Zeth woke at dawn. Something new had happened to him while he slept. He knew that the sun was just below the horizon. He knew exactly where he was—not just that he was in Abel Veritt's house, but where the house was, in a strange new perspective.
Beside him, Owen slept soundly. He lay still so he wouldn't disturb his friend. He could zlin the whole house without moving—or right out through the walls. The ambient nager was no longer a mere blur of interesting patterns. He could sort out the fields of Simes and Gens, noting them as individuals, even though he could not yet put names to many of them. The fields no longer ran together in foreshortened layers; he knew exactly where each person was.
He zlinned the room next door. Empty. Across the hall . . , Margid Veritt, asleep. Out in the main room, some Gens slept in exhaustion. One field he knew: Lon Carson. Yes, he remembered vaguely, they had given sleeping room to several uninjured men from Mountain Chapel.
Other memories of yesterday—and very early this morning– suddenly returned. Mama's dead! He sat up in shock, and Owen stirred and muttered in his sleep. Kadi was dead, and Rimon very ill. Abel had seen Rimon go into convulsions like that before; he had known just what to do. Then Uel Whelan had come. The rest was a blur.
Had Rimon survived? Abel would know. He located Abel in the kitchen, his field still and controlled. Zeth slid out of bed, trying not to wake Owen. For the first time in his life, he tiptoed silently through the house without tripping or knocking something over. Not one of the men in the main room stirred as he passed.
Abel Veritt was seated at the kitchen table, his chin resting
on his folded hands in an attitude of prayer. But the old man's field did not suggest peace. Something dark and tense dominated Abel's nager—something not there last night.
When Zeth entered the kitchen, the dark nageric cloud retreated, but didn't dissipate as he looked up and answered before Zeth could ask, "Rimon is alive, Zeth. He went through worse than this before you were born, when he was learning . . . not to kill." The darkness flared and retreated at the words. He added, gravely, "It will be very hard for him without your mother. It will be hard for all of us—but I don't have to tell you that you and your father are like family here. No—you are family."
Abel prepared two glasses of tea. As he put Mrs. Veritt's wooden tea box back on the shelf, he took down the delicate china container, and placed it in the center of the table.
Duoconscious, Zeth studied the container. It had a single white glaze on the inside, but the outside had been glazed with two other colors, and had a tiny delicate tracing of gold. Incredible luxury for Fort Freedom. But what caught Zeth's attention was the way Abel's field was distorted through the various layers of glaze. Zeth moved his hands, his laterals perceiving from various angles—•
He pulled himself back to duoconsciousness, annoyed at drifting off again, and shook his head. "I can't seem to keep my mind on anything!"
"That's normal," said Abel. "You're rediscovering the world. Thank God there's no guilt to interfere with your development, Zeth. Ask Uel—I suppose he'll take over your training until Rimon's on his feet again. I'm afraid you'll be put right to work."
"I don't mind. I feel fine this morning."
"You recover quickly—just like your father."
Margid Veritt came in, tying a crisp white apron around her waist. Zeth recalled that he'd run away from her just before the attack, and babbled an apology.
"You did what you had to do, Zeth. I've lived with Abel long enough to understand that sometimes a man has to follow the inclination God sends him."
She picked up the china container. Abel reached out and covered her hand with his. "Leave it."
"But it's empty, Abel."
"Use it. Put tea in it, Margid. That's why I got it for you.
All these years you've said the children might break it—but there are no children in our house any longer."
Margid stared at him, and he added, "For me. Don't you think it's time I got to see you use it?" She nodded silently, poured the tea into the china container, and placed it once more in the middle of the table.
Owen was soon up, Margid busy putting food before him. "You must eat too, Zeth," she fussed contentedly. "You're still growing."
Owen's hunger inspired Zeth's, but after a few mouthfuls he didn't want anymore—and he still had half a slice of Margid's delicious bread. He reached for the jam. Owen dropped his cereal spoon and grasped Zeth's arm. "Hey—I didn't bring you through changeover so you could poison yourself!"
Strawberry jam. For the first time, Zeth realized there were some things he had lost by becoming Sime. Not just some of his favorite foods, but any real pleasure in eating. There were new pleasures to savor . . . but he wondered if many Simes felt nostalgic for the old.
Lon Carson joined them, asking, "Marji still asleep?"
