From her vantage in the visitors box, Laneff watched Simes and Gens throng into Householding Square. Most of them, men and women both, wore formal capes displaying their Householding colors. All around the edges of the square, the banners of the Houses were on display, flapping in the brisk spring wind, illumined by the rising sun.
The riotous splashes of colors divided around the granite statue of the legendary Rimon Farris, mounted on his horse. For this occasion, a Zeor blue cloak had been draped around his shoulders and over the flanks of the horse. Rimon, as father of the first Householdings, was claimed as member by all Houses, so no one was offended by the blue today.
Laneff's place was to the right of the podium which barred the gate to the old Householding Cemetery. Elaborate displays of flowers hid the raw wood of the stage. Mairis and Shanlun were already taking their place at the center of the podium, surrounded by blue cloaked dignitaries of the House of Zeor, those who ran the vast corporate network of businesses owned by Zeor, those who administered the education of Zeor's children, and those who held rank by virtue of skill as channels or Donors.
Across from Laneff, on the other side of the podium, a roped off area held the children and attending members of Zeor, a blindingly brilliant field of blue cloaks. Beside and behind Laneff, there was a sprinkling of blue, renSimes who were members of Zeor but now in need.
The guards stationed at short intervals around Laneff's end of the visitors box were all high order Donors or channels, most of them members of Zeor. But one Gen in particular, who seemed intent on Laneff alone, was not wearing any Householding affiliation. He paced and paused with an awkward self-consciousness before the front center seat that had been assigned to Laneff.
When Digen's coffin was brought through the Gate behind the Zeor member's box and solemnly installed among the flowers on the podium, Laneff had to adjust the attenuators she wore to maximum, despite the horrid sensory distortion. Again, she was glad she hadn't eaten. Her peculiarly sensitive nervous system never would be able to accept the attenuators. The renSimes on either side of her were wearing attenuator rings tuned to maximum and seemed perfectly comfortable.
At last Mairis was handed a microphone wand and took his place beside a table on which various items were laid out. The public address system came to life with a drum roll, and the bell like twang of a shiltpron plucked in the call to mourn. The crowd silenced, but the nager intensified with gut-wrenching bereavement. Many of them had known Digen personally, taken transfer from him when he was channeling, or worked with him when he was World Controller. We were all sure he'd recover this time, too. He seemed immortal.
Mairis, braced by Shanlun's nager, spoke calmly into the microphone. "Digen Ryan Farris, Sectuib in Zeor for the last one hundred sixteen years, is dead."
The inchoate emotions focused to a piercing sense of permanent loss. I hate funerals! thought Laneff, struggling to keep her awareness hypoconscious, to block out her Sime senses so she wouldn't drown in the emotions of others when her own tears were blocked by the deadening pall of need.
"My great grandfather," said Mairis, his voice low and intimate, "who held the office of World Controller a record six times in his life, is dead. An era has come to an end."
Beyond the far end of the podium, ranks of television cameras scanned the crowd for grieving faces. She knew some of them would be focusing on her, and she fought not to let her rising nausea distort her expression. The renSimes beside her sensed her discomfort and edged as far away as they could to give her breathing room.
She tried to concentrate on the nager of the Donor who paced before her. From the massive pull of his nager, she deduced he had to be a First Order Donor like Shanlun, but he was otherwise unremarkable. Reddish blond hair framed his unweathered face. Gingery eyebrows and mustache matched his pale freckles. He wore a floppy-brimmed hat as sun protection, and a serviceable gray suit.
As he turned, his ever wandering eyes chanced to meet hers, and he smiled. His face lit and his nager glowed with an instant friendliness that wiped all trace of self-consciousness away. She inched forward in her chair and said, "Could you stop pacing? It's making me nauseated."
Chagrined, he nodded and planted his feet firmly, positioning himself between Laneff and her neighbor, a woman wearing a Householding Frihill cloak.
With the rippling in the fields tamed, Laneff turned her attention back to Mairis. "…and in the last hundred years, under the leadership of Digen Farris, the world has started to move once again toward the dream of our ancestors who founded the Householdings, the union of the two halves of the human race, Sime and Gen. Never again will there be a nation in which only Simes are citizens and Gens are bred and raised in pens like cattle."
On the periphery of Laneff's awareness, to her right and out in the sea of now still bodies, there was a movement. A large silver painted van with a broadcast camera on its roof was creeping toward the visitors box, parting the crowd by inexorable force. Two Gens on the roof wrestled with a huge old camera, panning the long snout of a sunshade from Mairis to where Laneff sat. Why aren't they confined to the press zone? Most of the cameras in the press zone which was carved out of the crowd in front of the statue were aimed at Mairis now.
