Ruthless

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"But what would they do with the bodies?" asked Garlen.

It always came down to the bodies. Simes could kill and kill, every month adding as many Gen bodies as there were Simes to kill them… and where did all the bodies go? Any village that housed Simes had to wrestle with that question.

"If they're hiding out in the wilderness and trying not to be found, they can't very well burn them," Garlen continued earnestly. "People would see the smoke. And they can't just bury them - the mountains would have rocky soil."

Chaz grinned, his eyes alight with a mischievous glint. He was the younger of the brothers, and by far the most devious and heartless of the two. He was curled up on the library floor, his hands folded under his cheek, the childish pose completely at odds with his reply: "They could chop them up into little bits, and leave the pieces in the woods for the wolves and bears. After many years of that, the woods would be seething with the beasts. It'd be ever so convenient. Think of the added security."

Garlen groaned. "I don't know which is worse, the idea or your relish of it!"

"Later," continued Chaz cheerfully, "they could go back and collect the bone fragments, boil them and then grind them up for fertilizing their farmland." Chaz was ingenious when it came to tormenting his more squeamish older brother.

-----

Their obsession had begun as the blueprint for a castle - the sort of thing that little boys dream up on on the floors of the dark and solemn libraries of their elders. The brothers had pored over thick books describing quarrying, masonry, fortification. They'd argued fervently over the placement of towers, gates, weapons slits. Where would the people live? The village was born, enclosed by the castle wall. Later the farmlands were added, encircled by their own lower wall. In the years that had passed since they first began their opus, it could have literally been built. That is how long they had been working on it. A child's lifetime.

Or rather, it had begun even earlier than that, when they had begged their father to read and re-read to them People of the Big Land, the quintessential Gen-who-dared-Sime-Territory story. Those rambling and perhaps semi-fictitious memoirs told of an epic journey, beginning with the author's capture by a Genrunner - his own cousin. He was brought to Sime Territory and sold several times between owners. Every one who owned him seemed to epitomize a different aspect of Simedom, and each seemed improbably willing to speak with the author about the particulars of his or her existence. Those chapters of the book described junct Sime culture in the most exquisite detail. But most fantastic and enticing of all was the latter part of the book, in which the author claimed to have fallen into the hands of a Householding, a closed society where Simes and Gens were reported to live side-by-side.

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"But if they were hiding in the mountains," said Garlen, "Where would they get the Gens to kill in the first place? If they brought them in, there would have to be roads, and if there were roads, people could find them."

"There would be another valley," said Chaz. "Where the mothers lived. They would raise the pre-Gens and teach them that they'd be taken away when they were old enough. Only the females chosen as replacement breeders would remain behind."

"You're talking about people," breathed Garlen. "Mothers. They'd never do it!"

"If it was their culture they would," said Chaz. "They could have a ritual. The males would believe it was their coming of age, their becoming warriors, going forth into the dream-land to do battle. The females would believe that they were being turned into males and sent forth with their brothers."

"Don't call them pre-Gens and females and males," hissed Garlen. "They would be boys and girls. Just like us!"

Chaz stretched out on the floor, grinning a foolish and innocent grin, seeming unaware of how incongruously vulnerable he looked just then, with the sun shining in and glinting off his throat and belly.

"I was just trying to think like a Sime," he said.

-----

Garlen and Chaz should both have been away at school, locked up safely in isolation from a society where Gens were firmly in charge and kids who turned out to be Sime were quietly and privately executed. But their parents were wealthy and had powerful friends, and the two boys had enjoyed private tutoring from the beginning. Even now, with Garlen 15 years of age and Chaz 13 - both within the age range for Sime changeovers - they remained sequestered at home instead of off at boarding-school. It was dangerous and illegal, but because of who their parents were, people only whispered of the scandal and nothing was done.

In recent years, it had become impossible to pay a tutor enough to remain with them all day every day. Even the servants of the house tiptoed about secretly, ready to bolt at the first sign of a changeover. Their parents had promised them that tutoring would begin again, just as soon as they were out of danger of becoming Sime. But their bedroom doors were locked at night, and even their parents would not remain nearby during the day.

Because of this, Garlen and Chaz had become each other's sole companions. And after so many years in the company of one another, and so many hours in their exclusive company during the days, they had come to share a deep bond that expressed itself entirely in terms of the project they had wrought.

Their brotherly love was woven into the details of the crops and storage sheds and animal barns, in the decorations on the peasants' homes. Their sibling rivalries were played out in heated, resentful debates about whether a Sime community could ever find a way to placate the Gen border patrol, whether Simes could really use guns or not, and whether a Sime could successfully pretend to be a Gen.

They had named their hidden city Fior. In Simelan, Fior meant permanent. And for them, Fior was their past and present, their barricade against a blank future, each intimate detail of its construction and the community that might live within it making up the sum of their shared knowledge of life and reality and each other.

In Fior, whether on paper or in words, no subject was taboo.

