© 1999 Betsy Westphal
Edam awoke to bright sunlight and a pounding headache. His head felt like someone was doing carpentry on it, and the sun pouring in the window was only adding to the pain. He tried to roll over in bed, but stopped halfway because moving made the already intolerable headache, if anything, worse. Just then the door opened, and a young --Sime?-- walked in.
"You're awake. That's a good sign," the Sime said. "Drink this, it should help with the headache somewhat," handing Edam a glass containing a milky looking opalescent liquid. "We'll talk in a few minutes," he went on, leaving the room.
Edam took a sip of the liquid. It tasted horrible. But for some reason he thought he should drink it anyway, so he gulped it down as fast as he could so that he wouldn't taste it for too long. His stomach did several slow queasy rolls, and he thought, "Oh no, now I'm going to throw up," but his stomach gradually settled down. When the door reopened a few minutes later, he realized that his headache was better, even though he hadn't noticed until now.
The same young man came in, accompanied by another person, this one a young Gen male. "I'm Kedran, and I'm a Channel. That's Malkim, my Companion," he said, indicating himself and the Gen with unselfconscious tentacle gestures. "We have been taking care of you for the last week. We are very glad you are awake."
It was only then that Edam remembered what he had set out to do. "A week?" he asked. "What happened?"
"We're not entirely sure. We found you outside after a changeover victim attacked you and then came to the Center to get help for you. You were badly injured, but not dead. The changeover victim is a Channel, and because of you, will have a difficult but not impossible time of it," Kedran replied. "What do you remember?"
Edam shifted uncomfortably. He was embarrassed to admit what he remembered. Suicide was simply too shameful an idea to discuss with anyone. And he had so many questions of his own to ask. "Channels? Companions?" And why did he feel so strange? Despite the remnants of the headache, he felt happier and lighter than he had in years. Added to that, he had the strange sense that he was right where he should be.
Kedran smiled, "You have a lot of questions of your own, don't you? Well, Malkim is from out-Territory, and he will be able to answer a lot of them, right?" he turned to the heretofore silent Malkim with a smile.
"That's right. You're from Pine Knoll?" he asked in a deep voice with a familiar accent. "Ive got some cousins there, name of Westburg, I think." Edam started. He had gone to school with seven children named Westburg, all siblings. He hadn't realized, either, how odd the Sime sounded speaking to him until he heard the Gen's voice. He'd never really thought about it before, but of course Simes probably had their own language or languages, so they would have accents in Genlan, he mused.
"I went to school with a bunch of Westburgs, all from the same family. They sure believed in having lots of kids," Edam replied. "How do you know them?"
"Oh, I grew up out-Territory like you. But I moved in-Territory because of my sister. She changed over when she was only eleven, and I wasnt letting her go anywhere by herself because I wasnt sure it was safe. By the time I established I was just as used to being around Simes as Gens. So I stayed. And it turned out that I had a talent for being a Companion, so I asked for training. The pay is good, but thats isnt why I do it. Thats just a side benefit, that I can send money to my folks back home." He smiled, eyes focussed on something only he could see.
"Ive been here a week?" Edam suddenly realized how much he owed the Sime Center and its personnel. They had picked him up off the lawn and taken care of him for a week while he was unconscious. He tried to stand up. "I owe you so much. Is there any work I can do to repay my debt?" But his legs were weak and barely held him as Kedran caught him effortlessly before he fell.
"Youve been here a week so far. But I dont think youre quite ready to start doing strenuous work yet. You were significantly burned, and youve been in bed for a while. Give your body a chance to heal," Kedran said. "Then we can talk about repayment, although you really dont owe us anything. You were injured by a Sime, so if anything, we own you for that injury." Edam allowed himself to be seated on the bed. "You should rest for an hour. And then someone will help you get to the dining hall after that. Take it easy, and youll be back on your feet in a few days," Kedran continued. "Well check on you later."
Kedran and Malkim left the room. As soon as the door closed, Malkim turned to Kedran. "What are we going to do with him? We cant just keep him here. He needs to know what happened." Malkim spoke hurriedly. "He almost killed that kid, channel or not. But by out-Territory standards, hes the victim, not the channel."