"Seven hundred years ago," Mairis continued, "Rimon Farris discovered he could take selyn from any Gen and give it to a Sime in need so the Sime didn't have to kill to live. He became the first channel. Two hundred thirty two years ago, Klyd Farris founded the Modern Tecton, built on the foundations provided by the Householdings and their channels and Companions, but designed to encompass every living Sime. That was a mere beginning. Over the last century, the face of civilization has changed.
"When Digen Farris was a child, the World Controllership was just being created. When he took over as Sectuib in Zeor, nobody could place a telephone call across a Territory border. He was the first Sime ever to go to school out-Territory. When he was a young man, all the Tecton's Donors were trained by channels, a method so inefficient it caused the infamous Donor Shortage.
"That was in the year one thirty-two, a full century ago. Is there anyone here who remembers that time?"
The anguish of the crowd began to give way to a sense of wonder at all that had been accomplished during one man's lifetime. The blond Gen guard, too, was caught up in it, and that drew Laneff duoconscious, aware of the full range of Sime senses as well as her ordinary senses. The blond Gen's nager paled to insignificance beside Shanlun's pyrotechnic vibrancy, a shell of positive energy that Shanlun threw around Mairis to protect him from the ambient of the crowd.
Mairis put one arm around Shanlun's shoulders. Despite attenuators and the wall of trained Donors who surrounded the low field box with protection, she perceived how the two nagers blended in harmony. She tried to force herself to breathe evenly. But even from this distance, every nerve in her body remembered that moment in the rotunda and resonated to the barest hint of it that seeped through to her now, activating need again.
It wasn't the magnitude of Shanlun's nager that was his strongest attraction to her. It was the quality. I'd love that man even if he was Sime.
"…and channels still depend on our Donors. But now there are enough such Donors. It's a profession entered not just by Companions from the Householdings but by many children raised by Simes in-Territory, and also by Gens raised by Gens out-Territory."
Mairis continued guiding the crowd through history and up to an awareness of how Digen Farris had molded their world. Laneff swallowed against throat muscles and diaphragm that insisted she was about to vomit. She scanned the crowd, knowing she couldn't speak to them feeling like this. If she tried to articulate, she knew she'd double over and retch.
Off to one side, and nearly level with the visitors box, the silver van was still creeping through the crowd. She could make out the expressions on the faces of the camera crew. One of them, a redheaded Gen woman who seemed as young as Laneff herself, leaned over the edge of the van roof to call something to the driver, a dark brown skinned Gen with kinky black hair. Laneff felt the Simes in proximity to the van tense, preparing for the shock if the Gen should fall off that roof and be hurt. Gen pain could trigger a Sime to kill, even against the Sime's own will.
Two or three Gens glanced up at the van, noting the tension in the Simes around them. In the general movement to get out of the van's way, the Gens rearranged themselves to protect the renSimes in the crowd. The slow creep of the van seemed to arrow toward Laneff. And the shuffling movement of the crowd only added to her nausea. Her skin was crawling with a prickling sensation, and she couldn't breathe. The other Simes about her, protected by their attenuators, never noticed.
But the blond Gen turned as a muted gasp escaped her. "You're right," he muttered, "that van could be trouble." And he moved closer to her, firmly planting a good segment of his attention on her as if she were a channel to be supported in some channeling effort. It should have felt good, but instead it only increased her nausea.
In desperation, Laneff tuned her attenuators down to minimum. The ambient nager blasted through her nerves, raising the throbbing of need to a new height, but relieving the paralyzing sense of imminent nausea.
As the silver van crawled toward them, the redheaded Gen woman on top of it held her balance by a very precarious hold on the camera rigging and gestured to her assistant with her free hand. Another Gen—a Donor wearing a Keon red cape—began to climb up onto the van's roof, but the driver opened his door and yelled at the intruder, meanwhile letting the van creep ahead into the crowd. Laneff couldn't hear his words, but his anger came through the spellbound collective nager of the crowd. The Keon Gen desisted and went to warn Simes away.
Now the van was close enough that Laneff could read something of the redheaded Gen's nager, and she didn't like it. It was as if that woman were aiming shafts of calculated malice directly at Laneff. Nonsense! Need inspired paranoia!
The tall blond Gen guarding her leaned down to say, "That's an out-Territory station. I hope there isn't going to be an incident."
Laneff replied softly, "Those Gens are nervous, and the redhead is tense, even grim. I doubt if any of them have worked in-Territory before."
