Rimon caught up with the traders who had Kadi one day out of Reloc—and while he was scouting about to see if there was any chance of making himself known to her unobserved, Wolf caught up to him. The dog leaped on him, licking his face, barking joyously as if he knew Rimon was there to rescue Kadi. He managed to quiet the animal, and backed off, tying Wolf to a tree while he continued his search. Kadi was there, all right—how could he have thought he would not recognize her nager? She was still Kadi, only more so.
Amid the Gen fields ranging from terror to despair, he found one calm to numbness, yet glowing beyond the others with a sweetness he had never experienced before. She was in discomfort, but not pain—sunburned, dirty, sweat- and dust-begrimed, bruised from jolting over the rough roads, Kadi was in the state of any Gen being shipped to market after several days on the road. But this time it was Kadi. It was all Rimon could do to keep himself from rushing up to demand her release.
And the dealer was Brant, a pompous stickler for the legalities who would never sit still for a quiet little roadside transaction with a bribe to sweeten it.
So Rimon, Wolf in tow, followed them to Reloc, keeping to a safe distance as he watched Kadi delivered to one of the largest establishments. She was the last one in the wagon, huddled down at the bottom against the wall, half-asleep in her exhaustion. One of the Simes unloading the wagon flicked his whip at her bare feet, and Rimon gasped as if he were the one stung. Kadi struggled to her feet, warily watching the Sime threatening to drag her out of the cage with his whip. "I'll walk, thank you," she said with dignity. Dirt, bruises, whip marks, dark circles under her eyes—and still she managed to hold her head high as she entered the compound and the door closed behind her.
Rimon knew it would take over an hour to prepare her, if they wanted to display her today. He also knew the procedures and closed his mind to them. She would be stripped, showered, and subjected to various indignities intended to frighten her. The guards would be allowed a kill—any Gen who made trouble, as an example to the others. Would Kadi be that example? He shivered in the bright sunlight and set about his preparations to buy her and get her away from there.
A short distance from town, he made camp. Kadi would be bone-weary, and probably hungry once she knew she was safe. As he had not brought enough food for a Gen, he did a little shopping and found a barber shop to help him put on his "prosperous jaded gentleman" look. With his boots shined, a fresh change of clothing, and barbered to neatness, he knew he gave the appearance of a man looking for an exotic kill. His increasing need only added to the effect.
He tied Wolf to a tree and went down the central street toward where he had last seen Kadi. There was a crowd in front of the display. Kadi had been dressed in a bit of filmy green material, and placed on a velvet couch between a blonde in blue and a brunette in red. Quite a picture they made; clearly that merchant knew prime merchandise when he found it.
Kadi was sitting very straight, keeping her legs together—
the only way she could keep either dignity or modesty the way they had dressed her. She could hardly move anyway; the jeweled collar about her neck was attached by a fine chain to a stake driven into the dirt. All around her men and women were so displayed, three to a couch, each in a jewel-like setting. Guards in crisp livery made sure none of the customers examining the merchandise got carried away and took a kill before paying.
By concentrating, Rimon could sort Kadi's field out from the others'. She had gone numb again—her spirits undoubtedly drooping even lower. He couldn't let her see him now. He had to wait until something else stirred her emotions, or the salesman might suspect something.
A couple approached her, the woman saying, "The sign says she's from in-Territory. I wouldn't want to develop such expensive tastes."
"You're right, of course, Bea," said her husband, "but she intrigues me. See how steady she is? We could keep her for a long time. I wouldn't take her accidentally, like the last one."
"And look at her hands," said the woman. "She's used to hard work. We can get a lot out of her while we work her up."
A salesman came over. "You'll certainly get your money's worth with this one. Just zlin that field—solid and packed and still rising. And she's well broken—a bit slow to respond right now because she's been rushed through production. Fresh in today. It makes them a little numb at first, but there's the added advantage of not getting used merchandise—almost like home-grown."
The woman became intrigued. "And just how much would you want for such a one?"
