Sime Surgeon Copyright ©1980 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg -
Copyright 1999 Sime~Gen(tm) Inc. All rights reserved.



Jacqueline Lichtenberg


Ambrov Zeor #12 was published in February of 1981, and the price was $3.50 which included first class postage.

This section definitely is not the ending to the book that started in Chapter One here. I totally gave up keeping the Simelan vocabulary out of it, and I began playing with ways to orchestrate the scenes to include what I knew of how the selyn field interactions would impel people to behave.

However, this ending suffers from what I warned you about earlier - the beginning of the novel that this is the end of (even with all vocabulary lessons dramatized properly) that beginning was too stuffed up with technical material that is inherently irrelevant to the material covered here in part 5. Here we have a blending of technical medical background and transfer mechanics and abstract philosophy and emotional developments that change the characters.

It was as I was writing Sime Surgeon that Marion Zimmer Bradley taught me the phrase I use to bludgeon my writing students when they become incorrigible - "everything and the kitchen sink plotting." That's what I'd done with all the drafts of this novel.

I was struggling to control a tremendous amount of very powerful material, most of which still resided largely in my subconscious, and the result was "everything and the kitchen sink plotting."

What I learned in transforming this mix-and-match set of partial drafts into Unto Zeor, Forever was from a blend of Gene Roddenberry's tutelage (while I was writing Star Trek Lives!) and Marion Zimmer Bradley's lessons. All of this was in the mid-seventies.

By combining the insights that these two great writers gave me with my own peculiar way of looking at things, I arrived at the beginnings of what has become my main story-generating method today. MZB kept asking me, "Well, but what's the story in one sentence?" And Gene kept saying, "Never establish something in this episode (or novel) that you may want to establish differently in the next one. Never establish more than you have to in order to tell this particular story."

I rejected those two ideas, and I fought them and I struggled and I suffered all through the 4 or 5 drafts that preceded Unto itself.

No writer can use another writer's method - each and every one of us must absorb, internalize, master, use then adapt and then-and-only-then change anything that's taught to us. But once you've come through this process and out the other side, suddenly your elders have gotten a lot smarter and wiser than you'd ever suspected they could be. Suddenly, everything that you know, everything that you are, you owe to their insightful advice - even though you haven't taken any of it!

Well, neither of these great writers can do this the exact way that I do it, and neither would want to be credited with this approach. However, here is what I learned in a nutshell.

Drama, story, is Art, and the substance of that art isn't paint-and-canvass or sound, or color, or clay or marble. The substance of this art is emotion.

And it's that substance that runs rampant and uncontrolled throughout Sime Surgeon in all its drafts. Reading a story where the writer isn't in full control of the emotional composition is like riding in a car with a drunk driver behind the wheel, or listening to a singer who can't breathe properly. It's a very unpleasant and unsettling experience.

The way I found of gaining control of this material is somewhat the way that graphic artists control and trick the eye by using perspective lines. Perspective is the secret to "composition" - to guiding the eye around a graphic in a sequence that allows the brain to gain an interpretation of the whole thing as the sum of its parts, not as a jumbled pile of randomly assembled parts.

Modern audiences and readers have become educated to, or accustomed to, certain sorts of encoding algorithms (mostly through commercials on TV) which have become standardized. Artists who have mastered all those algorithms and understand them completely (the way a beginning graphic artist has to master perspective and proportion usually by drawing nudes and horses etc.) can challenge those algorithms, modify them, or make new ones. (Picasso and Eschbach come to mind.)

I was striving to create a new algorithm for fiction but I didn't even know that algorithms existed!

My tutors, Hal Clement, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Gene Roddenberry, Stephen Goldin, Sharon Jarvis, Pat LoBrutto, and about 400 fans of Star Trek and Sime~Gen, finally convinced me that these algorithms exist and that I'd better master them if I wanted to write commercial fiction at all.

Once I'd decided that I had to do it, I finally realized that MZB was trying to teach me - in her words - "how to find my own voice" - not what that voice is, but how to find it. The answer to the question she was asking me, "So what's the story in one sentence?" is the answer to the question, "So where do I start learning algorithms?" Only, since I hadn't asked the question, I didn't recognize the answer when I found it. (or in occult terms, "When the Student is ready, the Master will appear." The "Master" is always there shouting wisdom at the student, but the student can't hear it until the student is ready! And so, once the student is "ready" it seems to the student that the Master appears like a photograph developing in a tray of fluid.)

And what GR was saying was that it doesn't pay to try to do everything before you've done it. No wonder a young Aries woman couldn't hear that message.

What I did between Sime Surgeon and UNTO was to change my idea of what the finished product, a novel, is supposed to be like. Then I changed my idea of how to go about creating that novel - what order to do things in, and not to put the last thing before the first thing.

That, essentially, was what I'd been doing that caused the material to get out of control. I kept trying to do the LAST thing first. Typical of an Aries. So laugh.

The way I found of getting myself around this was to answer the question MZB had asked for several dozen stories I wanted to write. Once I had trained my subconscious to extract the answer to "what is the story in one sentence" out of material I deeply and desperately desired to work with, I looked at all those sentences and asked myself what they had in common - what is it that my subconscious just habitually does because that's who and what it is and there's no changing that. I asked myself "what is the substance of my art?"

And the answer - for me remember, not for everyone - was THEME. For me, where my subconscious starts and ends a piece of fiction is THEME. For MZB the theme just emerges during the writing, and sometimes she has to reread the book years later to find out what it was about. But analyzing her finished product and comparing that with her "dailies" - at this time during the seventies, we were sending each other our daily output by snailmail for comment and return - it's a strange method that wouldn't work for everyone, but it is maybe the only one that would work for me - well, I saw how she avoided "everything and the kitchen sink plotting".

It's simple. Everything in the story has to relate to the same theme. Even when she couldn't see what she was doing, or thought she was doing something other than what she really was doing, her work always COMES OUT coherent and pointed, well composed, and totally controlled, because the underlying master theme behind everything is a single crisp, clear unified statement.

I tried, but could not do it the way she does it. The result is the mess you've been reading.

I had to invent a new method, and I used GR's advice to do it. Don't get ahead of yourself. And that's what MZB does - the theme is for her, ahead of herself. She'll discover it years after the book has been published. Writing books is a way she has of talking to her future self. However, while she's writing, she does have her eye focused clearly on what she intends the story to be about, what she intends it to say, and she prunes and refocuses each scene or chapter on a daily basis. Being a Gemini she flicks back and forth between these two views very easily. Not my style.

So instead I learned to start with the theme, visualize the whole piece organized around that theme. I learned to wrap my entire consciousness around what this piece of work has to say - not what I want it to say, but what it naturally has to say (somewhat as the famous sculptor used to find the statue hidden inside the rough marble block - the statue that nobody else could see until he'd freed it.)

And I realized that for me, the essence of theme is philosophy - the driving force behind all emotional development in a character or a person is visible to me as a philosophy. Only I don't use the word philosophy to designate what I see as the organizing principle of the universe. I use a phrase I learned by reading Edward E. Smith's Lensman series of the 40's and early 50's - I absolutely loved those novels and read them until my copies fell apart. That phrase is "Visualization of the Macrocosmic All" which was the main occupation and pre-occupation and avocation of the Arisians, the givers of the Lens, the "good guys" of that universe.

Once I have the particular element of my Visualization of the Macrocosmic All verbalized by the main point of view character, it's easy to answer the question, "Well, then, whose story is it?" which was MZB's next question after, "So what's the story in one sentence?"

When I threw away everything that didn't pertain to the Main Theme (in a novel this size, there can be two sub-themes but they have to be derived from the main theme), I had Unto Zeor, Forever - presto, just like that. Then I had to invent all the other stuff that explains the vocabulary, and devise a plot driven by the theme and nothing else.

So, the way to avoid making messes such as you will finish reading below, is to avoid everything and the kitchen sink plotting, and the way to avoid everything and the kitchen sink plotting is to start with ONE (doesn't matter which one - Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer starts with CHARACTER as does MZB usually, while it seemed to me that GR preferred to work from an Ideal visualized though he could and did work from any and every point in a composition) of the elements of the whole composition, which has to be the answer to the question, "So what's the story in one sentence?" and generate ALL THE OTHER ELEMENTS from that one single starting-place.

The starting place is the one thing in the story that, no matter what any critic or editor says to you, you can't and won't change because for you, that's the essence of why you are writing this piece.

Getting all the other elements in the story to match that one piece that you won't change is like building your living room around your grandmother's foot-pump organ that you refuse to have refinished to match the walnut coffee tables. Writing a novel is like decorating a room or dressing up. The pieces have to match, and then they have to be arranged in the right order. The whole thing is a composition. Lose control of perspective, and the end result won't be composed; it won't be ART. You know you've failed to control the perspective when your test readers/viewers keep telling you to change the very thing you don't want to change. They just don't get the point! And they don't get it because it isn't pointed.

With Sime~Gen, everyone who read early attempts to write UNTO kept telling me to get totally rid of Simelan. You hold the resulting mess in your hands (computer?). It wasn't bad advice - it was that I didn't understand what it meant - "the teacher hadn't appeared because the student wasn't ready." For me, the point of the Sime~Gen Universe as a work of Art is Simelan and the Visualization of the Macrocosmic All that this strange language implies.

Novel composing is very much like composing a photograph or a painting - the object is to lead the art consumer's eye through the composition from point to point through a deliberately chosen sequence to where the point of the whole thing can have an impact. The writer has to bring the energy together, focus it, and release it on cue. The artist must control the forces unleashed and bring them to resolution. It's very much like giving transfer. That's what I hadn't done in Sime Surgeon. Winning the Galaxy Award with UNTO was a bigger and more meaningful triumph to me than most anyone would understand.

There's much more to say, and more to learn, by comparing the novella Lortuen to Sime Surgeon and later - when we find and scan and html it - the out-takes from the UNTO submission draft. This will be discussed probably at length on the Writing Workshop. To join that workshop, see the index page on this site.


Sime Surgeon Part 5

Sime Surgeon Copyright ©1980 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg -


Jacqueline Lichtenberg


"Tell me about the Tecton," said the little boy in a clear soprano voice.

"Well, all right," said Digen. "If you'll tell me about the Distect."

Digen was sitting on a wet brown boulder overlooking a tiny pocket of arable land high up in the mountains. He had plowed it himself. The smell of it was intoxicating. The sight of it held an unending fascination for him. He broke a clod and let the rich soil cascade through his fingers. The sensation seemed almost as intense as a transfer. Why does it do this to me?

"In the Tecton," said Digen, "a channel never does this kind of work."

"In the Distect," said the little boy, "everybody does. I think. I don't really know what a channel is."

"A channel -- is a Sime," said Digen. "That's all. Just a Sime."

"Can you make me into a channel?" asked the boy.

Digen laughed. It was a free laugh, rising spontaneously from somewhere near his navel. He couldn't remember laughing quite like this before he came here. He got up, picked up the boy, and sat him on top of the boulder. Pointing to one of the upthrust pinnacles that rose over them all around, he said, "Do you see that column of smoke?"

"Yes. That's my house behind there."

"Well, your mother just came out looking for you. I think you'd better go."

"You see? If I was a Sime, she'd never catch me!"

"Being Sime or Gen is something you're born to, like being a boy or a girl, or having blue eyes or brown. It's not what you are that's important, it's how you use it."

"I wish I'd been born grown up."

Digen laughed again, and hugged the boy close. Then he set him on his feet and watched him scamper across the field toward his mother. The woman would be panic-stricken if she caught her son talking to the Tecton channel. The adults treated him with a tolerant courtesy, but tended to keep their Gens away from him -- and their children. Yet, in retrospect, it seemed to Digen wholly inevitable that he and Ilyana should have ended up here.

He had left the hospital without any destination in mind. When she had asked, "Where are we going?" he had answered, "I don't know. You with me? And she had said, simply, "Yes."

So at the slideroad station, he'd bought them tickets to the end of the line. It was a little frontier town at the foot of the mountains. They had hitchhiked and walked across open country to another little town, bought horses and camping gear, and taken off into the wilderness.

Ilyana had proved incredibly deft in trail skills, of which Digen knew virtually nothing. He had had some vague idea of just finding some place where they could be alone for a while; think things through. But roughing it alone like that had left no time for thought. At first, he had welcomed that. He had needed it. But after a time, he became impatient to put a shape to the future, and Ilyana had led him here, exacting from him the same guesting vow he had taken from her in Westfield.

It had all seemed so easy, so natural, as everything was with Ilyana. And here he even had time to think. But strangely, he found himself less and less inclined to probe back into that other life. Here there were no agonizing conflicts to his life, no dashing from crisis to crisis, no life-or-death decisions for a patient, a friend, himself, or the world. Here, he wasn't a fugitive from justice. Here, by the laws these people kept, he and Ilyana had broken no laws, done nothing wrong -- except denying themselves lortuen.

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Despite that, they had been welcomed with the proverbial joy and feasting. Digen had been welcomed as Sectuib in Zeor, guest in Rior, and the one responsible for saving Ilyana's life and bringing her home. They had been given a small cabin at the edge of this field. It had been built for newlyweds, but the harsh winter had claimed their lives. Yet, for the sake of the community, this field had to be worked, and that had become Digen's responsibility. He accepted it gladly.

In the mornings, before dawn, he worked alongside many other members of the community in the chickenhouse and the cowbarn. Later, when the sun rose, he would share Ilyana's breakfast, and then they went out together to plow their own field. The twilight hours were their own.

Ilyana was still recovering her strength, gaining weight. She tired less and less easily as the days at her own home passed. But like any Gen, she required much more sleep than a Sime. Digen would lay with her each night, and they would fall asleep together. He found that even in need, he could sleep ninety minutes or so, with her close to him.

She became fanatically scrupulous about adhering to the Tecton transfer code. But even so, for Digen, it was almost like living in some sort of weak trautholo. He imagined it had been like this in the old days, between Sectuib and Companion.

After two or three hours of sleep, Digen would wake, surprisingly refreshed, and along with many of the other Simes in the community, he would go to work four or six hours in the watch factory. Often, during bad crop years, the sale of watches down in the valley was the only source of survival for the outlaw Distect community.

Digen had never made watches before. When he first came, and they asked him his profession, he had said. "I'm a channel."

"Well, yes, but what do you do for a living?"

"I'm a physician," answered Digen. And he added, "A surgeon."

"A surgeon? Most anyone can set a broken bone or deliver a baby. You good with your hands?"

"Somewhat," said Digen, and was promptly assigned to the watch factory. He enjoyed it and did well at it. The very first watch he had assembled from scratch without supervision, he engraved in flowing, formal calligraphy, " To Ilyana, from Digen -- a belated birthday present." And when he presented it to her, he told her about the dress he hadn't been able to buy.

She had looped the chain about her neck, pinned the watch to her dress, and said, "Truthfully, I prefer this." And Digen hadn't quite understood the feeling that enveloped her. It was due, he concluded, to same Distect value he didn't quite understand.

There were, he had discovered gradually, quite a lot of those. As the days went by, and the first flush of enthusiastic welcome wore down, he became more and more aware of how much an outsider he was here.

It wasn't that the people weren't willing to accept him. In their isolated and provincial way, they were even more tolerant than the Tecton had been of Ilyana. But they were all acutely aware of just how much he had not accepted them, did not intend to adopt their way of life.

The unconsummated lortuen nascent between him and Ilyana became the symbol of his apartheid. At first, Ilyana's health had been an acceptable excuse. But now, more and more, the people of the community had begun to regard it as a personal affront, or worse -- something unnatural.

Their attitude Digen summed up as essentially similar to the typical Sime attitude toward his insistence on becoming a surgeon. Somehow, his chosen behavior was an insidious form of self-degradation, something that might rub off if they got too close to him.

Yet, Digen thought, as he sat in the noonday sun, overlooking his very own field, they would all turn out the next day to help him plant that field. He had already helped plant four or five other vest-pocket fields tucked on the side of the mountain that thawed out first. His would be a later crop and if successful, would feed many more than just Ilyana and himself over the winter.

It was that, he realized, that had brought him out here today. Any thought of the future beyond tomorrow still touched off an explosion of emotions in him, a tangle of unresolved conflicts overlaid with a feeling of guilt. I've run away from a problem for the first time in my life.

Any thought that he might stay here through the next winter made him acutely uncomfortable. He wanted to shove it all down and nail the lid shut. And the fact that he wanted to do that made him even more guilty.

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Ilyana came out of the little house across the field from Digen and picked her way around toward him. She was carrying the lunch basket Digen had packed that morning before she woke.

He met her half-way and took the basket, as together they forged out across the rugged terrain, scrambling over the broken crags to a shelf overlooking a long, thin waterfall. The sun was blistering hot, but in the shade it was too chill to sit for any length of time. Here, where the morning sun had warmed the rock, and a tall pine gave them open shade they could lunch in fair comfort.

What Digen liked best about it was the feeling of being alone. No amount of insulation could produce this effect. The mountains spread around them, peak after peak, down into the mists or up into the almost purple sky -- and save for the Distect settlement, not a Gen nager as far as Digen's senses could reach. Digen could close his eyes, and hyperconsciously, he could perceive a weak echo of the community's nager off the distant mountains. There was a sense of reality to it, of immanence, that never happened in a city.

The waterfall crashed to the riverbed so far below that the noise didn't drown out all speech, though they had to lean close together to be heard. Digen fluffed the dry pine needles while Ilyana laid the lunch out on their rock table.

Ilyana ate voraciously, the foods of her home and childhood peaking her chronic appetite. Digen sipped cold tea and nibbled at a crisp biscuit favored by the Simes here. Digen found it bland. As any Sime, left to himself, Digen wouldn't have eaten at all. He required only enough protein and minerals, vitamins and trace elements to replace loss and rebuild cells. His energy requirements were met by selyn.

Right now, he was into the need half of his cycle, and his appetite for food was dormant. Watching him, Ilyana said, "Something's been bothering you, all morning. What is it? Transfer?"

Digen shook his head, putting aside the half-eaten biscuit. "I shouldn't be here, Ilyana. You know."

She came to lie on her elbows beside him on the pine needles. He lay back, propping his hands behind his head. They were in a cul-de-sac among the rocks, where they could enjoy the waterfall without being deafened by it. Digen often wondered what Hayashi's mathematical mind would make of the acoustical equations. And that always made Digen wonder whether Hayashi was alive. He said, "The one thing I miss most is the newspapers. I have no idea what's going on in this world."

"Well," said Ilyana thoughtfully. "Mrs. Gurstin had her baby last night, a girl. And Flor Metli went to work at the dairy for the first time yesterday. Everybody thinks Ray and Di are getting married soon, but I don't. I can tell their transfers are just not satisfactory."

