To Find A Place
by Kerry Schaefer
(later known as Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer)
Reprinted from Ambrov Zeor #15
"Shenshid, Chaynek, be reasonable. It wasn't all my fault, you know. Your precious little cousin had a lot to do with it, too."
The Gen scowled. "Truly, Frevven, just because V'lissia tried to seduce you after the best transfer you'd had in months didn't mean you had to let her succeed. You could've found someone other than your Donor."
Frevven resisted the impulse to get up from behind his desk and go to the other end of his office, as far from Chaynek as possible. Even under ordinary circumstances, he never failed to find Chaynek's nager disturbing, but when the Gen was displeased about something . . .
Frevven frowned and pushed his glasses more securely up against the bridge of his nose. "I know," he admitted, "I've already been raked over the coals by the District Controller for that infraction of the rules, and Controller Shagoury, here in Danversport, wasn't very pleased at having me assigned to him after that. All I can say in my defense is that V'lis can be extremely persuasive when she wants to be. But I certainly never intended for her to get pregnant."
"Well, you should have known it was possible simply by zlinning her."
"She never gave me a chance to think about it!" Frevven protested, rearranging the papers on his desk for the tenth time in as many minutes. "Believe me, at that particular moment, the possibility of fathering a child was the farthest thing from my mind."
The Gen only looked at him, lips compressed slightly in the closest he every came to a frown. He didn't have to say anything. Frevven knew that expression all too well; along with the disapproval Chaynek projected, it spoke volumes.
"Chaynek, this gets us nowhere. What's done is done. If you think I'd do it again, you're wrong. I have no desire to get in deeper trouble with the Tecton. As one of the few remaining disjunct channels, I don't want any more black marks on my record than necessary. You of all people should realize that. But if it'll make you feel any better to tell me off, go right ahead. I assure you, you can't call me anything worse than I've already called myself."
Chaynek wilted and his anger dissolved. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm just worried about V'lissia."
"So am I. But there's nothing I can do about it now. Today will be the first time I've set eyes on her in close to six months."
"I know. V'lis told me she had requested permission several times to visit you and been turned down each time. And she did mention that you never fail to answer her letters."
Frevven shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He wasn't sure which he found harder to take: Chaynek's previous anger or his current commiseration. Then he noticed a change in the ambient nager in the hallway outside his office door. A very familiar change.
"Shh, here she comes," the channel cautioned. "Her boat must have arrived early."
The door opened slowly and V'lissia Chalmers walked into the office, her coat sprinkled with melting snowflakes. "Hi, cousin," she said to Chaynek, pushing her hood back from her long dark hair. "Hello, Frevven," she added, with uncharacteristic shyness. She walked over to the fireplace and held her hands out toward the blaze. "Goodness, it's cold out today. I'm chilled to the bone."
She let Chaynek take her damp coat, glancing over at Frevven, who had not yet said a word. Then she pirouetted self-consciously, her full skirt and smock swirling loosely around her. "The latest style in maternity wear. Do you like it?"
"You look lovely," Chaynek said, kissing his cousin on the forehead. "Doesn't she, Frevven?"
V'lis looked over at the channel, and he could feel her desperate longing for approval and reassurance. She did look lovely, but her dragging weariness and lack of vitality were all too obvious to Frevven.
"Yes. Beautiful," he agreed, frowning as he tried to separate the baby's field from V'lissia's.
"What's the matter?" V'lis teased. "You've never zlinned a pregnant woman before?"
His gaze focused back on the girl's dark eyes, so like Chaynek's, and he smiled in embarrassment. "I'm sorry. Remember, the last time I saw you was only a few days after I noticed you were pregnant. It wasn't quite as--well-overwhelming then."
"That's for sure," she laughed. "Well, do the two of you gentlemen think you could show me the way to a nice hot meal? I'm famished, and I have to be in the coach on my way up river to Santenkaty Landing early tomorrow morning. Although, come to think of it, if this snow keeps up, I doubt the coaches will be able to get through."
"Good," Chaynek retorted, gesturing her toward the door, "then you'll be able to visit with me for an extra few days. The storm couldn't have come at a better time."
Together they went to the dining hall, where Frevven mostly watched the two Gens eat and tried to unobtrusively zlin his unborn daughter, wishing in vain that he had more training and experience in obstetrics beyond the bare minimum required of any channel. As V'lis chattered away happily with her cousin, Frevven tried once more to sort out his confused feelings towards the young woman who had lightheartedly turned down his proposal of marriage on the grounds that she wanted "someone who loves me, not someone who marries me out of a sense of duty." As usual, he failed. But she seemed so vulnerable now, and so fragile. He found himself wishing he could hold her in his arms again; hold her and protect her from an uncertain future.
V'lissia went home with her cousin to spend the night in his apartment, saying she preferred the somewhat crowded quarters to the impersonal and empty room she could have had at the Center. Frevven bid them both good-night and promised to be on hand to see V'lis off in the morning. Then he reported to the dispensary for his evening shift.
Two hours later, Frevven handed his stack of charts to the receptionist and signed his name in the "out" column of the logbook, officially going off duty for the night. He took his wool cape from the coat rack by the door and threw it around his shoulders before heading out into the cold evening. Snow fell heavily over the town, smothering everything in white fuzz. The foghorn on the Danversport Lighthouse sent its characteristic three blasts out over the desolate sea, warning mariners of the nearness of land in the severely limited visibility. Listening to the triune howl of the siren reflected now loudly and now faintly through the shrouded streets, Frevven thought in smug satisfaction that the lighthouse was only maintained to ensure the safety of Gen-operated shipping, as no Sime would require the dubious assistance of a foghorn in order to navigate. Danversport Light was left over from the time before this section of land had been ceded to the Sime government in exchange for generous territorial considerations elsewhere. The newly-created Northeast Coast Territory was small, but having access to the ocean made possible the development of a major in-Territory seaport. Over the past decade the Sime fleet had expanded rapidly, and so had the town.
Frevven had liked Danversport from the first moment he set eyes on it. After several months inland, it was nice to breathe salt air again. He had come to enjoy living by the ocean during the time he had spent on Innsfrey Island, so this assignment was more than welcome.
He pulled his cape closer around his narrow shoulders as he made his way along the busy street to his living quarters. Yes, indeed, on the whole, things were going well for him at last. Even though he hadn't been out-Territory for months now, he still revelled in the freedom of being able to go anywhere he wished without retainers. Forced to depend so heavily on zlinning due to his increasingly poor eyesight, only partially corrected by wearing glasses, he had found it more difficult than most Simes to adapt to the loathsome retainers. Every time he thought back over his last assignment, he was grateful not to be on Innsfrey any longer. Already, it seemed like a bad dream.
He turned down the short side street leading to his door. The apartment was cold and damp, so he struck a match to the neat pile of logs and kindling in his fireplace. In a few more months, the new wing on the channels' residence would be finished and he'd be able to live right at the Center. He wasn't overly fond of living in residence halls but it would be more convenient, at least. He put on dry clothes, polished his smudged glasses, sat down at the desk by the window, and went to work organizing the stacks of family histories, birth certificates, half-finished family trees, and genetic charts he had brought home from the Center. It was quieter here; much easier to concentrate. Slowly making order out of chaos, he reflected with satisfaction that he enjoyed compiling family histories and tracing genetic lines. Maybe someday someone would figure out more of the theory behind Sime/Gen genetics, but he was content to be part of the initial effort of data gathering.
Outside, the snow drifted, and the wind howled around the corners of the building.
By morning, the town was securely buried by the late winter snowstorm. Frevven had to climb out his side window to clear the drifted snow away from his front door. Children played in the yard across the street, tumbling in the high drifts and pelting each other with snowballs. Big wet flakes drifted from the sullen grey sky. Frevven shook off the clinging snow and headed out to the street and down to the coach station. When he found, as he'd more than half expected, that the coach wasn't running due to the snow, he slogged back to the Center and got an early start on the day's work. He really meant to visit with V'lis that evening, but he got called in to help with a difficult changeover case and by the time the youngster was out of danger, it was long past midnight and Chaynek's apartment was dark. Smothering a twinge of guilt, he went home for a few hours' rest, falling asleep to the steady drip of snow melting off the roof.
The next morning much of the snow was gone. Frevven once more made his way to the station, hoping V'lissia wouldn't be too annoyed with him for failing to visit her the previous evening. As he approached, he saw V'lis standing alone on the station platform, her back towards him.