The salesman named an outrageous figure. Kadi looked up for the first time and said with a slight sneer, "The likes of you could never afford me."
Startled, Rimon watched the three Simes zlin her. Then the salesman said, "As I said, folks, when they snap out of it, they come on very strong. Just zlin that nager!"
But the woman linked arms with her husband, pulling him on. "The likes of you, my dear, could never handle the likes of her—
let alone afford her."
The salesman turned to Kadi and gritted in an undertone, "No supper for you tonight, and if you scare away any more customers, I'll take stronger measures."
Kadi looked up at him, then away. He didn't scare her. She leaned against the back of the couch, still carefully preserving her dignity. She cares, thought Rimon. Something in Kadi refuses to give up her humanity, even when she thinks she doesn't care anymore.
As Kadi was staring at her hands in her lap, Rimon dared move closer. She looked much better now, clean, her hair shining again—but the scratches and bruises showed plainly on her fair skin. Another customer stopped, this time a tall blond man. The salesman said, "Have you ever felt a more seductive nager? She's ripe now, but I guarantee she'll get better in a month or two."
"How much?" the man asked, putting one foot up on the platform. A nearby guard unlimbered his whip, coming to full alert. The Sime said, eyes riveted on Kadi, "May I take a closer look?"
Rimon watched Kadi take in the bulging ronaplin glands along the man's arms, the trembling of leashed need. For the first time, he detected a faint glimmer of fear in her—and saw what it did to the Sime before her. His laterals licked out of their sheaths, and he leaned forward as the salesman named a figure. He was in no mood to haggle. "I'll take her."
Rimon felt a rush of pure pain and deadly fear that the man would take Kadi then and there. He made one step forward, but the salesman said, "You may examine the merchandise, but remember please that the price will be the same, and a private kill will be much more satisfying than taking her here with all these other fields interfering."
Kadi's contempt reflected Rimon's own—contempt for the man's public display of his need. He expected the man to back off at the derision pouring in from all sides—even from the Gen before him. Yet the Sime came even closer to Kadi, reaching out a tentacle to caress her bare thigh, savoring her nager. Rimon stepped up behind the man, expecting Kadi to look up then, but she didn't. She was staring at the Sime before her, her momentary fear gone—and because she did not fear, she was holding him mesmerized with her nager. Rimon had never seen such a thing. Slowly, Kadi's contempt faded, as did the soothing aura of her field. She was… deliberately stimulating the man's need!
"Are you going to let him do that?" Rimon snapped at the guard, who was just as fascinated as the customer. He came to just in time—the Sime's self-control snapped, and he seized Kadi's arms for a kill.
The guard's whip cracked, and the attacking Sime was doubled over, weak with the shock of shen. Rimon seized the moment.
"What's going on here?"
To his own shock, his voice rang in his ears exactly like his father's authoritative tones.
The salesman turned to look at the intruder, and his belligerence melted as he took in Rimon's carefully planned guise. With an obsequious bow, he said, "Yes, N'vet, may I help you?"
Taking his time, savoring the way people parted at his approach, Rimon circled the salesmen and guards and looked Kadi up and down as if he had never seen her before. But out of eyeshot of the Simes, he gave her a quick tentacle signal—let me handle this.
Kadi kept still, her nager ringing with surprise—but that was all right. Everyone on the platform was surprised, no one more than Rimon himself. But now he had to play out the role. "Yes, this one will do. There's nothing better here, and I'm in a hurry today. How much?"
The salesman named a figure twice what he'd asked of the attacker. Controlling his fields and swallowing a lump in his throat, Rimon nodded casually. "Fine."
By this time, the Sime who had attacked Kadi had pulled himself together. He confronted Rimon, still clutching his middle. "This Gen is already sold."
Rimon zlinned the man's fields. No, he was not still fixed on Kadi; the shen had broken that link. And, in fact, Rimon himself was in harder need. Indignantly, Rimon turned to the salesman. He didn't have to say a word. With a flick of two tentacles, the salesman ordered the offensive customer removed. The management could make amends to his kind later—he had to stay on the good side of a man who represented the very society from which Reloc made its living.
