Hugh Valleroy could not believe his eyes.
On the field before him, scarlet, gold, green, and purple tents and pavilions were being raised. Thousands of people in holiday finery trampled the mud. Horses, wagons, carts, and even dogs were decked in red ribbons. Aromas of strange foods spread through the morning air. The noise increased by the minute as more and more people arrived.
After the beige world of the gypsy wagons, the gaudy display of Gulf Territory's famous Spring Fair seemed more like a Choice Auction than a trade fair. Valleroy turned to the man beside him, and asked only half rhetorically, "Klyd, are you sure this is where we're supposed to meet her?"
Klyd Farris, Head of the House of Zeor and official emissary of the Nivet Territory Tecton, snapped, "Of course I'm sure! Must you question everything I--"
Valleroy schooled his concentration to give Klyd a bubble of peace amid the riotous emotion. Valleroy was here as Klyd's Companion, to protect the trained sensitivities of the channel.
The moment Valleroy went to work, Klyd sighed and waved a hand in a helpless little gesture, two dorsal tentacles emerging from the orifices near his wrist in graceful emphasis. "Sorry."
"My fault," replied Valleroy. Klyd was a Sime, visually indistinguishable from Gens like Valleroy except for the tiny, whipcord strong tentacles.
But that one modification of the human form bespoke a world of inward differences, such as the Sime senses, one of which allowed a Sime to perceive life energy fields.
Klyd sighed. "Let's not argue. We've got to find her."
A third member of their embassy, Ediva ambrov Dar, emerged from the gypsy wagon behind them. Eight years younger than Valleroy, she was renSime, not a channel like Klyd. Ediva was the foremost mathematician of her generation, successor to the famous Zelerod. In fact, their journey was a result of her crusade to convince the world that Zelerod's Doom was at hand.
Wearing a full-length ceremonial cape of Householding Dar's colors, deep blue-green and gray, she carried a cascade of brilliant blue material: Klyd's cape. She was almost as tall as the two men, not as broad shouldered, but strong in the wiry, Sime way. "Sectuib Farris, Sosectu Rior," she greeted cheerfully, "even though it's so warm here, shouldn't we wear our Householding cloaks?"
Back home, people would still be bundled up in woolen capes against the last sharp winds of winter, here in Gulf Territory the grass was already green, trees budding, some in bloom. On the teeming field, many workers wore the colors of the two Gulf Territory Householdings, Keon and Carre.
Klyd took his cloak from Ediva's shoulder, revealing one beneath it, Rior's flame orange touched with Zeor's distinctive blue. Rior, Valleroy's House, was a daughter house of Zeor.
Valleroy took his cape, and Ediva's eyes met his. They'd had no privacy on the trip, and he was sure she also felt that as a deprivation, soon to be remedied. The thought warmed him in a way he hadn't felt since his wife had died.
Still holding eye contact with Ediva, he kept his professional attention on Klyd. Abruptly, Klyd turned to scan the scene behind Valleroy. "Kitty," he called, "have you found her?"
Valleroy turned to find Kitty ambrov Rior approaching with a businesslike stride, her Rior cloak billowing out behind her. She was a Gen he had trained himself to move confidently among Simes. In the intimacy of those years, just after his wife had died, Kitty had become infatuated with him, and he had mistaken it for love. Two things had come of it--their son, Jesse, now six years old, and Kitty's more mature realization that it was the ideals of Rior, not Valleroy himself, that had captured her love and devotion.
"Sectuib Farris," replied Kitty when she was close enough, "the Sectuib Keon is in the infirmary tent. They said she's expecting you, and you could go right in." She glanced at Ediva, clearly aware of the unspoken attraction Valleroy felt. A hint of a smile danced over her face, and Valleroy knew she was letting Ediva read with her Sime senses that Kitty was no rival for Valleroy's affection.
"Hugh!" said Klyd, sharply calling Valleroy's attention back to business. Then he strode into the maelstrom of color and sound, his cape flapping behind him.
