing how grim that sounded, Digen added, "Muryin Farris used to say, 'When you disregard a rule, you must do so without a speck of guilt in you.' It's the only way to know when you're right."

Hogan slid off the rock, slapping dust from his pants. "I don't think I'll be mentioning it to anyone," he said as he went toward the path. But then he turned to

25

(page break)

say, "Look, are you very sure you didn't hit your head? Maybe you should have an X-ray done?"

Digen chuckled. "If it will make you feel better, I'll be sure to have my personal physician check it out."

Hogan nodded and took himself back down the path to the hospital. As Hogan passed the border markers, Digen slid his back down the boulder and sat in the tall grass, leaning against the cook (sic RBW cool) rock. "Oh, my head!" he said, trying to knead away the tensions at the base of his neck. "It feels like heartburn of the head all the way to my tailbone."

Imrahan brushed Digen's hands away and worked his own magical touch. "I told you it wasn't worth it. What did he say?"

Digen told him, adding that he was fairly sure Hogan wouldn't blow any whistles.

They sat in the cool shade until almost noon. Digen couldn't sleep, of course, and when Imrahan suggested that he might prefer to be alone, Digen said, "Ever since my accident, I stopped keeping countdown vigil. I get morbid and start wondering if this transfer really will be my last like the physicians keep telling me. You wouldn't want to take on a client in that condition, would you?"

"I'll stay, I'll stay," answered Imrahan hastily. And they talked of how Imrahan had spent the day doing entran outfunctions, touched on the latest gossip, criticized the editorial policy of the three largest in-Territory newspapers, and then did a complete, technical post mortem on Digen's fall.

When Digen propounded his own theory of the cause, Imrahan said, "I don't think so. Oh, the glandular thing Hayashi predicted, that's part of it. It's the most obvious, visible symptom. But I don't see how it could be the sole cause of that paralysis and the unconsciousness both."

Digen knew what was worrying Imrahan. It was what doctors called the total clinical picture. With his glands running ronaplin, his whole body working overtime, he shouldn't have the control he was displaying. He said, "Actually, I don't feel half as bad as I look. You have to remember this is really days early for me. And I've had more attention this last week than I've had in years. This should be a walk-through."

Still, through the afternoon, Imrahan remained worried. While Digen went to consult over one of Mora Dyen's patients, an eighty year old channel recently retired and thus suffering entran, the profound rebellion of a channel's system when the workload is suddenly removed, Imrahan went to the library and dug for information on sudden paralysis in channels, and Farrises in particular. He didn't find much, and none of it was reassuring.

By the time they met in the channel's private transfer suite, Imrahan's original misgivings had redoubled. They were alone in the common lounge at this hour, though two of the transfer rooms that surrounded the lounge were in use, warning lights brignt (sic RBW bright) over the doors. Trying to be as casual as if this were a routine transfer, Digen sent Imrahan to the kitchenette for tea. He didn't want to admit how depressed he was over the old channel's entran problems. The old man had known Zeor under Digen's grandfather's rule. Another victim.

Beginning just days after changeover, a channel started learning the functions of his trade. The young body adjusted, the channel's system enlarging in response to the demands put on it. And then one day, too old, too feeble, or too crippled to work, the channel was taken off the rolls. And sometimes, he died from lack of work, especially if he was a Farris. Digen had been young when he was injured, but not too young to learn about entran, abruptly, painfully, intimately. He knew--if he should live through enough transfers--he knew exactly what was in store for him.

Imrahan came and set the glasses on the low table, dropping with one knee bent under him onto the sofa opposite Digen. He studied Digen for a moment, and then said, "Frightened?"

"I always am. You'll get used to it."

"Uh, Digen, about next time . . ."

"Let's not worry about that, now. It's bad luck."

26

(page break)

"But . . ."

Digen handed Imrahan his tea glass, took his own and said, "Sha-hi-la." Transfer. The oldest word in the Sime language, or so it was said. It had meant "kill" for so long that to offer it as a toast to one's Donor could be offensive. Between Sectuib and Companion, though, it was the deepest compliment, a kind of total acceptance.

After a moment, Imrahan replied, "Sha-hi-la."

Digen held the hot glass to warm his fingers. They were cold and stiff, a bad sign. "Look," said Digen, "we're both first order . . ."

"Maybe order still means something to the seconds and thirds, but these days . . ." Imrahan shook his head and took a sip of his own tea.

They both knew that in the last twenty years the old three-order system had become inadequate to describe the channel-donor structure. Even the Tecton now took official notice. There was a vast range of ability and requirements among the first order channels, and consequently among the Donors who could serve them.

"Imrahan, you skipped a transfer to synch with me. You're high field, highest you've been in your life, and still climbing in response to me. You shouldn't have any trouble."

He shook his head. "I don't feel it, though."

"You don't have to be susceptible to underdraw to work with me."

"But it helps. I checked. Every one of your donors you've graded satisfactory have been at least marginally perceptive of their own fields. Maybe it's a new order you all belong to."

"Then you are about to join us."

Imrahan sipped his tea in skeptical silence. Digen said, "You qualified for first. It's not going to be that difficult."

"Okay," said Imrahan, "but if you're going to qualify me, you've got to play fair and not try to make it easier for me by compensating. Deal?"

Digen nodded. He was still holding his glass, but the warmth wasn't making a dent in the creeping cold. Imrahan frowned, watching Digen narrowly. Then he drew a last swallow of tea, set the glass down, and moved over beside Digen. He took the glass out of Digen's hands and chafed them gently. "Shen, you're cold as ice!"

"I'm not in attrition, not by nearly a week. It's mostly psychological, I think."

"Hmmm," said Imrahan. "You've still got a ronaplin surplus. Salivation?"

"Dry."

Disbelieving, Imrahan said, "Have you been taking something?" There were number of new, experimental drugs which sometimes blunted the symptoms of need.

"No, I wouldn't dare, with all the work you've been doing on me.

"Does this happen very often?"

"No."

"Just the bad ones, hmmm?"

Digen felt the shift when Imrahan forgot about all the things that might happen and began to deal professionally with what was in fact happening. Digen said, "Just the bad ones, yeah. But not like this, not for a long time."

Imrahan examined Digen's pupil reflexes and went over his glands again. "Classic pre-attritional metabolic shut-down. Part of your abort pattern, wasn't it?"

"Yes," said Digen, huddling closer to the Gen. Normally, the Gen body feels cool

27

(page break)

to the Sime. To Digen, Imrahan felt like a stove.

"Come on," said Imrahan, and led Digen into one of the transfer rooms, turning the thermostats up and covering Digen warmly on the contour lounge. The room had its own lavoratory, (sic RBW lavatory) the usual well-stocked cabinettes, (sic RBW cabinets) desk and just barely room to walk around the lounge.

As the temperature rose rapidly, Imrahan sat beside Digen and grabbed the emergency phone handset, saying, "Hayashi should have been here already." After a couple of minutes, the switchboard managed to locate the channel tied up in an emergency.

Imrahan cursed under his breath. Then he said, replacing the handset, "He'd be here if he wasn't needed there more."

