First Channel, 
Jean Lorrah
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
a Sime~Gen Novel 
The Fort Freedom Saga




Chapter 1


Rimon Farris woke with a start, his body instantly at full battle alertness, his mind crystal-clear. Before his eyes focused, he felt the bed bounce again as little Serri jumped on his feet, saying, "Rimon, come on! Mama says you gotta get up now!"

With a groan, he fell back on the pillow, quelling the shock reaction. The room went out of focus in a sickening whirl, and in a panic he fought for self-control.

The bed was still rippling up and down with Serri's jumping. Rimon said irritably, "Serri, don't you know better than to do that when I'm in need?"

"You can't be in need; not for another week!"

But she stopped bouncing.

The room steadied. A burning ache began to spread from the base of Rimon's skull down his back and into his arms. Don't panic, Rimon told himself. Breathe evenly.

Serri eased herself off the bed, her concern at his lack of response barely perceptible to Rimon. She was only a child. Her nager had no more power than Kadi's; "Rimon—you're all right, aren't you?"

To reassure her, Rimon hauled himself to a sitting position. "I will be if you'll go away and let me get up." He met her deep blue eyes for a moment, then buried his head in his hands, wishing he hadn't moved.

She backed toward the door, watching him dubiously. "Everybody else's finished breakfast. You better not fall asleep again, or Mama will scold me." She turned and skipped out, copper curls bouncing.

Stumbling to the shower, Rimon let the water wash over him, then turned it to cold and held his forearms under the stream to dull the feverish ache in his swollen ronaplin glands. It was impossible. He couldn't hold out for another five days. His father would understand, even if Marna didn't.

"Hmpf!" Marna snorted as he entered the dining room, "you've been augmenting again, Rimon, haven't you?"

"No, I haven't, Marna," he said. "I really haven't!"

"Then how did you get into this state so quickly? Rimon, you can have a new Gen every two or three weeks—but what if your father couldn't supply them? What if you had to wait your turn at the government Pens? You kids! Playing games, I'll bet. But it's four years since your changeover, Rimon. It's time you accepted your responsibilities as a man and stopped wasting selyn."

"Yes, Marna," he murmured, only half-listening to the familiar lecture. Her accusations were unfair, but there was no use protesting. The truth was that he had not augmented once this month, and in spite of all the self-discipline he could muster, he was in need after only three weeks and two days. What was going to happen to him? He hadn't been able to concentrate for the past week—and it was getting worse, month by month.

Recognizing that a large part of his depression was due to need, he tried to shake it off as he drank the trin tea Marna had placed in front of him. He couldn't bring himself to touch the bowl of cereal, though. The smell of food turned his stomach. His guts were cramping, and there was a heavy, tight feeling in the middle of his chest. He wondered if he'd make it through the day.

As the tea settled his stomach, he began to feel better. Yes, he could manage for a few more hours, put in a good day's work to impress his father before he had to ask… again.

He sat staring into his empty cup, gathering strength, until his reverie was broken by a cheery "Good morning, Rimon!"

Kadi came in from the kitchen with a tray of clean tea glasses and began quietly stacking them on the sideboard. Immediately Rimon felt better. Kadi's presence always had that effect on him.

He came up behind her, pushed her shining red hair aside, and kissed the back of her neck. The dormant, child's nager soaked through Rimon, unresponsive to his need unthreatening. It was just a touch between friends. Kadi knew that; Rimon sometimes thought she knew every feeling that passed through his heart. She turned and kissed him swiftly—on the nose.

He grinned. "Good morning, slowpoke." He made a show of examining her forearms, although it was obvious from touching her that she was still cool, showing no sign of changeover. "When are you going to grow up so we can get married?"

"When I'm good and ready. I don't know why you're in such a hurry, Rimon. Always first at everything. You'll just have to wait for me… or marry somebody else!"

He looked deep into her blue eyes, but saw only laughter. No, Kadi wasn't worried, either about the dangers of late changeover, or about losing him. He'd never seen her afraid of anything; that was one of the reasons he loved her so much.

Rimon watched her putting the dining room in order. She was tall and slender, but at last the curves of womanhood were slightly softening her figure. It wouldn't be long now before she was his, completely. Determinedly, he thrust from his mind the thought that she might, instead, be lost to him forever. Oh no—not his Kadi. She was taller than average, true, but she was slender. Sime slender, he insisted to himself.

"Kadi!" Marna called from the kitchen. "If Rimon's through, bring his dishes in here and finish up the kitchen."

"Yes, Mama."

"I'd better get out to the Pens," said Rimon.

Kadi looked at him sympathetically. "You're having a bad time again, Rimon."

"Yes. I'm not going to make it to my assignment day this time, either."

"Try," she said. "I'll bring you some more tea later."

"Thanks, Kadi. I don't know what I'd do without you."