"Where'd you learn all this?"

"When I went down for the milk. Oh, and Mrs. Komil doesn't want you talking to her son any more. You frighten her."

"This is news?"

"Digen, that's shameful. You should take more interest in the world. It's not healthy to brood all the time." But her scolding was half mocking, and her nager told Digen he was being teased for all the times he'd scolded her.

"I guess I should learn some civilized manners," he said.

She moved closer, running a finger along his tentacles. "I'll be glad to teach you, any time you say."

It was the closest to a violation of the Tecton code she had allowed herself. "Ilyana, don't, please."

She sat up, moving away. "I'm sorry." Her nager showed the creeping chill of a rejected lover, deemed somehow inadequate. Another emotional reaction based on Distect values. But this time Digen understood. It was the one thing so emphatically proscribed to Tecton channels and Donors.

Steeling himself to the effect she had on him, he reached out and drew her back. "Are your friends putting that much pressure on you?"

"You don't do it because your friends want you to. You do it because you want to."

Digen finished, ". . . not because you're assigned?"

"Can anyone, even the Tecton, assign you to lortuen?"

The absurdity of that struck Digen, but before the laugh was born, it died. He had taught Ilyana

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how to touch in transfer without getting sucked into any deep caring for the channel she served. And then he had gone up against Thornton and Branoff, raking them to shreds for not caring about their patients.

The Tecton demanded personal involvement of the channels, involvement with everyone except their Donors. It was unnatural. It violated the deepest instincts of any sane human being.

Digen had always known that, in a distant, intellectual way. Now, suddenly, it loomed hideous and ugly, a monstrous sore festering on society.

He shook his head to dispel the feeling.

"Of course you can't," said Ilyana.

"Can't what?"

"Digen, what is the matter?"

"It's not worth it," he said. "How could anything be worth that?"

"If you won't talk to me," said Ilyana, "how can you expect me to help?"

It was another thing he had said to her so often. He said, "Imrahan and Mora, Skyepar Ozik, and Rizdel, Madder Sharma, and -- and you, and me, and Rin, and all of them. Ilyana, we're all victims. The bloody-be-shen Distect is right! You can't take the two apart any more than you can take authority and responsibility apart. It's immoral, unethical. It's wrong."

She said, a little confused, "You've known that all along."

"Yes, but I didn't know it." He was on his feet, hands thrust into the pockets of his field overalls, pacing across the mouth of the recess. She got up, caught at him as he went by, and said, "You always said it was the price of something even more valuable than your freedom, the lives of all those Gens."

He stopped, took her in his arms, and suddenly, all his new clarity deserted him. "I don't know. How can anything be worth it? I can't resolve it. I just don't know."

"You're in need, how can you expect to think straight?"

She was right. In need, the fulfillment of need would seem more important than any Gen's life, or any number of Gen lives. It was only natural it should be so.

"I can bring you to transfer," said Ilyana. "Right now, if you like. Twenty-eight days isn't really your norm. There's no reason to keep to it, here. We're not responsible to anyone but ourselves. You'll feel better. You won't be afraid of the Distect style any more."

It was so tempting, there in the solitude of the mountains But a lifetime of habit made Digen put her from him. "No! I'm not ready yet. You have to give me time I can't -- accept it. Not this time."

"All right. I gave my word a long time ago, remember? I'm doing my best to keep it."

"I know."

She bent to gather the lunch things, and automatically Digen helped. Closing the lid on the basket, their hands met, and he said, "I never asked you point-blank. Is it true, what they say, about a Sime's first taste of Distect transfer? That he can never go back to the Tecton?"

"I don't know. All I know is that nobody ever does. I don't know why. I've always supposed it was that the Tecton was so -- unnatural. But I'm not a Sime."

"And as a Gen, how was it for you?"

She looked away, searching for a word. ". . . unbearable."

He picked up the basket, and with one arm across her shoulders, he steered them both back toward the house. She wanted a Distect transfer between them, he thought, so that the entire issue would be settled, if not resolved. The sight of the plowed field as they passed brought back the thought of next winter, and the flush of skin-tingling anxieties that came with that thought. He couldn't accept a Distect transfer until it was all straight in his head. He couldn't commit himself until it was all resolved. He couldn't stand the idea of living trapped in a decision that turned out to be wrong.

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"Ilyana? Maybe a compromise? You're right, there's no point in keeping a schedule that's uncomfortable for both of us. But whenever we do it, we keep it strictly Tecton style."

"I don't know how much longer I can keep it up, but I'll try." She stopped, turned toward him. "You said it. It's just not worth it. We're already about as dependent as it's possible to get. Lortuen wouldn't be that much worse, if it came to a break. And I'm willing to risk getting pregnant. At least that's a useful way to die."

With tears brimming, she turned and ran for the house. Digen could have caught up with her easily. But he didn't move. Does every joy have to have a price tag of agony?

He remembered those weeks after his second transfer with her, just before Hayashi was hurt. With all the good things he'd found here, he had been happier then. He could have retained that happiness, alternating every second or third month with Ilyana.

Here, he'd lost all of that. Every night, Ilyana had to work him out of entran because his body was rebelling at not performing any channel functionals. He was going out of his mind without six newspapers to read every day, and four medical journals a month. He'd never known there was such a thing as mental need. In sour moments, he often drafted a paper on it.

But worst of all, people died here. It was frontier living, very close to the old Householdings. They had no use for advanced medical care. If you were that sick, you died. The community couldn't afford to support a hospital. A phrase he'd read somewhere kept coming back to him. Subsistence economy. No room for the nonproductive.

It was several days later, after their compromise transfer, which somehow didn't seem to satisfy the neighbors, that Ilyana's older brother came back.

At the first sign of spring, every year, Roshi led a fishing expedition to the lake about fifty miles away. Food was usually running pretty low at that time of year, and the kegs of smoked fish they brought back would tide them over until the first crops came in.

Upon his return, the community threw an enormous festival, in honor of his return and in celebration of the completed planting. Over the weeks, Digen had heard a lot about Roshi, who had taken the name ambrov Rior instead of his family name. He had his misgivings, but he was also eager to meet Ilyana's older brother, the head of Householding Rior.

The celebration was held in the main building of the scattered settlement, atop the point that commanded the entry to the rough basin they called Rior. It was more of a fort or castle than any seat of government Digen was familiar with. But with the big stockade doors flung wide open, the colorful lanterns hung everywhere, a bandstand, and children swarming everywhere, it didn't seem like a fort. The main floor of the building opened into a huge assembly hall, where all the two or three hundred families of Rior could gather at once. There were tables scattered everywhere, with an abundance of food -- mostly salted fish in various guises, but in abundance.

The party began about noon, with the arrival of the first of Roshi's pack animals. The last of the stragglers, with Roshi bringing up the rear, rode into the stockade just at sundown. They had lost some horses and two riders in a rock slide. The wounded were on drag litters pulled behind limping mounts.

Digen gravitated to the wounded men out of habit, but was shouldered aside roughly. "You won't be required here, stranger."

He stood back, unable to discern the seriousness of the injuries through the screen of fields about the men. Ilyana came up on his left, craning to catch a glimpse of the wounded and then spotted the last man riding through the open gates into the stockade yard. "Roshi!" she called, and dragged Digen toward her brother.

The crowd divided before them, some streaming to meet their leader, others crowding around the wounded. Digen and Ilyana were carried up to Roshi as if they were gifts the people were presenting to him.

Dismounting, Roshi gathered Ilyana into his arms and swung her about. The Rior leader was about Digen's age, a bit taller, and with a vague but definite Farris cast to his features. And he was Sime.

As Digen emerged from the crowd behind him, wondering why that surprised him so, Roshi turned. "So!" he said, looking Digen up and down. "The last time we had a Sectuib in Zeor for guesting, the whole Tecton went to war against us."

"Rosh-i!" said Ilyana, her nager sharp with outrage.

He turned to his sister. "Sime to Sime, Ilyana, he understands me. Don't you, Sectuib?"

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And strangely enough, Digen did. Barbarous though he seemed, with his hair grown wild, his clothes tattered from weeks in the wilderness, Roshi was nothing more or less than the heir of a Householding living besieged in a hostile world, generation after generation. He could easily have been a young version of Digen's grandfather, who had often told tales of the old days his mother had lived through.

Digen bowed formally, and said, "In perpetuity, Unto Rior."

Caught a little by surprise, Roshi hesitated, and then returned, "Rior extends welcome to Zeor, in continuity, Unto Zeor."

With the formalities past, Roshi turned toward his wounded. "We must talk of everything, Sectuib Farris, but later. Now . . ."

Digen moved quickly to block his way. "Sectuib Rior, you are not a trained channel. Let me help."

The denial was already half articulated when Roshi stopped himself, glancing toward the wounded with a calculating look. Already, the litters had been loosed from the horses, and the wounded were being carried up the narrow wooden stairs leading to the second floor of the building. "Most of them would die first. But -- come with me."

Digen brought Ilyana after them with a glance, and they all trooped after the last of the litters. The second floor of the fort building had been fitted out as a rough hospital, offering little more than first aid in battle conditions. Two large rooms were joined, with a supply station in between, where there were bandages and salves. The Simes, two men and one woman, were put on cots in one room, and the Gens, a man and a woman, were placed in the other room.

Away from the pressing crowd below, Digen was beginning to sort out the wounds. There was concussion, a broken leg, some other fractures, lacerations and contusions, one of the Gens had lost an eye, but the worst was the Sime woman -- profuse bleeding from a spontaneous abortion.

Ilyana went right to her. "Dula!" Two Gens, a man and a woman, were already with her, administering a dark brown medicine. She looked back over her shoulders at Roshi.

To Digen, Roshi said, "My wife. Fourteen weeks pregnant. Her horse was killed in the rock slide. This started a few hours later. I've done my best. She can't control it either. If you can . . ."

Digen moved in, sorting out the fields of the Gens. It seemed the Gen woman was Dula's donor, while the Gen man served Roshi, forming one of the usual Distect squares. Digen said, "Ilyana."

She came into position at his left, and they exchanged glances. This would surely bring on another long bout of entran dysfunction for Digen, his body once more straining toward the normal channel functions he must here deny himself.

He sat on the edge of the bed to take both her hands. "Will you let me help you?"

She looked to Roshi, to Ilyana. They had had news of Digen's arrival out at the fishing site, and news of Ilyana's miraculous recovery. Roshi said, "It's up to you."

Digen sensed what was behind the question. The Tecton channels, people here believed, were slaves, using the talents forcibly developed in them for the benefit of everyone except themselves. The Distect people would never accept something that wasn't given willingly, and to them, it was a deep mystery why Digen wanted to help total strangers. Or they simply put it down to conditioning over which he had no control.

"Well," said Digen, "you're practically my sister-in-law. Is that a good reason?"

She smiled wanly. "No. Can you think of another one?"

"Actually, no. Can't you tell that I do want to help?"

She nodded. "I think so. But you'll have to promise me that afterwards, you'll figure out why you want to do this and let me know. Or I'll die of curiosity for sure."

"I will think about it," said Digen, guiding her into a lateral contact hold, and instructing her. Carefully, he slid into hyperconsciousness, probing her body gingerly. She wasn't trained to work with channels, and so he remained alert to all possibilities.

At length he found the problem, a minute bit of placental tissue. At the hospital, they would have scraped it away mechanically. Digen had done that many times. Here, it was a simple matter of adjusting hormone flows, causing local muscle contractions, making minuscule shifts until the bit of tissue

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was dislodged. It required fine control and considerable endurance on the part of the channel. But it was something a Second could have accomplished.

In the end, he brought Roshi into the contact and showed him exactly how it was done, coaching him until it was Roshi, himself, who provided the final nudge. After that, Dula had no difficulty controlling her own bleeding.

Standing over the bed as she drifted into sleep, he said, "You should watch her diet carefully for a few weeks, Roshi. Don't get her pregnant again too soon. With genes like ours, one can't be too careful."

Roshi looked toward Ilyana, who said, "I told him about Muryin. Besides, it's rather obvious, looking at you after -- all the Farrises I've seen."

The other patients had all been taken care of while Digen was working, and now the room was fairly empty. Roshi said, comparing the fields of Digen and Ilyana, "You have not joined us -- Sectuib Farris."

"Nor am I your enemy. I am a guest here, Sectuib Farris."

"Don't call me that!"

Simultaneously, Ilyana said, "Digen! That's -- that's uncivilized!"

"I meant it as a compliment. You are head of Householding and obviously Farris."

"But I'm no channel!"

Digen looked at Dula. "I wouldn't be too sure about that, if I were you."

"That -- that was nothing."

"True. Nothing a Second Order channel couldn't have done, with training and practice."

"Are you -- well, it doesn't matter."

Digen said, with sudden insight, "You two are only half siblings, aren't you?"

"I didn't tell him, Roshi."

He looked at Digen, then at the patients and their relatives who stayed to tend them. "Let's go down the hall where we can talk."

He led the way, Digen and Ilyana following. Below them, the party was in full swing, and Digen could hear a shiltpron among the band instruments. So far, it was only being used in the audio range.

Coming to a bend in the hallway, Roshi opened a door and showed them into a room. He struck a match and lit the lamp. The walls were honeycombed with pigeon holes filled with rolled charts. One free-standing divider held a map of the immediate area. The center of the room was taken up by a table model done in high relief of the environs. To one side, another tilted table was littered with blank charts and cartographers tools.

As soon as the door was closed behind them, Roshi took Ilyana by the shoulders. "It's true, Ilyana. He's right. I am a channel."

She paled, and her lips trembled, but her voice was steady as she said, "I think I must have always known."

"I'm sorry."

"You -- you couldn't have helped me anyway. You're my brother. It wouldn't have been right --except . . ." she trailed off, looking toward Digen. ". . . the Tecton way," she finished.

The room was filled with the resonance of her shock and effort to contain her tears. Digen felt like an intruder. To these people, being born with the channel's genes was about the worst stigma one could carry.

"The channel's prenatal selyn draw," said Digen. "That's what killed your mother? At your birth?"

Roshi nodded. He said to Ilyana. "Dad didn't know how to help her. I think -- I think that's what killed your mother, too."

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Digen shook his head in dawning dismay. "It's like something out of the Chaos -- before -- before even the Householdings. How -- how could you let this happen?" And he was thinking, this is the Distect, the way of freedom for the channels?

For renSime and Gen, the prenatal selyn draw was virtually unmeasurable, and indistinguishable, one from the other. Only the channel, of all the variant mutations, was marked at birth by a distinctive selyn draw from the mother. And if the mother was Gen, and unable to supply the fetus' demand -- and very few Gens could supply the selyn which the Farris metabolism demanded -- then the mother usually died during birth. Often, the infant didn't survive. That had been the main reason there had been so few higher order channels during Klyd Farris' time.

Digen's own feelings were so strong that for a few moments, he didn't realize Ilyana was crying. They were recently post-transfer, unstable but not high field. Yet Ilyana's selyur nager was so strong, she was reflecting and magnifying Roshi's agitation Digen, so long outside his Tecton role, was no longer accustomed to the automatic blocks and shifts of simple Tecton courtesy, and he had let the situation get out of hand. He said, sharply, "Ilyana!" And he followed with two crisp commands.

Her response was not the unconscious, automatic one Digen would have expected from a Donor like Imrahan. She came to a blurry realization of what Digen meant, assessed the situation for herself, and with an effort, turned from her brother to summon what control she could.

A moment later, the ambient nager flicked down to manageable proportions. She flashed a weak smile toward Digen, saying, "I'm sorry."

Astonished, Roshi looked from one to the other, then centered on Ilyana. "I -- how -- you -- what . . ."

"Just a little trick Digen taught me one day. Makes life a lot easier, doesn't it?"

"But . . ."

"As the Gen here," said Ilyana, "it's my responsibility to keep the atmosphere livable, isn't it?"

Helplessly, Roshi nodded.

"It's nothing so awfully arcane or sinister. Look, I just keep myself out of synch with you, and click! All of a sudden, I control the nager."

"But, in the Tecton, the Simes."

". . . consider themselves responsible for something they know very well they can't control. Right?"

"Yes but . . ."

"Look, it's a Tecton technique, but I'm using it to serve civilized ends, so it can't be immoral, can it?"

"You always could argue rings around me."

"And you could never stand to be in the same room with me for five minutes at a stretch. Now at least, I can talk to my own brother."

Roshi flashed Digen a grin. "Now at least, you're alive, and that's more than I ever hoped for. It's spring, a new year, and you're alive -- and well."

"Her health is still fairly precarious," said Digen.

"Is that a professional opinion?" asked Roshi.

"Yes. And a personal one."

Roshi studied Digen. "I detect rationalization. You are excusing yourself."

"Roshi!" Ilyana made to step between them, but Roshi warded her off with a tentacle gesture.

"Digen, surely you realize this can't go on. You are a guest here, and we -- I -- will respect your reticence about our customs. But she is my sister. And it is my duty to protect her from any who would wrong her."

Digen didn't say anything. It was all there in his nager, plain for Roshi to read, an emotional chord, not unlike a musical chord. Sadness that he should be thought to abuse Ilyana. A protectiveness of her which was definitely non-Tecton -- a thread of shame about that. An undertone of mixed emotions unresolved conflicts -- painful ones.

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"We will leave it, then, for a time," said Roshi. "I understand it is not deliberate on your part. But be warned. You can't have it both ways. One day, the tension will break. And I will see to it that it is not Ilyana who is hurt by it. Meanwhile, I am grateful for what you have done for her. That alone earns you welcome here many times over. And for my wife . . ."

". . . for your wife, you owe me nothing."

"The channel's code? We don't - accept that here. You aren't obligated in any way to . . ."

"I don't consider it an obligation. It was a pleasure. It cost me nothing -- seven point eight three dynopters which I'd have had to void anyway -- Ilyana's overproduction. Besides, the exercise did me good."

"That's not true," said Ilyana.

"Ilyana!" said Digen.

"In two days," said Ilyana, "he'll be in entran again, just from this."

"Entran?" said Roshi. "I hadn't thought of that. Digen, has it been bad for you?"

"From time to time, of course, but I'm very well accustomed to that." Digen displayed his scarred lateral, and Roshi grasped immediately what it meant. Digen had been a developed and functioning channel when it happened. For several years afterwards, he'd been unable to work, getting back to limited functioning only after many severe bouts of entran.

"Don't listen to him," said Ilyana. "It's all I can do sometimes to keep him alive."

"Don't overdramatize," said Digen. "You're a lot better at it than anybody else I've ever had."

Roshi mulled that over, and said, "Digen, why did you leave Westfield?"

Digen had opened his mouth to give the answer that had become standard whenever anybody asked him that here. Because there was no way Ilyana and I could survive alone in the wilderness.