"Hi, V'lis. Where's Chaynek?"
She turned around and smiled down at Frevven. "He went to see to my luggage. Should be back any minute. Come on up out of the slush and mud."
Frevven climbed the few steps onto the platform and went over to the girl. He readjusted his glasses and wondered what to say next. V'lis watched him, big brown eyes and familiar nager both reflecting amusement. Then her face and her nager shifted, and the channel realized he was looking at a frightened and lonely young woman.
"Frevven, I'm scared. I don't want to go to Santenkaty Landing. That's where they send all the problems in this area."
"I'm sure it's only a precaution."
"That's what Chaynek says, but I don't know."
"Besides," Frevven went on, "Santenkaty Landing has the best treatment facilities in this entire Territory. You'll get the best of care there."
"Yes, so everyone assures me. But I'm afraid something will happen to the baby." She turned away and added in a forlorn voice, "Or to me."
Frevven took her gently by the shoulders and turned her around to face him. Since they were both just about the same height, she had to look down quickly to avoid meeting his eyes. "Whatever happened to the confident, cheerful V'lissia I knew on Innsfrey Island?" he queried, lifting her chin with two tentacles. Still she stared down at the ground.
"I don't know. I guess she's gotten a little older, and wiser. Frevven, I got into all kinds of trouble because of what we did. I--I've never had people angry with me like that before. I don't like it."
She leaned her head forward against Frevven's shoulder, and he hugged her. Although he was almost at turnover her field wasn't high enough to seriously bother him. And she sounded as if she could use a hug. "I know. I didn't like it too well myself. But what's done is done. All that matters now is for you and the baby to be safe."
"I suppose you're right. If only I didn't feel so worn out and tired all the time."
"Chaynek's coming," Frevven warned. V'lis straightened up and pushed a strand of dark hair back from her face. Her cheerful smile fooled her approaching cousin, but not Frevven.
"Everything's all set, V'lis," the Gen remarked. "Coach'll be leaving as soon as all the passengers are aboard."
"I guess I should be going then. You'll both come visit me, won't you? No excuses now," she chided playfully. "Santenkaty Landing is only about twenty miles upriver."
"We'll come," Chaynek promised, taking his young cousin in his arms and kissing her cheek. "And this spring you'll visit us here in Danversport, along with your little daughter."
"I hope so." She turned to the channel. "Good-bye, Frevven."
"So long, V'lis. You know my thoughts are with you."
Neither of them made a move toward the other, but for a moment their fields meshed smoothly together. Then the nageric link was broken and V'lis turned toward the waiting coach. Lifting her long skirt so it wouldn't trail through the muddy snow in the street, the young woman descended from the platform and climbed into the coach, along with several other passengers.
The driver cracked his whip over his horses' heads and the coach moved forward, horses straining at their harnesses to pull the heavy coach through the half-frozen muck.
Chaynek looked down at the worried little channel standing next to him. "Truly, Frevven, she'll be fine," he said d reassuringly.
"Truly, Chaynek," Frevven replied, mimicking the Gen's characteristic phraseology, "she'd better be. Come on, it's about time we got back to the Center."
As the days melted away into a week, and then two weeks, so the snow melted away into slush, then mud, and then only a memory. Rain and wind swept through the town, and the voice of Danversport Light was heard often now, as the warm breeze and icy ocean mated and gave birth to the thick fogs of early springtime.
Frevven looked up from his paperwork and gazed absently at the grey haze outside his window. From his office located as it was on the second floor of the Center, he should have been able to see most of the harbor, with its busy panorama of ships bound in and out. If the fog hadn't lifted by this late in the morning, it would probably remain all day. He turned up the flame of the oil lamp on his desk to compensate for the lack of illumination coming through the window. He took off his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes before picking up another sheet of paper. Just then, one of his co-workers came to the door and leaned in.
"Frevven, you're wanted in the Controller's office."
Frevven sighed. "What's up?"
"Don't know. But he said immediately."
Frevven put on his glasses and stood up. He tucked his shirt more neatly into his pants and straightened his collar. Then he looked at his reflected image in the hazy windowpane and tried to push his hair back to look as if he didn't require a haircut so much. Controller Shagoury was a stickler for appearances, and Frevven was well aware he was already far down on the Controller's list of favorite people. He racked his brain for any possible transgression he might have committed as he made his way along the corridors to Shagoury's office, but he couldn't think of anything.
The Controller looked up as Frevven entered the room, and his displeasure at seeing the other channel was easy to zlin.
"You wished to see me, sir?" Frevven was determined to keep his own nager politely neutral.
Shagoury nodded shortly and waved him over to a chair with a negligent flick of one tentacle.
"You're to go to the harbormaster's office right away. She seems to have a problem."
"But what can I possibly do to help the harbormaster?"
Shagoury looked impatient. "She asked me for a channel who speaks English fluently. A bunch of foreign Gens from a ship that just anchored in the bay are in her office and none of her usual translators can figure out what they're talking about."
"Well, I know English well enough, but I can't speak any other foreign languages," Frevven protested, puzzled.
"One of the Gens knows a little English, but it's very broken and strangely accented. Most of her translators learned English; you grew up with it. Maybe you'll be more successful." He shrugged. "Anyway, something's wrong, because they're all excited and upset. No sooner did their ship drop anchor than the entire crew came ashore in a rush. Of course, it's probably nothing serious, but we can't take any chances."
Frevven thought this over for a moment before he replied. "Actually, Controller, it would be highly unlikely for a Gen ship to risk coming into Danversport Harbor in this fog unless they had an extremely good reason."
Shagoury frowned. "Well, you know more about out-Territory Gens than I do. I didn't grow up out-Territory." And his low opinion of any channel who had was quite obvious. "At any rate, see if you can be of some assistance to the harbormaster. If you find anything really wrong and you can't handle it, just let me know and I'll send someone who can."
Frevven was angry at that last slur on his ability and wasn't quite quick enough to keep it from showing. Shagoury looked at him with a smug expression on his face.
"Is there something you wish to say?" the Controller inquired blandly.
"No, sir," Frevven replied and stood up to leave.
Frevven had almost reached the door when Shagoury added, "Oh, and Hajene Aylmeer . . ."
He turned back. "Yes, Controller?"
"Get your hair cut. You look disgraceful."
Frevven walked calmly through the Center, took his heavy cape from the coat room, and was striding rapidly down the street in the chilly dampness before he permitted himself to even think about his feelings toward Controller Shagoury. Three blocks later, when he had exhausted his inventory of nasty names and vile imprecations, he felt somewhat better. He even laughed to himself to think that he had let the Controller's contempt bother him so. He might have to work under the man, but he didn't have to either like or respect him. And he would assuredly not vote for him in the next election. Anyone with such a narrow-minded prejudice against people born out-Territory had no business being Controller in a cosmopolitan community such as Danversport.
Frevven cut through a narrow sidestreet down to the main roadway leading along the water, considering it a more interesting walk down by the docks.
The waterfront was busy as usual, with a constant bustle of wagons carrying goods to and from the waiting ships. Row upon row of masts were visible through the heavy fog, most of them belonging to the small commercial schooners that plied their trade up and down the coast. All out-Territory Gen-operated ships were restricted to a separate section of the harbor further along, their activities carefully supervised and subject to strict regulations. All business dealings were held in the harbormaster's offices, which were strategically located at the foot of the largest wharf in the Gen section.
As Frevven drew nearer to that office, the masts grew abruptly taller and their tops got lost in the grey mist. These were the ocean-going barks, barquentines, brigs, and full-rigged ships of the out-Territory fleet. Currently they greatly outnumbered the Sime ships, despite the uncontested superiority of Sime navigational ability. But not for much longer, Frevven reflected with satisfaction, thinking of the new vessels under construction at the Danversport shipyard under the auspices of the House of Shaeldor. The builders had even gone so far as to bring in a woodworking consultant all the way from Householding Turan, on the far-distant western coast of the continent, and great pains were being taken to insure that when the new Sime ships ventured across the oceans, they would be not only seaworthy but beautiful.
Frevven turned up the walkway outside the large gray-shingled building containing the harbormaster's offices, and squelched through puddles of muddy water on the much-used path to the front entrance. The door opened before he could reach for the knob and a Sime woman stood anxiously before him, nager unsettled and upset.
