In Passing Part 1
by
Jocelyn Stewart


Mayborne Vernel Archer, sat surrounded by an ever growing mountain of paperwork trying to remember why she had wanted this shidshashin' job in the first place! Oh, yeah, it was a good career move, in theory anyway. Well, at least she'd be getting a decent transfer this month. Maybe after that she could finally get caught up before the District Controller's Office decided to audit her. She took another dispensary report off the pile and started reading the stats. At least the numbers jibed, that always made things easier. Fortunately she didn't have to compile the data she was just reading it to make sure her staff weren't being either over or under utilized. A talent for numeric pattern recognition had gotten her this far. It also made her a hard-line scheduler. Everyone got the same treatment as far as work was concerned. She refused to re-juggle the schedule every time someone got a whim to go on a picnic or some such nonsense. Mayborne was very well aware that the staff referred to her as "the walking selyn battery" but things like that never bothered her. She took it as a sign that she was doing her job and in her mind doing her job meant making sure that the selyn got distributed.

She looked up as some idiot Gen knocked on the door. KNOCKED!? What the..? Then she recognized the nager and nearly choked. What in shen was she doing back here?!? Mayborne bellowed, "Enter!" before the Gen could knock again.

"Joyanne Hallenbek, reporting as assigned, Controller Archer." The Gen held out an official looking document along with the abridged records that every Donor carries in transit. This made Mayborne look at her 'IN' basket with some trepidation because she had noticed that the file of her new Donor had been dutifully deposited there. She just hadn't bothered to read it yet.

"Yes, so I see." And she did see and zlin. Could this be the same person she'd assigned to Broken Promise all those months ago? This was a fully qualified First Order Donor. Be careful what you wish for... "I hadn't expected to see you again." Mayborne scowled at the Gen. She wasn't sure she liked this Joyanne any better than the one she had sent to Broken Promise. She watched and zlinned the Donor carefully. Joyanne certainly seemed stable. But that could change in the blink of an eye, faster given the loathing that Mayborne suspected the Gen was sublimating.

"So you're a First now. Have we risen any in your estimation?" Mayborne was still scowling and meeting Joyanne's direct, green, slant-eyed gaze with her own paler green unslanted one. Joyanne had always looked like a cat to Mayborne - a bad tempered cat.

"Well, I don't have a problem with most First Order Donors." Joyanne smiled wickedly and came around the desk, placed her hand on Mayborne's left shoulder and tisked at her. "Awfully tense Controller."

"It's been a rough month!" Mayborne hadn't intended to growl but...

"Okay, that's it."

"What, what's it?!?" Mayborne had very vivid memories of the last time this Donor had decided that she was not happy with her. They were not fond memories, to put it mildly.

"Calm down Mayborne." She heard the Donor's words but this was easier said than done especially with a Gen who could do her a serious injury standing right on top of her. So she was shocked when a sudden wave of relaxation turned her into a boneless heap.

"That's better."

"What the - ?" Mayborne tried to get up, to sit up, to do something to get herself away from this - this - Donor. Nageric quiet surrounded her even as she could hear the normal commotion of a busy Sime Center just outside her door and through the window behind her. She'd had the Controller's office situated where it was for just that reason to allow monitoring of everything in the Center without having to leave the office. However that configuration often made concentration on paperwork more difficult for the Controller since the bombardment from the ambient, noise and nager, was constant.

"I'll ease up if you promise to stay calm."

Mayborne drew in a shaky breath. "I promise, I promise!"

She zlinned Joyanne shaking her head in negation. "Not if you break your promise as fast as you make it." Then she tisked at channel again.

"Okay, I'm calm." And with all the skills at her command she made it a true statement. Instantly she felt the Donor ease up as promised. "Please have a seat Sosu Hallenbek." Mayborne was hoping with everything in her that Joyanne would do so.

"Thank you, Controller Archer I would love to sit." Mayborne watched her sit in the chair on the opposite side of the desk. "By the way, Controller Makepeace sends her regards."

"Yes, right. I'll have to call her and... thank her for sending you back here." Thanking Ydara Elyn Makepeace was the last thing on her mind.

"She didn't send me. I volunteered. After all my family is here." Joyanne smiled and the smile glowed softly in her nager.

Mayborne zlinned the genuine joy in the Donor's nager and had to look hard at her to make sure this really was Joyanne Hallenbek and not some needmare gone even further south than usual. "Yes, well..."

To cover her lack of actual response Mayborne picked up the file she had neglected to read. Augmenting slightly she read the ten page addition at the front of the file in a matter of seconds. She stopped when she reached her own rather terse entry in it. However the one notation that kept replaying in her mind was: 'Sosu Hallenbek is the only surviving member of the Hamlin Five who has chosen to serve as a Tecton Donor. Please see: World Controller's Special Order of Dispensation...' HAMLIN?? Shidoni!!

It was at this point that the phone rang and the emergency call light came on as well. She put aside her reaction to the news about Joyanne to react to the current emergency, whatever that might be it had to be easier to deal with. She picked up the receiver, "Archer." She listen for five seconds slammed down the receiver and headed for the door. To her great dismay Joyanne was right behind her. "You stay here."

"Who's going to support you?" The Donor gave her a steady if somewhat stubborn look. "I know what the emergency calls are, remember I used to work here."

She didn't have time to argue. Mayborne took off at nearly augmented speed for the changeover ward. The Third order channel on duty had called when he realized he had what might be a high Second or maybe even a First order channel on his hands.

Mayborne slid to a stop just outside the heavily shielded room that was set aside for problem changeovers. Not even a 4+ Farris could zlin through the shielding. She pulled the door open zlinning hard as she walked in with Joyanne glued to her left shoulder-blade. Bright brown eyes greeted her as she looked down at the young channel-to-be. Bernerd, the Third in charge of the changeover, had called it correctly. This one was going to be a midrange First from the zlin of her. Mayborne was very glad to find the child both awake and alert. She'd feared that they might have had to move her while she was unconscious. Even before breakout there was the danger of psychospatial disorientation for a channel even a Third order channel.