He eyed her attenuator rings, unable to discern the setting she was using, of course. "They told me you were extraordinarily sensitive. Just relax and listen to the speech." He intensified the shaft of his attention relegated to her, working to her as if she were a channel and he a Donor fully prepared to give her transfer. She melted into the luxury, stealing a moment to bask in the spice of its sheer potency.
She opened her mouth to tell him that she was too far into need for this to be safe, but at that moment the audience fell into a rapt silence.
Mairis was holding up an object he'd taken from the table beside him. "…feel this is the most suitable tribute to the achievements of Digen Farris. I know you can't all see it, so let me describe it. It's a steel coin with the right profile of my great grandfather on one side and the epitaph that will appear on his memorial, 'Born from Death, he lived for Unity!' The obverse shows the starred cross shape of the Monument to the Last Berserker.
"This is the very first one struck. It was delivered to me only hours ago. Soon the coin will be in general circulation, the first coin accepted at face value both in- and out-Territory, all over the world. I wish Digen had lived to see it."
For the first time emotion choked Mairis's voice and he paused. Shanlun took a step closer to his Sectuib, and it was as if Mairis disappeared into Shanlun's nager, so massive a nager that he seemed painted onto the background of the podium in glowing iridescent colors.
Meanwhile, the silver van had reached a point so close that Laneff could smell the heat of oil and paint and feel the screech of tense Gen nerves. She, too, was tense, knowing that her cue to speak would come soon, and despite having tuned the attenuators to minimum, she still felt queasy at every shift in the nageric fields about her.
A woman in dun colored coveralls squatted next to the microphone that had been set up near Laneff. Its snout poked over the rope pedestals that marked the box, and the technician began testing it. Seeing this, Mairis waved Shanlun back with a negligent tentacle gesture. The Gens on the silver van reacted as out-Territory Gens usually did to the sight of a Sime's tentacles; a spark of nageric paralysis. Their tension increased, and Laneff again fought nausea. Shen these shidoni attenuators! She wrenched the offending instruments off, knowing that she'd only double over in a fit of retching if she tried to walk to the microphone while wearing them. The worse her need, the more offensive the things became. Why couldn't I have been born normal!
The big blond Gen turned to her, noticing her move. "Feeling better? Good, you'll be on soon." He left his hand trailing on the rope in front of her, and his smile was like a caress, his nager a palpable beat protecting her as Shanlun so often had. He thinks I don't feel need at all now. She drew breath to contradict that impression, but just then she heard Mairis mention her name, and she realized he had been describing the distant promise inherent in her discoveries, and how they had helped Digen survive several crises before the one that finally took him.
The big blond Gen touched her fingers, most of his attention on her, steady as if she were a channel preparing to work. "Listen! Your cue."
"Therefore, at this time of ending, I am announcing my candidacy for World Controller and a new beginning. For if I am elected, I will see to it that Laneff Farris' research will be completed all the way through the fifteen year study necessary to determine if she can indeed predict changeover. And if she can, then within your grandchildren's lifetimes, the ultimate reunification of mankind can take place, Digen's dream can become a reality. Listen now to Laneff Farris describe how her discovery works."
The blond stood aside as Laneff rose to her feet. Her breath came easily, though her head felt light. She walked to the microphone as a circle cleared around her, and all the cameras in the press zone swerved to focus on her.
"Go ahead," muttered the squatting technician and vacated the area, scrambling under the line of sight of the cameras.
Laneff knew that part of Mairis' plan was to present her in public so that Simes could zlin her nager, read her sincerity and her certainty for themselves, before the press could round up all the neurochemistry experts whose skepticism had prevented her results from being published. So she wasn't startled when the blond guard stood well back so his nager wouldn't obscure hers. But she was dismayed at how naked it made her feel as all attention focused on her. At least I'm not going to vomit.
She took a deep breath and got through the formal salutations by rote, and then she began to describe the simple amniocentesis method she envisioned for her test, and how her synthetic chemical could then be used to determine the nature of the fetus.
She had no sooner begun than screams erupted around the silver van which hovered only strides away. Simultaneously, the ambient nager became a blinding sheet of white hot Gen pain.
The cameraman on top of the van had caught his hand in the camera's aiming mechanism, and his pain was beating through every Sime around the van—Simes wide open to it because they'd been zlinning her. The redheaded Gen ground the camera mechanism back across the man's hand—Laneff could sense bones breaking—and the man yanked himself free, blood spraying in every direction. He slipped and fell off the van screaming in pain and terror.
Against her will, Laneff was thrown hyperconscious, the world dissolving into a shifting miasma of selyn fields laced with jagged slices of pain. Islands of damped down calm identified channels working to control the ambient. Dead spots represented renSimes wearing attenuators tuned to maximum. The massive nager of the big blond Gen blazing shock moved toward the source of the ineffable pain.