Digen said, through clenched teeth, "He trusts you. So do I."

Imrahan shook his head, and just then the phone tinged. It was Hayashi. Imrahan summarized what had happened to Digen in rapid shorthand, saying, "Glandular imbalance, and now psycho-attrition--it looks like a pattern of overcompensation caused by our meddling. He was perfectly stable before. How (sic RBW Now) he's hypersensitive."

There was a long silence. Digen could imagine Hayashi scribbling as he thought. Then, he heard the tinny voice on the other end of the line say, "You're the man on the scene. I trust your judgement. Do what you think is indicated. I'll be there as soon as I can get away."

"Shall I keep the schedule regardless?"

"If in your judgement it won't endanger a life. You know the code. I have to go."

There was a click and then Imrahan put the handset back on the wall. He had a grave decision to make. The Tecton code was inflexible, but sometimes its application was open to interpretation.

Imrahan came to his decision, saying abruptly, "Digen, I'm going to try to establish trautholo with you."

"Nnno," breathed Digen, "it's too soon."

The Tecton code allowed trautholo to last no more than three minutes in order to avoid emotional or physical dependency such as the boy, Madhur Sharma, had suffered. The Householdings routinely prolonged it for hours to ease the channel's discomfort and simultaneously sharpen need to insure a satisfactory transfer. In the days of the Companions, when a channel received transfer from only one or two Donors, the advantages of the method far outweighed the disadvantages.

The establishment of trautholo was one of those Household skills the Tecton tolerated because it couldn't be preserved in writing, it had to be taught and practiced. Digen had no doubt that Imrahan could do it. He said, "Imrahan, I'd rather suffer now than spend a month anticipating the price I'll have to pay. Mickland will have to make me wait a month or two for you again. Don't make it any harder than it has to be."

"Digen, I . . ."

Imrahan was deeply disturbed. Digen sat up, feeling better from the warmth around him. "What? What's the matter?"

The Donor took Digen's hand, running expert fingers around the orifices at Digen's wrists, eyeing Digen's cracked lips, flat dry eyes. "Digen, I've got to get your glandular balances restored or you may not have another two months to worry about consequences. Don't you understand that yet?"

"I don't feel half as bad as it seems, truly."

"Isn't that what the Farris said to the undertaker during his funeral?"

Digen laughed. Imrahan said, "It's my responsibility. Hayashi threw the whole thing in my lap. What else can I do?"

Digen lay down again, pulling the cover about him, and said, "By the Code, the

28

(page break)

decision has to be yours. I won't resist. I doubt if I could if I wanted to."

Imrahan nodded, moving in just a bit. He didn't touch Digen, but only composed himself inwardly. Digen's natural empathy was at its peak now. Imrahan's field was rising steeply in response to the attrition symptoms. As Imrahan performed the Gen equivalent of the committment (sic RBW commitment) to the transfer, Digen could not help but share the experience.

Emotionally and almost physically, Imrahan was already in-transfer. Trautholo was established. Should Imrahan move away from Digen now, Digen would attack him in the kill mode or go into convulsions and die in the attempt to keep from doing that.

It was Imrahan who controlled them both now, whose will would choose the moment of transfer. And, gratefully, Digen surrendered the tight leash he had been holding on himself. Little by little, testing each step of the way, he began to depend on Imrahan to hold him in check rather than on his own will power. The Gen's strength seemed inexhaustible.

Minutes passed, and Digen noticed the throbbing ronaplin glands subsiding, no longer pouring huge excesses of selyn conductor into his lateral sheaths. Gradually, the salivary glands began to work again, producing not only saliva but also another precious selyn conductive hormone. The chill left his body.

Imrahan's voice came to him. "Go on, enjoy it." There was a thread of bittersweet sadness in the Gen. Digen put it down to his wishing he, too, could read fields and participate peripherally in these experiences. Like all kids,  


Transfer interrupted!

he wished he were Sime, thought Digen.

Digen let it slide. As the required minutes passed, he slid deeper and deeper into the hyperconsciousness of hard need. His Sime perceptions became dominant over sight, sound, smell, and touch. He perceived Imrahan as an energy source, radiating like a lightbulb, to all corners of the room. He perceived himself as a dark area, soaking up that energy without any reflection. Up in the corner, behind the molding, he could "see" by this sense, a fly grooming himself.

His positional sense that gave the uncannily accurate time sense of the Simes was keener now than ever. He felt himself spinning with the surface of the earth, the earth spinning around the sun, the sun spinning around the center of the galaxy, and the galaxy hurtling onwards through space, a part of an even larger pattern that moved so slowly it could not be measured in a finite lifetime.

As trautholo deepened, it worked loose every last inner defense Digen had built against his need overwhelming his Donor's abilities. Should Imrahan falter now, Digen would not be able to pick up the control. Imrahan would have to defend himself, and Digen wasn't sure he could.

The defenselessness was a good feeling, a necessary condition for a satisfactory transfer. Digen's need sharpened with the calm anticipation induced by trautholo until he felt himself inwardly balanced on a knife's edge. He had not felt so alive inside since his last transfer with Bett.

But the nature of trautholo--the calm certitude so strong it could stop a kill-mode attack in mid-committment--(sic RBW mid-commitment--)was such that he merely reveled in the aliveness without bitterness at the loss of Bett, and without anxiety about the failure of this transfer.

Digen waited as the assigned moment of transfer approached. He wasn't worried when the exact moment passed without a move from Imrahan. He knew the mechanical clocks the Gen had to depend on were sloppy time keepers compared to his own senses. It was almost seventy seconds after the appointed time when Imrahan moved.

Digen let his perceptions center on himself, a roughly oval zone of blackness threaded through with loops of brightness where selyn coursed in storage nerves. On his left side, the shadow caused by the lateral scar interrupted the selyn circulation.

For days now, he had worked with Imrahan, preparing for this moment. Theoretically, the Gen should have been able to manage the scar tissue without problem, but Hayashi was supposed to be there, just in case. He wasn't there, though.

29

(page break)

Imrahan moved in now, an intolerable brightness joining to Digen's dimming nervous system. The five points of contact came in perfect synchronization, expertly done.

And then it happened. The bright radiance coursing into his system along his right side leaped ahead of the stream entering along his left side. Below the scar tissue, the brightness backed up to a searing glow, filtering through the scar very slowly.

Actually, Imrahan's balance was off only by a minute fraction. But to Digen's sensitized system, it was as if the Gen had made no effort at compensation at all. The pain, when it hit, convulsed Digen into a fetal knot.

At the first tremor of Digen's movement, Imrahan realized what had happened and tried to take the backlash as the contact was broken. But Digen's innate Farris reflexes intervened even as the muscles of his body arched him backwards into a full convulsion. He took the entire abort backlash into his own body, leaving Imrahan merely stunned.

When it was over, Digen struggled to remain in the hyperconscious state. Imrahan was there holding the trautholo unbroken between them and he would have to figure out what to do next. Before long, Digen perceived the Gen pick up the phone and whisper into it, very aware of how any sound would be magnified into pain for Digen.