Moving to the bed she sat down on the right side of it. It was a bit crowded in the room with both parents, Bernerd, his Donor Manel, the usual equipment, various storage units and Joyanne. Mayborne tried not to think too much about Joyanne for the time being. What she was thinking about was who she could get to serve the transfer for this new channel. It really should be a Donor. "Hello Song. It is Song isn't it?" Everyone in the room said yes except Joyanne who had no way of knowing and Mayborne who had asked the question in the first place. Mayborne only knew because Bernerd had mentioned the child's name during their very brief phone conversation. A rare smile lit the Controller's face. "How are you feeling?"

"O - okay, I think." Song had the sweetest little face and honey color hair. She looked like she was no more than ten or eleven though her chart said she was 14 almost 15.

Mayborne held out her hand for the chart. Bernerd relinquished it gladly and with it his tacit responsibility for this case. Mayborne glanced at the notations on the timing and under the cover of reading it shuffled through her pitifully small list of possible matches for Song. There really was only one. She looked to her left and met Joyanne's eyes. The Donor nodded once and smiled. Mayborne marveled at how Joyanne had seemingly changed. "Song, this is Sosu Hallenbek, she will be your Donor. Did you know you're going to be a channel?"

There were three simultaneous gasps in the room Song's, her father's and her stepmother's. It was still an unfortunate fact of life that channels often killed at birth, especially First order channels. Mayborne was pleased that the family history had caused Song's chart to be flagged. Of course that was as it should be. Much as her staff disliked her she found them to be efficient and competent. That was all that she cared about. Mayborne nodded to the two Thirds that they were released. They left so quietly that no one noticed except, she noted, Joyanne who knew both of them. Mayborne also notice that the ambient was whisper quiet even with two agitated Gens in the room. She glanced up at Joyanne who hadn't move an inch. The Donor just smiled this time only with her face. Maybe she had changed. She motioned the Donor closer to the bedside.

"Hello Hajene Song. By the way my name is Joyanne"

Mayborne suppressed a smile at the awed confused look on Song's face. At this stage so close to breakout she knew that Song would be zlinning, albeit faintly, through her own lateral sheaths. With the skin stretched so taut by the fluid in the sheaths the normal shielding would be diminished. Joyanne replaced Mayborne on the bed and began talking Song through the last few minutes of her very normal changeover. At breakout Mayborne watched a very self possessed Song Kilgor calmly take her First Transfer from an incredibly radiant Joyanne. Mayborne almost envied Song. Then the reality of what had just happened got pass her channeling instinct and went straight for her Sime instinct. Song had just taken her Gen. Mayborne locked down on her less than charitable side and told it to shut up and go back to sleep! After all she was almost two weeks out from transfer and she would go to the top of the District Controller's list because she had given up her Donor to a newly changed over channel. Her less than charitable side shut up but it didn't go back to sleep.

Making the usual small talk expected of the attending channel to parents of a new Sime, Mayborne explained that Song would be attending one of the Channel Training Centers in the area and that they would be able to visit with her from time to time during the next year. Mayborne didn't mention anything about the fact that they would see Song very seldom after that. The life of a First order channel was a rather vagabond existence. She held this nearly rote conversation while zlinning Joyanne's interaction with Song. They were both talking animatedly while Joyanne manipulated the ambient to help Song get a feel for her new senses. It was fascinating to zlin the Donor create light and shadow and even bursts of color. Song's parents were completely oblivious to the show but they had myriad questions that kept Mayborne talking and gave her a legitimate excuse to indulge her own curiosity about Joyanne.

She couldn't catch what Joyanne and Song were saying to each other but the ambient was a pure pleasure to zlin. That is until Song forgot she had laterals and bumped one against Joyanne's knee. The flash of pain was unexpected and yet familiar. Mayborne winced in empathy. The one good thing about it happening now was that Song would be a lot more careful with her arms in future. Song's parents instantly turned to go to her when she cried out in pain only to be held back by Mayborne and assured that Song would be fine and that Sosu Hallenbek would take care of her.

Mayborne watched, rather, zlinned Joyanne comfort the poor injured little channel. Song never felt another pain after the initial shock because Joyanne's touch had healed the damage almost instantaneously. The light show started up again but more muted in deference to Song's, no longer injured but still a bit tender, lateral. When Joyanne gave the worried parents a wink and a smile Mayborne took the opportunity to usher them out of the room to finish their conversation. After what felt like hours but proved to have been only a few minutes Mayborne bid the Kilgors farewell and returned to the changeover room to find Song sound asleep and Joyanne on the phone trying to find out who could come and watch over their brand new channel.

"Oh, good." Joyanne motioned Mayborne over. "Who's free for an hour or so?"

The Controller took the phone from the Donor and very tersely ordered the person on the other end to have Inis Weylin get down there on the double. When Inis arrived he did a double take to see Joyanne there. She just gave him a hug hello and filled him in on the case. Mayborne scowled quietly off in a corner near the door. She still hadn't figured out how Joyanne had managed to make so many friends at Keepsake Hill. Even after she'd reassigned her to Broken Promise the Thirds had asked after Joyanne as if a busy Controller had time to keep up with a lazy Third Order Donor who incidentally hated her guts.

They made their way back to the Controller's office in silence both verbal and nageric. The nageric silence was provided by Joyanne. Mayborne did her best not to revel in it and she succeeded for the most part. Although she could certainly find this kind of silence by ducking into one of the insulated Quiet rooms she could not have experienced the nageric support that Joyanne was giving her.

Mayborne had always been a "leaner" she required a lot more support than most channels. There were very few Donors who could tolerate the constant stress of working with such channels. Those who could stand the strain usually out rated her and were assigned to higher rated channels. Mayborne Archer had no delusions about her place in the scheme of things. She was as much a selyn slave as the renSime that dug ditches for a living. After all every Sime had to pay for her selyn and being gainfully employed was necessary to make the payments. Channels might be better paid but then they required a lot more selyn and the higher the rank the more selyn required. However these musings did not bring her any closer to figuring out the Donor she was currently "leaning" on.

