Life 101

by

N. Eileen O'Neill

 

This is a story about something that happened when I was four and a half years old. I didnít use the worldís best judgement, and I was certainly old enough to know better. Things could have turned out a lot worse. Maybe somebody will read this and learn something from it, but I doubt it. If people could really learn from reading about other peopleís mistakes, the human race would be past that by now, because I donít think anybody has invented any new ways to screw up just recently. Itís all been done before.

I remember what I was wearing that night. After work, Iíd changed into a multicolored vest and a very tight, very short black leather skirt that showed off my legs and my ass, which are my best features. Not that I had the slightest interest in getting laid, at that particular time, but I felt better about everything if I knew I looked good. And it was always a relief to take off the confining historical costumes they make us wear at the club. Heavens forbid that I should serve drinks to the channels and their high-voltage Gens wearing comfortable clothing. It would lower the tone of the whole place.

I was walking down Luna Boulevard, where a lot of places were still open, even in the middle of one of Quissaís long, sultry winter nights. Quissa is the oldest human settlement on Freysea and still the largest and most populous of the Free Cities, and the business districts never close down entirely.

I was headed for my friend Jorrieís shop, Indelible Lines, because I was thinking seriously about getting my tentacles tattooed. I had the money, and I had been considering it for a couple of months. A big decision like that, I make myself think it over for at least one full need cycle, so I can look at it from various perspectives. Iíd pretty much decided to do it, but I still wasnít sure which design I wanted.

If I was going to get it done, I definitely wanted Jorrie to do it. Heís good. He did the vine that kind of winds its way up my left leg from my ankle to the cheek of my behind, which is my only one so far. Maybe, I thought, maybe I would get it done that very night, if he wasnít too busy and if I could make up my mind what pattern I liked best. Maybe that would cheer me up a little, if I just went ahead and did it.

Even if I chickened out, it might make me feel better to hang out with Jorrie for awhile. He and I had this kind of a flirting thing goingóyou should have heard some of the comments we made to each other when he was doing the part of the vine that goes across the inside of my upper thigh. If we were ever post at the same time, we probably would have gotten together, but so far things hadnít worked out that way. And I didnít feel quite strongly enough about it to go to a lot of extra trouble, messing up my cycle and all the hassle that goes with that.

But I was looking forward to seeing him. Heíd be in a good mood, just a few days past transfer, and it might prove contagious. Itís funny how people react differently to things. Some Simes canít stand to be around another Sime whoís high field when theyíre getting close to need, but I find it reassuring somehow. Itís like the psychological message is yes, there is selyn available, you can have some too.

Luna Boulevard has these little alcoves between some of the shops, with benches and ornamental foliage and the occasional bit of statuary. It was in one of these that I noticed this little, tiny Gen, sobbing quietly into her folded arms, which she was resting on her knees. She was skinnier than me, and usually it makes me feel smug as hell to see a Gen with less flesh than I have. I work hard to keep my figure, eating these huge meals every day whether I feel like it or not.

But she would probably get bigger in the next year or two. She couldnít have established very long ago, although she did seem to have a reasonable amount of training, especially for her age. She had pulled her misery in tight, wrapping it around her like a cloak, and I might not have noticed her at all if it wasnít so late in my cycle.

I almost kept walking. I felt badly for heróand also deeply depressed, of course, because she did, and once I focused in on her it was catching despite her efforts to keep from broadcasting her feelings into the ambient. She was high-field, starting to dissipate a little in fact, and it was a lot more likely for her to drag me down than for me to be able to make her feel better. But I wanted to help. What kind of person saw somebody in distress like that and just kept going? If she wanted to be left alone, she could make that clear and get rid of me in a hurry.

It was the extra training that decided me. Sheíd obviously done more than just the minimum required to get out of the Gen school, where the channels lock them up when they first establish and donít let them out again until itís no longer considered a public safety hazard to let them run the streets.

"Hey."

She looked up, glancing first at my face and then down at my arms. For some reason, the sight of my tentacles filled her with desolation, accompanied by an undercurrent of anger. Probably sheíd rather be comforted by another Gen. The problem was that sheíd been crying so quietly, half-hidden behind a fire tree, that it was unlikely they would even realize she was there. Iíd never have seen her if I hadnít zlinned her first.

"Hey yourself. Iím surprised you arenít fleeing under high augmentation. Is my nager really, really repulsive?"