"Kitty," said Valleroy, "see if you can get things organized here. We'll be right back. Come on, Ediva." Valleroy took off after Klyd, catching up as he worked his way through a crowd of Simes. He put an inconspicuous fingertip on Klyd's elbow. "It's not wise for Gens to run among junct Simes." Juncts were those Simes--the majority--who killed Gens for selyn, the life energy Gens produced and Simes had to have to live. Such Simes regarded Gens like Hugh and Kitty as their legitimate prey . . . and this fair would certainly be teeming with them.
Klyd slowed and curiously scanned the people about them. "Hugh, there's something very strange here."
They were passing a gaudy purple and green tent with red and gold triangular pennants flapping merrily. A small band was tuning up, and tables and chairs were being set out. At one side planks were propped on sawhorses to form a bar.
As they paused to watch, Ediva commented, "Shiltpron music mixed with porstan--and Gens?"
More than half the workers were Gens, but not slaves or drug-deadened pen inmates. They were young, bright, laughing, high on enthusiasm, teasing the Simes who worked with them as if unaware of the danger of provoking a Sime to kill. Risa, Sectuib ambrov Keon, had claimed that Gulf Territory was rapidly approaching the lifestyle of a territory-wide Householding. Could it be true?
Studying the ambient of that tent, Klyd said, "No Companions. No channels. Except for the woman directing them, the Simes are junct, but the Gens are low field. Some channel has taken their selyn in donation. No Simes are in need. I doubt if there'll be any incidents--but--"
Yes. But, thought Valleroy. Anything that either startled or caused pain to one of those untrained Gens could provoke a junct Sime to the kill--draining the Gen's system of life energy so brutally that he died in agony, nerves burnt out. Close friendship, even love, could not prevent Sime instinct from turning on a Gen, given sufficient provocation. "Something else to ask this Sectuib Risa ambrov Keon about."
"Charge her with, I'd say," answered Klyd. As he spoke, a wagon backed up to the pavilion to unload porstan kegs. Two Simes leaped onto the heap of kegs and tossed them down to a pair of Simes who stacked them behind the bar. Kegs flew through the air in a steady arc. All four Simes augmented--used extra selyn to strengthen their muscles--as if Gens were so cheap that each Sime could kill two a month.
Ediva shuddered. "Negligent! No, criminal! I'd like to take her apart with my bare hands!" Ediva was disjunct. She had accomplished the agonizing withdrawal from the kill to join Householding Dar. In the Householdings, channels like Klyd took selyn from Gens without hurting them, and gave it to the renSimes, who could thus live without killing.
At Dar, Ediva had learned of Zelerod's Doom. The mathematician Zelerod had discovered through statistical analysis that with Simes living longer and therefore killing more Gens, the point would come within a few generations when the Sime and Gen populations would be equal. The Simes would kill the remaining Gens in order to survive and die of selyn attrition when there were no more Gens. Humanity's only alternative was to live as Householders lived.
Valleroy was not so sure that what he saw about him was "criminal." It was obviously possible for Gens to interact much more freely with Simes than they did in Nivet Territory, perhaps possible for any Gen to give Simes selyn directly, given the proper attitude and training. Klyd and other Tecton leaders, though, would not hear of such experimentation, pointing to centuries of statistics on Sime~Gen intimacies with horrifying rates of failure. But much had been learned over the last few decades. The Tecton, the organization of Nivet Territory Householdings which had sent Klyd on this mission, was Sime-dominated and overprotective toward Gens. Perhaps the Gulf Territory Householding organization--if only two Houses could form an organization--was different.
Ediva turned away from the flying beer kegs, repelled, and Klyd called after her, "Ediva, wait! We mustn't jump to conclusions. We're strangers here. We might not know what we're zlinning!"
Good, thought Valleroy, hurrying after them. Maybe seeing Sime~Gen interaction in operation will open his mind.
