© 2000 Betsy Westphal
Edam woke again to blinding sunlight, but this time without the headache of the previous morning. There was a glass sitting on the table, with a note propped against it that read "When you wake up, drink this." The glass contained the same opalescent liquid he remembered from yesterday. For some reason he didn't question the reason why he should continue taking medication. Something, somewhere told him the headache would be back if he didn't do as he was told.
Looking around, he saw that someone had not only left the glass for him, but also a change of clothes that looked as though they would fit. He thought he remembered the way to the dining rooms, but just as he was about to leave the room, he heard a tap on the door. "How do they do that?" he wondered vaguely.
He opened the door and Malkim walked in and asked "Are you ready for breakfast?" He thought about it for a moment, and realized he didn't even remember eating yesterday, let alone what he had eaten, and that yes, he was hungry.
Malkim took him to the same dining area as before. The Sime at the counter dished up an assortment of pastries, cooked cereal and fruit onto his tray. "I can't eat all that," Edam protested. Malkim laughed, "Oh, yes, you can. A Sime can always tell when you're hungry."
Over breakfast, Edam said, "I guess you're right. I did eat almost all of it. But breakfast just reminds me of what is concerning me. I owe everyone so much here. You saved my life. Not only that, but you've given me back the chance to really live. Before, I just wished I were dead. Now, I know I'm going to go on living. I don't know why, yet, but I know I am. How can I possibly repay that?"
Malkim looked thoughtful but didn't say anything for a moment. After thinking about it, he replied, "You don't have to repay us. That's why the Sime Centers are here, to help people, " he replied. "Besides, by saving lives, we hope that attitudes towards Simes will gradually change, here, and that fewer children will die in changeover, or have to disjunct and suffer through knowing they harmed someone close to them in First Need."
Edam looked down at his empty plate. "Well, of course, if I ever have the chance, I'll try my best to make sure that kids know they should come here if they are the right age and have any signs. Neighbors should not have to shoot neighbors' kids." He cleared his throat. "Umm, but that's not what I mean. I always hated that. And if we'd known any other way, I think a lot of my neighbors would've felt the other way.
"No, I mean I want to repay this particular Sime Center and the people that work here. The other is just doing what's right. But I owe you and Kedran, and everyone else here, including him," he pointed at the Sime who was working serving food. "But all I know is wood." He pushed his chair back from the table. "So I am going to fix some things around here. I've already noticed there's a leak in the roof." He pointed at the ceiling, where there was a dark stain on the paint. "And half the tables in here wobble, and there are some sticky doors that should be planed down, and maybe I can make some furniture "
Malkim felt like he was holding the reins of a very energetic horse that was trying to run. Edam got up and said, "If this place is laid out the way I think it is " and headed out the door, down the hallway towards the back, and through a door into the service area of the building. "Yes, it is. I figured Id find the tools back here someplace," he said as he stuck his head into yet another closet. He started picking up tools and distributing them in the loops and pockets of his trousers, then headed purposefully back to the dining area, Malkim trailing after, still wondering what he had gotten himself into.
Two days later, the entire staff of the Center was wondering what they had gotten themselves into. Gens, well, a Gen, pounding nails. The same Gen climbing up on the roof and pounding nails. The smell of wood permeated the air, and sawdust was tracking everywhere, even into private quarters. The renSimes, in particular, were very distressed by all of this. They were living constantly fearing an encounter with Gen pain broadcast on the ambient that never seemed to happen. The man didn't hit himself with the hammer. It was almost worse, waiting for him to do so, than it would have been to endure the event and get it over with. Pieces of furniture with comforting wobbles disappeared from public spaces, to reappear a few hours later no longer wobbling. Even the transfer suites were not sacred. The couches there, which had been used for years before they were sent to this Sime Center, vanished mysteriously when no one was in a given room, reappearing the same way, only repaired. The final straw was when, late the second afternoon, Malkim found himself cornered by Edam.
"I've been looking for you all day. I fixed the couches in those work rooms of yours, but I had an idea that I could make a better couch design if I knew what they were used for," Edam greeted him. "I mean, I know what the sign says, but .
" He paused momentarily. "So I thought that if you and Kedran were to demonstrate the positioning maybe I could come up with something that would be more comfortable." He took Malkim by the arm and started towing him in the direction of Kedran's office. "I don't want to bother Kedran unless you're free too, and I get the feeling he isn't very comfortable with me anyway, so why don't we go talk to him now?"
Before Malkim could protest, he found himself in front of Kedrans office door. And before he could try to move away from the door, Kedran opened it.
