Jacqueline Lichtenberg

(originally published in Zeor Forum #5) Copyright © 1984 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

This selection comes from the never-finished first draft of RenSime! The events and personalities are very different from those you'll see in the published version.

The events to this point: Digen Farris had died at last, leaving his great grandson Mairis, the outgoing World Controller, as his apparent successor as Sectuib in Zeor. At the same time, disjunct renSime Laneff Farris ambrov Sat'htine had discovered a method she believed would distinguish Sime from Gen before birth. Needing funds to support her research, Laneff hoped to convince Mairis to back her.

She intended to try to attract his attention after he spoke at Digen's massive outdoor funeral, but she was caught in an incident staged by the Diet, a reactionary out-T organization. A member of a Gen TV crew injured himself and fell from his camera truck--apparently by accident. Laneff was brought directly to the injured Gen by a blond Donor who mistook her for a channel. Unable to overcome the pain and fear coming from the Gen, Laneff attacked him in killmode. Luckily, Mairis arrived in time to shen her out of the attack. The blond Donor disappeared.

Mairis took Laneff back to the Zeor-owned hotel where the entire House was meeting in secret conclave to choose a new Sectuib. There she was cared for by Zeor's magnificent First Companion, Shanlun ambrov Zeor, whom she found most attractive as both Gen and man. Surprisingly, Mairis invited her to attend the Householding's formal banquet that evening. - KATIE

Now read on...

The banquet was set up in the largest function room in the inn. It was an old room with antique cut-glass chandeliers filled with lit candles reflecting the light in billions of droplets of fire all about. It reminded Laneff of Shanlun's nager, recreated in visual illusion. As she arrived, half a dozen Zeor members were just putting the finishing touches on the table settings.

Five long tables stretched out perpendicular to the head table, covered with crisp blue and white table cloths and set with fine china with the Zeor monogram. At intervals fresh cut flowers added color. The hardwood floor was polished to a mirror shine that multiplied the glitter. The walls were lost in shadow, making the room look much larger than it zlinned. Only her awareness of the fluorescent fixtures high above the chandeliers spoiled the illusion of a Householding meeting of centuries past.

Glancing at the place cards on the long tables, looking for her own, she noted that the householding channels and Donors were all seated at the center table of the five while the other four were filled with the titles of Zeor Industries officers. This banquet was for management only.

Precisely on the hour, people began streaming in through the wide double doors, chatting and searching for their places. They were dressed formally with householding cloaks and jewelry, some of which must have been heirloom pieces. Her own dress went beautifully with her mended and cleaned Sat'htine cape, and she was grateful to Shanlun for the effort.

"Looks like a setting for a historical film, doesn't it?"

The voice behind her was Mairis's. His nager, quiet and controlled, had barely registered. "Yes," she replied, "It's glorious. I didn't know places like this still existed."

"There aren't many. Sectuib fought--I mean Digen fought for years to make them preserve all this. Now I'm glad. Everyone's having such fun with the costumes and all. Zlin the ambient nager."

It was different from the crowd at the eulogy that afternoon. Each person here was exhibiting the vaunted Zeor discipline, and the entire room filling rapidly with chattering people held a transcendent quietude she couldn't define. "They could never catch that on film," she said, "but I'll bet that's what it was really like in Klyd's time."

He chuckled. "In Klyd Farris's time, the few hundred in this room would have been the entire membership in Zeor. Now we number about six thousand!"

"Sat'htine isn't quite that large, but we've grown some, too. I think householding growth is about proportionate to the world population growth--maybe even lagging a little."

"Solar House figures show that to be about accurate."

Only then did she remember she was talking to the World Controller. "I've often wondered what it's like to live in Solar House. My father was World Controller long before I was born, and when I was a little girl, I used to ask him to volunteer again so I could live there. He used to pretend to curl up and shake with fear, saying once in that office was enough for a lifetime. It always made me laugh, but now I'm not so sure ..."

She was making small talk, light and informal. But now Mairis turned a weighted gaze upon her, zlinning her with such a measured speculation that she turned her full attention to him. Before he could speak, the particolored nager of Shanlun enveloped them.

"This is impressive," he commented in greeting them. "Looks like something out of The Legend of Oliver Tigue."

"Just what we were saying," replied Mairis. "Laneff, I've had you placed at the main table, right beside me. Come."

She followed the Sectuib-to-be and his First Companion to the center of the head table where she was seated on Mairis's left, and Shanlun took his place to Mairis's right. The five major contenders for Sectuib in Zeor and their Companions were seated around them at the head table with Altyn Farris, Mairis's only serious competition, on her left. Mairis introduced him to her as his cousin, three times removed, and left them to entertain each other. Soon, though, Zeor's Second Companion, a woman named Nody Farris, took her place at Altyn's left and the channel's attention fixed on his Companion.

Laneff surveyed the room as people sorted themselves out. She had once learned householding heraldry while infatuated with an author of historical romances, so it wasn't long until the insignias began to make sense to her. From the seventh rank on down, the channels and Companions were seated at the center table in front of the head table. Householding officers, elected and appointed, were seated at the table on the far right, and the other three tables were filled with the corporation executives. The renSimes and Gens were skillfully intermingled to produce a nagerically neutral atmosphere. Food was already being served by the time she counted thirteen Farris renSimes scattered about the room. But she was the only renSime at the head table.

Despite the throbbing appetite the room full of hungry Gens roused in her, she just stared at her salad until Shanlun rose, moved around Mairis and bent over her. "They're not going to finish serving the head table until we're all finished with the salad."

Despite the overlapping nageric fields of the two strong channels around her, Laneff felt the Gen's hunger. She smiled. "I'm sorry, Shanlun, I guess I'm just too tense."

Mairis turned toward her, grasping the situation instantly even though his attention had been directed out at the room. "Laneff, would it help to know that I've invited you up here because I intend to announce my support of your project?"

She gasped with sudden relief, and Altyn turned toward her, saying, "Oh--I thought your discomfort was merely from being on display.) His field adjusted, letting her perception of the room clear.

Shanlun pointed out that the daughter of a Sectuib was quite accustomed to being put on display, and Mairis reminded Altyn of her medical history which always attracted attention. From that point, polite conversation flowed, and Shanlun took his seat again as the main course arrived.