"It's about time you got here!" she greeted him. "I'm Emalia Ryder, the harbormaster. Come inside. Has Controller Shagoury told you what's going on?"
Frevven nodded and stomped the muck off his shoes before going through the door. "All right, where are these foreigners everybody's so concerned about?"
"Well, most of them are having a bite to eat in the dining hall, but the officers, or at least the ones we think are the officers, are waiting upstairs in the conference room. Come, I'll take you there."
As they walked along the hall, Emalia continued, "They're kind of funny-looking Gens."
"Yes. Their eyes are sort of slanty and their faces are strange. They must be from very far away."
"Possibly," Frevven replied, beginning to get curious about these exotic strangers.
After they reached the conference room and he was actually confronted by the foreign Gens, he found he had to agree with Emalia's evaluation. They did have a decidedly different appearance. Five men, dressed in the style of sailors long at sea, sat or stood near the large stone fireplace, conversing rapidly in an incomprehensible language. As the two Simes entered the room, the conversation stopped short and all the men rose to their feet. The ambient nager was heavy with fear and apprehension, but there was no hostility, and the fear seemed to Frevven to be directed towards something other than himself or the Sime standing beside him. One of the Gens, better dressed and with a certain intangible air of authority, seemed more distraught than his fellows. Frevven pegged him as the probable captain of the foreign ship.
"Do any of you speak English?" the channel inquired slowly and distinctly. He shifted his thoughts out of Simelan and back into his childhood language, ignoring the flood of old memories revived by the familiar syllables. He'd have been very happy never to have to speak English again, but it was convenient at times.
One of the strangers took a step forward and bowed slightly.
An hour later, Frevven thought he had a general idea of what had happened aboard the Gen whaling ship. He wasn't too clear on some of the details, but the gist of the story was that the captain, embarking on a voyage expected to be of several years duration, had brought his wife and young daughter along on the trip, a somewhat unusual but by no means unheard of practice. The wife sickened and died early in the voyage, leaving only the daughter, Miyoku. After a time, the girl adapted to life on her father's vessel, making friends with the sailors and participating happily in the shipboard activities. Over three weeks ago, however, she had become ill. Since she was well past her fourteenth birthday, everyone assumed she had established long ago and it wasn't realized that she was in changeover until too late.
After killing the ship's doctor, who had been attending her at the time, she fled from the crew and took refuge in the lowest hold of the ship. Her father wouldn't allow any attempt to capture or kill his daughter. Instead, he ordered the hold secured tightly and guarded at all times, and turned his vessel toward the nearest land.
Even so, it was all he could do to keep his terrified crew from mutiny, and he had risked sailing into Danversport in last night's treacherous fog, knowing Miyoku's time was rapidly running out. Frevven was frankly surprised that the captain had been ready to risk so much for his Sime daughter, and found himself more than a little curious about the culture from which the strangers had come. He tried to make the captain understand that he would do his best to save the girl, and then asked Emalia to get him a boat to take him out to the ship.
"You sure you want to do that?" she objected. "I mean, you're way past turnover and I'm sure we could get someone else."
Frevven had no real desire to crawl through the foul holds of a whaling ship in search of a possibly dead, probably deranged, and certainly desperate junct Sime. But he had less desire to face Controller Shagoury's entirely justified contempt if he failed to do so.
"Don't worry about it, Harbormaster Ryder. Just find me a boat as fast as you can."
Still looking uncertain, Emalia did as he requested.
Frevven sat in the stern of the little boat, becoming increasingly more damp and miserable as he was rowed through the fog-shrouded harbor toward the foreign ship. A slight breeze stirred the surface of the bay and sent mist swirling uneasily about the ghostly silhouettes of vessels at anchor. As he wiped the gathering droplets of water off his glasses yet again, Frevven wondered if he shouldn't have requested someone else to go fetch the girl. After all, he did have the excuse of being almost in need and not feeling quite up to this sort of thing. He'd read about the whaling industry and the whole idea revolted him. He shuddered as he pictured the mutilated carcasses of huge whales tied next to the ship, their flesh hanging in strips and their blood reddening the water.
The foghorn on Danversport Light howled once again and the sound reflected across the water, adding to the atmosphere of desolation and loneliness. Frevven fidgeted on the hard wooden seat and wished they'd reach the ship soon so he could get this over. A ship was becoming visible through the fog up ahead and the unhappy channel squinted through his smeared glasses in an effort to make it out. The shape was unusual and the masts and yards appeared to be at strange angles. This looked hopeful; perhaps the wretched ride was almost over. The little boat was rowed purposefully under the bowsprit of the foreign vessel, careful to avoid the heavy anchor chain, and Frevven looked up at the intricately carved dragon that served as a figurehead. Then they were alongside and had caught hold of the boarding ladder that still hung from the rail high above their heads.
"You want us to come with you, Hajene Aylmeer?" one of the boat's crew asked dubiously.
Figuring that none of the other Simes were any more anxious to go aboard the whaling ship than he was, Frevven replied, "No, just wait here. I should be back shortly with the girl."
Trying to appear confident, he climbed the rope ladder and surveyed the deck of the strange vessel. Water dripped steadily from the yards, but there was no other sign of activity. Well, foreign it might be, but a ship was still a ship. Frevven looked around for an entrance to the lower decks. He found what he was looking for and descended the companionway ladder into the upper hold. There was barely enough space to stand upright and the darkness was relieved only by the weak shaft of light coming down through the hatchway. As the ship swayed gently from side to side, shadows danced around the stacked barrels of water, food, and other stored supplies. The pervasive reek of blubber, whale blood, and death was nauseating, but Frevven pushed the stench out of his mind. He knew it had to be even worse in the lower hold, for the huge casks of whale oil that formed the valuable cargo of this long and dangerous expedition were stored there.
Seeing a lantern hanging on a bulkhead, Frevven struck a match and turned the flame as high as it would go. Then he went over to the hatchway leading down to the next deck. The hatch had been reinforced by a pair of iron bars securely clamped in place. He removed the bars and heaved the hatch open, augmenting to move the massive wooden cover off to one side.
The idea of being trapped down in that foul pit filled Frevven's mind with loathing, and he longed to race back up to the deck just to be free of the imprisoning bulkheads and the stench of death. He knew he had to go down there; he just didn't know how he could summon the nerve to do so. Horror danced in the waving shadows at the edge of the pool of light spread by his lantern and his thoughts shied away from his next move. But he zlinned a Sime on the deck below, already in need, confused, and terrified by the prospect of an intruder after weeks of being trapped alone. And he recognized his own irrational fear as merely a reflection of hers. The channel concentrated, forcing the terror from his mind and trying to zlin the girl's exact location. There, he had it. She was far forward, almost at the bow, crouched behind a barrel of oil. He closed his eyes, blocking out everything but the girl. She pulled herself slowly up and peeked over the top of the barrel, watching the dim light spilling down through the open hatch.
(And behind his closed eyelids, Frevven saw another time, another child, peering in confused terror and sorrow over the top of a cold granite boulder. He shivered as the winter wind blew through his thin clothing and watched as the minister read the funeral service over the body of his dead sister. Fingers and tentacles were blue and numb with cold where he hugged the boulder, but the child felt the coldness only in his broken heart as he saw his father cast a handful of earth into the open grave and heard him say clearly, "I shall mourn my son even as I bury my daughter. Both my children are now dead. May God have mercy on their souls." The child pressed his cheek against the rough granite and wept soundlessly and hopelessly as the funeral party left. Later that same day he had been found at his sister's graveside by some of the townspeople and had basely escaped with his life. The child fled desperately into the mountain, around the sheltered little village. And just kept running.)
Frevven opened his eyes and returned with a shock to the current reality. He crouched and held his lantern down into the dark hatchway, illuminating the tiers of barrels he already knew were there. Shifting the lantern from fingers to tentacles, he turned and climbed down the ladder. If there was someone he could reach, someone who, like him, hid crying in the darkness of their own horror, he had to try.
("They never helped you," a hate-filled voice whispered in his mind. "No one was there when you were lost and crying." "Shut up," he replied soundlessly. "There have been others since.")
His feet touched the deck, slick with spilled oil. Foul water sloshed in the bilge as the heavy ship swung on its anchor. A rat skittered away into the darkness. Frevven walked cautiously forward.
