A Legend of Old Earth

 

This story was told to me by my grandmother, who heard it from her father, and so on... a line that leads back into the past until it becomes too faint to trace. It was told to me as a true story of the way things were under the Tecton, and I've encountered other folk who had a similar story as part of their family tradition, often with some variation in detail. But this is the version that has been passed down within my family for untold generations, and which I will tell to my daughters when they are old enough to understand.

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The trouble, if you want to call it that, began three days before Yeeshi was scheduled for transfer at the local Sime Center. He and Carlen were cuddled up in bed together, though of course Yeeshi had no interest in sex at such a time. Carlen had crawled into bed after a long day because she was hoping to get some sleep, and Yeeshi had joined her because it made him feel better to lie close to her. Unfortunately, he had no more interest in sleep than he did in lovemaking, and kept talking to her. She wasn't paying much attention and was starting to drift off to sleep when he took one of her arms in a transfer grip, complete with lateral contact and a fair amount of ronaplin. Her other arm was not accessible to him because she was lying on it.

"It seems inefficient to me," he said. "You donate to the channel and he gives the selyn to me—possibly even your selyn. Why don't we just skip the intermediary?" He didn't sound like he was kidding.

She tried to pull her arm away, but he wasn't willing to relinquish it. "Yeesh, let go of me!" Her heart was pounding, though not from fear.

He did, but he got a little sulky, as he often did toward the end of his need cycle. "Fine, but don't try to tell me I'm the only one that wants to do things that way. If you weren't tempted, I wouldn't be, either. Well, not as much, anyway. Just go ahead and admit it. Or don't—I know anyway. Don't bother trying to deny it."

"Sure, on a physical, biological level, but—"

"Are you afraid you would end up—getting hurt? I think you could handle it." He twined just one handling tentacle around her wrist. Annoyed, she pried it loose.

"Look, the idea is just not practical. The Tecton takes a very dim view of the kind of thing you are suggesting." She was sure he was right, that she could do it, but she didn't want to encourage him by saying so. "What would we do afterward—run off and join the Distect?"

He dropped the subject, and got his transfer from one of the channels at the Center like any law-abiding renSime. But over the next few months, he kept finding various ways to bring the topic up. It was starting to make her very uncomfortable. They both had good jobs, and since there were no children, they were able to live very well on their combined incomes. Why did he insist on flirting with something that could get them both arrested?

Eventually, she found it necessary to make it clear to him that if he valued their relationship, he would have to stop. He knew she was serious, just as he knew that her ultimatum was due partly to the fact that she didn't quite trust herself to keep saying no if he continued in his campaign. Winter gave way to spring, and months passed without any reference to the matter.

As summer approached, Yeeshi became very enthusiastic about the idea of a camping trip. Just the two of them, alone in the wilderness. As he refined his plans, Carlen realized he'd arranged things so that he would hit hard need while they were miles from civilization. She didn't say anything about this, but just kept shopping for supplies for their trip.

Off into the woods they hiked, on a northerly heading, into a vast tract of woods that did not end for over a hundred miles in that direction. They'd been traveling for more than a week when Yeeshi started to look a little haggard. Pleading exhaustion, Carlen began to demand frequent rest breaks, though Yeeshi usually sent the time pacing around the spot she chose while she sat on some rock or fallen log. "Yeesh, sit down, will you? You're wasting selyn."

"I guess I can't very well afford to do that, not when I'm less than seventy-two hours from critical need." He gave her kind of a sideways look, as if he thought this news might come as a shock to her.

"I had it figured as closer to four days. You must have been augmenting more than I thought. Come over here and sit down."

He continued pacing in a half-circle in front of her, not coming any closer, but not moving farther away either. "Even if it were four days, there's no way we're making it back to the nearest Center." There was an air of tension about him, and he looked at her questioningly, as if waiting for some sign. Didn't he know she's made her decision when she'd agreed to this trip in the first place?

She didn't want to let him off the hook too easily, though. "Yeeshi, I'm starting to think you're really serious about this."

"It doesn't get any more serious than this, Car. I guess if you were to start back without me right now, I could just stay here until I lost control of myself. You'd get enough of a head start that I probably wouldn't catch you before I died of attrition." For a moment, he had a look about him that suggested he might sort of enjoy the chase, and she felt a soft touch of fear. She pushed it away, knowing that she could not afford to be even a little bit afraid of him, not if she hoped to survive. This knowledge freed her, and the apprehension was replaced by exultation. She could not recall ever feeling more alive.

