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Chapter 9

It was a wonder that the Raider boy's panic didn't cause a riot. Still radiating terror, he was hustled away from the vulnerable Simes. Wik broke out of the crowd, using his field to calm the boy.

Owen stood frozen until Zeth started after the boy in avid curiosity—then he ran after Zeth. Eph Norton headed toward his son, cut off by Abel Veritt and Del Erick.

The explanations came in the Veritt kitchen. Jimmy Norton was seated, Wik on one side and Hank Steers on the other keeping him steady enough to face Owen and explain, over half an hour's patient coaxing, why he was so terrified. Eph Norton listened, grim-faced, as his son told what he'd learned in his three months as a Freehand Raider.

"Everybody knows—even in the cities—that in Fort Freedom they live on Sime-kills instead of Gens," Jimmy blurted at last.

"How could they 'know' such a thing?" asked Abel.

"The town here used to be a good raiding stopover. Now everyone who comes to raid disappears!"

Under Abel's gentle prodding, Jimmy described the burgeoning reputation of Fort Freedom. "Yeah, we heard the way you give selyn to Simes—it ruins the"—he eyed his father—"appetite for the kill," he finished in Simelan, his nager sick with conflict.

Owen said, "It wasn't a channel who frightened you."

"Fort Freedom's Gens can't be killed. Everybody knows the Giant Killer Gen came from here. Your Gens can kill! Just a flick of their monstrous fields and—" He broke off, choking.

"Is that why," asked Abel, "the New Farris Homestead

was attacked last spring? Because people are afraid our Gens can kill—supernaturally?"

"Well—it certainly isn't natural!" Jimmy's eyes fastened on Owen's missing arm.

The silent tension stretched until suddenly Abel lunged with the swiftness of a killstrike, tentacles out, grabbing at Owen's bare neck. With a faint flicker of adjustment, Owen turned to Abel, holding the same warm compassion he gave Zeth.

Zeth came to his feet, every fiber resonating to Owen's betrayal. Before the feeling could take hold, Abel relinquished. He had never tried for lateral contact.

Only then did Zeth become aware of Jimmy Norton. The boy was also on his feet, the two Gens beside him still seated, holding him by their focused attention. Zeth understood. It was one of Abel's demonstrations, much more eloquent than words. Our Gens do not kill—nor do we.

Just then Marji Carson and Jord Veritt appeared, supporting Maddok Bron between them. Bron said, "Will one of you get me a chair, please? Eph—even though you and your son never joined our church, I want to help."

"Jord," said Abel, "bring in the big armchair for Mr. Bron. His counsel will be welcome."

Bron was settled and brought up to date. While they talked, Zeth watched Jimmy scanning the room. He looked from Abel to Jord, Wik, Hank, Uel, Eph, and then Zeth and Owen. His eyes skittered over Owen, but hungrily devoured everyone else with a sharp edge of hope.

Finally, Owen leaned forward and said, "Jimmy, we've never met before. Why are you afraid of me?"

"You can never be Sime again, can you? They turned you Gen so you could live without your arm—but—can they do that to anyone? Can they do it to me?"

Wik broke into giggles. "That's just silly!"

Zeth let his shock recede amid the laughter. Jimmy's awe reminded him so of how he'd felt when his father had announced Owen's establishment that Zeth said, "It does seem like magic, Jimmy, when the channels save people's lives. But it's not. Nobody can turn a Sime into a Gen—or vice versa."

"But he was in changeover when they cut his arm off!"

"No," said Uel and Jord almost in unison. Then Uel

added, "I was there, Jimmy. The tale has been exaggerated out of fear."

"I think I know how," said Owen. "The people who did it kept saying they wanted us to die in changeover. Someone overheard and misunderstood."

Wik nodded. "Uel's a channel;" he said reassuringly. "He'd know a changeover."

"What's a channel?" asked Jimmy, his nager calming.

As everyone gave his own definition, Zeth pondered a new thought. He had led Owen and Jana into the battle where Owen had lost his arm. So in a way he was responsible for the reputation that had brought the Freehand Raiders down on them.

Maddok Bron was saying, "Jimmy, you must understand. I am here only because these Simes do not kill. Ever."

All this time, Eph Norton had been sitting silently, on the brink of tears. Now he said, "Jimmy—oh, son, please listen to these people!" He turned to Uel. "Can you teach him to be like you? Can you . . . make him my son again?"

Uel looked to Abel, who said cautiously, "We can try. But, Mr. Norton, we cannot do it to him. Only if he wants to stop killing can we help. It's a long, difficult process."

Jimmy was staring at his father. "Papa—you want me as your son?"

"Of course I do! If I'd known this place existed, I'd have brought you here myself."

Zeth understood the rarity of Norton's attitude from Jimmy's tremulous hope, a hope the boy didn't quite dare feel.

"Jimmy—" Norton looked around. "I can't be alone with him?"

"It's not safe," said Uel.

"No, Papa, it's not," said Jimmy. "I can't—trust myself. That's the worst part—you go crazy, and then you wake up and you've lulled someone—"

In answer to Eph Norton's flare of horror, Abel said, "The Freeband Raider pattern. He's never been through a normal need cycle. Mr. Norton, we're doing our best to protect all the Gens from out-Territory. You will go home safely if you'll observe one precaution: always take a Sime's word if he tells you nor to trust him."