There was a long period of waiting, and then at last Hayashi came into the small room moving through the selyn fields without so much as an extraneous twitch of a finger to cause ripples.

As Hayashi stationed himself at Digen's head, he seemed to Digen to be a shadow flicking across the radiant field in the room, momentarily occluding the background of walls, furniture, instruments. With what seemed to Digen an unnecessary clumsiness, Hayashi matched fields and moved into a monitor's position. He would read the field for Imrahan, and if necessary, use his own body to regulate the flow.

A moment later, the unbearable radiance that was Imrahan touched and joined with Digen's body, but this time when the flow reached the barrier of the scar tissue, it slowed equally on both sides. Digen relaxed. It was going to be all right.

Gradually, the flow across the scar tissue strengthened. Where the warmth spread, life returned to Digen. The cold pain of dying had not hurt so much before. But now that part of him had begun to glow with life again, the rest of him knew what torment was being endured. It seemed to take forever.

Digen felt Hayashi bring the streams of radiance to a balance, keeping them in phase. The selyn flows up both arms reached the vriamic center in the chest simultaneously, merged and joined there. The awakened pain dissipated as the vriamic node warmed to life, but the sense of satisfaction was missing, and didn't come even as the warming radiance shot downwards into Digen's body, wakening the successive nodes and warming them to life.

The rapid cascade of sensations forced an inarticulate sound from Digen's throat which registered on his ears as sound. He was slipping back into the more normal duoconscious state in which his gross physical senses and his specialized Sime senses worked in concert. He registered the physical warmth of Imrahan's body, telling him that his own body temperature had dropped dangerously low. He felt the lip contact as a tactile sensation even though it also registered as a selyn field contact through which he sensed Imrahan's internal structure, selyn-storage level barriers, and physical organs.

Already, the selyn flow was approaching the null-point. As the flux decreased, smaller variances became more and more significant until at the null-point, the equipotential point, the tiniest flaw could be disastrous.

Digen decided he would take control at the null-point, a routine procedure when working with a Donor with lesser sensitivity. After an abort such as they had just suffered, Imrahan would be expecting him to do it this way, Digen thought.

30

(page break)

Digen lowered his show-field by running the selyn already received into deeper storage. He was still in need, and now the compulsion to draw selyn swift and deep suddenly overpowered him.

Digen was late giving Imrahan the signal to desist and ride with him.

Hayashi sensed Digen's field drop, but it was too late. The entire transfer, from moment of lip contact to the inflection point, had taken less than a minute by the objective clock. Digen's move to take control was accomplished in a split second, leaving Hayashi watching helplessly as Digen drew selyn through Imrahan's half lowered level barriers.

When he felt the resistance, Digen was already helplessly committed to the draw, caught up in the stretching, functioning, awakening of the long anticipated transfer. He was fighting for his life, clawing his way up out of the black void of attrition, and he had almost made it. He couldn't stop himself.

Imrahan reacted to the indescribable sensation of rapid draw, not as Rizdel had, with panic, but as a trained Donor conditioned to sympathize with need, not fight it. He was a lifeguard reassuring a drowning man, don't clutch at me, we'll both make it if you just relax. Simultaneously, Imrahan fought to relax his barriers, to reverse his approach to the transfer. He had been holding back, slowing down to compensate for the scar tissue. It was a new technique he'd never used before, and it left him off balance when Digen suddenly seized control.

They fought for control of the flux rate, unable to communicate and coordinate. And then suddenly, something changed in the Donor. All at once, he could sense Digen struggling to raise his show-field and thus slow the transfer rate.

For a moment, he was confused. Then, without dwelling on how he did it, Imrahan matched his resistance to Digen's draw rate, and regained control of the transfer. Digen knew instantly that Imrahan could "see" now. There was no other way he could have made such a perfect match.

Gratefully, Digen relaxed and let Imrahan do all the work, varying the flow rate microscopically in response to the maximum rate at which Digen could accept selyn into his storage system. Digen's sense of panic gave way to a rising satisfaction, a euphoric certainty that no part of him would be denied this time.

But in the end, he had to rouse himself to terminate the transfer. Imrahan's capacity was just three percent shy of Digen's need, near but not quite perfect. It will be exact next time, thought Digen. I can wait.

Digen came out of it as Imrahan relinquished the lip contact and paused to give Digen time to disassemble the lateral contacts. Then Imrahan pitched forward, slumping into near unconsciousness. Hayashi caught him and eased him into the desk chair, flipping the catches open so the chair flattened into a cot.

"You burned him, Digen." But there was no accusation in his tone. Donors sometimes did get singed during a qualifying trial, and Hayashi had been there. He had seen Imrahan's new awareness.

Digen rolled to his feet ignoring the ache in every muscle, the wrenched ligament in his left leg where he'd caught his foot in a crack during the convulsion, and his own transfer shock symptoms.

"Is he bad? Let me . . ."

Imrahan said, his voice a shaky whisper, "No, I'm all right. Let me up."

Hayashi pushed him back down. "I'll be the judge of that, if you don't mind. Digen, sit down. How do you expect me to sort out your pain from his?"

Digen wavered. But the man was right. Physician, heal thyself! He sat.

Hayashi went over Imrahan millimeter by millimeter, and then said, "I was afraid there might be cerebral hemmorrhage, (sic RBW hemorrhage,) but there aren't even any capillary ruptures." He looked over his shoulder at Digen. "If it had been me on that couch, he'd be dead."

"No," said Digen. "He'd have overcontrolled you."

31

(page break)

Hayashi grinned. "Maybe he would, at that." And he went to the service closet to wash his hands and tentacles and make them both a glass of fosebine.

Digen's head was aching so that he could hardly concentrate. He knew Imrahan was upset about something, but neither of them felt like talking just then.

Hayashi came out and handed Imrahan one glass. The Gen took it and drained the vile tasting stuff gratefully. The other glass Hayashi placed on a swing-out shelf over the lounge. "All right, now lie down and let me get a good look at your systems, Digen."

When he'd finished his examination, Hayashi said, "Good enough. I'll trade you a glass of fosebine for a set of lab specimens."

Digen obediently spit, urinated, and smeared slides with ronaplin. Hayashi, working at the bench along the back wall, labelled (sic RBW labeled) the specimins, (sic RBW specimens) saying, "So far, so good. Now before you shower--and you sure need one!--get me a semen specimen, and we're all set."

Digen, standing by the service room door draining his glass of fosebine, stared at Hayashi's back. Hayashi turned. Digen gave a helpless little shrug.

Hayashi came across the little room frowning. "How long has this been going on?" He made Digen sit down again.

Suddenly, Digen had been demoted to the critical list in Hayashi's mind. A Sime's sexual sensitivity was tied inextricably to his need cycle. Flesh and blood couldn't endure two such basic drives operating at once. Need, a matter of personal survival, a shattering torment, could not co-exist with sexual impulses. Thus during the last two weeks of the need cycle, sexual sensitivity dulled and finally disappeared totally.

