Mog

by

N. Eileen O'Neill

 

Note: This is a sequel to Life 101, the first Rayne story.

 

~~Part One~~

 

"Rayne, I have an idea Iíve been wanting to tell you about. But you have to hear me out. Let me finish explaining before you flip out or anything." Jorrie spread his technicolor tentacles wide, as if to capture my imagination. "Iím going to Kadanerra, all right? And I want you to come with me."

He had my undivided attention, thatís for sure. I was used to the way his tentacles looked, but Kadanerra? The only reason I could think of for wanting visit a place like that is that you can buy anything thereóliterally anything. Which is not necessarily a point in its favor.

"Iím listening, but youíll have to come up with something pretty good to talk me into going there." Not everyone who takes a trip to Kadanerra comes back. Some of them just vanish. Jorrie and I might be safer than some of our friends; last I heard, the black market trade in renSimes was not real brisk. Still, I wasnít at all sure I wanted to be involved in this. "Whatever youíre hoping to find there, I bet thereís someplace right here in Quissa where you can get the same thing."

"Wrong. I want to buy a pen Gen."

"Youíre serious, arenít you. What are you planning to do with it? Screw it? Tattoo it?" I wasnít going to mention the more common reason someone would make a purchase of that nature. It would be in even worse taste than Iím capable of to joke about a thing like that.

His nager revealed a flash of indignation. "Iím going to buy a male. Although, your other ideaÖ" Tattooing is Jorrieís life. I hadnít realized he had any other interests. Certainly not the kind he was talking about now.

"As for what Iím going to do with him, I figure I could keep him right here in the shop. Fix up one of those back rooms for him to stay in, and see how much he could learn. Maybe he could help out some. I bet heíd draw customers, especially if I did do some work on him. Thatís a really good idea. I donít know if itís allowed, though. Iíll have to find out."

"You know, I donít think theyíre toilet-trained or anything like that. Maybe you should just get a cat, or a lampeur, or something."

"Come on, Rayneódonít you want to save a human life?"

"I was reading an article about the whole Rescue League business a couple of weeks ago. It pointed out that all youíd be doing is encouraging the pens to breed more of them."

"I canít control that. But weíre talking about a specific individual. Someone who is going to die if we donít do this. Someone who could live long enough to become a real, thinking person with our help." And of course that was the other side of the argument, which had also been given in the article Iíd read. It was an old debate, which had recently become popular again, and it was a subject that inspired a lot of heated feelings.

Iíd seen the slack-faced former pen Gens walking around town with their adoptive families, who were mostly Gens themselves. You didnít usually see Simes leading them around. It could be embarrassing; what if people got the wrong idea?

"Iíve never actually been to anyplace like that, Jorrie. And Iím not sure I want to." Kadanerra is a junct town, and the transaction he was talking about was perfectly legal there. Plenty of things were. And even things that werenít permitted under the junct laws happened on a regular basis without anyone getting too excited about it. Or at any rate that was what Iíd read. "What about you, ever been there before?"

"No. But itís not as big as Quissa, and Iíve looked at some maps of the place. I think I can find what Iím looking for. Itís not a very good idea to go there alone, though. Iíve been talking to Kinney and Lila about this, and they both said theyíd help once I get him home, but I canít very well take them into Kadanerra with me. Thatís why I need your help. But, it wouldnít be too bright for us to make the trip when either one of us is in need." Iíd heard that before. Itís not just Gens who sometimes donít make it back from a place like that. "And it wouldnít hardly be possible for us to be more out of phase than we are right now. Youíre due in, what, ten days?"

"Nine."

"Normally, Iíd expect to hit turnover in about eleven days, but Iíve been pushing that forward. Wasting energy." He grinned. "So I should be able to take an early transfer from Kinney about the same time as you have yours. The channel weíve been working with calls it a Ďviolent re-phasingí, and sheís made it clear that she doesnít really approve, but she thinks I can do it."