But as father and son wanted badly to talk, Jord and Wik accompanied them out. As the others rose to leave, Abel said,

"Stay for a moment, please. Maddok, there is something you urgently have to know. Do you feel up to it now?"

"Tell me, Abel," said Bron, settling back into his chair. Zlinning, Zeth decided he could take perhaps ten minutes of sitting up.

Abel steepled his fingers, tentacles retracted. "Maddok, we have not lied to you. However, you do not know the whole truth.

"I gathered as much, from what you said to Mr. Norton." His eyes were fixed on Abel's hands. "God will not hold you responsible for what you did before you knew there was another way. The important thing is that you have stopped killing."

Pain swirled through Abel's nager, but he looked straight into Bron's eyes. "No," he said quietly, "I have not stopped."

The only emotion in Bron's field was disbelief.

Abel went on softly. "I have been trying for nine years to live entirely on channel's transfer . . . but at least once each year—"

"It's a physical problem," Uel interjected. "Mr. Bron, no one who had been Sime for over a year when Rimon discovered how to channel has been able to disjunct—to stop killing."

"Rimon had been killing for four years," Abel said dully. "It should be possible for anyone who really wants to."

"And we'll find out how," said Uel. "Zeth will be as good a channel as his father. Working together—''

Abel managed a weary smile. "You don't understand, Uel—and Zeth never will, either, thank God. Maddok," he continued, shaking off his depression, "you see here a community in transition. All our young Simes—those who changed over after Uel—have never killed. A few, who came to us from across the border, have killed once, and never again. In another generation, Fort Freedom will be in truth a community in which no Sime kills, ever."

Zeth watched Bron's nager with interest. His adjustment hardly seemed as radical as Zeth's when he'd first learned the dire secret. Bron began to ask searching, technical questions that Abel, the channels, and the Companions stretched their English to answer, for many of the words had just been invented in the last nine years, and they were all in Simelan.

Bron ran out of strength and shook his head wearily. "One thing is clear. Mountain Chapel must have people who can prevent a child from killing at changeover."

"I'm sure we'll find volunteers among our Gens," said Abel. "I wish we could send a channel, but a Sime on your side of the border—"

"Would bring down on us the same sort of raids you have been suffering," Bron agreed. "I must learn—and teach all my people—to give transfer."

"No!" It was a chorus from everyone else in the room.

Astonishment rang in Bron's field. He appealed to the Companions, "Hank—Owen—do you think yourselves better men than I am?"

"That's not it," said Uel. "It's not something you can do just because you want to!"

"Don't be dumb, Uel," said Hank. "That's exactly why I was able to do it for you—or are you getting so old you can't remember your changeover?"

"There's wanting, and then there's wanting," Uel muttered.

Bron smiled. "I know the difference. Owen—when Zeth was in changeover, didn't you say that you would not let him kill you? I have much to learn before I can be so confident. So I must start now. Abel—" Bron's eager smile turned him into a different man from the dour minister Zeth had first met. "Abel, if you refuse to kill—surely you will allow me the right to refuse to die?"

Fort Freedom also refused to die. Slina's emergency Gen shipment—technically top government priority after a raid– was delayed first by bureaucratic fumbling, and then by the weather, as the first snow filled the mountain passes. On the heels of the storm, however, the tax collector made her rounds—nothing ever seemed to stop her. Slina sneered, indicating the empty spot where the pens had stood—but managed to get Fort Freedom into a fine fix, as the inspector insisted on a house-by-house search. And Fort Freedom was full of out-Territory–untagged—Gens.

There were still a few wounded Gens who could not make the long journey home, and that same break in the weather had brought a caravan from Mountain Chapel, headed by Sessly Bron. Swearing balefully in two languages, Slina hurriedly made out papers and tags for all their guests, Zeth and Owen running them around to the various houses as Uel and Abel delayed the inspector lest she find a "Wild Gen" to confiscate.

The inspector became more and more nervous, until at last

she skipped the last four houses and rode away at a full gallop.

It would have been hilarious except for the tax bill she did not forget to present. "I know what spooked her," said Wik. "Gens doing real, useful work!"

Zeth sobered. "As long as it doesn't add to the wer-Gen legends!"

That evening, Maddok and Sessly Bron were sitting at the Veritt kitchen table along with Zeth, Owen, Abel, and Margid. Bron fingered the papers he had been given that afternoon, unable to read the Simelan. "Zeth tells me this paper says you own Sessly and me, Abel."

"A technicality. For tax purposes, I am the owner of all the Gens who live in Fort Freedom. Which reminds me– Owen, give me your papers." In the "assigned to" box, under Slina's scrawl, he wrote Zeth's name, and signed it. "I should have done that as soon as you two got back. Now you're all set, wherever you might go together."

Zeth looked at it and laughed. "Most of the time Owen acts more like he owns me!"

Just as he said it, a strange feeling came over him—like stepping on a step that wasn't there. Only it went on and on. Owen, turning to retort to his joke, never got the words out. "Zeth—what's wrong?"

When Zeth couldn't answer, Abel said, "It's just turnover. Support him, Owen. The first time can be rough."

Turnover. Zeth had used up half the selyn in his system– the first step down again into the chasm of need. Owen put his arm around Zeth's shoulder, an unspoken promise.