Before the first word was out of his mouth, he realized that Roshi had asked, not 'why did you come here,' but 'why did you leave there.' It stopped him cold. It was the question he had avoided asking himself with a kind of frantic anxiety. It's too soon! Give me time!

But Digen knew that he couldn't temporize with a Farris channel, even a wholly undeveloped one. Much to his surprise, Digen found himself talking, not with planning and consideration, as he usually talked, but hardly knowing what word would come out next.

"I think -- I left -- because I had given all there was in me to give. I gave them the greatest gift I was born to create and give, the one thing that held meaning for me -- and to do so, I had to break every law I'd been taught to hold sacred. They would have rewarded me with death by confinement to attrition -- publicly. Everything I hold sacred tells me I deserve exactly that. But I -- I couldn't face it. I couldn't accept it. And I -- I -- don't -- know why. I know I was right to do what I did. But I'm ashamed, guilty. I left because it was the easiest thing to do."

Digen met Roshi's eyes directly. "I ran away."

Roshi's reaction baffled Digen. His nager brightened with an overwhelming joy, and he swung around, picked Ilyana up, gave her a big kiss, and set her down beside Digen with a bounce. "Ilyana, you did it! You did it! Beautiful!"

Ilyana was as baffled as Digen. "Did what?"

"Brought him here! He understands, Ilyana, don't you see, he understands now! The Sectuib in Zeor knows!"

"Knows what?" asked Digen, completely disoriented. He was still choking on the admission of cowardice, expecting to be driven out of Rior like a pariah.

Roshi eyed Digen. He was calm again, calculating now. Roshi nodded slowly, pondering Digen's nager. "It will come to you. Give it time. Within our lifetimes, we will see the beginning of a miracle."

"What miracle?" asked Digen.

"The correction of Klyd Farris' mistake, what else? You can't see it yet, but it's begun already. The Tecton has driven out its best channel. The system broke you. And you withdrew your endorsement

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of it. The Tecton no longer has the sanction of Zeor. Gradually, the higher order channels will realize they can't live with the Tecton system. Who are the higher order channels? Mostly Householders -- the Householdings will band together again, withdraw from the Tecton rotation rolls. Little by little, people will realize you can't ask a person -- just because he's born with certain genes -- to give up his life, his freedom. It's wrong. It's a violation of some fundamental law of the universe. Oh, it won't happen overnight. It may yet take generations. But this is the beginning."

Digen shook his head, unable to follow.

Roshi went on, caught up in his own vision. "Don't you see? They demanded the sum and substance of your very soul, and you gave it freely and without complaint or reservation -- you gave them what they demanded, and they are willing to reward you with death by attrition. Don't you see what that implies? No, of course you can't, not yet, but you will. It means, Digen, in one sentence, that you cannot give wisdom, no matter how loudly it is demanded from you."


You cannot give wisdom, no matter how loudly it is demanded from you.

The words engraved themselves inside Digen's mind. They were just words now, but something told him they were the key to everything.

The feeling Digen had had by the waterfall came back to him. The Tecton was a huge, ugly sore, festering down in the lowlands, demanding of its channels that they care for everyone except the ones who meant everything to them, their Donors. And there was no way to tell them how hideously evil a thing that was. The Distect is right. It came to him, not as words, but as a feeling, totally consuming, irrefutable, self-evident. But you can't tell them. Wisdom cannot be given as a gift. It has to be bought with agony.

It came to him that this was an immutable law of the universe, and he had been killing himself trying to violate it -- like a moth beating himself to death at a bright window. So stupid. So futile.

Digen felt, in that moment, that he had suddenly discarded the last shreds of the folly of youth.

Roshi said, "You haven't heard a word I've been saying, have you?"

"Yes," said Digen, "yes, of course I heard. You're right, absolutely right. Wisdom is not a gift."

And then Digen became aware that Roshi had gone on talking, animatedly, excitedly, long after that revelation. He spread his hands. "I'm sorry . . ."

"Forget it. The time will come. I can't give you my wisdom any more than you can give me yours. It will take time. It's already taken many lifetimes."

There was a knock on the door, and simultaneously Digen became aware of the shiltpron playing below -- it was modulating in the hyperconscious now, low-key, but insistent. At the door, Roshi said, "Yes, Fen, we're coming." And to Digen and Ilyana, "Come."

On the stairs, Roshi dropped back to speak to Digen. "I hope you won't mind, but at these things, it's traditional for Ilyana and me to lead off. And this year, with Ilyana well again -- I . . ."

Digen said, not sure why he was being consulted, "I would not stand in the way of tradition."

When they entered the brightly lit main hall, the band fell silent. Everyone there turned to watch them walk across the open floor to the bandstand. Fen, Roshi's Donor, held Digen back on the edge of the cleared circle. Roshi handed Ilyana to the center of the circle, positioned her, and nodded to the shiltpron player.

A chord rang out audibly; then, as the shiltpron player exposed his lateral tentacles to the vibrating tines of the instrument, an exquisite shiver brightened the ambient nager and every Sime in the room groaned a little with it.

Even Digen had to gasp. In three expert strokes, the shiltpron player struck up a cadence to which Ilyana and Roshi began to move. They wove through it, casting streamers of sensation out over the Sime audience. Digen found himself slipping into hyperconsciousness, entranced by the beauty of it. He had never seen anything remotely like it.

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Ilyana was a pinwheel of modulated color, focused and projected through Roshi's deftly adjusted fields -- dimly Digen realized Roshi was using himself as a channel, probably without knowing it; surely the others in the room didn't know it. They felt it, though. The Simes, Digen saw, were dropping themselves into the rhythmic pulse of the dance movements, joining one to another throughout the room, almost the way a choir joins voices in a song. And at the core of it all, the deft touch of the Farris channel, sensitive, precise, controlled like no other Sime's system. No wonder, Digen thought, it had become tradition for him and Ilyana to 'lead off.'

That was the last clearly objective memory Digen had of the party. He fell into the spell of the music himself, with only a transient wonderment that he felt no reservations -- no prudish judgments, as he had at the Ohmand changeover party. This was somehow different, and he had become a different person.

Before he knew it, Fen had drawn him onto the open floor beside Ilyana and Roshi, inserting the two of them neatly into the pattern of the dance. Digen let it happen. He felt beautiful inside and he wanted to share it with everyone in the world.

He took the waves of the shiltpron music through his body and sent them to all corners of the room, bidding everyone joy to Ilyana's health and Roshi's wisdom. Soon, he found himself dancing with Ilyana at the focus of the shiltpron fields, and thereafter, he had a flash memory of her face, rosy and sweat-streaked, exuberant with the bursting vitality possible only to a Gen.

The entire room danced with them, almost extensions of their own bodies. There wasn't a person in the room who wasn't perfectly attuned to the rhythm. It's like living without effort, thought Digen. And for him that moment became the very definition of being alive.

A resolution came to Digen then, crystal clear and unquestionable, buoyed up to the surface of his mind by the music, the tactile harmonies released in him by the shiltpron. The Distect is right; it's all that's good about being Sime; it's the only way to live. My next transfer will be Distect style.

He wanted to tell Ilyana right away, but he found she was exhausted, breathless with cramps in her side. They had danced for over an hour, but he was still wild with it. Roshi came and took her to the sidelines, and somehow Digen found himself on the bandstand, the shiltpron being thrust into his hands and somebody saying, " Who ever heard of a head of Householding who couldn't play the shiltpron? Give us something Zeor."

Digen began to demur -- he wanted to dance. But the musician reached over and touched off a chord among the tines, and it hit Digen stronger and deeper than it had when he'd been out on the floor. He sat down slowly, cradling the instrument in his arms. It had been years since he'd played.

He touched the forest of upright tines, the webbing of taut strings. His hands and tentacles fit themselves automatically into playing position, and the anticipatory shimmer from the people in the room sent Digen off into hyperconsciousness again.

He played as he had never played before in public. Once or twice, during his first year after changeover, some of the students used to sneak off into the fastnesses of the deep caves and hold orgies of shiltpron music -- but, of course, there had never been any Gens with them. Digen began, gingerly remembering those illicit orgies, and just gracing the tines here and there with a tentative lateral contact.

Each time he made that contact, the music seemed to penetrate his inner core a little deeper, to possess him a little more strongly. The audience begged, again -- again - faster -- more -- again! Digen could feel the nager drawing him deeper into it, and soon he was daring longer and longer contacts, letting it grip him more and more fully.

Little by little, his channels opened. He was defenseless before them, and needed no defense. He was not playing the shiltpron. He was only the instrument of the audience, who fed their nager into the shiltpron through him. He was receiving and giving back redoubled; he was functioning.

It was not transfer, and it was not any of the functions he'd been trained to. But it was what a channel was for, in a way he could never put into words, except to say, it was life itself flowing through him. It was a gift he could give.

From somewhere, Ilyana appeared at his left.

That was a dim shock for Digen. He remembered then that he hadn't played the shiltpron since his injury, and there were good reasons for that. He was much too caught up in the effect of the music to be frightened, and if he had been frightened, it would have caused an instant panic, perhaps even some deaths.

As it was, the distant awareness that he ought to stop somehow ended the upsweep of the music, until the whole audience slowly folded in on itself, exhaustion depositing them on the floor, some cross-legged, some sprawled, some held by their transfer partners, down, down, down to collapse.

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Cartoon I by J. Lorrah



(RBW Note. Large breasted woman with hand out for money and slim Sime man with glow holding money.)

Cartoon II by J. Lorrah



(RBW Note. Large muscles man with hand out for money and slim Sime woman with glow holding money.)

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Cartoon III by J. Lorrah



(RBW Note. Large woman Sime with glow and hand out for money and large man holding money.)

Cartoon IV by J. Lorrah



(RBW Note. Large muscled man and slim man with glow (indicating a Sime) but there is a big CENSORED sign in front of both of them so that you can't see the money or who is holding it and there are lightning bolts around the sign.)

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The shiltpron fell from Digen's numbed fingers.

She eased him off the stool, and he lay with her on the floor of the bandstand, in the stillness of aftermath beyond exhaustion. There wasn't enough in him to begin to cry over what might have happened because of his foolishness. And by the time he recovered, the intensity of the feeling was blunted. It had happened. In a moment of mindless drunkenness, it had happened, and nobody had been hurt. He would be sure not to let it happen again.

All around the room, the Gens recovered first. They began to get to their feet, to fetch drinks to those who couldn't walk yet, to soothe and comfort loved ones, and pamper them back to strength.

Roshi, leaning on Fen's arm, came to sit on the bandstand near Digen, rubbing the back of his neck and nursing a glass of tea. Fen handed another glass to Digen, who took it gratefully. Roshi grinned, touched his glass to Digen's, and silently gulped down half of the tea. After, he said, "For a while there, I thought the shiltpron would shatter!"

Beside him, Ilyana nudged Digen. "That's a compliment. You're supposed to say 'thank you'."

"I didn't mean it as a compliment. I meant it literally."

Digen grinned, and took a long draught of his tea. "Thank you. But I'm ashamed of myself for getting carried away like that."

Roshi nodded, surveying the reviving crowd. "A little wild abandon is good for the soul. And nobody got hurt. You and Ilyana . . ." He shook his head. "That's your private affair. I won't say another word. I shouldn't have said what I said before. I saw it there, you two together. She's in good hands." He reached out to touch Digen on one finger. "She doesn't require a brother any more. You're her protector now. Just let me know when you want to hold the wedding. I'll have the shiltpron overhauled!"

He got up and went with Fen to do rounds among the various groups in the room.

The party revived itself spontaneously, in an upwelling of conversation, a sense of marvel undertoning it all, a repressed excitement. But it couldn't last. Everyone was exhausted, and soon people began to trickle off, thinking of the chores that would have to be done at daybreak, party or no party.

After the numbness wore off a bit, Digen and Ilyana went about, accepting compliments and turning aside inquiries about 'the wedding.' They were beside the big doors leading to the stockade yard when they finally had a moment alone. Digen took Ilyana aside into the shadows, and said, "There's something I wanted to tell you."

"Not now," said Ilyana. "You're tired. We're all tired. Tomorrow."

"No, I want you to know . . ." and suddenly, as if it were a new thing he'd discovered, ". . . you're beautiful. You're the most beautiful woman I've ever known. You're more beautiful than Dirna, more lovely than -- more attractive than Mora . . ."

He buried his face in her hair. It was soft, alive and healthy now, as it had never been in Westfield. And it smelled of fresh air, hay-barn, and clean Gen sweat. His arms went around her back, pressing her to him, and it was the most fulfilling sensation of the evening to him. It was all alive in him now, as it never could be in need. She was all woman, not Gen, not Donor, not just Ilyana, but also woman.

He kissed her. Not a hesitant, courting kiss, but an I mean business right now kiss. And she kissed him back, So do I.

It could not be a lortuen consummation, but it would make lortuen inevitable. There was a soft pile of straw in the shadowed corner they'd chosen, and neither of them was interested in walking home first -- in fact, many other couples, here and there about the yard, had the same inclination, and were deeply involved. Nobody would bother them.

Digen knew only that he would have at last what there had never been any point to denying himself. He took Ilyana down onto the straw. "Hmmmm," she said, sliding her mouth from his. "Digen, level the field first."

"Uhmmmhhh, no, no, not enough gradient. Spoil it." He sought her again, and she wriggled until she got his hand to her mouth.

"Like this, like this," she whispered, and kissed him gently but deeply on the lateral orifice. Her hands about his arms worked on his ronaplin glands. He held back, suddenly tensed. He found himself wilting as the ronaplin glands swelled and his consciousness centered an the lateral orifice contact with her mouth. "No!" he said.

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"It'll come back, twice as good. Just let me . . ."

Digen was on the verge of wrenching away. He was fighting that impulse within himself -- a purely Tecton Code impulse. He was struggling to control it, drawing on his total trust that Ilyana would not get hurt, no matter what she did to him, what she elicited from him. He told himself that he had freed himself from the Code, that there was no reason in the world why he shouldn't allow this, even enjoy it, as he had the shiltpron music. It was just another part of his new way of life. And it was good. And she was expert. She could handle the most sensitive portion of his injured lateral and not cause him pain. He was just beginning to allow himself to feel the pleasure she was evoking when the scream rent the air.

The shock went through them both an every sensory level. And then Digen was up and running. The Gen's terror was like a magnet, drawing every Sime in the area. Roshi got there first, with Digen right on his heels.

The Gen, a woman, was backed up against the rough stockade wall. Two Sime men were squared off circling each other with deadly intent. They were both in need. The Gen was high field. The situation was obvious.

Digen pulled up, waiting for Roshi to intervene. Roshi settled back an his heels, and as the other Simes arrived, they too formed a circle, giving the fighters room.

Digen put his hand to Roshi's shoulder. "Do you want me to take it?"

Roshi looked at him, frowning. "Take -- stop them? No, no, it would only surface again next time, unless she can assert her choice, and make it stick."

"But they're in need . . ." said Digen, before he really remembered where he was and what the rules were here. Everything in him ached to step in, give that transfer to the one left out -- or to both --so they'd have time to settle their problems in the light of sanity and reason. But suddenly, he knew just what their reaction to the offer would be. He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry."

Roshi put his hand an Digen's shoulder. "It's all right. You'll see. She'll make up her mind and put a stop to it."

"But somebody will be left out. What happens then?"

"His father will find someone for him, and when it's bad enough, he'll accept."

Digen watched the combat. It was really a frighteningly beautiful sight; two Simes in need -- all the deadly grace of the world's most efficient predator. It had a sense of reality to it never seen in the Tecton.

There was a feint, counter-feint, an augmented leap, a strike, counter-strike, and in a flurry of augmented motion, it was over. One stood. The other lay with his head lolling at an unnatural angle.

Digen stared, disbelieving what every sense told him. Death.

Roshi's hand was tight on his shoulder, suddenly urgent. He breathed a question, "Will she fight him?"

The light from the hall cast a dim glow over the woman's face, but looking duoconsciously, Digen could see the cloud of uncertainty. She still didn't know what she wanted. Roshi said, "If he kills her, it's her own fault."

"Then you'll have a junct on your hands," whispered Digen.

"Not for long. Either someone will go to him, or someone will kill him."

Then a savage thing happened. Digen could not, throughout the whole thing, quite believe he was witnessing this. And now he stared transfixed, as the Sime attacked the Gen, full out in the kill mode.

A flashing few seconds, and it was over. Digen, staring at the spot of ground where it happened, still could not comprehend, nor could he move his eyes to follow the Sime and the Gen woman as they walked from the spotlighted arena, as if a Sime corpse didn't lay there, head lolling to one side.

This -- is -- the Distect.

He knew the shiltpron music had contributed to it, but he also told himself that he, himself wasn't guilty of causing it.

He stood there a long time, until they came with a stretcher for the corpse. The crowd dispersed, going in twos and fours back to their scattered homes, to their pre-dawn chores, to their families and their customs.

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After a while, he knew Ilyana was there beside him, and Roshi came back from somewhere. They waited quietly until he could shake his head and say, "I'm sorry."

Digen's system was still primed to serve in transfer. It was as if he had stood balanced on his toes, breath indrawn, ready to leap at any moment. He had to fight down the Tecton conditioning, reminding himself again and again that he was a guest here. At last, as the corpse was carried away, radiating selyn with no channel to collect it, Digen thought, this is what the Tecton is to prevent.

His newfound certainty in the Distect was shattered. They were barbarians, with little regard for human life. They were savages without a shred of mercy.

It's worth it, he thought. The Tecton is worth it. Oh, no, don't let it be true! I don't want --I don't want to go back.

Numbly, he let Ilyana lead him back to their house on the edge of the field. He kept his mind blank afraid to think. He had been drunk on the shiltpron, and the life here had seemed so good, so right, so superior to any he'd known before. Reality just wasn't like that.

Reality was death. Quick. Savage. Brutal. Or it was the slow, living death of the Tecton channels; slaves to an obligation they'd never chosen to bear.

Reality was only a choice between modes of death.


A few hours later, Digen became violently ill.

It started with the usual entran symptoms; cramps, pain, occasional cardiac arrhythmia's. Ilyana was with him throughout, compensating, controlling, balancing his internal selyn flows.

There was no oxygen to aid his breathing. There were none of the usual medications. Here, the strong lived. The weak, the defective, died.

Digen had always considered himself both weak and defective. As a Farris, his health had always been tentative. Since his accident, he had lived at the threshold of sudden death, and denied himself the privilege of being called a cripple. But he knew that he had survived only because of the leaps and bounds of progress in modern technology. Here, they lived as people had lived a hundred years before.

When the complications from his wild orgy of shiltpron playing set in, for the first time in his life, Digen gave up. He knew he could not survive, and he had lived with the tension of imminent death so long that he cried out deliriously, "It's over! At last! I'm free!"

