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Chapter 11

Abel Veritt had left his affairs in perfect order, and he had left his community a legacy of ritual to get them through any crisis. The one thing Zeth could not cope with though, was that Abel's will left Fort Freedom's Gens to Zeth, not Rimon. It was a mere technicalitybut Zeth could not bring himself to have Slina complete the paperwork.

The year's turning ceremony, only a few days away, became the memorial service.-Jord Veritt, who always carved the names of martyrs into the Monument in the chapel, began bringing it up to date. Sessly Bron spent hours watching him workand one day Zeth, hoping that Jord had worked off his emotions in physical labor and could go back to the overcrowded schedule, found Sessly holding Jord while he shook with guilt and sorrow. The last name on the Monument Abel'swas incomplete, the last letter he had been working on shaky.

Sessly frowned at Zeth over Jord's shoulder, and continued ' with what she was saying to him. "You'll do it, too, Jord but you won't die. You're young, and you're a channel. I'll help you. I know you can do it."

Zeth went quietly awayand within the hour, Jord resumed his duties as a channel, without comment.

Zeth was too deep into need to feel true griefhe wondered distantly whether he would collapse again as he had when his mother's death hit him after his second transfer. His need nightmares took the form of reliving Abel's deathbut they ended in that transcendent joy Abel had known when he found his desire to kill gone. Zeth would wake, clinging to the ecstatic feeling, only to have it burned off by encroaching need.

His fear of the kill was not nearly so strongknowing that

Abel had overcome it made it less the unconquerable creature that he dared not let touch him, lest he be forever contaminated. As a consequence, he began to approach Uel's ability to simulate killbliss.

His distaste at being around Margid also disappearedbut he didn't know how to let her know it. An apology would hurt her again, when she had enough grief to bear.

Then on the day he was to have transfer, Zeth woke hours before dawn. He zlinned the house, and found Margid alone in the kitchen. Determined to try to make amends, he got up and went out to the kitchen. She was seated at the table, staring at the china tea container. When Zeth entered, she said, "I was just about to make tea."

Pouring for Zeth and herself, she sat down, putting the tea container back on the table. "Abel brought me this from Summer Fair," she said, "the year he registered the deed on Fort Freedom. I was pregnant with Hope, we had very few people here, and the town Simes hated us. We could barely scrape together the taxesand he spent money we couldn't afford to bring me something beautiful."

She gave Zeth a sad smile. "It was so ugly here. Oh, the hills were just as beautiful as now, but the Fort was a mud hole. The houses were unpaintedit was dreary, and so were we. I tried to accept Abel's teaching that I was still human in spite of being Simebut I couldn't accept that anyone could really love me. Abel . . . well, he never was very good at saying that with words, no matter how eloquently he spoke about anything else."

She extended her handling tentacles, protecting the delicate container as she turned it over and over. "Then he brought me this . . . totally frivolous object. A way of saying, if you appreciate beauty, you're human." She sighed, got up, and emptied the tea into the wooden box. Then she carefully washed the china container, dried it, and replaced it on the shelf where it had always stood.

As Margid stood staring at the container, Zeth came to her, putting his arms around her. She turned, buried her face against his shoulder, and sobbed. "Oh, God, Zeth, I loved him so. What am I going to do?"

"You'll go on," he said numbly, wondering himself. "We all have to. It's what Abel always did, isn't it?" And he held her until she had let out her grief.

It was fortunate that Abel's family found other outlets for

their grief, for the memorial service could not be the healing time that Abel had always made it. When the snow clogged the passes once more, so Maddok Bron could not get home to conduct his own year's turning ceremony, everyone assumed that he would conduct the one in Fort Freedom. Bron himself certainly assumed ituntil he let slip that he had not given up his demon theory.

It was Owen to whom he said it, obviously thinking a fellow Gen would understand. Zeth and Owen had had transfer that morning, and shared their own grief. Then Owen went to the chapel to prayand encountered Bron.

Zeth was in Rimon's room, trying to get his father to understand that Abel was dead. If he would only grieve, and realize how much now depended on him, perhaps he would recover. But although Rimon's field made its automatic response to Zeth's, he remained suspended in emotionlessness. Owen entered, closed the door, and leaned against it. Even low-field, he projected a burning frustration too strong for Zeth to block.