"Repulsive?" Cautiously, I sat down on the other end of the bench. Gens do get the weirdest ideas into their heads. "Not at all. Uh, I suppose you could stand to get your field taken down a little."

This provoked another bout of weeping. I thought wistfully of Jorrieís back room, where he keeps these thick books with different designs for people to leaf through. Part of the reason I hadnít actually had the tattoos done yet was that it was so much fun trying to decide.

"Yes, I guess I might as well." She scrubbed painfully at her face with one long sleeve, and an air of resolve brightened her nager. "Are you a channel?"

"Ah, no." I resisted the sudden impulse to run away. That seemed to be a sore point with her. I didnít want her to think she was repulsive. A little overwhelming, maybe. She was just a GN-level Gen, but the combination of her high field and the strength of her emotions wasÖ formidable. I couldnít tell for sure, but I was beginning to strongly suspect that she was transfer-rated, despite the fact that she looked as though she were still awaiting the arrival of puberty.

That was probably what this was all about, some argument with a transfer partner who would be along momentarily and try to murder me just for talking to her. And not entirely without justification. I was starting to have thoughts about this situation. But Iím not in the habit of making a nuisance of myself with Gens Iíve only just met. "Listen, though, if you want to find a channel right in thisó"

"I might as well find one right now!" She was barely listening to me, and began scanning the street as if she was going to run up to the first one she saw and demand services. They donít care much for that, except in a real emergency. They like to enjoy a night out on the town, relaxing and minding their own business, as much as any of the rest of us. Next thing, she was going to ask me to point one out to her, and with my luck they would turn out to be a member of the club where I work.

"Thereís a walk-in clinic right near here, if thatís what you really want to do. Thatís where I go, and itís a pretty nice place. Thereís always at least one channel on duty, although you might have to wait a few minutes since you donít have an appointment. I could show you where to find it. If youíre sure thatís what you want to do." I was still thinking about her transfer partner, who might be anything from pissed off through panicked at the discovery that sheíd gone off and donated in a fit of temper. I felt I owed this other Sime some consideration. "I meanóI donít mean to get personal, but maybe you had some other plans that donating might, uh, interfere with."

"Not any more." Her gloom deepened. I felt like cutting my throat. "I thought I did. We had it all planned out. Me and my boyfriend, Evin, we were supposed to do transfer together earlier today. I went through all those stupid classes you have to take, did the whole high-speed donation routineóand for what? So he could change his mind at the last minute and go running out of the room. The channel went running after him, and when she came back she said he wasnít ready and she was going to give him transfer herself, instead. She tried to get me to donate then, but I was too upset. I just left. I should have let her do it. Now Iíll have to find someone else, or Iíll be like a walking blot on the ambient or something."

"I didnít mean to give you the impressionÖ itís not that bad." She gave me a brooding look, radiating hurt prideÖ and a certain amount of Gen intil, or whatever you want to call it. My handling tentacles started writhing around pretty much on their own, looking for something to grab, and my laterals peeked out to see what all the excitement was about. I stuffed my hands into the deep pockets in the front of my vest.

"Look, if you want my adviceóthe Sime point of view, as it wereóbe a little patient with him. He just got scared, thatís all. Itíll probably work out better next time. Give him another chance."

"Heís an asshole. Not ready! What the hell is that supposed to mean? Why would any Sime run away from a Gen whoís trying to offer them transfer?"

"Iíve done it." That got her attention. I didnít know why she should find it so surprising. But of course, she was really young. Maybe she didnít know that the first thing SimesórenSimes in particularóare taught to do if a Gen is making them uncomfortable, is to get out of the situation. Fast, if necessary. Gens sometimes see this as cowardly behavior, because their training is different. If a Sime is giving them trouble, of course, the last thing they should try to do is run.

"Well, maybe Iíll give him a chance to explain this to me. I might consider trying this again next month. Or maybe not. But for now, if you donít mind showing me where that clinic isÖ Iím Lila, by the way." She extended a fingertip.

I didnít want to be rude, but I really, really didnít want to touch herÖ and at the same time I really, really did want to. I wasnít too eager to even take my hands out of my pockets. I was not going to be able to get my tentacles to behave, and she was going to know exactly what she was looking at. It was embarrassing.