"Oh, no, Lon," answered Abel. "She slept about two hours, and then went back to work. You were wonderful with her—I think you did her as much good as her Companion."
"She's my daughter and I deserted her when—"
"You were there last night. The first time a patient died under her care—" He shook his head. "Having her father
there, accepting her, was as important as anything Trina could do.".
The other men from Mountain Chapel did not join them in the kitchen, but accepted the food Margid took in to them. They would leave this morning, along with most of the other uninjured men from Mountain Chapel. Many of the ranchers had been killed or injured, leading the charge against the Raiders. Glian Lodge, though, turned up in the Veritt kitchen, a bit leery of the Simes gathered there. He was seated between Owen and Lon Carson.
When Del Erick, Slina, and Uel Whelan arrived together, carrying extra chairs, Zeth realized that this was a planned meeting—but no one suggested he and Owen should leave. The conversation was conducted in English—in which, if possible, Slina's grammar was even worse than in Simelan. She wasn't embarrassed; she spoke fluently, if inventively.
Uel's report, from the channels, came first, so he could get back to Rimon's side. Zeth's father, he reported, was stable, but still unconscious. "And that puts me out of commission until I dare leave Rimon for more than a few minutes at a time." His mouth set grimly. "We lost three Gens during the night, and five Simes. At least a dozen more people ought to have a channel in attendance, and we can't spare one! Marji's trying to handle the Gen ward with just Trina and Wik. Nobody's attending the Simes at all right now, till I get back and relieve Jord with Rimon. He and Anni are working together better than usual, but we all know Jord's pattern."
"I'll come and bring him home as soon as we're finished here," said Abel. "How many people are left to care for?"
"A few are up and about," said Uel. "Mr. Lodge, here, insisted on getting up this morning."
"I'm fine," the rancher said, although Zeth could zlin the throb of his injury.
"Your friend Mr. Norton can be moved out of the infirmary later today, but neither of you is in shape to ride for home yet. Three other Gens won't require channel's supervision anymore, leaving twenty-one in the chapel. The Simes are recovering rapidly—fifteen left the infirmary this morning. That leaves forty-three patients." He shook his head. "And we're out of fosebine."
Slina put in, "Ain't none at my place—ain't no place no more. Filthy lorshes burnt it down. Winter settin' in—"
"I know," said Abel. "We'll get to your report, Slina, but let Uel finish so he can go back to Rimon."
"That's it, except for the three Raiders we captured. Two died in the night, but the kid's still alive, screaming with disorientation. Without fosebine or a Companion to spare, there's nothing to do for him but confine him in that back room. Oh, yeah—we'll have a problem in the Gen ward with Hapen Young's transfer burn. His last dose of fosebine will wear off about noon, and he'll have that sick headache for days."
"But, thank God, he survived," said Abel, adding for the benefit of Glian Lodge and Lon Carson, ' 'Hapen established as a Gen only six weeks ago. He hadn't even donated to a channel yet, but he somehow managed to keep from resisting when one of the Raiders got to him."
"Resisting?" asked Lodge.
"That's how Gens get killed," Uel explained. "They resist
letting a Sime take their selyn, and the forceful drain burns out their nervous systems. Maybe we can move some insulating curtains from around Maddok Bron to insulate poor Hapen."
"How is Mr. Bron?" asked Zeth.
"Your father brought him through the immediate crisis. If we can keep him from dying of secondary infection, he'll recover. Abel, work with him, all right?"
"What can I do? I'm no channel."
"You can pray with him. You speak his language. Oh, yes, someone ought to be keeping a close eye on Bekka Trent. She'll be approaching crisis soon."
"I'll remind people," said Abel.
The grim statistics soaked through Zeth's numbness. Fort Freedom might not survive. There just weren't enough channels.
When Uel had gone, Del Erick reported that both the New Farris Homestead and his own home had been set afire. The stone walls of the New Homestead were still standing, but the outbuildings were gone. "My horses, and Fort Freedom's sheep and cattle, are scattered all over the range. I set some of my men to milking the cows that had come back to the New Homestead—they didn't much care for the job, but we've got Gens and children to feed."
"Good work, Del," said Abel. "Shelter is a problem. We've lost the town, your place, and Rimon's. We have what's left of Fort Freedom, and the Old Homestead. It seems best to rebuild right here before the winter really sets in—and try to keep the mixture of people stable by shuttling some out to the Old Homestead."