Ordinarily, the moment transfer was completed, all the blocked emotions and sensitivities, sex included, surged back in one overwhelming wave, leaving the person highly unstable for hours, lingering for days.

This emotional upsurge was an important part of the channel's stock in trade. He had to experience it first hand in order to produce it in the Simes he provided for. It was important that Digen be having this experience. But he wasn't.

Digen said, "It came on gradually, but it's been this bad for about six months now. Don't worry . . ."

"Don't worry? Don't worry! Why didn't you tell me about this . . ."

Digen shrugged.

"Have you no sense man? No wonder you burned Imrahan. I can't let you walk around like--like--like--like . . ."

"Listen to me," said Digen, setting his glass aside. "I'm all right for now. Not the greatest, sure, but I'll survive. So--I can't have Imrahan next month. Rotation is rotation and can't is can't. I'm resigned to that. But he'll be here during the month, and he can help me out of this trautholo dependency. And the month after next, well, don't you realize what we did today? It's all over. I've got a Donor. (sic RBW Donor.")

Hayashi was shaking his head.

Imrahan got up, using one hand on the wall to steady himself. "There's no easy way to say it, Digen.. Mickland is sending me to Fort Drumlin--to serve Elkar's replacement. I leave in about an hour."

Digen found himself shaking his head in disbelief, negation, denial. "No. He can't. They can't do this."

Hayashi said, "It's the Tecton system. Somebody else will be assigned to you."

Imrahan, in a futile effort to head off the reaction building under Digen's nearly petrified emotions, said, "I heard it was Corline Kataev. She's in Imil, but she hasn't made Companion yet."

32

(page break)

"They--can't--can't do this," said Digen still dazed, unable to assimilate the fact that it had already been done. "No, they can't do it. Not now. You're sensing fields now. Not one in a hundred--or a thousand--TN-1's can do that. There's maybe four people on the World Rolls who can do what you've learned to do today. You're mine, God damn you, mine!"

"I'm sorry, Digen," said Imrahan softly.

"You," said Digen, finally putting it all together. "You took me into trautholo knowing this? You let this happen, knowing--you made this happen, knowing all the time."

His voice rose to a piercing cry and he launched himself at Imrahan's throat. Hayashi intervened, and they all fell in a heap, Digen still screaming, "What kind of a Companion are you? I'd rather be dead. Why didn't you let me die!"

Hayashi yelled, "Enough!" and rolled Digen onto the lounge. He picked Imrahan up. Digen curled himself around the pain that wasn't physical, and the sobs came now as they hadn't come for months.

To Imrahan, Hayashi said, quietly, "I'll take care of him. You better run for your flight."

Imrahan, kneading his new bruises, said, "I can't leave now. Not like this. You don't understand. You're not a Householder."

"I know it goes against the grain for you. When he comes out of it, he'll know it too. We'll do our best to bring you back as soon as possible." But they both knew the odds against it.

Imrahan shook his head, "Hajene, with all respects, you know I'm a Companion."

"But not in Zeor, thank your gods, or you'd be constrained to violate a lawful Tecton directive. It will be easier on him if he doesn't have to pull himself together to make you leave."

Hayashi swept the Gen toward the door. "Imrahan, you've broken through an eight month dam. Naturally it came hard. But he'll be all right now. I'll see to it."

Imrahan gathered his courage, and with a glance at Hayashi, left, saying, "I know you're right, but I don't feel it. Rin, take good care of him."

CHAPTER EIGHT

Digen slept away most of the next day in the Center's infirmary attended by the staff therapists and Hayashi himself. When they finally let him up, he had only a few hours to get his two departments in order before returning to the hospital. He resolved to give it a few days before he confronted Mickland about Imrahan.

He was a little early getting back to the room he shared with Hogan. He paused with his hand on the door knob. His diplomatic immunity sign was still firmly in place. Even through the retainers, he could sense Hogan inside, awake but inactive.

He went in. Hogan was stretched out on the bed, reading a journal. Digen said, "You ought to be asleep."

"Too tired to sleep, I guess."

"You'll never make it through the year like that." He hesitated, thinking as he had a dozen times before, that he should offer to help. He dropped the laundry bundle on his own desk and the mail on Hogan's and looked at the room. Everything looked, felt, seemed strange somehow, as if he were no longer quite the same person who had stepped through that door a month ago, as if he were returning from a long illness. Even Hogan wasn't the same. They were strangers again, it seemed, and he

33

(page break)

couldn't make the offer.

Wishing that the weekend had never happened, he bent to write on Hogan's desk calendar the notations regarding his need cycle that he had taught the Gen to watch for. Then he turned, stripping off his retainers in the same matter-of-fact way a surgeon would strip off his gloves. He hung them on the nail by the door and sat on his bed to take off his shoes.

"Digen, I've been thinking."

"Hmmm?"

"Digen, what if--what if I don't mention what happened to anybody? And what if you should fold up like that while a patient is depending on you? That would make me responsible, wouldn't it?"

"What?" Digen had to search frantically to put the pieces together. Hogan had known him for only three weeks, and had seen him disabled twice during that time. "Joel . . ."

Digen didn't know what to say, and Hogan went on, "I haven't talked to Dr. Branoff yet, and I don't think I will. I don't want to create a border incident over nothing. But Digen, how can you go on letting people depend on you?"

Digen's first impulse was to answer, Why shouldn't I? The always have and I've never failed them. But then he realized that Hogan's question was aimed at himself, not Digen. It wasn't an accusation, it was a plea.

"You mean," said Digen, "how can any fallible mortal allow other mortals to depend on them?"

Startled, Joel looked up. "Yeah, I guess that's what I mean. How do you know you won't cave in right when somebody has to have help?"

"I suppose it's a question of experience. Nobody can say for sure, 'I won't ever fail.' But, well, look at me. I've been a working channel for about twelve years. Every day somebody's life depends on my performance. I've never failed a patient yet."

Joel's eyes strayed to Digen's left arm. Digen said, "Yes, sometimes the scar gives me problems, but it's not serious under stress. Like a migrane, (sic RBW migraine,) it tends to hit when the stress lets up a bit."

"But how can you be sure? Digen, all I have to do is open my mouth and you'll be out of medicine so fast . . ." said Joel.

"Do you think I should get out of medicine?"

"I don't know. I--I--don't know."

Digen stretched out on the bed, his hands under his head. "It's not me or my possible failure that's bothering you, is it? It's the whole problem of fallibility."

Joel tossed the journal he'd been reading to the foot of the bed. It landed open pages down, crumpled. He said, "I thought Simes weren't supposed to be able to read minds."

"No better than you can," said Digen. "You know that I wouldn't risk a patient's welfare just to stay in medicine, don't you?"

Hogan looked at Digen a long time before answering, "I don't think you're the type, no."

"But I might make a mistake in judgement? It could happen. Then who takes the responsibility?"

Joel didn't answer, and Digen went on, "Life is a risky business. I'm sure of myself because I have that twelve year record behind me. But believe me, I wasn't sure of myself before I piled up that record. I was scared most of the time, scared I'd make a mistake that would cost a life."

