Originally published in Zeor Forum #5. Copyright © 1984 by
Kitty stood at Rior's gate, shuffling her feet impatiently and jiggling the reins of her sweating, puffing horse. Drat, they were slow answering the bell. Maybe they hadn't heard? Impulsively, she pounded the rough-sawed wood with her fist-then stuck her skinned knuckles in her mouth and sucked them ruefully. Please hurry. I want to get on with my new life.
A warm tide of anticipation swept away some of Kitty's irritation. She savored the thought--my new life. She'd visited here before to donate, but now she had all her possessions with her. She'd stay a while in Rior learning about Simes, then go on to Zeor to become a Companion.
It felt so good to have a purpose for herself. Kitty had always known she wanted to somehow give of herself, but only in her fantasies had she ever been able to dedicate herself to anyone or anything.
Then, she'd found Rior--the "lighthouse" in Simelan, they'd told her. No, it's the beacon to Gens--Zeor is the tower it sits atop. And that tower is going to be my home.
Still no one came to let her in. People Kitty had met while donating had told her about meeting visitors from Sime Territory--maybe Rior was having guests now. Klyd might be with them . . .
The gate opened suddenly, and Thomas stood there smiling. "Welcome home, Kitty! Hugh asked me to show you right to your new room. We're expecting some top people from the Tecton and the old Sime government. All right?"
He led her horse into the courtyard and tied him to a hitching post. Kitty surveyed the enclosure, but she could see no sign of the visitors yet.
Thomas was heading toward the visitors' residence; carrying her bags. "Wait!" Kitty erupted. "Don't I sleep in the members' house?"
He turned back to her, still smiling. "Not for a while, and not with junct Simes among the visitors here."
"Oh. I'd expected . . ." Kitty's voice trailed off. It was probably this way with all the new recruits. "All right, lead on."
Her first-floor room had two narrow beds, a chair, and not much space for more. She had stayed overnight in similar rooms three times while she donated, before she told Hugh Valleroy she intended to be a Companion. But here the heavy drapes covered the window, their ties hanging down beside them. It was dark and the air was close.
Kitty moved to tie back the curtain. "Is the other girl here a cave-dweller?"
Thomas stretched out an arm to stop her, then seemed to relent. "Well, you can
tie up one side. But if the visitors come out into the yard, let it down again."
Suddenly she understood. "But I'm going to be a Companion. How can I learn if I don't observe Simes and Gens together? Why do I have to hide myself behind insulated curtains like . . . like a common visitor?"
The man seemed surprised. "Among other things, your roommate's only a visitor, and she's due back here as soon as the Simes arrive. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll see to your horse, then I'm required down at the river. A bell will ring when it's safe for both of you to come out."
Kitty tied back one curtain and shoved up the window. Failing to find the prop where it should have hung by the windowframe, she took off one riding boot and propped the sash on that. Then she finished changing shoes and slid her bags under the bed, not bothering to unpack anything onto the shelf above her pillow.
After dragging the chair over to the window, Kitty sank down to enjoy the pleasant breeze. She was tired after her four-hour ride, but she wanted to see the visitors. To pass the time, she pulled a much-handled broadside from her pocket and spread it on the windowsill. Childish, she thought, to keep rereading the thing-but it was through that description of what they now called Faith Day that she had learned about Companions--and about Hugh and Klyd.
She had found it crumpled and blowing in the street of her dead-end border hometown. Curious, she had smoothed it out--then stood entranced for minutes by the engraved illustration in one corner.
It was a scene from the winter siege where the last Freeband Raider group was defeated. Two Simes sat talking flanked by their Companions, somehow an island of peace and strength in the anxiety and tense waiting that swirled around them in the background. Hugh simply sat with one hand resting lightly on Klyd Farris' forearm, his eyelids lowered and a slight smile on his face. The other channel seemed much more careworn, his Companion, a plain-looking woman, kneeling behind him massaging his back.
The door opened behind Kitty. She started and turned to see a drawn-looking
girl with wispy brown hair escaping from her bun standing equally startled in the doorway. She looked like she'd been up all night. "Oh!" the girl exclaimed. "You must be Kitty. I didn't expect you so soon. I'm Rima, they called me here to take care of my brother. He's Gen, like us--a member. Have you met Kev?"
"No, I don't know him. Is he very ill? Is there anything I can do for you?" Kitty remembered that the other girl's bed was disordered, and bounced up to straighten it for her.
"Kev's getting better, and they say the channels coming today will be able to help him, too. Now I can get some sleep." She smiled and motioned Kitty away from the bed, then saw the half-open drapes. "We're supposed to keep them closed. But then, they told me you were going to be a Companion."
"That's right I'll close them if the Simes come out of the buildings."
"Good." Rima yawned and settled herself on the bed, facing away from the window.
Turning her attention back to the courtyard, Kitty reseated herself. Watchmen now stood along the top of the stockade. A group of horses soon walked up toward the main house on her right, coming from the river. Two of the men wore riding cloaks of Zeor blue, one with the Sectuib's white lining. Yes, Klyd was here. Hugh Valleroy strode out onto the porch to greet him. I wonder why Hugh didn't go down to the river--I wouldn't be able to wait. Then she dismissed the thought as Hugh and Klyd embraced. Yes, she sighed, she understood.
Distracted now by her thoughts, Kitty continued to watch as the horses were led away and the visitors entered the main house. She noted carefully how each Gen positioned himself. They went through the doorway two by two, Sime and Gen, each channel accompanied and protected by a Companion.
Kitty sat back in her chair, half-closing her eyes and remembering. She had spent hours studying the broadside. It told her the Simes had formed a new government called the Tecton, pledged to the ideal of no more killing. They desperately needed Gens willing to donate selyn if they were to succeed. Rior was close to her home, so Kitty had written a note to Hugh Valleroy, asking what she could do to help. She told him she wanted to donate. But her mind constantly returned to the engraving and the peaceful, purposeful look on Hugh's face and the somehow hurt and tense bearing of the other channel.
Rima seemed to be asleep. Leaning forward, Kitty looked out again. The visitors were still in the main building. Two Rior men carried a wan young man out the door of the visitors' house on Kitty's left and passed her window to settle him in a chair in the sun at the far end of the porch. That would be Rima's brother--they'd given him a room in the guest house so Rima could care for him. The two men continued to the main house; apparently they weren't concerned about Kitty's open curtain.
Putting her head out a little way, Kitty tried to see along the porch into the windows of Hugh's office in the main house. Yes, she could see movement there. She imagined Hugh and Klyd in the ecstasy of transfer and shared vision, as they appeared in the painting that hung in Rior's main hall. She knew she was only being silly. Still she brought to mind that portrait, so like her engraving, that she had found time to visit privately each time she had come to donate. But the channel she envisioned now, as she always did, was not Klyd, and the Companion was not Hugh.