Surrender was the most delicious freedom he had ever known. He gave himself to the task of dying with the savage glee of the demented, at one point escaping his attendants and dashing out into the night, naked and screaming. But he didn't get far before the cramps brought him to earth.

From that episode, he caught a viral infection, running a high fever which Ilyana had to control with great care. He lay for days with only brief periods of twilight consciousness, and he thought many times that he had died.

In the blackness, there was a sort of peace, but his tortured body always brought him back to the daylight and Ilyana. Somehow she hung onto him, and day by day the periods of twilight increased; the fever abated.

One dark, stormy afternoon there was transfer, smooth, easy, strictly Tecton -- though Digen was not aware enough to know anything other than that it went with the ease of habit and demanded nothing of him. And after that there was the long, long and deep sleep of healing.

One July morning he awoke to the blazing sunrise and riotous gossip of the morning birds. The air felt light on his skin and vital in his lungs. The front door was open, and he could see Ilyana shaking out a tablecloth. Her nager was as delightfully warm as the sunshine.

He started to rise, to go to her, but he found, picking up his head, that he was just too weak. When she came in, he greeted her with a bright grin.

She tossed the cloth on the table and came to him, tears welling, and for a long time they held each other as if it were all new to them.

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"You're not going to believe this," said Digen, at last. "I'm hungry."

"Trin tea and resa is what the doctor ordered, Doctor."

"Sounds fine," said Digen, though ordinarily he detested resa crackers. "Who's the doctor?"

"Roshi, of course. Who else in this family -- he loves you like a long lost brother, or didn't you know?"

Digen shook his head. "I'd like to talk to him."

"He'll be around this afternoon."

He had tea and crackers, and fell asleep exhausted, to wake again to more tea and crackers, this time with a little fruit on the side. At noon, he had a little vegetable broth, and a bit later, a few spoons of cooked cereal. He woke from another nap with a start, realizing the sun was hitting the front of the house, and it was time to live again.

When he sat up this time, he was able to wobble to the porch, where he sat on the step, looking at the waving green of his field and soaking in the warmth of the sun.

The harvest is coming, and winter not far behind.

The choice. It was still there. None of it was resolved.

He could look at it all anew now, though. Three things stood out in his mind. The Tecton way of life was wrong, a violation of everything good and beautiful, a form of self-immolation which was particularly loathsome. No human can be asked to care about strangers when denied the caring of a transfer mate. No human should be asked to treat strangers while being allowed to care only for their sex mates and children. To block off any kind of caring is a sickness -- or maybe just a defense against intolerable pain -- but still not right.

But the second thing seemed clear. You can't give wisdom as a gift. There was no way to make those who lived in the Tecton see what they were doing to themselves. They had to come to the vision from the insides of their own lives. There was no way to help from outside. There was no way he could make them accept surgery as a gift. There was no way he could make them sanction the kind of transfers he and Ilyana had to have. There was no way to make them care.

And the third thing Digen saw was that the choice between the Tecton and the Distect was not a choice between different ways of life -- it was a choice between different ways of death.

But Digen was a physician. His concern had always been directed toward the protecting and enriching of life. Death was not an enemy, but an inevitability. He had always simply ignored it. It happened --to everyone, eventually, and there was nothing he could do to prevent that. There was plenty he could do to ease the path of those who had to survive. He could prevent crippling, ease pain, increase vitality, perhaps even occasionally provide a glimpse of a reason for living.

His whole existence was directed to choosing ways of living. He could scarcely bring himself to contemplate a choice of deaths as a way of life. It was black. It was too chill, too evil, and it brought back the demented delirium of his illness -- the surrender to death.

He knew that he, as everyone, would die eventually. He had never thought it made much difference how that came about -- though he expected it would be the lateral injury that got him in the end. The idea that it not only made a difference, but indeed, it was the only difference there was, just wasn't acceptable to Digen.

Off down the path, on the other side of the field, Digen sensed a selyn field moving. With a bit of effort, he discerned that it was Roshi. Gladly he put aside his black thoughts.

He stood and waved, though the two couldn't see each other yet. Ilyana came out behind Digen. "Who is it?"

"Roshi, I think. Let's walk down to meet him."

She gave him a measuring look. "Maybe a few steps." She knew his reckless streak and was bent on curbing it, this time, anyway.

Digen nodded, and they strolled down the path, around the healthy green plants with the borders of little yellow flowers Ilyana had planted. Digen plucked one and fixed it in her hair. "To the memory of a yellow and brown dress," he said. "One day I'll get you another one. I like you in yellow."

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They met Roshi on the other side of the field and walked slowly back up to the house with him. The first thing he said as he looked Digen up and down was, "You see, Ilyana, those vile-tasting crackers will do it every time."

Digen, walking between them with one arm around each of their waists, laughed out loud. They had to stop while he caught his breath. "I thought I was the only one who hated them!"

They sat on the porch until the sun dipped behind the crags, and then went inside for hot tea and nut bread with cheese. Roshi lit the fire that would warm the cabin during the chill mountain night. Then Ilyana excused herself. "They're having my favorite stew at the dining hall tonight."

Roshi said, "I'll stay with him until you get back. Don't worry."

Digen protested, "Oh, that's not necessary. I'm fine now." Twice a week, they served meat to the Gens in the large common dining hall. Ilyana, Digen knew, had probably missed a number of meals to stay with him. But Roshi certainly had more important work to do.

"Digen, you're still on the sick list," said Roshi firmly, "and you'll do as you're told."

"Yes, Sir," said Digen.

When Ilyana had gone, Digen began to protest again, but Roshi said, "I wanted to talk to you. We never did finish our discussion the night of the party."

"We didn't?"

"I wanted to talk about the future. About the Tecton and the Distect, and what it all means."

"I've been thinking about that, but not getting very far." Digen settled himself on the bed, pillows propped against the wall for his back. It felt good to sit down, but he wasn't tired yet. "I don't think I'm ready to argue about it."

"I don't want to argue. I'm not going to tell you that the Tecton is wrong. I think you see that already. What maybe you don't see is that there is a way out."

For an instant, a flicker of hope wakened in Digen. A nice, simple, pat answer; a solution. But, no. "What maybe you don't see, Roshi, is that the Distect is just as wrong as the Tecton."

Roshi looked at him, and Digen felt the other Sime's metabolism gear up to battle ready. Digen knew he would not be attacked, physically, but he braced himself for a devastating rejoinder and a real argument. Instead, Roshi said, "Yes! But I didn't think you saw it yet."

"How could I miss it? I watch you watch a man die at your feet, and I'm supposed to overlook the flaw in the Distect?"

"Bornen? Bornen died because he was a fool. No, no, that's the strength of the Distect, not the flaw."

Digen had to replay the words in his mind before he was sure he'd heard them right. "The strength of the Distect is that fools can make murderers out of intelligent folk?"

Exasperated, Roshi made an inarticulate noise. "Look, Digen, haven't you been happy here? Haven't you found many good things to balance out the bad?"

"Does life always have to be a balance of good and bad?"

"That's a hefty question. The answer, if there is one, can't be a gift."

"I don't want life to be a mixture of good and bad. I don't want to choose between evils. I want to choose between goods. I think that's what's wrong with me. Everyone always says I'm too stubborn. I refuse to accept reality. I insist on giving wisdom freely, even to those who won't ask for it. I refuse to choose between evils. I will bend reality to my will, or die trying."

Roshi shook his head. "I'm not that much older than you are, and you've had a lot more schooling than I ever will. But I've done much more growing up, out here, than you have. Take it from me, the -only way to bend reality is to be bent by it."

"That sounds like something Muryin Farris used to say."

"Most likely it is. My father told me that, when I was in changeover and fighting it. It sounds like a contradiction, but it made sense to me then, and I firmly believe it saved my life. I've lived by it ever since, and I have a plan."

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Digen raised his eyebrows in query.

"It's very simple. We will do as the Householdings did, go down to live among the enemy and sell them the products we have that are of value to them -- products they can't make for themselves."

"The Tecton will never deal with Rior. They're too afraid. I'm not sure I'm not afraid myself."

"They'll deal for what we have to sell."

"I can't imagine what that might be."

"Can't you? And you living with Ilyana. She's told me a lot, these last few days, about how it was for you down there. We even figured out why you got yourself tangled up with the shiltpron."

"Why?" asked Digen. He had wondered about that.

"Easy. You forgot all about your lateral injury. Down there, every day, every channel's functional, every proficiency test, thousands of graphs and numbers, every donning of retainers; day and night you live and breathe it; cripple, handicapped, disabled. When was the last time it gave you any trouble here? When was the last time anything you did was interfered with by that?"

Digen thought about it. It was true. The life here had made his injury irrelevant. It had disappeared from his mind so thoroughly that he hadn't remembered it until Ilyana had moved into the shiltpron field to stop him.

"Now, don't you think," said Roshi, "a product like that is a marketable commodity, even in the Tecton?"

He had a point.

"But how," asked Digen, "can you market an intangible like that?"

"What's the basic, overwhelming problem the Tecton faces now? Right now, today, this year, and all the years for the foreseeable future; what is the fundamental problem, the real nut-crusher?"

"The Donor shortage," answered Digen promptly.

"And what's the one thing we have that the Tecton does not have? A Donor surplus, that's what. Ilyana is special, that's true. But even the Tecton doesn't have a surplus of channels like you. In the main, every Gen raised here is at least a mid-range TN-1."

Digen thought about the people he had met and worked with here. It was possible. Even the Householdings couldn't boast quite that good a record. He thought about the Gen woman the Sime had attacked. She had waited until the last possible moment, and then had managed the transfer with all the consummate ease of a trained Companion. Digen nodded, "That could be. But if there's one thing the Tecton would never buy from you, it's Donor services!"

Roshi twined his tentacles, doodling them in and out between steepled fingers and studying the patterns. He pursed his lips, and said, "Tell me why that is."

"You know as well as I do! One taste of the Distect, and nobody ever returns to the Tecton."

"Suppose -- suppose we could prove that's not true?"


"Suppose somebody, a Tecton channel, lived Distect for months and then went back?"

"Who?" asked Digen. But he knew the answer before Roshi said it.


Digen shook his head.

"Can you think of anybody who could be more convincing? The Sectuib in Zeor? You go and you say, 'I tried it, and it's nothing so terrible. It's just another Householding with some rather odd customs, but still just another one of our own.' And you prove it. Their test results would show how much good your stay here had done you. They have a law about lortuen, so they'll let you keep Ilyana -- and with her, there isn't anything you couldn't do. For us. For the Tecton. For the world. For yourself. With your reputation . . ."

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Digen shook his head emphatically. "I have no reputation left." And he told Roshi of all the accusations, rumors and counter-rumors he was sure were taken as fact by everyone, in and out-Territory. The old adage, where there's smoke there's fire, would surely be applied. They would even believe his surgery had turned him junct if somebody started the rumor.

Roshi pondered it all. "There isn't as much as you think. Somehow, they've gotten the idea it was all Ilyana's fault, that she seduced you into evil ways and won't let you go. Many believe you're dead. The search parties are still beating their way south, about six hundred miles from here, though I don't know how that happened."

"How do you know all this?"

"We send traders down into the villages. We have our sources."

"What I wouldn't give for a newspaper, even an old one!"

"There's no reason you can't have all the newspapers you can read, and the Distect and the Tecton too. If we can move down into the valley, establish a small holding -- we don't ask much. We're used to the rough life, and we're almost self-sufficient, when we have to be. There's no reason we can't live side by side with the Tecton -- until things change of themselves."

Digen knew the little valley had grown too small for the number of people living here. The poor land just couldn't support so many. They really did have to move. And he liked Roshi's plan. It seemed like the only reasonable solution -- to buy land with Donor services. Why not?

"I haven't really taken a Distect transfer."

"I know. But give it time. It won't be too much longer. There's nothing so terribly fatal about it. You and Ilyana can work that out, if you decide you want to. You've got plenty of time. I don't want to see you back at any form of work for at least a week, and then you'll take it very easy for a while. So think about it."

Digen did think about it during the next few days. One thing he brooded over was that his condition didn't warrant a week's layoff, and wouldn't have gotten more than two days in the Tecton. But it was high summer. The crops were growing, the chores were lighter, and there was plenty of time.

As soon as they could leave him unattended, Ilyana went back to her own work as midwife and veterinarian -- sometimes butcher, and often stable boss. She liked the work, and was now strong enough to do it.

Digen took to spending the warmest part of the day in the niche over the waterfall, gazing out over the mountains, and thinking about what he wanted the world to be, and what he would accept it as if he had to. As his strength came back, his spirit rebounded, but his mind was still in confusion.

Sometimes he was ready to dash off and mount a Tecton/Distect Unity campaign, and damn the consequences. If it was right, it should be done, and it could be done, and he was certainly the one to do it. Other times, though, the impossibility of it was overwhelming. It was an absurd idea. He wondered how Roshi could think himself mature, and then come up with such a childishly simple-minded idea. Roshi knew nothing of men like Mickland, or the complexities of balancing the Tecton's selyn-flow books.

Roshi knew nothing of the out-Territory Gens. Digen would see, in memory, the flash of surgical scissors descending at his back, a nurse driven to hysteria by the very thought of his pledging to the Distect. What would such people think if Digen Farris came back and said the Distect was no great terror, but just another Householding, entitled to dispensation for their customs just like the other Householdings?

He could visualize a lynch mob tearing him and Ilyana to bits and scattering the bloody pieces.

You can't give wisdom as a gift.

The days passed, and he went quietly back to work, first at the watch factory, and then gradually he took over the irrigating and cultivating of his field, returning the work the neighbors had done for him by doing the same for them from time to time. He saw very little of Roshi. He seemed to be always off somewhere organizing something for the winter.

Ilyana thought that strange. It was a little early to begin the fall routine. But she put it down to the hard winter they'd just had. Roshi felt responsible when any little thing failed, she said. And Digen accepted that.

One day in late July just before Digen's turnover into need, Rior held its annual Valleroy Festival in honor of Hugh Valleroy the founder of the Householding. There was an all day buffet, with games and contests for the children, held in the stockade -- just about the only flat land around that wasn't under

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cultivation. The children put on plays, and displayed their school projects for the year -- hand-carved chairs, prize-winning bulls, a new design of trap for the fur animals, and clothing made from furs. The adults showed off to one another with new heaters for the chicken coops, new tallow processors, and designs for future projects the whole community would have to vote on after the harvest.

That reminded Digen that there was an election going on in the outside world, and he felt again the frustrating lack of newspapers.

Digen found himself sitting on a split log bench to one side of the compound, watching a display of dancing by the Gens, and thoroughly out of tune with the holiday mood. He could not get excited over chicken coop heaters or tallow processors. Irrigation was an interesting specialty, but it wasn't his specialty, and their idea of advanced methodology looked to Digen like something out of the stone age. He had to forcibly restrain himself from pointing out that a simple device like a selyn-driven pump would solve most all their irrigation problems. But you had to have channels to pack the selyn batteries that would drive the pumps.

Of course, one could always use electricity. There was a beautiful waterfall handy, he thought. The out-Territory Gens could build power stations that would turn that falling water into all the light and heat Rior could ever use. But he couldn't say that, either. The out-Territory Gens were fanatically anti-Distect, and the Distect would never send one of their own to study electrical engineering out-Territory, even if they could.

Ilyana came and sat down beside him, flushed from the dancing and breathless. "You don't seem to be enjoying. What are you thinking?"

"Oh, I guess I'm just not in the mood. I've never been terribly enthusiastic about formal celebrations. Looking back, I sometimes think of my life as a sequence of compulsory celebrations -- formal thises and formal thats which the Sectuib always has to attend. And they never seem to happen at a moment when I am ready to celebrate -- all except once."

"Well," said Ilyana, in her gay soprano, "you're not Sectuib here, so you -- we -- can leave if you want to. Wouldn't that be deliciously naughty? We can sneak down to the waterfall and watch the sunset. I think it's going to be warm enough -- if not, why, we can build a fire and -- and -- roast some nuts and have a feast. Lets!"

"All right," said Digen. "Lets."

As they passed the buffet table, Ilyana loaded up her stole with nuts and cakes while Digen grabbed a jug of trin tea mixed with spiced apricot nectar. Then they just faded out the doors, strolling along as if they weren't going anywhere. As soon as they were away, they took off across the hills and around the little fields to their own spot over the waterfall.

They had built a little stone fireplace where they sometimes heated tea. When they arrived, the sun had passed their little niche. It was still fairly warm, but Digen built the fire to keep it warm.

Ilyana set the jug of tea on the fire, after they'd had their fill of it cold. "For later, all right?"

"Sure. What's going on over there tonight?"

"The concert."

"I hope nobody's playing the shiltpron!"

"I doubt it. It's mostly classical. The Ancients only used audio music, I think -- or am I confused?"

"Anthelli Zehren always tells me that audio was all they had. They weren't Simes, you know."

"And they weren't Gens, either. It's hard to imagine what they were."

"My father used to think they were a little of both. They produced selyn like a Gen, and used it themselves, like a Sime. Of course, there's no proof of that, nor is there likely to be."

"Mutation," said Ilyana, musingly. "Digen, do you think I'm a mutation?"

"No, I think you're a Farris -- well, the Farris line is generally considered a sub-mutation all its own. But genetics is a little out of my line. All I know is that the Farrises have certain dominant traits that breed true, and you seem to have all the hallmarks."

"What do you think a child of ours would be like?"

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"Don't even say that! My father was a double-Farris. He regretted it every day of his life. There are just too many recessives -- the allergies alone . . ."

"I'm not bothered much with allergies, at least not here -- have you been?"

Digen squirmed uncomfortably. He didn't like the turn the conversation was taking. But he had to admit, "No, except for that time I ate the lima beans from the field they used that fertilizer on. And the flour they bought in Capcreek. As long as I don't touch the soap, and watch what I eat, I don't have any trouble."

"So what's so terrible?"

Digen thought about it. Roshi had been very courteous to send out for hypoallergenic soap for Digen. That had been the only real problem he'd had, here. Always before, he'd considered himself living in a sea of deadly chemicals, any one of which might kill him without warning. He had always taken a variety of antihistamines to control contacts that were unavoidable. In the hospital, especially, he had been a walking disaster, with rashes and itches one day, runny eyes the next, and for weeks on end, a cough he couldn't shake.

Eight of every ten new medications put on the market were labeled deadly to Farrises. But living this way, he hadn't had even a shadow of any of the ailments that would have required one of those medications. Except the virus. And in such instances before, he had always had to do just what Ilyana did -- ride it out without any extraneous chemicals.

"Farrises die of all kinds of things . . ." said Digen.