Iíd have thought it would take a broken arm to get Jorrie into a channelís office. He acts like heís allergic to them or something. But I could understand why heíd want a professional opinion on whether Kinney would have enough selyn reserve to compensate for the augmentation.

"The one thing about Kinney is, he thinks he wants to come along. Heís a big boy and can normally take care of himself, but I am not bringing a Gen along on this trip. I donít figure itís a good idea to go when weíre too post, either. We might end up getting involved in something a littleÖ weird. So I figure we ought to wait about two days after our transfers."

He was going into the details of this just as if Iíd already agreed, which I did not recall doing. I directed a wordless protest at him, and he reached out with one bare foot and stroked my ankle with it. "Just think, Rayneóweíll be in phase. This has possibilities."

I donít know how he does it. Jorrie and I have been trading innuendoes since forever, but I was far enough past turnover that sex had only the most hypothetical appeal for me. It should not have been much of an incentive, even though I could recall how attractive I found him when I was able to think about such matters.

Jorrie just has this gift for talking people into things. It works on Gens, too, and I sure wish I knew how he did that. He just sat there looking at me, and after awhile I let out this big sigh, and we both knew I would do it. He scooted closer and put an arm around me. I wouldnít ordinarily expect physical contact with another renSime to feel so good during the second half of my cycle, but this was Jorrie. He couldnít offer me selyn, but I could feel his concern and his caring for meóand if he could have offered, he would never have hesitated. Thatís part of the reason Jorrieís friends will do pretty much anything for him, because we know it goes both ways. That doesnít completely explain the phenomenon, though.

"I have a court date next week, and Iíd like you to come along for that. It helps if they see you have a few people who are willing to help out. Iíve been talking to a guy from the Rescue League about all this, and he warned me itís not a one-person job."

"Rescue League, huh? What is he, a Killer Gen or something?" The Gen part of it was a reasonable guess, because almost all the League people were. Many of them were the kind of Gens that donít much care for Simes.