With another bow, the salesman said, "Shall I have her prepared for you here, N'vet? The Sultana Suite is vacant for the day."
Rimon looked down at the man. "Certainly not. I have my own methods. Have her prepared for the trail. I'll pick her up in ten minutes—no more than that." The only way he might possibly get away with it was to rush them, so they had no time to think. Yet he had to play the role.
He deliberately looked Kadi up and down again, then reached under his cloak for the leather bag of money, which he tossed negligently to the salesman. "That should cover it, and a nice tip for you, too." As he turned away, he reminded, "Ten minutes."
It was the longest ten minutes Rimon had ever counted off—
but be let every second of it pass before he appeared again to collect his purchase, carefully suppressing a sigh of relief.
An hour later, Kadi was riding beside him through the open woods outside Reloc, Wolf running happily beside them. They kept silence as the heavy town traffic thinned and the farmers and dealers leaving the market at the end of the day turned off onto side trails.
As dusk gathered, they found themselves alone, and Rimon led the horses aside through dense thicket. The little glade surrounding a small brook, where he had pitched camp, felt like home. Swinging down, he gestured at the ring of stones set for a fire, the little lean-to that sheltered some blankets. "Home," he said. "Or such a home as I can offer you, Kadi."
She sat her horse, very still in her plain white riding culottes and stiff white tunic, the collar and chain binding her to the pommel of Rimon's horse, the tags jingling every time she moved.
"Kadi? You haven't said a word to me. You don't have to act anymore. It's over… Kadi?" He loosed her chain holding up his hands to help her down as he had always done. "Come on, let's get that horrid thing off you."
She let her eyes fall to his face. As if her courage and strength wholly deserted her, her body moved into his arms, and her next breath became a sob. Then she was crying, not hysterically, but thoroughly and from the depths of her soul. Rimon felt how every sob cleansed her and in the end when she couldn't stop, he carried her to the lean-to and covered her with a blanket. "Sleep if you can, baby. I'll get the fire going and make some tea."
He unstoppered a canteen and made as if to bathe her face, but she groped for it, and he held it while she drank between sobs. She drank and drank until he pulled it away, saying, "Hey, whoa, how long has it been since you drank any water? When did they feed you last?"
She shook her head, her breathing finally quieting a little "I'm all right, now. Oh, Rimon, how can you stand the sight of me?"
"You're as beautiful as ever to me, Kadi—more so, if you want to know the truth. And I haven't come this far just to have you die of starvation before I can get you to the border."
The fire was laid ready. Rimon flicked the striker at it, and when it blazed up he set some grain to cooking in the pot slung over it. Meanwhile, he cut a piece of fruit bread, toasted it lightly, and dipped it in the honey crock. He felt the aroma finally waking Kadi's appetite, but when she took the first bite, another tear trickled down her cheek. "Mama's bread."
With one tentacle, he smoothed her hair back and tucked a stray strand behind her ear. "It's been awful, hasn't it? But it's over now, Kadi. You're safe."
"Safe? Maybe to the border, if no one catches us. But then what? What can I do in Gen Territory—how can I earn my way? I don't even know the language—and now I'm Gen, I'm too stupid to learn."
"Kadi!" How could she think such a thing? "Kadi—you're just the same. You were never stupid—"
"Neither was Nerob."
Rimon swallowed his fears. No, not Kadi. "Baby, I'm going to take care of you until you cross the border, and then you'll make a life for yourself. I know you can do it."
"You knew I'd be Sime, too—" And then she shook her head, pulling her ragged spirits together. "No, none of this is your fault. It's just that—there's no safety for me in this world, not anywhere."
Rimon sat cross-legged watching her nibble on the bread. "Do things look so different to you now?" He reached out one handling tentacle to caress her chin where the honey had dripped. Licking it off his tentacle, he asked, "Can't you tell I still love you?"