Zeth noted the careful wording. Obviously, no one had informed their rescuers from out-Territory that mingled with the Simes who didn't kill were those who had to kill occasionally, and those from town who killed every month.
Lon Carson said something similar to what Zeth had been thinking when he resurfaced into awareness. "We can spare some supplies, maybe even a milk cow."
"We can contribute," said Glian Lodge for the ranchers. "Owen, the next time you—"
Zeth managed not to squirm, and Owen quickly answered, "I won't be crossing the border anymore, Uncle Glian. But we'll find other couriers, and you're always welcome here."
Zeth's blur of relief ended only when the ambient nager shifted with the departure of Lodge and Carson. Then the
group around the table could tackle the most serious problem: the lack of Gens for those who had to kill.
Slina's Gens had been brought to Fort Freedom before the attack and sheltered in three houses near the wall. Their nager had attracted the Raiders; they had smashed the wall and killed more than half the Gens by setting fire to the houses to drive them out. Others had died in the fires. "We got a two-week supply left," said Slina. "That's a two-week normal supply. Sick Simes, they need extra kills. Abel, we'll be out in ten days, easy."
"I sent Risko over to Ardo Pass this morning. Ol' Mack owes me a favor, but no way is it gonna stretch to a month's supply, 'specially this time of year."
"Then," said Abel very quietly, "until you have replenished your supply, we cannot allow any Gens to be killed."
"Hey, now," Slina began, "there's no way—!" Then she stopped. "You mean everybody should—? The channels—?"
"Slina, that is the only way—unless you want to see Simes mad with need cross the border to kill the very people who just saved our lives?"
"Shen," she murmured, staring at her tight-clasped hands, handling tentacles wrapped protectively around them. "I don't think I could stand—" Her field ached with revulsion.
'No one is asking you to disjunct," said Abel. "This is a severe emergency. Everyone must accept channel's transfer once, twice at the most. But we must have your permission to have the channels draw selyn from your Gens today—that way, they'll produce a new supply. And we must have your cooperation in persuading the townspeople."
"You gonna try to convince 'em to take up your ways?"
"Slina," Abel said gently, "have we ever tried to persuade you?"
"Naw," she admitted. "That's why I trust you with my kid." She sighed. "It gives me the creeps to think it. But if anybody knows how hard it is to be sure everyone who needs a Gen can get one, it's a Gendealer. Shen and shid! This coulda happened at least five times since Rimon come here, 'cept you people come and healed my sick Gens and stretched the use of healthy ones. I owe you. The townspeople owe you. I'll convince 'em. Go ahead and have the channels take all the selyn they can from my Gens." But Zeth could feel her horrified shudders as she made the commitment.
When the meeting was over, Zeth and Owen went to the chapel, where Rimon was shielded in one of the back rooms. In the other room was the young Freehand Raider. Being moved while unconscious had distorted his Sime sense of precisely where he was in the world—the new sense Zeth had awakened to that very morning. Owen put his arm about Zeth's shoulders as they passed, to be sure Zeth did not get caught up in the boy's nager.
Owen remained precisely at Zeth's left shoulder as they entered Rimon's room. Channel and Companion, they could thus refrain from disturbing the nageric balance of the sickroom.
Rimon Farris lay unconscious, Uel Whelan beside him, while Hank Steers lay sound asleep on a pallet on the floor. Yet even in sleep Hank's field was a steady support for Uel.
With the dirt and soot washed off his face, Rimon appeared dead, pale, his breathing so shallow as almost not to disturb the covers that were heaped across his middle. His blistered legs were smeared with shiny salve. Pain penetrated even Rimon's unconscious state.
Last night Rimon had been vigorous, animated. Now Zeth could find almost no trace of his father in what he saw or what he zlinned. Zeth had been relieved to find Fort Freedom still standing and all the channels alive and working,, but he realized as he watched the still form of his father, The battle isn't over; it's just begun.
Wishing he could help, but glad Uel was there to take the responsibility, Zeth moved closer, automatically sliding into healing mode. Uel said, "Zeth—where did you learn that?"
"From Dad, last night."
"Of course. Someone said they put you right to work, poor kid. And we'll have to work you some more. We're out of almost all our medicines—Mr. Lansing brought his last aloe plant for Rimon's burns. He and Len Deevan are going out to the Old Homestead to harvest mushrooms today. Then they'll head down south to sell them for medicines and herbs. In the meantime, all we've got are channels."