Edam dragged Malkim in, talking enthusiastically about more comfortable, more suitable couches for the transfer suite. Neither Malkim nor Kedran could get a word in edgewise as Edam talked, waving his hands in the air. Before they knew what hit them, they were out of the office and headed down the hallway to the transfer suites.
" And Im sure that two different designs, one for collections and one for dispensary use, will prove the most satisfactory " Edam continued as he opened the door to the reception area that served the individual transfer suites. "Now, if you dont mind demonstrating how collections are done, I can get an idea of what would be the most comfortable and supportive design. I will build a model of what I think will work and then test it here, and if it works out, I will build several more of them. How many do you think would be helpful?"
Malkim said, "Im not sure--" but before he could finish his thought, Edam turned to the channel.
"Well, then how many collections are done in an average day? And how long does each one take?" He took out a pencil and a notepad from one of his many pockets and waited for the answers.
Kedran opened and closed his mouth several times without saying a word. Malkim moved to stand closer to him, silently providing a supportive field to help Kedran avoid the effects of the enthusiasm that had to be radiating from the out-Territory Gen as he waited for an answer to his question.
"This is a smallish Center. About thirty general class donors pass through here on an average day, during a sixteen-hour period. Two of the transfer suites are normally used for collections," Malkim answered.
"So then if you wanted to use your space more efficiently, you could use one room and schedule it more tightly, but since this place is big, you dont have to, right? And at the moment, the Center only has a use for a few of the improved couches I am planning. What about the dispensary?"
"About the same, I would say." Even with his Companions support, Kedran looked a little bewildered and buffeted, so Malkim stepped up his nageric support. Edam looked from one to the other.
"Somethings wrong, isnt it? I was upsetting you, arent I?" Edam looked at the floor. "I didnt mean to cause problems, and we were just talking about furniture, for goodness sake." He paused and made an effort to rein in his enthusiasm. "Oh, I get it! Its not the furniture at all, is it? Its me!" He took a couple of deep breaths, visibly reining in his enthusiasm. Kedran relaxed.
"Im so sorry," Edam said. "I knew that pain, fear and so on could be upsetting to Simes. Believe me, Ive had that explained to me numerous times in the last few days. Despite my reassurances that I am not afraid of heights and that I wont hit myself with the hammer But no one told me that enthusiasm would be a problem, or I wouldve tried to tone it down more."
Kedran replied, "Its not a problem for most Simes. Nor would it necessarily be a problem for me, except under certain conditions. You certainly dont have to apologize; we didnt expect you would know this.
"In fact, I am impressed that you are able to well, Genlan doesnt offer the vocabulary to explain exactly what you are doing, but unless you learn Simelan, just rest assured that you are controlling the effect your enthusiasm would otherwise have upon me."
Edam said, "Oh, I got to practice over the last few days. You see, all the workers I could find were Simes. So when I wanted to convince them to do something the way I said, I would -think big and then they did what I said. If I didnt, they ignored me. And if I thought too big, they would start looking uncomfortable." He looked at his work boots. "And I really didnt like upsetting them, so I tried to keep that from happening.
"I dunno. I didnt like it when they were upset. It bothered me and Im not sure why. Then you were looking the same way, only moreso, and Malkim was doingsomething--to try to help, and I realized that I was bothering you somehow and that I should think smaller."
"I think the three of us have a lot to talk about, other than furniture. Unfortunately, tonight is not a good time for that conversation. Perhaps we can discuss this later?" Kedran looked at Edam. "I apologize." Edam realized that Kedran looked -- tired wasn't word -- drawn thin, like wire. Something was wrong, and Edam wasn't sure what, but he knew he wanted to help. He also realized that at the moment all he could do to help was agree. Before he could even come up with an answer that explained what he was thinking, Kedran was gone, and Malkim leaving in his wake.
Edam awoke the next morning without even a trace of a headache, for the first time since his arrival, even though he had been up late the night before. Today he was planning to go up to the roof again, not to do any more work, but just because he could do some thinking without interruptions. Last nights conversation had been confusing and exhilarating all at the same time, Edam mused, and I have to figure out what to do now. He bypassed breakfast, grabbing some bread and heading straight up to the roof.
The roof had a shallow pitch and was easy to sit on, so he headed to the sunny side to sit, eat and think. I thought it would be so simple, he mused. I was going to die, and that would be that. Instead, here I am and I dont know what Im going to do. Gradually, the warmth of the sun lulled him to sleep.
When he awoke, it was nearing lunchtime, so he headed back down. He hadnt really come to any conclusions, other than he didnt have enough information to come to any conclusions. Well, maybe one or two conclusions. He headed down the ladder to go look for Malkim. Malkim ate enough for any two normal people, so he was likely to be in the dining hall.
