It was six weeks before Ercy began to believe it was really happening. All this time, preparations were going on around her but somehow without actually convincing her it was real. She was given a refresher course in changeover physiology. To do the work, she had to drop her trigonometry course, and seldom made it to her garden at dawn.
When she finally did manage to get out at first light, she often saw Halimer Grant walking in the distance—a silhouette against the rising sun. Once she saw him standing perfectly still during the prolonged moment when the sun cleared the horizon, and for the rest of that day she echoed inside with a quietude she had never experienced before. She began to make a special effort to be out at dawn, watching and waiting for him. And when she made her diary entries at night, often the only item worth noting was whether or not she had seen him that day.
Her fertilizer came and she began her new experiments. As the days lengthened into spring, her whole garden wakened into new growth, and there was much work to keep her busy. Yet before sleep came at night, there were always thoughts about what Halimer Grant had said—that one time they talked. Why did she want to grow the mahogany trinrose?
It was the only goal of her life. She had long been convinced that she would succeed in presenting her father with the mythical kerduvon drug made from the dark flower, and then die in changeover. Her death wouldn't matter because her father would be disjunct and able to take care of Zeor. When once she had mentioned her knowledge of her fate, it had so upset her parents that she had decided it was better not to talk about it. But the conviction had never faded. Until now.
Now the future had changed. Grant had changed it. Why? And how did she know? She had audited some psychology courses, and learned to accept apparently sourceless knowledge as the function of her subconscious.
But now she began to wonder what facts her mind could possibly have based this knowledge on. When had she made the choices that had led to a new future?
During these weeks, she found herself dreaming more often than she had since she'd gotten over childish nightmares. One dream in particular haunted her for days.
She was standing in shadow, surrounded by dark figures. The sky lightened and the sun edged over a craggy mountain peak. She woke with the conviction that her life had just begun, and all choices lay before her. An odd conviction lingered when she woke that Halimer Grant had stood in that company greeting the sunrise. She realized that it was just another wish fulfillment dream. She had no time for such nonsense.
Her father was trying to get enough data to calculate her changeover day, since she still had no feeling for it at all. He put her back on the strict regimen of diet and exercise, concentration and coordination drills, tedious memory exercises and self-control tests that constituted much of Zeor's own prechangeover training. It was designed to develop her personal will to the point where she was strong enough to deal with transfer deprivation.
Day by day, he raised the standard of performance he required of her. Even her rest was regimented into four periods of deep relaxation every day, until she could snap from total alertness to total relaxation on command, and she was required to remain wholly alert without any tension.
The increasing standards, more than anything, convinced her that they were serious about her approaching changeover, though she still felt nothing within herself.
One time, after finishing his late night examination of her, Digen said, "Don't go, Ercy. Im' should be here in a minute."
She ran a comb through her short, dark hair and waited patiently. A few weeks ago, she would have protested that she was already late for her evening relaxation drill, feeling that if he was going to assign a regimen, she had a right to expect him to be consistent. But now her father had a right to command every detail of her life because she was a Zeor channel in training, and he was Sectuib in Zeor.
As Im'ran came in, her father turned, putting aside his charts and graphs. "All right, Ercy. You've been showing signs of fatigue and you haven't been doing well on your concentration. I'm going to start you…"
Ercy gasped, deeply offended. "I have met every standard requirement! I've been scoring at Rialite's top rank on everything."
"At, yes, but not above. You've spent the last six years waiting for changeover, lazing around. You've forgotten everything you ever knew about how to work. You do what comes easily to you and stop there. Well, you can run your life that way, Ercy, and the world will still worship at your feet because you are better than average without trying. But I will not accept the pledge of anyone who will not give Zeor—and the world—their very best."
That stung. Not to be allowed to pledge Zeor? "I'm sorry! I'll do anything you say, Father—Sectuib Farris."
Her father took a deep breath and beckoned to Im'ran.
"We haven't talked much about this," said her father, "not for years. But it's always been assumed in this family that Im'ran would provide your First Transfer. That poses certain problems."
She looked at Im'ran and saw not a second father but a Gen—a professional Donor of the highest order, almost an alien being.
"…an orhuen of twenty years standing such as Im' and I have," her father was saying, "is not an easy kind of dependency to break into. If the break is not done right, it could be fatal."
"Is it really worth it, Dad?"
The two men traded dark glances, and as one, answered, "Yes." "Yes, it's worth it."
Im'ran said, "Digen and I worked this out a long time ago. We know how to manage it."