-----

"The logistics of breeding their own Gens just wouldn't work," said Garlen. "We're aiming at a population of 300 Simes. That means at the very minimum 3600 Gens would be needed per year. That means 5400 kids would have to come of age per year, since a third of them would become Simes. If the mothers each have a child once per year and a half, that means we'd need a minimum of 8100 mothers. At that rate, assuming the Gens are killed as soon as they Establish, there would be nearly 60,000 kids of age 11 or under there at any given time. That's not even counting the ones who don't come of age until later. How in the world would they hide and feed that many Gens up in the mountains, even if they were perfectly cooperative?"

Chaz had rolled over on the floor and was watching Garlen intently from behind his folded arms. Now he smiled, sly and elfin.

"We wouldn't need that many if the Simes had a channel."

-----

The idea of a place that children who turned Sime could flee to was an alluring one. In the deep-Gen-Territory culture that Garlen and Chaz had been born to, to be Sime meant to be dead because all Simes were destroyed in changeover. One in three children died quietly and in absentia, mourned not as monsters but as children who have gone off to school and never returned.

Chaz and Garlen's parents did not wish their children to be locked up in the boarding-schools with the others, but when it came down to it, they would take responsibility and shoot down their own children if they turned Sime. They had even trained each of them to do it if caught alone with the other in changeover.

To them, People of the Big Land was a book. Nothing more.

But to Chaz and Garlen it was a promise, the foundation of which was laid by their parents' flouting of the law, instilling in them the belief that there are other ways of living and dying than the ones society expects. And that promise was ignited and kept aflame by the lurid detail of the travellers' accounts in People of the Big Land and many of the other rare and controversial books that could be found in their father's library.

Yes, there was a land, Nivet, where Simes lived in towns and even had their own governments. A great and open land, where one could ride for days without seeing another human being. And if a Sime could reach that land, or another one like it (for there were more than just Nivet) then a Sime could live. Being Sime did not therefore, necessarily mean being dead.

Perhaps it can be excused that the idea of Simes killing to stay alive did not seem alien and hideous to the boys. They had grown up knowing a third of their peers would be executed, and that a third of their parents' peers had died too, and so on back to the beginning. The idea of death was no stranger, even if death itself had been safe and distant thus far. Murder as life-necessity was something they had always understood.

In People of the Big Land, it was said that in the Householdings the children who would become channels knew that they would be Sime.

Both Garlen and Chaz knew that they would be Sime.

That was something else they had always understood.

-----

"If there was a channel," said Chaz, "there could be permanent Gens. Just enough to serve the Simes. In the book, the Simes living off the channels mostly only needed one real kill per year. Some of them didn't need any kills at all."

Garlen could not tear his eyes away from Chaz' sunlit hands. They glowed with what seemed an inner-light. Perhaps this was how Simes saw Gens. He wondered if they could also see what he could see in Chaz - the ruthlessness that contradicted his habitual shows of vulnerability. The poised menace, so incongruous in a child, so cleverly disguised as innocence. If Chaz were to have children, he would not hesitate to throw their bodies to the wolves. Garlen had no doubt of that.

"We could make it a 150 Simes, and 150 Gens, instead of 300 Simes," Chaz continued. "There could be a wall inside, dividing the houses into two groups, and each could live in their own half of the town. That would keep them safe from one another. The channel would be the only one who could go to both sides."

"And the Gens would all be escaped from Sime territory, and the Simes all from escaped from Gen," whispered Garlen.

"There would still have to be breeders," said Chaz. "But not as many. A twelfth as many."

Garlen sometimes wondered if Chaz knew how much he scared him.

-----

Garlen had always assumed that he would be the first to change over. In a way, his fear of his brother had been a reassurance. He'd never doubted that Chaz would be able to handle the situation if he found that Garlen had become Sime.

There were times when they were not together. Not many, but some. During these times, Garlen would sit quietly in the darkened library, thinking through what he would do, what would have to be done. He doubted he had the courage to shoot himself before he finished changing over. And yet, the thought of killing one of his parents was even more unbearable. He thought that when the time came, if he had any capability of logic and self control at all, that he would try to catch one of the servants instead. He would rather be shot by a loved one than to kill a loved one.

The best time for Garlen to think alone was when Chaz took care of their father's messenger pigeons. They lived on the roof at the far end of the house. The task kept Chaz busy for at least an hour every day. Sometimes longer, if he watched the patterns of their flights too long and became mesmerized in thought.

When he came back on those particular days, he was often even scarier than usual.

Especially when Garlen had been using the time to scare himself as well.

-----

"It would be different," Chaz had said once, "if the servants were loyal enough to give their lives for our parents."

And Garlen had just looked at him in shock, thinking it was another attempt to startle him. But his younger brother seemed perfectly sincere.

"Then our parents could be here always, and we could be served our meals by a person instead of finding them waiting in an empty room. We would never have to be afraid that we would kill someone we truly loved, because if we started to change over, one of the servants would come and give up his life to save us and to protect our parents. Then we could travel far away, to Nivet or another place where Simes live."

"But why would anyone be that loyal?" asked Garlen.

"Lots of reasons," said Chaz. He was curled up on the thick rug of the library, in a patch of sunlight. His black hair was lost in the library's deeper gloom, while the skin of his face and chest reflected the sun's glare making him look an incomplete thing, half-shadow half-light. Only his eyes seemed human, their pale gray as deceptively soft as his voice. "If their life had been saved. If they owed it to our parents."