But even that nager could not damp the shrieking Gen terror that dominated the ambient. That terror wakened her like nothing else since the experience of her First Need, the time she had killed.
Gens interposed themselves between renSimes and the pain-terror source that was triggering off the most basic hunting instincts in the Simes. But to Laneff, those Gens seemed to be holding off her competitors. Hardly aware that she moved, Laneff leaped the rope barricade and streaked for her prey, just as the redhead swung down from the van roof, also radiating delicious fear.
In one flashfire perception, Laneff knew the fallen Gen had not only a mashed hand, but also a broken ankle. She ignored the startlement in the massive Donor's nager she passed. Her ronaplin glands flooded her lateral sheaths with selyn conducting hormone, and her whole body was tuned to killing pitch.
As she secured her prey, renewed terror took him when he knew the feral hunter was upon him. That promise of imminent satisfaction was too much.
Her hands seized the bloody forearm and the other clean one. Her handling tentacles lashed securely—bruisingly into place. And her laterals flicked into position on the Gen's skin while she fastened her lips to his in a relentless demand for selyn.
She drew to her full speed, seeking the moment of egobliss she only half remembered and had renounced forever. He resisted, his nerves responding to her draw with a burst of that peculiar pain only Gens could feel—and junct Simes craved like nothing else. Lured by that hint of killbliss, she abandoned herself to the draw, increasing the Gen's pain by her swift demand.
In one crying burst of resonant triumph, the quintessence of killbliss overcame her. Too soon, the living vibration damped out of the selyn field. The brightness of soul-essence dopplered away. The pulsing surges of new selyn created in Gen tissue ceased.
The warm, pliant corpse slid from her grasp.
And as at her first kill, the amount of selyn she had been able to glean during the split instant of her attack was not enough. Need still growled within her.
She turned, unaware of the turquoise hem of her cloak trailing in the Gen's blood. The world had stopped.
The vocalization of that fact rang through the emptiness of her mind. I—killed. Rejuncted.
Spectators had formed a wide ring about the scene at the side of the van. On the podium stairs, Mairis and Shanlun seemed suspended in the act of racing toward her. Beside her, the big blond Donor fought back his shock. The redheaded Gen woman had reached the ground and stood near the driver's door as the other camera crew swarmed down from the van roof.
And Laneff found herself zeroing in on the redheaded woman as her next victim.
With a strangled choking noise that was hardly a cry, Laneff threw herself into the Donor's arms, knowing that her selyn draw could never produce pain in him. His nager, though enticingly Gen and replete with more selyn than she could use in a year, held no hint of promise of killbliss. With all her will, she forced herself to cling to him—not to kill again.
As if that were a signal, pandemonium erupted. Mairis and Shanlun raced down the stairs, shouting orders to the guards right and left. Simultaneously, the two men climbing down from the van roof leaped onto Laneff, catching her around in her own cape and yanking her free from the arms of the Donor, who was left stunned beside the van.
Laneff was borne into the air toward the redhead and the driver while at the same time a furious wind whipped dirt and gravel into the air. The thrumming roar of a helicopter's blades beat down on them, scattering the spectators while the guards flung arms over their eyes and groped forward.
Laneff couldn't see. They'd wrapped her cloak with its black lining full around her and over her eyes, the pin of the clasp now digging into her chest. But she could zlin Mairis and Shanlun racing toward them heedless of the flying gravel. And she sensed the moment the Donor Gen overcame shock enough to see she was being kidnapped.
She struggled halfheartedly, a token resistance, for she knew that if she fought she would seek to kill again. It was, the only honor she had left, for by Tecton law she was, doomed to death by attrition of selyn—death in the Last Year House, where she would not be allowed to kill again. She was too old to disjunct again. She would die for lack of the kill. A year at the most.
Her captors set her on her feet, quickly and expertly lashing her forearms around with a tough belt, pulled up tight so the pressure on her laterals held at the very threshold of unbearable pain.
Hardly daring to breathe, she stood helpless as two of the men drew guns. One held a gun to her head while the other waved his at the security guards converging on them. Meanwhile, the redhead and the other man unfurled a banner fastened to the side of the van, reading The Diet Proves Simes Can't Be Trusted.
Before Mairis and Shanlun could quite work their way to the fore of the guards, the chopper almost touched down right beside Laneff's captors, and the redhead scrambled for the open hatch, shouting instructions.
Numbly, Laneff thought, It's not the Tecton Security chopper!
And then the blond Gen moved.