"Iím Rayne. Uh, no offense, I canít do that right nowÖ Iíll walk you down to the clinic, though."

She looked at me thoughtfully. "Sure, why not. It isnít as if anyoneÖ wants me. What do you think? Give me the Sime point of view on that."

Oh, shen. I wasnít thinking about escaping, not any more. The times Iíve literally gotten up and run away from some Gen who was working on my intil, it was either someone experienced who had an agenda I didnít quite trustÖ or else somebody who didnít know what they were doing and should have been put in remedial Gen school. Lila had an awfully nice nager, quiet and unthreatening, yet with a core of determination. And now she was sitting there projecting her Gen yearning at me, not super-aggressively but not being coy about it, either. I swallowed.

The thing is, I couldnít think of how to tell her I didnít have any more experience than she did. I know that makes me sound like the worldís biggest dweeb. Almost five, and Iíd never had a Genónot even one that was for hire. I come from a pretty conservative family, thatís part of it. I was raised to be cautious about things like that.

And I like my freedom. I know autonomy seems like a strange word for a Sime to use, but you can come pretty close to that as long as thereís a channelís office on every other street corner, and most of them will give you a perfectly good transfer for a reasonable feeówith no strings attached.

Everyone says that once you try Gen transfer, a channel is never quite satisfactory againóand it seems like a shame to ruin such a lovely experience. Once you acquire a taste for getting it straight from the source, you have to either talk a Gen into hooking up with you, or else come up with a lot more money to get a really satisfying transfer. Because the ones who charge for it are going to want way more than youíd pay a channel. Itís fair, because they can only do it once a monthóI donít include Gen channeling, Iíve never seen the point in thatóand if they didnít take all the extra training out of love, then they did it because they expect to get something back for it.

Iím a romantic at heart, and always imagined Iíd find a Gen of my own someday. Itíll happen when it happens, but Iím not in any hurry. Because that will mean the end of my freedom. Iíve seen it. You have to worry about whether they have something to eat, and are they getting enough sleep, and then they want to know where you are and when youíll be backÖ itís worse than having a boyfriend.

Sex is so much simpler. Safer. You can do that and still have some space. And unless youíre a channel, you arenít going to develop some problem where youíll get sick and maybe die if you canít have sex with a particular person. I could do without sex altogether if I had to. Not that I see any reason to. A sexual relationship is pretty equitable, whereas I think that a transfer partnership gives the Gen a really unfair advantage. Every Sime I know who has an arrangement like that says itís more than worth it. Sure. Someday. In the meantime, I always meant to sample a few different Gens before I found the right one, but somehow the occasion had never seemed quite right.

She and I just sat there looking at each other. Now, I was not exactly in hard needóit was another four days before my appointment with Hajene Helmutt at the clinic. But she was sending my intil through the roof. I was about ready to grab her then and there. Yeah, and thatís when the channel she was looking for earlier would come along and arrest both of us for Dangerous Disturbance of the Ambient. At best, thatís a fine of about a yearís wages, which they let you pay off on the installment plan. If thereís a cascade and someone gets hurtÖ weíre talking banishment. Itís just not a good idea.

She smiled. "So do you want to do this or not?"

I closed my eyes and kind of shuddered. Her nager went all dark again. Talk about misinterpreting a reaction. Gens can be kind of dense sometimes. "Didnít think so," she muttered. And got up, and started to walk away.

"Wait! Wait!" She half-turned, full of sorrow and resentment, to look back at me. She looked ready to keep walking. I honestly donít know what would have happened if sheíd done that. I like to think I could have sat there for a bit and calmed myself down, but there are limits. "Wait, you canítóyou took those Gen classes. They must have showed you how to bring down somebodyís intil. You have to do that for me, at least. Then you can go, if you really want to." Gens do have certain responsibilities, if they get someone into a state like sheíd done to me.

Slowly, the smile crept back over her face. "Oh, hey." She stepped closer and ran one finger down my forearm, without using any anti-intil technique at all. Then she kind of latched onto me and helped me get myself under control. I was impressed by how smoothly she did that. I wouldnít have guessed she had it in her. Except I wasnít sure it was my control I was under. "Is that better? Come on, I know a place we can go."