I'll find my own channel to comfort--somebody like that careworn channel at the winter siege. I'll bring him rest and harmony like Hugh does for Klyd. Then, we'll join in the unity of transfer . . .
Kitty sighed and shook out of her reverie. Expectations could get a person in trouble. She chuckled a little at herself, remembering her disappointment at her first donation. She had felt nothing, and the channel and Companion had been polite, businesslike, and in a hurry to get back to their duties in Zeor. Being a simple donor was not what Kitty craved. She wished she could get on with her training, be over there with the Companions and their charges and not sitting in the guesthouse daydreaming.
As the sound of voices reached her across the courtyard, Kitty turned eagerly to the window once again. The visitors were emerging and heading toward the guest house. Hugh led the way, speaking to them in a language that had to be Simelan.
For the first time, Kitty noticed that some of the Simes were accompanied by two Gens--these must be the juncts from the old Sime regime. They seemed terribly uneasy, and one in particular continually made spasmodic twitches of his tentacles. Hugh motioned to them, stopping at the steps to the far end of the porch. Kitty heard him mention Kev's name as he indicated the sick Gen. Maybe they were going to demonstrate channel's healing for the juncts--she'd never seen that.
Klyd approached Kev and began speaking to him softly. The others trooped onto the porch, the Gens arranging themselves in some complicated fashion that fascinated Kitty. Silently and slowly, with the drape wrapped around her to hide her, she leaned forward to watch down the porch to her right.
Hugh stepped up behind Klyd and did something with his hands, speaking reassuringly to Kev. Kitty couldn't quite see, couldn't quite hear--
Her elbow jostled the toe of her riding boot, turning the boot sideways. The raised window slid off its prop and dropped heavily on Kitty's shoulders. She gasped, more in startlement than in pain.
Behind her came a horrified shriek--Rima, awake, watching?--as in front of her loomed suddenly the figure of the nervous junct, his laterals extended, his features twisted, poised in one last moment of control at the window. Rima screamed again.
Rima--fear--she didn't know anything about Simes except the kill. . . . With a surge of strength, Kitty pulled herself from under the window--carefully, something told her she couldn't afford to hurt herself now--and yanked the draperies closed.
"Get out in the hall!" she ordered, reaching behind her to shove Rima. Kitty kept her attention on the Sime she could no longer see--he was scrabbling at the window--and calmly and confidently began talking. "I am a Companion. You can't hurt me. You don't want to hurt me. I'm here if you need me."
Kitty heard the door slam behind the other girl. The scrabbling outside stopped. Then, slowly, feeling totally in control of the situation, Kitty pulled the drape back from the window and carefully tied it in place. She raised the window so she could hear and once again propped it on her boot.
Outside, order had been restored. Several Gens surrounded the Sime who had nearly attacked, and a channel appeared to be offering him transfer. A pair of juncts turned to peer curiously at Kitty. Hugh, standing at her window, confronted her with a stern expression on his face.
"Stay inside," he ordered. "Let down that drape, and wait for us. When Klyd finishes with Kev, I'll be in to talk with you." He turned to the others. "Thomas, show our guests the stables, and then take them to the hall for a bit to eat." Then he turned to hiss one more sentence at Kitty, "What the hell happened, girl?"
Kitty did as she-was told, then sat down on her bed, and suddenly discovered she was shaking. Rima--she should go after her--no, it probably wouldn't do any good.
For minutes that seemed like days, Kitty went over in her mind everything that had happened. She'd only wanted to learn--but Rima had nearly. . . . She had to admit it, she'd forgotten all about Rima. But she hadn't meant any harm!
A thought, a worry, niggled at the back aŁ her mind, but Kitty suppressed it. Would a real Companion forget someone the way she had neglected Rima?
Two men were talking quietly outside her window; their voices were low-pitched, but she could hear the tension in them. She could only make out snatches of the conversation as they walked.
Sharply--Klyd?-- "So this is the promising one you told me about, Hugh? What happened?"
Hugh, carefully, "She was just curious . . . doesn't know much about Simes yet . . ."
". . . in' danger! . . . selfish . . . thoughtless girl . . . could have been killed."
Selfish? He must mean Rima.
Hugh replied, his voice growing brittle, "Give her credit, Klyd! Once she realized what was happening, she reacted perfectly! I can recognize Companion material when I see it."
Klyd snorted. "You might think differently if you could zlin."
Their pacing carried them down the porch again. Kitty strained to hear, shivering. Hugh and Klyd couldn't be fighting? They gave each other peace. . .
The voices became audible again. "So, what are you going to do?" Klyd paused, then continued, almost painfully. "How would that have set with the Tecton, with the Gens, if he'd killed here in Gen Territory? We can't afford an incident now."
Kitty tensed further.
"And we can't afford to turn away prime candidates." It sounded like Hugh was talking through his teeth, his jaw clenched. "I'll turn Kitty into a Companion."
Klyd laughed sharply. "Good!"
Kitty heard Hugh draw in his breath, and suddenly the tension and animosity was gone from his voice. "Enough of this. You're in need. Let me help you."
Silence, movement, and a soft rustle of clothing, followed by a sigh. Hugh was holding him, calming him, Kitty decided, and relaxed a little herself. Things would work out now.
The two men walked away, Klyd saying softly, "Now, if you can accept a few suggestions . . ."
Hugh came in shortly after and sat on Rime's bed. "All right, Kitty, let's hear it," he said wearily.
She told him honestly, adding, "I'm sorry. I forgot Rima was there. I forgot she didn't know much about Simes and might be afraid of them. I forgot you have to be very careful with juncts, that being around Gens is hard for them. It didn't sink in on me that the one who seemed so nervous might attack. I just wanted to watch and learn."
"I understand, but that was foolish. The Tecton can't afford Companions who make such mistakes."
"Of course, that's why I want to learn more about Simes, so it won't happen again when I go into Sime Territory."
"Kitty," Hugh began, paused, then finished relentlessly. "Klyd wont have you, not now, not ever if you don't change. Ignorance isn't your real problem. Don't you see that?"
Kitty sat stunned, her mind working slowly to hear and comprehend. No Zeor? No channel to comfort? Never? I don't understand. But I can try to give him what he wants. What was it Klyd said?
"Sosectu, I know. I do know. I was thoughtless. Only thinking of myself. But there must be some way I can learn to stop that. You're letting me stay here, aren't you?"
Hugh smiled briefly. "You're making progress. But it won't be easy for you. And I can't promise anything. Report to me tomorrow morning for assignment." He rose and left.
Kitty sat for a moment, trying to absorb everything that had happened. She had a lot to give, she knew--if only they would let her do it. Methodically, she began to unpack her bags and arrange her things around the bed.
Then she remembered and went into the hall to find and help Rima.