The channels, being Sime, didn't have to eat for the calories to run their bodies but merely for the small qualities of basic proteins and minerals to renew their tissues. So, being of small appetite, they tended to finish first. Before long, the room was filled with wandering channels, bending to speak to this or that acquaintance. By some unspoken rule, the renSimes remained seated. Laneff supposed they didn't want to disturb the carefully balanced ambient nager. Some of the Simes were obviously in need, nervous and sensitive to every shift in the atmosphere.

The channels slid through the pattern without causing a ripple. Laneff watched the performance with some awe. Altyn and Mairis, the best among them, wove casually about the room, but even the least of the channels from the far end of the middle table wandered with precision. The channels who were in need themselves remained seated with their Companions. The noise grew, but the nageric texture of the room became more relaxed. She was sure this was the work of the channels. Something in her ached to participate in that work.

"Laneff, Mairis hadn't told me his decision, or I would have told you."

Shanlun had moved gently into Mairis's seat, bending close to speak softly and yet be heard. She answered, "I know you would have. I'm sorry I was so wrought up over it. It means--everything to me."

"Mairis understands what that's like. Becoming Sectuib means as much to him."

"Shanlun, how can there be any division in Zeor over it? I mean--it's none of Sat'htine's business--but, isn't Mairis Digen's only heir?"

"Well, yes and no. We have five other Farris channels in this House who are sufficiently accomplished at channeling to be Sectuib." He gestured at the empty chairs around them. Only one channel remained seated at the head table, a very young man who seemed to be in need, his attention on the older woman beside him who seemed to be his Companion.

"They can all trace their ancestry from Digen's father, except Ardith. Her family has been in Zeor only three generations. But she's a terrific channel. Ranks fifth, but you can hardly measure the difference."

Duoconscious, she zlinned Mairis circulating among the corporation executives, his field shifting faintly as he moved. But she was a renSime, physically unable to penetrate the complex haze that surrounded a channel working the fields. "But if there's hardly any difference in skills, why don't they simply take the direct descendant?"

"Oh,--it's no house secret that Mairis has been very late to develop his channeling skills. Altyn was actually operative first channel in this house after Digen's health failed and until about two years ago. Then Mairis--"

He broke off as the Sectuib-Apparent came up behind them. "Laneff, if you've finished eating, there's someone I'd like you to meet."

He escorted her to small knot of channels seated and standing around an older man, a renSime, wearing the scarf and sash of a senior householding executive. From the, general tenor of the nager, she deduced that here was a man of considerable power among his peers.

"Collengrey," said Mairis to the renSime, "I'd like you to meet Laneff Farris ambrov Sat'htine. Laneff, Collengrey ambrov Zeor, Chief Accountant in Zeor and Executive Secretary of Zeor Industries Board of Directors."

The elder renSime did not rise in greeting but gestured to a chair next to him which was hastily vacated for her. "Respect to Sat'htine," said Collengrey with a gruff reserve.

"Respect to Zeor," she answered with equal formality, curiosity burning through her. How could a renSime behave so before his Sectuib-Apparent? Why did Mairis let him get away with it?

"I'm glad to see you looking so well after your ordeal of this afternoon," said Collengrey.

"I'm a little surprised to be so well. I took a slam-abort like that only once before, and it laid me up for a month. But I hardly felt this one."

"Is it perhaps the Codenba brand fosebine keeping you on your feet? Zeor is in pharmaceuticals, you know, and we've been researching some manufactured fosebine substitutes . . ."

Thinking she understood at last, she said, "Oh, no, actually I've let the last dose wear off and I don't even have a headache. I've used Codenba before, and I know it isn't that good. I'm sure I got off lightly because Sec--uh, Mairis is very smooth."

One of the other channels from the head table said, "She is the most sensitive Farris renSime on record, Collengrey. That is, the most sensitive renSime in the world--and if Mairis is that good ..."

"I never said he wasn't," interrupted Altyn defensively.

Mairis, who was standing between her and Shanlun, said, "That isn't entirely why I wanted you to meet her, Coll. You have had a chance to read her prospectus for her project. I'm not a biochemist, but--"

"Oh," said Collengrey, "that. It is interesting. When I was running the research lab, I'd have commissioned another pilot study, though."

"You mean her work is not definitive enough to warrant a larger investment?" Mairis asked it as a straight question, but Laneff detected overtones of challenge in it.

"I wouldn't say that," temporized Collengrey. "There's the psychological factor. It takes people time to get used to such radical ideas. And these days ... well, this whole incident was precipitated by the Diet. The out-Territory Gens are not all as conservative as the Diet would have us think, but that whole incident was designed to prove that Simes are still dangerous and should be contained inside Sime Territories."

"All the more reason to learn to identify Sime from Gen before changeover--to reduce the number of berserkers who kill Gens in first need," said Shanlun.

Altyn said, "To their way of thinking, that would just prove Simes are not so dangerous, and can be lived with."

Laneff shook her head. "I've never pretended to understand the logic of the Diet's thinking, but ..."

"There is none," said Mairis. "They represent an extremist point of view, out-Territory--a minority among minorities."

"But," said Collengrey, "their terrorist tactics have won them publicity, and support for their attitudes. This shows the climate of opinion among Gens who don't live among Simes is ripe for a swing to the conservative side. For a time, people will resist any change--and it is not wise to attempt to lead change right now. A new pilot study would keep the issue alive, but give us time."

"I agree," said Altyn. "Zeor should not jeopardize its reputation by espousing a losing cause."

Mairis caught up the group's nageric complex and held them in suspense for a moment as he searched Altyn's eyes. "And I disagree," he said quietly. "Altyn--are you ready to challenge me in Zeor?"

There was a long hush during which adjacent groups turned toward them, aware that the peak moment of the evening was at hand.

At length, Altyn said, "I don't want to be Sectuib, Mairis. But if you persist in this ..."

"Then come," interrupted Mairis calmly. "Let us get it over with."

Back at the head table, Mairis stood casting a glowing net of nageric awareness over the crowd until each person was seated and quiet. It took only moments, but to Laneff it seemed hours of excruciating tension. She felt Shanlun's attention on her, supporting her. Beside her, Altyn was withdrawn, grave, but determined. Only Mairis seemed cheerfully at ease. And that made Laneff shrink from the coming confrontation. Would she become the cause of a rift in Zeor's succession?

