What is the House of Zeor?
Zeor is not a place or a person. Zeor is the striving for perfection, the dedication to excellence, the realization of mankind's fullest potential—Sime and Gen united.
"OUT OF DEATH WAS I BORN—
UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER!"
Sectuib in Zeor
Digen Farris, Head of the House of Zeor, great-great-grandson of the legendary Klyd Farris, walked through the train station waiting room, acutely aware of the people turning to stare at his back. They didn't know who he was; they only knew he was a Sime.
In the dusty little farming town of Sorelton, it was unusual to see a Sime in public. Sorelton was in the heart of Gen Territory, far from the nearest Sime Territory border. All the people in the waiting room were Gen, mostly local people waiting for the big weekly event, the arrival of the train to Westfield.
Naturally, Digen told himself, the retainers, the gleaming metal cuffs peeking from his sleeves, marking him as a Sime, attracted their curiosity, apprehension, even a little fear. In a town like Sorelton, the only Simes they saw with bare forearms were the berserkers intent on using their tentacles to kill Gens.
Digen pushed open the screen door and went out to the platform, letting the door clatter shut behind him. He paused, squinting against the July sun. Before him, the track arrowed out of sight in both directions, a gleaming blue-green ceramic ribbon along which the train would slide on a cushion of air. To his left, an unpaved road wound into the distance between a scattering of houses and farms. To his right, in the only puddle of shade on the platform, one lone Gen sat on his bleached duffel bag waiting for the slideroad train.
As Digen moved onto the platform, the Gen's attention focused on Digen. Even through the sense-deadening retainers, Digen could feel the man's idle curiosity turn to a sharp stab of alarm as he sighted the gleaming metal at Digen's wrists. But the alarm had an odd quality to it that Digen couldn't quite name. It made his tentacles itch under the retainers.
Digen moved casually toward the far end of the platform, not wanting to distress the Gen any further. At that moment, Inez Tregaskio came out of the women's restroom and saw Digen.
"Oh!" she said in Simelan. "I thought you said you'd wait for me inside."
"The ambient nager in there is so thick I couldn't stand it. In fact, it's not so great out here, either." As he spoke, Digen moved to place Inez between himself and the lone Gen, using her body's selyn field to block the Gen's field.
Inez, a solidly built young woman a little shorter than Digen, was a Gen specially trained to allow a Sime to draw selyn—the very energy of life itself—from her body without harming her. Closing her eyes to concentrate, she put one hand on Digen's arm close to the edge of his retainer, and said, "Better?"
Digen nodded. Her calm steady, confident emotions soothed him deeply. "The fellow down there is afraid."
"You shouldn't be traveling when you're in Need like this."
Gen fear was the trigger that set off the Sime's attack reflex. But Digen was a channel, one of the rare Simes who could take selyn from any Gen without killing, and later transfer that selyn to an ordinary Sime to satisfy his Need. Digen would never attack and kill a Gen for selyn. But he was not immune to the reflex.
"I have a nearly perfect Donor waiting for me in Westfield," said Digen. "Just get me there sane, and reasonably stable, and all my troubles will be over." He turned her by the elbow so they could stroll back toward the Gen. "Meanwhile, this fellow's nager interests me. There's something very odd—I wish I weren't wearing retainers!"
"Maybe your perceptions would be clearer without retainers," she answered, "but those nice friendly Gens inside the station would turn into a howling mob ready to kill you, and legally entitled to do it, too, if they could."
"So what should I say, thank God for retainers?" Digen checked his outburst. His frustration was partly due to Need, but also to the injustice of a channel having to wear retainers, which immobilized his vital organs, making him virtually incapable of meeting his responsibilities. "Let's get a little closer. Maybe I can get a reading. He's not as afraid now that you're with me, and there's something really strange there—almost as if there were two…."
When they were halfway down the long platform there was a sudden flashing blur of movement behind the seated Gen, and Digen knew what he had only half sensed before. The fearful Gen's nager had masked the low throb of a berserker Sime's nager spiraling down toward the intensity of Need. The berserker was no channel, but a renSime intent on killing the Gen.
From his hiding place under the wooden platform the berserker leaped up and over a pile of cargo bales and made straight for the seated Gen. Digen yelled a warning to the Gen and launched himself down the platform, augmenting his natural speed by burning up extra selyn. The Gen had time only to perceive the two Simes coming at him faster than any Gen could move. His spiking panic was a screaming pain to Digen but a delicious promise of fulfillment to the berserker.
Digen arrived the split instant the berserker's fingers touched the Gen's arms. He swept the berserker's hands aside, letting them close instead on his own retainer. With his other hand, Digen grabbed the Gen's arm and yanked the man to his feet, thrusting him aside.