In the center of the fair grounds stood a huge mortared brick hemisphere cupped around a rusting heap of iron. A plaque bore an inscription in oddly curled script. THIS BLAST FURNACE IS PRESERVED IN MEMORY OF THE FIRST PROFITABLE PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN KEON AND LAVEEN. TO FREEDOM THROUGH COOPERATION.
Klyd circled the monument, Valleroy following, to find a white tent, its round green and red flags marking it as a dispensary and hospital. "See there?" prompted Klyd, pointing with two tentacles, "The infirmary is well staffed and large enough. That's not negligence."
The white tent swarmed with channels and Companions wearing Keon and Carre colors. A wagon unloaded cots and bedding at the rear of the tent. Gens made up beds while Simes arranged bricks for a hearth.
Klyd circled the tent, gesturing Valleroy to keep his distance as Klyd zlinned with Sime senses for the distinctive nager--selyn field--of a channel such as Risa Tigue must be.
"She's not here," he announced with a shrug.
"There's the Keon Pavilion," pointed Valleroy. It was easily the largest tent at the fair--bright red and white--set across a broad avenue formed by tents and stalls. And it was already in full operation. "Let's try there," he added leading the way.
Before they reached the open awning shading the front of the pavilion, Klyd confirmed, "She's there!" He cut through the line of customers waiting to go in, stomped the mud off his boots on the matting provided, and said to the guards, "Sectuib Keon is expecting us."
The pavilion was made of alternating strips of solid red and translucent white, giving the interior a warm pinkish glow. Glass cases displayed intricately wrought jewelry, decorated household items, and a series of plaques identifying Arensti design awards. Precious and semi-precious gems, gold, silver, and assorted burnished alloys created effects from gaudy to infinitely refined. But the overwhelming impression was "rich." Some display cases did not have protective glass. Many things were out in the open to be handled--or stolen. A few clerks roamed behind the counters or helped customers but most of them were Gen--incapable of zlinning the intention to steal, or a quick hand movement behind their backs.
The place was not crowded. A new customer was admitted only when someone left. But there were more Simes, Gens and even children roaming about than the few clerks could watch. Risa Tigue once again seemed a foolish manager.
Valleroy noticed a young man--a boy no more than fifteen, but obviously established as a Gen--standing near a case of gleaming jewelry. He wore a Householding ring displaying Keon's ruby crest. He was tall, with striking blue eyes that lighted on the visitors at once, but Valleroy was not sure why he noticed the boy until he realized Klyd was signaling him. Valleroy turned to the channel, to protect him from the Keon Gen's nager. Anything might irritate Klyd at the moment.
The boy stepped forward with a formal bow. "Keon extends greetings to Zeor, Dar, and . . .? Please forgive me for not recognizing your Householding, Naztehr," he said to Valleroy, who saw him note the white lining of both his cloak and Klyd's, and frown in puzzlement. But he asked no question which might offend.
"Rior," Valleroy supplied. "We have come to meet with Risa, Sectuib in Keon."
"We're expecting you. You are most welcome. I am Morgan Kreg ambrov Keon, Second Companion. Please come this way."
They found the Sectuib in Keon at the back of the pavilion a tiny woman with dark hair in a neat coil at the back of her neck, and pale, freckled skin. Although Valleroy knew she had to be in her mid-thirties, she looked as if she were hardly out of First Year.
But her attitude was that of a woman grown and fully in control. "This flour is spoiled," she was saying to the abashed Gen before her. She dipped a delicate hand into the sack, and Valleroy smelled a yeasty odor. "Either you were cheated, or you are trying to cheat me."
"Or both," put in a nearby Sime, a middle-aged man with iron-gray hair, dressed in a tailored business suit at odds with the casual dress of the rest of the fair-goers. But it was his eyes, not his attire, that caught Valleroy's attention. A strange air of calm overlay a hidden sadness in their depths--an expression Valleroy had never seen before today, but which had looked out at him time and again from the eyes of older Simes they had passed on the fair grounds.
Sensing Valleroy's surge of curiosity, Klyd murmured, "Semi-junct. The place is full of them, Hugh. Dangerous."