"Miyoku, are you there? I mean you no harm. Come out with me now, Miyoku. You're safe." He went on talking, knowing the girl couldn't possibly understand his words but hoping she might respond to his tone and the repetition of her name. Her fear was like a beacon, guiding him easily in the semi-darkness, and he knew she could now zlin him just as clearly, if she knew how to interpret her Sime senses.
(The boy stumbled up the slippery mountainside, bushes and tree limbs reaching out from the surrounding gloom to threaten and catch him. Somewhere in the forest an animal screamed shortly and was silent. Exhausted, the boy fell on his face in a snowbank and wished for death. The full moon rose slowly over the shoulder of the worn mountain peak and glistened on the ice-glazed snow.)
Frevven held the lantern up over his head and continued to move forward. His foot encountered a coil of heavy rope and he climbed over it, still talking to the unseen girl crouched among the barrels just ahead of him. With a faint rustle of clothing, the girl stood up. Almond-shaped eyes regarded the channel from a dirt-smeared face. She spoke haltingly, but the words were only gibberish to Frevven. He smiled and gestured for her to come out from her hiding place. She cocked her head to one side and frowned, as if uncertain of what she saw.
(The boy watched as the moon climbed deliberately up into the sky. Its light reflected across the snowfield and seemed to form a path to where he lay. He staggered to his feet and stumbled forward. Somewhere he knew there were others. Somewhere there would be those who could understand. He wouldn't give up just yet. There had to be something out there for him, despite everything. There had to be.)
Miyoku vaulted over the barrel and landed neatly on her feet in front of Frevven. Her hair was filthy and matted and her clothes hung in greasy tatters, but there was hope in her eyes as she took the Channel's outstretched hand.
Controller Shagoury listened impassively as Frevven recounted the incident later that afternoon. He deliberately made no mention of the disturbing flashbacks to his own childhood experiences, but simply related the objective events.
"So the girl's all right now?" the Controller asked. "No sign of permanent mental damage or physical impairment?"
"Other than the fact that she's junct, she appears to be making a satisfactory adjustment, sir. It might take her a little longer than usual to learn Simelan, considering there's no one who can speak her native language to teach her, but I'm sure that will present no real problem."
Shagoury nodded and glanced briefly over Frevven's written report and Miyoku's chart. Frevven waited, wishing for the interview to be over so he could return to his regular work. The Controller looked up and fixed his gaze on the uncomfortable little channel sitting opposite him. "Well, normally I'd send the girl directly to Santenkaty Landing for them to handle her disjunction. But I see she's only a few days away from need, so I think we'd best keep her here until after her transfer. Since you've been dealing with her so far, I'm adding her to your caseload. She knows you, and besides," he smiled smugly, "you're probably better at dealing with juncts than the rest of the staff, considering your background."
Frevven refused to show his annoyance, so the Controller went on, "Next week you can take the girl up to Santenkaty Landing. I believe there's a certain young lady there who would very much appreciate seeing you again, no? Or don't you find her attractive any more?"
"I continue to take an interest in Ms. Chalmer's well-being," Frevven replied evenly, well aware of the veiled contempt underlying Shagoury's words. "I would be happy for the opportunity to visit her."
"Very well." The Controller handed Miyoku's file to Frevven and dismissed him with the cryptic parting remark, "She's all yours."
Back in his own office, Frevven copied Miyoku's name on his schedule for next week and added her chart to the stack waiting to be filed. He picked up the list of his assignments for the next couple of days, heading down the hall to the room where the central files were kept.
The clerk who was usually responsible for keeping the files wasn't around. Frevven didn't feel like waiting so he walked around the partition and began looking up names. Many of them were complete strangers, but Frevven found a number of names he recognized from last month. And the month before. Concentrating, he could even match faces to some of those names.
As he knelt on the floor searching through the bottom drawer of one of the filing cabinets for the final name on his list, he began to wonder why he was getting such a high percentage of repeats, considering the size of the Sime population in Danversport. He shifted to a crosslegged position on the dusty carpet and sorted the charts he had collected into two piles, familiar and unfamiliar. Then he curiously leafed through the familiar ones. They had all, he noticed with satisfaction, specifically requested reassignment to him.
Well, I must be doing something right, he congratulated himself. Then he noticed they had one other factor in common also: they were all junct. And Danversport, because of its accessibility to out-Territory Gens, had a very small number of juncts, mostly in specialized professions where no other qualified personnel could be found. Of course, Northeast Coast Territory, coming under Tecton jurisdiction nearly ten years after Unity, still had a large residual population of Simes who were simply too old to disjunct, but who went without killing for as long as possible. Intellectually, Frevven knew all this. He even knew that most juncts preferred to go for transfer to disjunct channels, rather than to channels who had never known the kill. It was just that it hadn't occurred to him to realize that this applied to him. He had always thought he was a special case, priding himself on being just like any non-junct channel and offering transfer strictly according to Tecton approved guidelines and tolerances. Apparently, it hadn't worked.
He let the last chart slide to the floor from suddenly numb fingers and handling tentacles and sat wondering what he had been doing wrong for all these years.
For the third month in a row Frevven's assigned Donor was someone just barely within range of what was considered acceptable. Frevven was annoyed and resolved that he would register a formal complaint against his Controller if the same thing happened again next month.
His Donor was an elderly man, or at least he seemed so from the channel's not-quite-thirty-year-old point of view. Frevven was more than usually careful during the transfer and, as a result, found it to be less than satisfactory. Nevertheless, while the man lacked the flexibility of youth, his understanding competence helped get Frevven through a postsyndrome that might have been much worse. By the time he reached the point of looking up the Sime woman who was his sexual assignee this month, he felt reasonably stable. Unfortunately, he did not feel very interested sexually, but that wasn't terribly unusual for him. He managed to go through the motions, not wanting to get summoned to Controller Shagoury's office for a lecture on the necessity of avoiding the CD's. That would have been the last straw.
On the morning that Frevven and Miyoku set out for Santenkaty Landing it was one of those days that seemed warm in comparison to the bitter weather just passed, although the same sort of day coming in autumn would send everyone in search of heavy coats.
Having said good-bye to her father and watched his ship stand out to sea several days ago, the girl appeared to have accepted her new circumstances and was making every effort to adapt to life in a twice-foreign land. A substantial sum of money had been left her by her grateful father and one day it would come in very handy. A brief flash of bitterness brought a frown to Frevven's face as he reflected that her choice of occupation and chances of advancement would inevitably be limited by the stigma of having once been junct.
Grinning happily, Miyoku kicked her horse into a gallop and took off along the straight stretch of road ahead. The Passaconway River was over half a mile wide at this point and the road to Santenkaty Landing followed the river all the way from Danversport. Watching the girl as his own horse plodded patiently along the sandy trail, Frevven saw her rein in, turn, and gallop back. With a delighted whoop she tore her cap from her head and tossed it far out over the blue-green river. Frevven was going to admonish her, but as she rode up alongside him, black hair flying wildly around her face and unrestrained joy brightening her nager, he decided the loss of a hat was a minor consideration just now.
"Such happiness! To be again in the--" she gestured to the wide sky, low-growing trees, and shining river, but couldn't come up with the correct word "--freedom?" she finished uncertainly.
"Miyoku, your grasp of Simelan still leaves much to be desired," Frevven replied with amusement. "Well, no matter. You're learning." He supplied her with the correct word for out-of-doors and tried to explain how to construct a sentence properly, but the girl's attention was obviously on her new surroundings rather than on his words, so he gave up the effort.
"Go on, ride," he said, and, as she took off up the trail once more, "but don't get too far ahead of me. And don't tire your horse."
As she galloped away he finished to himself, "I only wish I was as anxious to get where we're going as you are, my young friend."
Santenkaty Landing was a small town, far less populous than Danversport and much less frequently visited. Towering over the host of white-painted or gray-shingled cottages, the complex of tall brick buildings making up the Tecton's new Center for Special Problems completely dominated the town.
With the setting of the sun, a cold breeze sprang up, so Frevven and his charge were glad to see the lighted windows of Santenkaty Landing twinkling and reflecting in the water just around the bend of the river. Miyoku had soon tired of riding off on her own and had spent most of the trek keeping pace with Frevven. As they approached their destination she had questioned the channel in her halting Simelan about what she was likely to encounter.