34

(page break)

Hogan was silent a long time and Digen said, "Why don't you tell me about it?"

"It was nothing, really. We picked up a woman with a uterine hemorrhage out on High Tor Drive, and on that whole long drive back, I--I couldn't remember what to do for a uterine hemorrhage. I couldn't remember. The woman just lay there getting whiter. I couldn't think."

"Did she die?"

"They said it wasn't my fault. They had the blood waiting when we got here, rushed her up to the O.R., but it was too late. There was nothing I could have done on the ambulance, but that's not the point. I couldn't think. I couldn't remember what to do. I knew, but I couldn't remember. What if I can't remember the next time?"

Digen understood. Joel knew very well that Digen would never freeze like that. Digen's problem was different. But it amounted to the same thing. How can you go out there and say I'm a doctor when you might fail?

Joel was feeling the responsibility not only for his own possible failures, but for Digen's as well. "So the question is, 'How do you go on, knowing you're not perfect?' "

"I think I've just about decided not to go on. Medicine isn't for me. I can't take it. There was the little girl dying of the wasting sickness, pathetic, lovable brave little thing. We brought her in for the last time this weekend. There was the man with phlebitis. I almost killed him with an anticoagulant because I overlooked his bleeding ulcer. Booker caught it in time. But worst of all, with the kids, all beaten up, I never know if they're in changeover or not, or what to do if they are---(sic RBW --)I just can't go on any more."

"Is there anything you want to do more than medicine?"

"I was thinking--don't laugh . . ."

Digen picked his head up, eyebrows raised in question. Hogan said, "I was thinking I might go join the Donors."

"Shen!" said Digen, thinking, He's serious. He doesn't know. He sat up slowly.

"It's not that ridiculous!" said Hogan, "I have a cousin who went into it."

"You know you'd face the same problems there, Joel. Split second decisions. You saw Imrahan working. Responsibility. Fallibility. It's the same."

"Maybe. But I think it makes a difference when it's something that you want to do."

"Are you sure you're not just looking for a way out of a tough spot?"

"I don't think so. But you're right. I was impressed with Imrahan. I'd like to talk to him about it."

Digen kept his eyes on the tips of Hogan's shoes peeking from under the bedspread. "Imrahan was sent to Fort Drumlin to serve Elkar's replacement. We'll probably never see him again here." Digen's last words came out in a whisper.

"Digen!" Hogan had known that Digen was counting on Imrahan.

Digen said, "Another has been assigned to take his place."

"They're treating you just like they did Elkar!"

Digen had seen the headlines on the way in. The Gen papers were an odd mixture of distrust in the Tecton: 'Who Can Trust the Tecton When They Let Their Best Channels Die?' And fair reportage: 'Tecton Takes Bold Steps Against Donor Shortage,' though the tone was that the Tecton's steps were too small and too late. Digen said, "Is it all the noise about the Donor shortage? Is that why you want to throw up (sic RBW out) your career?"

"It's something I've always wanted to try. Now seems like a good time."

35

(page break)

"You're really serious."

"I think so. I'd like to give it a try, anyway. There's nothing else I'd like to do."

"Well, (sic RBW "Well,") said Digen, "I could just brush that off and let you stew until you finally took yourself over to the Center screening labs. But if I do that, I'll surely lose a friend. On the other hand, if I tell you now, it's going to hurt you more than if you found out later, after you've conquered a few more medical challenges."

"Tell me what?"

"That becoming a Donor is not going to be your way out."

"You already said that. The work isn't so different."

"Yes, but I didn't tell you that you, Joel Hogan, will never, ever become a technical class donor."

"What do you mean?"

"It's not an option that's open to you. If you want out of medicine, you can take up any other profession you care to. But not this one."

Hogan sat with a deepening frown for several minutes. Then he said, "Why not?"

"You don't have selyur nager, not a trace, and nothing to indicate you could develop it. In three weeks, I've never seen your field vary in response to any external influence."

Hogan looked at him as if Digen had just pronounced him terminal. "But surely if I worked . . ."

Digen shook his head. "You don't understand. Look, if you took a newborn and bound up a leg and kept it that way all during its growing years, would it be able to walk when you unbound it as an adult? Or put it another way. You were injured, paralyzed, at a very critical age. Instead of growing, strengthening, maturing, that paralyzed capacity has atrophied, withered beyond reclaiming. Joel, you and I are both cripples, after a fashion. I sometimes think that every living person is crippled one way or another. Certainly, out-Territory, your handicap is unnoticable (sic RBW unnoticeable) because almost everyone has it."

After a while, Hogan said, "I'll never be a Donor."

"But you can still be a doctor, and a good one, too."

Hogan didn't answer. Digen left him sitting on the bed staring unfocused at the journal he had tossed aside. Quietly, Digen went about the routine of getting ready to go to work. And eventually, the phone rang. Digen said, "If you're not up to it, I'll cover for you."

Hogan came to life. "You'd really get in trouble then." He took the phone, made some notes, and said, "I'll be right there." He dragged on the fresh set of whites Digen had put out for him and started to rush out the door. But he turned and said, "Digen, what if . . ."

"Another thing Muryin Farris used to say, 'Never quit when you're down.' If you're going to quit medicine, Joel, do it on the day you rack up a major triumph. Then you'll know that you're giving up what you don't want rather than what you're too lazy to go and get. Do you see?"

After Hogan left, Digen put the room in order. Sometime during the last hour it had become familiar again. He was prepared to exist for another month. To endure. The post-transfer emotions had subsided leaving him with the vague irritability of chronic need, but not nearly as bad as it had been. Hayashi had never gotten his semen specimen, but other than that Digen felt better than he had in months.

When he went down to the Emergency Ward, he found Hogan, tight-lipped but managing to get through the first few ambulance runs and regain some of his old confidence.

36

(page break)

The Residents still appeared whenever the workload was heavy. Digen was silently shouldered out of view, running errands to the lab or tracing down X-ray films, occasionally taking a history. Nothing had changed over the weekend.

About three in the morning, though, things got very quiet and a lot of people went for coffee or a nap. Digen was standing alone out on the platform getting some air when the ambulance glided silently up to the dock. An orderly got the door open and Joel Hogan came out with the stretcher with a little boy lying quietly, his big black eyes huge in a thin face.

Hogan reached back and helped an older woman out of the ambulance. She was maybe sixty, Digen estimated, and dressed for the theatre. She was taller than Digen by a head, with a cylindrical figure and an elaborate hairdo that made her seem even larger. Hogan said, "Doctor, this is Mrs. Derek Cudney, grandmother of the patient, Skip Cudney." Then with a great outward show of bustle, he escorted the stretcher into the receiving area.

Digen followed, taking Mrs. Cudney to the reception desk to sign Skip in. As Digen was walking with the stretcher toward Room Ten, Hogan said, " Derek Cudney, the theatrical producer who contributes so generously to the hospital every year?"

Digen nodded. "I've seen the name around."

"Just so you realize, Booker is bound to turn up any second now." Hogan left with the ambulance crew and for a moment, Digen was alone with the boy.