"What's wrong?" asked Zeth.

"Maddok Bron," Owen replied. "Zeth, we can't let him conduct the year's turning. He's going to preach about demons again! Why did you ever let him give transfer?"

"You think I should have let him run around high-field, tempting the juncts?" Actually, that had not been Zeth's motivation at all. After Abel's death, by way of a combined apology for his threats in the chapel hallway and confirming lesson on what transfer really was, he had carefully chosen one of their nonjunct Simes and let Bron give transfer. The strictly supervised session had gone very well. Bron had not bothered Zeth again, and he had thought the problem solved.

Owen sighed. "Nobut you should just have taken his field down. Now he's ready to start exorcising demons."

"How did he get back onto that again? Surely even a Gen could see that Abel died at peace."

Ignoring the implied slight, Owen said, "Oh, he saw that, all right. He agrees Abel is a martyrbut remember Abel wouldn't attempt transfer with Bron. Now Bron thinks Abel was still afraid of his demon, and had to die to dispossess himself of it! How many people are capable of making that sacrifice!"

"If it weren't so serious, it'd be ridiculous," said Zeth.

"Zethit's sacrilege!" objected Owen, and Zeth recalled his friend's deep faith.

"It's desecration of Abel's memory," Zeth agreed. "Stay with Dad, OwenI'll put a stop to this."

Enlisting Uel's help, Zeth confronted Bron. There was no swaying him. "You know I'm right, Zeth. I saw even you almost succumb, remember? If Owen hadn't been there when you were in need, and worried and angry at the same time"

"And I suppose," said Hank Steers, who had accompanied Uel, "that you have never regretted words spoken in anger? I'm Gen, too, and I certainly know I have!"

"I make no claim to perfection, Hank," Bron replied. "I simply act in accord with what God has revealed to me."

"Well, you're not going to do it at Abel's memorial service!" Zeth said, tears choking his voice.

"We won't have it," Uel took over. "Abel's wife, his son, his granddaughter will be there. All the people to whom he's been a father. You will not deny everything he stood for."

"Then I will not conduct the service," Bron said firmly. "I cannot speak other than the truth."

That left them with no one to conduct the service. Dan Whelan suggested that Hank should be the speaker, but Hank demurred, saying, "I'd just burst into tears and my field would have every Sime in the building in hysterics."

Then Whelan looked to Owen. To Zeth's surprise, Owen said, "I think I could do it." He flashed Zeth a tight smile, and Zeth thought, I should have volunteered. But that form of leadership was not for him, just as it had not been for his father.

The ceremony was simple and quiet, a candlelit ritual spanning midnight on the longest night of the year. Owen made no attempt to reproduce Abel's year's turning ceremony. Instead, he spoke of the love he had had for Abel, and why. He told of Abel's inspired decisionshow Owen had been made Zeth's punishment for disobedience, and how the tension thus set up between them had led to his becoming responsible for his own life despite his handicap.

"Abel Veritt was a man so close to God that such inspirations were everyday occurrences. His steps were guided so that he could guide the steps of othersof Rimon Farris, for example. Abel knew him for what he was before Rimon did. Impossible as it might have seemed a year ago, we are now

friends with out-Territory Gens. Zeth went to them for help when his home was in danger, and because some instinct drove him to seek me for his changeover. That couldn't have happened without the bond Abel had forged between us.

"We no longer have Abel to guide usbut his spirit will be with us always. If we mourn now, we mourn for ourselves for what we have lost with Abel's death. But let us not mourn for Abel Veritt. He taught us that our prayers are always answered, as was his most fervent prayer. All who were there will bear witness for the rest of their lives that Abel Veritt did not die a killer! MoreI, a Gen, bear witness before you now that Abel Veritt died having left behind the need to kill!'

After that, Zeth felt certain that no one could accept Maddok Bron's claimsbut apparently there were those, especially among the older, semi-junct Simes left without a religious leader, who found it comforting not to be held responsible for killing. As his parents had always done, Zeth avoided the theological arguments. He got enough of it secondhand from Owen, who was appalled at the growing response to Bron's teachings.