Microphones were turned on and aimed toward various points along the head table, Mairis began to speak, recapitulating what he had said in the eulogy--that Digen's passing marked the turning of an era, and Zeor stood on the brink of an important choice--a new Sectuib.

Then householding formality took over. Mairis passed the control of the meeting to Shanlun, whose position as First Companion was not in question, and he in turn made a formal declaration opening the meeting to volunteers for the office of Sectuib. He called first upon the young man at the end of the table to Laneff's left, the one who she thought might be in need. "Denate Farris ambrov Zeor. Sixth in Zeor."

He stood and said simply, "I'd rather be sixth under Mairis than Sectuib in Zeor or any other house. As you can zlin, I am in hard need. My Companion--who is also my mother--is ready to serve me in householding transfer. But I ask that service of my Sectuib instead--in renewal of my pledge to my House. I ask it to be witnessed by all of you--now."

He came down behind the table to Mairis, who rose and turned, hands and tentacles extended to him. Denate met Mairis's grip while Shanlun moved to support the fields, allowing them a bubble of stability for the transfer. She was now sure that it had all been carefully orchestrated, for without a blink of surprise, Altyn rose and took command of the fields.

"I object. Mairis has not yet been acclaimed Sectuib of this House and can not give pledge transfer in our names."

Several people around the room rose to their feet in silent support of the objection. Mairis and Altyn joined fields around Denate, who was now high intil and ready to grab at any selyn to ease his need. Laneff, seated just arm's length away, felt none of the sharp need in Denate, the two contenders for Sectuib were cooperating so well. And though she could see the poised eagerness in the young man, she could also perceive the ease the two top channels provided for him.

Shanlun turned back to the microphone, dividing his attention between Mairis and the rest of the room while the woman who was Altyn's Companion moved further to Altyn's right to keep the fields neutral for Denate. Laneff forced her attention back to Shanlun, afraid her directed awareness might discomfort the young channel.

"Ambrov Zeor," Shanlun addressed the gathering. "The Sectuib Apparent has been challenged. Is there any other who would stand for his office?"

There was a pause, and then Ardith, the fifth channel under Mairis, stood and Shanlun acknowledged her. "I am content to be fifth under my Sectuib, Mairis."

The fourth and third channels stood and made the same declaration, which left it wholly between Mairis and Altyn.

At the channels' table, a woman rose, a channel who was also in need, and said, "I would prefer to be seventh under Altyn, my Sectuib. I am in hard need and my Companion stands to serve me. But I ask you to witness my pledge transfer from my Sectuib, Altyn Farris ambrov Zeor, great-great grandson of Orim Farris ambrov Zeor Sectuib in Zeor."

From the curious lack of surprise, Laneff know this had all been carefully scripted. But nevertheless, the ambient nager in the room grew taut with anticipation. A goodly portion of those present looked upon Altyn with welcome.

Shanlun said, "You have before you two candidates for Sectuib in this House. Each has support among the ranking channels. Unless there be objection, the procedures of challenge laid down by Sectuib Digen Farris will be followed and we will now witness each candidate performing a pledge transfer. For the next two weeks, every member of the house will have a chance to experience the work of the candidates. On the fifteenth day, we will vote and bind this house to one Sectuib--or we will split the House and all its assets."

As he said those words, Shanlun's voice shook and sweat stood out on his upper lip, but as far as she could detect there was no tremor in his nager. If it were her House, she knew she would have been sobbing. As it was, she poised on the edge of a horrible guilt, afraid to let herself feel it.

For the sake of the channels in need, the matter was quickly arranged. Altyn conceded Mairis the first place and took his own channel aside, other channels and their Companions gathering about to hold the fields steady.

On the floor in front of the head table, Mairis, Shanlun, and Denate gathered. Those to the rear of the room stood on tables and chairs to get a clearer view as Mairis offered his hands once again to Denate, tentacles extended.

Laneff held her breath as the two channels wove handling tentacles together, and then extended lateral tentacles that glistened in the sparkling candlelight. Despite the rock-steady field control that kept onlookers from being randomly affected, Laneff found her own ronaplin glands aching, her own lateral wrist orifices moistened with sympathetic need.

Shanlun draped a heavily embroidered insulating cloth over their joined arms, and then Mairis controlled the initiation of lip contact. Selyn surged. With two of the most developed channels in the world in personal transfer, there was no way to keep the bystanders from involvement. Laneff was drawn hyperconscious, living both the receipt and delivery of selyn.

For a scant moment, a heady euphoria gripped her, and it seemed all the selyn fields around her split into patterns and levels--as if she were zlinning with a channel's perceptions. Then, in one smooth telescoping, all the levels converged, and she was duoconscious again, the world composed of merely ordinary selyn fields. But she found an echo of Denate's satisfaction resounding within her nerves.

There was an efficient flurry of movement, and Altyn replaced Mairis, bringing the seventh channel in Zeor into the center of attention. Altyn's Companion draped the cloth over their arms as their tentacles joined. Again, the rock-steady field control of the Zeor channels kept onlooker involvement minimal, yet Laneff went hyperconscious with them.

This time, the selyn fields did not split. The brightness that was Altyn merely dimmed as the fogged blur that was the channel in need sharpened and lit from within--as if a light had been turned on inside her. As concrete reality emerged around her again, Laneff fought back a surge of her own need. It was as if she had been stripped of something infinitely precious by Altyn's performance.

Shanlun was at her side, his scintillating nager engulfing her in strength. His hands came naturally to her arms, and it was as if he had set her steadily back on her own feet. The surge of need which had threatened her control was gone. Weak, she collapsed against him, sniffing back tears of self-pity over that illusory loss. I'm not a channel. I'll never know if that's really the way they perceive fields.


It was Mairis, standing just behind the First Companion. His tone was more roughly commanding than Laneff had ever heard before Shanlun disengaged from her fields with the superlative ease that matched his Sectuib's touch. "Sectuib?"

"You must adjourn the meeting." His voice had softened, and it was almost an apologetic tone he used now.

Shanlun seemed as puzzled as she was at his Sectuib's manner, but he completed the formalities with quick assurance. Then Mairis reclaimed the microphone, inviting Altyn to stand beside him.

"You are about to choose a Sectuib. For those who choose me--the House that forms around me will be set on a dangerous path."

There was a general gasp as his careful phrasing hit home. Mairis Farris was Sectuib, and would continue to be Sectuib if it meant splitting Zeor in two.