A Gen canít control you for any length of time unless youíre cooperating. They can run your emotions, but not your mind, unless they can make the emotion so strong that your intelligence just shuts down altogether. Oh, a TN-rated Gen might be able to march a renSime around like a puppet all dayóif they had any interest in doing that. Fortunately, those Gens are too busy coaxing the channels through their nervous fits. Working where I do, I could tell you some storiesÖ but if I did that, Iíd probably get fired.

A regular Gen with an ordinary amount of training will only be able to maintain their concentration for so long, and if they were really doing anything to you that you didnít want them toÖ well, the moment their focus slips, itís back to the augmented-sprinting method of renSime self-defense. Trust me, it works.

So Iím not trying to blame all of this on Lila. I was definitely under her influence. But I wanted to be. Deciding to go along with it was kind of an impulsive thing, which I realize is a poor frame of mind for making decisions about transfer.

I tried to think of whether there were any laws we might be breaking by doing this. Given the fact that sheíd been scheduled for a channel-supervised transfer earlier that day, I knew all her paperwork had to be in order. Of course the APCóthe Association of Professional Channelsóstrongly recommends supervision for a Genís first few transfers. But itís not mandated by law, not here in Quissa. Every now and then thereís a proposal to tighten up the transfer regulations, but then people start talking about the Tecton and the flotilla and so forth, and after a certain amount of emotional uproar the idea is laid to rest for awhile.

I thought about steering Lila toward the clinic. We were headed in the right general direction. But I could guess what Hajene Helmutt or any of the others would have said. Youíre four days early, and shouldnít you get to know this Gen a little better first, and blah blah blah. Next thing, her boyfriend would talk her out of the idea and Iíd be back with Helmutt, an idea that suddenly seemed completely unappealing.

So we ended up at this ratty little place that rented insulated cubicles by the half-hour. I have no idea how an innocent little Gen like her knew about a place like that. The proprietor was either one of those high-capacity renSimes they breed up in the mountains, or maybe some sort of untrained channel. I donít have the sensitivity to tell the difference and didnít much care what she was anyway. She had her hair all twisted up in this awful thing with fake rocks and twigs and leaves, all of it shellacked to last until doomsday, except for the leaves which kind of flapped around in the breeze. I thought it looked so low-class, although I didnít really care much about that, either.

She gave us a bored look that said sheíd seen it all before. "Thatíll run you forty, and if youíre in there longer than thirty minutes, itís another forty. And Iím going to have to see papers from both of you."

I dug out the money and handed it to her, along with my document wallet. She shuffled through my travel permits and all the other stuff you have to carry around, until she found my transfer card. I had a moment of panic, and she suddenly got more alert.

I hadnít even thought to ask Lila her capacity. She zlinned fine to me, but I wasnít used to judging things like that. I told myself it would all work outóIím not from the mountains, after all. Most any Gen will do, as far as thatís concerned.

The cubicle queen held my card up to the light, peering suspiciously at the special fibers they put in the paper. After a disinterested glance at my other information, she took a good, long look at the upper right-hand corner, where the word nonjunct was stamped in that shimmery blue-black ink they use. Then she zlinned me hard, and asked, "These your actual papers? Is the information on here all correct?"

"Yes." I didnít try to hide my impatience, and held my field wide open so that she could zlin that there was no attempt at deception. "Yes, these are my papers, and to the best of my knowledge everything on them is true."

"Donít get your tentacles in a twist. You know how fast I could get closed down if I start getting careless? I have to see her papers, as well." She gestured sinuously in Lilaís direction without turning to look at her. She wasnít trying to be rude, she just knew that the less direct interaction she had with the Gen in a situation like this, the less chance that I would try to get violent with her. Not that I could have taken her or anything like that, but why put herself to any unnecessary trouble?

Lila held her transfer permit out rather timidly, and I took it and passed it to the mountain Sime, or whatever she was. The permit was still all new and crinkly, and the cubicle queen gave it a good looking-over and questioned Lila the same as sheíd done with me, although she was more circumspect about the zlinning part. Then she handed back the paper, and I took the opportunity to look at Lilaís numbers. As Iíd thought, no problem there.

The cubicle queen pointed us toward a narrow corridor behind her. "Ok, you can use number twelve. Half an hour."