Zlinning as deeply as she could without a full contact. The channel slammed face on into one of Joyanne's walls. It wasn't a truly physical crash but it did hurt nonetheless. Skittering backwards both physically and nagerically she nearly fell. The Donor grabbed her arm just above the elbow with surprising strength. "Sorry about that, Controller, but I hadn't been expecting your - attention - to go that deep."

Mayborne's eyes narrowed to near slits as she scowled at the Donor. Her eyes landed on the hand that Joyanne still had clasped about her bony upper arm. "If you would?" She was released gently and apologized to nagerically if not verbally. That same nager eased gently back into its shielding support and it was all the channel could do to keep from heaving a sigh of relief. This distressed her far more than running into a nageric barrier. No more was said until they entered the Controller's office and resumed their seats.

Picking up where she had left off when the emergency call had come in... "Hamlin. Is this what you wouldn't tell me before?" Mayborne was zlinning Joyanne hard if not so deeply as to run into that wall again.

The Donor took a deep breath and looked the channel squarely in the eye. "Part of it, yes."

"What's the rest then?" She couldn't think of anything that could be worse than what she had seen in the records and shuddered to think what could possibly be unmentioned in the document she held.

"Oh you heard it before I left." Joyanne's eyes twinkled just a little.

"Ah-huh, that lovely parting speech. Yes, well, does that still hold true for you?"

"I still object to the way the Tecton keeps the higher orders so busy surviving that they don't take the time to live but then we're all big girls and boys and we can make choices about that."

A noncommittal grunt was Mayborne's reply. She also hadn't missed the inclusive "we". So, Joyanne considered herself a part of the Order. That was something at least. She had certainly been the model Donor during Song's changeover. Ah, yes there was another thing. Seems she wouldn't have to deal with Joyanne after all this month. "Well, we will have time to deal with this before transfer next month."

"Next month? But we're scheduled in just under two weeks from today."

"You can't have forgotten giving a transfer only minutes ago." Mayborne was scowling again more out of habit than any real irritation. Joyanne had not decreased her support and had, in point of fact, increased it considerably with the sudden change of discussion.

"No I haven't forgotten but I think you've missed something in skimming through my file." Joyanne rose slightly out of the chair as she reached for the document the Controller held. Taking it she leafed through the first six pages and came to the portion she was looking for on the seventh page. "Here near the bottom of the next to the last paragraph." She handed the file back to the channel.

Reading very carefully the indicated paragraph Mayborne Vernel Archer stared, slightly confused, at the words. '... has shown an unusual tendency to over production. (see Appendix C: Selyn Production)'

"I should be ready for you, with some to spare, in just over a week a little less if we are in constant proximity."

Mayborne realized that her mouth was hanging open. She closed it and went immediately to Appendix C. She read Appendix C very carefully and noticed that the data had been validated by Hajene Rahem Haldain one of the foremost experts in selyn production disorders. The channel took a deep breath and looked at the Donor zlinning hard until she remembered the wall she had slammed into earlier and shuddered pulling back.

As if she knew what Mayborne was thinking Joyanne lowered all her barriers. The resulting swirl of emotion and nageric pyrotechnics caught the channel off guard but the Donor kept a firm hold on her and never decreased her support. After a moment's hesitation Mayborne began to zlin the field of her assigned Donor. The odd beat of her selyn production that seemed to be speeding up incrementally even as she zlinned was fascinating, it created a strange counter point to the Gen's heartbeat. Coming back to duoconsciousness, she hadn't even felt the shift to hyper, she looked at Joyanne who gave her a quizzical smile. "Would you like to do a full contact scan?"

Never one to run from a challenge, Mayborne took a deep breath and nodded. She didn't trust her voice not to betray her nervousness. She watched Joyanne bring the chair around the desk and plant it right next the hers so that the chair arms touched and plant herself in it turning her torso to face the channel with her hands out. Before she lost her nerve and changed her mind Mayborne made the five point contact. She zlinned deep and found the core rhythm oscillating even faster as if her attention was causing it to speed up. The less than charitable part of her Sime nature licked its figurative chops, curled up and finally went back to sleep. This Gen was for her and now she could wait.

~°~

What amazed Mayborne the most was the change in the ambient. It wasn't entirely due to the fact that Joyanne's nearly constant shielding filtered out the noise, in point of fact it didn't. Mayborne had groused once on the first day that she had to be able to zlin the center to keep a "lateral" on things. Instantly Joyanne had changed something in her nager that had allowed the usual background "noise" to filter in while buffering the channel from the usual beating that she had become accustomed to taking from it. That had distracted Mayborne for a good hour as she tried to figure out how the Donor had managed it. Ever the pragmatist Mayborne had taken the unexpected gift for what it was and left the how of it for later. No, the change was a measurable shift in the attitudes of the staff. Every blasted, uh, blessed one of them had greeted her this morning with an honest gladness. This in and of itself was remarkable enough and Joyanne had literally had to ask several of the staff to pass the word that she would see them all at the Two Thirds later that evening and could they please not interrupt the Controller's work to say "Hi". Mayborne noted, Joyanne was as equally popular with the renSimes as with the Thirds.

Work had changed too. The pile on her desk had dwindled steadily until it was nearly gone in just the three days that Joyanne had been working with her. To Mayborne's great surprise the Donor had an uncanny knack for figures. She'd even caught a couple of problems Mayborne had missed because, as the Donor had said, "Simes don't think in that direction." That statement had caused Mayborne to go to the brink of a tirade only to have it shutdown before it started by Joyanne's soothing. It was that sort of thing that had been happening off and on for the last three days that worried Mayborne the most. She had never been "handled" by a Gen before. Mayborne was pretty sure she didn't like it but years of experience had taught her that it was a very bad idea to piss your Donor off before transfer. However Mayborne was beginning to wonder if anything would piss off the new and improved Joyanne Hallenbek. The Donor was so happy these days that Mayborne often found herself not scowling. Although that could be due more to the fact that she was experiencing the easiest post turnover slide she'd ever had. This also made her nervous because she knew it would be too easy to get use to this sort of thing and the Tecton would not allow her to keep Joyanne for long no matter what that "World Controller's Order" said. As soon as some high muckity-muck found out what the Donor could do they'd finagle her right out from under Mayborne's laterals. The channel shook herself, had she just been thinking of keeping Joyanne Hallenbek? Could she possible have forgotten the reason for that World Controller's Order?