"His name is Darrien," Jorrie told me reproachfully, which wasnít exactly an answer to what Iíd asked him.

~~~~

I wasnít able to make it to the court hearing because I had to work, so I didnít meet Darrien until the day before our trip to Kadanerra. When I walked into the back room of Indelible Lines, Jorrie and Kinney were sprawled on one of the padded benches, and there was this huge Gen sitting across from them on the other one and taking up most of it. Lila was perched on a high stool in the back of the room. There were several of these, and I went over to sit next to her on one of the others, extending a tentacle which she brushed with a fingertip in greeting.

Jorrie looked tired, and was leaning back against Kinneyís chest with his head on one of his partnerís narrow shoulders. Theyíd had a really rotten transfer the previous day, which wasnít Kinneyís fault. That channel tried to warn Jorrie what he was letting himself in for by messing with his cycle that way. But of course Kinney felt terrible about it, anyway. He was trying to help, but there was only so much he could do because he was so low-field.

My own transfer hadnít been that spectacular, either, though it was way more satisfactory than Jorrieís. It had me worried, though, because it seemed as though my last few transfers had been missing something. Maybe I was just tired of channels, and ought to make more of an effort to find a Gen. I hoped that was all it was, because I could think of another possible explanation that was a lot scarier.

Jorrie brightened a little when I came in, and sat up. "Rayne, I got the papers! Iím approved. I was starting to think weíd have to postpone this. Darrien, here, really helped out with that."

Darrien had the unmistakable build of a Gen man whoíd never gone hungry for long, with a generous layer of muscle covered by a fair amount of fat. Aside from that, he was pretty much what Iíd been expecting. His nager was kind of prickly, but not at all undisciplined. I could tell he knew how to hurt somebody with it if he wanted to. It might be a rude term to use, but a Killer Gen was exactly what he zlinned like to me. Normally, I avoid Gens like that. Up to that point, Iíd never had much trouble doing so.

Kinney got up and walked over to a table where there was a pot of tea on a warmer. "Now that weíre all here, we ought to have a little celebration. Anybody besides me want anything to eat?" The rest of shook our heads or murmured no, thanks.

Darrien watched Kinney from across the room, with a sexual interest that he made no effort to keep from displaying in his nager. I looked over at Jorrie, who met my eyes, and Iím pretty sure we were both thinking the same thing. I wasnít going to be the one to tell Jorrieís partner he was the object of lust from a Killer Gen. I was pretty sure Darrien was out of luck. Iíd never known Kinney to be sexually interested in other men, and usually not in his fellow Gens, either. I wondered if Darrien, who might not be used to the way transfer partners acted toward each other, had misinterpreted the casual intimacy between Jorrie and Kinney.

Kinney poured tea for everyone and passed it out, then took a handful of sweet cakes and went back over to sit next to Jorrie. He dropped one of the cakes in Jorrieís tea, and Jorrie fished it out and ate it without comment, though he moved his tea off to the side to keep it from happening again.

Kinney offered the cakes around again, and when nobody else wanted any, he ate the rest of them himself. Kinney is built more like a Sime than a Gen, despite eating every chance he gets. He has these elaborate, vaguely suggestive tattoos all over his lower arms. The overall effect is like an instruction diagramóput tentacles here. Jorrie likes to leave his mark on the Gens he has transfer with, and while he and Kinney are not exclusive by any means, theyíve been together for awhile.

Jorrie handed me the guardianship papers, which had been decorated by no less than five official-looking stamps. I counted them. According the paperwork, Jorrie now held Full Responsibility for a Non-Self-Aware Person, a male Gen named Morgan. Not that he had a particular Gen in mind, you understand. But he had to pick a name for the records. He could change it later if it didnít quite fit, or the Gen might decide to pick a different one for himself.

I noticed Darrien looking at me, which alarmed me a little. At least he wasnít thinking about sex, or not that I could tell, anyway. His nager was a bit hard to read, although my transfer the day before hadnít been good enough to leave my Simes senses impaired very much. It was just that he had this funny, guarded quality that came and went. Weíd been able to pick up what he was thinking about Kinney clearly enough, but now his field had gone kind of opaque. I tried to smile at him, and he returned the courtesy, but it wasnít accompanied by much in the way of warm, friendly feelings.

Jorrie responded to the momentary tension in the ambient by telling us about some of his most recent preparations for his wardís arrival. You could always count on Jorrie to be a considerate host, even as bad as he was feeling just then.