Never one for sugar coating the truth, Frevven had told her as plainly as he could what it was like to disjunct. As a result, her enthusiasm of earlier in the day was considerably diminished. As they dismounted and turned their tired horses over to a waiting stable boy, Frevven could read only anxiety and grim determination in her nager. Putting one arm lightly around her shoulders he steered her up the stairs to the front door.
"Hey, cheer up. It probably won't be as bad as what you've already been through," he said quietly as he opened the door. "And there'll be lots of people around to help."
She smiled and her nager brightened. Or perhaps it was just the brightly lit foyer and the welcoming expression on the receptionist's face that made the chilled travelers feel that the room glowed.
After he had seen Miyoku settled in her new quarters, Frevven inquired as to where he might find V'lissia. Carefully following the directions he received, he threaded his way through the interconnecting corridors of several buildings. When he heard the clamor of children's voices ahead he considered the possibility that he had taken a wrong turn somewhere, incredible as that might seem. Nevertheless, he continued on and glanced hesitantly through the glass window of a door marked "Staff Nursery" to find V'lis surrounded by a group of toddlers who appeared to be in various stages of undress, preparatory to getting into their pajamas. Singing a cheery nonsense song all the while, V'lis snuggled a foot in here, guided an arm there, fastened a troublesome button, wiped a runny nose, and sent the entire mob scampering off to their beds as Frevven stood and watched.
As each child settled itself under the blankets, V'lissia went from bed to bed, bending awkwardly over her distended abdomen, to kiss each tiny head and give the coverlet a final tuck. This done, she extinguished the candles and turned toward the door. Frevven half raised one hand and twined his tentacles in a gesture of greeting as she caught sight of him. She hurried across the room, quietly admonishing a restless child as she went. Then she stood in the corridor, smiling with delight at the channel.
Before Frevven could say a word V'lis put her finger to her lips and then pointed to a sitting area a short way down the hall. Once there, she sank wearily into a chair, resting one hand on her stomach.
"Chaynek wrote that you would be bringing us a new girl," she said, "but he didn't tell me exactly when. How goes everything in Danversport?"
"Fine, fine," he assured her. "How are you here? Don't tell me they've put you to work?"
"Oh, just a few hours with the children of our night staff, that's all. I'm glad to do it. I feel so useless otherwise. It seems ages since I've been able to work as a Donor and, of course, they won't let me help in the disjunction cases, which is mostly what we have at this Center, except for those of us on the maternity ward. Sometimes I help the other mothers with their newborn babies. It could be worse." She shrugged. "But I am getting kind of bored with waiting. I'll be glad when this is over."
"So will I," Frevven agreed readily.
"Really? Think you'll like being a father after all?" Expertly mimicking Chaynek's serious expression and tone of voice she went on, "Truly, Frevven, I just can't picture you changing a baby, or rocking it to sleep."
The imitation was so accurate even her nager seemed to shift into her older cousin's pattern. Surprised, Frevven laughed. "Stop it, V'lis. Next thing I know you'll be giving me one of Chaynek's lectures on something or other."
She joined in his laughter before changing the subject. "Have you met the director of the Center yet? Tamsin Farris?"
"No," he answered, suddenly very interested. "I've heard of her although we've never met."
"Oh, you'd like Tamsin. She's marvellous." V'lis studied the expression on Frevven's face and then teased, "But you think all Farrises are marvellous, don't you? Oh, don't get annoyed, silly. If they're all like Tamsin perhaps I'll have to agree with you. How long can you stay here? She's away for a couple of days, but we expect her by the end of the week."
"I have to get back to Danversport tomorrow."
"Well, I'll just have to introduce you some other time. Maybe when you come to see our daughter."
V'lis was silent for a moment and Frevven sensed uncertainty, as if she wanted to say something more, but was not sure if she should.
"Frevven," she began at last, "have you ever considered working at Santenkaty Center? I bet you'd be good at it."
"No," he replied sharply. "I'm very happy where I am."
"Or is it," she ventured, "that you just don't want to be reminded of--"
"V'lis, please," he interrupted, "you're beginning to sound like Chaynek again."
"OK, but I still think you'd be good at it."
The awkward silence lengthened. Just then a young Sime arrived to relieve V'lis of responsibility for the nursery, so she and Frevven resumed their conversation over a pot of trin tea in the recreation room. Later on, Frevven insisted on escorting her back to her room to go to sleep, overriding her protests that she wasn't tired, not really.
V'lissia was still sound asleep just before dawn the following morning when Frevven bid Miyoku farewell and walked to the stable to fetch his horse. The sky ahead of him turned grey and pink, then gold, as he rode down the trail to Danversport. At the bend in the river he turned and looked back.
The Passaconway flowed slowly by, grey and smooth as metal in the still air. A fine haze hung low over the water, but the top windows of Santenkaty Center caught the sun and blazed as if they were on fire. Just so had the buildings of Zeor appeared to him, windows red-flamed by a setting sun, when he had been sent there for his own disjunction so many years ago. But the buildings of Zeor had burned in more than illusion, by order of Muryin Farris, and the structures he remembered so well were merely ashes strewn across the mountains by the wind.
As he kicked his horse into a trot and continued along the road, Frevven was followed by the ghosts of memories he would much rather have forgotten completely.
With Miyoku gone Frevven's life settled back into the comfortable routine to which he was accustomed. The days grew milder, and the wind, blowing more often now from a southerly direction, brought the damp fresh smell of growing things and the promise of renewed life.
As Faith Day approached, Chaynek was granted a few days off and planned to visit V'lis on his way inland to the local Zeor gathering. Trying hard not to give way to his usual envy of Chaynek's Householding affiliation, Frevven spent long hours choosing a present he could send along to V'lissia.
The stores and shops of Danversport carried a huge variety of goods, some imported from halfway around the world, so it was no easy choice. He finally settled on an assortment of culinary delicacies from various foreign lands, each carrying an import stamp and a tag proclaiming it to be edible by Gens. Frevven wasn't even entirely certain what some of the items were, but he knew V'lis' curiosity would be tickled by the strange choice of snacks.
It was busier than expected at the Center over Faith Day since a large number of out-Territory ships were in the harbor and many of their crews unanimously requested permission to make donations in honor of the holiday. This was the first year such a thing had happened on so large a scale and the Center's staff was fairly swamped. Frevven was just as glad. It took his mind off the fact that he wasn't ambrov anything, much less Zeor.
After the flurry of activity occasioned by Faith Day had run its course, it was time to prepare for the approach of warmer weather. On mild days amateur as well as professional carpenters and painters were industriously repairing the ravages left behind by the dying winter. Frevven was kept busy filling out requisitions for supplies and preliminary requests for the assignment of extra personnel for the Center during the coming summer, when the influx of vacationers enjoying the beaches and cosmopolitan shopping of the port city would severely strain the available facilities.
Frevven got so involved in these preparations that he even put aside his genealogical research project until later. And, as fuzzy pussywillows clustered and fattened on their branches and crocus poked their heads expectantly up from the cold soil, he had no time to realize that the weeks were passing and his usual letter from V'lissia was long overdue.
Frevven woke up in the grip of a half-realized terror that something was wrong, dreadfully wrong. Before he was wholly alert he could hear Chaynek's voice calling his name and his entire system grated to the pounding of the Gen's knuckles on the hard mahogany panel of his door. The channel jumped out of bed and yanked the door open, furious at the other man's lack of consideration.
"Chaynek, for heaven's sake, stop it!! You're driving me up the wall," he began angrily, then stopped.
Chaynek stood in the pouring rain, nager totally distraught with anxiety and fear, and the whole chaotic mess driven by his currently high-to-the-point-of-transfer field. Frevven blanched, retreated to the other end of the room, and sat down on his bed. "Dear God, what happened?" he gasped.
Seeing the effect he was having on Frevven, Chaynek pulled his shattered nager back to at least a semblance of normality before he stepped into the room.
"V'lis is in labor," he said raggedly, "four weeks early. A messenger just arrived from Santenkaty Landing. They want her next of kin." He let the channel consider this for a moment. "Frevven, I can't go. Look at me. I have a transfer assignment tomorrow morning, and I can't just walk out on him at this point. I can't. But V'lis--"
He left it hanging, but Frevven's mind, calculating distance and time for a message to arrive, finished relentlessly with--could already be dead.
"I'll go, Chaynek." He pulled off his nightshirt and rummaged through the closet for a pair of pants.