Hugh assigned Kitty to caring for the guesthouse and its tenants. That included nursing Kev, for Rima had been found huddled shivering in a closet. She had left the next morning, refusing to see Kitty and swearing that she would never go near a Sime again. When Kev suffered a relapse after the incident on the porch, Kitty wondered if the family had once gone through some trauma with Simes.
Kitty's days became filled with endless routine. She would rise early to take Kev his bedpan and bathe him. The man didn't have any disease or injury she recognized; his total helplessness appeared due to depression. He seldom spoke to Kitty, and she didn't know if he realized she was the cause of his sister's sudden departure.
After Kev, Kitty would help departing visitors, change the beds, wash the bathrooms, sweep the floors. She hated cleaning other people's messes, but she did her best, carefully and thoroughly.
Just before lunch, Kitty cleaned her horse's stall and exercised and rubbed down the animal. The chief groom had insisted that she learn to care for her horse properly. This, she didn't mind; the animal, after all, could not care for itself. Usually there would be time after lunch for an informal Simelan lesson.
The afternoons were filled with welcoming new guests, mending, nursing Kev, whatever was required. Hugh also expected her to provide visitors with any information about Rior she could.
At first, Kitty thought she was doing an excellent job. She had to prove to Klyd that he should take her into Zeor. Then, twice she was called to Hugh's office after problems with the visitors. Once, she had been reading a book on the history of the Householdings, and a lady had had to call for her three times to bring another pillow.
The second time was more serious. She had set aside one day for scrubbing and waxing the floors, and was down on her hands and knees working when she noticed a group of new donors clustered awkwardly in the hallway near her, talking and occasionally glancing her way. They didn't approach her, and soon Hugh came sweeping through and took them away. She forgot about them.
Later, Hugh called her to his office for a talking-to. He sat behind his desk, looking official.
"Kitty, what's your assignment?"
"Taking care of the guesthouse and the guests."
"Service to the guests?"
"Yes." What's wrong?
"Today I found out why so many new donors have so many questions left to ask me. Do you always have your nose in a scrubbrush over there?"
Kitty frowned, clenching her hands in her lap. "I keep busy. I don't waste time."
"Very true, and very commendable. And people don't want to bother you. You emanate BUSY, all wrapped up in your work. I saw it today, with those new donors. They were full of questions, things you could have answered easily."
Resentment flooded Kitty. "I would have, if they'd asked! You're not being fair. Last time you had me in here to complain I didn't work hard enough."
Hugh glanced at the ceiling in apparent exasperation, then got up and came around to sit on the front edge of his desk.
"I can see you honestly don't understand. Your assignment is to best serve Rior's guests--at whatever moment they require that service." He paused, fixing Kitty's eyes with his own. "Consider the new donor, shy, confused. Which is more important to him--a clean floor, or someone knowledgeable to talk to, now, before his courage to ask fails?"
"Obviously, someone to talk to. But . . ."
"Priorities," he interrupted. "You made your priorities clear to your guests. And they were?"
Kitty felt a sinking feeling deep within her, as tears began to form. She had, indeed, been wrong. "The floor, and to hell with the guests."
"Right. That's selfish. Who were you thinking of?"
"Kitty." But that's not selfish, just thoughtless!
"Openness to changing priorities is a prerequisite for a Companion. Now go back and work on it." Hugh now smiled again, and squeezed Kitty's hand warmly.
So Kitty went back to the guesthouse determined to hold herself ready to give assistance and answer questions whenever it was required. She found it far more rewarding, to tell other people about her own dream, and about how she had seen the legendary Klyd Farris. She began to relax about the physical work--It got done, though it was harder to go back to it if she was interrupted.
Meanwhile Kitty wondered when she would be allowed to learn something more about Simes. Before she'd come, Hugh had told her she would be taught many things, but she'd only had a few lessons in basic Simelan. How would she get to Zeor at that rate?
Kitty got hold of the donation schedule a week ahead of her second donation as a Rior resident--and was overjoyed to discover that Ronal would collect her selyn--that same careworn channel of her engraving. Lying in bed that night, she decided what she would do to prove she was Companion material. At her donation, she would attract Ronal to her, so that when she got to Zeor, he would want to know her better. Then Kitty put herself to sleep dreaming of what it would be like to be a Companion with her own channel to cherish.
For days, Kitty floated through her work, her head in the clouds. No, not the clouds, but rather atop her tower, with Ronal beside her, forever. She would protect him, and he would care for her, and together they would help change the world.
When the time came, Kitty strode into the collectorium hut with every ounce of her being concentrated on Ronal. Welcoming him to herself, drawing him in.
His tired face broke into a beaming smile, and he took a step toward her . . . then another. Suddenly, he halted, shrugged, and motioned easily to the Companion standing in a corner of the room. She hurriedly moved toward them, and Kitty's intense concentration broke.
Ronal looked again at Kitty; his smile had faded until only gentle kindness remained. "My dear; you're very, very good. But I have a Companion here already. May I introduce Anile ambrov Zeor?" The Companion nodded to her.
Disappointment fell on Kitty like pelting rain. So, Ronal wouldn't be her channel. But, there were many others . . . "But I interested you there, for a while, didn't I?" She felt immensely proud of herself. "I only wanted to prove I could. I know I really couldn't be your Companion yet."
Ronal chuckled at her. Then he was all business again. "Let's get on with your donation. I'm very busy."
Afterward, Kitty insisted on collaring the weary-looking Companion. As Kitty was the last person to donate, the woman agreed to talk to her, collapsing gratefully onto the waiting room bench.
"Ronal will be all right for a few minutes," Anile explained. "Thank goodness, we have a break in the schedule. I have an hour before I take him back to Zeor, then I have to ride ten miles to give transfer to a channel working in Tomlin. After I rest up, I have to help another channel they have there who's having sexual problems. Then it's back to Zeor again."
Kitty felt confusion tinged with a sinking horror. Surely this couldn't be usual. "I don't understand. Don't you always work with Ronal?"
"Shen, no. At least Ronal's Zeor, too. I haven't even met one of these other channels. Right now, there aren't enough really good Companions to go around, and I get the tough assignments. Usually."
"But do most people pair up, channel and Companion?"
The woman sighed. "It used to be that way, Kitty, but the Tecton is spreading us around so thin. Companions have to help as many channels as we can--they're spread even thinner than we are. But where would we be without the Tecton?"
Anile pulled herself together, and got up to re-enter the transfer room. "Ronal might want me, and we have the paperwork to fill out yet. I hope I'll see you in-Territory soon. But don't try that trick you pulled on Ronal where Sectuib Farris can zlin you!"
So, Kitty thought, now she knew why Hugh had set her to work helping so many people, including strangers. She'd have to get used to strange channels--but she felt confident she could do it. Hadn't Hugh told Klyd that she had controlled that strange junct perfectly, once she had realized the situation? And hadn't Ronal responded to her?