Heíd made a few improvements to Morganís bedroom since the last time Iíd been by, so of course we all had to go back there and see. It looked good. Iíd helped and so had the others, but Jorrie had done most of it. At this point, it was really the most attractive room in the whole shop, with the walls painted a cheerful sky-yellow and decorated with bright designs like youíd use in a babyís room. But the bed was full-sized, and a lot nicer than anything Jorrie had for his own use. He usually slept on one of those benches in the next room.

After we spent some time looking at the room, Darrien said he had to go. He gestured Iím-leaving at Kinney and Lila, who were standing near the window talking very quietly. Then he said, "Nice to meet you, Rayne. Jorrie, congratulations again. Iíll see you both tomorrow." This last remark detracted from the relief I felt at his departure, and Kinney wasnít too pleased to hear about it either. Once Darrien was out the door, he fixed his attention on Jorrie with a lot less tenderness than usual.

"Whatís that supposed to mean?"

Jorrie looked apologetic. "Heís been there before. Heís been a lot of help with the legal stuff, and he says he can help out with that part, too."

"If heís going, thatís it. Iím going too."

"Kinney, you canít. Youíre too low-field. What if some junct attacked you? You donít even have enough left to defend yourself with."

Kinney was really getting pissed now. "Low-field, right, let me try and remember how that happened. If youíd made that point before our transfer, instead of the day after, I could have found you someone else." He looked pointedly at Lila. "Well, a little late for that now. Iím going to get something to eat. Coming with me?"

The tone of this invitation put Lila in an awkward position, which I thought she handled rather artfully. "Letís go," she said, and headed for the door. When she passed Jorrie, she barely glanced at him, but she did project a wave of supportive, sympathetic feeling at himówithout letting any hint of that show in her face. I had a pretty good idea of why she was being particularly careful not to get caught in some argument between Jorrie and Kinney.

Once the two Gens were gone, Jorrie sat down on Morganís bed and buried his face in his arms. I went over and sat kind of leaning up against him. With his head down the way it was, I could see the way his fine, brown hair formed whorls on the back of his neck, and I found myself wanting to kiss the skin there.

Unfortunately, this made him feel worse rather than better. He put his hand on my knee. "Next month, I promise."

"Jorrie, we donít have to make this trip right away, you know. Those papers give you a sixty-day window to bring Morgan back here. You donít feel well. Maybe you should see a channel."

"I saw one yesterday. She said Iíll be dead within a month if I donít get some help." It was an old joke, but I laughed anyway and gave in to the impulse to kiss his neck. I tried to make it more of a sisterly gesture so he wouldnít feel like I was asking for anything he was in no shape to deliver. "No way I can put this off now, Rayne. You heard what Kinney said. If we postpone it until next month, heíll want to come along, and I just canít stand the thought of anything happening to him. Speaking of next month, though, thereís something I want to talk to you aboutÖ"

"Let me guess, Lila? Did she finally work up the nerve to offer you transfer?"

"Not directly. She asked Kinney about it, and he has no objection. But Iím not going to set anything up with her unless itís all right with you."

"I have no claim on her, you know that."

"Yes, but I have to know how you would feel about it."

"I told you what happened, Jorrie. Sheís better off with someone more experienced, at least for now." He would be able to tell that I mean every word of that. He may also have picked up the deeper, mixed emotions I had regarding Lila and transfer; I was still drawn to her, but this was accompanied by the kind of fear that blots out rational thought.

"All right. Hereís another idea. You ought to have transfer from Kinney next month. I already talked to him about that."

It wasnít the first time heíd tried to set me up with one of his Gens, but heíd never been quite this pushy about it. Reading my reaction, he added, "If you want to, of course." I could zlin his bafflement. He couldnít understand how any Sime could not want Kinney. And I couldnít quite explain, even to myself, why I wasnít more enthusiastic.

"Iíll have to think about this." But even though I couldnít have said why, I just didnít want to.

"Heíll be really disappointed, Rayne."

Jorrie seemed to believe that, but I didnít think it would mean that much to Kinney one way or the other. If youíre Sime and he likes you, heís as likely as not to offer you transfer. Itís not a big deal to him. Beyond that, his main motivation for singling me out for the privilege would be because Jorrie had asked him to.

"Donít get mad at me for saying this, Rayne, but I think maybe youíre scared because of what happened with Lila. It wouldnít be like that at all. Kinney knows what heís doing."

"Let me think this over for a few days." Part of me was thinking that I was crazy to say no. I probably needed a Gen. That had to be the answer to the lackluster transfers Iíd had recently.

Maybe. But what if I tried that, and it didnít work? I didnít want to think about what that might mean.

And then there was Kadanerra. I was already starting to wish I hadnít agreed to that, because I was afraid I would zlin something there that appealed to me more than it ought to. I didnít really want to think about that, either. I rested my head on Jorrieís shoulder and closed my eyes.

