The moment she laid eyes on the man, the future changed.
As long as she could remember, she had accepted that she would die in changeover. But now, with every step closer he came, first the hope and then the irrational conviction came over her—I'm going to live.
She knelt in the rich loam of her garden, her trinroses all around her, and watched the two men approaching. The Sime was her father, Digen Farris, Sectuib in Zeor, Controller of Rialite. He was tall, rangy, looking older than he really was. With him was a Gen, not as tall but oddly just as imposing a figure, with brilliant blue eyes and shocking white hair, though he could hardly be much over twenty.
As he came nearer, the searing intensity of her conviction faded, and in its wake came a shuddering fear, just as irrational, that she would—because of this man—be able to grow a mahogany colored trinrose that would do exactly what the legends said it would. For the future had changed.
Using every scrap of her Zeor discipline, Ercy shoved the hope and the fear way down inside where no Sime, not even her father, could detect it. Then she got to her feet, suddenly conscious of her dirty coveralls and unkempt hair. The men stopped by the neat row of smooth river stones that edged her plot, and Digen said, "Ercy, I present Halimer Grant, Donor First, our newest staff member."
Ercy smiled at the Gen, her mouth dry and her mind without a word in it.
"Halimer Grant, this is Aild Ercy Farris, my daughter, and Sectuib Apparent in Zeor."
For a moment, the Gen seemed confused, noting her smooth forearms without even the trace of tentacles. She was a child, not an adult Sime, not a channel like her father; certainly it was premature to name her ready to take her father's place as head of the prestigious and sprawling company known the world over as Householding Zeor.
Ercy felt an almost irresistible urge to squirm under the Gen's gaze, but her father's flashing eyes told her clearly that a future Sectuib does not squirm. Then in his maddeningly clinical way, her father said to Grant, "Ercy turns sixteen next week, but there's still no sign of changeover. Nevertheless, we're preparing carefully. Her birth characteristics indicated she'll be the most sensitive channel in the family since my brother Wyner Liu died."
Slowly—he seemed to do everything slowly, even his blink was slow—Halimer Grant smiled. It was as if the smile started peeping at last out through his blue eyes and warming her through and through, evaporating her nervousness.
Grant proffered his hand, bowing. "I am honored indeed to be permitted within the presence of such an accomplished gardener."
She let him take her fingers. He had the smoothest skin she had ever touched in her life. He let her remain locked in that silent communication until her father said, "I'll be briefing Halimer on his duties for the rest of the morning. If you see Im'ran or Mora, send them up to the office."
"Yes, Father," Ercy responded automatically. As she watched the Gen make his way back down the flagstone path, she could not quite remember how she had lost touch with his fingers.
"Ercy!" snapped her father. "You haven't been paying attention! I said, when you've had lunch, I want to see you in the clinic again."
"Again? Oh, Father…"
"From today on, until—this is over for you—I want to check you three times a day at least."
All the infuriating clinical detachment he could don like a cloak dropped away, and she could see his love for her, his fear for her life. "All right, Father, whatever you say."
Digen turned away. His long stride brought him up beside Grant before the Gen had started up the broad front steps of the Controller's Residence. Together, they walked to Digen's office.
"Hajene Farris," said Grant, using Digen's official Tecton title, "isn't such a late changeover a dreadful pathology in a Farris?"
Digen nodded. "Ordinarily, one would expect a Farris channel to change over at around age ten, eleven at the latest. There's absolutely no record of any Farris surviving changeover as late as sixteen years. But Ercy will. She has the same birth characteristics as my brother Wyner Liu. I'm now sure his problems stemmed from premature changeover and Ercy is a healthy specimen of Wyner's substrain of the Farris mutation."
"That's an interesting theory—"
"Don't get me started on it—we'll never get any work done. We've been terribly short handed. I'm expecting thirty new admissions to the College of Channels today—every one of them a special problem—and the Senior Class is graduating today."
Inside the office, Digen began pulling files and ledgers from the shelves, outlining the new Donor's responsibilities. Rialite's main business was the training of newly matured Simes, freshly through changeover. These young Simes spent their first year in a state of adaptability which gave them a learning rate often up to ten times normal. During that first year, they were expected to absorb a normal six year college education.
Digen briefly reviewed the organizational structure of the Muir College of Channeling, and then outlined the medical histories of the new admissions. Rialite always got the tough ones.
The training of a channel was not to be entrusted to just anyone. The channels were the only Simes who could take selyn, the energy of life itself, directly from volunteer Gen donors without killing them and then channel it to Simes in need. Channels were the backbone of the Tecton, the organization that supervised the selyn delivery system, preventing Simes from killing Gens for selyn. And the Donors—the specially trained Gens like Halimer Grant—were the only ones who could serve a channel's personal need for selyn and survive the experience.
As he ran through the routine indoctrination for a new staff Gen, Digen watched Grant closely, trying to form a judgment.
Something about Grant bothered him. It was, Digen decided, the Gen's energy field, his nager, that puzzled him most. It had a kind of shimmering, organized clarity that couldn't be natural. It had to have been schooled into the man from his day of establishment. But by what method, what school, what House?
Flipping the books closed and stacking them before Grant, Digen asked, "You connected with any of the Householdings?"