She stared at him, her nager edged with disbelief and hope. Then she stared deliberately at his lateral orifices, tightened against his increasing need. Out of long habit, she let a finger stray along a lateral sheath, seeking to gauge his condition as the familiar sympathy welled up from deep within her, assuaging his need with an incredible new strength.
For a moment, Rimon's lateral orifices softened and his breath came in a quelled rasp. He wanted her… she wanted to help him. He could feel it—NO! He tore himself away, on his feet and pacing around the fire. His voice shook when he said, "You shouldn't do that now, Kadi."
He felt her startle reflex as she realized what had happened—and yet it was followed by trust. He had to be worthy of that trust… all the way to the border.
To break the spell, he busied himself with bringing her porridge, but he could see that she attempted to eat only to please him. There was a new tension between them. Finally she abandoned the plate and said, "The world seems different." Then, her deep blue eyes sick with memory, she asked, "At home—do they—? Oh, Rimon, I—I started to make friends with two girls in the wagon with me. Lynn… and Serri. Serri, like my sister. And then—in those horrible Pens, they stripped us, and the guards—
It's chilling the way they look at you—zlin you, rather, looking for ones they can goad, so they can take a kill. One of the guards—Serri talked back to her—and she—she—she killed her, right there. And…then I knew I was Gen, Rimon, because I didn't do anything! I—I'm a coward, just like Nerob!"
"Because you didn't go get yourself killed, too? Kadi, that's just common sense!"
"No. You don't know how I felt. Oh, Rimon, have I changed so much? Things taste and smell different. And I've never cried like that before. I don't really feel like a different person—
but I'm so confused!"
Everything in him wanted to comfort her. He reached out to cradle her face in his hands and kissed her as he used to do. For one moment, it was as if nothing had changed—and then, with a start, she drew back. "Rimon! Doesn't that make you—"
Puzzled, he searched himself. "It's gone," he whispered. "The need tension. No, not gone—faded away… Kadi, whatever it is you do for me, you do it even better now that you're Gen."
Rimon put his arms around Kadi in the old, sheltering gesture. She melted against his chest, and they sat for a long time watching the fire and holding each other, suspended in a moment out of time. Rimon felt all the tiny threads of self-control, of denial of need, mysteriously loosening within him. With any other Gen, Rimon knew that his current state of need would have been whipped into kill frenzy. How easy the last week of each month would be with Kadi to lean on like this. But—one flicker of fear in her, and even Kadi might be his next victim.
Yet, now that he'd tasted this—how could he give it up?
Two mornings later, they rode into the pass, taking a shortcut Kadi had learned of in the Pens. But in a few hours, they encountered such rough terrain they had to dismount and lead the horses. "Kadi, are you sure this is the way?"
"No," she answered irritably. "I'm not sure. I thought this was right, but after all, I'm only a Gen. I can get lost."
"Hey—I'm not complaining," said Rimon. "All I can tell is that we're near the border. This pass does go through, but it's awfully rough going—" He almost added "for a Gen," but thought better of it. Instead, he said, "Why don't you rest here for a few minutes while I climb that pinnacle over there? Maybe I can zlin the way through. It may not be as bad as it looks."
Away from Kadi, he felt need sharpen. Soon, though, he forced it to the back of his mind, as he had had to do so often before around the stock.
As he topped the craggy pinnacle, he saw the pass they had missed—an easy road cleared through the tumbled boulders clogging the slice in the hillside. He was about to scramble down when he felt selyn nager ahead. There was a group of Gens down there, not far from the border. A Gen border patrol? What luck! Kadi could go right to them, and have a safe escort into Gen Territory.
He turned to call to her, and paused for a moment. She was sitting on a rock, Wolf beside her, her hand on the dog's head. She had never been more radiantly beautiful. Her nager was like a golden halo all about her; he could feel it even from here. He knew all at once that despite days of steeling himself for this moment, he wasn't ready to send her away—not now, not ever.
It took all his strength to force himself to climb down, calling, "Kadi! This way—bring the horses!"