Number twelve turned out to be in the far end of a row of similar compartments, and I did appreciate that. It gave me a secure feeling. I couldnít tell for sure, of course, but I had a strong feeling the other cubicles in this row were all empty. True or not, this also made me feel better about things. What was more worrisome was the subdued feel of Lilaís nager. It zlinned like the was starting to have second thoughts. And the treatment we got on the way in had a quelling effect on my intil, as well. At that point I would have been more than willing to let Lila call it off, but I was afraid sheíd take it the wrong way if I was the one to back out.

So we went into number twelve, which proved to be as tacky-looking as Iíd expected, with a strong smell of cleaning products hanging in the air. There was this transfer couch that looked old enough to have come over on the flotilla, held together with at least two different colors of patching tape. It had these metal rings on the corners, and it took me a moment to guess that they were for restraints of some kind, though none were provided. Perhaps you had to bring your own. Besides the couch, there was a chair of similar vintage and a sink with a cold-water tap that was dripping rusty water onto a stain at the bottom of the basin. This was the extent of the amenities. But when I tried to zlin through the wall, I got absolutely nothing.

Lila had developed a stomach-ache and seemed about as enthusiastic about our transfer as she would have been about the prospect of eating a live toedder. I tried to recall some of the talk Iíd heard about how to get the Gen in the proper frame of mind. The only thing I could remember was Jorrie saying, "Well, they like to be touched, of courseóthe same as we do." Jorrie had a lot of experience in these matters, so I decided to take his advice, especially as it was the only thing I could remember on the topic.

I took Lilaís hands and began stroking her wrists with my handling tentacles. She gave this tremulous sigh, and a little of her Gen intil came back. But she was nervous, too. Not scared, butÖ definitely nervous.

"Just do it, ok? I donít want to use up the half-hour and have to pay extra."

"We havenít even been in here three minutes, Lila. Just relax. Come over here and sit down." I led her to the couch and started stroking her back and shoulders.

"Look, Rayne, I want to be clear on one thing before we do this. This is just for this once, all right? Iím probably going to take your advice about Evin."

"I understand. Maybe it will give him more confidence if youíve already had some experience. Although it might make him jealous to hear about it." I figured this second point would be more of an incentive than not. I donít know why I was trying to talk her into following through. I wasnít in need, and I wasnít high-intil, not anymore. I guess I just felt like it was something we had started and ought to finish. And I was tired of getting ragged on by all my friends about the subject, that was another motivation.

Whatever Gen impulse had come over Lila back in the alcove, sheíd pretty much lost it. She pushed my hands away, and I figured that was it, and started trying to think of how to let her off the hook without making her feel repulsive. Normally, for the Gen to try and back out at that point would be worse than rude, but in this case I wouldnít have had much problem with it.

Before I could think of what to say, she informed me, "Youíve got this backwards. Iím supposed to do all that stuff to you. Lie down."

All right, maybe it would make her feel more confident if I let her run the show. She ran her hands over my arms, and did something to bring back my intil in a hurry. Iím ashamed to say I donít recall what she was feeling at that point. I was focused on myself, not really thinking of her as a person, just a source of selynómine, all mine. Iíve since heard that described as a pre-junct mentality.

She got me into transfer position and made fifth contact. As soon as I started to draw, which is almost an involuntary reflex, I knew there was a problem. Because as soon as she felt it start to happen, she got scared. It wasnít just her boyfriend that wasnít ready. Maybe the channel should have told her thatóbut maybe things hadnít gotten far enough to find that out. Maybe it would have worked out differently earlier in the day, with her boyfriend. Sheíd been through a lot since then.

She wasnít fighting me, but she really was afraid, close to panic. And I could feel myself speeding up. Things were happening faster than they normally did, and I felt like I was just an observer, helpless to control what was happening. I was terrified, yet at the same timeÖ it was starting to feel really good.

And then that profoundly intimate link was shattered into a thousand jagged shards. I curled up on my side, protecting my arms by folding my body around them. One of my laterals felt like I had sprained it. Lila was hugging me from behind, crying and asking if I was all right. I was making these noises she probably thought were cries of agony, but actually they were pure relief. I was in pain, and I suspected she was tooóbut she was alive. We both were.

After awhile I managed to sit up. "Hey, itís ok. Just a little headache. What about you?" I had to ask, because it was more than just a little. I couldnít zlin past it well enough to tell if any of the pain was coming from her.

"Iím fine, Iím sorry, it was all my fault." She was still crying, and to my relief she didnít suggest trying it again.