"Maybe," said Garlen. "But how would that happen?"

"If they were born in Nivet. If they became Gen and were going to be killed by the Simes, and our parents rescued them. Or if someone else rescued them in our parents' name."

The idea of a Gen fleeing Sime Territory was almost more gripping to them than the idea of a Sime fleeing New Washington. Never mind that neither of them could ever find themselves in such a position. The desire to save the life of a Gen was deeply bred into them, as into all Gen-Territory-born people.

"If Fior rescued Nivet-born Gens, they could send them here as servants," said Garlen, making the logical connection.

"Exactly." Chaz' grin split out on his face again, pleased by Garlen's quick grasp of his latest and most precocious idea. He rolled over on his back, his upstretched forearms now the only part of him in sun. He didn't seem to notice how Garlen stared at their flawless, shining skin.

"That's where our kept-Gens would come from. They would live there while they learned to be servants. While they learned to be grateful."

And Garlen could not answer.

-----

When Garlen did change over, it was unexpected and more sudden than he'd had any way to prepare for. It came upon him stealthily, over a period of hours, in the library itself with Chaz there the entire time. As if by design, it waited until Chaz had left him to go to the roof before it burst into its most awful phase, with his arms swelling and pain wracking through him in stifled agonized gulps.

He wondered if Chaz had seen it coming, and said nothing. Or had his precious brother in fact failed to notice? It seemed impossible and yet it had also seemed, for years, as if nothing could ever happen to either of them.

And as he lay panting on the sun-bloodied rug, his body trying to break its tentacles free, he could feel the servants slipping away from the house in ones and twos, like ghosts right through the walls. And the house itself, that had seemed so dark and solid all these years, now seemed a fragile tangle of translucent shards -- a refuge no longer.

Chaz did not come back. He knew, then. They all knew.

All except the parents, and they would come back to find death in their house. They had gambled with their lives and at least one of them would die for it.

-----

Once after spending time on the roof, Chaz had returned with a thoughtful expression on his thirteen-year-old face.

"The pigeons don't know that they help us, nor do they know either obedience or disobedience. We have simply learned their minds, and made what they do naturally work in our favor. Once we have shown a pigeon where home is, it will carry any message for us with no care for whether the message bears good tidings or ill. For the pigeon, being alive means always and only coming home."

"People are not pigeons," said Garlen, knowing Chaz was thinking of his rescued and loyal servants.

"I think they are," said Chaz. "They are exactly pigeons."

-----

Some time after it was over, Chaz appeared in the doorway in silhouette. His child's nager promised little. The lenses of his eyes were sidelit by his corona, mercurial. There was no fear in him. Steadied before him was their father's practice pistol. It was a heavy, unbalanced thing, designed to maximize error. It was not the sort of weapon one would hope to find first at hand in a situation like this. But Chaz could not miss at this range, even with a practice pistol. He was a good shot.

His eyes flickered over the two bodies of their mother and father, and then back to Garlen pressed into the corner. The tip of the pistol trembled as tears formed.

"I'm sorry," said Garlen.

"We knew it would happen," said Chaz.

"I'm sorry it had to be you to… to shoot me. And I'm sorry I killed them both. You'll be sent off to the boarding-schools and come out as a pauper."

Chaz raised his chin defiantly. "I don't plan to lose my inheritance. The house, the lands, the money -- I want it. I intend to keep it."

It was preposterous, coming from the mouth of a 13 year old child. Garlen felt that he understood so much more now than he had only hours before. The world was a hard place, and no amount of pretending could hold it at bay. Their parents had paid for that and now so would both of them.

"How? How could you possibly?" asked Garlen softly.

"I've spent a lot of time thinking it out. I'm going to tell them I'm you."

"What!"

"In two months you'll be sixteen, and legally adult. I'll inherit it all if they think I'm you."

"But we aren't that alike. They'll know." But most wouldn't. Only their parents' closest friends had seen Garlen and Chaz in person lately, and those closest friends would be the ones most likely to cover for the remaining son.

"Some of them will know," said Chaz, "but they'll pretend they don't."

And Garlen realized that if anyone could pull it off, Chaz could. He had that way about him, intensely perceptive, engaging, that made people want to consider things in a different light. That made it impossible to keep your eyes off him, to deny him.

"But then if you change over too? You'll be trapped just as I am."

"No," said Chaz. His eyes took on that faraway look that said that where others saw a flock of pigeons, he saw the hidden patterns in their flights. "I'm going away, to the border. I'm going to build Fior."

"Build Fior?" whispered Garlen. It was an appalling idea, and perhaps impossible, and yet it was just like Chaz to attempt it. Only a person who thought parents could be persuaded to scatter pieces of their children to the wolves would be able to even begin such a task.

Chaz did not answer for a time. He only watched Garlen, his eyes still damp but also cool and hard, his ruthless side bared and gleaming.

"Yes," he said finally. He raised the practice pistol again, aiming carefully. "I'm going to build Fior."

And that is where the older brother's story ends.

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