Furthermore, the junct Simes from town were coming up on their third and fourth transfers without killingbut those who had elected to stay had developed enough respect for Fort Freedom to shun the kill while guests there. They talked longingly of rebuilding their communitybut when they came to the channels it would be "Oh, I can manage one more time."

When Uel, lord, and Marji consulted Zeth, he replied, "But what can we do? Force them to kill?"

"I don't know," said Jord, "but we'll have a cascade if one of them goes into disjunction crisis and sets off a bunch of the others."

"What would your father do?" asked Marji.

Zeth shrugged, and Uel answered, "Probably give them all the best transfers we can, and hope."

The channels were constantly on the run, their Companions with them, but when Owen would try to make him eat or rest, or use his field to affect Zeth's emotions, Zeth would rebel. "Sometimes I think you really do think you're warding off demons!"

"I'm only trying to make you take care of yourself," Owen would reply patiently, and Zeth would quell an angry retort. The fact was, only Bekka's artistic schedule juggling

kept the Gens safe and the Simes satisfied in the close proximity dictated by the unremitting winter.

The river that marked the border near Del Brick's property froze over for the first time in yearsand in weather that in any other year would have kept people huddling in their homes, but was "mild" by this year's standards, Glian Lodge crossed the frozen river along with Eph Norton and his daughter Sue. "To see if we could do it," they explained. "The Border Patrol won't be watching that route and it'll be good for the rest of the winter."

Owen wanted to spend time with his uncle, and as Zeth dimly understood, with Sue Norton. But only when Owen was too tired to work with Zeth could he leave the grueling schedule. Watching Owen stumble off toward his father's house as Wik joined Zeth in a quick-march to the Deevan house at dawn one day, Zeth determined that one of the buildings that had to have top priority in the spring was a center for channels' functions, such as the New Homestead had been. Then the channels wouldn't have to drag their Companions out in all sorts of beastly weather, going to people's homes.

When Owen came down with a cold, Zeth mentioned his thoughts at one of the "council sessions," still held around the Veritt kitchen table.

There was immediate agreement. Zeth realized that he had been accepted as spokesman for the channels, so he continued, "I wish we could find a way now to centralize our work. Every house is full of people, though. We really can't ask people to crowd in the way they did for those few days after the battle, just so we can take a house and"

"Zeth." Strangely enough, it was Slina who provided the solution. "Why don't you think what Abel would advise?"

"Huh?"

"Right now, he could be here, he'd be tellin' youuse the chapel. Abel'd never've stood for that big insulated room standin' empty all day, if it'd make it easier on people."

Owen sneezed, and that settled it.

Centralizing the channels' duties made life much easier. Zeth and Owen had time to spend with Del upon occasion, and Owen to be with Sue. He got over his cold quickly. One midnight, Owen was with Sue when Rimon had another of his hallucinatory seizuresthe worst ever. Zeth, a week past turnover, had had to practically force Owen to leave him, and

now Owen cursed himself for going as he met Zeth at the back of the chapel, where the other channels would not let Zeth into Rimon's room without his Companion's protection. Del, much closer to need than Zeth, had gone right in, and Zeth was seething.

Hank and Uel had been with Rimon, who was approaching hard need again, but Bekka had had to pull them out, and so they had left Trina, who had been working all day, to sleep in the room. The practice of alternating channels working with him with Companions sitting with him had become part of Bekka's routine.

Trina had fallen so deeply asleep that she hadn't wakened until Rimon was out of bed and in the middle of the floor, where he had fallen, crying out for Zeth. By the time his son was allowed in, Uel had the attack under control, and he and Del were lifting Rimon onto the bed.

Zeth had been hoping that Rimon's getting out of bed was a sign of returning strengthbut the moment he came into the room he had the shock of seeing, for the first time in months, his father's hideously burned legs. The wounds, which had showed blackened muscle oozing blood when Zeth had first seen them, now dripped pus and were lined with a webbing of yellow infected tissue. Here and there he could see glistening bone. The skin stretched tightly over the rest of his badly swollen legs appeared dry, and hung loosely ready to fall off around the spreading area of the wounds. The room stank with putrefaction.