He walked out into the bright sunlight, steeling himself against the nager of the Gens. He was to supervise the cultivating of the hillside acreage today, but first… In the Wild Gen compound he found Ran Morcot, Kadi's father, sorting out a new shipment. The Gens were crying and jabbering as Ran's helpers grouped them by sex and age, to determine which strong, healthy, spirited ones would be marked as prime Farris stock, which culled to sell to a local dealer.

The impinging fields grated on Rimon's nerves, as did the actions of the Gens. The wild ones acted too much like people.

They're not people! They're Gens!

As the men began moving a group of five good-looking Gens from one cage to another, one of them, a strong male, made a break for the gate. Instantly, on a burst of augmentation, Ran and two other Simes surrounded him and brought him back to the cage without injury.

"Don't bother to mark that one," Rimon said. "Clean him up and have him ready for me tonight."

Ran noticed him for the first time. "Your father won't approve of your taking prime stock for an extra kill. Take one of the culls."

"I'll talk to Father," Rimon said with a boldness born of desperation. "Taking a cull guarantees I won't be able to go four weeks. With this one, at least there's a chance."

"All right, I'll put him aside, but you don't get him until I have your father's say-so."

Relieved at not having to argue longer amid the emotional fields charged with Gen fear, Rimon set about his morning's duties.

The Farris Genfarm was the largest supplier of choice Gens in the Territory. They purchased the best Wild Gens captured, and also raised their own from the finest breeding stock. The Farris mark—a diagonal notch filed in the left front tooth—was a guarantee of health and spirit. As Syrus Farris said, "It doesn't cost any more to raise a spunky Gen than to raise a broken Gen." And spunky Gens brought more profit. Farris Gens were a luxury product that went to the choice auctions, the exclusive bazaars, and occasionally to wealthy individuals who would come to the Genfarm and pick out a year's supply at once.

One day, Rimon knew, all this would belong to him. And then what? Home-grown Gens made him nervous. He had never had one for a kill, and he knew that his father had him overseeing the cultivating to force him into proximity with them. How can I oversee others when I can't oversee myself? What will I do when it's all my responsibility?

The selyn nager of the working Gens was clear to him before he came over the crest of the hill and saw them toiling, sweating in the sun. They were all strong, healthy, equal to the task, the older children working beside them at the lighter jobs. Although everyone on the Farris Genfarm earned his keep, children of Gens were never mistreated. The children of these Gens could still lead normal lives if they should go through changeover. Some of the best overseers were Simes who had come out of their own Pens. But the supervisor of this particular group was Gen.

Seeing who it was, Rimon wanted to turn and run. Nerob. Once Nerob had been Yahn Keslic, son of one of the Sime supervisors. Years ago, the four kids, Yahn and Rimon, Kadi, and Rimon's cousin, Zeth, had been inseparable. Now Yahn was Nerob, one of the Farris breeding Gens. And Zeth… Zeth was dead.

Rimon shuddered, but forced himself to ride to the end of the row that Nerob was striding, to meet him when he finished that lap of his inspection. Nerob was conscientious, keeping his crew working steadily and well. No wonder. If Syrus Farris were displeased with him, he could be sold tomorrow.

"Tuib Rimon," Nerob said as he bowed, then looked up at Rimon still astride his horse, "Tuib Farris said you'd be checking this section today."

"I hardly have to check your crew, do I?" asked Rimon, sliding off his horse to make a perfunctory examination of the work. As they walked the length of the row, Nerob eyed Rimon, warily gauging his state of need.

Rimon dropped a few paces back from the Gen, sensitive to the fear-tension in the man's nager. About halfway down the furrow, Nerob stopped, waiting for Rimon to catch up. "I expect we'll make it to the irrigation ditch road by evening."

Rimon had to close the distance to hear and speak normally, consciously controlling himself. "Don't drive them too hard, Nerob. There's always tomorrow."

"Is there?" The Gen's eyes met Rimon's. Then, under his breath, he added, looking away, "For you, maybe there is, not for us."

Rimon seized the Gen's arm and whirled him around. But then, despite Nerob's leap of fear, Rimon thrust the cringing Gen away, thinking, You're alive, Nerob. You're Gen, and you're still alive. Zeth was Sime, and he's dead! But Nerob wasn't to blame for Zeth's death. Rimon had nobody to blame for that but himself.

"You can't take me, Tuib Rimon," said Nerob. "I'm under your father's personal protection. You won't disgrace the Farris honor."

Rimon stood back, letting himself become conscious of the complex fields surrounding the Gen, reading the hidden meanings behind the man's emotions. He wants to hurt me. He wants to use my need against me. He resents me more than I resent him. Why, when Father's saved his life?

When Rimon came back to normal consciousness, the Gen was flinching away from the raw need in Rimon, his fear almost too much to bear. Shaking, Rimon said, "Calm down. I wouldn't take you—unless you goad me to it. We were—after all—friends."