"What do you want us to do, Uel?". asked Owen.
"Relieve Jord. He's going to' try to give a couple of transfers this morning—after that, do as much as you can with the Simes. Owen, you keep Zeth doing what he's assigned, and not trying anything else."
"We'll manage," said Zeth, trying to hide his apprehension.
Just as they came out of Rimon's room, Glian Lodge
emerged from the main room of the chapel, half leading Eph Norton. "Owen," said the rancher, "can you show me the Deevan house? They told us we could stay there."
"Yeah—probably in Len's room, while he's away. It's the house with the big apple tree—about five houses down the street."
They had to raise their voices over the moans coming from the room where the young Raider was. Suddenly the incoherent shouts turned to words: "Papa! No, Papa, no!" A thud, as the boy hurled himself against the barred door.
Simultaneously, Zeth realized that the boy was shouting in English and that Eph Norton's field had suddenly gone wild. "No!" he groaned. "Jimmy! Oh, my God. Oh, my God!"
Owen was trying to step in front of the door to stop the flaring Gen fields from irritating the boy inside, and at the same time maneuver Zeth to where he was shielded, too.
Eph Norton took the move as if the boys were trying to bar him from the room, demanding hoarsely, "Who's in there?"
"One of the Raiders," said Zeth. "A young boy—can't be many months past changeover."
"A young boy? Jimmy?"
As if in answer, the boy inside the room cried, "Papa! Please, Papa! Don't lock me in the barn! Let me out!"
Norton was white with shock. "That's my son! Dear God, why?"
Glian Lodge was staring at Zeth and Owen. "A Raider? What can you do with him? He's a raving monster."
Zeth said, "I don't know what we're going to do with him, but we can't just murder him, can we?" The way I was almost murdered. He forced the thought aside.
"I meant to," said Norton. "I locked him in the barn, went for my gun—he broke out! I never saw him again. It wasn't three weeks later I met Owen, and he told me about– I could have sent him—" He broke into sobs.
"Eph, you can't be sure that's Jimmy," said Lodge.
"It's Jimmy. I want to see him."'
"No," Zeth and Owen chorused, Zeth's sympathy for the boy's situation putting him a beat behind. Then Owen continued, "He can't help himself, Mr. Norton. He's been living like a Freehand Raider for months. Now he has an injured lateral and he's hallucinating. It could make him do anything,"
Glian Lodge said, "You don't have to guard the door,
boys. I'll see that Eph doesn't do anything stupid. Come on now—if it is Jimmy, you can't help him now." He looked to Zeth. "Do I understand right that his upset will upset the boy?"
"So the best thing you can do is let me put you back to bed. You were only supposed to walk down the street." As he led the man out, he added, "We'll talk to this Abel Veritt. He seems a good sort—you even forget he's a Sime, y'know?"
The Raider boy—Jimmy Norton, apparently—continued to sob. Grimly, Zeth led the way out through the chapel. There were only a few Gens left now, none seeming critical to Zeth. Despite heavy curtains hung about one bed, Zeth felt the aching and sick headache which identified Hapen Young's transfer burn. Without fosebine, the boy would suffer, but he'd survive.
The insulated hangings around Maddok Bron's bed were turned back so that Marji Carson could sit beside him and still keep an eye on the other patients. Trina Morgan looked tired, but was awake. Bron was sleeping.
A good smell permeated the air, and Zeth looked up to see some women wheeling in a cart with a huge pot. As they began handing out bowls of soup, Maddok Bron came awake. "Good morning, Mr. Bron," Zeth said, though it was almost noon.
Bron forced an unconvincing smile. When he tried to lift his head, a spasm of pain shot through his lower back. Marji said, "Don't move. Let us help you, Mr. Bron."
"Marji? They told me—I didn't believe it. God bless you, child, and forgive me for thinking you a demon."
"You couldn't know," she replied. "Even Mama didn't know. But everything's all right now." She blinked back tears. "You're hungry. That's a sign you're getting better."
Cautiously, Bron asked, "You can read my thoughts?"
"No, only feelings."
"A gift. And you're a healer, too." Zeth felt the man's awe, akin to his own—but while Zeth was perceiving his familiar world in a new way, Bron was encountering a world he had never dreamed possible. "So much to think about—"
"Not today," said Zeth. "You're much better, but you're not well. Eat, and then go back to sleep."