Zeth took two deep breaths, and summoned a brave smile as the room came back into focus. He could certainly manage as well as any other Sime. But then a new sensation spread from his chest into his arms in sharp cramps. One wave of pain followed another, each more severe than the last. Surely turnover isn't always like this!

But Abel was on his feet. "Get Jord or Uel!" he directed, and Margid ran out as her husband knelt beside Zeth and Owen. "Jord has such cramps," he said. "Rimon's had them since his injury—but what could be causing them in you, Zeth? No, son, it's not normal turnover."

"Maybe if you balance your fields—" Owen suggested. The two boys were facing one another when Jord arrived.

Zlinning them, he said, "That's right, Owen—let him rest

on your field, but don't let him draw. Zeth, healing mode. Then—oh, shen!" He looked around. "I have to have a Gen to demonstrate."

"Can I do it?" Maddok Bron asked instantly.

"Maddok!" gasped his sister, flaring fear.

"You wanted to learn, Sessly. So do I. If you can't control yourself, you'd better leave. Jord, can I do it?"

"Come on, then," said Jord. "I can't hurt you, doing this."

Bron stood, his wound giving a twinge of pain, but in a moment he found a comfortable stance and faced Jord, fighting apprehension as the channel held out his hands. "I'll have to touch you in transfer position," said Jord. "No matter how frightened you are, there will be no selyn flow. Owen has to be perfectly steady for Zeth, but I'm not in pain or need. I'm just demonstrating."

The Gen put his hands on Jord's arms, tensing as the handling tentacles lashed them together. When the hot, moist laterals touched him, Bron's field took on the same state Abel's did in prayer.

"Zeth," said Jord, "move selyn from your primary system to your secondary, and back again. Keep it up until the pain stops. Like this." There was a start from Sessly Bron when Jord's lips touched her brother's, but Maddok Bron held as steady as Owen. Zeth saw immediately how it was done, and took Owen into their transfer position. Instant relief poured through Zeth's ravaged nerves. It felt good—like a massage to his nervous system—but he was too curious to know what had caused the cramping to do more than relieve the spasms, and then return his primary system to normal.

"Thanks, Owen," he said, and turned to Jord, finding him and Bron side by side, watching him clinically. "Jord, Abel said you've had cramps, and Dad. What caused it?"

Jord moved in to zlin Zeth carefully. "When I'm so sick I can't work," he said, "I get cramps. Now Rimon is so sick he can't work. We've assumed the cramps were part of the sickness, but you're perfectly healthy. ..."

"He's never worked," said Owen, "not counting the fields."

"True, but Zeth—when you took first transfer, did it seem to come in two distinct parts?"

"Yes!" said Zeth and Owen in chorus.

"I'll bet you started using your secondary system then," said Jord. "It's been exercised, then immobilized."

"Like muscle spasms," Bron observed. "When a man works hard every day, and then cannot work—"

"Exactly!" said Jord. Then, after a pause, "I think."

So Zeth began daily exercise so his system would not go into spasms again, beginning with lessons in drawing selyn and transferring. That experience, though, he would not be allowed to tackle until after his second transfer.

With Rimon still a patient rather than a colleague, the channels' schedule was hectic, but at least there were no other cases requiring constant attention. Slina was rebuilding her pens as fast as the weather would permit, but she could not get enough replacement Gens to allow kills in any but the most extreme emergency.

The Simes from town understood—but most could not face channel's transfer. First the ones without family drifted away . . . and then one morning, six crying children were discovered in one of the houses assigned to the families from town. In the night, the adults had gone.

Abel told the children, "Your parents had to go away, but they loved you so much that they left you here, where you can grow up without worrying whether you'll be Sime or Gen."

Zeth, deep in the gloom of approaching need, thought cynically, The kids were too much bother to take along in hard times and bad weather. So they abandoned them. He thought of Jimmy Norton, hardly daring to hope his father wanted him back. Zeth had just begun to realize how lucky he was to be the first child born to a Sime and a Gen.

But Fort Freedom loved all children. By nightfall, Margid Veritt had placed all six where they would truly be loved.

That night Zeth fell into a fitful slumber, and dreamed he was a child again, abandoned by his parents. He knew they were out at the Old Homestead—only he couldn't find it.

Then he saw them. His mother, her flaming hair a halo, her field a shining glory. His father, pale, in need, holding out his arms, tentacles extended, pleading. She moved toward him, graceful, unafraid—but as she touched him, flame leaped, devouring Rimon! Zeth screamed as his father's form blazed. Kadi dropped Rimon, and turned toward Zeth, beckoning—

Heart pounding, he sat up to hug his knees and convince himself it was only a dream. In the other bed, Owen murmured in his sleep, and Zeth zlinned fading anxiety in his friend's field. The uncanny way the Companions responded

to Sime emotions, when they had no sense organs to tell them, disturbed him. Even Bron was starting to do it—gleefully, it seemed. Owen and Hank and Trina and the others cared for the channels, but something in Bron's field seemed threatening.

He lay back, hands clasped under his head, massaging his temples with ventral tentacles as. he puzzled over exactly what he saw in Bron's field. Pity. Bron didn't hate Simes or want to hurt them ... he pitied them. That emotion never entered the fields of the Companions—certainly never Owen's. The Gen was deeply asleep again. Zeth let himself be drawn into sleep once more—and drifted into another dream.