Mayborne reached for another file and her hand landed on bare wood. To her great relief and disbelief there was no more unprocessed paperwork on her desk. It was just midmorning and she was finished with the previous days paperwork. She looked up to find Joyanne watching her with an oddly familiar smile. That smile had been on another face and it hadn't made her happy to see it on that face either. Where had she seen the annoying smile before? "And just what are you so smug about?"

"Me? Smug? Why Controller, whatever do you mean?"

The Controller scowled at the Donor as the light of humor danced in those slanted green eyes. There was something about the way Joyanne said "Controller" that Mayborne just didn't like. It was almost as if the very concept of a Sime "in control" was humorous or maybe more like ridiculous to the Gen. What frustrated the channel most was that she was never sure that she could zlin what was actually going on with the Gen. That Joyanne out rated her was painfully obvious. That Joyanne knew it was equally obvious. But the really unnerving thing was that she knew the Gen had no contempt for her personally. She couldn't figure out how she knew this. A few months ago that had not been the case. The channel shook her head and decided to move on to something else. Her current train of thought wasn't going in a productive direction and Mayborne was always productive - even more so, it seemed, since Joyanne's return.

Mentally she flipped through the day's schedule only to find that there was a two hour slot that had nothing in it because that time had been allotted for paperwork. This had never happened before. She had come into the position with a backlog of either undone or incorrectly processed paperwork that would fill a room the size of her office twice over. There had been a steady stream of "Interim" Controllers before her arrival. Some of those "interims" had lasted for years with channels who had the rank but no real ability at administration or organization. Mayborne had spent her first months as Controller alternately cleaning up the incredible mess or being frustrated by the presence of a certain incredibly talented incredibly unambitious Third Order Donor. That lack of ambition had been so foreign to the channel as to be completely unbelievable. She'd never encountered a Donor who had the potential yet didn't want to be a First. In point of fact she had encountered far too many Donors who had no hope of developing the potential who wanted to be Firsts. She'd also had to deal with the aftermath of some of that ambition in the lower Orders, nerve-burns that crippled for life or things far worse... She had no desire to revisit memories of her time in V'gos. Mayborne quickly derailed that train of thought.

"So, Controller, what have you got planned for the next two hours?" It seemed, to Mayborne's great displeasure, that the Donor knew the schedule as well as she.

The channel did some mental reshuffling of the schedule and decided that a stint in the Collectorium was in order. She had scheduled that for the afternoon, as usual, but this sudden lack of paperwork was both unexpected and unnerving. "Collectorium."

"Sounds good to me."

~°~

Routine, steady, predictable, Collectorium duty was definitely that. It was also the most fun Mayborne Archer had in her day. Functionals were not her strongest suit, although she could get creative when necessary, she far and away preferred collecting and dispensing selyn. Zlinning the satisfaction of the renSimes she gave transfer to was what made living through the tedium worthwhile. She felt she was a competent healer, though she knew there were those far better at it. But she did take a secret pride in her ability to give outstanding transfers even when her own personal transfers had been so incredibly lousy.

It was definitely that time of the month. Even when she wasn't giving transfers she was thinking about transfer. She zlinned Joyanne again. She still didn't believe it. This Donor was the polar opposite of the one she had sent to Broken Promise. There were instances when she actually had zlinned, concern or compassion and once, though it was gone before she could be sure, even a comradely affection. She had often looked up during these last few days to find Joyanne smiling at her with that oddly familiar smile.

"Who's next?" Mayborne looked at the door waiting for the next donor to enter.

"The shift controller reports that you have effectively mopped up the entire morning's schedule." Mayborne looked at the Donor with both chagrin and annoyance. Of course. The shifts had been built around the abilities of the Center's Thirds and Seconds. There was a greater lag between donations factored into the schedule. One First order channel would effectively blow the lag right out of the schedule because the recovery time of a First was just a fraction of either a Second or a Third. "So now what would you like to do?"

Mayborne looked down at her hands. There was a ventral wrapped around each thumb and their respective mates wrapped around each little finger while her dorsals were trying to pull her middle and ring fingers backward off her hands. Joyanne gently unwrapped the tentacles as Mayborne mentally took a long look at her empty schedule. There were now four, yes, four hours of nothing to do. She couldn't go work dispensary now, that would really bollix up the Center's scheduling. She had to off load the selyn she had collected or the dispensary channels would run short because she was carrying just about the entire shift's load of selyn. "I have to distribute the selyn in my secondary to the dispensary."

With that she got up and headed across the corridor and up the stairs to the dispensary. The Center, like most of its sisters, was built to put as much physical distance and as many barriers as possible between highfield Gens and renSimes in need. No sense courting disaster if a few cubic yards of concrete could keep it at bay. Off loading didn't take long she just topped off couple a Seconds and several Thirds and she had her secondary exactly where it had been when she'd walked into the Collectorium only an hour and a half earlier. She was still carrying the selyn that she had slated for the batteries. Well it was certainly something useful to do. "I may as well go fill the batteries since I've got the time."

"No."

Mayborne turned on the Gen like snake. "What do you mean, 'No'?" Mayborne was just about to explain to this particular Gen exactly what her place in the scheme of things was when she suddenly didn't feel like it anymore. Joyanne had done it to her again, taken the fight out of her, "handled" her as if she were a puppet or a fractious child to be diverted.

"I'm sorry Mayborne but you require something besides making yourself sick getting selyn into the batteries. Why not off load to Mali and let her fill the batteries. You know she never has minded doing it. She says they're a lot easier to deal with than most of her clients since they never argue."