Hugh called Kitty into his office once again to scold her about the Ronal incident--but she could tell from his eyes that he really found it all amusing. He even gave her an affectionate hug before she left.
The new visitors suddenly became even more interesting to Kitty, and she tried to learn as much about each as possible in a short time, practicing techniques she thought she would require as a Companion. She went out of her way to please them, hoping to show Hugh that soon she would be ready for real Companion's training.
Kev, her particular charge, did not improve, no matter how cheerful she tried to keep his room and despite all her attempts to talk to him. Hugh would visit him privately and emerge looking grim. All Kitty knew was that Kev had suffered some terrible shock and couldn't muster any enthusiasm for life.
Soon after her donation to Ronal, Kitty awoke in the middle of the night to incoherent shouting. She raced into Kev's room and found him raving, burning up with fever--influenza? Kitty sent a guest for Hugh and set to work with cold washcloths on Kev's forehead and body. Somehow, the task of tending his body did not repel her now, as it once had.
Her attention remained on Kev's words as in his fever he relived the experience that had destroyed his life--and she could understand why Hugh had never told her about it.
Kev gasped out his thoughts as they had come to him that day. "Gorgeous weather for walking . . . blue sky, no clouds . . . wind nippy, though. Have to get back home before dark. Home. Warmth. Zeor. It's good to belong there . . ."
His voice changed, grew desperate. "God! A Sime . . . lying there . . . weak, so weak, help him, help him!"
Kev's hands fumbled about, and Kitty grabbed them. "Look for channel's insignia. There. I'm a Companion." What? "I'll help. Where's your Companion? Dead, dead, he must be dead! Channel in need, in attrition. I don't know him. But help, must help. Am highfield, I'm good, not many better channels." This despondent man had been a Companion?
Kev's voice changed again. Now, he was talking to that channel, soothing him, calming him. He must have been thinking in English and translating into Simelan, Kitty noted irrelevantly. "I can--don't worry, I'm good enough for you--let me control--ease yourself."
Suddenly, the voice grew panicky. "Too fast a draw--can't keep up--PAIN, PAIN--down barriers, down--No, don't GO, I'm all right now, don't ABORT!" Then, despairingly, "Too late, he's dead. Dead. I killed him. Killed him."
Subsiding onto the pillow, Kev lay still, breathing heavily, tears running down his face. Mechanically, Kitty laid his hands down at his sides and returned to bathing him with the cold cloth, trying not to think or understand.
Companions give life, they don't take it! And surely they can't be hurt by channels!
Hugh arrived to heavy silence. He fixed Kitty's eyes with his as he stood across the bed from her.
"Key says he killed a channel," Kitty whispered, the words forced from her. "I don't know what he means."
"He talked about the channel aborting?"
Kitty could only nod, speechless now, still not wanting the implications to sink in on her. She would not let them. This sort of thing could not happen to her.
Hugh took another cloth from the night table and began on Kev, but he never took his eyes from Kitty's, and his voice was gentle. "I'm so sorry you heard that. It seldom happens like that. It was so different, for Klyd and me."
Kitty found her voice again. "What . . . what happened, then?"
"The channel died, with no one there to help. Suicide abort--channels are conditioned to do that, if the Companion feels too much pain. Companions aren't ever killed, remember that."
Kitty nodded. She could hardly speak through the knot in her throat. Is this what my life as a Companion will be like? Aloud, she asked, "But Kev--pain?"
"Transfer burn, and abort backlash. By the time they found him, he was in bad shape himself. It was exposure mostly--he lay in the cold for close to five hours."
"But, pain--in transfer?"
"He tried to control, Kitty."
"I thought Gens can control Simes. That's how we--help--them."
"Control--well, the only way he could have really been in control of the situation was to be totally relaxed, totally open to the draw. Let the channel control the transfer. Kev tried to force the channel into taking transfer a certain way. But this channel was too strong for him, and when Kev resisted, the channel feared killing him and aborted."
Kitty was totally confused. "I don't understand at all."
"I know, I'm sorry. I'll give you some books, and set up a program of lessons for you about channels and Companions. I'm so sorry I've held off this long, or this wouldn't have struck you so hard."
"I . . . thank you . . . I want the lessons very badly." Then, shyly, "They say . . . they say Klyd came at you like to kill you, that first time. And that didn't hurt?"
"I gave him all I had to give, without reservation." Gently, Hugh smiled, then came around the bed to hug Kitty close. "Perhaps you can do that for Kev, give yourself for him. It would help both of you."
If I bring Kev out of this, Klyd will see I'm a Companion.
When a channel came, seemingly hours later, they let Kitty stand out of the way and watch as he worked to lower Kev's temperature and put him into natural sleep.
Hugh changed Kitty's assignments the next morning, at her request. She was to study more Simelan and read as much about Simes as she could, in between lengthy stints of sitting with Kev. Plus, as Hugh told her with a certain fiendish glee, he thought she was ready to go on to harder things--a regular shift in Rior's small nursery.
A new girl named Joan took over at the guesthouse. She had come to Rior unexpectedly only two days before, clutching her own much-handled copy of Kitty's broadside. Kitty showed her the ropes, happy to have a friend who was also planning to become a Companion. The visitors were soon raving about Joan's kindness and proficiency as a hostess, while Kitty tried to ignore her own twinges of jealousy
Kitty meanwhile absorbed the books Hugh gave her and Joan, focusing on all the reassuring things they had to say to Companions, allowing her old dream to solidify again. She knew she should never have let it be shaken in the first place. Kev had been in a unique situation, and he had behaved improperly. She tended Kev diligently, reading to him, singing, filling his room with flowers. But as she cared for him physically, she couldn't help but notice that she tried to keep herself emotionally detached from him. She didn't want to know what he was feeling, what he was thinking about. It was as if she was afraid his mistake would rub off on her, and she forgot her decision to draw him out.
Instead, Kitty threw herself into caring for the little ones in the nursery. The job was far messier than her guest house assignment had been, and more tiring, but she found it very fulfilling. The infants were so helpless, so dependent on her. For the first time, she began to wonder what it would be like to be a mother herself.
She thought she was doing well, until one morning Hugh met her outside Kev's room.
"Kev made a great break-through in that fever, Kitty. He wants to talk now. To you. You can be a great help to him." Hugh seemed to be looking right into her.
"Yes, Sosectu," Kitty said quietly, and began to steel herself. So. If I'm going to be a Companion, I can't avoid it.
To her surprise, the experience proved far less difficult than she had feared. Kev took the lead.
"Hugh told me you want to be a Companion," he began. "You sure did control that junct, when he went after Rima."
"Uhhh . . ."