"Well, Skip, can you tell me what the problem is?"

The boy rolled his head from side to side. Digen noted that the pupils seemed abnormally dilated. He pulled a curtain around to shade the boy's eyes, and as he reached up for it, his sleeve fell back away from his retainers.

"Sime?"

"Yes, my name is Hajene Digen Farris. I'm a channel but I'm also learning to be a doctor. I . . ."

Skip sat up, grabbing Digen's hand. "You've got to get me out of here. You've got to get me away from her. She'll kill me if she finds out."

Digen didn't have to ask what she would find out. Through that touch, he felt what he hadn't noticed through the retainers at a distance. Changeover.

At that moment, Booker came in with Mrs. Cudney, who was saying, "We came home from the theatre and he was having a nightmare. He woke up screaming. He's never done that before. He has a fever, but I think he got hit on the head and won't tell me about it. There's this huge lump at the back of his neck."

"That will be all, Dr. Farris, thank you," said Booker, glaring at Digen.

The boy, clutching Digen's hand, said, "Hajene Farris, you can't leave me. Promise you won't . . ."

And Mrs. Cudney said, "A Sime! Dr. Booker, get it out of here!"

Digen had known the moment of choice would come some day. If he did as he knew he should, just pick the boy up and take him next door, he would lose everything he'd worked for over the last fourteen years.

"Dr. Booker," said Digen, as quietly as he could, "Skip Cudney is in changeover. He has requested my assistance. I am legally bound to render that assistance where-ever and however I can."

Mrs. Cudney gasped. "Changeover!" she said, "Impossible!"

Booker stepped forward. "Let me examine him. We'll put a stop to this nonsense!"

The boy said to Digen, "My mother told me before she died. My father was a channel. So am I. My real name is Skyepar Ozik."

"Ozik? Ambrov Frihill? I recall a court battle over . . ."

37

(page break)

Booker moved to pick up one of the boy's arms. Digen's first impulse was to knock his hand aside, but he held himself in check. Booker would have to see for himself, and the sooner, the better.

The woman stood by the door, half turned as if to leave, and watched Booker. Digen could not make out the exact texture of her reaction but it was clear she was making a major adjustment. Booker said, "There are tissue masses that might be glands, but I don't find any trace of tentacles."

Digen said, "Note at the base of the skull, the Remott gland is fully developed. It's definitely late in the fifth sequence of changeover. He'll be going into sixth very soon, and that usually goes rapidly for a channel."

The boy's arms were small. The tentacles that Digen could sense would be bare threads under Booker's splayed fingers, and the Gen was nervous, intent on discrediting Digen. He could easily have missed them.

But Booker was too good a doctor not to recognize swollen gland tissue when he felt it. He nodded, "You may be right, Dr. Farris, but I'd like to order an X-ray to be on the safe side."

Just then, Skip let out a shuddering groan and curled in on himself. "Hajene!"

Digen said to Booker, "Stage six transition. First selyn flows to the laterals causing surrounding muscles to go into spasm. I've got to get him out of here."

Mrs. Cudney let out a half articulate screech of dismay and bolted out the door. Digen and Booker spared her only a glance and their eyes met again over the writhing boy. Digen was almost holding his breath against the deeply conditioned impulse to relieve the child's unnecessary suffering. But anything he could do would be illegal here.

"She signed him into this hospital," said Booker. "I can't just . . ."

"Lots of parents do that," countered Digen. "There must be a form to cover it."

"The Cudney family--I have to be sure . . ."

"Dr. Booker, you can't move a changeover victim in stage seven. You don't want a berserker in the EW." As soon as he said it, Digen wondered. From Booker's point of view, it would be the neatest way to get rid of one Sime intern. Either Digen would discard his retainers and provide first transfer illegally, thus getting himself into so much trouble he would be barred from all hospitals' intern program, or he would keep his retainers on and either watch the boy kill or try to subdue him without providing transfer--either way getting into so much trouble with the Tecton authorities that he would lose his out-Territory visa and thus be unable to complete his internship.

Booker said, "wait here I'll see what I can do." And then, before Digen could think of an objection, Booker was gone.

Well, Dr. Branoff, thought Digen, you wanted a significant issue.

Digen questioned the boy and found out, as he had suspected, that the Cudneys had provided him with no training at all. Digen tried to coach him through the spasms, to develop some sort of control of his selyn flows, but there were words for the functions only in Simelan, and the boy knew none of the language beyond baby talk.

Despite being a channel, Skip was in trouble. Already he was beginning to feel need, and that triggered the breakout contractions, which at this stage only wasted selyn and aggravated the sensation of need. It was a common syndrome in kids raised out-Territory. Subconsciously, they soaked up the prevailing fear of Simes, and when confronted with becoming Sime, the subconscious overwhelmed the intellect and tried to fight off the changeover. Those fears ran so deep among the out-Territory Gens that it could infect even a child like Skip, born to the knowledge that he was a channel.

A long time passed, and Booker did not return. Digen became gradually convinced that Booker might be delaying on purpose, even if it were only subconsciously.

38

(page break)

And at the same time, Digen realized that even if he took no action, Booker's plan would not work. Without immediate help, the boy was not going to survive to breakout.

Digen felt the decision had been made for him. He strapped the boy down on the gurney as if he were sedated for surgery, and, checking the hall, he rolled the gurney out the door. Luck had put them in Room Ten, just a few steps from the doors leading to the old building where the surgical theatres were located. A stray gurney or two would never be noticed in those halls. And all Digen had to do was make it the length of the building to the side door he used to go to the Center.

No one saw him leave the EW, and then he was in the elevator. At this hour, away from the EW, there was hardly a soul stirring. Digen spoke encouragingly to Skip, doing what he could with his field to make the ride easier on the boy.

At one point they passed a janitor closet where a man was repairing the plumbing. Digen nodded an acknowledgement and passed without slackening his pace. At the end of the hall, he came to the side door.

He picked Skip off the gurney. For a moment, he saw their reflection in the black glass of the door's wire-reinforced window. But outside, eyes adjusting, he saw it was almost dawn. The moon had set, but already there was enough light to see the way up the path. The light from the guard station didn't reach the path.

And then he was in the out-Territory Collectorium. Even at this hour, there were a few people waiting to donate before going to work.

Pausing only to strip off his retainers, Digen took the shortcut through his office and up the back stairs that led to the private entrance to his office in the changeover ward. Moments later, he had Skip installed in a properly equipped changeover room.

His staff went to work around him, asking no questions. Madhur Sharma had trained them well. At first, Digen had to quell an urge to call for Imrahan, reminding himself sharply that the Donor was gone. Then he became immersed in the boy's problems.

Now that he could work without retainers, Digen gave up trying to talk Skip through the learning process and joined in direct lateral contact to show him what to do. But it was already very late to begin such coaching. Stage seven, breakout, was imminent, and the tentacles were not yet ready.

Digen said, "Prineridine, fifty percent." The assistant pulled one of the masks down from the ready rack over the lounge and started to affix it to Skip's face. The boy jerked aside, "No! I'm going to be a channel! I won't let you ruin my changeover!"