Rimon whirled and stalked back to his horse. But then, instead of following impulse and galloping away, he sat and watched until Nerob had rejoined the distant group of fieldhands. Here in the field, those Gens felt temporarily safe. Anyone coming to buy today would be shown first the Wild Gens in the compound, and then the Domestic Gens down around the big house. Good workers could count on being safe until after harvest. Most of them settled into unthinking routine, their selyn fields high but unresponsive.

Gradually, Rimon's breathing returned to normal. He wheeled his horse and trotted toward the next group of workers.

Relief washed through him. He usually avoided Nerob and the few other Gens he had known before they established—began producing selyn. It was hard to remember that someone was not a person if you'd grown up with him. Gens looked like people, after all, seemed just like everybody else until the time of changeover when, instead of becoming Sime, they began producing selyn, the biologic energy that Simes had to have to live. Clearly, nature intended Gens to produce selyn for Simes, for Simes were faster, stronger, and equipped with special organs to draw the selyn from a Gen's system.

Those organs, the delicate lateral tentacles that lay along either side of Rimon's forearms, protruded slightly from their sheaths under the combined influence of his need and the impinging Gen fields. Deliberately, he retracted them, but that put pressure on his ronaplin glands, swollen with the selyn-conducting fluid that moistened the laterals for transfer.

Extending his handling tentacles relieved some of the pressure, so he extended all four on each arm, curling the ventrals around the reins and letting the dorsals lie across the backs of his hands, along his fingers. The primary purpose of those tentacles was to immobilize the arms of a Gen so the smaller laterals would not be dislodged during the selyn draw. However, they served that purpose only once a month, on the average. The rest of the time the strong, resilient handling tentacles were extra fingers—even extra hands. Gen arms seemed pitifully naked and awkward without them.

As he rode to the next group of workers, the fresh air revived Rimon's spirits. There the supervisor was Sime, as were all the others that he checked that morning. The flat fields of the Gens and the undisturbing fields of the Simes were little problem compared to what Nerob had put him through. All was calm and normal. By the time he had circled the furthest field and started working his way back, Kadi met him under the trees by the reservoir, bringing a double-walled container of trin tea, fresh and hot. They sat down under a tree, where the shade was still cool in the late spring morning.

"You're feeling better," Kadi said after Rimon had had a long drink of tea.

"Yes I'm fine for the moment but I'm having trouble controlling around the Gens." Her nager remained unlinked to his, her body consuming selyn only at the almost imperceptible rate of a child.

She took his hand and laid it in her lap. Two fingers stroked along the ventral sheaths, causing the tentacles to emerge from the wrist orifices. They twined about her fingers, and she squeezed them gently, then began to play with them, trying to tie a bow. Rimon wriggled them just enough to frustrate her, laughing at her attempts. She could always make him laugh, even when he was feeling his worst.

Finally, she stopped teasing his tentacles, and twined her fingers with his. "What are you going to do, Rimon?"

"Ask for another Gen. Tonight."

"What will your father say?"

"What can he say? He can see I'm in need. It happens to him sometimes, too—lots of times he can't make it a full four weeks."

"But not every month," she pointed out. "I know how hard you're trying, Rimon. I wish I could do something to help."

"You can. Will you meet me tonight, after…?" The image of Nerob, twisted in the rictus of fear, floated to the top of his mind again, and the world shimmered into pulsing selyn fields for an instant. No. It will be that big out-Territory buck. Not someone I know.

Kadi said, "I'll be there, like always, Rimon." She squeezed his hand reassuringly. "I just wish there was more I could do than sit it out with you."

He wrapped his handling tentacles about their two hands, joining them. "Soon, Kadi. Soon you'll grow up, and we'll have each other forever." Soon—one day soon, he would be there to help her after her first time.

What would I do without her? he wondered as she left him to go back to her duties at the house. She was almost sixteen natal years old—few who changed over after fifteen survived, and those who did were left weak, unable to withstand the first illness, the first bodily strain that came along. And he wanted Kadi to marry him, to bear his children.

Again he thrust morbid thoughts from his mind. Going about his work, though, he found need forcing itself into his consciousness again. The soothing effects of the trin tea and Kadi's company wore off as he repaired a broken fence, instructed one of the Sime supervisors to take his Gens in early because he had driven them to exhaustion—his father would hear about that—and inspected several more groups that were working efficiently. That was the norm and the expectation on the Farris Genfarm; it was surprising that Rimon had found even one instance of poor work practices.

Toward late afternoon, though, Rimon was seeing everything as shifting field gradients, his Sime senses at their keenest peak. Fighting for self-control, he rode slowly up to the last work detail, supervised by an old friend, Del Erick.