He led her to a vantage point where they could look down at the Gens. "I don't understand it," he said as they climbed carefully. "They haven't moved in the last half hour, and they're on the Sime side of the border, no place to make camp—"
At that point, Rimon sensed another, weaker, nager among the Gens, and slid hyperconscious to check his perception. "Kadi, there's a Sime with them—weak field—great pain—a changeover victim?" He scrambled heedlessly to the top of the rise and looked down at a lush valley dotted with trees.
Kadi joined him, and together they took in the scene below them. The group of Gens, all male, wore no uniform or identifying blazon, so they couldn't be an official Gen border patrol. Perhaps they were a band of vigilantes mounting a reprisal raid against nearby Larchmont Crossing—where Rimon planned to go for a Pen Gen to kill.
On the ground among the Gens lay their captive, a Sime woman wearing the green armband of the Sime border patrol. She was unconscious, but must have suffered for a long time before reaching that state, for Rimon could not believe the cruelty of what they had done to her. Beside him, Kadi choked and turned to bury her face against his shoulder, chills of horror running through her.
The Gens had a contraption Rimon had seen before, and hated: an animal trap. They often set them along the border to capture bears or wolves, or other fur-bearing animals. Rimon had occasionally released animals from Gen traps or, more often, killed them quickly to end their suffering.
The Gens had clamped both their prisoner's arms in the trap, the cruel teeth closed about halfway up her forearms. It was obvious that she had sustained a fatal lateral injury, slowly voiding selyn until she would die of attrition—not long now.
As they pitched camp the Gens kicked her every time they passed by, to see if she was conscious. Rimon felt every blow deep in his own body. They aren't civilized—they're just animals. His need rose and his tentacles ached for the kill. That was really all Gens were good for.
"Rimon, I can't breathe!"
He realized he was holding Kadi to him so tightly his own shoulders ached. "I'm sorry. Here, that better?"
She wiped tears away and forced her breathing to steady as she looked once more at the group below them. "I can't go down there. I won't have anything to do with such sadists. Take me home; I'd rather belong to Nerob."
Rimon held her away from him, suddenly remembering that she was Gen. He told her what he'd just been thinking. "But that doesn't apply to you, Kadi."
"Maybe it will—one day—if I go down there."
"Somewhere out there, you'll find somebody good who'll want to take care of you as I want to—and can't. Kadi, go on down there. They won't be cruel to you—any more than the Reloc Pen guards would be cruel to a kid in changeover."
Kadi looked thoughtfully down at the Gens. "Maybe I can distract them, make them stop torturing her. Maybe—when they're not looking—maybe I could give her a quick death. I wonder if I could make myself do it."
"You're a full-grown woman, and you can do anything you set your mind to. Kadi, if you can distract them, get them away from camp a bit, I could probably get in there and help her die peacefully. If I have to, I could take one of them and be gone before they knew I was there. It would make your escape claim seem more valid."
Kadi's lips tightened. "You're going to have to kill—and soon—I know that. But—"
"It's different when it's real people involved? Yes--I know. But, Kadi—"
"Oh!" cried Kadi as one of the largest Gens kicked the prisoner again. "Rimon—you kill that one—the one with the barbed spurs on his boots. Do it for me."
This was the Kadi of free spirit and pure courage he had always known. "All right, if I have to take one of them, it will be that one. Now"—Rimon almost choked on the words—"now, go on down there and do what you must."
He could feel the emptiness in Kadi's heart as she stared at him for a long moment, as if she were engraving his features in her memory as he was hers. Then she turned and scrambled down the twisted trail toward the Gens. With one hand she loosed her hair, and with the other she smeared dirt over her skin so she looked much more trail-worn than she was.
She paused to kick a rock loose to signal her approach. Then, when she was sure they'd seen her, she veered off across the rock face, stumbling and scrambling, tossing fearful glances over her shoulder as if expecting close pursuit.