"I am Digen Farris's heir," Mairis continued, "in spirit, in body, and in Zeor. I have pledged my life to excellence, which is Zeor's pledge. To me, that means the constant and rapid pursuit of the unity of the human race. This cannot be achieved while we live in isolated Territories under differing laws. But the Territory borders can not be dissolved until we can guarantee that no Sime will kill in first need.

"The means for that guarantee have been placed into my hands today--Laneff Farris, here, has proposed a method to tell Sime from Gen before birth. Full copies of her proposal will be available to you tomorrow morning. Judge it carefully, and then pledge to my House if you will. My House is throwing all its resources into an effort to complete Laneff's research. This will require more than one House can afford, and so I am going to stand for World Controller again, making it clear that if I am elected, I will use the resources of that office to press for Unity--starting by funding Laneff's project. My House will become identified through all history with her project and the results. Do not come to my pledge hall unless you are willing to go out and defend that position in public."

High above them, one of the candles in the chandelier over the channels' table guttered and dripped hot wax on those below. It was ignored, unfelt amid the shock. Before a general babble could break out, Altyn Farris took the microphone.

"I do not consider myself a Sectuib already, just because I have one channel pledged to me. But I am obliged to offer the Ambrov Zeor an alternate choice. The out-Territory Gens are not the only ones who have spawned terrorist groups in a wild reaction against the rapid change of the last century under Digen Farris. In-Territory, Simes and Gens alike are joining groups seeking to maintain the current balances. I am just as dedicated to progress toward Unity as my cousin, Mairis. But the time is not now. If Zeor attempts to push for change now, it will only attract boycotts, terrorist bombings of our plants, sabotage, and a massive hate campaign to besmirch our name all down through history. We can't lead where others will refuse to follow.

"Come to my pledge hall if you would have Zeor bide its time until people are ready to consider such changes in their lives."

After that, the meeting broke up into small groups and a roar of conversation grew. Somebody turned on the overhead fluorescent lights, as more and more candles burned out. Laneff followed Shanlun and Mairis numbly as they worked their way toward the door. Out on the Concourse, more groups gathered, some calling to Mairis and Shanlun, but they passed by at a brisk pace, heading for an elevator bank that was still deserted.

In the elevator, Mairis breathed a deep sigh as the doors closed behind Shanlun and Laneff, leaving several others stranded. "Laneff," he said, "no matter what the secretaries tell you tomorrow about my schedule, I must speak with you about that blond Donor who mistook you for a channel."

Laneff did some quick arithmetic and figured that if Mairis were to pledge six thousand Zeor members in fourteen days, it meant a transfer every three minutes or so, without rest. Even half that many would be a strain on the best Farris channels.

"I can look through the photograph file by myself," she offered, "and if I find him, I'll let you know."

He nodded. "When you find him, let me know. Out there they don't know anything about the mess we've got here. That investigation is the first thing on their minds." He turned toward her, fastening her with his gaze. "I'd like it to stay that way."

"Of course--Sectuib."

"Shanlun," said Mairis, as the elevator stopped. "Take Laneff to her room and supervise her sleep. She's probably going to hit turnover tonight, and--" He turned to her, "I know you feel well now, but your nerves really can't stand too much more. I don't want to see you suffering need nightmares. I'd have a hard time explaining that to your father!"

She smiled at the thought of her father scolding Mairis. "I appreciate it, but you'll require Shanlun in pledge hall ..."

"I can use Denate's mother, for a while. I'm not your Sectuib, Laneff, but I'm still World Controller. I don't have time to argue my decisions." He took his hand off the door control and it opened.

Shanlun guided her toward her room as Mairis headed away in a different direction. But then, Mairis called, "Oh, Laneff--another unarguable decision. I will be giving you your next transfer, myself, regardless of the schedule. Count on it." He turned to go--thought again, and paused, looking At Shanlun.

"I'm sorry I snapped at you. But--just remember, Zeor doesn't marry outside of Zeor."

And then he was gone down a side corridor.

As she let them into her room, Laneff asked, "What did he mean by that?"

"Chalk it up to pressure," answered Shanlun. "Do you know what he's facing?"

"The splitting of his House? Shanlun, I've been a householder all my life!"

He dropped into a chair by the window and turned on the overhanging lamp. "I haven't--and I think maybe that's what's bothering Sectuib." He glanced up at her as she hung her cloak in the closet. "I suppose you're caught in this, you've a right to understand. You see, I opted into Zeor when Digen's health failed--to be his Companion. That displaced all the other Companions down one step in the House hierarchy. I'm still an outsider here--valued for my skills, distrusted in my loyalties. But Mairis has grown enormously while Digen failed, and gradually, Mairis has come to count on my being there when he needs me. Toward the end, he was almost looking forward to Digen's death--because it would free me for him."

"That's a horrible thing to say!" She could tell he was no householder born.

"Grim, yes, but not shameful. The living must live. And Mairis has grown to a point where there are precious few Donors in the Tecton who can serve his need properly. He and I are now an exceptionally good match. Householding privilege is still honored under Tecton law well enough that Mairis is--fearful--that Zeor might lose me."

"You mean--he's--jealous--of me? But--"

"Laneff, in the time Mairis has worked with me, you are the first woman I've expressed any spontaneous interest in."

She stared, uncomprehending. A working Donor on Shanlun's level had a good sex drive.

"Normally," said the Gen, "Mairis has to work hard to find a woman I can be mildly interested in. When I told him you and I had reached an agreement, and that I hoped you would be here for transfer--well, now with the whole House at stake, and all the women In Zeor here to choose from, I choose you. And as far as Mairis knows, I have no particular loyalty to Zeor."

"Do you?" asked Laneff, for the first time realizing that her feeling for Shanlun could be more than casual physical attraction.


"I'm a Sectuib's daughter. My children will be direct heirs of the founder of Sat'htine. If I have any."

The silence was painful. Then he said, "Maybe it would be a good idea not to start something we don't intend to finish."

She didn't let her disappointment show. "Maybe so."

But his eyes lingered on her as she gathered toiletries and went into the bathroom. When she came out, dressed for sleep, she had to admit, "I think the Sectuib was right. I don't feel as well as I did ..."

"Turnover?" he said, getting to his feet.