He had a moment then of eye contact with the berserker. The scrawny, mud-caked, adolescent figure resolved into that of a young girl, face twisted in a feral snarl, eyes dilated in the last stages of death by selyn attrition.
Still holding the Gen by one arm, Digen shifted his other hand to capture the girl. By this time, Inez pounded to a stop beside Digen, chest heaving. Digen could not shed the retainers to channel selyn to the berserker. And already the girl was straining toward Inez's more potent selyn field. Digen made an instant decision. "Inez, take care of her!" And he shoved the berserker into the Donor's arms.
Still dragging the terror stricken Gen behind him absentmindedly, Digen watched the transfer.
The berserker girl's hands closed with bruising Sime strength over Inez's forearms, and simultaneously the Sime's strong handling tentacles lashed out from their sheaths—two along the top of each arm and two along the bottom of each arm—to immobilize the Gen. From the sides of the berserk Sime's arms came the tiny pinkish lateral tentacles, four of them, dripping the selyn conducting hormone, ronaplin.
As the laterals made contact with Inez's skin, the berserker sought the mouth-to-mouth, lip-to-lip contact necessary to complete the selyn transfer. Inez made the contact willingly, surprising the young Sime.
A moment, and it was all over, the young Sime's Need sated. Digen saw her then, a young girl, bruised and battered, blood mixed with the mud covered, torn clothing. And he knew what her history must be.
Children showed no difference between Sime and Gen. But in the teens, without warning, some children—even the children of Gens—went through changeover, developing the need for selyn and the organs to satisfy that Need. Here in Sorelton teenagers were watched, and any child showing the classic symptoms of changeover was apt to be attacked, beaten to death like some crawling horror out of their elders' own childhood nightmares of going Sime. This girl had escaped during such a beating and hidden herself here under the train platform until her tentacles had matured and broken free. Then, attracted by the Gen's fear of Digen, she had attacked on simple instinct.
Raised out-Territory, she knew nothing of Simes, nothing of what she had become, save that it was loathsome.
Bare seconds had passed since Digen had first pelted past the station room door. Now, the door came open as people crowded out to see what all the commotion was about. Sighting them, the girl gathered herself to spring for freedom, powered now with the speed and strength of the selyn she had taken.
Digen had to augment to grab and hold her with one hand while with the other he still held the Gen behind him. "Don't be afraid," he said to the girl in her own language. He let her see the retainer encasing his arm. "We'll protect you."
From the door, the Gens had begun to mutter, taking in the situation. Inez moved in front of the girl, taking her other arm. One of the Gens coming out onto the platform said, "It's the Staner girl! She's Sime!" And he made a grab for the rifle kept on the wall inside the door for just such an emergency.
Digen turned to them, raising his voice. "The situation is under control. Please call the Sime Center and ask them to pick this girl up." And hurry, he thought, because I'm not going to miss that train!
He turned to the girl and whispered, "You run for it, and they'll hunt you down like an animal." He felt her absorb that with the returning sanity of sated Need. "Now, if I let go of you, will you stay with Inez?"
The girl looked up at the Donor. Digen could imagine how confused she must be, trying to assimilate the new information her Sime senses gave her. He said, "Inez is a trained Donor. You can't hurt her, and she can help you feel better."
The girl gave one wary jerk of a nod, and Digen, sensing her decision to stand tight, let go of her arm. The crowd of Gens by the door grumbled as one of them thrust his way through to the front. It was the stationmaster. He called to Digen, "They're on their way to collect the kid."
"You see?" said Inez to the girl. "They know your family. They don't want to kill you. They only want to protect themselves. Don't scare them and they'll leave you alone. We'll take care of you now."
As she spoke, she took the girl back among the baled goods and sat her down, keeping her own body between the Sime and the crowd of Gens. Digen watched her work with approval, and then became aware of the tense, twisted Gen arm he still held.
The Gen had turned away, eyes squeezed shut, inwardly tensed against the scene that had just played out before them. Digen loosened his grip, placing himself between the Gen and the Sime girl. "Hey, it's all over now. Nothing happened. Nobody's hurt."
Slowly the Gen turned toward Digen and his gaze became fixed on Digen's hand where it held the Gen arm. Digen let go, watching the Gen carefully for signs of lowering blood pressure, shock. But the Gen was still dazed. Noting the mark where his hand had held the man, Digen said, "I'm sorry if I was a little rough. I didn't want you to perturb the fields by moving—uh—injudiciously."
The Gen's eyes finally raised to Digen's, searching the Sime's face. Digen said, "Forgive me?"
"You're a channel?"
"You look—Farris. I think. I've never seen a Farris before."
"Digen Farris," he answered, nodding.
"Doctor Digen Farris? The one who's going to intern at Westfield Memorial Hospital?"