Del carefully laid Rimon down, and helped Marji arrange clean bedclothes so they would not irritate him. "Uel, you've got to do something!"

"What else can we do? We can't get transfer into him"

"When he was just through changeover, nobody could get him to kill, either. Shen it, he's fixated on that memory of killing his cousin! Try some of the techniques his father used on him then."

"We can't make him kill someone" Uel began.

Hank put a hand on his arm. "Tell us, Del. Maybe we can rouse his intil so one of us can give him a good transfer."

Rimon's field started vibrating againUel meshed and tried to stop the fluctuations, but it took Zeth's strength to bring them into line, leaving him dizzy, leaning on Owen. Del winced, saying, "That's an old symptom. Turnover used to bring it onbefore Kadi. Why don't you rouse one of

Slina's Gens to panic? I know that's cruel, but if it brings Rimon to intil and you can intercept"

Uel clenched his jaw muscles, the idea clearly abhorrent to him. "Zeth," he said finally, "he's your father"

"Try it," said Zeth. "He's dying, Uel. We have to try something!" He won't kill. He can't. And by next time I'll learn to give a completely satisfactory transfereven if it means witnessing an actual kill!

Bekka was off duty, so the channels had to struggle with the schedule themselves until she showed up at dawn. Zeth stayed on duty, helping Marji while Owen napped. Night duty was normally lightmost of the Gens were asleep then, and the Simes took the rest they required. At dawn Jord came to relieve Marji, Owen joined Zeth, and the day's routine began.

Bekka started on the day's slate. Uel, Zeth, and Jord were all to be free that afternoon to try to get transfer into Rimon. Del, who had been scheduled for late that evening, was so shaken by the events of the night that they decided to move up his transfer. As Jord was up for transfer himself just before Rimon, that meant taking Del off Jord's list and putting him on Zeth's.

Already people were filing into the chapel, which was carefully divided with heavy hangings. This morning Zeth, Uel, and Jord would take donations from Gens; the dispensing for Simes would begin just before noon. A long line of Gens waited for Zeth, shorter lines for Uel and Jord.

Everything proceeded normally. By the time the first edgy Simes were seated in the Sime waiting area outside the cubicle where Zeth was working, they were finishing with the last donations. It looked as if they'd have all three channels free to work on Rimon.

To avoid having high-field Gens passing by the waiting Simes, the Gen line came into Zeth's working area from the opposite side. Most of them went out toward the back door, passing the Simes only when they were low-field. As Zeth worked, he became aware of a glare of impatience on the Sime side of the hangings. Not again! he thought as he recognized Jimmy Norton's nager. They did not yet have him on a normal four-week cycle. At first, with constant augmentation, he had driven himself into feeling need within a week of any transferexcept that it was turnover he perceived as

hard need, and he reacted from that point on with the dangerous instincts of a Freehand Raider.

Since Bekka's disjunction, Jimmy had been trying very hard, and had gone from ten days last time up to fifteen nowbut that was still only half a normal cycle. He had to do better, even if he never managed a full four weeks. He still insisted that he would take transfer from no one but Zeth and Zeth couldn't help wondering if the lack of junct satisfaction was hindering Jimmy's progress.

One of the Gens left, and Jimmy took the opportunity when the hangings opened to slip in to Zeth. "I'm in need," he said agitatedly. "I've gone much longer this time"

"Yes, you have," Zeth assured him, trying to be encouraging. "Half again as long as last time. But you're not really in"

"I am!" Jimmy insisted.

"It's all right," Zeth soothed, as Owen's nager also went to work on Jimmy. "I'll give you transfer as soon as I finish with the donationsright after Del. You can wait that long, can't you? Of course you can, when you know you'll have transfer in sayhalf an hour? Every hour, every minute you can add will make it that much easier next time."