"Come on. Letís get out of here." We were four minutes over already, so there was no big rush, but all of a sudden I just really wanted out of that room. When we went back out, the cubicle queen actually looked a little concerned. I asked her if she had any fosbine. She overcharged me for it, but didnít say anything about the extra time, and gave us both plenty of water to wash the tablets down with. I was glad to see that the pills were stamped with the mark of a reputable drug house. Lila said she was all right and tried to give hers back to the cubicle queen, who wouldnít take it, possibly fearing that I would want a refund. At my insistence Lila finally swallowed the medicine.

After we left there I led Lila back toward the clinic. It didnít take much effort on my part to convince her that we should both get checked out. Every once in awhile, somebody goes through an abort and then drops dead of a brain aneurysm or something a few hours later. For once, I was glad of the regulation that required all Simes and transfer-active Gens to specify an advising channel. I didnít feel particularly close to Helmutt and had never asked him for much in the way of advice, but at least he was familiar.

"Rayne, I didnít think anything like that would happen. Iím really sorry." I was starting to recover a bit, enough to tell that she felt wretched about the whole business. Which didnít help me feel any better, of course.

For both our sakes, I told her, "Donít worry about it. You did exactly the right thing. It was getting out of control there."

"I didówhat?" A little of her depression gave way to puzzlement. It was an improvement. Almost anything would have been.

"Put a stop to it. Terminated the transfer." She would know how, of course. Gens arenít required to learn to give transfer safelyósome have no interest in doing so. But they must show that they can protect themselves before theyíre allowed to graduate from Gen school.

Her bafflement mixed now with indignation. "I was trying to hold it togetheróI didnít shen you, Rayne, I didnít! You aborted out, didnít you? Not that I blame you for doing it, I know I really lost it there. Itís probably just as well you managed to stop. Did you have that conditioning, or did you just do it anyway?"

The pain and fear aversion conditioning. Iíd almost forgotten about that, although I donít know how something so unpleasant could slip my mind. Itís not unknown for a renSime to succeed in voluntarily aborting out of a transfer thatís not going well, even without the conditioning. But that takes an act of will, and I didnít recall making any conscious decision to end it. If Lila hadnít, either, then it was probably the conditioning that saved us.

The treatment is controversial. Itís not guaranteed. There are documented instances of it failing. Also, some people argue that it could give renSimes a false sense of security, and cause them to take risks that they would otherwise avoid. Although I donít think that was any factor in my getting into this mess with Lila. I hadnít given the conditioning a thought all evening, until she brought it up.

I had it done in my third year. That was also when I stopped experimenting around with freelance channels and settled down with a few that have a fixed address and impeccable credentials. It takes a little of the excitement out of it. But one freelancer decided to provide me with a little more excitement than I had bargained for. Or a different kind. Just a touch of something dangerous, or at any rate that was what it felt like to me. He seemed to be pretty sure Iíd be back next month, and he hinted that heíd given me a sample of something that he could take a lot further.

Iím pretty sure he was talking about some kind of simulated kill, which is completely illegal. I doubt he was a member of the APC, or if he was, he wouldnít have been for much longer if they caught him doing anything like that. As for me going back to him the following month, I wonít tell you I didnít think about it. I ended up requesting the conditioning instead. Itís most effective in first year, of course, but I wasnít thinking about anything like that back then. Some people feel it should be part of every Simeís first-year training, mandated by law. In certain other cities, it is. I donít agree. Getting it done was one of the best decisions Iíve ever made, but having been through the procedure, I know that it wouldnít be worth much if it were done on someone who wasnít deeply committed to the process.

As we walked, I found myself thinking about the way it had felt just before the abort. I was starting to wonder just how accurate the nonjunct label on my paperwork really was. Oh, Iíd definitely never killed anybodyóunless Lila took a sudden turn for the worse on the way to the clinic. But I wasnít too worried about that, because now that the fosbine was starting to work on me I could zlin that she wasnít in any pain. Not physically at any rate.

But I was thinking about the reason disjuncts are supposed to be more dangerous than the rest of us. Regardless of what disjunction process is used, they will always be more tempted by Gen fear and pain than the average Sime who doesnít have that kind of history. And it is possible for a similar addiction to appear in Simes who have never actually killed.

The receptionist at the clinic took one look at us and pulled Hajene Helmutt out of a conference. He took us into his office, listened to our story, and did a thorough contact exam on both of us.