Digen nodded again. "If I can get there by tomorrow morning so I don't get fired before I've even started."
"They wouldn't fire you just for being late," said the Gen, his voice starting to weaken. "Me, maybe, but not you." The Gen's knees started to sag, and Digen backed him up until his duffel bag, was behind his knees.
"Sure they'd fire me," said Digen, urging the Gen to sit. "They'd love to find an excuse." The first Sime to intern in an all Gen hospital was not going to be welcomed, and Digen knew it. "Put your head between your knees for a minute. You're not hurt. It's only reaction."
The Gen complied, breathing deeply, and then looked up. "I felt her touch me…."
"Only a fingertip. She never got a grip on you."
"It happened so fast…" said the Gen in a strangled whisper, and the fear and revulsion seized him again. It was, Digen saw, a reaction far beyond the usual fear of Simes. The man was shaking, with teeth clenched and eyes staring. He's a Simephobe!
Behind them, the Sime girl had finally broken into her own reaction, crying softly, hopelessly, on Inez's shoulder. Down the platform, the stationmaster had herded the crowd back into the waiting room, shouting over the babble that the pickup wagon from the Sime Center would soon be there.
Way down the track, Digen could sense the train finally approaching.
Digen took the Gen by the shoulders and shook him once, tentatively. He was a big man, taller than Digen, large boned, gaunt, but still with more muscle on his frame than a Sime would have. Digen took a good grip and shook him hard, saying, "It's all over. Nothing happened. Snap out of it now!"
But the man's stare seemed to have turned inward. It was almost an acute psychotic episode, Digen realized. Gritting his teeth, he drew back his hand and delivered a ringing slap on the Gen's cheek. The man's head turned with the blow, and for a moment Digen was afraid his gambit had failed, for the Gen's head just stayed there.
Then, all at once, the man seemed to shake himself back to life, one hand going to his cheek. "What happened?"
Digen drew back a little, saying, "A touch of hysteria, I think. You're better now."
Collecting himself, the Gen focused on Digen, and for the first time seemed normal. "I'm acting like a fool."
"No," said Digen reassuringly. "That was close. It could have turned into an ugly business. Look," he added, to change the subject, "here comes the train."
The long, crosscountry train was gliding into the station, blowing up dust and grit with a hissing roar until it settled gently to rest, hovering just a finger's breadth above its track its selyn powered engines idling. Porters began opening doors at each end of the cars, and men swung down to heave the bales into the cargo cars.
Crates and boxes were being unloaded and put into hand pulled carts, and the stationmaster was darting here and there. Passengers were getting on and off the cars at the far end of the station. As the Gen picked up his bag, offering his thanks, which Digen waved aside, Digen turned to Inez and the girl, gathering them away from the activity, searching the road with all his senses for sign of the Sime Center's wagon, until finally he saw it.
He took the two women around to the side of the station building to meet the wagon, a huge box affair built on a flatbed drawn by four horses. Digen had never seen such a thing outside a museum.
When the wagon drew up, the driver, a short Sime with long black hair tied with a band, jumped down from his perch, saying, "Couldn't get that old engine started, so I brought the horse rig. Hajene Farris? I'm Zale, channel, second order."
"This is the lady we called you about," said Digen, presenting the Sime girl in English. "Inez here will go with you…."
"Digen…?" said Inez. "I'm supposed to be your escort."
"You're required here," said Digen. The girl had stopped crying, and Digen sensed that the two women had established a form of understanding. "You're low field now and couldn't help me much. I want you to stay with her."
"I think," said the driver, "that our local Controller ought to sort this out."
"No time," said Digen. "I'm not going to miss that train. Inez, you're released from my service and attached to the Sorelton controller on temporary duty. Stay with the kid as long as you can. I'll see you in Westfield."
The train had finished loading and the stationmaster had begun to give the engineer a signal. Digen turned and ran for the train, bounding up onto the platform and making straight for the nearest passenger car.
Out of sheer habit, the conductor held the door for the tardy passenger, and Digen sidled past and entered the car. But that car was full. He showed his ticket to the conductor and was led ten cars to the rear of the train where the last car was half empty.
Digen dropped into the last seat, facing the end of the train. He stretched out, catching his breath as the train began to pick up speed. Then gradually the strain of it all caught up with him, and between the sickening blur that the retainers made of his world and the even worse violence the moving train did to his senses, he felt suddenly and intensely ill.
He drew into himself, ignoring his Need, sustaining his spirits with one thought. He would arrive in Westfield about dawn and would have a good and proper transfer at the Sime Center with the best Donor he'd had in months. Then, when he reported to the Gen hospital, he would be physically and emotionally revived enough to cope with anything they could throw at him.
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