"So do people," said Ilyana. "Is it better not to have lived?"

Digen sighed. "You have a point. Make it."

Instead, she merely leaned over and kissed him.

As he let out his breath, he couldn't keep it from shaking. "Oh, Ilyana, I want to . . ."

"So why not?"

"Another day or so, and I'd be safe from this for a while." Digen looked at her with a mixture of pleading and yearning. He leaned over and put another branch on the fire.

"Don't shy away from it, Digen. You were ready once before -- we were interrupted."

"I was drunk. Out of my head."

"Drunk into your head, for a change!"

"Oh, Ilyana!" Digen lay down on the pine needles, his head cupped in his hands. The night sounds were coming on with the twilight. In the pine tree above them, birds were hopping from branch to branch calling to one another. She lay down beside him, nestling close.

"I could seduce you, you know. I could make you do it."

"I don't doubt that. You're the Gen in this family, after all. But is that what you want? You realize -- you realize that once I -- that I'll be trapped."

"So what's wrong with that? I used to think the world out there was some splendid place. I found out life is much nicer right where I was born. What's wrong with bringing up a bunch of kids here?"

"You might not live that long. Farris women are not known for toughness in surviving childbirth even with all modern technology can offer."

"I told you once before. At least that's a useful way to die."

"But I don't want to be left alone, without you." As he said it, Digen felt a tender constriction gathering inside him. The mere thought of losing her brought panic. He forced himself to look at it and know it for what it was. Silently, gently, naturally, as everything with Ilyana, it had crept up on him unnoticed. Dependency. Such a deep dependency as he'd never seen before outside of lortuen itself. He knew that he was already trapped. Choose your way to die, then!

But he couldn't choose.

"So you see," said Ilyana, "we're already trapped. Why wait? Why suffer? It's the Tecton way, and it's so senseless!" Her voice cracked. She got up and went out of the niche onto the hard-packed trail,

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where she could look right down into the waterfall. The cliff beneath her feet fell away, sheer for hundreds of yards.

Slowly, Digen followed, leaning casually against a windswept tree, but suddenly tense inside.

"I know that trapped feeling," she said. "I used to come up here and think about hurling myself off into the waterfall." She looked at him. "But I never did it. It would be such a useless way to die."

The thought continued in Digen's mind, echoing the emotion her nager was giving him. But now, it looks very inviting.

Digen could understand that better now than he had back in Westfield. He had himself given up gratefully to death, and did not rejoice to find himself alive. But as long as he had Ilyana, it was bearable. If it was true for him, it was trebly true for her.

Looking down into the plumes feathering out into space from the cascades of the falls, Digen realized that his own endurance was much greater than Ilyana's. She had already been driven over the edge many times, while he had only just reached his limit one first, tentative time, in the depths of illness. He was well again now, and able to face the tension between them indefinitely. She could not.

He held out his arms to her. "All right, we'll end it. No more, Ilyana, no more."

He took her back into the niche and gave her what she wanted, what he wanted. He did not level the gradient, did not permit her any Distect liberties. But it was an act of total commitment. There was no way now to avoid lortuen consummation at their next transfer.

Hours later, they listened to the concert, dim with distance, yet somehow twice as beautiful to them as any music they'd ever heard. He said, "You can tell Roshi to prepare for the wedding." And he thought, I've chosen my way of death.

But there was a bitter knot in the pit of his stomach; a distant cry gathering somewhere deep in his mind: No! I'm not ready!


The next days passed in an indrawn breath of anticipation for Digen. It was clear to all around them that the long strain between Ilyana and Digen had crested and partly broken. And when Roshi began to give orders for wedding preparations, there was a general stir of relief.

A lortuen wedding was not all that common an event in Rior, and with Ilyana -- whom all had given up for dead just months before -- as the bride, it was cause for an almost insane joy. Lortuen was the ideal in Rior, but most people found their transfer mates outside of their sexual union. Occasionally, as with Roshi and Dula, two Simes would marry, choosing transfer mates who were themselves married to each other Ora and Fen, thus forming a closed family unit of four adults, and often hordes of children.

But most often, two Simes or two Gens who married, would find transfer mates who were not married to each other. These links joined many families in a complex web of personal obligations which Digen didn't even pretend to understand. Ilyana considered Fen and Ora as part of her personal family, and their siblings, parents, and their mates were all part of Ilyana's immediate family.

As they all gathered about Ilyana in a flurry of activity and congratulation, Digen was at a loss as to how to react to them, how to relate to them. Presented with a young Sime boy who was about to become his cousin through some obscure chain of transfer mates, Digen was not sure whether he'd be offended by a handshake or whether an embrace would be offensively intimate. And so, more and more, he was left on the outside of things, often by his own choice, and often by his inability to join in the rising mood of the family.

His brooding distressed Ilyana so, at this time when he wanted her to be released and happy, that he took to retreating to the solitude of the waterfall. There, at least, he could confront himself.

Tracing it all back, he knew that he'd expected this to happen from the very first moment he'd seen her being wheeled into Mickland's office. He kept asking himself why he was so reluctant now that it was over at last. There was no point in battling against the inevitable. He had always lived by that. Why couldn't he accept it now?

He wrestled with the problem, but it brought him nothing but an overwhelming fatigue.

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One day, nursing his gathering need and trying to come to terms with it, knowing it signaled the end of all the internal battling the resistance, the flailing self pity he hated himself for, he climbed up to the niche over the waterfall to wait for the moment to pass over him. Need is always like this, he told himself. It will abate.

His hands were sweating, his ronaplin glands aching. From time to time, his vision would blur to hyperconsciousness, and his whole body would gear up for transfer. He consoled himself with the thought that, here in the Distect, he never had to drag himself back from the brink of it to some difficult or daring functional, or to deal with some hysterical out-Territory Gen.

Here, at least, every Gen you passed was a soothing steadiness, a bulwark against breakdown. He realized he had slipped easily into the habit of depending on any Gen in his vicinity to damp and control him during need. I'm getting lazy, he told himself with a certain disgust. Father would be ashamed of me.

But it was a delicious laziness. It felt so right, somehow, that when he realized it was just another aspect of Distect life, he saw again how unnatural the demands of the Tecton were. Even the disciplines of Zeor, a life-long habit with him, seemed perverse. Masochism is a sign of mental illness. Our whole society is ill with it.

And he would wonder why he persisted in coming up to the waterfall to practice his self-controls. Ilyana never said a word about it. But he knew she disapproved. Yet when he found himself depending wholly on her, he was flooded with anxiety, a sense of self-betrayal he couldn't come to terms with.

So it happened that one day he was indulging himself, letting need surge over him without benefit of a Gen's control. He sought the solitude of the niche, and just let it go wild through his system. It was somehow a deeper reality than all the formless questions, the undefined answers that plagued him.

He let it grow as a challenge to himself. At the last possible moment, he would fling it aside and bring himself to the burning intensity of a prime functional. It was an old Zeor exercise which he'd been taught before he'd been permitted his first transfer, though it had taken much longer for him to master it.

He knew it might throw him into an entran reaction, but there was an even greater probability that it would clear his mind, and let him finally see through the whole fog of contradictory questions that plagued him. He didn't want to go to lortuen with this core of unwillingness in him.

So he sat dawn near the edge of the trail, looking out over the waterfall and the misty valleys that fell away at his feet. He closed his eyes, letting himself slip into hyperconsciousness, gazing at the ghostly shadows of the unpopulated country below.

Strangely, off in the distance two specks intruded. One was painfully bright, though far off; pulsing - a sense of distress picked up and echoed by the second, almost invisible speck. At first he thought they must be some herb-gathering party from Rior, one near transfer and the other just post. He could barely resolve them, even with his sensitivity. He knew that most Simes wouldn't ever perceive them at this distance.

Idly, he studied the distant pair. It occurred to him that they couldn't be from Rior -- what Sime would allow his Gens to go wandering over the mountains unescorted? Strangers then, and to be reported to the perimeter guards. The location of Rior was to be kept secret at all costs.

With need cresting in his systems, Digen was all predator, geared to the tracking and taking of Gens. There was a satisfaction in contemplating the distant pair, in reading them as accurately as he could. He let it sharpen his senses, putting off the moment when he would have to go report the intruders.

Digen watched them for nearly an hour, held by the curious sense that he knew them, recognized them both. If he knew them, they must be from Rior, and he wouldn't have to report them. If he did not know them, then they were intruders to be led astray or even killed, as sometimes happened.

But two Gens, alone -- at one and the same time Digen felt with the inexorable logic of the Sime in need, that they were fair game for whatever befell them, and yet that he should protect them. They were, after all, only Gens. And so he watched with mixed reactions as they drew closer, and he became more and more convinced that he knew them.

The selyn-bright one's nager held a steady, Tecton-schooled modulation that seemed to taste familiar. But then, Digen reasoned, after so long among the Distect Gens, any Tecton Donor would seem hauntingly familiar to him. The dim one he couldn't make out at all. The nager was flat, invariant, except for a pervasive anxiety which Digen wasn't quite certain didn't originate within himself, rather than in the distant Gen.

It was past noon when the pair stopped. Waiting, Digen figured it was their noon rest period. He wasn't aware at what point he began to push aside his own need, cram it down among the petty annoyances of existence and concentrate wholly on discerning the intentions of the Gens way off below him.

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He waited an hour, watching as they did not start again. There was an increasing sharpness to the joint nager, and gradually, Digen became certain the two were in trouble. It wasn't the sharp crack of sudden disaster, such as a broken leg, a runaway packhorse, an attacking wildcat. It was the long sigh of defeat and despair, tinged with apprehension.

He got to his feet dusted off his pants, and jogged down the trail. There was a point, half way along to where the trail snaked inwards towards his house, where he could scramble down to another trail that would take him down the cliff and off in the general direction of the two Gens.

He wasn't going to sound an intruder alert for a couple of Gens he knew. And if he knew them, and they were in trouble, he certainly wasn't going to leave them there for another couple of hours while people were called in from the fields to form a rescue party.

As soon as he started to move, he found it easier to pack away the nerve-grinding sense of need. It always yielded to action, to physical release, especially to movement toward a high-field Gen. As he jog-trotted, his head cleared, and he felt much better.

It took him fifteen minutes to get down the slope to the descending trail, but then he opened out into a full, loping run, moving easily up and down the hills, across gullies and along streambeds, zigzagging towards the Gens. For long periods, he couldn't sense them directly, due to intervening ridges, but when he crested the last rise, he saw they were still where they had stopped. Imrahan! Joel!

With scarcely a pause, he plunged into the forested gully, slowed a little by the underbrush, but still making good time. He came on them camping in a small graveled clearing beside a brook.

As he burst out of the brush, coming to a halt in the midst of their camp, they both started to defense postures. Hogan was the first to recover. "Digen! In God's Name!" There was a catch, almost a sob in his voice.

Imrahan said nothing verbally. His eyes closed briefly, and the wash of relief, powered by his nager falling into synch with Digen's need, was all the comment required. In that second, Digen knew why they had been unable to go on. He dropped to his knees beside the Donor, who lay on blankets near the fire Hogan was trying to start. " "Im'ran, underdraw, for Shen and Shay!?"

Imrahan dragged his eyes from Digen's arms and marshaled himself to break synch. The effort that cost the Gen gave Digen a measure of what he'd been going through. "Digen," said Imrahan at last. "I didn't know it would be like this."

"How long?"

"Nine weeks, a bit more maybe; I'm not sure."

Hogan said, "He'd never felt underdraw before. He's been delirious three times, seemed feverish, but I couldn't detect any elevation of temperature -- we lost our first aid kit in the flash flood that killed our guide. We've been lost ever since, trying to retrace our path. Dumb Gens, huh?"

Digen barely noticed that Hogan had spoken English but answered the conversation with Imrahan, which had been in Simelan. He nodded absently at Hogan, and said, "Im'ran, on your feet!" He tugged his hands, tilting him up.

Weak, dizzy, the Gen sagged. Digen said, "I want to see you walk. Just over to that tree and back. Come on. Give it a try."

Gamely, he staggered a few steps, until his balance centers betrayed him, and he fell. Digen was there before he hit the ground, and carried him back to the blanket. He pondered. "I don't know how we'll get you home if you can't walk."

Hogan said, "Home?" in Simelan.

Digen looked at him. He'd lost weight -- no, not weight, but the roundness of fat had turned to corded muscle. He was tanned, a little wild-looking, but healthy. Digen answered, in Simelan, "Top of that waterfall up there."

Hogan looked toward it, measuringly. "Shshshen!" he said with perfect accent. And then in English, "Digen, look at those clouds!"

Digen stood, looking back toward Rior. The sky was half blackened by billowing clouds stacking up against the taller peaks. The bottoms of the clouds were literally black, and laced with streaks of lightning. The weather had been hot and humid the last few days, and Digen said, "Hail stones as big as your fist! The harvest will be devastated!"

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Then it hit him. Out in the open, with little but the sparse evergreens to protect them, they were in trouble. He scanned the neighborhood for a cave, a leaning boulder, any kind of shelter, but there wasn't anything promising. He gauged the clouds. An hour, maybe two.

He looked at the Gens again. They were scratched, bruised, edged with genuine exhaustion, suffering from exposure. Imrahan's condition wrung him. I did this to him.

He knelt beside the Donor and said, "All right, I'm going to try the three-level tap we used to do for Ilyana -- well, that was after you left. It should give you some relief. We've got to find shelter -- get all the way home if we can."

Imrahan shook his head, eyes fixed on Digen's arms. "You're -- I don't think I can limit . . ."

"I'm not in such great shape myself, but we'll give it our best try. We don't have much time, let's go. Joel . . ." Digen motioned Hogan clear. ". . . gather up your gear. Leave the heavy stuff; we're going to run for it, uphill all the way."

And then he was setting up the lateral contact, not giving himself time to think. The field hit him like molten lava, and for ten long seconds he was certain he was going into a full transfer. Then, suddenly, Imrahan's TN level barriers slammed shut, selectively leaving the GN levels open to Digen.

Duoconsciously, he felt Imrahan shaking physically at the effort, but the nager remained perfectly steady as Digen initiated flow. It was the first time in months that Digen had worked against a steady, Tecton discipline, with the transfer his to control by right, not by concession. Imrahan -- careful, precise, perfect -- Digen had forgotten how it could be.

Gently, he drained the superficial levels of selyn, then with a precision that matched Imrahan's, he terminated the flow, and held the nager steady while Imrahan lowered his TN barriers to normal.

The feverish tension drained out of the Donor, and his breathing normalized. Digen said, "Again?"

"No, better not risk it. I think I can travel."

"We'll see." Digen helped Imrahan to his feet, seeing Hogan watching from the edge of the clearing. Hogan's nager seemed reasonable steady, but then that was chronic with the Gen, and deceptive. Digen swung the blanket over his shoulder, and scooped Imrahan's arm around his neck. "Joel, this way."

Digen led off along the path he'd come by, wondering if a shortcut would be faster, or if they should try to make the stockade entrance to the valley. The path wasn't as steep that way, but it was longer. He gauged the clouds again, considered Imrahan's condition, which was much improved, and decided to go up the way he'd come down, but not to the waterfall path. The herb gatherers and perimeter guards had another path, a game trail that would bring them out not far from the house. It wasn't as steep, or as dangerous as the way he'd come down.

It was a long, panting struggle of a climb. Often Digen had to help Imrahan over a fallen tree then turn and boost Hogan up. He was very much aware of the Gens' flagging strength. In spots where the hillside was soft from mudslides, he merely slung Imrahan over his shoulders and ran up faster than the shale and mud could slide down. Then he went back and did the same with Hogan.

He refused to let them stop for rest. In the lee of the mountain, they couldn't see the piling storm clouds, but Digen never lost sight of them, limned with the glow of Rior's collective nager. He searched to either side of the path for shelter, any shelter, but there was nothing serviceable. And they were more exposed here than at the campsite, overhung with evergreens.

Halfway up the last ridge they hit the game trail, and Digen picked up the pace. "Okay, Joel, it's a horserace now. Let's go." For the next half hour, it was easier going. Then the clouds burst open, flinging a howling wind at them, laden with pellets of ice. Hogan let out an involuntary cry, as one golf ball sized hunk slashed a streak across his forehead. Digen, squinting against the storm, said, "There! That's the house. See the smoke? This way!"

He led them downslope and through wind-carved rock spires. The last half kilometer was the worst. Pelted by hailstones, soaked through with icy rain, they slogged against a solid wall of wind. The temperature plummeted twenty degrees inside five minutes, and by the time they reached the front porch, Imrahan was shaking violently with the chill.

At the first touch of Digen's boot on the step, Ilyana flung the door wide. "Digen! I've been --who -- Oh!" She ran to help them inside, shoving the door shut behind them, and leaning on it with relief.

Digen began stripping the soaked clothing from Imrahan, dragging a chair near the potbellied stove. "Underdraw," he said to Ilyana, "tapping reaction and chill. Get me some -- shen! -- all we have is fosebine. That will have to do. Carbohydrates -- that apricot nectar in hot tea. Joel, look behind that green curtain: there's a footbath. Bring it here."

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Digen grabbed his own pajamas off the bed and, toweling Imrahan with a blanket, slipped him into the dry clothing. Ilyana produced the glass of fosebine, and Imrahan drank it down without even making a face. The chill had gone completely through him. Digen poured scalding water from the kettle into the footbath, and Ilyana mixed it with cold water from a pitcher she kept on the sink.

She had been ready to receive one chilled and soaked Sime, but not together with two Gens. A Sime could adjust selyn consumption rate to offset chill, and though Digen was in need, he had done just that. Hogan, though, was beginning to fight chattering teeth as his wet clothing sucked heat from his body.

In a flurry, Ilyana produced some of Digen's clothing, robbing the laundry basket for socks. Digen made them all tea, adding a good slug of apricot nectar to Hogan's, as well as Imrahan's. He had to hold Imrahan's for the first few sips. Gradually, though, as Digen worked on the tapping reaction, the tremor abated. Imrahan wrapped both hands around the glass and smiled, "That feels a lot better! Ilyana, you have the most beautiful home I've ever seen!"

Ilyana stood in the kitchen door, hands on hips, and smiling, said, "Three grown men should have sense enough not to run around in a mountain hailstorm."

"We tried not to," said Digen, and then he told the story, as much as he knew of it. In the end he said to his guests, "I never knew either one of you for the wilderness type. What are you doing in the mountains?"

"Looking for you," said Hogan.

"I was afraid of that," said Digen. "I don't want to be found."

Ilyana said, "Roshi is going to have fits. Digen, you've broken perimeter and I don't know what else, and besides that -- you know what happened the last time you tried a functional without conditioning."

Digen went to the window. "Roshi -- we'll deal with after the storm lets up. Right now I want to hear this story. What happened after I left? Is Hayashi -- alive?"