Which was more than Mayborne could say about her Donor. "So what do you propose I do instead?"

"Lunch and a walk."

"What?!" The explosion was as short lived as the first. It was odd having her temper short circuited by the Donor and yet she was free to say what she pleased just not with her usual force. "What in the lateral splittin' shen makes you think that I want to waist my time walking around for no apparent reason?!" Well, less force any way, certainly not less loudly.

"I don't think you want to. However you should and you will."

The whole of Dispensary was trying to listen and appear not to be listening. For as long as anyone could remember no Donor had EVER stood up to Controller Archer and certainly not where anyone could witness it. Mayborne became very aware of the audience she and Joyanne had acquired and turned abruptly for the door. She was tempted to slam it in the highhanded Gen's face but her deeply ingrained conditioning would not allow her to physically harm a Gen. Verbal abuse was another matter entirely. She stopped on the stairs and waited for Joyanne to catch up. "What the shen did you think you were doing back there and in front of my staff no less!?"

"I wasn't the one yelling if you recall." Joyanne's calm was not faked or forced which made it all the more infuriating to the channel.

"I will not have you undermine my authority like that! Who do you think you are?!" Mayborne could hear herself saying the angry words, feel them pour out of her mouth like venom and yet through it all she felt buffered from the effects of her own anger. It was this that brought her up short and made her trail off as Joyanne merely waited quietly for her to finish. "You don't take me very seriously do you?"

"I do take you seriously. It's the tantrum that I don't take seriously." Mayborne puffed up to deliver another spray of venom when the Donor held up a hand to indicate she wasn't finished and reinforced that gesture with her nager. It was Joyanne's turn to speak and she intended to take it. "When I left Keepsake Hill I was severely broken. I was sick and dying. You saved my life when you sent me to Broken Promise, for that I am grateful. So now it's my turn to repay your kindness."

Repay... Kindness... What was she talking about? Mayborne hadn't fooled herself about why she'd sent Joyanne to Broken Promise. She knew very well why she had done it and kindness had not figured into the equation. She had wanted to be rid of Joyanne and everything she represented. She had wanted to remove Joyanne from her zlinning. It wasn't a decision that had been without its consequences. With Joyanne gone so was the massive amount of selyn that the Donor had pour into the Center every month. The discrepancy had not escaped the District Controller's notice. Inquiries had been sent regarding the sudden drop in the Center's surplus selyn stores. It was the biggest reason that Mayborne just knew that she was on the verge of a full fledged DCO audit. It was ironic that her solution to one problem may finally have been the thing that got someone to take notice of the previously badly mismanaged Center. Of course they would audit her books, books she had only begun to straighten out from the previous mess they'd been in for years. Mayborne looked up from her introspection to find Joyanne staring at her with concern. That the concern was genuine only made it more frightening.

"You owe me nothing." Joyanne had very effectively taken the wind out of Mayborne's sails with her confession of gratitude. She couldn't bring herself to look at the Donor.

"Lunch then?"

Mayborne gave in grudgingly. She merely nodded and continued down the stairs making for the cafeteria and all the problems that entailed. She hated eating in the large noisiness of it. The channel turned toward the object of her dread only to have the Donor point in the opposite direction. Mayborne didn't know whether to be peeved or relieved. Joyanne had already started off in the direction she had indicated. "I thought you wanted to have lunch."

"I do, just not in the cafeteria. If we go in there we'll get waylaid for sure. I've got something more private in mind." They had turned down a hallway that dead-ended at the door to the stairwell that led up to the Deferment Suites, Keepsake Hill had three of them and they were seldom all in use at once. Mayborne followed the Donor thinking that Joyanne had finally lost her mind or maybe she was just lost. Gens did have an abysmal sense of direction after all. The problem was Joyanne didn't zlin lost she zlinned confident and purposeful. Of course that could just mean she hadn't figured out that she was going in the wrong direction yet.

Mayborne followed awaiting the Gen's realization that she was going the wrong way. When the Donor opened the door of the smallest Deferment Suite and went in as if that was what she had intended all along. Mayborne was a bit disappointed. Her disappointment turned into amazement. Laid out on a low table in the middle of the main room right in front of the transfer lounge was a sumptuous meal. The smell was an experience in itself. Each dish was arranged to be a feast for the eyes not just the palate. The arrangement of the dishes on the table was as pleasing as the arrangement of the contents of the dishes themselves.

"How- who-?!" Mayborne fell silent.

"Now, now, Controller, I can't reveal my sources." The Donor literally had to take her by the hand and lead her to a cushion on the floor and sit her down. The smell continued to be just as delightful as the site of the food and Mayborne found her microscopic post-turnover appetite growing by leaps and bounds, much to her amazement. When Joyanne offered her a plate with small portions of several of her favorite foods on it, Mayborne balked and refused to accept it. "You will answer my questions Sosu Hallenbek. Who did this?!"

The Donor looked at her for several seconds exuding calm and patience. "Peter set up for me. You may not believe it but the Donors are all worried about you. I got an ear full my first night back here. And before you set your sights on Peter you should know that I've been pulled aside by every Donor on staff and regaled with a laundry list of problems that they've noticed."

The channel closed her mouth on her original tirade only to open it on another. "Why that bunch of mealy mouth busybodies! I should -"

"Thank them," the Donor interrupted.

"What?!"

"Yes, May, you should thank them. They've all been doing their best to run nageric interference for you ever since Dillan got reassigned. You haven't logged a decent post reaction in the last 10 months and I have read your file completely. It's a patchwork of bad transfers and equally bad Donor matches and considering that you lean very heavily on your Donors I have to say that I am amazed that you have managed to keep going. Frankly, I'm impressed."

Impressed? Did Joyanne Hallenbek just say that she was impressed by Mayborne Archer? "You weren't impressed five months ago."