As the channel proceeded to get dressed, Chaynek objected, "Are you sure? You're due for transfer pretty soon yourself, aren't you?"
Buttoning his shirt, Frevven answered absently, "Three days, six hours, two minutes. I can manage. No matter what happens, I'll be back by then." He pulled on his riding boots, leaned into the bathroom, and tossed the Gen a towel. "Chaynek, dry off, stay here awhile, have some tea, calm down. And then go explain to Controller Shagoury where I am."
"He won't like this," Chaynek replied, drying his face and hair. "You'll be in trouble."
"I've been in trouble before."
As Frevven strode over to the door and put on his cape, the Gen stood up. "Tell V'lis--" he began, but his voice broke and his nager frayed before he could finish.
"I'll tell her," Frevven promised. Then he started down the street at a dead run toward the Center's stables, heedless of the pelting rain.
As Frevven rode desperately through that miserable night, memories ran through his head of the births he had attended and assisted as a channel. He had known and shared that agony several times in the course of his career, each time wondering anew at the courage of women who willingly risked so much for the sake of a new and unknown life. He pictured V'lissia's face contorted with pain; or worse, already stiff and cold in death.
No, it wouldn't happen that way. She had been doing well, the foetus developing normally. It would be all right. It had to be. But being born so soon, before the baby was ready, before V'lis was ready--too much could go wrong. And if V'lis died, he would never forgive himself. The storm-lashed countryside flew by around him, but Frevven saw only his own nightmares and dark imaginings as he urged his horse to run still faster along the empty road. Soon he was forced to slow down, realizing he would ride his mount into the ground if he didn't. Whatever happened had happened already. His presence would not make any difference in the fate of V'lissia or their newborn. It was small comfort, but hard fact.
The rain slowed and finally stopped. Frevven reached Santenkaty Landing just as the sky was turning pale with the first hint of dawn. Unable to restrain his impatience any longer, he galloped through the streets and up to the Center, where he leaped off his exhausted horse and raced up the few stairs leading to the entrance of the main building. He pounded insistently against the heavy door, cursing under his breath at the delay.
Finally, the door swung open and a rather annoyed renSime stood looking out at the impatient channel. "OK, OK. What do you want?" he asked querulously.
Frevven pushed him aside and strode into the foyer.
"Here now, where do you think you're going? We have patients here. You can't just come barging in like this," the man objected.
Frevven turned on him and hissed fiercely, "I want to see V'lissia Chalmers. Right now."
The other Sime backed away from the menace in Frevven's voice, but one hand reached out to an ornately-decorated bell pull hanging by the doorway and he yanked on it several times.
Frevven cursed and then decided to try being reasonable. "Look, I only want to see V'lis. I'm the father of her child and I came a long way to find out if she's all right."
Frevven heard the snick of a door being opened behind him and froze in astonishment. A woman's voice demanded, "All right, what's going on out here?"
He turned around apprehensively, already half knowing what he would see just by the feel of her nager. The woman was tall and aristocratic, with black hair that fell to her shoulders. Everything about her spelled "Farris." Frevven was suddenly appalled by his own rude behavior. "I--I only wanted to see V'lissia," he stammered.
The woman's black eyes raked over him and she raised one eyebrow speculatively. Then she turned to the renSime. "Dave, please go see to his horse. He's probably left it standing outside." As the man obeyed, she looked back at the channel. "You would be Frevven Aylmeer, unless I miss my guess."
It was all Frevven could do to nod.
She shook her head and smiled. "You don't have to look so terrified. I'm not going to bite you, you know. My name is Tamsin Farris and I run this facility," she went on, extending her hand to the awe-struck channel. Frevven barely touched her fingertips and bowed slightly.
"I am honored," he said, beginning to get over his surprise. He pushed his glasses up against the bridge of his nose with one dorsal tentacle and couldn't think of anything more to say.
"Well," Tamsin remarked, "you came all this way to see V'lis, didn't you? Come on, I'll take you to her. It was a hard delivery, but she's in fairly good condition now. Congratulations, you're the father of a beautiful baby girl. She's a tiny little thing and we were worried at first, but she seems to be doing well. In case you're interested, there's every indication your daughter's a channel, judging by her prenatal selyn draw."
Frevven followed the other channel down the hallway, his thoughts in a wild turmoil. Tamsin opened a door and walked inside, motioning to Frevven to wait.
"V'lis, my dear, you have company. Do you feel up to it?" he heard her ask.
"Who is it?" V'lissia's voice came faintly through the half-closed door.
Surprise, and joy. "Oh, good. Let him in, please. He'll want to see the baby."
Frevven felt unaccountably shy as he walked through the door. The morning sun shone through the window and illuminated the little room where V'lis sat propped up in bed, a blanket-wrapped bundle in her arms. She looked up at Frevven and smiled, but her face was drawn and pale and the dark circles under her eyes were a visible accompaniment to the exhaustion and just-past pain in her nager. She held one finger to her lips and then pointed down to the baby at her breast. "Shh," she whispered, "feeding time."
Frevven had the urge to tiptoe across the room, but that was difficult while wearing riding boots. He walked over next to V'lis and looked down at their daughter. The baby nursed with content, eyes closed and tiny fists clenched against her chest. Then she hiccuped and her head lolled sideways.
V'lissia shifted the infant so that Frevven could get a better look at her. "What do you think? Does she take after you, or me?" she asked.
Unaccustomed as he was to babies, he was somewhat taken aback by the wrinkled, red-faced infant. Actually, she didn't look much like either of them. And she looked too tiny to even be alive. Very cautiously he touched one impossibly delicate fist with the tip of a ventral tentacle. The baby looked up, her greenish-gold eyes regarding him gravely. The tiny hand opened, then closed on Frevven's tentacle, much to his surprise.
"Look at that," Tamsin said softly. "You'd almost think she recognized her father, wouldn't you?"
"What did you name her?" Frevven asked, unable to look away from those eyes so like his own.
"Valthea," V'lis replied. "Do you like it?"
"Valthea," he repeated, "Valthea--," just the slightest hint of hesitation, and regret, "--Chalmers."
"Valthea Aylmeer Chalmers," V'lis corrected him gently. "After all I thought you deserved some of the credit."
"Valthea Aylmeer Chalmers," he repeated, pleased. "Thank you, V'lis. Oh, I almost forgot! Chaynek sends his love. He'd have come with me if it had been possible."
"Oh, no! He must be worried to death by now!"
"Relax. I'll see that someone gets a message to him that you're all right," Tamsin reassured her. She turned to Frevven and added, "And do I guess that you're here without, shall we say, proper authorization from Controller Shagoury?"
Frevven nodded, red-faced.
"I thought as much. Well, I'll see if I can smooth matters out with him, somehow. I'll leave you two alone for a while now." She walked across the room to the door and then turned. "Before you leave, I'd like to see you in my office, Hajene Aylmeer." Frevven looked up in surprise. "Whenever you're done admiring your daughter, that is." she finished with a smile.
"Frevven, has it ever occurred to you that you might have a talent for dealing with the sort of cases we handle here at Santenkaty?"
Tamsin leaned her elbows on her desk and regarded the other channel over steepled fingers. He squirmed uncomfortably under her gaze.
"No, it hasn't. As a matter of fact, I haven't had much to do with facilities of this type. I rather prefer to work in other areas of my profession."
"I can understand that, but we do have a good number of youngsters, mostly from out-Territory, who require the best possible help they can get to make it through disjunction." She continued to regard him steadily, tentacles twining between her fingers. "And we also have a large population of Simes who were too old to disjunct when this Territory joined the Tecton. Most of them kill as seldom as possible, but--" she leaned forward slightly, "--they do kill. We're always on the lookout for any channel who can provide them with the most satisfying transfer possible in order to reduce the frequency with which they must resort to a true kill."
She let Frevven digest this information for a moment, watching for his reactions.
"There are now very few functioning disjunct channels in the Tecton. Most of them are getting old, having been trained prior to Unity and before the Tecton raised its standards. Except for yourself and a handful of others who had enough determination and perseverance to persuade the authorities to accept you, there are virtually no disjunct channels among the younger generation."
"I'd rather not get involved with this," he replied.