As Rimon dismounted, Erick turned from watching two Gens open an irrigation gate. "Ah… Rimon!" Erick hesitated. "Shuven, Rimon, I know I said I'd repay you by yesterday, but I just couldn't get the money together… and… look, I'll have it by payday or you can take it out of my salary."

Rimon made a sweeping gesture, tentacles flying. Erick, poised on the balls of his feet, flicked back a step or two, startling his horse. As his friend brought the animal back under control, Rimon swore silently. Even my best friend is still afraid of me!

Rimon put a hand, tentacles carefully sheathed, to the bridle of Del's horse, and across the silken nose of the animal, said, "I know how hard it is sometimes, to raise cash. I can give you more time. I have all the money I can use."

Zlinning Rimon more closely, Del said, "You're—in need again—early."

"Dad has always been very generous with me. Don't worry about it. Pay me when you can. What are friends for, anyway?"

"I won't forget this."

"No obligation," said Rimon, holding up his closed fist, ventral tentacles extended. Del returned the gesture, twining his own ventrals around Rimon's for just an instant—aware how his high field struck through Rimon's aching body.

Rimon smiled, nicked a cursory glance at the working Gens, and swung himself into his saddle. With an airy wave, he rode back to the big house and went straight to his father's office, determined to press his case. When even his closest friends were leery of him, it was time for something drastic.

Syrus Farris was an imposing man. He had the normal wiry Sime build, but stood unusually tall—a good three inches taller than his son. There was no doubt of their relationship, though. Both had the same black eyes and straight black hair, the same mobile, expressive lips, and characteristic chin.

Farris was busy with accounts when his son approached him, so Rimon had to sit down and wait, as he had done so often in this familiar room. It was a room for working, with solid, businesslike furniture, and undisguised files and other paraphernalia. The only non-utilitarian object was the portrait of Rimon's mother over the fireplace. It was hard to imagine his father loving that ethereal woman with her halo of soft blond hair, blue eyes looking calmly out at the world. Rimon had never known his mother, for she had died giving birth to him. Occasionally, since he had grown up, he wondered if his father had ever completely forgiven him for that.

But no, his father had always seen to it that Rimon had everything he wanted. Marna often said his father spoiled him. If that were true, though, why was he so hesitant now to ask his father for something that he obviously had to have?

Farris looked up from his accounts at last. "Again, Rimon?"

"I am in need, Father."

"I can tell that. The question is, why are you in need? Marna says you've been augmenting unnecessarily."

"I understand why Marna thinks so, but it's not true. I have not augmented once this month." Rimon made no effort to control his selyn fields, letting his father read the truth directly from them. His father was exceptionally sensitive about such things. Nobody ever got a lie by him.

Farris studied his son. "Yes," he said, "you are telling the truth. Now… what can be done about it?"

"I don't know, Father. I seem to require more selyn than most people just to live. I will… simply have to work harder to afford the cost."

"It's not the cost that concerns me. Rimon, you're a grown man. Have you ever had a fully satisfactory kill? Have you ever—wanted to take a woman afterward?"

"Kadi and I have an understanding."

"No evasions, Son! Are you controlling the impulse, or is it that you've never felt it?" He paused at a new thought. "Or—

no. Kadi's just a child. You couldn't…."

"I wouldn't!" Rimon found himself on his feet, tensed. He made himself sit down again.

"I'm sorry," said Farris, and Rimon felt his furious embarrassment. "But I had to ask. I had to know. You've always had so much trouble. I'd hoped—well, it's been four years."

"It will be all right, Father, when Kadi's grown. I wouldn't—want—anyone else. Only—it seems I'm always in need, and I ache for the freedom of augmentation."

Rimon's misery communicated to his father. Farris picked up a ledger. "Ran told me you put your mark on one of the new catch of Wild Gens this morning."

"Yes, Father, a big male with a strong field. I want him. Now."

"You chose a Wild Gen with a strong field last time, and it didn't help. I think it's time you had a domestic Gen."

"No!" Nerob! The image choked him. "I'm sorry, Father, but you know why I don't want someone who knows me, who can talk to me—"

"Someone? Haven't you learned yet that Gens are not people, Rimon?"

"Please, Father. Your domestic Gens are valuable. I'll take one of the culls from this morning's shipment—"

"It's all arranged, Rimon. Gens who have lived among Simes understand more of what is happening. The emotions are more satisfying than the blind terror of the Wild Gens. Expense is nothing where my son's health is concerned. Not to mention… grandchildren."

Rimon was shaking his head bleakly. "Father, please, I can't. Not a Gen I know."

His father's expressive lips formed a hard line of annoyance. "Nobody ever takes a Gen he knows on this Genfarm. You know that, Rimon."