"Edam! You are just the person I was looking for," Kedran hailed him. Malkim was nowhere in sight. "Come and join me for lunch."
Edam had never seen Kedran eat much of anything. He knew Simes didn't require food for fuel, selyn fueled them instead. But in the few days he'd been eating in the dining hall he had noticed that most Simes did seem to eat at least once a day, even if their portions were small and entirely made of vegetables and starches. Hmm, Kedran looks happier -- no, that wasn't the right word -- something-er than I've seen him so far. He headed to the table, bypassing food for the moment. "You were looking for me?"
"No, not really, I zlinned where you were, of course. But I did want to talk to you."
"Zlinned? What does that mean?"
"It doesn't translate very well. Genlan doesn't have words for a lot of things, you know."
"Uh-huh. Can you try to explain it in words I can understand?"
Kedran smiled. "Well, Simes can 'see' the selyn fields surrounding Gens and other Simes. Since I am a Channel, I am more sensitive than the average Sime and can pick up even the faint traces that are detectable through, say, a roof."
"Oh." Edam didn't really understand it, but it was clearly as much explanation as he was going to get at this time. Maybe all the explanation he could get, unless he learned that Simelan stuff. "So why were you looking for me?"
"Go get some food, you're hungry. Then we'll talk." The Channel made graceful shooing motions with his hands and tentacles.
Edam was smart enough to know the Channel could out-stubborn him any day. He got up and got a tray full of food to make up for his almost nonexistent breakfast, most of which had been eaten by birds while he was asleep, and returned to the table. "So why were you looking for me? Or rather, expecting to find me here given that I was up on the roof?"
"You should be examined, to make sure you are not suffering any late ill effects from your --er-- encounter the other night." Kedran steepled his fingers and gazed abstractedly for a moment. Edam thought he looked exactly like the schoolmaster at home had, only thinner and with tentacles, of course. "And I wanted to ask you if you had thought any more about what we talked about last night, although since you spent the morning sleeping, I rather doubt you have."
"Sleeping? Don't tell me you 'zlinned' that too?"
"Yes, I did."
Edam digested that in silence. After a moment, he said, "I don't know what to do, Kedran. Part of me thinks this -- Companion-- idea is a good one. But what if I'm no good at it? I don't know how to be good at anything but wood. If I give that up, who will I be?" Edam's voice began rising. "A stupid man with scarred hands trying to keep up with smart kids who grew up around Simes?" Kedran wilted. Edam stopped, drew a breath and continued more calmly. "I just don't know. I wish there was some way I could stay here for a while, get used to the whole idea, y'know?"
"You are grasping one of the essential Companion skills already, Edam," Kedran replied. "That is, some control of the effects that your emotions can have on Simes." He paused. "Much more so than I would have expected."
"Yeah, but --"
"No, no 'but' about it. In-Territory, Companions still have to learn that. And when you aren't upset or unhappy you are quite, er, restful to be around. The biggest hurdle will be the language."
"That's for sure. I wasn't an academic star as a kid either, you know."
"I realize --" Malkim came running into the dining hall, interrupting whatever Kedran was about to say.
"Hajene! There's a changeover case, not doing well!" The two of them disappeared from the dining hall before Edam could even blink.
I wonder what he means by not doing well? Edam got up after a moment and headed toward the door leaving the dirty dishes at his place. He didnt exactly hurry; after all, he wasnt quite sure why he seemed to feel he should follow the Channel and Companion. But he was following them nonetheless.
The changeover case wasnt difficult to find. His recent foray into redesigning the furniture had given him a chance to learn the layout of the dispensary, collectorium and infirmary areas quite well. All he had to do was follow the Edam halted. What was he following, anyway? Someone crying loudly? The murmur of concerned professional voices speaking a language he couldnt quite -- make out? He really wasnt sure. And now that he had stopped to think about it, he wasnt sure which room he was looking for.
After a moment Edam shrugged and strode purposefully through the waiting area of the infirmary, to one of the doors to the treatment rooms. The door was closed, but had a little window in it that could be used to observe the patient without disturbing anyone in the room. At least, he hoped he wasnt disturbing anyone. No one in the room looked up as he gazed in. The Channel and his Companion were there. There was a wrinkled, leathery looking Sime wringing his hands and tentacles and a plump tearful woman. The Sime was saying something to them, becoming more agitated by the word, it seemed. And the person who was at the center of all this anxiety and fear was a little girl. No, a Sime-slim girl on the verge of adulthood, Edam realized. Rather like Marta, in fact. Edam felt somehow life had given him, not a second chance, but a third chance to make it right. He opened the door slowly, thinking Small, I have to think small in the faint hope that it would prevent anyone from noticing him. For a big man, Edam could move remarkably quietly when he wanted to, which had been an asset when hunting, and he used all of that accumulated skill now.