Imrahan took a long pull on his tea and nodded. "He was fine when we left. Digen! You're soaking wet. I won't say another word until you get changed."

Digen started to protest. Ilyana, startled that she hadn't noticed, began rummaging in another cupboard and came up with some coveralls and a shirt. Digen skinned out of his shirt, peeled off the trousers and toweled dry with the same blanket he had used on Imrahan, saying, "I thought you were in Asia."

"When Mora wrote that she was finally pregnant by you, I put in for special priority, and when Hayashi survived the first couple of weeks -- after what you did to him -- they ordered me back as his therapist."

"Mora?" said Digen, grinning lopsidedly. He looked to Ilyana. She was tinged with jealousy, but also happy. It proved Digen's fertility had survived his prolonged need.

"We were married in the spring."

"Beautiful! But why in the world are you here, then? She must be due -- oh, next month!"

"Just about. I wanted to be there, but we agreed this was more important."

"I'm not going back," said Digen.

"Hayashi wants you back," said Hogan. "You and Ilyana."

Digen looked to Hogan. "I never knew you were such a linguist."

"Not so great, really," said Hogan in English. "But Hayashi was delirious most of the time, and I sort of learned in self-defense. And then on the trail these last few weeks, well, Imrahan's a good teacher."

"So is Joel," said Imrahan in English.

Digen grinned from one to the other. He was glad his two friends had become friends. "Who's taking care of Mora?"

"Bett, your sister. She and her husband are in Westfield now. He's acting Controller until the election."

"Acting Controller?" Digen stopped to ponder that.

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"Button your shirt," said Ilyana. "Joel, you haven't touched your tea."

Hogan shook his head, trying to make some polite excuse, but Digen realized the apricot/Trin mixture must taste positively revolting to the out-Territory Gen. He took the glass into the kitchen, saying over his shoulder, "Acting Controller? Why?"

Hogan said, "You didn't hear, then? Mickland was killed in the explosion that got Hayashi."

Ilyana said, "What?"

Imrahan translated for her and added, "Not exactly in the blast, but he died several hours later of a lateral injury. The Center, of course, couldn't do anything for him. When Hayashi survived an even worse injury, and resumed the campaign as if nothing had happened, people really began to think about what you'd done. Up until then, it was mostly rhetoric."

Digen brought Hogan a glass of plain Trin tea, absently saying, "Here, try this. Your teeth are chattering too loud."

Imrahan said, "Digen, put some shoes on."

Digen sat down on his bed and fished some slippers out from under it. He opened one, holding it, and said, "What do you mean, 'rhetoric?' If they knew where I was they'd -- say, how is it that the search parties are all to hell and gone south of us?"

Hogan said, "I think we ought to start at the beginning and tell the whole story."

"No, wait," said Digen. "Do you think he'll be able to manage Mora's labor? Is the baby a channel?"

Imrahan nodded, "Appears to be, and quite healthy, too. But we were hoping you'd come back to it. You have more experience and greater capacity -- Shen! Joel, what happened to our -- there it is!" Imrahan stepped out of the footbath and grabbed for the knapsack Hogan had brought from camp.

Groping inside, he brought out a slim folder and extracted a flat leather credential case, black with a blue blazon across it. "This is what I came here to give you," he said, handing it to Digen.

Inside was a small gold lapel pin, a five-pointed star rimmed in silver. The certificate bore his name and a four-plus designation over the World Controller's seal. Shen! They did it! But it's worthless now, worthless.

Digen looked up at Imrahan, who said, "I got one, too. In Asia. Just before I came back."

Digen handed the certificate case to Ilyana and buried his face in his hands, running tentacles into his wet hair. He thought about it, and somehow it hurt more to succeed too late than to fail utterly. He had thought himself now immune to all the old pain, the good life that might have been. The life he was reaching for now, in the Distect, was also good.

Imrahan's voice came to Digen, explaining to Ilyana what the certificate meant. "It means," said Digen, "that if we wanted to go back, there would be no way they could legally separate us, Ilyana. No way at all. That certificate carries a whole raft of privileges. We could get away with almost anything."

"Almost?" asked Ilyana.

"Anything but what we plan to do."

"What's that?" asked Imrahan.

"We're going to be married. Distect style."

"Then this is . . ."

"Welcome to Householding Rior."

"Shen!" Imrahan sat down on his chair heavily.

Digen said, "You better dry your feet and put some shoes on."

In a daze, Imrahan bent to do that. Ilyana took the slipper from Digen and knelt to put it on his foot. Imrahan looked up and said, "Digen, are you sure . . ."

Digen nodded, and started to speak.

"No, wait," said Imrahan. "Let me finish. They pulled all of your charts, all the way back to first Year and had a board of Seniors re-analyze it. When you left, the press went wild, half of them blaming

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Ilyana as a secret agent of the Distect -- some even said the bomb going off during that ceremony was deliberately planned -- and the other half blaming the Tecton for cruelty and maltreatment."

"The board's official report is seven hundred pages long, recommending sweeping reforms throughout the system. They decided Mickland was guilty of malfeasance in office for sending me away, but that he hadn't violated any law in doing it. So they're going to change the law. Legally, you're in the clear, Digen, you can go back any time you want to."

Digen shook his head. Imrahan interrupted before he could speak, "Nobody could believe the Sectuib in Zeor could be guilty of wrongdoing."

Digen said, "I violated the retainer laws and a Controller's injunction in doing that surgery."

"At the time it happened," said Imrahan, "they would have danced at a public execution. But when everything calmed down again, people were glad you had left. They went around saying to each other, 'What if we'd killed him?' "

"But the law is the law."

"Akim had the injunction set aside. It was unconstitutional, somehow -- I don't pretend to understand it. And nobody out-Territory is pressing charges about the retainers."

Digen looked at Hogan. "What about Emhardt? Did they fire him, too?"

"Fire him? He's published a paper that's bringing the hospital enough money to tear down and rebuild the old building. He's a hero. At the most, the court will levy a fine, but he can afford it."

"Then you managed to convince people that I forced him into it?"

"What?" asked Hogan.

Digen checked himself to be sure he'd spoken in English. He rephrased. "You told them about why you moved out of our room."

"Sure," said Hogan levelly, but there was a strain under the words. "I told them exactly why. You decided you required a little more elbow room, a little solitude, without me falling over my feet all the time. And I agreed."

"That's all?"

"That's all."

"I told Emhardt to tell you I said . . ."

"And I told Emhardt what he could do with the message."

"But . . ."

"Digen, I don't indulge in smear campaigns, not against my best friends. I wouldn't have said anything, even if -- I had gotten -- hurt. And then, later, Imrahan explained it to me. The one time a friend asks for help, and all I do is give him a punch in the gut. It's my name that should be smeared."

Digen shook his head. "Then how did Emhardt manage to . . ."

"Emhardt has connections in high places. And he's very bright. Oh, it looked pretty bleak there for a while. The City Council even got a petition to have the hospital closed. Eighteen staff doctors resigned, and I don't know how many nurses. Booker had a rumor going that you actually had pledged Rior, and had that nurse fired -- the one who tried to knife you with the surgical scissors -- because she understood what you'd said when nobody else did. Doctor Durr fought him right up to the Board of Directors, and Booker was asked to resign."

"I don't know much of the detail. I was working at the Center all that time, trying to keep Hayashi alive without knowing what half the medications they were giving him were for. It was some education."

"There was infection?" asked Digen.

"Massive. But if there's one thing Sime medicine has over us, it's antibiotics. It was unbelievable what they did. I wish you'd been there."

Digen stared at Hogan, considering. "What it amounts to," said Digen, "is that there are no charges pending against me, except desertion."

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"Not even that," said Imrahan. "Legally, the Tecton holds that you were not responsible for your actions because of extended deprivation. Public opinion holds Ilyana guilty, as a Distect saboteur. Now, if you two return, it will be clear that she didn't seduce you into defecting -- because there you are back, whole and healthy, and with her."

Digen shook his head again. "No. It will be clear that she and I are not living by the Tecton Code, and that I can no longer function as a channel."

"Why not? You haven't . . ." Imrahan looked from Digen to Ilyana and back. "No you managed that tap with all the precision anybody could ask. The Distect hasn't harmed you, Digen."

"Not yet," said Digen. He thought of Roshi's plan to clear the Distect name by having Digen return to the Tecton. It could work now if he could return after the wedding. But it would still be practicing a deception. That Digen Farris could do such a thing didn't necessarily imply anybody else could do it.

"I haven't taken a Distect transfer yet. Ilyana has lived up to her oath in every way."

"Then . . ." Imrahan looked from one to the other again. "There's still time. Look, Digen, Hayashi has this new theory. It came to him while he was convalescing. He says if he can just get the data on your consummated lortuen, he'll have a breakthrough that will solve the Donor shortage forever -- he says he could even make a TN-3 out of Joel! He's going out of his mind with this World Controller campaign. He's really mad at you about getting him into it in the first place, and he said to tell you that you had to come back to give the data, and be World Controller next term, so he could get some work done. He says you owe him that much for all you've put him through."

Digen laughed. "I believe it! He would say that! That's exactly the way he'd see it."

Ilyana did not laugh with him. She was looking at him warily, a little pale around the mouth.

Digen shook his head. "Of course, we're not going back. What Hayashi wants is data on a consummated Tecton-style lortuen between us -- it has to be us because he has all our other data. But there never will be such a thing between us. Ilyana isn't strong enough to sustain it, and I'm not going to ask her to."

"But . . ." It really hit Imrahan then. Digen did not intend to go back. Digen watched as it sank into the Donor's mind, got a grip on him emotionally. "But if he can get that data -- Digen, generations of channels, the existence of the Tecton, all -- those -- lives . . ."

Digen nodded. "My life -- for all those lives. In the Tecton world, it's unthinkable that a channel could place his own life, his own desires, above the welfare of all humanity for generations to cone. You never thought I had it in me, did you? Well, neither did I. But I have. And now you know why I can't go back. It would kill Ilyana, and that would kill me; if not physically, then in every other way that matters. I've been there, Imrahan. Those charts they reviewed surely must have told the story. I gave everything that was in me to give. Now all I want is to be left alone. I don't think Tecton, any more."

In that moment, Digen realized just how far he had come in his thinking. There was an immense, unbridgeable gulf between him and Imrahan. Oddly, it frightened him.

There was a long, tense silence, with the hail beating down on the roof, Ilyana staring at Digen.

At last, Digen got up and went to Imrahan. The Donor rose to meet him. Digen took him by the shoulders, and, fields interlocked, tried to make him understand. "I'm sorry. It just isn't in me to go through all that again. Haven't I done enough for one lifetime?"

Imrahan stepped inside Digen's arms, slipping into a close embrace, groping for a hold on Digen's fields. Digen permitted it, and was surprised a moment later, when the hard-schooled Tecton modulations took over. Where Ilyana worked with a casual, natural ease, a quick improvisation, always blending with the Sime systems so perfectly that her work was invisible, undetectable, Imrahan worked to a precise formula, meeting standards set down by objective criteria. Imrahan was almost a walking laboratory standard himself. He had the equivalent of perfect pitch, and could duplicate any function to the limit of Digen's ability to discern differences.

Imrahan brought Digen up to that standardized pitch in three quick maneuvers, and stepped back shaking his head. "No. You're not Tecton. You never will be. If you were, you would never have tapped me."

Digen shook his head. "I care about you. In a way, I'm responsible. I qualified you a four-plus, remember?"

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"You mean, if I'd been a complete stranger and you didn't care about me, you would have left me there?"

"N . . . no. Maybe. I don't know."

"You think I don't know what it cost you to do that for me? Right cold out of dormancy into something like that, not -- what --," he broke off to gauge Digen shrewdly, "-- maybe six days to transfer? Digen, entran is one of my specialties. Don't you think I can see what's been going on here?"

That's right, he's an entran therapist. Makes Ilyana look no better than Joel, in that field.

"And in spite of all it cost you," said Imrahan, "you didn't take ten seconds to make that decision."

He was right, Digen realized. He hadn't even considered whether he wanted to do it or not. He had thought only of whether it was best for Imrahan. He hadn't even thought how it might affect Ilyana and their wedding. To her, he said, "I was bound -- he's a Donor, Ilyana . . ."

"I wouldn't have asked any different of you. Nobody should suffer what I suffered."

Imrahan said, "I'm not anywhere near that bad. It takes time, but I adjust . . ."

Digen nodded. "Your governors are in good shape, but you're accustomed to a high level of functioning. You should work down to the three-fives before skipping, and you'd never feel it, except as a vague malaise. Who was your last?"

"Bett's husband. A high nine, maybe three-nine-five. Lacks a certain -- hmmm . . ." Imrahan made a searching gesture imitative of the Sime tentacle gesture he wanted.

"I see," said Digen. "But he's the best they could get for Mora."

"We could be back there in a couple weeks, easily."

"You never give up."

"Do you?"

"Yes," said Digen.

"But," said Joel, "only in triumph, not in defeat."

"That was unkind," said Imrahan. "And unnecessary."

"It was a lesson he taught me. A good lesson."

"Then," said Digen, "what are you doing here? You should be starting your residency!"

"Well, with all the furor, I had to resign from the hospital, in order to treat Hayashi. I'll have to start my internship over again."

Digen did some calculating. "You should have started last month! Now you've lost another year."

"I can afford it. I've actually just turned twenty-seven. And I have the money. I figured getting you back was more important."

Digen studied the Gen. What he'd done, from his point of view, had taken tremendous courage -- to go off into Sime Territory with only Imrahan, and maybe a Sime guide, looking for someone without knowing where to look. "How in shen did you find me, anyway?"

"You found us, remember?" said Imrahan.

"No evasions. This place is off the maps."

"I'm not evading," said Imrahan. "That's why I went high field. I figured you'd spot me if you were anywhere within miles."

"But," said Digen, "the search parties are way south of us."

"Digen," said Ilyana, "I told Hayashi enough to figure the general area. He promised never to -- but I'm glad he did. Maybe, maybe you should consider -- Digen, I've lived with conflicting obligations. It's worse than -- than underdraw. If . . ."

At that point, there was a knock at the door. Even Digen jumped. He'd been so engrossed, he had not noticed the Sime coming up the path. Digen opened the door and let the man in. "Forel! What's wrong?"

(page break)


"Ilyana, I hate to -- I hate -- who are these . . . ?"

Ilyana took two steps toward him. "Has something happened to Roshi?"

"No, no! It's Lorj. He's in changeover, and something's wrong. Can you -- I . . ." He looked miserably at Digen. "There isn't anybody . . . I . . ."

A huge hailstone smashed through the window. The storm was still growing. Forel and Digen rushed outside to secure the flapping shutter again, and Digen said, while they worked, "Forel, the boy's a channel, isn't he?"

Wincing, the boy's father admitted it. "And something's wrong. We can't seem to help him."

Standing in the driving storm, Digen took the Sime's hands. "Will you let me help? It's my specialty. And . . . and I -- Forel, I don't want to give Ilyana."

"You don't owe me anything."

"So you'll owe us something. Is there time to stand around bargaining?"

"Don't want no free gifts. Not that kind."

"I don't even know if I can help. Just let me try. It's your boy's life."

"Maybe he shouldn't survive."

The Sime said it with bleak conviction, and there was no argument.

The door clattered open, and Imrahan picked his way down the slippery steps. He'd pulled coveralls over the pajamas, and a winter slicker around his shoulders. He came to them, squinting against the wind. "I'm ready, let's go."

Digen seized the Sime's hands tighter. "My friend will give him first transfer! No channeling, all right?"

Forel looked to Imrahan. The day had turned dark, but the Sime had only to glance at Imrahan's field. "Who are you?"

Digen said, "He's -- he's -- like Ilyana; he's a Tecton-trained Donor, and he's worked changeover with me before. Trust us, and don't waste any more time."


Forel thought it over quickly and decided.

With each of the Simes taking one of Imrahan's arms, they made good time over the slippery rocks, against the driving hail. Forel's house was nestled in a long, narrow cut, just around a point of rock from Digen's. Once, it had been just like Digen's. Now it sprawled, with six added bedrooms and a stock shed attached. Forel had three grown children. Lorj was his second youngest.

When the three men pushed through the front door and fought it shut behind them, they found the family gathered in the living room, the paraphernalia of festivities forgotten on a long table at the side of the room. They were all very grim.

The oldest boy rose. "Ma's with him. He's worse."

Digen and Imrahan stripped off their slickers in unison and made for the back bedroom. The Sime woman was sponging the boy's forehead. He was pale and very weak. "Forel!" she said as they entered. "What . . . ?"

Forel, coming in behind them, explained quickly, and said, "Certainly we can trust Ilyana's man."

Imrahan took his position across the boy's body from Digen. Lorj was unconscious. Digen made one quick examination, pointing out to Imrahan the signs of Stage Six, and telling him what he sensed. Digen went to the parents.

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"Have you seen this before, in any of your other children?"

They started to deny it, but Forel said, "It was milder. Jinry, our first crosschild, died of it. We don't want to lose Lorj, too."

Crosschild, thought Digen. This was a closed-square family, with the two Simes married and the two Gens married. The crosschild was the product of a Sime/Gen union. "Who were Jinry's parents?"

"Marda and I," said Forel.

"Difficult birth?" asked Digen.

"Marda -- Marda never recovered her health. She died about a year later."

Digen nodded. "And Lorj's parents?"

"Sifah and I," said Forel, with an effort.

Digen nodded again. "And the father of the other children who've had difficulty?"


"And your changeover?"


"Your father's changeover?"

Forel shrugged. "We never discussed it."

"How old was your father when he died?"



"Nobody ever really knew. He just sickened and died."

Digen nodded again. "Your age?"

"Thirty-nine. What's that got to do . . ."

"You know what I'm driving at. It's congenital. The question is, will it correct spontaneously, or is intervention indicated? Will you step into the other room? I want to examine you."

"Him?" asked his wife. She was suddenly afraid.

"It may give me a better idea of what's ahead for Lorj."

The couple exchanged glances. Forel said, "Anything."

Over his shoulder, Digen said to Imrahan, "Sit on it until I get back."

"Give you twenty minutes, no more," answered Imrahan.

"Right," said Digen, and steered Forel into another of the bedrooms down the hall. Outside, the storm raged, hailstones interspersed with rain now. Wind gusted, stirring drafts through the house.

In lateral contact, Digen determined the position of the lesions on and about the vriamic node tissues which were the result of congenitally weak arteries in that area. Forel was not a channel, and so it had given him no trouble. Not yet, anyway. There was also a malformation of the vascular system which Digen had noted in the child as well. It was one of those problems surgery on the child could have corrected.