This time it was pleasant. Zeth and Owen were riding in the beautiful hills near Owen's home, carefree children, racing their horses and laughing together. Then, in the way dreams have, without transition, they were walking instead of riding, and Zeth was in changeover. The tentacles grew swiftly along his arms, emerging without effort, plunging him into deep need. Owen's nager was sweet with welcome; his hands held Zeth, steadied him—he could feel warmth along his nerves as Owen held him with both hands ... both hands!

The realization screeched up Zeth's spine in a jolt of terror. Dream merged with reality as ,he woke up screaming, the real Owen before him as the dream Owen had been—

"No! No!" he cried, fighting Owen off as his friend woke up enough to stop trying to restrain Zeth physically and use his field to soothe and calm.

As the terror abated, Zeth felt his Companion's arm—one arm—holding him steady. "It's only a dream, Zeth," Owen said. "It's not real. You're safe. Want to tell me about it?"

Another shudder rippled through Zeth as he remembered his abject terror at the feel of Owen's hands on his arms.

"To tell a dream makes it go away, remember?"

"You were giving me transfer—but you had both arms. I could feel both your hands on me. I don't know why I was so scared, Owen."

Lightly, Owen said, "Well, I always have both arms in my dreams, too." But Zeth didn't laugh, so he added, "You're not letting yourself be affected by superstition?"

Slina, after managing to accept transfer from Jord, had headed off to collect on long-owed favors, in the form of Gens. She returned full of stories. The tax collector had spread new rumors all along her route. It was true that the Simes of Fort Freedom could turn Simes into Gens. Hadn't

the Freehand Raiders killed off most of their pen Gens? But hadn't the tax assessor found the place full of Gens? Not pen Gens, but conscious people, helping to repair the destruction wrought by the Raiders. Who could such Gens be, but some of the Simes of Fort Freedom turned Gen so they not only would not need to kill, but could provide selyn for the other Simes?

"Do you really think I'm a wer-Gen, Zeth? That I can change my shape, grow another arm at will?" But no matter how Owen tried, he could not coax a smile out of Zeth.

As his second transfer approached, Zeth spent much time at Rimon's bedside, trying to get his father interested in teaching him channeling. But Rimon had no interest in anything, responding even to Zeth or Abel with empty politeness. His burns were not healing; his body had no strength. The channels let him get deep into hard need before they let him take transfer from Hank. Instinct drove him; he drew swiftly enough to give Hank a nerve-burn—but then he closed off before transfer was complete, rejecting Hank and all the other Companions.

And Rimon was no better, the channels talking fearfully of his not feeling pain.

Abel came every day, trying to get Rimon to show some interest. Then he'd pray—and Zeth would zlin once more that dark cloud in his nager. Uel blamed himself when his transfer with Abel did not go well.

Hank said, "I think Abel's approaching crisis again—not next month, but maybe the month after." Zeth caught the implied warning: I’llbe there for you next time, but be prepared to do without me when Abel needs me.

Zeth began to feel panic anytime Owen was distant enough that he had to zlin for him, and he shivered when he thought that eventually, he, too, would have to do without his Companion occasionally. As Abel went about his business, Zeth marveled at the old man's strength of will. Now Zeth could zlin how frail Abel was, his system precariously balanced– yet his will power gave him twice the energy of anyone else in Fort Freedom. Jord had once said his father lived as much on faith as on selyn; Zeth could now believe it.

Abel's faith, though, was currently facing a test: Maddok Bron's latest revelation.

"We've been partly right all along," he told Abel excitedly one evening. "There is a demon threatening each new

Sime, but the Sime is not a demon. Over many generations the words of the Holy Book have been distorted. We say that the sins of the parents are visited upon the child. Misinterpretation. If a Gen parent were simply to give transfer to his Sime child at changeover, the demon would be driven away."

"For a month," said Owen. "It's a natural cycle, not demonic possession."

"Owen," said Bron, "were you not raised in the Church of the Purity?"

"Abel's church here, yes. Not what you teach. I believe in God—probably more than a lot of out-Territory Gens."

"God doesn't punish us for ignorance. You were in a state of grace when you brought Zeth through changeover."

"I wasn't afraid."

"Exactly," said Bron. "God was with you, Owen—but you're not going to claim that if you had not been there, Zeth could have kept himself from killing?''

"Perhaps he could have," Abel put in. "Maddok, I witnessed Uel Whelan's changeover. We didn't know about channels, then. Uel thought his only choice was to kill or to die–and he was prepared to die, until Hank persuaded him that he could give him transfer. And did."

"Yes," Bron agreed. "Your Companions. If every Gen were a Companion, the channels could devote themselves to healing."

"There are too many," said Owen, "who can't learn to give transfer."

Bron answered, "That is why God called me to Fort Freedom, made me stay to be healed, to see what you have done here—and what I must do for you."

"Pride, Maddok," Abel said softly.

"I am but a vessel for God's will," Bron replied. "All the time I've been here, all I've heard is 'since Rimon came,' but you have said yourself that it was Kadi Farris who kept him from killing. A Gen started you on the road away from the kill. Gens keep your channels from killing even now."

"The situation is equitable," Abel replied. "The Companions care for the channels, and the channels for the rest of us."

"True, but you are overlooking the one fact that will explain your failure to disjunct."

Abel was pale, his nager tight against the guilt he refused

to let cloud his judgment. "Tell us this truth you think you have discovered."