"I donít see any permanent damage. Those twinges in your right outer lateral should clear up in a day or so. You two idiots are incredibly lucky."

This pissed me off a bit, and I didnít bother to try hiding it, not that I could have kept anything like that from Helmutt anyway. Heíd never exactly been Mr. Personality, but he wasnít usually rude. I wondered where he was in his need cycle. I had no idea, because he always displayed this kind of bland showfield, promising plenty of selyn but revealing nothing of a personal nature.

I didn't think it was very professional of him to start calling me names. But it really irritated me that he would insult a Gen I had brought in. I started thinking maybe I would change advisors again.

He took out one of those endless forms the APC makes them turn in, and began writing. "Lila, let me see your transfer permit, please." She handed it to him, and he looked it over and scribbled something on his form. Then he rummaged around in his desk until he found the stamp he wanted. Wham, and the word revoked appeared in bright red ink on her brand-new permit. Beneath that, in smaller print, were his name and some coded gibberish telling other channels how to get in touch with him. He folded the paper neatly and gave it back to her, raising both eyebrows as if inviting her to comment. She zlinned as if she were about to start crying again. And to think the channels wonder why people donít always come to them when thereís a problem.

"You can discuss this further with your consulting channel. I would recommend retraining. After that, I would suggest making your next attempt at transfer a supervised oneópossibly monitored. Please step out into the lobby. Rayne, I would like a word with you in private."

I was in for it now. I thought about just walking out. There was no legal requirement for me to listen to him. At least, I donít think so. But part of me felt like I deserved the worst that he could do, along with public flogging and possibly attrition.

When Lila shut the door behind her, he said, "All right. Youíve told me what happened. Now I want you to tell me what almost happened." This was accompanied by emphatic little jabs of one handling tentacle, as if heíd like to put out my eye with it. Like Iíd suspected, the bit of temper heíd shown Lila had been his version of company manners.

I decided I did not have to put up with this. I knew Iíd screwed up, but this isnít Old Earth, and the APC is not the Tecton. "Are you getting near the end of your cycle, Hajene?"

He dropped the showfield abruptly. I could zlin that he had what seemed, from my perspective, like about six months supply of selyn in his primary system alone. Carried on the power of his channelís nager was a mixture of disgust, horror, amazementÖ and fear. The fear was predominant. He let me zlin that for a few seconds, which was plenty, then went back to displaying the vaguely reassuring showfield.

"I suppose that if things had turned out a little differently, you might have qualified for the adult chemical disjunction program. They tend to be selective, of course. It has to involve something more than sheer stupidity and carelessness. Of course, even if they did let you in, thereís the question of whether you would make it through the program. Itís harder than first-year disjunction. More than half of the patients that are admitted end up dropping out, and then of course there are a certain number that die in the attempt. At best, you could look forward to going around with disjunct stamped on your papers for the rest of your life." In Quissa, disjuncts are subject to transfer restrictions and various other indignities. Juncts are not permitted in town at all, except under escort, and are not encouraged to hang around once their business is completed. "For all that, itís more than your little friend wouldíve had to look forward to."

I was still a little stunned by what heíd showed me in his nager. And even with the showfield, I could not miss the emotion in his words. Before all this happened, I would have said that the only passion Helmutt brought to his work was expressed in his transfers.

More gently, he asked, "So do you think you got your moneyís worth out of that aversion conditioning?"

"I sometimes have nightmares about what they did to me at that place. But I think it worked. You heard Lila say she didnít terminate the transfer. It must have been the conditioning." He was still waiting. I knew what he wanted to hear. I didnít want to put it into words, but I decided maybe I should, not for his sake but so that I could face it straight-on. It helped to have another Sime in the room, even though he was a channel, with physiological control greater than I could ever hope to attain in this lifetime. Because they have their limits too.

"I think, if I didnít have that conditioning, I would have killed her."

He didnít answer right away. "She may have terminated without realizing that sheíd done so. Itís certainly what she should have done. But I think the conditioning is the likeliest explanation, yes. Some theoreticians believe that repeated stress of the kind you experienced today will weaken the aversion response. If it worked for you once, there is no guarantee that it will work againÖ please, Rayne, please come and talk to me first, next time. If you want a Gen, I can help you find someone more suitable."

"She just needs a few more classes at the Gen school, thatís all."

He closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "At any rate. You are on my schedule for transfer on the twenty-first. That may be a little early, since you do seem to have acquired a little over two hundred dynopters in the course of this misadventure. But I would like to see you that day for an evaluation. We can decide then, together, what to do to get your cycle back on track. All right?"

I gave him the nageric equivalent of a nod. He wasnít quite done. "There are two options. The first is to go ahead according to schedule. You could expect a very flat transfer experience, with little or no post-syndrome, and hopefully back to normal the following month. Alternatively, we could shift your cycle ahead a few days, and wait until you reach physiological need. You might experience some anxiety in the interval, because your system is used to a very regular schedule. If you choose that option, we can hope for a good transfer on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifthóand if you would rather have a Gen, as I said, I can arrange that. But, if you choose that second option, you will submit to my close supervisionóand confinement, if I deem it necessary. Failing that, I will have you locked up as a menace to the public safety."

Heíd dropped the showfield again, and was showing me such compassion that I couldnít get offended, even though he was speaking rather emphatically and was jabbing with the tentacle again (he seemed to favor the left inner dorsal for that). He was just doing his job. And he was right, as long as there were Gens like Lila running around loose, Simes could not afford to take chances with their control.

Iíd already decided on the second option. I could tell that was the one Helmutt favored, but that wasnít why I would choose itóor rather, I knew the reasons he preferred it, and agreed with them. But I would decline his offer to round up a Gen for me. I could imagine his idea of Ďsuitableí.

"Any questions?"

I got up, signaling no, Iím leaving now and then thank you.

I did think about asking him if he thought I might be addicted, even a little bit, to the feelings that lead to the kill. He knew already about what had happened just before the transfer ended. I hadnít said it out loud, not in front of Lila, but it hadnít been necessary. It was right there for him to read in my nager, while we were telling him the story in words.

But he probably couldnít tell me, anyway. Iíll have to wait and see. I know what the symptoms are. If I start to have problems, there are treatments for that. Sometimes, if youíre on record as having problems like that, you can get restrictions similar to the ones disjuncts have to put up with. But if I really start to get those kinds of feelings, Iíll get help for it anyway. I swear I will.

When I went back into the lobby, I was half-expecting Lila to be gone. But she was still sitting there. "Was he really rough on you?" She was still clutching her useless transfer permit. It occurred to me that her advising channel would want to see me, as well, and that I owed it to her to go, even if it meant a repeat of the scene Iíd just been through.

"Iíll survive. You know how they are. Hey, let me buy you dinner. I could use the company. And I havenít eaten yet today."

She looked at me quizzically. "Youíre hungry?"

"No, but you are. I have to eat something, and if you come with me it will really help. Hey, what do you think of Terrantilla?"

"Iíve got all her books and vids, but I canít always understand what sheís talking about." Nobody does, of course, but a lot of them wonít come right out and admit it.

"I meant, what do you think of her tentacles? The striped look."

"Itís kind of creepy."

I had already asked a number of Gens for their opinion on the subject, and all of them had been enthusiastic about the tattoos. But now it occurred to me that all of them had been friends of Jorrieís. Maybe they werenít exactly a random sample of Quissaís Gen population. I decided that maybe I should get a wider range of opinions before I had anything too permanent done to myself.

"After we eat, if youíre not tired or anything, maybe you want to come meet a friend of mine who does tattooing." She zlinned intrigued. "He has his own shop, and he almost never leaves. He takes little naps in the back and wakes up if anybody comes in. Maybe you can give me some advice on something Iím thinking of having doneÖ"

We walked out into the night.

I know quite a few people who have stories like mine, of transfers that didnít quite work out, and itís amazing how often things like that happen without anyone getting seriously hurt. But every once in awhile you hear about a similar case where things turn tragic, with a junct-style killÖ or a Gen who panics and remembers just enough of their training to lash out with lethal results. Thereís no equivalent to the junct condition in Gens; doing a thing like that to one Sime doesnít fill them with the urge to do it again. They generally give up transfer altogether, and itís not uncommon for them to suicide.

Lila and I never did have a transfer together (or at least not so faróshe did get her permit back, and weíre both free beings, so I definitely donít rule it out). But she has become one of my closest friends.

As to whether I got my tattoos done, and how I finally lost my Gen transfer virginityÖ that will have to wait for another time.

~~~~

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