Kedran shook his head. "I dont know. He has tremendous potential to become a Companion, given that he controlled that transfer until the last moment, but he isnt stable. Surely you realized that he was trying to commit suicide by Sime, didnt you?"
"I cant zlin, you know that. But I did get the sense that he was hiding something," Malkim replied. "He worries me. He has a certain aptitude, but his emotions are confused, and he doesnt realize the seriousness of what hes done. We should send him back to his own people now, before he hurts anyone else."
"Im not ready to give up on him, and medically he is not ready to leave. Perhaps he can learn to harness that powerful nager. If he can, he could be one of the top Donors around here. Thats worth working for, I think." Kedran stretched his arms upward, extending his handling tentacles toward the ceiling, then began walking down the hallway. "And I think I know where to begin to teach him " his voice trailed off.
"Now Im really worried," Malkim replied as he hurried to catch up with his Channel, who was unconsciously augmenting slightly as he often did when he was thinking about something.
After the Channel and Companion left his room, Edam lay back on the bed and thought about what had happened. "I still don't understand this situation," he mused. He had heard of Channels. He remembered vaguely that they were supposed to be able to stop other Simes from killing every month. "But what is a Companion?" That he couldn't quite figure. The newspaper article hadn't said anything about Companions. And there were some other things he couldn't quite puzzle out either. "Why didn't I die?" was the biggest of those questions. But somehow, although he didn't understand the answer, it seemed as though there was an answer, because he was glad that he hadn't succeeded. "And what happened to ?" his mind shied away from thinking about the child-turned-Sime whom he had intercepted that night. They said something about having a tough time. What was that all about? Someone tapped on the door, and then it opened.
It was Malkim. "Ready for dinner?" he asked. "You should be hungry by now, you haven't eaten a whole lot for the last week or so," he continued. Edam thought about it, and realized that he was hungry, even though he hadn't noticed until now. He stood up, and this time his legs held him, although they were shaky. Malkim offered him an arm, and hanging onto Malkim, Edam walked to the dining hall, which turned out to be a few steps away, on the same floor of the building, which Edam now saw was the ground floor.
Malkim said, "Why don't you sit down and I'll get us both some food, things like what you'd eat at home." And without waiting for Edam's answer, Malkim went off to join the line of people, mainly Gens but with a sprinkling of Simes, who were picking up trays and selecting food from the servers. Edam looked around curiously. The room was not crowded, but there were a number of people in line and others seated at tables eating, some in large boisterous groups, and others sitting by themselves. Most of the Simes, he noted, were seated with one or more Gens. Everyone seemed to get along well. There were conversations going on in Genlan and what Edam guessed had to be Simelan as well. There were even a few small children running in between the tables shrieking happily.
Malkim interrupted his observations by returning with two laden trays of food. Most of it was, as promised, much like things he had grown up eating, but some of it, like the mushroom dish, was unfamiliar. Edam dug in, eating heartily, even of the dishes that he had not encountered before. Malkim smiled "I should have made Kedran join us. Then he would've eaten something despite Turnover."
Edam looked up from his plate. "Turnover? What's that?"
"I forgot that you aren't one of us yet. Turnover -- well, let's just say that it tends to make Simes lose their appetites." Malkim looked uncomfortable. "I guess I should try to clear up some of your confusion."
Edam wondered why Malkim was uncomfortable. Had he done something wrong inadvertently? Or was there some other problem he wasn't aware of at the Sime Center?
Malkim broke into his musings. "You probably have a great many questions. I'd like to answer some of them.
"Yes, I'm pretty confused as to what happened to me," Edam replied.
"You encountered a changeover victim in our grounds. Marta is a Channel, and attacked you in First Need. Somehow, though, you weren't killed, and she is alive as well. She will have some difficulty with her next few transfers, but we think that she will be able to function as a Channel after that." Malkim paused.
"What is a Channel?" Edam replied.