Dangerous? In the days of the first channels, before the founding of Zeor, the Sime/Gen community of Freedom Township must have felt like this, the generation of Simes too old to disjunct--to stop killing forever--limiting their kills to two or three each year and living on channel's transfer as much as possible. How could the Tecton ever hope to fulfill its cherished dream of uniting Simes and Gens, without accepting--and respecting--a generation of junct Simes willing to encourage their children to disjunct?
The Sime man eyed the embarrassed Gen with the flour, saying, "And you want to give the Gens citizenship, Risa?"
"Shall we revoke all Sime citizenship because some Simes are cheats or fools?" she responded, wiping her hands on the much laundered, paint spattered smock she wore, several sizes too large for her diminutive frame. Gingerly, she shoved the sack toward the Gen. "Take this away--and don't you try to sell it anywhere at the Fair, you hear?"
"Yes, ma'am," the Gen replied, and began trying to haul the opened sack away. Embarrassment made him clumsy; the sack toppled and spilled.
A pungent aroma oozed from the breached sack, and Valleroy thought he saw maggots. His gorge rose, and he turned away, clamping down control in order not to nauseate all the Simes in the tent.
Risa swung around, attention attracted despite Valleroy's efforts. "Ah, there you are at last!" She wiped her hands thoroughly, shrugging out of the smock and tossing it to the huge Gen she'd apparently borrowed it from. Valleroy recognized the blond giant by reputation: Risa's husband and First Companion, Sergi ambrov Keon. The Sectuib extended her tentacles, smiling as she repeated, "Keon extends welcome--"
Valleroy had closed off his awareness of Klyd and Ediva out of politeness, and now was caught off guard by a sudden move from Klyd. Before Risa had taken two strides, Klyd spun, raking the tent with an expression of growing horror. Then, his weathered complexion paling, he charged across the tent, detouring around the Keon Second Companion who had resumed his post by the jewelry case, and plunged out the door.
Stunned, Valleroy glanced at the Sectuib ambrov Keon who no doubt thought she had just been snubbed by the emissary from Nivet Territory. No time for apologies--Klyd had obviously sustained a systemic jolt of dangerous proportions or he wouldn't have fled like that. He plunged after the channel, squeezing through the tunnel in the crowd already closing behind Klyd, Ediva right on his heels, berating himself for exposing Klyd to whatever it was, hoping he could repair the damage with his own nager.
Sectuib Risa ambrov Keon stared at the retreating backs of the ambassadors she'd meant to honor lavishly. Since she'd pledged Keon, she'd heard endless stories about the skittish and unpredictable Farris channels, but this was the first time she'd--almost--met one.
"Now what the shen caused that?" asked Tannen Darley one of Keon's major investors and probably their best friend in the territory legislature.
"I'm afraid we've upset our visitors, Tan," she replied. "I'll try to straighten it out." With a sidewise glance, she gathered her Companion, and raced after the ambassadors.
Despite her short legs, she outstripped Sergi as easily as Klyd outdistanced his Companion. But Sergi was in superb condition, as well as long-legged and used to chasing after Simes. He caught up with her as she slowed to confront her guests, who had stopped near the Monument.
"Please wait!" called Risa as the group turned toward the gypsy wagons that had brought them. At closer range, she added in a normal voice, "I've no idea what offended you. Please tell me and let me correct it."
The Sectuib Zeor answered in the clipped accent characteristic of Nivet Territory, "You really mean that." His head tilted as he studied her nager, and she held herself open to the scrutiny. Amazed, he said, "You set trained Companions to bludgeon Sime sensibilities, to inhibit freedom of choice, and you've no idea what you're doing?"
Despite her best intentions, the man's attitude infuriated her. She put her hands on her hips and looked up at the channel, who stood a good head taller than most people. "Bludgeon? Bludgeon!" She carefully controlled her voice. "Our Gens broadcast a quiet, tasteful suggestion, reminding customers how much easier it is to pay our fair prices than to deal with the law. It is unobtrusive, subliminal--"
"Unobtrusive!" roared the man, his eyes widening.