Bron looked from Marji to Zeth and back again. "Children
tending the injured? Are things that bad, then?" He tried to peer out into the main room.
"We're not children; we're channels," Marji said firmly. "Don't worry—Mountain Chapel will manage till you're well. Daddy and some other men are going home today. They'll take care of everything. You concentrate on healing."
As Bron had used up his strength, he allowed Marji and Trina to prop him up with pillows. He didn't flinch when Marji extended handling tentacles to steady the bowl of soup, but ran a hesitant finger over one of her dorsals, saying in a bemused tone, "I don't understand. I must pray and meditate, for there is too much I do not understand."
Zeth had not meant to stay so long in the chapel. As he and Owen hurried out the front, they met a gruesome sight: rows of dead bodies laid out on the cold ground, not even blankets to cover them. Four Simes were digging a trench in the unused portion of the cemetery, while the ranchers and the men of Mountain Chapel loaded onto wagons the bodies of their own dead.
Zeth flinched, and backed against Owen, who could hardly soothe Zeth because he was shivering in horror himself. Zeth did not see his mother's body. Someone had taken it to prepare it, as he saw people taking other bodies off now . . . and one being brought back, wrapped in fine linen cloth. There was no time to make coffins.
Abel Veritt, crossing from his house toward the Sime infirmary, met them. "I didn't think," he said. "I should have warned you."
"Mama?" Zeth asked hesitantly.
"She is in heaven, Zeth. Her earthly remains are being prepared . . . but that is not your job, son. We all have other duties, even before we can hold the memorial service."
Abel's field was comforting. Zeth felt Owen choke back tears as he squared his shoulders and followed the two Simes along the path lined with corpses.
Abel took Zeth and Owen into the Brandon house, now turned into an infirmary for the most seriously wounded Simes.
Jord Veritt looked as bad as Zeth had ever seen him, older than his father, eyes sunk so far into their perpetual dark, circles that his-face appeared a skull. His field felt very different from those of Rimon, Uel, or Marji—a peculiar sense of precarious balance, as if his systems held only a
tenuous grasp on their selyn, and his control might at any moment dissolve into explosive release.
But he was working, Wik at his side, Anni Steers sleeping in the armchair in the corner.
"Jord," said Abel, "you've done enough now. You may be needed elsewhere later, so you must save your strength."
Jord gave a bitter smile. "You mean I'd better not get sick myself. It's all right, Father—I know my limits." He looked at Zeth and Owen. "You're supposed to relieve me?"
"I learned to balance fields last night," said Zeth. "I can do healing mode. Let's hope nothing else is required."
"Show me," said Jord, and Zeth went into healing mode as Rimon had taught him. "Good," said Jord, "but you're projecting for Gens, as if you were in need. For Simes, you have to pretend to be Gen. Like this."
Zeth strove to mesh fields, but the anguished fear that underlay Jord's projection of repletion repelled him. Forcing himself, he managed to imitate the repletion only. Jord said, "That's it, Zeth—keep that up, and you'll have everyone comfortable." Zeth realized that Jord couldn't tell the difference between their fields–night and day to Zeth. If another channel couldn't tell, he decided, then the Simes who were to benefit probably couldn't either.
Soon Zeth's mind was occupied with the new experience of balancing Sime fields as opposed to Gen fields, Owen drawing him back every so often to be sure he didn't miss a crisis. There were other Simes caring physically for the patients; fortunately, nothing happened that Zeth and Owen together couldn't handle. It would be weeks before he knew enough to realize how badly an untrained channel might have mishandled an emergency; on that day he felt proud and grown up, totally in control.
Late in the afternoon, Uel Whelan came in, checked out the ambient, and said, "Zeth, you've been a tremendous help—I think we dare leave this ward without a channel now." They left the house in charge of one of the Sime women.
Zeth was tired again, but by leaning on Owen's field he was able to walk back to the Veritt house, where another conference was in progress. He sat with a glass of tea in his hands while Owen, who hadn't eaten since breakfast, consumed a huge bowl of vegetable stew, but he came out of his
weariness when Wik came in. "Marji wants you to come," he said. "Rimon's awake."
Zeth hurried eagerly to the sickroom, but when he entered his elation vanished. Although Rimon's pain was the first thing to shock Zeth, even worse was the fact that Rimon didn't mind it. Then came an even greater horror: Rimon was in need—and he didn't feel it!