"I think--" The vague discomfort focused into the old, familiar sensation of sudden freefall. Only this time, instead of the mild surge of alarm followed by a twinge of nausea, she felt as if every inch of her skin were being flayed by a shower of white-hot needles. Gasping, rooted to the carpet, she fought for calm, letting her senses drift hyperconscious so that the room dissolved into gossamer selyn fields. It's only the onset of need.

Shanlun, a pillar of scintillating confetti, moved toward her, and simultaneously transformed into a fluorescent sunrise-colored cloud that engulfed her; his cool fog blew through every cell of her being.

She faded to duoconsciousness as he put her down on the bed, flipping a blanket over her suddenly shivering body.

"Sectuib predicted you'd have a rough turnover. There's just so much that mortal flesh can tolerate in one day."

She clutched at the shoulders of his cloak, afraid to let go. "If you hadn't been here--" With a dorsal handling tentacle, she scrubbed a tear from the corner of her eye, angry at herself for letting mere need become a terror.

He waited patiently until she could stop shaking and let go of him, catching her breath as if she'd been running.

"Now," said Shanlun, "Sectuib says you must sleep--to heal from the shock of that abort--so I'm going to stay here every moment until you wake up, so you won't have need nightmares. Focus your attention on my field, and let yourself go hyperconscious ..."

He continued in the hypnotic voice of the working Donor, and as she did as she was told, she had time only to think how magnificent it was to be treated as if she were a channel, always protected by a Companion's field.

She woke, well after midnight. Shanlun was speaking softly into the phone.

"I've slept nearly three hours," Shanlun was muttering into the phone. "I can serve." A pause and he turned as if sensing her eyes on him. "She's awake. I'll be there shortly." Replacing the handset, he turned to her. "Laneff, Sectuib is ready for his transfer. I have to go now."

He was in need--all day? In her half-waking state the puzzled shock barely registered. She merely took it as a measure of how good a channel Mairis was. "Go," she said. "I'm awake now."

As he left, the soft glow in the room faded; sharp, hard corners of reality pushing bleakly into her consciousness. Not wanting to face all that yet, she cultivated the half doze, floating in nonthought until fragments of dreams flickered before her eyes. There had been a dance held by Zeor under Sectuib Muryin Farris--Klyd Farris's daughter. Blurred mists of candlelight; dancing with a huge, tall blond Gen; life stretching before her within household walls.

Her tall, blond Gen had spun her off the dancefloor and into a city built around a university where they worked together teaching and doing research. It was unclear how they came to work at a huge city Sime Center complex, a Regional Controller's headquarters. They had a penthouse suite, and uniformed security guards. Life was good and everything worked out just as they'd planned.

Gradually, she realized she had the most idiotic grin on her face, and simultaneously, the comforting image of the huge Gen-faded. Why the blond? She had been so taken with the lanky, dark-haired, not so tall Shanlun, but now she was dreaming--fantasizing about--the mysterious blond from the funeral.

She sat up and shook away the shreds of the mood, and then stopped with her feet half way to the floor. She was hours into the need half of her cycle. If she'd had any dreams at all, why in the world would they have any sexual connotations? She ran over the rapidly fading fragments again. No, it wasn't blatant sexuality that the dream-blond cast about her--it was Gen solidity. And they'd been the most pleasant dreams she'd ever had since her changeover--especially after turnover.

Shanlun! It had been his skill with the field balances that had kept her subconscious happy enough to weave pleasant dreams while she slept. Renewed awe for the Gen's skill came over her. And the tremendous peace stayed with her even as she dressed, puzzling over the Donor's incredible skill. If Mairis was ready for his personal transfer, that meant Shanlun had been at his highest peak field. Yet his nager carried none of the shrieking vibrancy of barely leashed power she had always associated with the higher order Donors at peak field. She would be very interested to zlin him after this transfer.

Brushing her hair, she was gazing into the mirror at her so-typical Farris features--high forehead better hidden under the wisp of black hair that persisted in flopping down into her eyes, sharp little nose, prominent cheekbones, a mouth people called sensitive. She could be any Farris in the world. But am I going to be the end of Zeor?

The stray thought surfaced out of nothing. Yesterday, her whole life had focused on convincing Mairis Farris to throw the power of Zeor and the World Controllership behind her project. And now she'd won that victory--en so easily! But Zeor was in danger of splitting, and Mairis was afraid Sat'htine was about to steal away Zeor's best Donor. No!

She hurled the brush onto the dresser and was out the door before it stopped bouncing. Spurning the elevators as too slow, she flew down the stairs, across the lobby, and followed the signs--still wet with ink--to Altyn's Pledge Hall.

The pledge hall had been set up in one of the large corner suites, all the hall doors pinned open so people could come and go during the public proceedings. But signs had been posted warning of high-field flux which meant she should have a Gen escort to go in there.

As she hesitated beside the standard that held the sign, a Companion paused on her way in, projecting a silent question into the ambient nager. Laneff smiled and accepted the escort, wondering if the woman was here to cast her pledge to Altyn and his fear-locked point of view.

The main room stretched the entire length of the suite and disappeared around the corner. Couches had been pushed away from an antique brick fireplace, and comfortable transfer lounges had been set up before the gaily dancing fire. The whole room was done in a bland combination of pale blue and ivory with elegant flashes of gold filigree here and there. The ivory satin drapes were pulled over the corner expanse of windows, and heavy partitions had been moved in to block any field flux from outside the building.

Despite several dozen onlookers scattered about the room, the ambient nager held the hush of a transfer cubicle. Altyn sat beside a Gen who was stretched out on one of the transfer lounges, and they were exchanging the formal words of the Zeor pledge with Altyn in the role of Sectuib. Their joined arms were already draped with the insulating cloth embroidered with Zeor's crest.

As she watched, Altyn bent to touch lips with the Gen. The Donor beside her watched too avidly to spare Laneff much shielding attention, and the surge hit her like a tidal wave in the ambient nager. For the first time since she wakened, she was aware of the searing ache of need all over her body. And then it was over.

"Oh," said the Donor, "I'm sorry." And a moment of her focused attention dispelled most of Laneff's discomfort.

"That's all right. Thank you. But now I've got to talk to Altyn."

The Donor really looked at her for the first time. "Laneff? Oh--no! I am sorry!"

Laneff was already edging through the gathered Simes and Gens as two of the proctors working the schedule ushered a Sime toward the transfer lounge where Altyn and his Companion, a woman named Nody Farris, sat recovering from the functional.

"Altyn?" she called.