With a stirring of his old sense of frustration, Digen said, "There may be nothing effective we can do for the boy. But if there is something, it's going to be a channel function."

"In transfer?"

"I'm not sure. I want Imrahan to handle it, if possible. Leave me free to improvise. Maybe I can save him. Just maybe."

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"To you -- being a channel -- is not such a great handicap. But if -- our boy can't live free, it's better he not live at all. Can you understand that?"

"Yes," said Digen. The renSime read Digen's nager deeply, and knew that, however incongruous it seemed, Digen did understand the value of freedom.

"All right. We'll trust you."

Digen went back to Imrahan, explained what he had found, and conferred with the Donor. The main problem was the strain on the vriamic node area as the secondary, channel's system opened up. In the contractions of breakout, or during first transfer, or just during one of the intermittent seizures caused by leakage from the channel's secondary system to the personal system, one of the lesions could cut loose, and the boy would be dead before Digen could do anything.

They had several options, each with a different probability of success, complicated by the advanced stage of changeover.

Together, they sifted the choices down to two alternatives. Again Digen admired Imrahan's professionalism. He had no qualms about leaving the boy in Imrahan's charge while he went back to the parents.

Taking the four adults aside from the children, he said, "Two alternatives. We can't make the decision for you."

They nodded, and he said, "With a fair certainty of success, that is of Lorj's living through it, I could block off the secondary system's development. As an adult, he would no longer be a channel. But he wouldn't be a normal renSime, either. I couldn't guarantee he'd be able to take transfer from a Gen -- at least, not a Gen who wasn't a Tecton Donor of some accomplishment."

Digen waited for that to sink in. The four stood around him, side touching side, arms linked, a solid wall. As one, they felt a surge of hope plummet to defeat. Digen said, "That's not all. Imrahan and I have never done this procedure together. It's possible we wouldn't be able to save his fertility -- and maybe not even his potency. The systems are so closely linked."

Forel asked, "And the alternative?"

"With about a ten percent chance of survival, we encourage the development of his secondary system, feeding selyn to the affected area in an attempt to heal the lesions, scar them over before breakout. Maybe less than a ten percent chance, unless you can find me some prineridine in a hurry."

"Prineridine?" asked Forel.

"Antispasmodic to delay breakout contractions."

Forel shook his head. "Nothing like that here, not that I know of."

The others shook their heads.

Forel said, "If he survived that, he'd be normal?"

"Except that he'd probably suffer bouts of entran all his life, unless an appropriate level of functioning could be established -- it would be a low level. He'd never be a working channel, by Tecton standards. And augmentation would always be dangerous for him. But in the main, he could live a fairly normal life."

The four consulted briefly. But there was no real disagreement, only a horrified reluctance to choose either course. Digen said, "One other thing. If I try to block off the secondary system, it won't heal the lesions. He'll survive changeover to face sudden death at any time. They might heal by themselves, as they have in Forel's case. Or he might go like Forel's father did."

"It doesn't seem like any choice at all, to me," said Forel. "Everybody dies eventually. It's how you live that's important. Give him the best life that you can. Don't cripple him."

Digen nodded, relieved. "We'll do our best," he said, as he turned to go. Leaving the room, he overheard the Gen woman, the boy's mother, saying, "I hope he dies. Oh, God help me, I hope he dies!"

In a sort of shock, Digen understood what she meant. Their decision was based on the Distect value which was also Digen's. The physician's objective is to ease life for those who survive, rather than to fight off death to the last, no matter how much it tormented the patient. It was better to risk everything for a good life -- but the best life Digen had to offer the boy was a living nightmare for a Distect family to face.

(page break)


If Digen had told them that the boy would probably, of his own free will, defect to the Tecton, they would have chosen the other course. But I don't know that he will, Digen told himself. I only know that he'll have to decide.

Digen realized that he had actually made their decision for them while leaving them the illusion they'd made it themselves. He wondered what he would have done had they elected the mutilation. He'd attempted it only once before, and when the girl had died, Digen had been tormented for weeks by his sense of relief and a sneaking doubt that perhaps he'd failed because he didn't want to succeed.

Digen moved through the preparations in a distracted way. He had them gather as many of the icy hailstones as they could in kitchen utensils and buckets, preparing cold packs for the boy's arms. He had them brew trin tea, extracting the essence with as little water as possible, then boiling away most of it, until they had a paste.

He mixed that with a paste made from fosebine powder, combined it in proportion with an antibiotic ointment they bought in the valley and, hoping that an effective amount of the right chemicals would be absorbed, he packed the boy's rectum with the mixture. Returning to the primitive, he felt as he imagined the old Sectuib in Zeor must have felt.

As all this was being done, Digen began exploring the secondary system development. He began gently encouraging the development, watching the results, getting a feel for the way Lorj's body reacted to stimuli.

Then he and Imrahan began to work in earnest. While fighting a delaying action against breakout they coaxed selyn into the embryonic secondary system. Digen remained in full lateral contact. Imrahan managed Digen's internal selyn flows, while Digen concentrated on the boy to the exclusion of all else.

He had to tread carefully, so that Lorj's selyn would not be dangerously depleted before breakout. But there was no way he could keep Lorj from beginning to feel need. At one point the boy floated up to consciousness, fretting toward breakout instinctively. Digen broke contact and left the room. He had to depend on Imrahan to pull him down again.

As soon as Digen stepped into the hall, the parents surged forward anxiously. Digen shook his head. "Impossible to say yet." He didn't tell them of the hairline margin Imrahan was working with, but they could feel his tension as he waited to be called back -- or to feel the unmistakable cresting of breakout.

But Imrahan made it, and Digen went back to more long hours of tedious work. During changeover the body was at a peak of cell production. It didn't take much -- a nudge here, an applied gradient there -- to guide that production. But it took intense, unrelieved concentration. It took decision after decision, always with the question: Is there enough selyn? Should we start stage seven now? Is there enough? Can we hold it another hour?

In the end, Digen elected to work right down to the last moment and, calling for a sterilized kitchen knife, he ruptured Lorj's membranes, while damping out the violence of the breakout contractions.

Then, with need surging to focus in Lorj, he took the newly exposed laterals in his own, and continued to work on the vriamic node tissues, where the primary and secondary selyn transport systems all but touched. They had to be separated, but in good enough contact to allow a measure of control. His work on the lesions, without full lateral access, had created an unbalanced situation which he worked to correct, with one part of his mind measuring Lorj's sense of desperation against the actual state of attrition.

The boy's need wakened a sympathetic response in Digen, and his own ronaplin glands were pouring the selyn conductor into his lateral sheaths. It was just as well. Digen's crudely compounded medication had inhibited Lorj's glandular secretions, and before Digen relinquished his position to Imrahan, he laved the secretion over laterals, and over Imrahan's arms, saying, "Full dual system infusion, as much as he can take. I won't monitor. Can you handle it?"

Imrahan nodded. "I think so. Stand by just in case."

Digen stood back, but held himself tightly on alert as Imrahan served the first transfer. It went as smoothly as one could expect. Imrahan was far the superior of the two. But as he watched, Digen remembered the time Imrahan had spoken so wistfully of serving a channel in first transfer. Lorj was no Farris, but Digen could see the resonances intensifying between the two. He had served first transfer even for channels, often enough that he became caught up in their activated state, his own systems singing to the flow resonances.

Laterals tingling, he rubbed his hands together. As the transfer concluded, Digen shared with them the moment of satisfaction. Gripped by the indescribable sense of euphoria of first transfer, Digen suddenly realized, We did it! He's going to live!

Only in that final release did he know how much he'd dreaded losing the boy. As if he were my own.

(page break)


It would be a full year before they'd know for certain how much impairment of function would remain to Lorj, but as far as Digen was concerned, there could be no satisfaction greater than what he felt right now. With his own body, he had healed.

All the years of medical school, the searching, the striving, the avid devouring of medical journals, the long, bone-cracking struggle to force them to let him learn surgery -- only to discover that surgery was just another mechanical skill, hardly more difficult than watchmaking for his fingers -- all of it, all of that long battle had led him to this.

It was not his fingers or his mind that had reached out to touch and heal. It was inside him. The secondary selyn system he'd been born with. And his naked will. Together, they had healed. And it was not in his hands or his mind that he felt satisfaction. It was deep inside, a resonant hum in that secondary system.

Only that.

But it was enough. He hadn't felt it in so long, he had forgotten. Always, living with it constantly, he had taken it for granted. When, coming to Rior, it had gradually disappeared, he had hardly noticed. He had Ilyana. He was free of so much of the onerous burden of being a channel, the things he'd hated so much that he hadn't noticed with them all had gone the satisfaction.

How can I live without this?

With a fluttery leap in the pit of his stomach, he recognized the living hum, and all that it made him feel, as the one feeling he had been searching for, trying to force from himself, in the study of medicine -- in the dream of bringing a new technique, a shocking, radical, perhaps impossible technique to the channel's arsenal.

But here, on top of a mountain, detached from all of civilization and modern technology, he'd accomplished a miracle, using little but what nature had endowed him with. Somehow, that made the satisfaction all the more intense. It made it recognizable.

I did this. Not drugs. Not machines. Me.

The drugs, the machines, the learned techniques, were only tools, extensions of himself, aids to attaining this feeling. The technology itself could never produce it. They could only make it a more frequent occurrence.

He had to do the work itself. With his own body, from his own substance, he had to give in order to obtain it. And this was a gift it was possible to give, a gift that could be accepted. Healing.

And he came to something deeper, that he could hardly put into words. It wasn't the gift itself that was important. It was the act of giving something which could be accepted.

There was no way to give wisdom. Wisdom could not be a gift. Those who asked for it, asked the impossible. Those who tried to give it, attained no satisfaction, because no possible act could accomplish the giving.

The satisfaction was in the act of giving.

Healing was the gift that Digen had in him to give. And the Distect could not accept that gift from him.

The Tecton had been set up to permit the channels the one source of satisfaction good and natural and best for them -- not to enslave; to enable.

And that gave Digen pause. If the Tecton existed only for the gratification of the channels, it could become a very evil thing.

Dare I even think of going back?

Not without Ilyana!

Ilyana could not go back. They would make her forswear Rior. Or would they? She had an automatic four-plus rating through him. In lortuen, she would not be on the rotation rolls. Can I fight it and win? Do I want to? Will she want to?

All these questions with half-formed answers wrapped him around and away from the concluding business with Forel. It was Imrahan who gave instructions for the boy's care, and told them not to hesitate to call them back should anything develop. Imrahan fussed over Digen all the way back to the house, convinced Digen was developing an entran reaction.

(page break)


It was Imrahan who insisted, over Ilyana's objection, that Digen turn immediately to healing the cut on Hogan's forehead, wishing it had been something more challenging for Digen to deal with. "If we can get him working hard enough, fast enough, we may be able to turn it aside."

"But then," said Ilyana, "it will be twice as hard to bring him down to dormancy again."

He looked at her strangely. He looked to Digen, who was watching Hogan staring at the almost invisible cut in a hand mirror. "Ilyana, you can't keep him here. There's no way. You didn't see. You don't know. I watched him work, watched what it did to him. It was like -- like watching a resurrection."

Imrahan had never been given to exaggeration, and Ilyana knew it. Her eyes were on Digen as Hogan turned to the channel, smiling oddly. She said, "I -- I don't want to believe . . ."

Imrahan took her by the shoulders and propelled her toward Digen. "Ask him. Or better -- take your own reading."

Ilyana took Digen's hand, ran her fingers over the still tightly swollen glands, and looked him in the eye. His need was verging an the active, and she had to work hard to keep from aggravating it. She wasn't wholly successful. Digen broke away uncomfortably.

Imrahan moved in behind Digen, slightly to the left, neatly shaping the ambient nager into something Digen could tolerate, while at the same time he lent support to Digen's effort to damp need. It was a trick Ilyana had never fully mastered.

Unconsciously, Digen moved a half step closer to Imrahan, adjusting, falling trimly into the pattern. She knew what they were doing, could perceive the instant relaxation in Digen. Slowly, she moved her head from side to side, unable to keep tears from swimming to the surface.

"I don't have to ask," she said. "Digen, the Tecton is everything to you. You've never really been comfortable with me."

Digen shook his head. But he knew there was a certain truth in what she said. He went to her. "I've always been too comfortable with you. I'm used to -- to -- it's just that I don't feel right, somehow, working off the standards. Imrahan has this uncanny ability to -- Shen! -- Rin could calibrate his instruments by Imrahan!"

"And I'll never learn that! It seems hideous and unnatural to me. I don't want to learn it."

"You don't have to. I won't require it of you. Not here . . ."

"You can't stay here. I see it now. It's the functionals that you live for, Digen. It's so unquestioning, so automatic with you. Could you have turned and walked away from Dula, even if she wasn't Roshi's wife? And when Forel came in, all he had to say was changeover and you were out the door -- so was Imrahan."

"You don't ask questions in an emergency . . ."

"It was more than that. It was a -- a harmony -- like the shiltpron. It's the work itself that means so much to you. But you can't do that here. There'll come a day when they'll hate you for saving Lorj -- Lorj himself may come to hate you. If you stay here, they'll learn to rely on you, and they'll hate themselves for it. They'll hate you for it. You have to go back."

"Not without you.

" Out of Death Was I Born, Unto Rior Forever!"

She spat the oath through gritted teeth, and wrenched away from Digen to run for the door. Digen caught her by the upper arms, whirled her around to face him. "Not without you," he repeated.

Through Dula and Lorj, he had learned what it meant to him to function as a channel, voluntarily and not on assignment. But as the temptation to go back to the Tecton rose, so did a shaft of panic he could not control. I've been kidding myself! It would be easier to reach in and yank out my own heart than to leave Ilyana. It was more than a dependency. It was lortuen, consummated or not, it made no difference. With any other Donor, now, he'd abort to attrition. Like as not, even Bett couldn't save him.

Ilyana, unmoving but firm, said, "Let go of me." The power of her will went into her nager. "You can't stay here. I won't pledge Tecton. There's only one solution . . ."

"Yes!" said Digen, shaking her. "Listen to me! A Distect lortuen, just like we'd planned. I'll make them accept it, and you. I'll even pledge Rior, if you like. We'll make them accept us an our own terms!"

(page break)


"You're mad with need! Digen, once you've been touched Distect style, they'll never let you function as a channel for fear of contamination or something. I won't do that to you; I won't. But -- soon -- I won't be able to help myself. It's all I've ever wanted out of life!"

"And it's all I've ever wanted out of life. Don't you see, lortuen is a functional, too -- the fullest of them all. Without that, nothing else matters because I won't be alive. And I will have it of you, Ilyana!"

In one bruising movement, he shifted to transfer position. She went passive in his grasp, not a flicker of defiance to feed his need-crazed aggression into a kill mode attack. Fiercely impatient, he gritted, "Do it, Ilyana!"

"No! I took oath never to act against the Tecton. And I won't -- spoil -- their best channel. I -- won't!"

But his now unbanked need caught at her. Her selyn production rate spiked, leaving her flushed with the first wild panic of underdraw. Deliberately, he fed the conflagration within her, as he had before damped it down.

Digen was dimly aware of Imrahan shepherding Hogan out of the house, while Hogan resisted, asking, "What's he going to do?" And Imrahan saying "Transfer, of course. Consummation, if she'll let him. The functional level should be high enough to block the entran, too. Wish I'd thought of it."

The exchange distracted Digen, but he put it out of his mind, assuring himself that since the hail had stopped, the two Gens couldn't get into much trouble.

"We're going into transfer," said Digen, "right now, one way or the other."

"I can stop you," said Ilyana.

"Distect style, you can. If you do, I've won. And if you don't stop me, I've also won."

"Digen, transfer should never be a contest of opposed wills. That's -- that's obscene!"

"Then yield. I will have this, and I will have it now."

"And afterwards, when you discover you're trapped and you don't want to be? Then what? You'd hate me for it, and I couldn't stand that. Stop it, Digen. Don't . . ."

But his need had already taken over, drawing her selyn production rate higher and higher, their fields locked together by forces greater than human will.

Into trautholo, and beyond to commitment, slipping into hyperconsciousness, to be a black velvet nager soaking up warmth, light, life, from the sun of her body, Digen realized that though he had brought on the transfer flow, it was still her will that guided and shaped it. As ever, she balanced the flows over his scar tissue so that he didn't even know it was there. Despite all he could do, still he took that transfer in the Tecton manner, one smooth, continuous draw to peak speed and smoothly down again to zero flux.

Hyperconsciously, the brightness of her shimmered and merged into the darkness of himself. The threads of life, warmth, selyn energy, flawed up to the vriamic node, thawing, quickening, shivering as they plunged down to the depths of his body. He drew and drew, opening not only his primary, personal use system, but his secondary channels as well. Even so, the glow of her scarcely diminished. As she brought him to termination, they were at equipotential field.

The resonances between them hit an exacting perfection Digen had never felt before. Neither of them could stop. Duoconscious now, Digen was aware of the delicious effect of the precisely matched fields, but he was simultaneously drowning in sharpened kinesthetic sensitivity. It was a condition in which the touch of a feather could bring excruciating pain, and if he went hypoconscious at this point, the pain would surely break the consummation. Duoconscious, though, every physical touch, every muscular movement of either of them fed the perfectly balanced resonances between them.

Even without movement, the pressure of skin against skin the localized peaking of the selyn fields where they touched each other, penetrated each other's physiologic sovereignty, fed the deliciously balanced selyn field resonances, intensifying and intensifying until they walked a knife's edge toward full consummation.

In perfect unison, they began to move, creeping toward release, in the only direction open to them. They were not aware of what they were doing, physically. They felt it, judged it, maneuvered it only on the basis of the balanced fields, the music-like resonance they fed, adding tone to tone, chord to chord, for the richest, fullest, deepest crescendo they could achieve.

(page break)


Ilyana worked now to make up for what she had denied him in transfer; the deliberate, calculated prolongation of the peak satisfaction which the Tecton method gave only a momentary life; the controlled resistance of the Distect Gens, supposed to be better than the kill, so much better that disjunction was never a problem.

Ilyana's touch worked its way deep, deep into Digen, raising his sensitivity with each movement, each nuance. It was nothing like ordinary post-transfer. There was a solidity to it, a stability that brought a greater and greater relaxation with each surge in tension. He'd never known his body capable of such a response. He thought, astonished, I've been a virgin all my life.

That was his last coherent thought before it ended.

And when it ended, it was -- wholeness.

Spent at last, Digen found they were lying across the day bed, half unclothed, oblivious to all but what had happened between them. They moved to a more comfortable position, and the touch set Digen to arousal again, every nerve of his body new-found and every touch a sweet and mellow warmth. It was as if all his systems were somehow connected, feeding each other, gratifying each other.