His Companion sought to spread calm through the ambient nager, and Sergi swallowed his own outrage and joined the effort. Klyd glanced at the renSime woman with him, and repeated, "Unobtrusive?" seeking corroboration.
She said, "Well--I did notice it a little when Hugh stopped shielding us."
More calmly, Klyd asked, "It really wasn't--?"
Klyd's Companion stepped toward Sergi and inserted a low voiced comment. "It was my fault. Is there someplace where we can talk?"
Risa said, "I have a shielded office in the dispensary tent. I won't ask you to return to the pavilion."
They filed through the maze of insulating draperies to a triangular section between two treatment cubicles. This small office used the insulated walls of the adjacent cubicles to cut the chaos of the ambient nager. As they walked, the Gen said, "Klyd, it was my fault. I dropped the fields when I--"
"I felt that," interrupted Klyd as Risa felt the Gen's gorge rise at the memory. "When you dropped the fields, that racket her Gens were making hit me full blast--thought I'd faint for a moment, but I'm not injured. We must take our transfer soon.
Why haven't they done that already? Could something have happened on the trail? Zlinning as unobtrusively as she could to evaluate the situation, Risa didn't find their fields far enough out of balance to account for the channel's erratic behavior. Surely a channel of his reputation can cope with a trivial degree of need.
As she led them into the office, she motioned to an idle assistant to bring chairs and trin tea. It would take time to untangle this touchy situation.
As they jigsawed themselves into the tiny office, Risa admired the Companion's skill with the Farris. But an intuition flickered at the edge of her awareness. There's trouble there. Something jarred their nageric harmony. Personality conflict? Something must have happened along the way; no channel would travel with a Companion with whom he had some basic disagreement. Their capes told her they were not of the same Householding; perhaps Klyd's own Companion had been lost along the way. No wonder he was in such a state!
When their tea arrived, Risa motioned the renSime to serve, hoping hot trin would soothe ruffled nerves. She settled behind the desk as they traded introductions. The Gen was introduced as First Companion of Zeor and Sosectu Rior. Risa exchanged a confused glance with Sergi, who had said nothing so far. Her husband would have to become accustomed to the voices and accents of their guests before he could understand them perfectly, for he had suffered a hearing loss in an explosion years ago, when enraged juncts had attempted to destroy Keon's steel mill.
She saw and zlinned, though, that Sergi had assessed the situation between these two men, and he, too, found it impossible to understand how a Gen could perform the duties of a Companion and at the same time run his own Householding. The designation also told her they were regular transfer mates. So why the tension between them?
"Let me welcome you with all the hospitality at my command and apologize if anything here has distressed you. Sergi has told me how sensitive Farris channels can be. Perhaps our quiet message seemed like a raucous bellow to you, Sectuib Zeor. If I'd realized, I'd have had them cease the moment you walked in--especially Mor, our son. He shows promise of being as fine a Companion as his father, but he is established only a year. He has strength, but only time will give him judgment."
Clasping the tea glass holder--one of Sergi's gorgeously wrought metal carvings--between four tentacles, Klyd said graciously, "I apologize for losing my temper. The reason is obvious." He opened both hands, fingers spread as he dropped his show-field, and an incredible amplitude of need washed over her. And something else--yes, entran. She never suffered it herself, but when some channels, accustomed to taking selyn from Gens and transferring it to renSimes, suddenly ceased working, their systems could cramp up painfully. No wonder he's hypersensitive. How could they let this get out of control?
She marvelled at Klyd's ability to mask his true state. That was, of course a channel's stock in trade, and only a channel of superior ability could penetrate the illusion. Risa had never run up against anyone who could fool her senses as he had. So Farrises were as good as rumor said. Obviously they paid for it--this man could not be expected to think clearly in his condition. She gestured to the dispensary. "In a matter of hours, we'll be in full operation. You're welcome to work off entran here, Sectuib Zeor."