"Hey, you can't--" objected one of the proctors.

"That's Laneff," said the Donor behind her.

And Laneff was at the channel's side. She recognized the Sime being settled on the adjacent lounge as one of the lower ranking channels, and the woman was obviously in need, high intil and aching for transfer. "Only a moment, Hajene," Laneff said to her, and turned to Altyn.

"I have to talk to you--now," she said to Altyn, and received a scowl from his Companion.

Altyn went hyperconscious and scanned the line waiting beside the proctors. Then he regarded her in duoconsciousness, reading her nager as if he could thereby read her mind. "Wait in the other room. I'll be in as soon as I can. Nody, work with Delun now."

As the Companion moved to the other lounge, focusing her attention on the channel there, Laneff followed Altyn's gesture around the bend in the main room. A door stood ajar to a small sitting room which was empty. The Inn caterer had left a tea service all draped in white linen. She made herself some trin tea and settled to wait.

Amazingly, it wasn't long until Altyn came in, kneading the back of his neck with fingers and tentacles. "Trin sure smells good." he commented, and she rose to pour him some.

He dropped into a deep, upholstered chair and sighed. "My point of view is proving more popular than I had counted on. And now you turn up. Don't tell me you're thinking of pledging to us?"

"Goodness no!" she said before she realized how that might sound. "Not that I disparage Zeor--the contrary. Altyn, I'm afraid all of this is my fault. If I hadn't come along with my proposal, Mairis wouldn't be so adamant. And you wouldn't be forced to challenge him like this. I don't want--I can't--be the cause of a split in the oldest surviving Householding!"

"I don't think anyone would ever blame you," Altyn said. "Mairis set himself on this course--oh---when he was just a child. Go listen to his eulogy for Digen again. He knew where he was going with Zeor long ago. He just didn't know how he was going to jar the world into abolishing the Territory borders until you offered him the key experiment. He wanted it so badly--he recognized it instantly--and that's why his judgment on whether it's worth trying now or not can't be trusted."

"But he's consulted experts--"

"Yes, and ignored the ones who disagree with him."

She had to admit she had done the same thing, refusing to stop when all the authorities proclaimed her experiments not worth following up.

"Sometimes," she said slowly, "a person has to trust an irrational intuition despite all the 'sane' advice in the world. Altyn, my project comes out of the essential vital substance of my self. It's the part of me that's wholly dedicated to my House. Sat'htine means more than just health--eradicating disease--it means the joy of the perfectly tuned body/spirit/mind complex. Oh, I don't suppose I could explain it to you any more than you could explain Zeor to me ..."

"But I do understand," he interrupted. "It's what we're all doing--living up to the highest ideal that we know."

"Not Mairis," she challenged, pacing restlessly. "He's not living up to an ideal outside of himself like you and I are. He is the Zeor ideal. It comes from so deep inside that he couldn't possibly act any other way. That's why he can claim to be a Sectuib, even in a House without members. And you can't."

She clamped her lips shut over the flooding, anguished tirade that threatened to break loose. She had no place talking to the Zeor Second Channel like that.

But Altyn did not react perceptibly to the affront. "I don't impugn his motives. I question his judgment."

"A householding is not a democracy. A Sectuib is not elected. A Sectuib is recognized. If even an outsider can see that Mairis is Zeor--why can't you?"

Duoconscious, he regarded her steadily for several moments. She thought she had finally hit home, but at length he said, "I don't see that this is getting us anywhere, and there are people awaiting transfer outside. I must go."

He waited, giving her a chance to guide the conversation elsewhere, but she had no more to say. "Thank you for taking the time to listen to me, Hajene," she said formally, and left by a door that did not lead through the crowded pledge hall.

Over the next few days, she gradually convinced herself that she had done all she could. Her nerves became progressively more unsteady as need clamped down, and she understood why Mairis insisted she stay in the sheltered seclusion of the Householding conclave. Reporters and curiosity seekers swarmed about every entryway, questioning everyone who went in and out. Once, taking out some mail, she was accosted by a television crew and questioned.

When she insisted she was not even a member of Zeor, they inferred instantly that she was Laneff Farris ambrov Sat'htine. They jumped on that information and began asking personal questions about how it felt to be disjunct and tempted to kill. By the time two Zeor Companions had rescued her, she was in tears.

They turned to tears of embarrassment for being unable to handle such a simple challenge. It was then that she realized she wasn't as well as she felt.

Examining her briefly between accepting pledges, Mairis said, "It takes time, Laneff. You'll be fine after your transfer. I guarantee."

She clung to that pronouncement and accepted a job in the office that handled the World Controllership business. It kept her occupied, and her mind off of herself. It also kept her out of the main stream of Zeor debate over Altyn's challenge.

She also spent a number of hours poring over the file photographs of the Tecton Donors, looking for the tall blond. By the time she'd finished the entire file, she had collected a list of two hundred thirty-three possibles--and they all looked alike to her. Except for one.

Her eye kept returning to a candid profile shot of him gleaned from an old newspaper file. But something kept blocking her from speaking out about her suspicion.

The authorities had mounted a complete investigation of the Diet's involvement. The Gen cameraman had been sent to a psychiatric hospital out-Territory where he finally succeeded in committing suicide--though the Diet claimed he died of transfer shock sustained from Laneff Farris's attack on him. The redheaded woman was released from jail when it could not be proved that she had done anything more illegal than conspire to create a riot. And since that hadn't happened, and nobody actually saw her mash the Gen's hand in the camera's gears (which had accidentally been left uncovered), she could only be tried on conspiracy charges. And there were no witnesses to that.

The matter seemed to be entirely closed except for the blond Donor. Had he selected her for the demonstration? Was he a member of the Diet? As she recalled, she had wandered into him while he had been completely concentrated on the speech. She could not believe he was a part of the terrorist movement. She had let him think she was a channel--and she'd gotten what she deserved for that deception.

So she filed the Donor's name--Yuan Sirat Tiernan--away in her memory. But she wasn't sure she ever wanted to meet him.

Her transfer was scheduled for the day before the final decision would be rendered by the House. Shanlun came to escort her to where Mairis was holding pledge hall. He found her in the lobby, staring up at the huge poster giving the final pledge tally--2,623 for Altyn; 3,445 for Mairis. The rest of the members were withholding judgment until the next day.