"Oh, yes, I knew about that. I didn't blame you--if Rima hadn't been so stupidly terrified, the whole thing wouldn't have happened. How did you come to want to be a Companion?"
Kitty perched on the edge of the bed and found herself talking about her own life and dreams. "I want to belong to something important. I grew up in a small town, just my parents and me. You could say they spoiled me. I never had much work to do around the house--didn't have to help raise little brothers and sisters. After I finished school, I just couldn't figure out what to do."
She paused, but Kev only smiled and nodded at her to go on.
"Everybody my own age got married or moved off to the capital, but I just sort of stayed put. I was happy with my daydreams, it seemed. Eventually, I got a job, part-time, but that was boring."
"A very dull life," Kev agreed.
"Deadly. With nothing, not even marriage, in sight. No close friends, no lover. Then I found a poster advertising for donors. I got up my courage and came here for the first time, and I was hooked. Here, or in Zeor, I know I'll find a home, a purpose for living, and someone special to take care of. I'll have a part in a cause far more important than any of my old classmates know!" Kitty's voice rose, turned proud, and her eyes gleamed. "Now, tell me how you decided to be a Companion!"
Kev looked away for a moment. "We grew up in the district capital--Dad's been in politics for years. Three kids--me, Rima, and little Sarah. Mom died when Sarah was born. So who knows, maybe my kid sister will change over into a channel." He grinned, lopsidedly, for just a moment. "My father's sending her here as soon as she turns twelve, just in case. You'll like Sarah--she's more like an adult than a child, always so in control of herself. Not like Rima."
He sighed. "Look, Kitty. I'm exhausted. Why don't we talk more tomorrow?"
Kitty got up then and left to allow Kev to take a nap.
Each day, they talked more. Kitty told him what she had been reading, and he made general comments. But it soon became obvious that he avoided talking about his own experiences as a Companion--and he never mentioned that final transfer.
Kitty desperately wanted to learn more about being a Companion, and now she agreed with Hugh that it would do Kev good to talk. She set out to appeal to Kev's Companion instinct to help.
"Kev," she said quietly one morning. "The Companions we see here, they're so tired, so busy, and they work with so many channels. I don't know if it's worth it, if I should keep on." That wasn't really true, but Kev didn't know that.
"That's up to you."
"I never get to talk to Companions, to find out what they think. You've been one, and we have lots of time to talk. Can't you help me make up my mind?" Kev turned his face away in a negative. "Please, Kev. And I know, it will help you. You can't live like this all your life."
He turned back, slowly. "All right. I'll tell you. But remember, I can never go back to that, not ever. Don't try to convince me otherwise."
As the days passed, he told Kitty about the duties, constantly changing assignments, the exhaustion, the paperwork--and the people he had met, and the rewards they had given him. Twice her friend Joan joined them, and Kev seemed to talk more easily with her there. Kitty noticed, but couldn't figure out why, and took to talking with Kev when Joan was busy elsewhere. When Kev made his breakthrough, it would be her doing.
Kev told Kitty about the dependency he had had for a short time with one channel--how good it had been to work with one person for a while, until she had had to leave Zeor on assignment. He had been lonely for a while after that.
"Then, there are the semi-permanent sort of dependencies, where the couple stays together all the time, at least for transfer. There aren't many of those. But that's what Hugh and Klyd have."
Kitty formed a new ideal--she would be a "roving" sort of Companion for a while, then she would find a channel that she "matched" and they would have a dependency. Maybe, this channel would also be her husband. Once again, two figures stood together atop the beacon tower of her dreams.
Hugh seemed pleased with Kev's recovery, and further stepped up Kitty's Simelan lessons. Joan also studied more intensively. Hugh said, rather mysteriously, that Klyd was coming over for a visit, and Kitty should be ready. Kitty worked even harder with the babies and drawing out Kev, to prove herself worthy of being taken into Zeor.
Then, four days before Klyd's visit, everything fell apart.
It was a warm day, and Kitty decided that Kev was well enough to leave the guest house for a short walk. They strolled slowly out into the fields, enjoying the sun.
Kitty wondered if this might be her last chance to bring Kev all the way out of his trouble, to get him to talk about that last incident. She herself wanted badly to know more about it--and wondered why she wanted to know.
She slid her arm around his waist and hugged him gently. "Kev, you're so much better now."
"Yes, thank you, Kitty."
"Maybe, maybe now you can talk about then."
He stopped walking, freezing in the circle of her arm. "No, no. It will hurt you to hear that."
"I heard most of it when you were delirious. It helped you so, to get that out, up out of your subconscious where it was locked away. It will do you so much more good, to remember and talk it out consciously."
Now, he pulled away from her and turned his back. "No, I can't."
She caressed his shoulders, cajoling, "You can, you know you can, and you must. What better time than now, when it's warm and lovely and you know nothing here can hurt you." Kitty sensed that Kev was right on the edge of giving in; his body trembled.
"Let me help," she said. "Tell me what the channel looked like. What were you thinking? Where were you standing, anything."
He continued to shake his head, trembling even more-- "Please, no, it's coming back, I don't want to remember . . ."
Kitty pressed on relentlessly, encouraging him. "Let it out, let it come. You'll feel so much better." She had come around to face him, holding his head between her hands and forcing him to look at her. "Here, now, while I'm still here with you. I may be going away to Zeor in a few days--I want to hear you say it, please."
Her voice took on a note of pleading. "Tell me how you reacted to the transfer? Would the end have been different if You'd done it another way?"
Suddenly Kev went rigid, grasping Kitty and holding her at arm's length with surprising strength. He stared at her as if she were a strange and unbelievably ugly monster, then suddenly went limp. His arms falling to his sides, he collapsed slowly to the ground and began to sob.
"Yes, Kitty, I remember it all. For God's sake leave me alone! I thought you cared for me--you were like a Companion to me. You made it possible for me to believe in the possibility of anyone being a Companion."
Then, he pulled himself together somewhat and looked up at Kitty. "But you only care about yourself--trying to learn something from me that will hold your precious little dream together a little bit longer. Well, you'll never be a Companion that way, and you'll never fool a channel for one second, either."
Sobbing, Kev struggled up and plunged off in the direction of the guest house. Stunned, Kitty stood in her tracks, realizing to her horror that she really didn't know her own motives in trying to draw the man out. At first she'd wanted to impress Klyd--but then, she'd wanted to help Kev for himself. Hadn't she? Was I trying to prove to myself that I really can be a Companion? Or that Companions are what I've always thought they are?
Sick at heart, hating herself and not knowing what to do next, Kitty followed Kev, making sure that he got into the guest house safely. She had to think, and stood on the porch leaning against a column, unmoving, trying to focus.
And slowly, slowly she managed to pull herself together and stand erect. Stop flagellating yourself, she thought. I have made progress. Nobody's expected to be perfect, and I can see where I went wrong. I won't give up, I'll work on it.