Digen took the mask aside for a moment, saying, "Skip, I'm trying to help you."

"I don't want help. I have to do it by myself. I have to."

Digen hesitated. Where had the boy gotten such a notion? Unassisted changeover was valued highly in Imil. He wished again for Imrahan, and said, "You're feeling need already, Skip, and it's much too soon for that. You haven't been able to learn to reduce your selyn consumption rate. This may help you do that and keep me from having to rupture your oriface (sic RBW orifice) membranes for you."

Skip froze in mid-objection. Apparently, he knew that the most precious experience of changeover was the spontaneous rupturing of the membranes that sealed the tentacle orifices. Already, the fluid pressure was building within his tentacles sheathes and the membranes were thinning over the orifices at the wrists. He was already Sime enough to sense that Digen was not being wholly truthful. "Hajene, will you promise me that you won't . . ."

"No," said Digen, shaking his head, "I can't promise that. When the time comes, I'm going to have to get selyn into you whether your tentacles are ready for it or not."

Skip looked around at the Gens in the room. In effect, Digen had just told him that he was not going to get his first transfer from a Gen, as was the right of

39

(page break)

the channel. It was asking a lot of any changeover victim to come to terms with a disappointment like that.

Digen advanced with the mask once again, but Skip twisted aside, saying, "No! I won't."

"All right," said Digen, flipping the mask and line so it retracted back into its place. "All right, Skip, we'll do it your way. It's your life if you want to risk it. Just remember that an early rupture can mean permanent crippling, and every minute of time we can buy for you reduces that risk."

Their eyes met. Digen knew just what a cruel thing he was doing. He had the power to take the decision out of the boy's hands. But a channel in changeover is no longer a child. A channel has to grow up very fast, or he doesn't survive. And Digen couldn't help thinking that with an out-Territory background, Skip would be better off dead if he couldn't face this reality.

Digen sensed the exact moment when the boy's resistance dissolved. He motioned to the attendant to affix the mask. Then Digen went to work trying to manage the boy's remaining selyn resources, and to stimulate the glands pouring their secretions into the tentacle sheaths.

As his selyn consumption dropped, Skip became groggy, more manageable. Digen was able to use his own selyn field to control the boy's internal flows, opening the new nerve channels as they matured, carefully budgeting his resources for him.

But in the end, the selyn resources ran out before the nerves had reached full maturity. However, Digen's intervention had brought the tentacles' sheaths to readiness, the fluids within ready to burst the thinning membranes over the tentacles orifices: Digen ordered the perineridine antidote, and as soon as the drug was out of the boy's system, the breakout contractions began.

"That's right," said Digen, "just grab my hands, and when you feel it, squeeze. Don't worry, you can't hurt me."

Skip was more awake now, but caught up in the sensations of breakout. When the first contraction let up, Skip said, marvelling, (sic RBW marveling,) "I'm doing it myself! I'm going to do it."

Digen slid his own laterals up over the boy's lateral sheaths. He thought he sensed a slight weakness of the inner right lateral. Skip said, aware of Digen's concern, "What's wrong?"

"Not much. You're going to make it, Skip, but you've got to work with me." He took another mask off the rack. "This is going to stimulate your contractions. When I tell you to, I want you to take three deep breaths."

Digen began raising his show field steeply. Until now he had been concentrating on preventing the sensation of need, but now he gave everything he had to driving Skip wild with the sudden panic of first need. At the same time, he saw the next contraction gathering and said, "Now, breathe!"

Driven by the drug and the sudden impact of need, the frail arms went rigid under Digen's hold. Skip's eyes grew wider and brighter than Digen had thought possible, and at the end, he screamed.

And Digen, caught up in it, screamed with him as the warm fluids gushed through the broken membranes and flooded over both their arms. Immediately, Digen caught the weak new laterals with his own, forcing them to extend by pressure on the reflex nodes. In the same motion, he made lip contact and forced the transfer into the immature system.

At the halfway point, Digen felt Skip begin to draw selyn on his own, and eased off so that Skip was in effect controlling the transfer rate. Together, they rose up out of the depths of need to a giddy celebration of life. They broke apart, laughing breathlessly in triumph.

"I did it!" cried Skip, almost delirious with the sudden release. "That was it!" And after a moment, the realization came. "You didn't cheat me!"

Digen sobered, taking the towel the attendant handed him. He was still sitting

40

(page break)

in position on the contour lounge beside Skip. He took one of the frail arms and ran a tentacle over the newly flattened sheaths. "No, Skip, I didn't cheat you. I gave you all that was possible to you. But that isn't all that's possible."

"But, I feel fine!"

Digen nodded, "We'll have to run some tests, get some numbers before we can be sure. But, Skip--you're an adult now. I can't treat you like a child. I can't tell you everything is fine when it's not."

"What's wrong?"

Digen twisted the towel between his tentacles and fingers. "In my judgement, I think there is some impairment. Here." He fingered the inner right lateral, "It may fade completely over the next year. But it might not."

"You mean--I'm not going to be a channel?"

"No, no, I'm afraid you're as stuck with that as I am. But a lateral impairment is a--difficult thing to live with." Digen sighed, getting to his feet. "What I'm going to do is send you to a very special place for your training. It's called Rialite. There are a lot of Farrises there, and I think they can give you a better chance than you'd have anywhere else."

An attendant wheeled in the testing cart to get the numbers Digen had mentioned, and Digen left Skyepar Ozik with the well-trained team of attendants. He signed the Rialite forms, and went to wash up, knowing he had to get back to the hospital. It was almost time for rounds with Dr. Goe.

But as Digen was passing through the In-Territory Collectorium, the Center pageboards all over the building began flashing his name and code. He picked up a phone, and was instructed to report to Mickland's office immediately.

Digen's first impulse was to ignore the call. His business at the hospital seemed to him more pressing than anything Mickland had to deal with. But he had just given up his medical career to become a full-time channel again, and it seemed hypocritical to rush off to the hospital just to be dismissed. He got into the elevator and moments later was ushered into Mickland's formal office.

The office was filled with people. Two long tables had been set up making a little aisle up to Mickland's desk. Two groups sat facing each other across the tables. On Digen's left were out-Territory Gens escorted by Center Staff Donors to protect them from unretainered Simes. On Digen's right sat all the sub-controllers of the Center, and a number of the Senior Donors.

Among the out-Territory Gens sat Dr. Branoff, Dr. Booker, and Dr. Thornton, Digen's own Chief of Service. He concluded he had come to the right place.

Mickland rose from behind his desk as Digen entered saying, "Hajene Farris, it appears that you have created something of a problem."

Digen nodded. "Apparently."

The meeting lasted several hours as first Booker and then Mickland spoke. Several of the out-Territory Gens Digen had not recognized turned out to be police and court authorities. Only Mrs. Cudney was absent, and it was she who had pressed charges.