"Yes, Father. Forgive me." How could I have thought…? Farris was a compassionate man. He kept as many established children of his friends as he could afford to, as breeding stock, giving them the chance to live as comfortably and securely as any Gen could hope to. When he could not afford to keep one—and of course there was no way he could afford to keep many males—he saw to it that such Gens were shipped far away, so their parents never had the slightest chance of hearing what finally became of them.

"This male came in today's shipment," Farris was explaining. "The raiders caught him at the border. It's not one you know, Rimon but he's from in-Territory—and spirited. He's been waiting for you all afternoon. This should do it for you, Son."

"Thank you, Father," said Rimon quietly. As he left, he steeled himself inwardly. It wouldn't be Nerob. It was just another Gen, and he would do what he had to do before he disgraced himself by taking an unauthorized Gen—or worse.

He put it all aside. The boy who awaited him was perhaps fourteen years old, stocky, with bronze-colored hair and expressive hazel eyes. He wore only the yawal, the clean white smock of the killroom, and a collar and chain. The chain was fastened high on the wall, so that although his arms and legs were free he could not move very far from the couch on which he sat—crouched, rather, like a frightened animal.

His fear burned into Rimon's strained nerves. Ravenous need sang through every cell of Rimon's body as he approached. The boy cowered for a moment. Then determination sprang to his eyes as he sat up straight and watched Rimon come nearer, glancing from Rimon's face to his wrists, where the laterals were now beyond any control, extended, drinking in the Gen's blazing field, dripping ronaplin.

When Rimon put out a hand to release the chain from the boy's collar, the boy flinched, then held still, his nager flaring hope along with his deep fear as fingers and tentacles hit the eight points on each side of the collar to release the lock. When the chain fell free, the huge hazel eyes looked up at Rimon. "Are you letting me go?"

Simelan. He realized he had been hoping the boy would remain silent, making it possible to regard him as an animal, like the Wild Gens. Coherent speech was an unfair tactic. He jerked the boy to his feet. "You shut up!"

"Please, let me go. I'll do anything!"

As the boy continued to plead, his words disappeared into the swirling selyn fields. Rimon's Sime senses took over. No longer did his strong hands hold a physical body, but a bright field of pulsing energy. His emptiness screamed to be filled.

He seized the boy's forearms with hands and handling tentacles, seating the hungry laterals. As he contacted Gen skin, Rimon felt the long-ignored ache in his chest loosen, and instinct drove him to seek the fifth contact point with his lips. The Gen was a writhing mass of energy, charged with the fear that made it impossible for Rimon to resist. Energy poured from the Gen to him, satisfying his need, pulsing new life into every nerve, driven by the ecstatic force of the Gen's fear, completing, fulfilling, to burst into a brilliant rapture and a blissful moment's loss of physical awareness.

Rimon was brought back to reality by the tug of a dead weight on his arms. The Gen's eyes were still open, staring up at him accusingly. Like Zeth's. With a strangled cry, he dropped the corpse—no different in death than a Sime. It crumpled to the floor, still staring at him. Those dead eyes glaring from fear-contorted features held him, hypnotized.

With a groan, Rimon knelt and closed them, then lifted the body onto the couch. It was still warm, as if pretending to life—but there was no life there now. Every spark had been transferred to Rimon, so that he could go on with his existence.


Why do I deserve to live?

Why did he have to die?

There was no trace of the post-kill syndrome his father had predicted. He didn't want a woman, he wanted to vomit. With shaking hands, he pulled a coverlet over the body and yanked at the signal cord for the attendant.

This is what Gens are for. This is what Gens are for. It is what Gens are for!

He turned and fled from the killroom.

After his kill, sick and shaking, Rimon sought the only haven he had ever found since his changeover—Kadi's presence. Unaware of anything else, he headed out to where she had promised to wait for him, in the swing under the big tree in the back yard.

He dropped into the swing, staring at his arms. The tentacles were retracted tightly, painfully—but there was pleasure in the pain for a moment, until Kadi put one arm around his shoulders and the other hand over his clenched hands in his lap. In her soothing presence, he began to relax a little… almost to be a child again, one of the four Krazy Kids.

All within a three-year span in age, the four of them had shared adventures, projects, and pranks. Zeth had been the oldest, the leader until Rimon began to challenge him. Then the two had developed a spirited rivalry for Kadi's approval—and Yahn, the youngest, had entered in, even though he could never keep up with the older boys.

But the two Farrises could not help admiring the way both Yahn and Kadi refused to give up—hence the vow the four of them made never to separate. "And Kadi can be wife to all of us!" Zeth had joked—the only one of them at that moment old enough to comprehend the joke. Rimon, sensing that there was more to it than friendship had had to conceal his jealousy under camaraderie—but soon there was to be no more rivalry for her affections. Time intervened to tear the Krazy Kids apart.