"I was too sick to be of much help. Just being in the same room with you was enough to exacerbate my condition and forget about trying to provide anything approaching the kind of support you require. My rejection of you, or any First for that matter, was purely instinctive self-preservation. I had the innate skill to get away with it. For the most part." Mayborne watched a smile quirk the corners of the Donor's mouth. "I couldn't help you so in my mind it translated to I didn't want to."

"And I suppose you're all better now?" Mayborne heard the contemptuous disbelief in her own voice and winced.

Joyanne grinned at her evilly. "Oh, I'm much better now."

The channel's eyes went very round with surprise and maybe a little trepidation, after all this Gen could do really awful things to her if she wanted to. Mayborne took the plate that Joyanne had continued to hold out to her, it did smell good and she was hungry. When she notice Joyanne looking at her as if she were expecting something the channel remembered her manners, "Thank you."

Joyanne smiled from the inside out, her nager glowing softly with it. "You are most welcomed, May."

Until that moment it had escaped her that the Donor had been calling her by her given name and not her title, in fact she had just called her by the diminutive. She said nothing and covered the lack of response with a mouthful of curried mushrooms. The flavor completely distracted her for a moment. Mayborne couldn't remember when she'd had any that tasted a tenth as good as this. She'd tried it in the cafeteria after her last transfer and it had been good but this was extraordinary. "My compliments to the chef. Who is it by the way?"

"Jorden Amslin."

"Of course. The Third who owns the restaurant. Think you could talk her into giving the recipe to the kitchen staff?" Mayborne polished off the last of them as she asked.

"She did. But unfortunately they don't quite have her flair in the kitchen. She comes from a family of renowned chefs."

"She does? I've never heard of any chefs named Amslin."

"That's because Jorden's from out-Territory. Chef Jasmin Amslin is famous on that side of the border and has several restaurants from what I've heard. I've never met her but I have met her brother, Jorden's father, Julien Amslin. He's Head Chef of the New Washington Capital catering staff. I guess the cooking gene isn't disturbed by larity." Joyanne put a heaping spoonful of Jorden's famous vegetable stew into her mouth and savored the flavor emanating happiness.

Mayborne was not unaffected by the happiness. Her mood lightened considerably. She finished the plate of food Joyanne had given her washing it all down with a liberal amount of a spiced trin and citrus drink known locally as mullah. She sat zlinning Joyanne as the Donor polished off her stew with an enthusiasm only a Gen could experience.

"So just what did you do for the five months you were - away?" Mayborne looked sideways at the Donor and sipped her mullah.
Joyanne never missed a beat laughed softly and responded to the question without hesitation or attempt at evasion. "I got my butt well and truly kicked by several very good friends."

This was not the answer Mayborne expected. "I see. And that has made this miraculous change in your attitude towards me and Firsts in general?"

The Donor smiled took another sip of her own mullah and answered, "That and the fact that I'm always post." Joyanne's nager suddenly became completely unreadable.

"Why do you do that?!" Mayborne, like most First order channels, was completely unaccustomed to not being able to read any Gen within zlinning range. Even Donors who out ranked her were still readable to one extent or another. The closest comparison for what Joyanne was doing would be a channel's show field. Donors, for all their power, didn't have a secondary field to hide behind but Joyanne seemed to hide behind something. Perhaps the same something that Mayborne had slammed into on the Donor's first day back at Keepsake Hill.

"I didn't want to hurt you." The Donor's tone was matter-of-fact but the implication was not conducive to the channel's peace of mind.

"So you haven't really had a change of heart about me then." Mayborne's tone was equally matter-of-fact but she was grateful that Joyanne could not zlin the fear that had overtaken her.

"May - borne," the Donor shook her head trying to suppress a smile but not succeeding. "I didn't want to hurt your feelings. I was making a joke but I didn't want to give it away. At least not until I was sure you understood that I didn't mean any harm by it."

"You've been making jokes since you got back here." At Joyanne's surprised look Mayborne smirked. She was very happy to have gotten the Donor back for that last bit. "Just because I didn't say anything doesn't mean I didn't catch you at it."

A sudden wave of relief and humor washed over the channel. It was Joyanne's relief and humor. "Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps you should keep your nager unreadable."

"Andy warned me not to take you at face value." The Donor smiled at her with real warmth this time.

The channel wasn't sure she liked the sound of that either. "So what is my face value?" Mayborne covered her concern with a sip from her glass, which miraculously, kept refilling.

Joyanne's smile grew wider and her nager opened up to the very core. Mayborne nearly choked as the full force of the Gens field washed through her. The screaming production rate was completely unshielded from her zlinning. Joyanne was a fire that burned hot and fast with nothing to moderate it. The channel felt her own metabolism trying to kick over to match it. She realized she was augmenting only when Joyanne tried to remove the glass from her hand. It shattered driving shards into her palm and cutting a gash in the Gen's thumb.
There were no sounds of pain as the two women dealt with their injuries. There was no sound at all. Mayborne removed the shards from her hand and stanched the blood with a napkin holding pressure on the wounds by closing her hand. She was grateful that she could close it which meant there was no nerve or tendon damage. This barely registered in her mind, however. Her entire focus was on Joyanne. She had moved to work on the Gen even as she was dealing with her own wounds. The Donor was holding pressure on her thumb with her other hand. Mayborne zlinned the injury to make sure there weren't any slivers of glass in it, she got another shock as she did so. Joyanne was healing at an incredible rate, a rate that matched her flying selyn production. It was a good thing that the wound was a clean slice and no glass was in it because in the space of seconds it had sealed completely.

A stunned Mayborne Archer looked into the composed face of her Donor while still zlinning with morbid fascination Joyanne's completely healed thumb. If she had spared a modicum of attention to her own injuries she would have been equally stunned by them. Though far more sever they were also nearly healed. "How - how did you..?"

A sadness wash through the ambient. "I'm sorry May. I didn't mean to harm you."

"I'm not harmed." She had finally zlinned her own injury or near lack thereof. Joyanne's nager had once again closed around its furnace heart and with that closing Mayborne's own metabolism had returned to its normal state. The frantic pace of her healing had also slowed to normal. "Is that because of what happened to you in Hamlin?" The channel wanted an answer, a pathology that she could hang a name on and deal with.