"The pledge halls are closed," said Shanlun quietly behind her. "Sectuib is waiting for you."

His nager had the neutral effect of particolored confetti again. But he had regained the massive solidity his nager had held just before his transfer with Mairis. It was comforting enough that she was able to walk calmly beside him despite the raw edge of need. It wasn't true, hard need. No renSime under the Tecton was ever allowed to experience that, lest they become more easily provoked to the kill. But it was the strongest need she ever felt, or ever wanted to feel.

"I never asked," she said in the elevator, "and maybe it's none of my business, but was your transfer with Mairis a pledge transfer?"

"Yes," he answered. "He is Sectuib of my House--whatever House that may be."

"Then--it's a good thing we decided not to start something we weren't going to finish."

"Maybe," he answered looking down at her slightly. "But it's not a pleasant thing. I've never had you, and I miss you already."

"Zeor--is wonderful--but it's not my House."

"It's nobody's right now."

His tone was so bleak, she had to say, "Shanlun, when I get ready to have a child--I'm going to ask you to be the father. Even if we can't make a life together, we can have that."

It was an offer that should have made him happy, or at least touched a responsive chord. Instead, he stared at her stricken, as the elevator doors sprang open.

In the hall, she protested, "It's a common enough practice among householders. Don't you realize your child could become Sectuib in Sat'htine?"

Outside the suite Mairis had been using, he paused, frowning. "Laneff, to open the gates of life to a soul, and not remain as guide--I could not do that. Such a child--it would only make me want you more."

The neutral confetti took on a more uniform fluorescent tint, warming her starving nervous system. She was aware that Shanlun had spent much more time around the World Controller's offices as they shifted affairs to the incoming World Controller than his duties to Mairis warranted. And she had encouraged it, because he was so comfortable to be with. Now his nager was too comfortable--too enticing to her selyn-starved system.

"Shanlun, don't ..."

The neutrality sprang back. "Sorry. Come on, Mairis is waiting."

The suite was a duplicate of the one Altyn had been using, except it was done in shades of gray and midnight blue with silver accents. Gradually, the two transfer lounges had become surrounded with white painted clinic equipment charts loaded with all manner of medical supplies. In one of the lounges, a Gen she recognized as the Third Companion in Zeor was snoring, despite the soft murmur of conversation that filled the room.

Onlookers had gathered in a knot near the shielded corner window, and in the midst of them Altyn and Nody faced off against Mairis. As she came in with Shanlun, Mairis and Altyn turned, Mairis smiling.

"Shanlun, I think I wore Ediv out!" said Mairis gesturing to the Third Companion. "Can you work this transfer with me?"

Shanlun kept quiet as he led her across the deep, rich carpet. His nager was still that neutral blank, but she was sure he was in turmoil. Obviously, he'd been counting on Ediv working with Mairis while he merely delivered her to the room and departed.

When he came within easy speaking range, Shanlun said simply, "I am rested, Sectuib."

Smiling, Mairis stepped in close to Shanlun, their nagers joining in the shimmering blur characteristic of the channel's functional mode which she could not perceive. Quickly, though, Mairis's attention focused on her, and though her need sharpened under that regard, the twanging urgency eased as her body understood what her mind had been trying to tell it--soon, now.

"Laneff," said Mairis, "the pledge hall is closed. But all the equipment is still handy--and--"

As he stumbled, Altyn said, "I've come to observe Mairis in function. Since you do represent something of an ultimate challenge in skill, I would like to observe his transfer to you--if you can see your way clear to permit it."

Mairis gestured. "The others here also want to observe. I know you didn't volunteer for this--and if you don't want it, I will send them away--but, with Shanlun holding the fields for us, you'll never know they're there."

It didn't strain even her need-blunted intelligence to guess that there was something more to Altyn's presence. There was a good chance he was even considering offering his pledge to Mairis and ending all the tension right here.

Shanlun said to her, "I didn't know about this. Don't do it if you don't want to."

"He's not asking for a pledge!" She looked at Mairis, "And I wouldn't want to give one--with all respect, Sectuib."

"Of course--I understand. We can find some other volunteer."

"No--I'll do it. I can't zlin much through Shanlun's fields when he turns his full attention on me. It--will be all right."

As Shanlun shifted his attention to her and let his nager take on a brightness she had never zlinned before, the awareness of the other Simes and Gens in the room faded markedly. Altyn said, "I thought you might agree. Thank you."

And then they were setting her up on the lounge, somebody going out to guard the doors, and others arranging themselves so the ambient nager wouldn't disturb her. Mairis took his place beside her, eclipsing Shanlun's brilliance as he became Gen to her.

She knew he must be somewhere near turnover into need, but she couldn't detect the slightest variance in his field. Which means nothing, she thought. I'm only a renSime!

She let herself relax to Mairis's coaching, and gradually the buzz of Ediv's snoring receded from awareness. The room became a cheerful pink haze of brightness misting off into featureless distance.

Sliding gently hyperconscious, she was aware of the replete selyn fields before her, and without volition, her hands went out to that source of satisfaction. The contact she knew was lateral twined to lateral she perceived as a merging of the edges of throbbing fields with her own body, interpenetrating fully as she made lip contact.

In the space of one short inbreath, she had grabbed all the selyn she could hold. Her whole awareness rang with a sense of eternity, unchanging. She got vague overtones of Shanlun's personality, and realized Mairis was giving her what Shanlun gave him in personal transfer.

When the world faded in around her, every muscle in her body had turned to jelly, and it was as if she were floating. She didn't even want to take a deep breath for fear of breaking the delicious spell. Never had a transfer affected her like this.

She was only peripherally aware of the shimmering nager that indicated a room full of people, but she could hear every quieted breath, every rustle of movement, as they waited for her to come out of it. At last, she couldn't see making them wait on her gratuitous pleasure--though she didn't think she'd ever have such an experience again.

She took the deep breath, letting her eyes come open. Shanlun was behind Mairis's shoulder, hovering. Her singing pleasure seemed to be echoed in both their nagers, and it suddenly hit her that if she had actually killed, actually reawakened killust in herself, she would not have been able to have these moments of real satisfaction.

Tears spring to her eyes, and she almost cried out in anguish over the imagined loss. Dear God, am I ever post!

Mairis moved closer, taking her hands, letting his tentacles graze her tentacle sheaths. "Can you give me lateral contact again? I want to scan you deeply."