Zeth had changed over three or four months before Rimon did, and soon drifted away from the group, outdistancing them as he took on a man's duties, learning to use his new abilities as a Sime. Nonetheless, Zeth had tried to keep up their lifelong ties, including their childish vow of loyalty. So, when Yahn Keslic established selyn production, Zeth told him and encouraged him to run for the border. Rimon had been away with his father that day, and when Zeth told him on his return, he was furious. "You call that friendship? Why didn't you take him to the border, Zeth? You're Sime—you could guide him. Come on—let's find him and help him across."

When Syrus Farris' son was willing to brave his wrath, his nephew became more willing to lend his aid. All night Rimon and Zeth searched for Yahn, but couldn't find him. Toward morning they decided it was useless, and started back toward home—only to have Rimon begin changeover. Zeth made a fire, tended Rimon until he'd stopped vomiting, and then decided the best thing to do, as Rimon was drifting in and out of consciousness, was to go home and bring back a Gen for Rimon's first kill.

An augmenting Sime should have had no trouble, but Zeth had not taken into account the fact that the first stages of Rimon's changeover had been exceptionally rapid, and so was the last. Within half an hour, Rimon's tentacles broke free, and he was a full-fledged Sime in first need—the hardest and most terrifying need most Simes ever know. He set out blindly after Zeth. With the speed of desperation, he overtook his cousin when they were still more than an hour's journey from home—from the nearest Gen. To Rimon, Zeth's field seemed the source of all salvation.

Reaching to cling to that field without thought, Rimon found his tentacles twining about Zeth's arms in sheer reflex. He seized Zeth's laterals with his own; even so, Zeth did not fear. Only when Rimon, driven, made lip contact, completing the circuit, drawing selyn voraciously from Zeth's body—only then did Zeth panic, driving Rimon into the vicious stripping draw of a full-blown killmode attack.

Rimon did not remember much of what happened after that. In torment, he had wandered for hours, until suddenly there were people around him, and he was taken over by someone who let him collapse into a wagon, drove him somewhere—and then his father was bending over him, his concern flowing to Rimon through the new, confusing senses, saying, "Rimon? What idiot moved my son while he's in changeover?"

"He's through it," insisted the driver. "He came into the Northwest unit on his own power, then collapsed. I don't know what's wrong, but he was conscious when I put him in the wagon."

Farris smiled reassuringly at Rimon, reaching toward him, extending his laterals to read his field. "It's all right. You just didn't get a very good first kill. In a little while, after you rest, we'll—"

"No!" Rimon cried in horror, his own tentacles retracting painfully at the sight of his father's—organs of murder.

He felt annoyance beneath the genuine concern in his father's field. "Rimon it's over. As soon as you get a decent kill, you'll feel fine."

"I killed him!"

Both concern and annoyance deepened, accompanied now by fear—and Rimon knew his father feared for his sanity. Well, so did he. But Farris said reassuringly, "Of course you killed. It's perfectly natural. That's what Gens are for."

Rimon rolled away from his father's touch, gathering in on himself, hating what he had become, what he had done. "No," he groaned. "Not a Gen. Zeth! He was trying to help me, Father, and I—killed—Zeth!"

It was terrifying now to be able to see the discrepancy between what Syrus Farris felt—fear, revulsion—and the control he exercised before he spoke. Other feelings came flowing in—sorrow, disbelief, even love for his son. But Rimon had seen—

no, for the first time in his life, he zlinned—that first unshielded burst of emotion, and he could not totally believe the reassuring tone in his father's voice as he said, "If you did, you couldn't help it. Just tell me where, and I'll send someone. Then we'll get you to bed. You have to rest, Son. It's all right."

But it was not all right. Marna and Kadi put Rimon to bed, but nothing they could do would stop his shaking. The sight of Marna's tentacles sickened him, and he hid his own under the covers, wanting to go back to yesterday, to be a child again.

He heard Marna and Kadi whispering. Zeth couldn't be dead, Marna said. A Sime could not kill another Sime that way. Rimon grasped at the thread of hope—what did he know of it? His senses had been so confused. He had drawn—but not enough, his father said. Then maybe Zeth was unconscious. They'd find him and bring him home. He'd be all right. They'd all be together again, the Krazy Kids, Zeth and Rimon and Kadi and—

No. Never again. Yahn was Gen. But if they hadn't found him, that had to mean he had escaped across the border. So Yahn would be all right, and Zeth…

He slept fitfully on and off through the afternoon and into the evening. It was after dark when a commotion outside drew his attention. They must have found Zeth! He raced to the window, and saw… Yahn, his father, and Syrus Farris. Farris was saying, his mouth thin with annoyance, "Keslic, you know I can't keep every male…."

"Syrus, he came home of his own free will!"

Rimon couldn't believe it! Why had Yahn come home? Here he had no chance at a life as a person—only across the border was there any hope at all for a Gen. Was that what being Gen meant—

losing all courage?