Her face composed again, Kitty went to Kev's room. She found him packing his few possessions and changing into riding clothes.
She tried to stop him, but he brushed past her and was gone. Gone home, as Rima had before him. And he wasn't in any condition to travel.
Half an hour later, Hugh found Kitty stripping Kev's bed.
"Want to tell me what happened?" he asked gently.
"I . . . yes. Yes, he just ran from me while I was trying to help. I got him to remember what happened that day he was hurt. I guess he couldn't face that. He ran away."
Hugh looked at Kitty long and hard. "I see. The gatekeeper sent me word that he'd gone. I've assigned one of the members to catch up with him and help him get home. It'll take at least a week." He paused--as if waiting for a reaction? Then he continued in a more businesslike tone, "Well, with Kev gone, you'll have time for another duty. Why don't you help Joan out here? And when Klyd takes her to Zeor in a few days, you can take over until we find a replacement."
Slowly what Hugh said dawned on Kitty. "You're sending . . . Joan . . . to Zeor? But she just came here!"
"And she's ready to go."
"But I've worked so damn hard, why don't you send me?" Kitty's anger flared suddenly. This was too much. She'd liked Joan, but that girl hadn't done one half what she had to prove herself Companion material.
It was as if Hugh could read her mind. "I want to send you. It's not how hard you work, it's what you are inside that counts. You have it in you, but Klyd doesn't see it."
Kitty could only sputter. What more could she do? Hot frustrated tears filled her eyes, and she flung the pillows across the room.
Hugh took her hand and patted it. "Look, I'll talk to Klyd for you. But the rest is up to you."
Three days she had now to show Klyd what she was made of. As she cuddled the babies and kept the visitors happy--far better than she had ever done before--she examined herself. There was no doubt in her mind what she wanted--to be a Companion, even if it was tougher than she'd thought. Even if it was dangerous. She would be different, not one of the run-of-the-mill Companions. She would have a dependency.
What would be the best way to prove herself? Find a Sime and give transfer! Berserkers sometimes came to Rior, running for Sime Territory. Perhaps . . .
No berserker arrived, and Kitty knew the whole scheme was harebrained anyway. She would simply talk to Klyd herself when he came, and maybe she could convince him.
This was undoubtedly one of Klyd's few visits to have transfer. Hugh and Klyd would be interacting closely, warmly. She could relax in that, take strength from their relationship.
When the time arrived, Kitty calmly crossed the courtyard to the main building. Over by the gate she heard a commotion--a dusty rider, coming in from Gen Territory. He seemed excited, but she couldn't hear what he said as she went in the door.
Hugh's secretary was expecting her and immediately led her into the office. Kitty took the seat Hugh offered her and watched Klyd prowling around the room. Hugh was seated at his desk, but he wasn't relaxed. It seemed that she had arrived in the middle of a tense conversation.
Klyd turned to her politely. "Good afternoon, Naztehr. Is it Naztehr?"
"No, Sectuib, I haven't pledged Rior yet." Here was her opening. "I hope to pledge Zeor soon."
"You're the woman who caused the commotion the last time I was here?" Kitty nodded. "I've been telling Hugh some of the ramifications of that apparently minor incident." Oh, dear.
"In between complaining about how short the Tecton is of Companions for all the new channels they're finding," Hugh interrupted.
"Yes, that too. Let me finish, now, with both of you here." Klyd halted, leaning against the window, where both Gens could see his face. His voice was calm, but his tentacles danced in and out of the fingers he held clasped on his drawn-up knee.
He continued, "We've been having a lot of trouble with both the Gen government and the old entrenched junct powers. Hugh, did you know that Kev and Rima's family is extremely influential in the district capital? They were some of our strongest supporters--but now they no longer believe that the Tecton can control its renSimes, and they've begun blocking our efforts to establish a donation and changeover center in the capital."
Kitty sat quietly--well, not all of that was her fault.
"And Ritti, the one who nearly attacked. He used to be sympathetic, too, partly because we'd had him convinced that none of our Gens are afraid--they weren't a threat to his decision to go on channel's transfer. No point telling him that Rima wasn't a member."
Hugh seemed tense, holding something in. "Yes, what point are you trying to make?"
"Only that it would be most politically inexpedient for me to allow Kitty to come in-Territory for Companion's training at this point."
"What do you mean?" Kitty interrupted. "Do your junct and Rima's family blame me for their troubles?"
"Partly. Mostly they now see the Tecton as untrustworthy. If we take in someone they see as personally untrustworthy, it could only worsen things with both Gens and juncts."
Breathing in deeply, Hugh slowly rose to his feet, his fingers spread on the edge of his desk. He spoke quietly, too quietly. "What you're saying is that political expediency takes precedence over this girl's life. And over the lives of all the channels she might be working for. What's happening to you, Klyd?"
Klyd spoke as quietly and intensely. "And where would the Tecton be if I didn't take politics into account? How many more Gens would be killed? How many more children beaten to death in changeover that could be saved by an out-Territory Center? I told you once before, I'm the general of this operation, and decisions like this are no easier than the decisions to send people out of Zeor as spies used to be."
Hugh began pacing. "I know, I know. You do have compassion; this sort of thing hurts you. But you do it anyway. How may people like you are there in the world? What happens when other men get hold of this Tecton you're creating, men who don't care as much as you do? Who don't hurt with the ones who suffer? What then?"
Helpless, Klyd answered, "I only do what I can. To protect the Gens, to maintain relations with the Gen government--it's the only way."
Kitty sensed that she had been forgotten, and she cowered against the wall, shaken by the reverberations of discord in the small room. All her arguments seemed to fade from her mind.
"To protect the Gens." Hugh enunciated each word carefully. "There's your mistake. Kitty has always been able to protect herself. It was Rima who caused the whole trouble. Rima, and you, insisting that Kitty be shut up like that. Kitty's a natural--Rima's the unnatural one."
Klyd's tension seemed increased--Kitty thought he was holding in a tremendous anger. And frustration?
"I could say that your insistence that we come without retainers to prove that your Gens were all safe with us--that brought on the whole trouble. But that's being petty."
Hugh turned his back on Klyd, his whole body shaking now. Kitty felt the floor slowly sinking away under her--thought surely the wall behind that portrait in the main hall must be cracking. Was this what her cherished dependency would be like?
Again, Hugh managed to speak softly. "All Rior Gens are safe."
"Are they? When Kitty came in here, she had a very brittle control on herself--something's bothering her. I think she lacks a real commitment to being a Companion." Klyd glanced back at Kitty--so he hadn't forgotten her presence.
Kitty stood then, shaking. "Wh-what? You know how much being a Companion means to me! Zlin me!"
"Kitty, I'm not saying you'll never be a Companion, only that you aren't ready yet."