"No - yes, partly. It's a side effect of doing multiple transfers each month over the course of my career. There was a very good reason why I didn't want to be around First Order channels. Although I didn't know it until recently. At least not consciously. My pattern was formed in First Year just like any Donor's. It just happens to be multiplied. Just because I've gone to Firsts instead of Thirds makes no difference to my body."

Mayborne could think of one very big difference. That production rate had to be burning something and she suspected that it was the Gen's very life. "So what do the experts say about your production rate? I mean what did they say to you not what's in your much edited file."

"'The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.'" There was no sadness in the ambient or in the Gen's expression. There was, however, a definite glint of something in her slanted green eyes. The channel had a good idea what it might be.

"So you don't believe them?"

"Oh, I believe them. I just don't care. A benefit of being perpetually post is perpetual optimism." The glint intensified.

"Ahg! Will you be serious?!" Mayborne's temper was decidedly post turnover and not up to much in the way of the Gen's sense of humor. Joyanne's contradictory statement made an odd kind of sense and that frustrated the Sime as much as the silliness behind it.

"Alright, seriously, I don't know if I'm burning my life away. There isn't anything I can do about it and to be honest the "experts" don't really know either." The glint had turned to candor letting Mayborne know the truth of what the Gen said because currently she couldn't zlin the truth of it. Joyanne had re-erected her barrier. Mayborne found herself feeling grateful that the barrier was up again. Only minutes ago she had resented it. Now she understood the need for it. That Joyanne could maintain it was oddly reassuring. Perhaps she wasn't as reckless as she liked to appear.

"Mayborne, may I see your hand?" Joyanne extended her hand with the completely healed thumb in a perfectly normal pose waiting for the Sime to comply with her requested. The channel had forgotten her own injury. She held out her hand to the Gen, the blood soaked napkin still clutched tightly in it. With unexpected gentleness the Donor opened the proffered hand removing the napkin. A gentle sorrow transmitted to the channel through that touch.

"There's no need for you to be worried. The wounds are barely zlinnable. By tomorrow morning it will be completely healed. There won't even be a scar."

The Gen searched the channel's eyes with a piercing green gaze as if she were looking for the truth of the feeling behind the words. Mayborne watched her nod once as if satisfied with that truth.

~°~


Mayborne awoke from a nightmare to the sound of someone knocking on her bedroom door. "Come in and stop banging you fingers on the door!"

"You were having a nightmare." Joyanne stood framed by the subdued light of the hallway. Mayborne was having trouble getting her eyes to focus as her Sime senses were warring for a better look at the banked bonfire of the Gen's nager, a contradiction in terms but that was probably the best description of the Donor a walking contradiction.

As Joyanne entered the room and closed the door behind her Mayborne started to get up and get dressed.

"Where do you think you're going?" Mayborne could feel Joyanne's disapproval boring a hole into her back.

"I can't sleep I may as well get some work done."

"No."

Mayborne's temper flared. "I am not a two year old to be told 'No' by some lazy slug of a Gen!" She regretted the words as they were leaving her mouth but... nothing to be done for that now it had been said. Even though most Simes did think of Gens as sluggish because they were compared to Simes. Many Simes considered Gens lazy only because a Gen did not have to work for a living if he or she did not want to. Some Gens were quite content to live on donation payments. But the vast majority were gainfully employed which annoyed many Simes because they held jobs that could have been held by Simes to pay for the selyn that the Gens produced. To their way of thinking that meant the Gen was being paid twice for the same selyn. So basically Gens were shenned if they did and shenned if they didn't. Mayborne had merely voiced, in a fit of need fueled temper, a cultural bias of which, she was sure, Joyanne was very well aware. "Sorry."

To her dismay the Gen burst into peals of laughter. "Looks like I'm not the only one who's changed in the last several months. I would never have believed you capable of apologizing to me for anything."

The Sime was about to let fly with a blistering retort when the silent signal on the phone went off. Mayborne started around the bed to get it but Joyanne had already answered it before she could get there. The whole point of having a silent signal, which was basically a modulated selyn pulse, was so that sleeping Donors could be left undisturbed and only the channels would be awakened. It seemed that Joyanne was breaking yet another rule.

Mayborne seethed as she listened to the Gen on the phone. "Can't Merisa handle that? Then get her. So? Get Ada to back her up if Lenert's asleep. Okay, good. Don't call unless the kid goes into a full arrest. Donor's prerogative. Thought you would." Joyanne hung up the phone and turned to face a scowling Mayborne Archer.

"What exactly do you think you're doing?" To both Joyanne's and Mayborne's surprise this came out very quietly.

"My job."

"Oh, and exactly when did they start appointing Gens to Controllerships?"

"While I do believe that would be a good thing, I have long since given up on the Tecton exercising anything approaching that kind of common sense."

Mayborne blinked at that. She zlinned the Gen carefully and was, as usual, unable to tell if she was being serious. It was a reflex to zlin for intent. Mayborne had, over the last week, learned to look at Joyanne's face for clues but the room was very dimly lit by a street light off to one side of the window. No help there. The channel suddenly became aware of being "handled" again. "Why won't you allow me to feel my own emotions?!" This did not come out quietly.

"Ooo, what a concept. Tell ya what, when I'm allowed to feel my emotions you'll be allowed to feel yours. How 'bout it?" The Gen smiled and winked at the channel.

It was at this point that Mayborne realized that Joyanne was baiting her on purpose. What could she possibly hope to accomplish by doing that? "Why are you baiting me?"

"Well, you were squirreling for a fight. I figured this was as good a way as any to have it out and still get you to sleep for a couple hours after that."

"What?! That makes no sense. I happen to know you can put me out like a light anytime you want."

"Yes I can. But that won't get rid of the underlying anger and tension that's causing the nightmares."

"Need is causing the nightmares!" Mayborne was rather proud that she hadn't added, 'You idiot Gen' to that.