"A Channel is a Sime who has two selyn systems, one for himself and another for gathering, storing and sharing selyn with other Simes. That's what Kedran is. And the child you encountered is one as well, which makes your survival more impressive. Channels have the ability to draw selyn faster than other Simes, and most Gens wouldn't survive a killmode attack by a Channel." Malkim looked away. "To be honest, I don't understand why you were out there that night, and I don't like what I think was your reason." His jaw worked. "You risked not only yourself, but another person, and that person turned out to be a Channel. I don't think you understand the seriousness of that."
Edam, in turn, looked away. "I guess you're right about that. I didn't mean to hurt anyone. I figured that since Simes were killers anyway, everybody knows that, that nobody else would get hurt. I never thought that a Sime would get hurt in killing me." He was silent for a long moment, during which he was aware of the babble of conversations in the background. "If I had thought of that, I wouldn't have done it."
Malkim let out a long breath that he hadn't realized he was holding. "You risked hurting Marta very badly. You see, when a Sime kills, he becomes what we call 'junct', addicted to the kill. In order to break that addiction; he or she suffers terribly. And if that addiction is not broken within the first year after changeover, it cannot be broken at all. Anyone who is junct and older than First Year will die trying to disjunct. And disjunction is even harder for a Channel who has killed. Moreover, disjunct Channels are not allowed to work as Channels, and they are often not allowed to have transfer with a Companion."
Out of all those words Edam picked out a few. "So if I had died, this kid would have been 'junct'? And had a miserable time breaking that addiction to killing?"
"Yes." Malkim sounded angry.
"Oh." Edam paused. "Why are you so mad about it? I'm fine, so is Marta " His voice trailed off. Marta! That name was so much like that of his wife that he choked up and stopped speaking.
"I'm a Companion. That's why I'm upset about it," Malkim replied.
Edam seized that word. "Companion? What does that mean?"
Malkim smiled, making him look younger and happier than he had so far. "It means I work with a Channel. I supply her or her personal Need. I help them do their work. I keep them healthy so they can take care of everyone else."
"What's that like? Transfer, I mean."
Malkim looked at him, "It's like being happier than you've ever been before. It's like finding something you didn't know you were missing until you found it. It's like you've been carrying around this weight and you get to put it down. I can't explain it." His face reflected the remembered bliss.
Edam thought for a moment, then, carefully choosing his words asked "Is it like a choir singing and all the voices are ringing in perfect harmony? And there's lights sparkling somewhere?"
Malkim stared. "Lights? What kind of lights?"
"Little sparkles, like confetti only made out of light. Or snowflakes, maybe, but made out of light " Edam's voice faded away.
"Sparkles? Confetti? When did you see that?" Malkim sounded deeply interested in the answer to the question.
"That night," Edam replied. "It was like I was full of sparkles, too many of them, and I had to get rid of them and while I was pushing them out I heard something that sounded like a choir but it wasn't."
Malkim said, "Come with me. We have to talk to Kedran. Now." He stood up and pulled Edam to his feet, propelling him towards the door of the dining hall.
Malkim led his charge down a corridor floored in polished wood. Edam noted, as he was dragged, that someone had put a lot of loving effort into the interior of this building at some point, but that it had been neglected for years of heavy use. Malkim stopped and stood outside an inconspicuous door. Why didnt he knock? Edam wondered. Then the door opened, and Kedran was standing there. "You are very eager to tell me something," he said. "What is it?"
"Edam and I were talking about what happened, and he said some things that I thought you should hear as well." Malkim went on to encourage Edam to explain what he had felt that night. When Edam finished, there was a long period of silence. Edam stared at his hands, scarred from various minor injuries over the years. Finally, he cleared his throat. "Umph. Malkim explained that I couldve seriously hurt Marta. I didnt know that. I figured that since Simes were killers that a Sime could kill me and that would be that. I wouldnt have done it if I had known somebody else could get hurt. That was the whole point. I didnt want to hurt anyone else; I just wanted to die." There was another long silence. "Id like to make amends for that and for spending a week here without contributing in any way. I have already noticed that there is a lot of work that needs doing around here, and Im sure that there is more that I havent seen yet. Id like to work on fixing up this building as my way of repaying your hospitality." Edam didnt notice that Malkim and Kedran jumped a little at the use of the word needs. "And I think I should apologize to Marta, since I nearly did her a great harm without meaning to."