Risa felt Sergi check astonishment. Klyd held back his acceptance just a hair too long, and Risa wondered if he had perceived her pity. Having such a sensitive channel around would improve her own show-field technique.
Hugh answered, "We'd be glad to contribute our skills. We have nothing quite like your Spring Fair in Nivet Territory. Juncts and Householders never mix so freely."
Risa answered politely, "That's just the reason I invited you here, to see for yourselves what cooperation with juncts can do. We've no reason to increase our Border Patrol as the Nivet government is urging us to do. But we're delighted they've sent a Householder to negotiate. You will see, perhaps, what your junct colleagues could not--that the Wild Gens can become valuable allies. Sectuib Zeor, when you've explained to them what we're doing here--"
"Junct colleagues? Sectuib Keon, I fear you've misunderstood. I speak only for the Tecton--the Householdings of Nivet. The juncts of Nivet far outnumber us, and we are obliged to abide by their laws. The Tecton has sent me in hopes that I may convince you where the Nivet emissary failed, for it is urgent and crucial that this border be fortified."
Risa had studied the maps. The islands of Sime Territory surrounded by Gen Territory had shifted over the centuries, one Sime Territory amalgamating with its neighbor until Nivet stretched nearly across the center of the continent. But there was a small, vulnerable yet strategic corridor between the east end of Nivet and the west border of Gulf across which Freeband Raiders operated occasionally--and which the Gen Territory government wanted to garrison and fortify, effectively cutting off Gulf-Nivet trade as well as Raiders. Nivet claimed that the only way to stop the Gen troop movements was for Nivet and Gulf to cooperate in handling the Freeband Raiders before the Gen troops moved in permanently.
"I speak for Gulf Territory as a whole," explained Risa, setting aside her consternation. She had always envisioned the Tecton as a powerful entity in Nivet. "Here. Householders are very active in territory government, as are semi-juncts and nonjuncts not affiliated with Householdings."
"Not affiliated--!" Hugh gasped in astonishment.
"Reserve judgment," the channel warned his Companion. "Please go on, Sectuib Keon."
"We would like to cooperate with your territory, and both of its governments," Risa continued. "However, we believe that acts which the Gen Territory governments can interpret as aggression--such as increasing Sime armies along our borders--can only delay the alliance with the Wild Gens that is our ultimate aim."
She could not miss their open skepticism, but she continued, "See it, zlin it for yourselves. There's hardly any market here for Wild Gens. There are no unlicensed Raiders willing to deal with Genrunners. The activity of our Licensed Raiders has fallen off sharply in recent years because of the diminishing market for Wild Gens as Choice Kills. Perhaps your junct government couldn't appreciate that achievement, but I assume the Tecton would."
Klyd nodded assent, adding, "But it is very hard to believe that such a thing has in fact been achieved."
"You see the proof about you. This used to be the time of the spring Choice Auction. No Gens are sold for the kill here. Customers come to trade for other merchandise. Sectuib Zeor, we have made life easier for our junct colleagues--they have jobs, physical comforts, and plenty of selyn. A growing percentage of younger Simes are nonjunct or disjunct and remain friends with their friends and relatives who turn Gen. Not only do we have no market for Wild Gens--in a few years we'll have the Wild Gens coming to the fair to trade! Why should we alienate potential allies by setting a Sime Army in their back yards?"
Hugh had settled into the Companion's role, sheltering Klyd from what little nageric noise filtered through the insulating material. The channel sipped his tea and replied cautiously, "Your reasoning would be impeccable if your facts were complete. On the way here, we saw numerous signs of Gen Army troop movements. Not your neighbors, Sectuib. Troops from New Washington. They are deploying against the growing activity of Freeband Raiders in this corridor--"
Freeband Raiders were bands of homeless Simes who swept through the countryside stealing and killing Gens, murdering Simes, high on the kill. Hard times added to their numbers, as good people who had lost everything joined the hopeless hordes. Once they had been a scourge that periodically swept through every territory, Sime or Gen, but now--
"We don't have that problem here anymore," Risa told her visitors. "You really must tour our Territory. We have peace here--Sime and Gen in profitable cooperation. Let us show you--"
Just then Klyd cocked his head to one side, his eyes going unfocused as he zlinned. He stood, moving so that Sergi was not between him and the outer wall of the tent. Frowning, he said, "Something's coming! Zlin that?"