"Abel, you are a good man, strong in faith. I can no longer believe that you are a demon because you're Sime. But every month you enter a state during which a demon may possess you—and will, if there is no one to prevent it. Once a Sime has been possessed, the weakness is there forever."

"It can be overcome," said Abel. "Rimon disjuncted. Dozens of others have done it—Simes who no longer feel the desire to kill—to kill, as opposed to the need for selyn, Maddok. I don't know if it's possible to explain to a Gen—"

"If he ever once gives transfer," said Owen, "he'll understand. Perhaps the compulsion is not so strong in a Gen, but the desire is."

"You add to my evidence, Owen," said Bron. "If it were not natural for Gens to provide transfer for Simes, those who do so would not feel it to be the privilege your Companions speak of. I pray that God grant me that privilege."

"Your prayers will be easily granted," said Abel. "I zlin the mark of the Companion in your field, Maddok. Zeth?"

"Yes," said Zeth, "but don't encourage him yet. Maddok, most of your selyn production is going to heal your wound. You're not back to full capacity, because your field is still increasing– Oh!" Zeth suddenly realized that he was observing something he had only heard about before.

But Maddok Bron had been studying. "My field is increasing through proximity to Simes who have need of my selyn. That is also God's will. Abel, Gens are not granted this capacity so they can selfishly refuse to use it. You cannot drive out the demon alone—but a Gen in a state of grace—"

"Maddok, if you preach any such thing to your congregation, you will be as much a killer as any Freehand Raider," Abel said firmly. "Do you want to be responsible for a parent's being killed by his own child, trying to prove he is in a state of grace?"

"It is the test," Bron answered with equal conviction. "No one should be required to attempt it. Doubt is a good reason not to. But I have no doubts. I shall prove the truth of my discovery when I free you of possession."

"When I next approach the crisis, I will not have you near me!" said Abel. He faced Bron squarely across the table. "I commend your good intentions, but your theory is devastating to the salvation of all our Simes. In need, a Sime does have

the sensation that he is not in control of his own actions. I doubt you can imagine how tempting it would be to surrender all responsibility to the Gens."

"That is where it should be," Bron protested. "Why won't you let me help you?"

"Because no man can be responsible for another's salvation! Of all people, the man who has accepted the religious leadership of a community must know that. Maddok, I have sworn an oath, I shall not die a killer. That vow is between God and me—and I am responsible for keeping it. When I have achieved it, you will bear witness—but until that time, you will not interfere!"

Not since the day of Owen's mutilation had Zeth seen Abel so angry. He could zlin smoldering fury battling with comprehension of Maddok's total sincerity.

Abel got up and stalked out. Zeth started to follow, worried. Owen put his hand on his arm. "Let him go, Zeth. He'll go to the chapel to pray–and he'll find an answer that satisfies him."

Indeed, the next morning Abel was his usual controlled self—and the dark cloud was gone from his nager. But Zeth was too deep into need by now to give much thought to anyone else. Zlinning was no longer a novelty; it had become a necessity, as if he dared not use any other senses, lest he lose contact with the selyn fields that promised him life.

Zeth expected to have his second transfer in the chapel, with the people of Fort Freedom to witness. He was not comfortable with the thought, but the ritual was traditional for each new Sime. On his transfer day, though, Uel told him, "Abel thinks it would be better to postpone the witnessing, Zeth. People are too busy," But Zeth zlinned clearly that that was not the whole truth. Abel, who was not a channel, feared something might go wrong . . . and the channels concurred?

He could not hold his mind on the question. Some time later, Owen dragged him momentarily duoconscious as lord was saying, "Take him along and give him transfer, Owen. Be patient—treat it like First Transfer and you'll both be fine."

By this time, Zeth craved privacy and Owen. They went to the Veritt house, into the insulated room where Abel had coached Marji Carson through changeover. Zeth sat down on the couch, and rested in the warm promise of his Companion's field.

There was no hurry. Need was again a peculiar pleasure now that Owen's attention was fixed on Zeth alone, his "need to give" soothing away all Zeth's nervous jangles.

As he zlinned Owen, he found it happening again: the field pattern of Owen's left arm was there, just as if it had never been cut off. Spurred by a weak echo of his nightmare terror, Zeth forced himself duoconscious—and found his eyes and his Sime senses in disagreement. "Your arm," he whispered.

Owen shrugged. "I still feel it sometimes. Now. It never went away, like your dad said it would. I forgot—you zlinned it last time, didn't you? You kept reaching—well, don't worry." He took off his shirt. "There. You can find your grip whenever you're ready."

It had become habit now to find the rich nerves at the back of Owen's neck. It was as good as Zeth remembered—maybe better. When it was over, he lay back, breathing deeply, letting his body reaccustom itself to full life—

And the world came crashing down.

Mama! Dad! It was real for the first time—raw, and new. Strangled sobs rose in his throat—he could not force a scream past his tears. In one moment of irresponsible curiosity, he had led his friends into the midst of a battle, creating the legend of the wer-Gen, which led to his mother's death. His father would never recover.

In nameless, shuddering fury, he grabbed blindly, his fingers closing on the marble candle holder on the table beside the couch, the lit candle falling to the floor. He felt Owen's alarmed dive to catch it only as a vague movement at the edge of awareness. Something inside him adjusted in a new way. He threw the star-shaped chunk of marble at the nearest wall, fully expecting it to clatter to the floor. Instead, it crashed through the wall and landed with a crack and a clatter in the adjacent bathroom.