The hangings cut selyn fields, but not sound. From the Gen side. Hapen Young came in, saying, "It's my fault, Zeth. I was scheduled to donate, and Jimmy came along. He was just fine before he came in here. Maybe I should stay high-field and''

"Oh, no you don't!" said Zeth. Hapen and Jimmy had become good friends, but after the nerve-burn Hapen had suffered in the raid, even though he now seemed steady and unafraid, the channels had decided he should donate for several more months before trying an actual transfer. So Jimmy was settled on the bench outside, and as soon as he had donated, Hapen sat down beside him, to keep him company until his promised transfer.

Zeth began dispensing with Del. He tried earnestly to give Owen's father a satisfying transfer, but as usual, he could not produce that pain/bliss even the semi-juncts craved. Del insisted he was perfectly comfortable, but it was due more to the way Owen soothed him than to anything Zeth had done.

Hank and Uel headed in to check up on Rimon before beginning their dispensing schedule. "I'll go with you," said Del. "My field won't irritate Rimon now."

,"It didn't this morning, either," said Uel. "I wish it had triggered his needwe might have gotten transfer into him then."

Just then a high-field Gen approached, and Zeth turned, recognizing Eph Norton even through the hangings. As a deliberate encouragement to Jimmy, Zeth left the curtain open on the Sime side while he let Norton inso father and son could see one another. Jimmy managed to smile at Norton, proudly taking control of himself. Zeth was pleased to see it. Then he closed the curtains as Norton said, "I'm sorry I'm late. Sue was pretty upset at the way you left last night, Owen."

"It was an emergency."

"I knowI tried to explain that to her. But girls at that age" He shrugged. "I wish her mother were alive."

Norton's donation was quickly taken, but when Zeth opened the curtains to call Jimmy in, he found Jord approaching. "Zeth, I'mI'm really feeling bad," said the other channel. "If I don't get some rest before my transfer"

Zlinning the appalling ache of need in Jord's system, Zeth said, "Come on in and give me what you're carrying in your secondary system."

When the imbalance was relieved, Jord sat resting as Zeth opened the curtains once again. Eph Norton had stopped to talk to his son, who was trying to show his best side to his father. That motivation, and the inbred courtesy of someone raised to standards similar to those of Fort Freedom, suddenly plunged them all into trouble.

By now, the women in the chapel kitchen were getting ready to feed Slina's Gens. Sessly Bron walked out of the kitchen toward the back door, carrying a snow shovel. At once, Jimmy Norton got up, saying, "Let me help you, Miss Bron."

Eph Norton looked around, saying, "No, Jimmy, you're in need. I'll do it." He reached to push his son back down, as Jimmy raised his hand to ward off his father's touch. Their hands metand Jimmy went hyperconscious, his tentacles lashing about his father's hand. Norton stared at their united hands, not comprehending. Hapen Young tried to influence Jimmy, but his field was as low as Norton's.

"Owen!" Zeth said, but his Companion was already in motion. Zeth moved to shield Jord, who had come up behind

Zeth, his channel's sense of duty outweighing his physical condition.

Just as Owen reached the Nortons, Eph looked up from his son's grip to his face, and saw the raw need in his eyes. His field flared a combination of revulsion and sympathy, throwing Jimmy into killmode. He struggled to fight it, Owen's field helping, but the situation merely stabilized. Owen could not bring Jimmy down to duoconsciousness, and so he did exactly what a high-field, experienced Companion ought to dohe placed his own hand over the joined hands of the participants

The moment he touched them, Owen recognized killmode the sign of disjunction crisis. He looked to Zeth, no words necessarybut Zeth realized, I can't seduce him away, anymore than Owen can! I can't produce pain and terror!

"Jord!" he said. "You'll have to"

Jord pushed past him, his own discomfort forgottenand at that moment Slina came in the back door, prodding before her the undrugged Gen they planned to use to provoke Rimon to take transfer. She zlinned the scene. Sessly was also watching, the shovel still clutched in her hands. As Jord approached the Nortons, Jimmy, sensing another Sime in need, turned with a snarl, gripping his father even tighter.

Zeth zlinned at once what was wrongJord's show-field couldn't mask his needhis secondary system was empty! I've got to do it! I've got to! But he remained frozen. When Zeth didn't take action, Sessly did: she threw the shovel between the two faced-off Simes. It had no effectboth Jimmy and Jord were hyperconscious; they didn't hear the noise, and the passing of an inanimate object was no shock at all.