Malkim looked at Kedran, one eyebrow raised in a silent question. "I think we can arrange for you to see Marta, perhaps tomorrow. As for repayment, that is unnecessary."
"Maybe its unnecessary to you, but its necessary for me," Edam countered. "Where I grew up, an adult did his or her share of the work. Always."
"We can talk about that later. For now, I think you should rest. You are not as well as you think you are," and Kedran shooed then out of his office. "And I have paperwork to do."
Malkim guided Edam back to his room, where Edam agreed that he would rest so that he could get up early and get some work done. But resting didnt preclude making plans, so he asked Malkim to bring him paper and pencils so that he could make some sketches and lists of what he planned to do. Once Malkim saw him safely settled with his drawings and lists of projects to do, he slipped out of Edams room and back to Kedrans office. As usual, the Channel opened the door as he approached it.
"I know how you do that, but it still startles me," he complained. "But that isnt what I wanted to talk to you about. Our out-Territory guest is full of surprises, isnt he?"
"Umm," Kedran said, "and just thinking about those surprises ties me up in knots." He shifted, his face relaxing as the Companion began working on him.
"And thats something that isnt good for either one of us, especially not now, not when Ive finally got you in decent shape to have a good transfer, after having done without for so long " Malkim massaged his Channels shoulders, gently working out the muscle tension that a long day of dispensary and collectorium work, followed by the inevitable paperwork, then the encounter with Edam, had created. "Would it help to tell me why this out-Territory idiot ties you up in knots?"
"He is such a mass of contradictions and confusion. He doesnt know what he wants. He tried to commit suicide, and now he is thinking about fixing our roof!" Kedran tried to fling his hands in the air and gesture with his tentacles, but Malkim gently captured his hands.
"Relax, or youll undo all my good work. And I, for one, am not eager to have transfer with a Channel who is this tense, so I dont want my good work undone." He paused a moment, projecting soothing calm. "Its more than that, something other than his confusion is bothering you. I can tell " He let his voice trail off, making the statement into a question.
"Oh, you see right through me. How you can do that when you cant zlin, I dont understand, but you do," Kedran replied.
"Companions secret," Malkim chuckled. "And youre trying to change the subject."
"Youre right. As usual. I was trying to change the subject, but you are just too persistent to be redirected. Edam, for all of his confusion and contradictions, has the potential to be a Companion to rival you, Malkim. And we are so short on Companions."
"Is that whats bothering you? I dont think thats all of it "
No, youre right, as usual. He is also as close to a matchmate for our little Marta as I ever want to see. And now he wants to talk to her in person. If we dont handle this just right, she is going to end up with a dependency on top of her understandable confusion. The only good thing in the situation is that he survived, so that we arent dealing with a Channel who will have to endure disjunction, and then be unable to work as a Channel, and probably be forever denied her birthright of direct transfer."
"What a shendi-fleckin mess."
Malkim and Kedran sat for a few moments in silence. "Do we"
"Should we " both of them spoke simultaneously. "Do we send him back to the Gens to live out his life? Or do we try to salvage him?" Kedran asked.
"He felt something maybe slil, maybe not but something. I think we owe him a chance to be a Companion," Malkim said.
"Of course you would say that, wouldnt you?" Kedran smiled. "But I feel the same way. The problem is that he isnt sure what he wants, and we are going to have to keep him here, somehow, without violating his free will, until and unless he realizes what he wants. Then we can offer him training. No Gen can be forced to be a donor or Companion. They have to want it."
"No, Kedran, youre right about all but that last statement. They have to need it. And I think he does, I just dont think he realizes it yet."
"I hope youre right. My nerves can only take so much of him in his current state, so I hope he realizes it quickly."
[go on to Part III]
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