Several of the Gens broke away and came after her. Kadi redoubled her pace. Rimon could see her plan at once—to lead them a merry chase so he could get into their camp. But suddenly Kadi slipped, her ankle twisting under her, and went skidding sideways down the slope toward the Gens. He heard her yelp of pure surprise. She went into her panic act, screaming and kicking against the Gens as if they were Simes out to kill her and she were merely a runaway from the Pens. There was no panic in her nager, but the act was pure genius.
He held his breath, waiting to make sure her pain was nothing more than scratches and bruises. Then, seeing that her initial plan had failed, he decided he'd better find a more secure vantage point. He went back the way they had come, then up and over the side of the pass.
Hugging the edge of the valley, Rimon worked his way to where he could zlin what went on. By this time, they had Kadi by their fire, one of them tearing the Sime woman's shirt into strips to brace Kadi's ankle. The Sime woman was still unconscious, and from this close, Rimon could perceive the selyn leaking from her torn laterals. He fixed his attention on the big Gen with the spurs, for the first time in his life approaching a kill without the slightest hesitation or doubt—or regret.
Kadi let one of the men help her to her feet. It seemed that they had accepted her. Then the man who had helped her bent and scooped her into his arms, kissing her roughly on the mouth. Kadi began to kick and squirm. but the huge Gen was more than she could manage. Then the Gen with the spurs pushed Kadi's captor, and in an instant the two big men were squared off for a fight, Kadi on the ground between them, just as Rimon had seen Gen males fighting over females in the Pens.
Animals—nothing but animals.
But these were Wild Gens. What were they doing? Did they make slaves of Gens from Sime Territory? Was that what he'd sent Kadi to? His first impulse was to charge in and break it up. But these Gens were not trained to obey a Sime, and one Sime in need against seven wild Gen males—no, no chance.
Before the two males began to fight, a short blond Gen shoved between them. With one hand, he plucked Kadi off the ground and shoved her at the Gen with the spurs. The leader rewarding his man.
At that moment, Wolf, whom Rimon had forgotten, dashed from the underbrush and began to nip at the Gen's spurred ankles, barking and snarling. As the big Gen danced away from the dog, the other Gens howled with laughter. One of the others took a lariat from his saddle and flipped it over Wolf's head, securing the snarling, prancing dog to a tree. That won't last long, thought Rimon.
During the distraction, Kadi had made a run for it, back the way they'd come. But they caught her before she'd fairly started. I've got to get help, thought Rimon. His eye fell on the green blazon now wrapped around Kadi's ankle. The border patrol never traveled alone. The Sime woman must have been part of a detachment, and some of them must still be in the area.
Rimon worked his way back along the edge of the valley to where he could overlook the whole green flatland to the border. In the distance, there was a haze of dust, and just in front of it, now that he was concentrating, he could barely discern the collective nager of a band of Simes—the border patrol. It had to be the border patrol—but any Simes would be delighted to attack that band of Gens.
Augmenting slightly, confident he would soon have a kill, Rimon went to meet them. They had already spotted the Gen nager ahead, and Rimon told them, "They have one of your scouts." In two-syllable words, he described what had been done to her. Then he said, "And they've got my—"
"Your Gen? You can prove legal ownership, I presume." "Yes, of course." Thanks to those tags!
The patrol leader held out a hand, tentacles extended. "Then come!" Rimon vaulted aboard, suggesting a sheltered route back to the Gen camp. Soon they drew up behind a stand of trees, dismounted, and crept up with Rimon to survey the scene.
The Gens had a fire going, several rabbits and a grouse spitted over it. Surely, thought Rimon, they think they're in Gen Territory. Off to one side, Kadi's new owner was sawing away at her collar. The Sime leader took all this in, muttering something about a reprisal raid on Larchmont Crossing, and then turned to Rimon. "You wait here—No—" Changing his mind, he said, "I guess you couldn't. But, ware this—the girl with the tags is legally yours. The rest are ours. Understand?"
Rimon swallowed hard. He'd been counting on the one with the spurs. But patrollers didn't work for nothing. Once again he set himself to deny himself a kill. "Agreed."