Her father nodded. "What I want to do now is build a relationship between you and Im' so that it will be easier for him—and for you."
"All right," she replied reluctantly, "what do I do first?"
"I want you to begin using the channel's transfer rooms for your drill sessions. You're working now, Ercy. Im's time will be debited to your account. I'll expect you to fill out all the appropriate forms."
Just like that, without fuss or fanfare, she made the transition from child—a legal nonentity—to adult. She would be receiving a Donor's services and be held responsible for the accounting, months before she would even go through changeover.
She went with Im'ran up to the top floor of the lab building where the channels who worked at the Controller's Residence had their transfer suite. Having never been allowed up here before, she had to stare about her wide-eyed. The suite itself consisted of a large sitting room appointed in bright green and white with clear yellow draperies around the heavily insulated walls and windows. It was an intensely quiet room with something of the air of a library. All around the large room, doors opened into the small transfer rooms, which were equipped to handle any transfer emergency.
As they came in, a channel was sitting with her Donor in the far corner, sipping trin tea. The channel noticed Im'ran's field and, spotting Ercy, raised one tentacle in question.
Im'ran gave a signal in return, and guided Ercy into one of the transfer cubicles. She went with tender steps, hardly daring to identify with her future-self who would come here as a right.
Closing the door behind them, Im'ran dimmed the lights, then absently ran through a routine check of the medicine cabinets as if he were going to do some real work. She stood in the middle of the floor, feeling like an intruder in the adult world.
She forced herself to turn and examine the rest of the room. It was decorated in an opalescent gray and vibrant blue though the furniture was ordinary Tecton standard. There was a reclining contour lounge on either side of her, a couple of high stools in the corners. Equipment was rigged over each lounge on swing out arms. In the little hall leading into the room, one side held a sink and counter with a tiny hot plate. A narrow door led into a shower room, and she could just make out a commode. The walls were lined with glass fronted cabinets filled with neat rows of jars and bottles, and a little desk jutted from the wall.
Seeing the forms there, she laughed. It came out a little strained. "How in the world can I sign those forms Dad wants me to fill out? I don't even have a designation yet!"
Pushing the swinging arms out of the way, Im'ran said, "You put 'Ercy Farris, prechangeover therapy.' That's the standard charge in a case like this."
He sat down on one of the contour lounges and looked up at her.
She sat down opposite him, keeping her eyes on him with strict discipline even though she wanted to inspect everything in the room.
Im'ran said, "I hate to say it, Ercy, but Digen's right. I remember your attitude when you were a kid. You used to really put your back into your work. You've got to recapture that altitude."
"It used to be just a game, a challenge and a lot of fun. Remember how we used to bet desserts over whether I could do a thing the first time? Maybe I'm just too old for games."
"It's no game now. This is for real. Not merely to get you through changeover, Ercy, but the sum and substance of the channel's basic skills. The better you master this, the further you'll be able to go with your inherited talents."
"Relaxation drill? Learning to do nothing?"
"Just what do you think transfer is all about? Do you know the hardest thing a channel has to do? The one thing which saves more channels lives every year than any other skill I know of?"
"I have a crawling suspicion it's relaxation."
Im'ran nodded. "It's based on that elementary drill you've been not-learning. The ability to relinquish control of a transfer to your Donor on signal, without warning—instantly. Or, conversely, to pick up that control if your Donor loses it. The same basic skill lets you control your secondary system to collect selyn from untrained Gens."
"All right," she sighed. "Just tell me what to do."
"Lie down," said Im'ran, going through a smooth sequence of motions which somehow caused the lounge she was sitting on to go flat as a board while the lights dimmed even further and the lounge's heater came on. Im'ran pulled a blanket up over her despite her protest that it was too warm already.
"As long as I'm about it, I may as well teach you right," he said as Ercy closed her eyes. He took her arms, sliding his hands about halfway up to her elbows in what would become, when she had tentacles, the transfer position. Im'ran tapped out a code, saying, "This is the signal to relinquish all control to me. Now, you depend on me to protect you from all painful influences. You are safe. You can relax."
Ercy took a long abdominal breath, flicking her mental awareness once around the inside of her body, commanding a quick tense-and-release to each muscle, and let herself go limp. She was rather proud of how quickly she could do it. It hadn't been an easy technique to learn.
"Good, but slow."
Im'ran's voice had changed, slipped almost an octave deeper, and she could hear the separate thrumming of each vocal cord. She had to open her eyes to see that it was still Im'. She took another deep breath and relaxed purposely.