And then, Hugh exploded, pacing around the office. "And whose fault is that? That girl came to Rior full of confidence. And you locked her up. She demonstrated her competence in dealing with the emergency, and you refused to take her in-Territory. I tried to follow your suggestions, didn't teach her about Simes until she had gotten over some of her other problems--and she found out from Kev about the dangers of being a Companion. Yes, she had a lot to learn of helping other people--but we may have 'protected' her out of a vocation!"
Kitty turned to Hugh, desperate now. "What are you talking about! I know what want!"
Hugh looked past her at Klyd, speaking ever so softly again. "Look at her. I gave in to you. I could have turned her into a Companion. I still can. But I'm not sure I'll ever want to use your methods again."
Klyd drew himself up stiffly. Now, he, too, was trembling visibly. "If you feel that way about me and what I stand for, I'd better be leaving. I'll send someone tomorrow to get Joan. Denrau is at Zeor and in phase with me. We will manage. Perhaps after, we can talk."
"No!" A choked cry, from Hugh. He reached out beseechingly, without thought, to touch Klyd. Kitty knew she would never forget the ghostly look on Klyd's face as he avoided Hugh's hand and strode out the door.
Hugh and Kitty stared at each other for a moment, as the room steadied around them. Had it actually been reeling, Kitty thought confusedly. She only knew there was a hole where her stomach--and her heart--had been before.
Then Hugh moved tiredly to his desk and collapsed in his chair, his face in his hands. Silently, fighting the impulse to run and hide, Kitty came to him and touched his shoulder.
He looked up, and she could see tears filling his eyes.
"Will he come back?"
"I think so. We're tied together, the two of us. It's been bad before, Kitty, but nothing like this. This was the end of an--argument we began long ago. You only heard part of it. He'll come back, he has to."
Kitty forced the words out, the last thing she had been clinging to of her dream. "But I thought you two loved each other?"
"We do. We can't help it. But can't you see, that makes it so much worse?"
Kitty broke then, and ran. Ran out of the main building and out into the pastures. Then she stopped, and sat in the tall grass, her legs no longer strong enough to support her.
The best she could hope for was this hideous torment? But she couldn't stop wanting to be a Companion--it was all she had. Klyd was wrong--she'd committed herself completely, and now she was trapped.
Kitty remembered the rider coming in the gate--maybe he'd been bringing word of a berserker in the neighborhood. If she could find that Sime and give him transfer, she'd find out how marvelous it was. Prove to Klyd--and yes, to herself-that she was a Companion.
Picking herself up, Kitty ran through the pastures and out to Rior's border. There, she pulled up to a walk, panting, and began to walk along the boundary hedge. Her field would attract a Sime coming this way.
Up ahead, in a clump of bushes, she saw a quick movement--someone hiding? Kitty approached quietly, slowly, and the girl crept out, warily facing her. Kitty could see that the other was confused, frightened, hopeful--and Sime.
Brown wispy hair, somehow familiar features, scratched and bleeding arms holding a bedraggled baby. Strange burden for someone apparently just through changeover.
The girl performed a series of tentative advances and retreats, her eyes turning vague as she used her Sime senses.
Kitty realized that the girl was frightened. "I won't hurt you. This is Rior land, and the Sime border is just across there." She motioned toward the river, at the same time as she beamed warmth and welcome at the new Sime. Not in need, she thought, so this one must have killed and escaped. Damn.
The girl relaxed somewhat, then came alert as Kitty increased her feelings of welcome. She gently placed the baby on the ground and began to stalk toward Kitty, eyes now constantly unfocused. Kitty saw the swollen glands on her arms, and knew that she had been mistaken about the girl's state of need.
"Come here. I can give you my selyn," she said gently.
"Oh, yes," the Sime murmured, pulling herself out of her advance. Then she was an ordinary human being, looking into Kitty's eyes pleadingly. "That's why I came,
looking for Rior. I killed, a week ago, but now I need more. My brother's here--do you know him, his name's Kev?"
"Sarah . . . !"
Kitty looked into those brown eyes--they all had them, the whole family--and for the first time in her life, met another person. Sarah's fear, confusion, self-hatred, all washed over her. A fellow soul reached out to her, trusting, open, demanding openness. There was nowhere for Kitty to hide, no way for her to bury herself in her own concerns and escape. No way could she destroy this last sibling as she had the others.
Lightning seemed to flash inside Kitty, illuminating her past life and striking her down from her disintegrating tower of dreams.
It had been a tower built of illusion, set on a foundation of her own self-absorbed isolation, held together by sheer rationalization as reality nibbled at each building block. Companions can't be hurt--Companions give peace--Companion and channel pairs live together happily ever after. Always, when she had doubted the solidity of the rest, she had visualized the crowning glory of her ideal of Companionship--Hugh and Klyd. Now that illusion was gone, too. Kitty lay amid a pile of rubble, faced with reality--Sarah.
But now she knew what a Companion was, and did, and risked, and gained. Intimacy-joining. Painful, oh so painful--but it was life. She had recognized it in that one moment. Now she knew how her problem of thoughtlessness could be called selfishness. She'd always been so absorbed in herself that she'd never allowed herself to feel with anyone.
Slowly, Kitty began to set the rubble of the tower into a path to walk on, and found herself growing calm. The calmness surprised her. She held to it, knowing that some part of her was truly calm, capable of this openness.
I will be a Companion to Sarah. Here, now. Beyond that, I don't care.
Sarah had been advancing on her again, drawn by her confusion, but holding back with all her will. Thank God for her self-control! Kitty felt herself relax, almost floating, both worn out and totally exhilarated. Sarah stopped and smiled again, tentatively. Kitty reached out and gently touched her cheek.
"Don't worry, Sarah, everything's fine now. I nursed Kev after Rima left, and he told me all about his baby sister."
Sarah sighed and went back to pick up the small child. "I'm not a baby anymore. I killed this baby's parents, when I changed over. But I couldn't leave him there, all alone with those big hungry dogs." She hugged the child to her thin chest, rocking him.
Kitty followed and put an arm around both girl and child. "No, you couldn't, you did the right thing."
The brown eyes turned up to her. "I owed it to them, after I killed both of them. Killed one and then went for the other. Why did I do that?"
Two kills, the self-control in need, Kev thinking she might be a channel--yes, definitely, that must be it. Kitty squeezed the girl. "Sarah, you're a channel yourself! Why, in months you'll be keeping people from killing."
"That's good. But please keep me from killing now."
Kitty sensed a terrific weakness in the girl--how could she be in need in one week? "Have you been doing anything really strenuous getting here, dear?"
"Well, the dog bites I got at this one's house healed real fast. Then I ran most of the way at night, though sometimes it was slow going, with the baby. I had to sneak in and out of barns to get milk for him. They caught me once and beat me before I could escape. When the weather was bad, I built shelters. I found out I could do things better and faster than when I was a kid."