"Don't be ridiculous. Come here." Finally, he came over and sat next to her, and she ran her hand lightly along the side of his bare forearm. Her fingers came away wet. He went hyperconscious when she touched him, and recovered himself with a visible effort. "You want to do this now, or wait?"

"Well, we have to set up camp. Let me fix you some dinner. Maybe after you've eaten. Maybe in the morning. We'll see." Abruptly, all the intil she'd read in his face and posture seemed to vanish, and he bustled around almost faster than she could keep track of, not looking at her very much, though she had the sense that he was very aware of her presence. She didn't try to help; when he got like this, she'd just be in the way. Soon he had a fire going and was heating up her dinner. She was used to that, as they'd long since agreed that it was the natural role of Simes to feed Gens on a regular basis. She laid down in a hollow filled with dried leaves from the previous fall, resting her head on her arms so she could continue watching him.

Nothing she could say or do would convince him to eat anything. She knew he was farther into need than the channels usually permitted renSimes to go, but somehow, the fading light and the sound of crickets all around them made it impossible to worry much about that. The heat of the day was gone, and a pleasant lassitude seemed to hang in the very air. Yeeshi started to tell her about an idea he'd had for another trip they could take later that year, then interrupted himself rather abruptly in the middle of a sentence. "I don't think I want to wait any longer, Car."

He was looking at her with a faint anxiety in his eyes, as if he was still concerned that she might try to change her mind. But all sign of need had vanished. From his expression, he might have been thinking about his tax report, or some other mildly unpleasant subject. It wasn't quite what she'd been expecting.

"Are you sure you don't want to wait a little longer? It's better if you wait until you really want to, isn't it?" She wanted this to be good for him. Goddess only knew what would happen to them afterward. The Tecton was unlikely to buy the idea that their situation was the result of some unpreventable accident. So it had better be worth it. Admit it, she wanted this to be the best damn transfer he'd ever had in his life.

"The longer we wait, the more intense it will be. I don't, it might be better if it's not too intense this time." She suddenly had the feeling that he was terrified, but doing his best to conceal it. Well, she'd never heard that it caused a problem if the Sime was scared. They would be all right as long as she felt no fear, which she didn't.

"The timing is up to you, Yeesh. Whenever you're ready. I'm here for you." He looked so miserable that she reached out to envelop him in a comforting embrace, but he had other ideas. He grabbed both her arms, and his mouth was wet when he pressed it to hers.

She felt a curious sensation inside her body, like a hook had reached into her heart and guts in preparation for pulling out her insides—trautholo. Some of you who are general donors (or who don't donate at all) are probably reading this and thinking, that does not sound very pleasant. But any of you capital-d Donors out there—and possibly a few others, as well—you're nodding and saying, "Well, yes, it's kind of like that—but in a good way."

Then he began to draw and it only got better. Why had nobody ever told her? She never wanted it to end, and yet when it did, she didn't mind. She felt incapable of movement, completely satisfied.

"Carlie? Are you okay?"

It seemed like a lot of effort to answer, but he sounded a little panicked. "Way, way better than just 'okay', Yeesh. Just hold me."

He did, his tentacles finding their way under the collar of her shirt. She began to think there might be something worth staying awake for, after all. "I guess now we really will have to join the Distect," she said. "I can't very well go back to being a general donor after that."

His arms tightened around her. "Actually, I did have a destination in mind when I planned this. We'll just keep going north. I'm glad you agree, because I could not stand the idea of anyone else laying a tentacle on so much as a single dynopter of your selyn, not ever again."

"It's yours," she assured him.

So they did join the Distect, and were seldom apart during the years they spent as part of that life. But I'm afraid the story does not have a happy ending. The Tecton caught up with them eventually, and separated them. By that time they had developed the kind of dependency broken only by death. In some eras, they would have been put into a camp together where they could live out their lives without corrupting anyone else, but hard-liners were in control at that time. Yeeshi lasted a month and a half under the impersonal compassion of channels who tried their best to force transfer on him. His last thought was of Carlen. She was released into Gen territory, and kept going for almost a year before she committed suicide, wondering as she did so why she hadn't gotten around to it sooner.

The question that remains is how the eight years they spent living as nature intended, mostly in harmony punctuated by ecstatic joy, compares in value with a longer lifetime of repression and frustration. You must decide that for yourself. If they had a chance to go back and start over, knowing the outcome, I cannot say how they would choose. But I am certain that if there is an afterlife, they are together now and for all eternity. If there is not, then they live on only in the minds of those who read these words.

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