Edam slipped into the room so smoothly that no one seemed to notice him for several minutes. The girl was crying softly, hopelessly, despite whatever reassurances Kedran offered. The two were they her parents? looked on with anguish. Occasionally one or the other of them would say something, beginning her to live, to let the Channel help her. She kept shaking her head and repeating, "I wont kill. I will die instead" in a monotone. Edam had the feeling she had been saying the same thing for so long now that she couldn't say anything else. Something inside him loosened. She felt the same way he had, only a few short days ago.
Suddenly, the girl looked up and met his eyes. Before anyone could react, she moved, Sime-quick, from her huddled position in the corner of the room, into the shelter of his arms. Belatedly, the other four people in the room noticed his presence.
"Edam, what do you think youre doing?" Malkim began indignantly. "You dont belong in here. And you really dont belong near her after what you did the last time, nearly juncting a Channel!"
Kedran stared at Edam. I think he sees me, not just a problem to be solved! His laterals emerged from their sheaths and his eyes went a little glassy. What is he doing? Is that what zlinning looks like? "No, Malkim, dont yell at him. Ari is responding to him. We have time now." Whatever that means, Edam thought.
He murmured soft wordless reassurance into her hair. "Sshh, its all right " and rocked her like he had rocked his baby daughter so long ago. It wasnt clear who was comforting whom. "You dont have to die, little Ari. We can help you. Just relax. You dont have to die. Sshh, its all right " Gradually she relaxed her grip on him.
"Do you know --"
"Is my daughter going to --
"What are you doing?!"
Three people trying to talk at once. Edam couldn't make heads or tails out of any of it. Then silence.
Kedran tried again. "Edam, she's in changeover. Do you know what you are doing?"
"No," Edam mumbled, "but I couldn't not come in here."
Kedran blinked a couple of times. "All right. Before she reaches breakout -- that's the stage where her tentacles emerge -- she will have to let go of you. Otherwise she will --"
"No, I won't! I won't!"
Edam couldn't tell what Kedran had been trying to say when Ari started shouting directly in his left ear.
Kedran tried again, "Edam, it's going to be soon." Whatever that means, Edam thought. If anything I don't think I could let go of her even if she lets go of me. Everyone was quiet for a few moments, so quiet Edam thought he could hear Ari's heart pounding. Or maybe it was his own.
Malkim murmured something to Kedran that Edam couldn't quite catch. Edam felt like time had stopped. Was he holding Ari or was he holding his daughter? Did it matter? Probably not. Then Ari stirred in his arms.
"My arms!" She sounded frightened. Edam looked, really looked, at her forearms, and realized that he could see her tentacles, right beneath the skin.
Malkim was seeing the same thing. "She's coming up on breakout now. She has to move away from Edam."
Kedran looked at the two of them for a moment, his eyes going unfocussed and his attention somewhere Edam couldn't quite figure. "You're right." He moved toward Edam, and tried to gently detach the little girl from him. She resisted with all her might, crying wordlessly. "Her consumption rate is soaring. She can't take too much more of this," he warned. "You have to let go of her. Now." The calm, low tones of his voice didn't seem to sooth Ari, but Edam found himself relaxing. Kedran tried again to coax Ari to come to him. She loosened her grip on Edam, but wouldn't leave him.
"Kedran --" Malkim said urgently. Ari was making fists of her small fine hands.
"No," Kedran shook his head, "her reserves are too low now. I'll have to try to shen her out of it, because I can't pry her loose."
Edam felt calmer than he had ever been before. It was as though he was asleep, peacefully dreaming, or in church, listening to the choir sing like he imagined the angels sang, in perfect harmony. Even his bones resonated with that note. Had he heard it before? He wasn't sure.
Kedran said, "Ari, its all right. Do you remember the exercises you learned in changeover class? The ones where you make a fist and then open it quickly?" Ari nodded, sniffling still. "Good. Come over here to me," he continued in a low voice like someone soothing a frightened horse would use.
"No! I wont!" Ari clutched harder at Edam again. "I wont! Ill die first!" She flung her hands out, as though to hit the Channel. A strange look came into her eyes, and then in a spattering of fluids, her tentacles emerged. Instantly, they wrapped around Edam's wrists.
Yes, that's right, Edam thought. He leaned down to kiss her head. In the background, he could vaguely hear people shouting, but the voices of the choir overwhelmed it. This time, he didn't feel any pain. Just his whole body resonating like the rafters of the church. And in a moment that seemed to last forever, it was over, and Ari was smiling up at him, almost glowing in her happiness.
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