She nodded her head. Then she leaned back in her chair and regarded him levelly. "Frevven, I think I can appreciate how you feel. But, believe me, whatever you had to prove, you proved it a long time ago. You're a First Order channel. You've only recently run through those new tests they've been using and come out with a Proficiency Rating of 3.54, quite a respectable score. You've always done as well as anyone at your profession--"
"But you're pushing. You're always pushing. Can't you ever just relax and stop trying to prove your point?"
"Umm. Well, think it over," she went on. "I'd like to see you using your own particular talents to their best advantage, instead of wasting so much of your energy trying to be something you're not."
Frevven was not at all pleased with the direction this conversation had taken. "Hajene Farris, if it's all the same to you, I'm very happy with my assignment in Danversport. I'd prefer to stay right where I am," he replied doggedly.
"Very well," Tamsin conceded, "I suppose it's not up to me to decide what you do."
The two channels looked at each other and the silence stretched tensely between them. Frevven dropped his eyes first.
"Unless you're in a hurry to get back to Danversport, you're welcome to stay here until tomorrow. I imagine you've spent about enough time on horseback for one day, no? We can find you a room and some fresh clothes, if you would like."
"I think I'd like that very much," Frevven responded. Now that the excitement of seeing the baby had passed, he was uncomfortably aware of how dishevelled and grungy he was after riding through the night in the pouring rain.
"That's settled then. While you're here you might stop by to see Miyoku. She's not doing very well and I'm sure she'd appreciate a visit."
"What's wrong? She seemed fine when I brought her here a couple of months ago."
"It hasn't been easy for her. Just this morning she aborted during a transfer that should have been perfectly routine. We're not quite sure what went wrong. As soon as she pulls herself together a bit, we're going to try it again."
"She shouldn't be having so much trouble. Not this soon.
"I know," Tamsin agreed. "That's why I'm worried."
"Shall I go see her now?"
Tamsin considered. "No, better not. She's with one of our therapists. Wait until later, after I've had a chance to take care of her."
"Whatever you think best."
Frevven left Tamsin's office, following the receptionist's directions through the hallways to the rooms set aside for guests. Freshly scrubbed and dressed in clean clothes, he went back to V'lissia's room, to find the baby asleep in its cradle and V'lis eating lunch.
"Judging by how fast you're putting away that food, you seem to be making a quick recovery."
She swallowed a forkful of mashed potatoes and laughed. "I'm famished, and this is the first decent meal they have brought me since I started labor. Just look at this huge glass of milk I'm supposed to drink; and I hate the stuff!" She held her nose, picked up the glass, grimaced, and downed half of it in one swallow. "Ugh, I'd sooner drink fosebine." She leaned back against the pillows propping her up. "Actually, what I'd really like to do is sleep, but Val's going to wake up any minute now for her next feeding, so I guess I'll just have to wait a bit. Besides, you don't get to visit me too often and I'd hate to spend the entire time sleeping. What did Tamsin want?"
So Frevven told her about his conversation with Tam, skimming over as lightly as he could her suggestion that he come to work at Santenkaty Landing.
It wasn't long before Valthea woke up and cried fretfully for her next meal, so Frevven cleared away the tray of food from the bed and helped V'lis shift herself into a more comfortable position. Very gingerly he lifted their daughter from her cradle, tucking the blanket neatly around her with several tentacles while he held her in his hands. She continued to cry and fuss, flailing miniature fists free from the confining blanket, until she was delivered to her mother and properly settled at one breast.
For a brief space of time V'lis' attention was focused on the nursing infant and Frevven picked up a sense of satisfaction and protective love carried on V'lissia's faint nager, of fierce pride for the new life created out of her own substance and brought forth at great cost. It was a pleasant feeling and he enjoyed it. He knew, at the same time, that it was a mother's feeling, perhaps to be shared to some extent but never personally experienced by a father. Watching the baby nurse, he felt sadly excluded and alone, and was surprised that he should feel that way. Then the moment was gone, and V'lis looked up, all apology for having forgotten Frevven's presence so completely.
They talked for a while of plans for the future and Frevven was surprised to learn that V'lis intended to raise their daughter herself, rather than placing her in a foster home or a child-care institution as so many working channels and Donors did. He tried to dissuade her, knowing in her place he would have neither time nor energy for child-raising, but V'lis was sure she could manage both parenting and career, so he ended the discussion before it became an argument. All along, she had assumed full responsibility for the child, so that certainly entitled her to also make the decisions; but Frevven was just the slightest bit miffed anyway.
With her head still bent over the nursing infant, V'lissia glanced up through her long eyelashes and smiled coyly.
"How are you at changing diapers?"
As he attempted to fasten the second pin in the diaper, Valthea squirmed and he jabbed the pinpoint into one tentacle. V'lis laughed and then apologized.
"Well, at least I didn't stab the baby," he muttered in feigned annoyance.
"That's true. We'll make a father out of you yet," V'lis retorted.
Something at the edge of Frevven's awareness suddenly drew his attention and he turned, concentrating, still holding the freshly-diapered infant in his arms.
"Frevven? What is it?"
"I don't quite know. Something's wrong. Distress, anxiety, fear." His voice was distracted and distant.
"Here. Give the baby to me and go see what it is." V'lis' low field read calm and reassurance, plus carefully controlled concern for her child. Frevven did as she suggested.
"I'll be back later," he said, his mind elsewhere even as he started toward the door.
Following the disturbance to its source, Frevven found Tamsin Farris out on the lawn between buildings, trying to calm an excited young Sime and get a coherent explanation out of him. Frevven ran across the yard, arriving in time to hear most of the conversation.
"It's all my fault, Hajene Farris. I only left her alone for a minute, just to get some tea. She seemed so much better, I thought it would be all right. I never thought she'd disappear like this."
By now several other Simes had gathered around, responding to the young man's distress.
"We've got a runaway." Tam announced briefly, "Miyoku Tashima. Go round up all the off-duty personnel you can find and start a search. We've got to locate her fast or there could be trouble. She's in need."
The group scattered, scurrying to obey Tamsin's orders.
"Shall I help?" Frevven offered. "I know Miyoku fairly well and I could pick her out among the townspeople as well as anyone on your staff."
"You think she's left the Center's property already?"
"I would have if I was running away."
She nodded. "We can use all the help we can get." Then she turned away, in a hurry to organize the search parties.
Left alone in the center of the lawn, Frevven asked himself rhetorically, OK, where would you go if you were Miyoku, running scared and in need? If she was seeking a kill, she'd have made one by now. But if she were running, just running, not thinking clearly?? Off into the forest behind the town? "No, down to the water," he muttered, half aloud, "the river, the ocean. The only place she feels at home."
Late afternoon shadows lengthened around him as he strode along the street leading to the Passaconway. When he came upon the broad stretch of river, sullen water flowing slowly past the docks, he turned downstream, away from the busy center of town. Sliding easily into hyperconsciousness, he sought for his young friend, sensitivity heightened by his own impending need. He found what he sought on the far edges of his awareness, well ahead and off to his right: a small sailboat sitting peacefully alongside a rickety wooden pier running out into the river.
Frevven slowed to a walk as he came to the pier, not wanting to alarm the other Sime, who by now had to be aware of his approach. No one was on deck, but the sailcovers had been removed and lay in a heap in the cockpit and the main hatchway stood open.
"Miyoku, I know you're here," Frevven called softly, still on the dock. "Come out and talk to me."
Small waves lapped at the side of the sailboat, making a gurgling sound in the ensuing silence. Frevven stepped onto the boat and sat down by the tiller, leaning back and crossing his legs. "Come out, Miyoku. This gets us nowhere."
The girl appeared in the main hatchway. "Frevven? Is it really you, or am I imagining things again?"
"No, it's me."
She came up on deck, glancing warily across the water at the town as she did so.
"I'm alone," Frevven assured her. "Now, what's this all about? Where do you think you're going?"
"Anyplace away from here. I can't stand it at the Center. I can't disjunct. I'm going to die." With each sentence, her voice got higher and more hysterical. "I don't want to kill, but I can't survive if I don't."
"Yes, you can. And you will."
"No, no, I can't! I'm going crazy!" She threw herself down in the far corner of the cockpit and hid her face in her hands.
Knowing all too well what his young friend felt, Frevven continued remorselessly, "It's up to you to choose. I can't do it for you. Oh, I can argue, I can plead, I can threaten, but I can't make you disjunct. What you've done in the past is over, but you now hold the responsibility for the future." And even as the phrase came so glibly to the channel's lips, he wondered if he himself would ever truly learn that lesson.