"Control," said Im'ran, "creates strain: strain creates tension; and tension creates the necessity to release. You're trying to control tension—a contradiction in terms."
Frustrated, Ercy wanted to wail: What do I do then?
"Let's try something else," said Im'ran, still in that low tone that gave her shivers. She was very conscious of his Gen-ness again. "Ercy, I want you to tense your right leg but keep every other muscle in your body relaxed."
She tensed her right leg, then found the small of her back arching away from the lounge. She relaxed her back and found a little puff of air escaping her lips, barely a grunt, but still an effort. Once she had been able to do it.
"You're very tense, Ercy, the kind of tension that gets Gens killed. I think Digen was right," said Im'ran. "You've been practicing these things alone too long. I'm inhibiting you, aren't I?"
"I guess I am nervous. I'll work on it, all right, Im'?"
He nodded. "Digen says you're responding to fields, but you aren't allowing yourself to be aware of the responses. Roll over and let me try something else."
She did, asking, "What?"
His huge Gen hands came onto her back, lightly at first and then more firmly. "Close your eyes and concentrate on my touch—my full attention is on you now, focused on this point—now this—follow the touch with your mind."
She did as he instructed, following the light and then firm touch all over her back, vertebra by vertebra, rib by rib; he worked with an uncanny talent for chasing the ripple of resisting tension in her neck, her knee joints, ankles, toes, her arms and hands, until she thought she could feel the warm sweep of his attention even after he had stopped.
She was almost asleep, yet more aware than she'd been in a long time. Her mind drifted into such an uncritical state that when she saw Halimer Grant walk through the wall and stand looking down at her, she accepted his presence without wonder. He wore an emerald green robe with the hood thrown back. On his breast hung a flashing jewel in the shape of a starred cross.
Suddenly, she realized that her eyes were closed, that she must in fact be dreaming, and instantly the Gen's presence evaporated. She pushed up on her elbows, only now aware that the lights had come up in the room and Im'ran was puttering around the hot plate producing the delightful aroma of trin tea.
"Did I fall asleep? I'm sorry—I guess it's just so late…"
"No, you weren't asleep. But I think you got down a little deeper than you usually do. Tea?"
She sat up, folding the blanket back into its compartment at the end of the lounge. "Yes, I think I'd like some tea. I got cold." When he gave her the glass in its plastic holder, she said, "But I think I was asleep. At least I had a dream, and I only do that when I'm sleeping."
Im'ran sat on the other lounge, stirring his tea, saying, "I wouldn't worry about it if you did doze for a moment. We'll start our real work in the morning—eight o'clock all right with you?"
His manner was completely different now. She nodded, though, saying, "That's my usual time. And I have color memory drill with Mom at nine, so eight is fine." As she drank her tea, she filled out the accounting form, laboriously reading the instructions for each box and filling most of them with "not applicable." As she came to the signature line, she paused, realizing that this was a turning point in her life, her first official, legal signature. And she made a decision.
Her mother had given her the first name, Aild, usually a man's name, to honor a promise she'd made to her own father. But Ercy had never used the name and thought she never would. Now, however, she signed the form boldly: A. Ercy Farris.
Im'ran said as he turned to leave, "Oh, two weeks from tomorrow, hold that evening open. I've arranged with Mora for you to observe her transfer."
Ercy dropped the accounting form into its out box, staring at Im'ran. "Observe—Mom's—does Dad know?"
"I haven't told him yet." Seeing her utter confusion, Im'ran came back into the room and closed the door again. "Ercy, it's never been Digen who's refused to let you observe his transfers. It's me. I wouldn't let him. He's still unstable, and I'm afraid I couldn't handle it. But Mora's transfer should be fairly routine, and by Zeor custom it's long past time you should have observed a transfer."
Ercy took a deep breath, her first excitement abating. She couldn't count how many times she had asked for this privilege and been denied. "Dad won't permit it."
"I'll convince him, don't worry." Then he smiled. "There have to be some advantages to being orhuen to a Controller! Besides, Mora and I may be only adopted into Zeor, but we know a good custom when we see one. Digen has often said how important the experience was for him—and, forgive me, I know you don't want to hear it, but it was an important experience for Wyner, too. And Mora says she has learned to regret not having had the experience herself. So there's no way you're going to get cheated out of it."
Ercy smiled her most acquiescent smile. "I'll reserve the evening, then." But as Im'ran left, she promised herself cynically to save a few horticulture journals in case she was left with nothing to do that night.
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