After an eternity, Farris said to Yahn's father, "All right, I'll keep him for a year. If he earns his keep, then he can stay on permanently, but he'll have to be a worker as well as a breeder." He didn't speak directly to Yahn, but to his father, as if Yahn could not understand.

"Thank you, Syrus," Keslic said. "I know Yahn will work well for you."

"No, not Yahn," said Farris. "There is no Yahn Keslic anymore. You understand that."

"Yes, N'vet."

"Take him to the Gen compound, and put him to work in the morning." Yahn would have a year to earn his life… and if he did, he would then be given a name. Meanwhile, he was a nameless Gen like all the rest.

Chills went through Rimon despite the warm night. What if I'd been Gen instead of Sime? Would my father do that to me? He shook off the thought, but it persisted. It can happen to anybody. Father had only one heir—until Uncle Ryin died and Zeth came to live with us. When Zeth changed over, Father knew there would be one Farris to carry on. But I'm Sime, too, and I'm his son….

And surely Zeth is alive!

But the next day Zeth's drained body was brought in, and everyone knew: Rimon was different.

When the hope was gone, Rimon could not face the Gen they tried to tempt him with. He would no sooner touch Gen skin than he would collapse, his selyn currents in chaos. His father and Marna tried until he went into convulsions before they finally gave up and took the Gen away. He lay there, waiting to die… hoping to die. How could he ever kill again, after killing Zeth? No one wanted to look at him… until Kadi appeared with trin tea laced with apricot nectar. Her childish nager held no reproach—

and no pity. There was true sympathy in it, and love. She had no tentacles—and yet she was not Gen. Somehow that was enough for Rimon, and as he drank the tea he managed for the first time to tell someone the complete story—a healing outpouring of the pain bottled up in him ever since Zeth had dropped lifeless from his grasp.

"Kadi, I wasn't going to kill him. I know I wasn't going to kill him! I didn't want to hurt—only when he tried to get away—

something happened inside me. I—I—it was awful."

She crawled into bed with him, then, holding him for warmth as they had often shared a bedroll on camping trips. She had a child's body and a child's nager. But she believed him. She understood—and that was everything Rimon had to have at that moment.

Even with Kadi's help, Rimon almost died of attrition before finally, on the fourth try, he completed the kill of a Gen presented to him. That kill, and every subsequent one, became a reliving of Zeth's death under his tentacles. Guilt, everyone said. But everyone knew, too, the awful fact that tormented him every month: Rimon is different.

Now, four years later, Kadi was helping him through it again. He didn't know what it was about her field, weak as it was, that soothed him even when he was most tormented. Slowly, he came out of the past, drew a deep, shuddering breath, and brushed his lips lightly, gratefully, over her forehead. Kadi pulled away to study his face, then took his hands and slid her fingers up around his arms, turning her face up to him for a full lip-lip contact. "Come on, Rimon. It will help."

He took her in full attack position, joining his lips to hers in a brief, glancing contact, and then withdrew, sheathing his tentacles. He sighed, deeply. "You always know what to do for me. I'm always afraid to do it."

Kadi kicked the swing into motion, working the tensions out of herself with the rhythmic jerking of her thigh muscles. "If you're in the mood to take orders, I'll tell you what to do for yourself next."

"What?" asked Rimon, stopping the swing with his long legs.

"Tell me about it, exactly what happened tonight. I saw your father. I know it was something pretty bad, because he was worried—but also hopeful."

"Dad, worried? Sure. He gave me one of his best Gens—and he's afraid it won't work."

"Well, did it?"

For a long moment, Rimon stared off into the distance, remembering. "I don't know, Kadi. In a way it was… good. But—

I can't do it again. I don't know if I'll ever be able to face a kill again. I felt so sick—afterwards. I still do."

"What did he give you—one that knew you?"

"Of course not. But, Kadi—the kid—spoke to me. He begged me not to kill him. Begged. And the more he begged, the better it was. His fear—it was horrible and it was wonderful, and I hate myself. It was like Zeth—only better, do you understand? What am I, Kadi?"

She stroked his tentacles. "You're Sime. That's a very proud and beautiful thing to be, and I love you for it."

He turned and took her by the shoulders. "Could you love me if you were Gen and I was in need?" As he spoke, he let his tentacles touch her neck. "Could you love me then, Kadi? Or would you fear?"

"Don't be silly. Gens aren't human. They don't know the meaning of love."

"But if they did? What would happen if a Gen didn't fear?"

She shook her head. "You always talk this way when it gets to you. Rimon, look at Nerob—when he was a kid he was normal enough, but now look at him. Fear is a Gen's nature. The fear is there because the Sime is attracted by it—attracted to his selyn, like—like a flower's smell attracts bees. It's all part of nature."

"Is it? Well, when you've changed over, maybe I'll be able to show you what I mean."

"I only wish that would happen soon!"

"It could be any time. Maybe tomorrow…."