"I know what needmares feel like. You were having the old fashioned non-larital type caused by stress and unresolved issues." The Donor stared her straight in the eye. Mayborne turned away. Memories were stirring that she did not want to acknowledge.

There was a rustle of bedding. She zlinned Joyanne sitting on the bed patting a spot next to her in invitation. "Tell me about it." Her voice was very gentle and there was a quiet compassion in her nager that drew the channel to her with the offer of solace.

Mayborne balked at first fearing that she was being handled again. She knew that she couldn't zlin the Donor's true intentions. Why should she trust her? Could she trust her? Did she trust her? Still she thought hard about what had passed between them in the last week. Joyanne had never once lied to her. In point of fact she had never lied to her even before she'd left for Broken Promise. The Gen had always made her feelings quite plain. So, what was the difference now? That she could keep her feelings out of her nager wasn't any different from the way all Donors worked. The thing was that Mayborne was normally able to zlin through the field of any Gen. Joyanne was different. Yes there was a good reason why she kept some parts of her nager unzlinnable but it did gall the channel nonetheless. She frowned as she realized, the Gen hurt her pride. Mayborne liked this even less. The Donor made her look at herself with a more critical eye. She didn't like what she saw. Frowning she sat in the spot indicated.

"Thank you."

"Why are you thanking me? I certainly didn't want to sit here wasting valuable work time."

"But you did anyway just as your Donor requested.

Mayborne responded with a, "Hmph."

Joyanne made the request again, "Tell me about it." The compassion had never wavered.

The channel drew a shuddering breath and tried to figure out where to start. The nightmare had faded from its original power but what under laid it was always lurking just below the surface. She decided to begin at the beginning.

"I was fresh out of channel's training, still damp in the sheaths and ready to take on the whole world." Even as she spoke the image of the V'gos Sime Center loomed vivid in her memory.

"I stored my bags in the tiny closet they called my room and headed for the Controller's office. I practically skipped in, all laterals and enthusiasm. I was going to make a difference.” The contempt for her younger self practically dripped from her mouth.

"The Controller just shook his head zlinned me deep made a notation on my records and handed me my transfer assignment. It was a poor match at best but I figured that was because the schedule was knocked off by my arrival. Didn't matter though, I had work to do.

"As duty required I went to the Shift-controller to see what I could do to help. She just smirked at me and told me to get down to the collectorium and "milk some Gens". I didn't bother trying to keep my so righteous indignation out of my showfield. She just smirked harder and pointed to the door.

"I went through the indicated door wondering what I'd have to deal with. The ambient hit me like a brick wall. Every Gen in the room seemed to be sick or in pain or both and the deeper I went into the room the worse it got." Mayborne shuddered not with remembering the sickness and pain but the reason for it.

"I thought that this must be triage for some new epidemic among the donor population. I was sorely mistaken.

"I zlinned around trying to figure out where my Donor was. I found him. He was barely able to stand. He was swaying so hard that I was getting motion sick. I was scared to zlin him but I knew that I had to. Originally I had thought that the ambient was keeping me from zlinning him clearly but to my horror the reason I couldn't zlin him was because he'd been stripped to within a dynopter of his life. I just managed to catch him before he hit the floor. Fortunately, or at least I thought so at the time, he was rather thin for a Gen and not much taller than me. I managed to get him into a donation room and laid out on the lounge. He was so full of fosebine he was practically numb from head to foot. Before I realized it he was in shock, his field spiraling downward so fast I couldn't catch it. No matter how fiercely I projected need at him his body wouldn't respond. His field kept right on flowing away like water out of a leaky bucket. I was in full five point contact with him when he died.

I don't remember much after that. My next conscious memory was waking up in Morelington Sime Center with a monstrous headache and the worse case of psychospatial disorientation ever on record.

Mayborne was trembling with the memory of the horror of the death-shock and the dislocation trauma as she felt the warm wave of compassion wash over her. The comfort she felt from it was instantaneous, it washed away the pain of those awful memories with a reminder of the here and now. It tethered her as the winds of that awful time blew around her. It kept her safe in the present as the past receded to its proper place.

"Did you ever find out why he was so low field?"

Looking at it from the present didn't decrease the horror of it by much but it was distanced by the warm strength of the nager which firmly encompassed her. "I was told that it was all a mistake, that he wasn't supposed to be on the roles. That he had bribed the Shift-controller to let him do transfers for a kickback of a portion of the fees. He'd been overmatched by 14% but his paperwork showed only 2%. On top of that he'd been taking rinax, I guess that's the only reason he didn't die in transfer. All his barriers were completely flattened by the drug and the channel who took the transfer didn't seem to care about the condition of the Donor afterwards. Although she said that he had been awake and just fine when she left the transfer suite. By the time I found him he was suffering withdrawal from the drug. His nervous system completely collapsed under the dual strain.

"I learned then that there are far worse things in this world than what you will see on the worse day In-territory. V'gos is in Gen Territory just a tiny pocket of it surrounded by Sime Territory. Through some strange political maneuvering it doesn't fall under either Gen government authority or Sime government authority. It is a legal sovereign entity with laws of its own and anything you can think of is legal there."

She became aware of Gen-cool arms cradling her as the sounds of her own dry sobs faded to hiccups of an old sorrow.

"Mayborne, Mayborne..." the Donor rocked her gently sorrow mixed with compassion and an odd form of protectiveness that she'd only zlinned once before from a rather large male Gen whom Ydara Makepeace had introduced as her husband. His nager had zlinned like a fortress around Ydara. Mayborne had never expected to zlin anything like it again and certainly not from the inside.

The channel felt two overwhelming and totally contradictory urges at the same time. She wanted to run like shen, to escape this all encompassing nager before it trapped her forever. She wanted to stay and rest in this sanctuary which had been provided for her alone. As she struggled to decide she was gently released nagerically but the Donor still held her rocking her and humming softly. A strange lethargy began to soak through her and she knew she was being handled again. She didn't care. Mayborne fell asleep and slept peacefully for the first time in years.

~°~

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