The clatter startled Slina's Gen. He flared fear, stumbled back and tangled himself in his lead chain, cutting his ankle and sending a shrieking pain through the nager. Jord, already swamped in Jimmy's killmode, flipped over. Zeth had never zlinned it beforegenuine unrepentant killmode possessing both Simes at the same time the pen Gen flared irrational terror and Eph Norton woke to perfectly rational but no less enticing fear.

One or both Simes were going to kill. Instantly, Zeth saw the only choice: even if Jord killed the pen Gen, Jimmy could not be allowed to kill his father! He flung himself at Jimmy, letting his own field resonate to the pain and terror of the pen

Gen. His show-field was infinitely stronger than Eph Norton's. Jimmy dropped his father and lunged at Zeth, who met him with the first killmode transfer he had ever given, riding on the ambience of the room.

Jord began stalking the pen Gen, who cowered back against Slina. She gave the Gen a vicious shove in Jord's direction, just as Zeth fell back to duoconsciousness with Jimmy gasping in his arms. Sessly cried, "No! You can't make him kill!" and leaped to intervene, grasping Jord's arms and forcing herself against him.

The door to Rimon's room flung open, and Uel came running, Hank behind himtoo late to do anything but witness Sessly pressing her lips to Jord's, shock and surprise at the pleasure of first-time transfer ringing through her field. No feardetermination turning to ecstasy.

It's all right! Incredulous relief swelled Zeth's heart. Nobody killedand now I know how to save Dad's life!

But at that very instant, through the open door of Rimon's room came a flare of killmode that paralyzed every Sime in the chapel except the two who had just dropped hypoconscious after transfer. Zeth was the first to recover, as Del's voice rang, "Rimonno!" and Owen started to run through the crowd.

Zeth leaped past Owen, over and around the other Simes and Gens frozen in tableau, zlinning the struggle in the sickroom, Del trying to hold Rimon down as his killmode was triggered by potent fields uncut by the curtains which had been flung aside by the curious.

Then Rimon was grasping Del, calling, "Zethhelp me! Zeth!"and Del's fear flared as he saw Rimon fixed on him. He struggled to free himself as Rimon, with the strength of desperation, dragged him into kill position, drawing and drawing as pain scorched through Del's nerves, burning with the voracious, unfulfilled need

In his desperate struggle to break the contact, Del thrust Rimon's arms away;and Zeth's nerves vibrated to the screech of shock as Del's fingers clenched over the delicate nerves. But it was a deathgrip. As Zeth flung himself into the room, Del was falling, limp, from Rimon's grip.

And Rimon was in agony. "Kadi!" he screamed, thrashing in pain, still in hard need, for Del's selyn could not begin to fill his capacity. Moreover, his injured laterals began to void selynthe precious little in his system draining away as his

son dashed to his side, shoving Del's body away to grasp Rimon in transfer grip. He forcefully entwined their laterals, for Rimon's were out of control, nerve-injured. Rimon continued to call out for Kadi in an agony of need, pain, and guilt.

Finally, Zeth secured his grip on Rimon, and found the fifth transfer point. Rimon drewthe aching void of his need filling and fillingbut never reaching fulfillment. It was not the absence of a satisfactory emotionZeth was giving exactly what he had just learned, but there was no satisfying Rimon now. As fast as Zeth poured selyn into him, it leaked. then pouredaway through his injured nerves.

On the periphery of his awareness, he noticed Owen come in, and fall to his knees in horror over Del's body. Del's body! Dad killed!

That agony hit Zeth just at the moment .when Rimon had drained his secondary system and was ripping away at the natural barrier, making Zeth flinch away in self-preservation as his father's life ebbed away beneath his tentacles.

NoI won't kill. Ever!

He willed his system to flip over into primary mode and let his father drain and drain him. But there came a point of searing crescendo when he could hold it no longer, even to save his father's life, and Fort Freedom's dream. His body convulsed, ripping loose the contact points just as pain ceased in blackness.


Chapter 10 | Channel's Destiny | Chapter 12