The patrol deployed and charged into the Gen camp, whips cracking. Several Gens were caught and tied at once, but the Gen with Kadi had time to draw his rifle and get off a shot before dragging Kadi toward the horses.
In an instant, three patrollers were after them. Kadi was caught around the waist by a patrol whip and flung into Rimon's arms while the rest gave chase to the escaping Gens.
With the Gens scattering in every direction, patrollers after them but wary of their rifles, the camp was quickly emptied of all except trussed-up Gens, two dead Gens Rimon hadn't even seen taken, a dead Sime, and the Gens' captive, still barely alive.
Kadi was clinging to him, gasping for breath. "Rimon!" Her nager was no help to Rimon for the first time he could remember. He wanted a kill. He had to have selyn—now.
The pain of the injured captive assaulted him from one side as Kadi's strong field irritated him from the other. He thrust her aside—must stop that pain!
Bending over the trap, he released the catch. As the vicious teeth drew free of her flesh, the Sime woman's selyn loss rate redoubled. She screamed at the pain.
As Rimon lifted her, trying for a grip to snap her neck, she twisted and instinctively grasped at his arms as rapid attrition drained her life. It felt as if his own life were draining away.
He was slammed into hyperconsciousness, the whole world glowing selyn, the patroller's life pluming away in a burst of brilliance that made him ache with intil, need, attrition—And then she was dead, and he was in hardest need, desperate for the kill he knew he could not have.
Sick, dizzy, Rimon folded in on himself, gasping for air. It seemed a long, long time that he crouched there. Then, slowly, there was a warm, golden glow seeping through him, melting his locked muscles, soothing ravaged nerves. Pulse after pulse, brighter and brighter, the brightest Gen nager he'd ever felt, pure, solid, ruddy-gold glory. He went for the core of it without conscious thought as every cell in his body cried out—
A cracking shock of black fear sent freezing shards through every nerve of Rimon's body. The tempting field moved away from him and then fled. Must have it. Thrusting aside the lifeless Sime body, he scrambled to his feet.
The field he sought was ahead of him, fleeing madly. In seconds he was closing, dodging trees and rocks, vaulting fallen trunks with the ease of the Sime predator on the hunt. Skidding down a slope, ankle deep in pine needles, the musty smell coming to him in flashes of duoconsciousness, Rimon found a curious portion of his mind standing aside, untouched and remembering.
Once before he'd hunted—once before he'd killed—and once, only once before had he reached true satisfaction.
He was upon the fleeing field. Now, again, at last! Sweet familiar field of love and friendship and hope and life, now under his tentacles. Zeth!
But this time, Zeth—this time you won't be afraid. It was so good before you were afraid. It didn't hurt before you were afraid. Stop—Zeth! Stop….
No. Zeth was dead. Long—long ago….
The texture of the nager—the sweet delirious fear—was Gen. Gen—not Sime! Gen!
With the most terrible effort of his life, Rimon shut off that selyn killdraw, choked it down and fought his way duoconscious even as the imperative of the kill drove him, and saw that he held Kadi, and this time, his aching, dripping laterals lay along her arms as firmly as his lips contacted hers. A trickling of selyn activated the nerve-rich laterals. Despite her wild struggles, Kadi couldn't break that contact. No Gen could have.
In a time-stretched instant, Rimon stared into a face so distorted by terror that it wasn't Kadi, but just another Gen. Yet it was Kadi. That nager—unmistakable. All the years he had lived to rest within her nager.
She recognized that he was conscious, and a degree of her panic faded. Warily, she ceased to struggle, her terror turning to frozen resignation. Only then was Rimon able to break lip contact, cutting off that tempting trickle of selyn through his laterals.
Searing pain ripped through him, centered in his chest but lancing out in every direction, causing him to tighten his grip on Kadi's arms bruisingly. Through gritted teeth, he said, "No! I—will—not—kill—you!"
With the last dregs of his will, he broke lateral contact, aborting his kill in fiendish shen. Pain flashed. From some great distance, he observed his body convulse in agony.
Then there was nothing.
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