Unable to speak, she nodded and unsheathed her laterals. The heavy ronaplin secretion had ceased with her satisfaction, and they weren't as touch sensitive as they had been in need, but when the channel made contact, adding lip contact, she went totally hyperconscious again despite her satisfied state.

His attention was a searchlight sweeping through her body, then up through her brain, tracing nerve paths with quick assurance. And then he was dismantling the contact and she was securely hypoconscious again--perceiving only with her ordinary five senses.

"Perfect," he said. "You're merely post-transfer. Not a trace of the abort-shock."

She felt as if she were made out of stretched tissue paper, emotions surging inside threatening to tear loose if she moved. It was more intense than she was accustomed to, but it was familiar post sensations. The room around her suddenly seemed etched in brilliant indigo and silver, whispering voiced penetrated like shrieks, and she fancied she could feel the weave of her clothing denting her skin.

Altyn's deep voice cut across it all. "Laneff, may I make a lateral-contact examination also?"

Without making the effort to zlin him, she looked up at him. The backs of his hands and his arms were covered with curly black hairs. His eyebrows were bushy. She blinked away the fascination with him. "I don't see why not." She offered her hands, and Altyn changed places with Mairis as the two companions did a dance-turn behind them. She didn't even notice what all this did to the ambient nager.

She sat up, her head perfectly clear for the first time since the incident. Intending to cooperate with a crisp, businesslike contact, Laneff closed the gap between herself and Altyn. His hands fell neatly into place, their laterals joining so that she scarcely felt it. But she remained acutely aware of his touch on her skin, and his hard, immobile lips on hers. There was nothing sensuous in his channel's professionalism, but nevertheless, her body responded to the touch.

She was immensely relieved when he relinquished that contact, and she said, "I'm sorry. I guess I better get out of here."

"To go where?" asked Mairis. "It's after midnight. You may leave now, if someone is waiting for you, but--"

"No," she said, her eyes straying to Shanlun against her will. "There's nobody. It's just--I can't stay here like this."

Again, she meant in this very room, but Mairis took it to mean the Inn. "You are our guest--at least until morning." Then he looked to Altyn who had risen to face him. "Or--do I have the right to extend that invitation?"

The room grew totally silent. "You will have--after you've accepted my pledge, Sectuib."

Relief sang through the room as expelled sighs.

But Mairis said, "Can I accept pledge from someone who does not trust my judgment?"

"You took risks with Laneff--from the moment you snatched her out of a killmode attack. You predicted, in public, she would be perfectly fine after your transfer. You risked your reputation on that--and you won, without bravado. This whole last two weeks, you've risked your House on your judgment, and never faltered. We could split this House, you and I. Because I still disagree with you. Laneff had to rub my nose in it before I could see it. But now I can recognize a Sectuib--and it has nothing to do with agreement. You are my Sectuib--and Sectuib to all those pledged to me--because you are Zeor."

The laws and customs were thought to date from the time of Rimon Farris, the First Channel. She had never actually seen it done--the combining of two Houses, the pledging of one Sectuib to another. She watched, fighting goosebumps.

It took only a few minutes to summon the five top ranking channels and their Companions under each Sectuib. But in those minutes, the pledge hall was transformed. The tea service was dismantled to appropriate its white tablecloth. Tea was dumped from a cut crystal decanter which was then filled with clear water. Two unlit candles were found and rooted onto the bottoms of upended tea glasses, and the whole array was assembled on an end table taken from the pile of unused furniture in a corner of the huge room.

With the white cloth draped to the floor on all sides of the small, square table, the sparking crystal and white candles, the room was transformed into something from a storybook. People crowded into the room, most wearing Zeor cloaks, and carrying cloaks for those already present. Before long, she felt undressed, out of place, and she tried to fade into the walls as the room filled with witnesses.

She saw several of those who had pledged to Altyn talking with him briefly, smiling. But with the scrambled ambient between them, all the excitement and relief in the room, she could not read the fields. She could only infer they were pleased.

A hush fell as Altyn and Mairis took places across the white table from each other. Their Companions stationed themselves behind them, and the ranking channels and Companions formed a semicircle behind the table.

As the crowd shifted, Laneff was able to glimpse two other objects that had been placed on the table. One was a clear lucite dagger formed like the Zeor crest symbol. The other was an ancient, leather-bound book which she assumed must be the list of martyrs to Zeor. It was much larger than Sat'htine's book; Zeor was much older and had lived through times when householders were considered perverts because they didn't kill for selyn.

Someone turned off the lights in the room. It was totally dark; two hours before sunrise, and no moon, there was no light leaking through the heavily draped and screened windows. She made the effort to duoconsciousness, the room springing into being around her etched in Gen-brightness and channel's swirls, the whole texture bespeaking Zeor discipline, each individual nager totally separate, and yet part of the larger pattern. She couldn't imagine any group in Sat'htine achieving that effect. It was hard to imagine wanting to achieve that effect enough to work at the disciplines as hard as Zeor did.

Duoconscious, she watched as Altyn and Mairis each lit one of the candles on the table. To her perceptions, Shanlun and Nody seemed to become echoes of those tiny flames, their respective nagers turning to liquid gold as they linked tenuously with their channels.

Mairis and Altyn joined hands, tentacles still retracted, and Shanlun, with Nody's help, draped the insulating pledge cloth across their arms taking care it didn't touch the candles. When the Gens had resumed their places, Altyn spoke.

"Unto the House of Zeor, I pledge my heart, my hand, my substance. And unto Mairis Farris, Sectuib in Zeor, I pledge my life, my trust, my undying loyalty. I commit my life, my substance, and my children, in my own name, born from death, unto Zeor, forever."

"Unto the House of Zeor," said Mairis steadily, "I pledge my heart, my hand, my substance, my life, my trust, my undying loyalty, and my children, in my own name, born from death, unto Zeor, forever. And to Altyn Farris ambrov Zeor, I pledge my substance, my trust, my undying loyalty--in both our names, unto Zeor, forever."

Their laterals joined, they touched lips, and selyn swept from Altyn to Mairis until Altyn's field went almost totally dark, his secondary or channel's system drained. A fractional pause, and selyn surged back to Altyn--the supply of Zeor to be used to the benefit of Zeor, a House rebound.

Joy sprang through the room. It seemed to Laneff in that moment that all the universe sang in harmony, as if everyone were as post as she was, all at the same time.