At the shock of the noise in the empty house, he found himself staring at the hole in the wall by the light of the candle Owen held. His rage had evaporated.

"Margid's going to be upset," said Owen in a thin attempt at lightness. "You know the rule–no augmenting within the gates."

"Is that what—yes, I did!"

Owen groaned. "Nobody's had time to teach you that!"

"It's not important," said Zeth dully.

"Zeth—what's wrong?"

"Mama!" he spat, annoyed at the Gen's denseness. "Mama's dead!" It turned into a sob that caught in his throat. "Owen, she's gone, and Dad is dying, and Abel—!" The rest dissolved into hysterical gasps. His once-secure home was in ruins. The Old Fort, with its volatile mixture of Simes and Gens, was in grave danger of not surviving the winter. But most of all, never again would his mother hold or comfort him, and he understood the emptiness in Rimon's field where Kadi had been. A major part of Rimon Farris had died with Kadi—and what was left would not survive for long.

Owen held Zeth, just as Del Erick had held Owen in the chapel the day of the memorial service. Owen said through his own tears, "I loved Kadi too, Zeth. We're all going to miss her—your father most of all. But we'll pull Rimon through. Jord survived after Willa died—"

"No!" Zeth shook his head vehemently. "You can't zlin him. Owen. It's as if he's dead already. And Abel—Abel's going to disjunct if it kills him—and it will!"

"Come on, Zeth—don't imagine things. Cry for Kadi. Grieve for what's real, not what might be."

On top of all the other agonized knowledge came the realization that Owen, the closest person to him in his life now, would never be able to understand all the things that were real to his Sime senses. Perhaps that was the worst knowledge of all.

Eventually, Zeth calmed down enough to be thankful that he had not been demonstrating transfer in the chapel when his grief overwhelmed him. And when the Veritts came in, he was able to apologize for breaking the marble candle holder, the wall, and the lip of the bathtub. But he couldn't shake off depression and foreboding. Only when he was busy learning to channel could he temporarily forget—but then he would zlin new deterioration in his father or feel in Abel the certainty that bespoke the final make-or-break fulfillment of his vow, and it would all come back. The sudden shock of his mother's death, as painful as it was, was easier to live with than the long, agonizing deterioration his father was undergoing. He could not yet grieve for him, but every time he saw him he felt more certain that was the only appropriate response.

He threw himself into learning the duties of a channel, Owen learning with him. Drawing selyn from Gens was easy—what he found hard was giving transfer. He mastered controlling selyn flow, but Jord and Del insisted that selyn

was not enough to satisfy a Sime in need—he had to give emotional satisfaction. He tried to reproduce the intense pleasure of his transfers with Owen, until Uel said, "All right, Zeth—you're as good as I was in my first months of channeling. We'll schedule the young people for you." Unspoken, Zeth realized, was those who have never killed.

Eventually, Zeth would have to witness a kill. But there was an unspoken agreement throughout Fort Freedom that harsh winter that every Sime would refrain from the kill as long as possible. The proximity of Slina's pen Gens had made them, if not people, at least too much like pets to make slaughtering them easy. The snow and freezing rain made rebuilding the pens slow; even Slina's new Gens were kept in the Old Fort, where everyone encountered them daily.

Only a handful of the town Simes were still with them. The spoken agreement was that any one of them could have a kill if he felt he could not stand channel's transfer again. But, for the time being, the unspoken agreement prevailed.

Despite the bad weather, there was considerable travel across the border. The out-Territory Gens accepted the precautions prescribed by the channels and their Sime relatives, and people began talking of this year's turning as a world's turning, toward a whole new way of life.

Glian Lodge came to trade for horses with Del Erick. The two men spent hours haggling—and in a short while became fast friends. Owen was delighted, and began dropping hints that if Eph Norton planned to come to visit his son, he might consider bringing his daughter Sue along.

Maddok Bron hoped to get home in time for Mountain Chapel's own year's turning ceremony, but he overtired himself, and his kidney infection flared up again. His sister stayed with him, soon becoming as much at home among Simes as he was. Sessly Bron was a Gen version of Margid Veritt– quiet, supportive, and often unnoticed until she wasn't around when you expected her.

Zeth's sensitivity passed Uel's, having left both Jord and Marji behind in his first month, but he was still the youngest, least experienced channel. How can I become the best channel I can be without Dad to teach me?

One cold, clear morning, Zeth's forebodings were realized. He and Owen were trying to help Marji and Jord convince Rimon to eat. Jord, on the edge of need, was supervising the

two younger channels, while Zeth struggled against his personal depression.

Hank and Uel arrived—and at once Uel said, "Jord, I don't want you worn out before your transfer this afternoon. Zeth, take Jord home and see that he lies down."

Knowing perfectly well that he was being sent away because his mood was irritating Rimon as much as lord's need was, Zeth took Jord's arm and guided him out, Owen following. They passed through the back rooms of the chapel, past the open kitchen door. Sessly, helping to prepare gruel for Slina's Gens, looked up as they passed. "Jord?" She came to the door in concern, wiping her hands on her apron.