Risa stood, turning toward the lightly insulated outer wall. But she got nothing unusual. "It's just the fair. There must be four or five thousand people here now."
"No," insisted Klyd. "Way beyond the fair. Come outside!" He turned on his heel and strode out, leaving Risa flatfooted for the second time in less than an hour.
Sergi said, "Farrises are noted for their sensitivity. He's likely zlinned something important."
Risa charged after Klyd. Outside, the pace had picked up. Thousands of Simes and Gens were buying, selling, laughing, entertaining. Klyd had walked up a guy-line securing the dispensary tent and was standing well above the heads of the crowd, surveying the territory to the north.
As Risa started to join him, Klyd called, "It's Freeband Raiders--fifty or a hundred--riding this way at a full gallop. Ten--fifteen minutes at the most. They must be attracted by the ambient of this crowd."
Fifteen minutes' gallop. He can zlin that far and even grab the field nuances? I don't believe it.
Risa zlinned Sergi's tremor of warning. The years had taught her to heed her Companion's instincts. She about-faced and began shouting orders to Keon members. In moments, a band of channels and Companions was mounted. Tannen Darley came out of the Keon pavilion, heard what was happening, and began directing the many Simes who owed loyalty to him.
Risa gave Klyd, Hugh, and Ediva horses from the common pool. By the time they reached the northern edge of the fairgrounds, they'd gathered several hundred renSimes, some mounted, some not, but all days short of need.
Mounted on the gorgeous black stallion with white stockings Sergi had presented to her at her last Pledge anniversary, Risa deployed her reception committee in a huge semi-circle the Gens in the middle to attract the Raiders. Then she rode off to where Hugh, Klyd, and Ediva sat. "I can zlin them now," she told Klyd. "Where could they possibly have come from?"
"Try to capture some of them alive," Klyd said grimly "and ask them. But we saw signs of such activity all across the corridor between Nivet and Gulf."
"Some? We'll take them all alive," asserted Risa.
She caught a wisp of unvoiced sarcasm in Hugh's nager but he kept silent. Freeband Raiders wasted selyn as fast as they could in order to kill again and again, seeking the most grotesque and dehumanizing ways to kill. They were rarely taken alive. She would demonstrate just what Gulf Territory had achieved and win these people over quickly.
Klyd seemed dubious as well, but he asked, "Where would you like us stationed?"
"Right here," she replied. "Just watch. You'll see something you won't believe." Besides, in the state he's in, Klyd doesn't belong down there.
They could hear the thunder of hooves from the Raiders now, and the ambient nager roared with vulgar anticipation. Hugh focused tightly on his channel. Apparently they could set aside their problems to work together. Good. Risa didn't dare think what would happen if this Sectuib were tempted to a kill while in Gulf Territory on her personal safe-conduct.
Valleroy put out one hand to touch Klyd's wrist, intensifying his effort to protect the channel from the chaos that would erupt below them. His other hand he extended to Ediva, hoping to protect her, too.
Klyd pointed to a rank of Companions deployed to meet the Raider attack, projecting an enticing field. The trained Companions, of course, could not be killed by any renSime's attempt to draw selyn, though the Raiders loved to slaughter such Gens by flaying, burning, or the slowest method available.
The Raiders' spearhead struck, bursting from the lush underbrush at the edge of the fair grounds--their horses lathered and panting, barely able to maintain the gallop their riders beat out of them. And those riders!
Scarecrow thin, dressed in filthy rags or mismatched stolen finery, they showed the effects of their lifestyle in sunken cheeks and starvation sharpened features.