And after that he made love to her properly, as he had always meant to, for her sake and not just his own. She received him, greedy and frantic to make up to him each of the long months of deprivation they had endured.

They rested against each other, unable to summon the resolution to part. Digen was tumescent again, wondering if such a thing could be possible, once more, and amazed, discovering that perhaps in a few minutes it just might. He was savoring that, rolling it around inside him like an unborn joy, when there was a knock at the door.

Forel! Digen identified the nager, and the shock wilted him. "Something must have happened to Lorj!" said Digen, rolling off the bed and grabbing a robe.

Two steps, and he felt the backlash hit Ilyana. It froze him in place.

"Go on, Digen," she said with resignation. "You're a channel. I know."

Reluctantly, he moved to open the door a crack. Forel said, "I'm sorry, but Digen, it's your friends. Roshi's taken them to the stockade. I think he's going to execute them."

Ilyana flew to Digen's side. "I won't let him!"

Digen, holding her, said to Forel. "Go tell Roshi we'll be there in a few minutes. Tell him he owes me that much at least -- for Dula."

Forel nodded. "I'll do my best, but he's in a need temper, and he's had some sort of quarrel with Fen . . ."

Ilyana said, "I can handle Roshi. Just give me a moment to get dressed."

Forel went, telling them to hurry.

Ilyana, who was less disheveled than Digen, stopped only to fasten a couple of buttons and shove her feet into shoes, and she was out the door, dragging a sweater behind her, and struggling into it on the path. "Hurry, Digen!"

Digen, however, stopped to thrust some dried rations into Hogan's knapsack and, as an afterthought to push the credential case in with it. He wouldn't require it in Rior. With the sack over one shoulder, and still buttoning his coverall, Digen grabbed a sweater in two tentacles and rushed after Ilyana.

Outside the stockade he cached the knapsack, hoping they wouldn't have to pick it up in such a hurry as he envisioned. He caught up with Ilyana at the stockade gate. It was full night now, and the open yard was lit only by torches. The ground was muddy with half melted ice. The fort building itself was dark, except for the dim glow of a selyn field in the watch towers overlooking the approach trails. The night guards were Simes.

As they arrived, Roshi stood in the center of a large circle of Simes and Gens. Facing him, Imrahan and Joel Hogan stood, confronted by a Sime whose need was advanced and obvious.

The kill as a method of execution!

Digen could believe what he was seeing only when Imrahan jumped between Hogan and the attacking renSime, crying out, "All right then, Tecton style!"

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Roshi motioned to a Sime guard to take Imrahan out. "That one is mine." Digen could visualize the guard holding Imrahan and forcing him to watch Joel's murder, and then Roshi killing Imrahan, who was now low field, after Lorj.

At that moment Ilyana leapt into the torchlight, hands flung up and shouting, "Touch him and you answer to me!"

Roshi took two angry steps toward her. Ilyana stood her ground, glaring at him. Roshi grabbed a bullwhip from one of the guards, laying its tip on the ground with absent delicacy. Ilyana moved to put one toe on the tip of it.

She met his gaze, unwavering, challenge clear in every line of her stance.

Roshi flicked the whip clear and laid open a gash along her leg, shouting, "Stand clear!"

The instant he did it, need-fed rage boiling over in him, his nager went ice cold with horror. The slap of parting Gen cells, driven by Ilyana's incomparable nager, cut right through every Sime in the yard, and it doubled Roshi over in sudden cramp, his embryonic channel's systems still as sensitive as any Farris's.

Digen arrowed to Roshi's side, his response automatic, bracing the untrained channel, calming the need, managing the countercurrents until he could stand alone once more, and push Digen roughly away. "What are you doing!"

"Ilyana!" called Digen.

She came to his side, and at once Roshi could see what had happened between them, though not that the transfer had in fact been Tecton style. "Traitor!" he spat at Ilyana. "And you! Bringing those here! After you swore Unto Zeor. Does your own house mean so little to you, Sectuib?"

Digen said, levelly, "We must speak together, in private, calmly."

Ilyana looked around. "Where's Fen?"

"He is gone from me. Forever! I will not have a coward beside me."

"Calm down," said Digen. "You are in no danger. I will see to that." Roshi could not reach satisfaction even if he killed Imrahan, and they both knew it.

"As you saw to Lorj!" said Roshi. "You contaminate the ground you walk upon!"

"Roshi!" said Ilyana, shocked.

Digen took Ilyana's arm and moved her toward Roshi, with an unmistakable chop of one hand; the order to bring him down before it turned to paranoia. Digen would have used Imrahan too, but was certain that Roshi would die rather than let Imrahan touch him.

Digen stepped away, giving Ilyana a clear field, and went to Forel. "What did Roshi and Fen quarrel about?"

"The hailstorm. It destroyed most of the crop. Roshi had been planning to move us down into the valley maybe even out onto the plains, as far as Leander, next year or the year after. But after last winter and no crop this year, Roshi says we can't survive here another winter. There are too many of us. Roshi says we move now, we take the land we require, and winter in the milder, shorter winter of the lowlands -- and survive. Fen said no, not by force. He refused Roshi transfer. I don't know where he went."

"Shen-shid! Refused transfer?" The Distect way, Digen reminded himself, is no more disgusting to me as the Tecton was to Ilyana. Digen looked about him. The people were silent, waiting, reserving judgment. They might yet be swayed either way. "Forel, go quietly and see if you can arrange a transfer for that renSime. I may require Imrahan's assistance, and I don't want him distracted."

Forel eyed Digen hard. Digen's tone had been that of authority, but he had none here. Still, it was an ugly situation, which everyone wanted to see brought under control. But nobody there could handle Roshi in such a temper, except Digen and Ilyana. Forel nodded, "I'll talk to my brother." Forel's nager felt to Digen as if that settled the matter. Digen nodded, and went back to Roshi.

Ilyana had managed to kindle the light of reason once more in the Sime's eyes, but he was still on the edge. "The crops have been lost," said Digen. "You will have to take your people out of here. I cannot contend that point." The calm statement captured Roshi's attention, and further restored him. Digen went on, "As you see, Ilyana and I are married." He took Ilyana's arm, making a brief lateral

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contact. "You see how it is for us. And you know she will not return to the Tecton. So it is for me to pledge Rior."

"What makes you think we'd have you now? You have no word to give us. You have violated our borders, mutilated a helpless boy, and now stolen my own sister!"

"That's unfair," said Ilyana. "You yourself sent me to Westfield. If it weren't for Digen, I'd be dead now."

"And better off! Look what he's done!"

"You were overjoyed to have him here, delighted with how he saved Dula . . ."

". . . and lost me Fen! A channel, he called me, a rotten channel! And he was right! I was stupid to think it ever could have worked."

"What could have worked?" asked Ilyana.

"That you would bring me someone we could use to get land without fighting for it."

"Bring someone you could use?" asked Ilyana, struggling to follow. "You sent me to Westfield to bring someone you could use? You told me to go, do anything to get well, even stay if I had to. You said you just wanted me to live and be happy."

"Well, you should have stayed!"

"Ilyana . . ." said Digen. "He's in need. Don't . . ."

"No, no, wait. I was sick, dying -- but you, a channel and a Farris, you could have helped me; you could have kept me here and helped me. You knew it all along. But you sent me to Westfield, telling me to stay, to form new loyalties, telling me how much you loved me and wanted me to survive -- and all the time, what you really had in mind was for me to play traitor to those new loyalties, to seduce a Farris channel into Rior, just like the newspapers were claiming. And I almost did it!"

Roshi made a distinct effort to pull himself together. "No, Ilyana, it wasn't like that. I swear, Unto Rior, I swear, I never meant to force a vain oath from you . . ."

She backed away, still absorbing the idea. "Don't talk to me 'Unto Rior' -- you -- you call Digen down on his guesting oath; what about you? What does your House mean to you? Using your sister -- like -- like some kind of weapon!" Still backing away, she said, "Do you think -- did you ever really think I'd let you get away with that? What did you think I am?"

Digen caught at her. "He hasn't gotten away with it, Ilyana."

She turned to him, flinging her head back defiantly. Tears whipped into the wind from the corners of her eyes, but her voice was clear, soprano, carrying to all present. "How much longer did you think I could hold out? Don't you have any idea what it cost me? Do you really think I could do that, even one more time?"

She tore free of Digen, leaving a tiny piece of her sleeve in his fingers, and ran for the fort. Digen started after her, but Roshi leapt into his path. "Let her go. It's just her temper. You are going to watch me execute that -- that accomplice of yours. And then we are going to watch you execute the other one, in kill mode. When Ilyana has disjuncted you, then we will know you are loyal."

"I won't do that . . ."

"Then I will have the pleasure of killing you myself." In one feral movement he picked up the whip that had fallen from his cramp-numbed fingers, and flicked it at Digen, backing off to fighting distance.

Under full augmentation, Digen grabbed the whip out of the air. Roshi, expecting, even anticipating the move, tugged hard with a twist designed to unfoot Digen. But Digen went with the force, still augmenting, in three quick somersaults, and closed with Roshi, hitting the Sime with a maximal show field as well as the physical contact.

Roshi, himself in hard need and half wild with the terror of being without a Donor for the first time in years, cried out with the impact of Digen's unexpected surge of selyn field. He broke away as if scalded.

Digen went after him, using himself unsparingly to present a transfer nager, calling up the Sime/Sime equivalent of the trautholo, enticing Roshi's need by falling into perfect synch.

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Slowly, bit by bit, Roshi retreated and Digen advanced, all around the open space under the torchlight. The onlookers stood on indrawn breath, not quite able to believe what they were seeing. At any moment, Digen knew, the fascination would break to horror, and someone would move out to attack him. He had to conclude Roshi's transfer before that happened.

In a desperate gamble, Digen saw his opening and leaped into it, grasping Roshi in transfer position, forcing him into the Sime/Sime contact by pressure on the extensor nodes and the guidance of his dorsal tentacles. There came a point of contact where Roshi's sense of perversion was overcome by sheer need.

Though Digen was expert at playing the Donor's role, he could not imitate the Distect manner at all. He gave the single, sharp-peaked Tecton transfer, timed to Roshi's demand, and broke the contact, staggering as Roshi recovered enough to shove him away.

Digen was strangely unsurprised to find Imrahan's arms steadying him.

At that moment the world erupted in crashing flame, a sharp crack of thunder like a physical blow, and gouts of pure light blanking out the sky. An image burned into Digen's mind for all time; Roshi leaping through the air toward him, face crazed with hatred. The force of the explosion threw the leap off target, and Digen realized that the fort itself had blown up.

People who had been near the walls were pulling the bodies of friends from beneath the wreckage, pushing back from the sudden inferno. One of the guard towers began to topple, and the Sime guard jumped into a tree. Someone yelled for the fire buckets. People streamed about them, running every which way, yelling contradictory orders.

From somewhere, Joel Hogan appeared to Digen's right. Duoconsciously, Digen heard Imrahan say, "Ilyana is in there." He became aware that he'd been forced to his knees by the sudden pain. Eyes closed, he could visualize himself crouched over his own guts spilling into the mud. But his arms, closed over his waist, felt no such wound. He shook his head to clear it, pulled Imrahan closer, and husked, "She's dead."

Over Digen's head, Imrahan said to Joel. "Lortuen deathshock. We've got to get him out of here. Digen, can you hang on? We'll carry you. They'll think you're dead, too."

Digen, paralyzed, could not even nod. He felt Hogan take him under the shoulders, while Imrahan led the way, carrying his feet. The courtyard had filled with people dashing about to put out the fire. One thunderstorm had not fire-proofed the mountainside after a dry summer. Panic surged everywhere.

When they were outside in the shadowed paths below the stockade walls, Digen made them put him down. "I think I can walk."

With an arm around each of them, he staggered far enough to show them where he'd cached the knapsack. "You two get on your way. You can be clear by morning."

"Digen," said Imrahan, and then started over. "Look, Digen, we have to have your help. This place is crawling with Simes. Guide us back to the house; we'll pick up some blankets and then go down to where we left our camp gear. Come on, you can do it; one last effort. I'll help."

Imrahan expertly managed the fields, until Digen indeed believed he could stagger that far, at least.

They dodged across the valley, path to path, avoiding rushing Simes and Gens as Digen spotted them. At the house, they picked up supplies, quickly stripping what they could carry. Imrahan took time to pour a double dose of fosebine into Digen, and to tuck the remainder of the supply into his bedroll.

"Now," said Imrahan, "where's that trail we came in on? I'm lost."

Digen, still supported between the Gens, showed them where the trail was, and guided them to the edge of the drop. "You just follow it to the stream, and then cut due east."

Imrahan looked over the problem, and said, "Pitch dark down there. The fire doesn't help. We'll never find camp. And if we do, we'll just be in the same position we were when we got here -- lost. Digen, you've got to come with us."

"No." said Digen. "No point. I'll just slow you down. I won't live the night out, and you know it."

"Well," said Hogan glibly, "in that case, it doesn't really matter to you, does it? Me, I'd like to keep what skin I've got intact, and if that mob catches us now, they'll be out for blood, as well as selyn."

"Let's not stand here arguing," said Imrahan.

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Behind them there was another deep-pitched boom, sending a firestorm of sparks high into the air. Hogan said, "Wonder what they had stored in there, anyway."

Imrahan went toward where the trail fell away. "Come on, Digen."

"No, if I'm with you, they'll hunt twice as hard. It's me they want."

"They'll be busy with that fire the rest of the night, and maybe most of tomorrow. And then somebody will remember seeing you 'dead' -- and maybe they won't hunt too hard until we're well gone. Digen, we'll never make it unless you help us."

Digen thought it over as best he could. All he wanted was to lay down and die, but as least he could get them clear first. He staggered toward the drop. "Let's go."

They scrambled down the precipice, tumbling and rolling part of the way, until they hit the trail. As they helped Digen up, draping an arm across each of their shoulders, Digen heard Imrahan whisper to Hogan, "Just keep him on his feet and moving until we get to camp. I'll do the rest."


The trip cross country was nightmarish for Digen. At times he was half paralyzed, at times shaking with chill, or sometimes burning with fever. He roused occasionally to point them in the right direction, and lapsed into a stupor of semi-death. He was torn deep inside, torn and bleeding the fluids of life, where roots anchored much longer than he had thought had been suddenly ripped loose.

He recalled falling heavily to the hard ground, onto something that seemed to be a blanket. He recalled the murmured conference held over him, but at the time it seemed like only an argument about where to bury him. And then there came a warmth.

He realized that Imrahan had lain down in front of him, and Hogan was pushing close behind him, sandwiching him, rolling him in a Gen nager. Dimly, it came to him that they wanted him to live.

Fools, he thought, and surrendered to the death that grabbed at him. Ilyana!

Ilyana! Ilyana! Ilyana! Ilyana!

The cry echoed and re-echoed. It filled his mind and became all there was to the universe.

The physical pain dimmed to a dull throb. Digen thought, Good, now I am dying.

Ilyana. Ilyana. Ilyana. Ilyana.

But there was the Gen nager about him. Pale, off key, but definitely Gen. He tried to fling it off. "Let me go! Let me die. Haven't I done enough for you!"

Hold him -- Imrahan's voice.

Muttered instructions. Cold, vile taste in his mouth. "Gach! Fosebine! No! Not worth it!"

"Drink, then we'll let you alone."

So he did, and lay down again to die. But he hurt less now, and the dying was harder. The Gen nager about him forced it further and further away. He weakened with the chase, and at last he slept.

He wakened to the noon sun beating down on the blanket that covered him, warming him enough to pretend to be alive. He came slowly to terms with the idea that his body had refused the immediate shock death he had sought. Imrahan was there, seated cross-legged in the gravel by the brook.

Digen said, "I hate you."

"I know."

"Why did you do it! Why! What are you --" And Digen remembered the other times when he had felt this same way. Imrahan could do these things to him because Imrahan was a Tecton Donor, a Companion in Imil.

Digen found he was staring at a brown rock. He had no energy to break the gaze.

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"Digen," said Imrahan, coming to sit close, knee to knee. "She wanted you to live. She wanted you to go back and be what you are, a channel, Sectuib in Zeor. Otherwise, she accomplished nothing by what she did."

"How can I go back? I'll probably die in my next transfer. You know that."

"Maybe not. You have me, and Bett and her husband, and Hayashi -- and even Joel. And there's Mora and the baby to think about. Maybe we can get you through it. Give us a chance."

Digen knew Imrahan was right. Ilyana had meant to solve the problem by setting him free. She had pledged herself never to act to the detriment of the Tecton. By removing Roshi's stockpile of explosives as well as herself, she removed his only tools for going up against the Tecton. She also condemned Rior to a winter of desperation.

Certainly, with or without Roshi, the people would come down to the valleys, to buy, to plunder, perhaps to kill. The Tecton had to be warned.

It dawned on him that, in a way, she had acted against Rior in the Tecton's favor. She had renounced one loyalty for the other -- she had pledged Tecton fully.

He remembered her outrage at the thought people believed she had seduced him into the Distect. No quite the contrary, she had not spared herself to shield him from it. And in his moment of weakness, when he begged for it but truly did not want it, she had given her last strength to deny him the Distect consummation.

Perhaps, because of that denial, just perhaps he did have a chance -- however slim -- of surviving his next transfer.

No, he thought, God is not going to permit me the luxury of dying yet.

He could see it now as inevitable that he would survive. There was work yet to do. Ilyana's name had to be cleared. He could not rest in his grave until it was. He had to prove to them that he had not been touched in the Distect mode. Then he would have her adopted into Zeor posthumously, and added to Zeor's roll of honored dead.

They had to get back to warn of the desperate winter plight of the people of Rior. Perhaps he could arrange some sort of relief -- a food train to the upper villages perhaps, so they could sell cheaply to those who came down from the fastnesses of the mountain.

And there was Mora's baby that required a birthing donation. Maybe he could accomplish that before he had to face another transfer. The kid might end up Sectuib in Zeor someday.

And to see Bett again, congratulate her on her lortuen.

There was still the election coming. Hayashi's research was ruined, but still there were all those laws that had to be changed. Maybe next year, Hayashi would hit another breakthrough.

There was work for the Sectuib in Zeor.

Digen finally tore his eyes from the brown rock and looked at Imrahan. The Donor held the credential case in his hands. Digen took it from him and extracted the little star pin. He fastened it to his dirty overalls. Then he stretched out his hands, palm up. Imrahan hesitated a moment -- he was Imil, not Zeor -- but then he joined Digen's hands in the Companion's grip.

Imrahan said, "Into Fear Was I Born , Unto -- Unto Zeor, Forever. If you'll have me.

Digen returned the pledge with full acceptance, adding, "Out of Death Was I Born , Unto Zeor, Forever."


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