He raised a hand, warning her back, and said, "I'm all right. Just tired and in need. I'll have transfer this afternoon, and then if you still want to donate—''

"You know I do," she said 'firmly. "Take care of him, Zeth," she said with a smile, and turned back to her work.

They headed for the front door, passing Abel Veritt kneeling at his morning's prayers.

It was a beautiful day, the sky brilliant blue, no clouds for a change. The most recent snow was melting in the sun, turning the pathways to ridged mud. Slina was taking advantage of the clear day to get her Gens into the fresh air—a whole group of them were being exercised on the green, their nager more lively than usual because their morning drug dose would be dispensed in the gruel.

As Zeth, Owen, and Jord came down the front steps, Sessly Bron and Mrs. Young came out the side door of the chapel, bringing a huge pot of gruel surrounded by wooden bowls, on a wheeled cart. The Sime woman helped Sessly lift and push the cart over the threshold—but just as they got it out, a rut caught one of the wheels and a stack of bowls fell off into the mud.

"What a mess!" said Mrs. Young. "You go ahead, Sessly. I'll run back and wash these off." She gathered the bowls up and headed back into the chapel.

Zeth paid no attention, for in the morning light he was noticing the unpainted wood that marked the repairs to the wall and nearby houses. The beautiful day only served to throw the problems of Fort Freedom into high relief.

But as they walked on, a surge of the ambient, off beyond the milling pen Gens, caught Zeth's attention. As the flare of intil heightened, he recognized the field of Bekka Trent, the

out-Territory Sime who was nearing her disjunction crisis. What had Uel said? She was due for transfer tomorrow, and he had put her to work—?

No, Margid Veritt had put Bekka to doing laundry, off on the other side of the Fort, away from the Gens—but here she came, her small form moving determinedly straight toward that mob of pen Gens.

The important thing was to get temptation out of her way. "Risko!" Zeth shouted to Slina's man. "Get those Gens back! High-intil Sime approaching!"

As Risko and the others herded the Gens out of Bekka's way, they cleared a direct path between the oncoming Sime and Sessly Bron. lord gasped, "Sessly!" and started toward her under augmentation. Zeth caught up easily, leaving Owen behind.

Sessly's field registered only surprise and curiosity, not shock or fear. She and her cart were between Bekka and the chapel. Bekka pulled up short, dark eyes staring from Sessly to the chapel. Then her eyes drifted out of focus as she zlinned the Gen before her.

Zeth came to a stop, catching Jord back. lord whispered, "Oh, God, no!" but held steady. They had to keep Sessly from becoming frightened. The two channels cautiously walked the last few paces. Just as Owen came up behind them, Wik came pounding to a breathless halt behind Bekka.

Forcing his voice to be utterly calm, Zeth said, "Sessly, go in and get Uel Whelan."

She started to obey, but the moment she let go of the cart handle, Bekka began stalking her. "Stop, Sessly," Zeth said. "Stand still. I'll take care of it."

How?! was the only thing in his mind, but he forced himself to think. Uel and Marji were in Rimon's heavily insulated room; they'd have no idea what was going on. Jord was in need and flaring fear; he was in no shape to handle a disjunction crisis. And if Bekka was fixed on Sessly, that was exactly what Zeth had before him.

He had to make Bekka choose him over Sessly. Healing mode, then project like a Gen—high field, the need to give. Bekka wavered, and became duoconscious so she could look at him, her small heart-shaped face tense with indecision. "Come on—I'll give you transfer, Bekka. It's what you really want. You were looking for Abel, weren't you? To pray with you? It's .what you've been praying for. Never to

kill again. No more pain—no more guilt. Come to me, Bekka."

In a strange clarity of consciousness, Zeth was aware not only of Bekka before him, and Sessly, Jord, Owen, and Wik nearby, but also of other people watching, fascinated. Abel and Uel came out of the chapel, with Mrs. Young and her son Hapen. Uel zlinned the situation, but the more experienced channel dared not interrupt the rapport Zeth was creating. On the other side of the green Slina stood, joined by other Simes who had never seen disjunction before.

Zeth started around the wheeled cart, not toward Sessly, but around the other end. If he could keep Bekka's attention, Jord could snatch Sessly out of the way—

As if she read his intention, Bekka turned toward Sessly once more. How could Zeth make his field more appealing? He was radiating the desire to serve her—but what the junct Sime craved was not generosity, but fear. Fear was easy enough—all he had to do was stop fighting it. At once Bekka turned, stalking a pace or two toward him. Again she stopped, deliberately resisting. She doesn't want to respond to fear. He smiled at her. "It's all right. You've won, Bekka. You don't want to kill a Gen—you just need selyn. Come here—I'll give it to you."

Bekka's resistance crumbled. She flung herself on Zeth, pressing her lips desperately to his even before their laterals were properly entwined. He let her draw, feeling her fight for something he wasn't giving, unsatisfied even though selyn flowed into her nerves without resistance—it was resistance she craved. That he could provide, and in a few moments more, Bekka Trent was sobbing in relief. He held her, saying, "You did it, Bekka. It's all over now—you'll never go through that again."

People started to move. Wik came up to Zeth and Bekka, saying, ''She ran away from me, Zeth. I'm sorry."

"It turned out all right," said Zeth as Owen joined them. He looked toward Sessly, just as Jord, unshielded by any Companion, started toward her.