Risa sat her mount beside her Companion, watching with calm satisfaction as her people maneuvered to meet the charge.
How can she be so calm? Valleroy, despite his best professional efforts, was tensed against the images raging across his inner vision--memories of young Companions full of confidence sent into a panic and killed by Freeband Raiders such as those below. Perhaps Risa had never witnessed such a thing. Perhaps if she did, she'd come to realize how important it was to fortify her borders. But something deep inside of him wanted her to be right. The world ought to be the way she thinks it is. It ought to.
The Raiders' line smashed into the defenders, and they swung from their exhausted mounts onto the rank of Gens awaiting them, oblivious of the force arrayed against them.
"Half of them are in attrition!" exclaimed Klyd.
Attrition, the state just before death for lack of selyn. Those Simes had to get selyn--and they would take it regardless of the consequences.
"I zlin it," replied Risa. "The Companions will give them transfer. Don't worry. There'll be no kills."
The first Raider fell upon his "victim." The Companion accepted the scant body with upraised arms, letting the Raider get a grip on his forearms with his handling tentacles. They were too far away for Valleroy to see the tiny pink lateral tentacles, one on each side of each arm, weaker than the four handling tentacles. The laterals were composed almost entirely of selyn-conducting nerves. When the attacking Sime made a fifth contact point, usually by pressing his lips to the Gen's, invisible selyn flowed from the Gen body into the Sime through the laterals.
Valleroy edged closer to Klyd, noting that both channels were now in channel's functional mode, their own nervous systems protecting them from the brunt of the nageric assault. He, himself, was anticipating the soaring joy he'd feel when his selyn-saturated tissues were relieved in transfer.
But pleasure wasn't what the Raiders sought from their victims. They sought Gen pain and terror.
They didn't get it from Risa's Companions, though. As each Raider drew selyn, a channel or a renSime plucked him off the Gen and wrestled him to the ground, lest the Raider murder the Companion for cheating him of a kill. Valleroy thought he recognized Mor, Risa's son, in the midst of the fray, and was sure of it when Risa and Sergi stirred as the young man went down under a tangle of Raiders. Valleroy's heart pounded, almost as if his own son Jesse were down there--
Klyd nudged his horse closer to Hugh's. "Don't become involved," he warned in his professional voice, quiet with a penetrating calm that was more than the absence of tension. Valleroy dismissed the wild images and concentrated on supporting Klyd. "Relax, I can handle it." And moments later, Mor was again mounted and shouting commands.
The action was soon over. The Raiders were corralled by a wall of renSimes and channels--the Gens safely out of the way of the vengeful Raiders. Replete with selyn now, they easily had the strength to rip a Gen into pieces. And they had the psychology to enjoy it.
Klyd told Valleroy, "No kills--not even any murders."
Valleroy breathed a sigh of relief. "You took a terrible risk. but I'm glad you won, Sectuib Keon."
Risa said, "Not so much of a risk. You see, when Gens trust Simes and cooperate, there don't have to be any deaths. We'll put the Raiders in the Pen for the time being--"
"I'm impressed," admitted Klyd.
The Pen would be the stoutest building in town, for it was the stockade which usually housed the greatest wealth of the town, the Gens raised to be killed by taxpaying Simes. How could Risa, a Householder, have the authority to send her prisoners--Simes at that--to the Pen? And how would such Simes react to being treated like Gens ripe for the kill?
But before he could say anything, Klyd nudged his horse about and zlinned the far distance again. "Sectuib Keon, have you given any thought to what those Raiders were fleeing from?"
Risa's eyes unfocused as she zlinned and Klyd read it for them all, "Three--maybe three hundred fifty Gen Regular Army troops. They've seen atrocities, and they won't see any difference between you and those Raiders."
Clearly, the Keon Sectuib had not planned for this. She took a deep breath and called, "Come on, Sergi!" She signaled to her herald, and without waiting for her Companion to turn his horse, she arrowed her stallion full tilt into the disintegrating defense lines.
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