"No. When I took his dinner in, your father checked. There's still no sign of changeover." He felt her anxiety, understood very well why she should be anxious—despite all her courage, she would face a very rough changeover at her age… if she survived it.

But then her mood shifted. "I'm just impatient," she said. "I want to be your wife, Rimon, and…you know what? Your father approves."

"He said so?" Rimon was surprised--not that he expected his father to make any objection to Kadi as the daughter of indentured servants—after all, the Morcots had worked that off years ago—but that he should express positive approval was unusual indeed.

"Yes. He actually said, 'I hope it works out.' That's an awful lot from your father, you know."

"I know!" But then, what other woman would have Rimon? His father would want grandchildren…oh, that was almost funny. He held Kadi close, trying to convince himself that once she changed over, she would be able to attract him as no other woman could. Despite four years with never a hint of sexual desire, he somehow believed that Kadi could do it. Well, she had saved his sanity—

maybe his life—many times in the first months after his changeover. If she could handle him that way when she was only a child, what would she be as a grown woman?

His thoughts were interrupted by a disturbance in the ambient nager. He stood up, startled, searching the west road against the setting sun. Kadi stood beside him. "What is it?"

"Wagon coming. Gens—"

"What's wrong, Rimon?"

"Don't know—Nerob there, I think—alone in the wagon. He's left his crew out there unsupervised? No, he's not alone!"

Rimon began to run for the big house, shouting for his father. Kadi followed him through the hallway, past Farris' office where the older man joined them, and out onto the front porch, down, and across the yard.

The wagon pulled to a stop, horses blowing. Nerob got down from the seat, breathless, incoherent. "Tuib Farris—I tried to stop them. Soon as I saw—I got him away—best I could—Tuib Farris, don't—"

"Quiet!" ordered Farris as he and Rimon bent over the bruised and bloody form on the flatbed.

Rimon said, "Shen and shid! Don't you know better than to move a Sime in changeover?"

Farris vaulted into the wagon, probing the injured Sime. "It's not as bad as it looks. He's close to breakout. Here, you men, get Findel into the infirmary. Then go down to the holding Pen and cut out that male with the deformed foot."

In moments, men were scurrying everywhere, preparing to welcome a new Sime into the world. As the confusion cleared, Farris turned to Nerob, who had caught his breath.

"Let's hear it!"

"We were loading the last wagon, getting ready to come in for the night. Findel was missing. I had the men spread out and search—he couldn't have gone far. We heard a commotion--some of the men had found Findel in the irrigation ditch, helpless like that. Couple of my crew are out-Territory. They started it, and the rest went along—trying to beat him to death. I lit into one of the ringleaders—Klauf, knocked him down, grabbed Findel and ran for it."

"So you moved a Sime in changeover." Farris' tone was menacing, but his nager betrayed only curiosity. Rimon looked to the Gen, who was sweating.

"I'm sorry, Tuib Farris, but I couldn't hold off a mob. I figured it was either psychospatial disorientation or being beaten to death. This way he may hate me, but at least he'll live."

Farris considered that. "Hmmm. Quick thinking—shrewd thinking, for a Gen. I don't have many Gens capable of making that kind of decision." He paused, glancing at Rimon. "Nerob, name your reward."

Taken completely aback, Nerob dropped his gaze. "Why—

I—wouldn't know…."

"Is there, perhaps, some particular female you fancy?"

Nerob's head came up. His eyes turned to Kadi. Rimon heard through rising fury, "Tuib Farris, if you would, I have always wanted Kadi."

Rimon stepped forward, wanting to strike the Gen. "You brazen—!"

Farris stopped him with one warning tentacle. "Nerob, that was entirely inappropriate. Kadi is still a child."

"Then—if—it is ever appropriate," said the Gen, eyes downcast, visibly trembling at his own audacity, "if ever it can be, I want her as my only reward." Again he met her eyes for one quick flashing glance.

Kadi's skin crawled, and though her nager had little power, both Rimon and his father turned at her reaction.

Farris said, "I will keep this request of yours in mind, Nerob. You may go now and collect your crew. See to their injuries and bed them securely. Any more—trouble of any sort, and you may lose claim to any reward."

Rimon watched in disbelief as the Gen wheeled the wagon about and drove into the red sunset. Farris hadn't said no. He hadn't said yes, but he hadn't denied Nerob either. Rimon, sick, felt the cold dread gathering in Kadi. At that moment, he could have wrung his father's neck. If Kadi were Sime, fine, she would do well enough for Farris' peculiar son. But if she were Gen, Farris would casually hand her over to Nerob, use her for breeding—

It was only Kadi's discomfort that kept Rimon from going after his father in fury. Putting his arm around her, he said, "Don't worry, Kadi—you're going to be Sime, and you're going to be my wife. That's a promise!"

Chapter Two

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