There was a pause as a whispery shadow flicked through that strange nager. If I couldn't see him visually, thought Digen, I'd think he was a ghost.
"Not—not officially," answered Grant. "But I've spent a lot of time around Householder types. I respect Zeor."
"I didn't mean that. Obviously, you're not prejudiced. I was just wondering where you were trained."
In genuine startlement, Grant said, "Does it matter?"
"No, of course not," Digen reassured him hastily. "A Tecton Donor is a Tecton Donor. That's what you obviously are. I suppose your papers will arrive eventually. I heard the World Controller's office was eight months behind in their paperwork and I suppose it's the same everywhere with these new regulations. And the way you arrived—" Digen shrugged helplessly.
"I'm sorry I lost all my things in the storm, but when that bridge went out, I was lucky to get away with my life."
"It's no problem. I'll request duplicates tomorrow—when I get around to it. The important thing now is to get today's admissions processed before we have tomorrow's admissions standing around wondering what to do with themselves."
Digen began stacking books onto Grant's outstretched arms. "Here's the campus map. You should be able to find your office. Take a couple of hours to get settled before the train arrives. I'll meet you then on the platform."
Grant nodded and left. Digen, seeing that he had a few minutes yet, raced through some of the work that had piled up since the previous afternoon. Then he glanced through yesterday's newspaper. There was an item about the extradition of a convicted witch who had taken asylum in-Territory. If the Sime government forced her to go back, the Gens were planning to burn her alive—before witnesses. Disgustedly, Digen threw the paper aside and left his office.
Ercy was waiting patiently for her father, putting the finishing touches on a problem set for her trigonometry class. She thought she was finally beginning to understand cosines, With a sense of triumph, she looked up as her father walked in carrying the thick chart that detailed her whole medical history, right down to the amount of selyn she'd drawn from her mother at birth.
Digen set up the testing scopes and instruments around his daughter, adjusting the darkfield backdrop against which he'd view her body fields as he played various influences over her.
Ercy watched her father painstakingly making notes, glancing at her from various angles, adjusting his instruments. She was so used to it after all these years that she could anticipate his moves.
After a time, her father said, "Fine, now just for the record I want to do a full lateral contact probe this afternoon."
"The record!" she said glumly. "That's all I am, a specimen, an experiment. When are you going to write me up for the Journal?"
He set his chart aside and took her hands. "It's not like that, Baby. I have to be sure…"
"That's just it, I'm not a baby!" said Ercy with a vehemence she had not intended. And suddenly there were tears in her eyes. "You know what your trouble is? You want me to grow up, but when I act grown up it scares you, and you want me to be your little baby again. You just don't know what you want, that's all!"
"Who told you that?"
"You see? You can't credit me with any brains. Nobody told me. I saw it when you introduced that Gen—Grant."
Digen, refusing to be baited, said, "What did you think of Halimer Grant?"
Suddenly thoughtful, she replied, "I don't know. He's—different. Is he going to stay long?"
"As long as I can hold on to him. Grant's—very good."
She received this in silence, and Digen took the opportunity to slide into lateral contact position. The internal examination took only a moment. He had merely to extend his four delicate, nerve rich lateral tentacles that were normally used only in transfer, make a solid contact with the skin of her forearms, and a fifth contact, lip to lip for maximum sensitivity to her internal fields, and withdraw.
She was accustomed to the channel's examining technique, and didn't flinch. But as he withdrew, she touched a finger to one of his lateral sheaths, where the ronaplin gland bulged slightly, and met his eyes. "I didn't realize you hadn't taken transfer yet. I guess I was a little nasty just then. I'm really sorry, Dad."
And worried, too, thought Digen.
"Oh, don't look at me like that!" she snapped. "I'm beginning to feel like a bomb everybody expects to explode!"
He caught her eyes with a steady gaze, trying to sound positive. "Ercy, you're going to have a perfectly normal changeover. We've been over this a thousand times; know it and hold on to that knowledge. Hold on hard, because it can't be much longer. Honest."
"But there's no sign! You've told me a hundred times, a channel always knows months—even a year or more beforehand—exactly when he'll hit changeover. I've never felt that!"
"Well—Wyner didn't know beforehand. Everybody always thought that was because he was so young, but…"
"Wyner! I'm so sick of hearing about Wyner."
She was near to tears. No! I won't cry like a baby! Her father shouldn't have to deal with her hysteria when he was in need. She jumped down from the examining table and began putting her schoolwork away. "Dad? Remember I said I wanted to go away for my channel's training? I've changed my mind. I want to stay home—I want to train here." Silently, she added the brutal honest truth to herself, under Halimer Grant.
Taken aback for a moment at his daughter's sudden capitulation to a long standing argument, Digen said, "Why?"
"I just realized today. It could be very nice."
"You're not scared of the outside world, are you?"
"No—I don't think so, anyway. I mean, after all, if I can face changeover, what's a little thing like a world? I'll go anywhere the Tecton sends me, afterward, but I'd like to stay here for my training. Besides, this way, I won't have to leave my garden."
So that's it, thought Digen. That garden! But at least she had given up the grim notion that she was going to die in changeover if she was already making plans for her garden afterward.
Ercy said, "You'd better hurry, Father, or you'll be late for graduation."
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