Rimon looked at Zeth casually, without interest. Zeth wasn't even sure he recognized him. "Dad?"
"Zeth. How are you?" It was a polite formality.
"I'm fine," Zeth answered. "Mr. Bron's better—you saved his life. The people from Mountain Chapel—" Rimon wasn't listening. His eyes drifted away from Zeth's, but he wasn't zlinning. "Abel will be here soon," Zeth tried. No response.
Uel put an arm about Zeth's shoulders and led him out. "Your father is still in shock, Zeth. Jord was like that after Willa died. It will take a long time. He can't even grieve– he's too close to need."
"Who's going to—?" Zeth began in panic, hating himself for being glad that Owen was too low-field to provide the transfer Rimon would soon need.
"We'll manage," Uel said firmly. "Zeth, your father's been a fighter all his life. He's the first Sime ever to stop killing. He's not going to .give up now . . . and do you really-think that if he tried, Abel would let him?"
But Zeth could not shake off the feeling that even Abel Veritt could not make his father want to go on. Abel spent hours with Rimon, talking, praying. Each time Zeth walked in on them, however, he would zlin the dark cloud upon Abel's nager. Did Abel fear that Rimon might be reduced to lord's state, living for his duties, a life without hope or joy?
The morning of the funeral service, Jord and Uel together got a transfer into Rimon. "He'll be all right for a couple of weeks," Uel told Zeth. "We forced him, the way we have to force Jord sometimes. But maybe now he'll fight that infection. What he really needs is a good transfer from a Gen."
As if reading Zeth's mind, Uel said, "No, not Owen. Zeth, your father actually expressed interest this morning, the first sign of recovery. He said he won't touch Owen—you're not to attempt to do with a substitute until you're fully trained. Even if I didn't agree, which I do, I'd take Rimon's advice about what's best for you, Zeth."
His own fears relieved, Zeth asked, "Then who?"
"Hank, probably. I manage when he gives transfer to Abel. Marji and I are pretty close in our cycles, and she volunteered Trina for me without batting an eye." He shook his head. "She doesn't seem nearly as dependent on her Companion as the rest of us, maybe because she had First Transfer from a channel? There's so much we don't know!"
And I thought Dad had found out everything about channels!
Both Rimon and Maddok Bron developed infections. Bron's kidney infection, though, responded to the herbalist's concoctions combined with fosebine. Slina's man, Risko, brought back only ten Gens from Ardo Pass, but at least he picked up a good supply of fosebine. After that, the chapel cleared quickly . . . arid it was time for the memorial service.
The bodies had been buried days before, before the ground froze. The cold spell that had come in with the raid had now lasted almost a week; people shivered in their warm coats, and started talking about early snow.
What they got was freezing rain, coating the half-unleaved trees with ice and making both walking and riding treacherous. Zeth's dog Patches came in from herding sheep, his feet bleeding from sharp ice trapped in the fur between his toes. Although he was given a rug to lie on by the fire, when Zeth and Owen left for the memorial service, Patches insisted on going along. He left them as they approached the chapel . . . to lie on Kadi's grave.
Zeth stared after his dog. "How could he know? He wasn't even here."
The benches were back in the chapel except for a space left for the pallets of those too weak to sit up through the service. Lamps shone on the memorial to the martyrs to the cause of Sime~Gen unity. The last name was still Teri Lay ton, killed in the raid in which Owen lost his arm. Although the stone slab was large, Zeth wondered if it would be possible to get all the new names onto it ... and if they did,, how long it would be before they'd require another monument, and men another, and another—
He pulled his mind away from the thought, zlinning the people in the chapel. The Simes from town were off in one corner toward the back, insulated from the rest of the congregation by high-field Simes interspersed with Gens who could handle them if necessary. Otherwise, the people of Fort Freedom took their usual positions.
Their usual positions. Although Zeth knew why people never took the same place twice in the chapel, this was the first time he could perceive the fields that dictated the arrangements.
Today, those fields were somber. With all the work to provide shelter for survivors, to care for the injured, to prevent an accidental kill, there had been no time for grieving.
Rimon Farris was still in the insulated room at the back of the chapel. His burns had developed such an infection the channels had decided not to move him, but if two doors were left open, he could hear everything. If he cares, thought Zeth.