Augmentation, and she used up her selyn. Sarah needed help fast. Kitty now knew she was faced with a channel of unknown strength--could she serve her need, if it came to that? There was no way to know. But, thank God, the girl had no conditioning, there was no way she could die as Kev's channel had.
Kitty motioned toward the river--she would take Sarah to the signal house there, away from the Gens at Rior. "I think we'd better go," she said. "Get you to a channel. It's easier to stop killing when you go on channel's transfer right away." Kitty didn't know if that was true for a junct channel, but Hugh would.
"But I feel fine now!" Sarah protested.
"That's because I'm with you. Just remember, I have no intention of leaving you."
They walked slowly across the pasture, cutting toward the river where the signal house sat on a hill overlooking the tunnel that led to Zeor. Kitty insisted on carrying the baby.
Once, they stopped, and Kitty had Sarah zlin the area on the chance that Klyd was still close by. She could sense no Sime fields in her range.
"Well, then, we'll have to wait until the on-call channel can come from Zeor." Or maybe, she added to herself, until we can call one of the Companions from Rior.
They reached the signal house, and Kitty had Sarah wait a short distance away while she told the Gen on duty to set signals for Zeor and go up to the main buildings and fetch Hugh and another Companion. The duty Gen was a substitute--the usual Companion was out looking for the reported berserker.
Kitty took Sarah inside and sat her down. There was a sink with running water in the bathroom, and Kitty took a cloth and towels and began to gently wash the cuts on both Sarah and the baby.
They talked about inconsequential things while they waited. As Kitty moved about the room, Sarah followed her, despite all she could do to make her rest.
It seemed like hours, but it couldn't have been more than twenty minutes before Hugh and Jara, one of Rior's Companions, pounded panting up to the signal house. They came carefully into the room, looking at Sarah and smiling.
The Sime moved closer to Kitty, tensing, defensive. Kitty wanted to relax now, give the girl over to Hugh. Sarah would be far safer with him. Why was Hugh grimacing?
"Kitty," he instructed, "stay right where you are. I think you made the right assessment. Sarah is in need, though she can't feel it much. And she's fixed on you."
"What?" Kitty felt herself going tense, and told herself to relax--that way, she would be in control of the situation. She had been all along, and there was no reason she couldn't be now.
"She wants you for transfer. Jara's not strong enough to pull her away from you."
"But you're strong enough, Hugh!"
He paled, sweating. "All right, I'll try."
He walked slowly up to Sarah, taking her hands. His voice sounded strained. "Let me, Sarah. I love your brother, let . . ." Then, his body twitched uncontrollably. Sarah cried out, pulled her hands away and threw her arms around Kitty's waist.
Trembling, Hugh retreated to the door. "I can't, I just can't. I told you, Klyd and I are tied together. I can't offer transfer to another channel."
Kitty looked at him, standing there helpless in his own House, and her heart went out to him. "Then we'll just have to wait."
"Yes, a channel could take her from you--at least, Klyd could. Look, she's hyperconscious. Focus your attention on her and maybe she'll come duo. I want to talk to her."
Kitty started to obey, then realized what Hugh had in mind. "If you plan on telling her she might hurt me, she should hold off, don't. I won't have her hurt herself! Now go outside and wait."
"If you think she'll attack, yell. We may be able to shen her out of it."
"Don't you dare!" Kitty thought of Rima's terror, and Kev's pain, and knew she couldn't hurt this last member of the family. "We'll be all right!"
She turned to Sarah in reassurance, aiming welcome--but not too much--at her. Warmth, comfort--and Sarah's eyes refocused.
"They've gone now," she breathed. "They wanted to make you go away from me."
"I said I wouldn't leave you."
Kitty lost track of time as she continued to clean the girl and child, then began to massage Sarah's tight muscles. It seemed to her like fate that this would happen, that the channel wouldn't get here in time. But she knew the secret, she was relaxed, willing. The odd floating feeling had not deserted her.
Then the door opened and someone stepped in, paused, muttered, "Trautholo!" Kitty turned at Klyd's voice and smiled.
"Hugh told me about it outside," Klyd began, staying by the door. "You've got a choice to make. It's best to disjunct channels onto Gen transfer as soon as possible. Right now, that can only be you."
Kitty's attention did not sway from Sarah as she listened.
"I can't tell if you could do it. I'd monitor and abort Sarah if necessary. Neither of you would die--probably. Or, I could give her transfer myself."
"Channel's transfer . . . wouldn't hurt her?"
"No. It might injure her ability to work as a channel after she disjuncts."
Sarah felt warm under Kitty's hands, totally joined to her and relying on her. No, I don't trust myself. I'm not steady enough. Not yet.
"You do it, Sectuib."
Klyd smiled then, and bowed slightly. "A good choice. I'll be back in a moment."
Strange, Kitty thought, as Klyd stepped out and closed the door. He offered me what I thought I wanted, and it doesn't even hurt to give it up. But it does hurt to let go of Sarah. I only wish I knew how much she wants to be a channel.
In a matter of minutes, the door reopened, and Klyd reappeared at Kitty's elbow. "Good girl," he said softly. "I'm matching your field, pretending to be you, only stronger. Relinquish to me and back away. Out the door."
Walking softly, trying to feel unobtrusive--still floating--Kitty crept to the doorway and out. As she joined the others at the window, Hugh put an arm around her, and she leaned up against his warmth, suddenly realizing how totally exhausted and drained she was.
"I like that Sarah," she whispered. "I hope she comes to visit us often."
Hugh had a new glow about him, and she guessed. "Hugh, did Klyd come back to Rior for transfer?"
He smiled, shook his head. "No, he saw the signal and turned back for that. But he knew the minute he went in there that he couldn't handle the situation in his condition, and he came out to me. Thank you, for that."
"I think now I can talk to visitors about how Simes and Gens should live together and really feel what I'm saying."
Then, Klyd interrupted them by coming to the door, one arm holding the baby and the other around Sarah.
"Sarah just asked an interesting question," he said. "She wants to know if the Companion who helped her could come visit her, and maybe finally get to serve her need." He glanced meaningfully at Hugh, then looked Kitty full in the eyes. "Naztehr, would you like to come back to Zeor with us and start training to earn that title?"
Kitty paused a moment, looked to Hugh, who gave her a squeeze of encouragement and nodded permission.
She said, quite simply, "Of course."
Note: The alternate universe Kitty of "Dream Tower" underwent a transformation and became the mainline universe Kitty (Dumas) ambrov Rior of Zelerod's Doom, mother of Hugh Valleroy's son, and ancestor of Ilyana Dumas. Can anyone figure out how she got from a candidate in Zeor with a crush on Klyd to where she ended up?
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