"No, no," Miyoku wailed. "I can't stand it any longer. You don't know what it's like!"
Frevven refrained from pointing out the obvious. "Make up your mind you'll never kill again and accept that fact," he replied.
"That's easy for you to say. You're a channel. You're entitled to transfer with a Gen every month."
"Yes, that's true. But I'm entitled to a Tecton-trained Donor, not a choice kill." Frevven smiled wryly. "It's not the same thing, not by a long shot." His smile disappeared. "Face reality. You've known the egobliss of a kill. You'll never know it again. You'll find that you can survive without it. You'll even learn not to want it anymore. But I won't lie to you: you'll never forget. None of us can ever forget."
"I haven't the courage."
"It's not a case of courage. It's a case of having no real alternative."
"There are those who still kill." Miyoku suggested, almost inaudibly.
"Yes, there are those who kill," Frevven admitted, "as a last resort and when they can truly not survive without it. Do you want that, Miyoku? Do you really want that? A poor drugged creature from the pens, once, maybe twice, a year? Would that please you?"
The young Sime shrank from the contempt and loathing in Frevven's nager. "No," she whispered, "no, I don't want that."
"That's the only future you have, if you don't disjunct. There are no other alternatives." He let that sink in before continuing. "And you haven't even reached crisis yet. I know it's hard, but you've got to try to survive until then. Afterwards it will be easier."
"But I did try, Frevven. With Hajene Amalfi." She shuddered. "And I just couldn't. It didn't work. I didn't want him." Miyoku stood up and walked to the bow of the boat before she spoke again. "And I don't want you either. Damn it, I just don't want a channel!" She turned and looked down over the rail at the water flowing darkly by. "Oh, what's the use? It's hopeless."
Frevven decided the time for talking was over. He got to his feet and walked half the length of the boat toward Miyoku. As he'd done so often before, he raised his show field temptingly, simulating a Gen. That was usually all it took to provoke a renSime in need. Miyoku blinked her eyes uncertainly and shook her head, trying to find the reality behind the illusion. Frevven pushed his field higher and imagined a growing fear, trying to entice the girl. Miyoku came to her feet, eyes unfocused and laterals extended. Instead of moving forward to meet her, Frevven backed away several steps, projecting terror and the desire to flee.
Fearing to lose her prey, Miyoku lunged forward. Frevven retreated until his back was against the mast and let her catch him there. He tried to match his resistance very precisely against Miyoku's draw, imitating as closely as he could the reactions of a Gen. He almost thought it was going to work when he felt the girl shudder and saw she was about to go into an abort. Desperately afraid for his friend, Frevven felt a split second of terror and helplessness as he fought against the girl's rebelling system.
It suddenly occurred to him to try to imitate what he recalled of his dying sister's feelings in a last-ditch attempt to supply what Miyoku craved. But somehow he couldn't quite do it. His own remembered guilt and despair interfered and try as he might, he could not get the imitation to the accuracy he required to hold Miyoku. And in that intolerable instant, Frevven was shocked to hear his long-dead sister's gentle laugh echo in his head. No, little brother, not quite like that, she chided. It was like this.
Before he had a chance to even wonder what had happened, Frevven found himself staring through Jozanna's eyes as she backed away in disbelief from the much-cherished, frail little brother who threw himself toward her in the desperate urgency of First Need. She struggled to escape, mouth opening in a scream that was never voiced. Horrified, Frevven relived his own first kill in the body of his victim as her life was brutally stripped away. Her insane terror, her pain, and, more hideously still, her love. Poised at that dreadful moment in time before the merciful darkness that would end her suffering forever, Frevven's consciousness struggled to free itself from Jozanna. And succeeded: but not before that same soft voice said clearly, Like that, little brother. Remember, for the next time.
Then the world turned inside-out again and he was himself, staring wildly into Miyoku's eyes.
"Shenoni," the girl gasped as she broke lip contact, "how did you do that?"
"I don't know," Frevven admitted, shocked.
Laterals still entwined, they found it hard to tell who was the more surprised and shaken.
"Well, however you did it, it worked. I was sure I was about to lose it. I knew I was going to abort, and all of a sudden it was just as if it wasn't you, or some vague impression of a nameless, unknown Gen, but someone else."
"Yes," Frevven said, gently breaking the lateral contact, "someone else."
As the sun dipped down toward the tops of the trees across the river, they walked back together to the Center, soon encountering other groups of searchers. Miyoku looked shamefaced and apologized for causing so much trouble, but no one was angry, just relieved. She went back with the others when Frevven said he wanted to walk around for a while and think.
He wandered through the streets of Santenkaty Landing, not really noticing where he went. Now that it was over, he could allow himself to consider what had happened during that transfer. And yet, the more he thought, the more confused he became. As the sky slowly darkened and the first bright stars seeped into view, he turned back, still uncertain.
Returning to the Center, Frevven followed the maze of dim corridors to V'lissia's room, half intending to tell her about the whole thing. As he approached, he heard the baby fussing and whimpering, while V'lis tried in vain to soothe it. He rapped gently and opened the door.
V'lis sat on the edge of the bed, holding Valthea and patting her on the back as she squirmed and fretted.
"Oh, Frevven, hello. Everything all right now?" Her smile was slow to come, and lacked its usual sparkle. Her nager reflected exhaustion.
"Emergency's over. But how are you? You seem a little ragged around the edges. Val giving you a hard time?"
"Yep. I'm so sleepy . . ." Her voice trailed off.
Well, so much for asking V'lis for advice, he thought.
"Here, let me hold her for a while. You lie down and rest a bit. She has had her dinner, hasn't she?"
V'lissia just nodded and let Frevven take the wriggling, blanket-wrapped infant from her arms.
"Lean her up against your shoulder," she murmured as she settled back under the covers. If she's got a stomach ache, she may be more comfortable like that."
Frevven walked around the room, blowing out the few candles that had been lighted, while he held Valthea securely despite her squirming and patted her back as he had noticed V'lis doing.
"See if you can get to sleep for a while, V'lis," he suggested.
She was already sound asleep.
The grey of twilight turned to the black of night as Frevven walked back and forth in the little room, trying to soothe the baby. Finally, Valthea burped and drooled sour mild down the back of Frevven's shirt. Then she grew quieter and her squirming ceased.
Frevven sat down in the old wooden rocking chair in a far corner of the room and shifted the infant so that she lay in the crook of his arm. He tucked the blanket tighter around the tiny body and touched the soft fluff of fine hair with a tentacle. Val looked up then and the miniature green eyes tried to focus on Frevven's face, failed, and slowly closed again. Frevven rocked back and forth and tried to think of a lullaby, but couldn't recall a single one. The baby relaxed and soon dropped off to sleep, but the channel sat rocking and holding his daughter for a long time, thinking and weighing alternatives.
All his life, he'd fought to prove he was just as good, just as reliable, just as competent, as any other channel. But he wasn't just the same and he'd never been able to make people forget it. All that struggling. And all for nothing.
Well, no, not for nothing. If the world progresses toward your own highest ideals and hopes, is that not cause for rejoicing, even if you yourself get left behind as part of the past? And if your children, and your children's children, would never know the kill, was there any way they could truly understand the price with which their freedom had been bought? Was there any reason to expect them to?
Frevven held a stake in that future now: the tiny green-eyed infant who slept contentedly on his lap, and who might very possibly grow up to be a channel like himself. No, not like him. Better: for if she were a channel, she would never have to kill. And if her world was bound to regard him as a misfit, a leftover from an unfortunate past, then so be it.
As the moon spilled a pool of light carelessly across the floor, Frevven stood up and carried the child over to her cradle beside V'lissia's bed. Carefully, inch by inch, he placed Valthea down on the mattress, willing her to remain asleep and not disturb her mother.
"Valthea Aylmeer Chalmers," he whispered, almost inaudibly, "may you find as much happiness in this world as I have, and may it cost less pain."
He left them both sound asleep and strode down the corridor to the director's office. The door was open and Tamsin sat behind her desk, writing. She looked up at the other channel and cocked her head to one side in inquiry.
"Hajene Farris, I withdraw my previous objections. If you can arrange to have me assigned to Santenkaty Landing, I'll gladly work with you here."
Tamsin Farris just smiled.
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