The severely wounded were the last to be brought in. Maddok Bron was among them—he was laid on the floor, near where Zeth and Owen were sitting. Only Gens were now left recuperating; the Simes had either died or recovered. Slina, well past turnover, jarred the ambient as she sat down behind Zeth and Owen. She had taken over care of the sick Gens as soon as they could forgo a channel's supervision. Certainly their local Gendealer knew how to care for Gens, but Zeth wondered what the people from Mountain Chapel would have thought had they known the occupation of their rough-spoken nurse.
Del Erick slid onto the bench beside Slina, reaching out to squeeze Owen's shoulder to tell him he was there.
Change was the subject of Abel Veritt's eulogy. He skipped over the details of the long struggle against the kill lest questions be raised in the minds of their out-Territory guests, and spoke of the breaking up of families when Gen children had to be sent across the border.
"We prayed for their safety," he said. "We never dared hope to meet them again in this world—but God has more than answered our prayers. Our children have come home– and brought us new friends, who risked their lives to save ours. Since the day He sent Rimon and Kadi Farris to Fort Freedom, God has given us cause after cause to rejoice."
He paused, looking out over the assembly. "Today we gather in mourning for those who died defending our way of life. It is right to grieve—and to question. Only by questioning can we receive answers. Why should we lose so many we love? We must be willing to die for what we believe in. Of those willing—some will die.
"All of us have lost a friend or relative—and everyone, even those who never knew her, has lost Kadi Farris. Kadi
taught Rimon how to live without killing. She was the first . . , because she was willing to lay down her life to save Rimon's. God did not claim her sacrifice at that time.
"And Rimon—how often has he risked his life for you? To save my life he gave up his own selyn—and did not die. And—for the first time—I did not kill. Surely no one who remembers that day can doubt that God is guiding us. Why He brought the Raiders here—"
Zeth, who had so often heard Abel Veritt turn terrible events into occasions for rejoicing, noticed the reaction of the out-Territory Gens. Their sorrow was tinged with curiosity, perhaps a bit of resentment. Except for Maddok Bron. Bron listened intently, his field falling into synchronization with those Simes closest to him, the way a Companion's did. He didn't resist emotionally, like most of the other Gens.
A painful, harsh sorrow swept through the ambient nager, and Zeth surfaced long enough to hear Abel calling those who had died martyrs, encouraging the cleansing grief that would allow people to accept and go on. Beside Zeth, Owen dissolved into wracking sobs. Del leaned forward and put his arms around his son. Zeth saw Jana, sitting on the raised benches of the children's choir, trying to keep composure. But soon tears were coursing down her cheeks.
Zeth let himself become hyperconscious again, lost in a world of nageric patterns. The Gens joined in the outpouring of emotion. Slina, need preventing her from full response, sat gloomily awash in other people's grief. Her little girl broke away from the family she'd been left with and climbed onto Slina's lap. Her mother held her tightly, as if someone might try to take her away. Abel Veritt's orchestration of the service was long-practiced, but far from cynical. When the grief had been vented, he went back to the subject of change. "Change for the better," he insisted. "There is never progress without loss in this world—but we have not lost those we love. Surely they wait for us, even now. Their task in this life is finished; God has further progress to ask of us."
Zeth lost track of Abel's speech again as he read the astonishing change in the ambient. By the time the choir sang out again, an emotional healing had taken place in that chapel as effective as the physical healing done by the channels. What would Fort Freedom ever do without Abel Veritt?
When they stood to leave, Owen whispered, "Zeth—are you all right?"
"Of course I'm all right. Why wouldn't I be?"
Del also studied him with an air of concern. "Zeth—don't deny your grief over your mother's death. It's not a time to put on a brave front, son."
"I'm not," said Zeth, quite astonished. Then they were moving out of the chapel, conversation becoming difficult as they worked their way through the crowd.
At the back, off to one side, stood the Raider boy, Jimmy Norton, his face streaked with tears. On either side of him stood tough Simes from town, but the boy didn't look in any shape to make trouble. Even a few months of the harsh Raider's existence had taken their toll. He was emaciated, his hair stringy, although he was well scrubbed and dressed in clean clothes. Zeth had overheard the women discussing how to rid him of lice.
As Zeth passed, Owen moved automatically to Zeth's left, as if to protect him—and the boy saw the stump of Owen's missing arm. A scream of utter terror broke from him.
"The one-armed Gen! The wer-Gen! Don't let him kill me!"