He charged, head down, straight for Laneff, passing the redhead and the other man. One of Laneff's captors got off a shot at the Donor, but he kept coming. Before the other, whose gun was pointed at Laneff's head, could react, the Donor had swept through them, catching Laneff below the waist and hoisting her up over his shoulders.
For several moments, the world vanished for Laneff, pain exploding through her nerves while her arms dangled over the huge Donor's shoulder, and then a slamming impact against the chopper's hatchway knocked the breath out of her. She heard the hatch bang shut behind them, and the patter-pop of several bullets hitting the side of the chopper.
Without instructions, the chopper pilot lifted straight up and then tilted hard as he raced for speed.
Diaphragm knotted and eyes watering, Laneff fought pain and dizziness. And then the Donor had the cruel belt off her arms, sending new lances of fiery pain through her whole body. It was only coming to her now that she wasn't dead.
"Come on, Laneff, help me take that pilot, and I'll get you out of this!"
She shook her head, unable to assimilate it all.
"Come on, get up on your feet—there now…" Pulling her up, he worked with his nager to steady her, though how he could do that while he himself was in such a state she didn't know.
"I can't…" she gasped as breath came again.
"Listen!" he commanded, spearing her with his eyes as he steadied her by the shoulders. "That pilot is part of this—that shen-be-flayed Diet set you up for that kill. They came there intending to make a Sime kill—maybe targeted on you!—just to prove Digen and Mairis are out to enslave or destroy Gens! Are you going to stand here and let that man take you to the Diet headquarters—where they'll treat you like that?" He kicked at the belt on the deck by her foot. "Gather your wits, woman, and zlin for me. How many of them are there up there?"
She glanced around now, curious for the first time. The chopper was designed to carry cargo, and they were in a huge lower bay, with ribbed bulkheads bare around them. Above and on the forward bulkhead, stairs led to a hatch—shut now. Undoubtedly the pilot's compartment.
She went duoconscious, to zlin through that bulkhead and hatchway. Clearly, through the light construction, she zlinned the selyn nager of one Gen—scared, but grim.
"There's only one—the pilot. But there's room up there for three." And now that she was zlinning, she noticed the pursuing copters. "Behind us—way behind—three choppers. Must be the Tecton."
"Must be," he echoed abstractedly as he studied the hatch. "Do you think the pilot knows what happened down there?"
"Do you think I can read minds?" she countered.
But he was already at the hatch. "Come here. Force this lock bar for me, and I'll take care of the pilot."
"Can you fly one of these things?"
"Sure." He grinned pure Gen male vigor and a peculiar Gen ferocity. "How high are we?"
There were no ports in the cargo bay. Zlinning, she estimated, "Higher than the Vermilion Tower restaurant over there," she said, pointing, "but there are hills right in front of us."
"Good; we'll make it." As he spoke, he put his own strength to forcing the lock bar up. "Come on—augment!"
He knew what he was asking of her: to use selyn at many times her normal metabolic rate to strengthen her muscles beyond Gen abilities. He was a professional Tecton Donor. He knew she hadn't been satisfied by that one kill, that need still lurked within her.
At her hesitation, he turned to her, his field supportive. "What beautiful irony: use the Diet's own selyn to defeat them. Come on, Laneff. We don't have much time."
"Yes," she agreed, and set herself to the bar. She had to nudge the huge male Gen hands aside to get a good tentacle and finger grip on it, but then she summoned her full augmentation capacity, closed her eyes to concentrate, not caring if she injured her back or gave herself a hernia. She let loose all her strength, and the bar tore loose, the hatch slamming open before them, the muted noise of the rotors bursting into a storm of sound while pure daylight streamed through the wrapped bubble windshield.
Before she recovered her balance, the Donor was through the hatch and onto the pilot. One huge male fist slammed into male jaw, and the pain both of them felt ratchetted through Laneff renewing her killust. She fought it down as the Donor extracted the unconscious Gen pilot from the control seat and threw himself into place, grabbing the controls with fair expertise. Then his nager steadied around her, and all trace of killust faded.
Over his shoulder, he shouted above the noise, "Laneff, get that belt and secure that man's hands before he comes to.
"I don't think he'll come to very soon. He hit his head on something hard when you felled him." Her voice sounded small in her ears, though she yelled the words.
The chopper had leveled and steadied under the Donor's hands. Now he turned to gaze at her, and she was aware that he was as surprised they were alive as she was.
"Please, just tie him up. Then come sit here and tell me what's going on behind us. They'll be shooting at us soon as they get close enough. You get me out of this, Laneff, and I'll take care of you. I promise.
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