In the relief after the crisis, Sessly let go the steely hold she had had on her emotions, and her fear flared. Jord, in need, fought down his response—it took all that was left of his fragile strength, and he collapsed at her feet.

"Jord!" she gasped, dropping to her knees beside him. "What happened?" as Uel and Abel dashed to the fallen

channel. Zeth thrust Bekka into Wik's arms and hurried to lord.

It was the first time Zeth had seen one of Jord's voiding attacks—particularly dangerous when he was in hard need. Uel meshed fields with lord, and almost savagely forced him to consciousness so they dared move him. Zeth pulled Sessly Bron away, saying, "You can't help him now, Sessly. Your sympathy could cause him to fix on you."

Mrs. Young came up to them, saying, "Come on, Sessly. Help us with the Gens. Let the channels do their work."

In the back of the chapel, they laid lord down and Uel bent over him. "Get Hank," he said. There was a moment of uncertainty; then Uel said, "Zeth, you'll have to help me," and Abel turned and went for Uel's Companion.

Hank came quickly; alone. Then Zeth was zlinning the way Uel took a grip on Jord's fields and forcefully restrained the leakage of selyn. Jord's secondary system, much higher than his primary system today, had begun the voiding, but by the time they got him into the insulated room, selyn had begun to leak from his primary. No one knew if it was possible, without an actual injury, for a Sime to void to death—but Zeth recalled that the only reason they had never found out in Jord's case was Rimon Farris.

At the surge of apprehension from Zeth, Uel nodded gravely. "Pray you have Rimon's sheer strength, Zeth. Do what I was doing, and see if you can stop the voiding."

Jord's fields were fragmenting, both from the voiding and from the rough treatment Uel had had to use. Zeth swallowed the lump in his throat as Owen placed his hand on Zeth's shoulder, providing secure confidence. He tried to influence Jord's fields, but Jord's resistance took the form of fragmenting further, his fields a tenuous cloud.

Zeth stopped his attempt at pressure. Spreading his laterals above the prone form, he extended his show-field to surround Jord's. After a moment, Jord's field relaxed and began drifting toward normal. Through all of this, Jord was semiconscious, not exactly in pain, but settling deeper and deeper into the agony of hard need. As Zeth managed the fields for him, Jord came down to duoconsciousness. "Sessly?"

"She's fine," said Zeth. "Rest, Jord. Nobody got hurt. And Bekka's through disjunction."

"Thank God," Jord managed, and relief pervaded his nager, speeding his progress in the direction of normalcy.

When Uel judged that Jord was ready, he had Zeth reinforce his containment of Jord's fields while Uel gave him transfer—or rather drove transfer into him, for Jord made no effort to draw. Zeth studied carefully how Uel attempted to give Jord the satisfaction he craved as much as the selyn he needed—but Jord rejected the emotion. His strength, though– what little there ever was of it—had returned. He refused to sleep, resting only a few minutes before getting on his feet again. "I've put enough of a cloud over Bekka's triumph. Come on—there's celebrating to do!"

Although Jord's cheer might stem from pure bravado, there was no pretense in the joy the channels found when they came out. In the chapel proper they found Abel with Bekka, Maddok and Sessly Bron, and Jimmy Norton, who had witnessed the crisis. Bekka's joy was almost matched by Abel's when he saw his son. A ripple of relieved pleasure went through Sessly's nager when Jord walked in, but Maddok Bron's field was a mixture of concern, hope, and resistance to whatever Abel had been telling him.

Jimmy Norton was looking at Bekka worshipfully—and when Zeth entered, the feeling focused on Zeth as well. "I'm going to do what Bekka did," he said. "I'm going to leave the kill behind. Zeth—will you help me?"

"Of course I will. Everyone here will help you."

"We will pray for you, and with you," Abel added.

"On that we all agree," said Maddok Bron. "Jimmy, we'll take you out of the grip of the Devil—"

"Maddok, he will take himself," interrupted Abel. "Your prayers and your encouragement are welcome—but every Sime must make his own commitment to refuse the kill."

Thus it was no surprise to Zeth, when the bell had been rung and everyone was gathered in the chapel, that Abel had a new statement to make. "Like many of you here with us today, Bekka Trent grew up in Gen Territory. She believed that to be Sime was to be cursed—but she had the courage to refuse that curse. To refuse the kill.

"God has blessed Bekka Trent, as He has blessed this community. Never before in history has a community of Gens made friends with a community of Simes. The only way we can continue that friendship is to guarantee their safety among us:—to end the kill, forever. When we have done that we can tell the truth—the entire truth—to Simes and Gens alike, to

dispel the superstitious fear that brought the Freehand Raiders down on us."

Abel's voice and his field rang with conviction. "There will be no more equivocation. No more careful wording to hide what is or what must be. Truth will prevail!

"Nine years ago, I made a vow. As God is my witness, I shall not die a killer. I gave no thought to the wording of that vow. In nine years, I have killed eleven times—and yet I have said I am not forsworn. I still live. I live for the day when no Sime's need will be a need to kill. To bring that day about, there must be a new vow. I do not ask it of any of you today—but I pray that one day each and every one of you will vow it, before God, as I do now. It does not matter whether you have killed never, or once, or a hundred times. What matters is a future in which everyone, Sime and Gen, is in control of his own destiny. To that end, I make a new vow:

"As God is my witness, I shall never kill again!"

Chapter 8 | Channel's Destiny | Chapter 10