Her charges, though, had been dispensed with quickly when Skyepar Ozik was brought before the group and identified by Mrs. Cudney's attorney as "Skip Cudney", now obviously Sime. As soon as it was established that Digen had not in fact violated any law in removing the boy from his grandmother's custody, the police and court people left.

Digen then stood accused only of violating the hospital's regulations, and Booker was pressing to have Digen's out-Territory visa revoked. This could be done by the District Controller and four of his sub-controllers. But Mora Dyen and Rindaleo Hayashi had stood up and argued for close to an hour that Digen, although he had disobeyed a direct order of a superior, had done nothing to warrant loss of his border visa, and that the matter was between Digen and his employers, not between his employers and the Center.

41

(page break)

Technically, this was untrue. The hospital paid Digen's wages directly to the Center, not to Digen. So, in effect, the hospital was not Digen's employer, the Center was. But, somehow, the point carried because the subcontrollers would not vote against Digen, and Branoff soon decided they had to break the deadlock.

When it was over, Booker stormed out of the meeting almost leaving his escort behind. Mickland wouldn't speak to Digen, leaving by the back door, and Branoff and Digen were left alone as Branoff's escort waited by the door. Branoff said, "You certainly do have a talent, Dr. Farris."

"Yes, Sir."

"Didn't anybody ever tell you that the worst crime in the world is being right?"

"Yes, Sir."

"There's no way I can send you back to work for Dr. Booker."

"No, Sir."

Branoff hitched one leg across the corner of the long table he had been sitting at. "You were insubordinate, you know. Booker is right. You should be dismissed."

"I expected no less."

"You know I have to make a decision. Aren't you going to argue?"

"No, Sir."

"Why not? Don't you still want to become a surgeon?"

"That seems to be impossible," said Digen. He had to summon himself to stand quiet under Branoff's gaze. "I have selected the value which means the most to me. That does not mean that other values mean less than they did before."

"You mean that given a choice between being a channel and being a surgeon, you choose to be a channel?"

"No, Sir. I didn't choose to be born a channel. I am forced to do this work, whether I want to or not. I chose to learn surgery despite having to be a channel."

"I still don't understand. Booker ordered you to wait. Why didn't you wait?"

"Because the one thing that matters to me beyond everything else, is the welfare of my patients, whether they come to me as a channel or as a doctor. The one thing that I am, above all else, is a physician. If being that costs me surgery, well--that's the price of my life."

Branoff thought that over. "It's very fine to have the courage of your convictions, Doctor. But you must also remember that you are only an intern. You must accept the judgements of your superiors, always testing yours against theirs. Booker was right to order you to wait. There were things that had to be ironed out first."

Digen studied the carpet, lips firmly closed against the retort that rose in him. Branoff said, "Did you disobey because you distrusted Dr. Booker? Did you think that he would place his vendetta against you above the welfare of the patient?"

Digen met Branoff's eyes and said levelly, "That did cross my mind, Sir. Dr. Booker had never done that on purpose, all the times we disputed some detail or another. But he'd never had a changeover patient between us before."

"Dr. Booker is not anti-Sime, he's just anti-Sime-interns."

"I know that, Sir."

"Then why didn't you wait a little longer? Why didn't you believe he would be back before it was too late?"

Digen said, "My only regret is that I waited so long."

Branoff shook his head. "But you had hours and hours--look at the time?" He

41

(page break)

waved at the windows where the summer sun rose into a cloudless blue sky.

"Hours?" said Digen. "Hours! Dr. Branoff, I want to be a surgeon. I want it more than I've ever wanted anything. I wanted it so much this morning that I hesitated when I should have acted. I obeyed Dr. Booker when I should have brushed him aside. I was afraid. I didn't want to lose everything I'd worked for. And so that little boy, Skyepar Ozik, may spend the rest of his life as a semi-invalid because I didn't get him here in time. I'm so sick with myself that I don't care if I ever set foot in that hospital again."

Digen whipped around and stalked to Mickland's desk. He wanted to pick up the paperweight and hurl it at the wall as hard as he could. But he didn't. He just held it, crushing it with a brief burst of augmentation, and the pain of the stone's sharp points cutting into his skin somehow helped.

Digen turned back to Branoff. "It took hours because I made it take hours. But maybe, if I'd left a little sooner, I could have made it take a little bit longer, and he would be completely all right now.

"He's not all right because I was obedient. Well, I'm not going to be obedient any more. My judgement is my judgement, and it's my conscience I have to live with. If obedience is the price of surgery, then I'll have to give up surgery."

"You should have known it would come to that."

"I guess I did. I just didn't know--well, I guess I just didn't know myself well enough. Now I do. Now I know I can't be an intern."

Branoff slid off his table corner and paced out a circle until he came up on Digen. "You know what I think, Dr. Farris? I think you can't be an intern because you've already outgrown it."

Digen blinked, puzzled.

"Dr. Farris, you've shown that you know when to trust your own judgement. It's genuine, mature judgement. At least it is in the areas of your own experience. Okay, that's fine. The question is now whether you are able to surrender your judgement and your conscience to that of a superior when you don't know what you are doing."

Digen was silent as Branoff paced around again, saying, "The question is whether I can throw you into the Surgical Service confident that you won't act as if you already know it all."

Branoff stopped to look directly at Digen. "Aren't you going to say something for yourself?"

Bewildered, Digen said, "But I thought I just--Dr. Branoff, you can't hire an intern who refuses to obey the hospital rules. The board would surely reverse you, maybe even fire you."

"The Board is my problem," said Branoff, with a wave of his hand. "Are you handing in your resignation?"

Digen had thought that was what he had just done.

Branoff said, "Are you going to let Booker chase you yelping from the field of battle?"

"Uh--I . . ." Digen shook his head, unable to find words.

"Digen, I've followed your every move, your every word in that EW. I don't think anybody could have done better, and I doubt I could have done as well. If you still want surgery, I'm willing to give you another chance."

"I still do want to be a surgeon, as much as I ever did. But not at the expense of the welfare of my patients."

"I think the problem," said Branoff, pacing again, "is that you have to work for a supervisor who is genuinely your superior. Booker isn't. I think you might find Mayo Emhardt more worthy of your respect."

43

(page break)

"Emhardt? Chief Pathologist?"

Branoff nodded. "Tuck you away in the corner of the basement for a few weeks until all this excitement dies down. I don't think there's too much trouble you can get into in pathology. Then maybe a few weeks' rotation to Pediatrics, or perhaps on the OB Service. A few weeks on Orthopedics, and finish the year in Surgery. If you can finish the year."

Digen thought it over gravely.

Branoff said, "After six weeks under Emhardt, your ability to shut up and follow orders ought to be well established. Thornton and Emhardt are good friends. Thornton doesn't have much confidence in you right now. Emhardt could change his mind."

Digen realized that less than four weeks in one department could not have given him a good perspective by which to judge the hospital or medicine. He really didn't know enough to decide to quit. Maybe it would be different, away from Booker. He said, "A hospital can be no better than its path lab, and Westfield is a great hospital. I'd like to study under Emhardt. (sic RBW Emhardt."

TO BE CONTINUED

*****************************************************************

Go on to part 3