~~~~

We took the express to Kadanerra, traveling under the vast bulk of the Sayward Mountains. I was half-hoping to zlin one of Freyseaís natives, the Daimon-folk who were said to be living matrices of energy. The substance they are composed of is very similar to selyn. And yes, what you are thinking right now, it is possible. It has been done, by Simes who were desperate or just curious. Theyíre never the same after they do that. They arenít quite human anymore.

We emerged from the tunnel without encountering any of the Daimon, who are most frequently observed underground. The train began to slow down almost as soon as we came back out into the daylight. To our left was a sheer cliff dropping off to the ocean, which I had never seen before. It was far below us, and the water was a kind of golden color. To our right was Kadanerra, carved into the side of a mountain rather than sitting in a hollow of fertile land like Quissa is built on. Level ground is at a premium on Freysea. I could see some green fields stretching off into the distance beyond the city, but apparently this arable land was too valuable for mere human habitation. Much of the city appeared to have been excavated rather than constructed, with bulwarks of solid rock supporting archways and towers made of bricks cut from the same pale green stone.

I hadnít expected it to be so beautiful.

Then the train pulled into another tunnel, this time passing through a low building over the track, and our view of the city and the ocean was cut off. We joined a line of people shuffling slowly toward the guardhouse, waiting until it was our turn to be admitted into one of the portal rooms.

Each of these rooms had two doors. One of them opened into the train station, and the other, out onto the streets of Kadanerra. Inside was a guard whose job it was to decide who could be admitted. I found myself wondering who they were supposed to turn away. Quissa has a similar arrangement, and Iíve always understood the main purpose for this is to keep juncts out of the city.

Since we were traveling together, the three of us were told to go into one of the rooms as a group when our turn came. Behind the counter was a middle-aged renSime man who greeted us cheerfully and collected our paperwork. I took the opportunity to study him, since he was the first person weíd seen up close who was reasonably certain to be an actual Kadanerran.

The first thing that impressed me was how normal he seemed. Then he held some of the papers up to the light, and I saw that he had the symbol for junct tattooed on the back of his right hand. I donít know of anyplace that requires a mark like that, and it looked more like a decoration than a warning. I caught Jorrie looking at it with professional interest.

The guard seemed to find something amusing about our paperwork, but he made no comment, just turned to a terminal and started keying information into it rather vigorously. His whole demeanor was at odds with the fictional portrayals of juncts I had seen. In stories, they were either filled with sadistic glee, or else their nager was clouded with sorrow and remorse.

This guy was regarding us with a certain amount of condescension, but I wouldnít have called him malicious. He just seemed to be in a really good mood. I could tell he was only a few days pastÖ whatever heíd done to bring his field up. I knew, of course, that most juncts canít afford to kill every month. Certainly not the ones who work as security guards at the border. Some of them donít actually kill at all, but thereís a different symbol for technically junct, and that wasnít what was tattooed on his hand.

He leaned closer to his terminal, and his nager went kind of blank for a moment, as if heíd seen something surprising there. Then his cheery attitude returned, leaving me wondering if Iíd imagined his momentary startlement. He handed us all back our papers, and said, "All right, youíre free to enjoy our lovely city of Kadanerra for as long as you like." The amusement Iíd zlinned earlier flared up, and he added, "So just out of curiosity, are you planning on killing anyone while youíre in town?"

Before I could figure out how to respond to this, I realized he wasnít talking to me. Or to Jorrie, either. Darrien, nager even spikier than usual, revealed a lot of teeth in what might have been intended as a smile. "Not specifically, no."

The guard drew back a little. "Well, enjoy your visit, and please observe our laws while you are here. The penalties can be severe if you do not." His good humor had abated somewhat, and I could tell that he just wanted usóDarrien, in particularóto leave.

We did. Out on the street, I saw that Kadanerra looked better from a distance than it did up close. The street, and the buildings alongside of it, were overdue for cleaning. And I could see broken windows, crumbling roof tiles and other items that looked like theyíd been awaiting repair for a long time. I was relieved to note that most of the people we saw did not look as happy as that guard. The thing that surprised me the most, although perhaps it shouldnít have, was the sight of numerous Gen citizens of Kadanerra going about their business, mixing as freely with the Simes as I was accustomed to seeing back home. They didnít seem particularly nervous. I guess they couldnít really afford to be.

Jorrieís attention was focused on Darrien, who was walking between us and had taken the lead. "So are you going to tell us, or not?"

Darrien was scanning the street, turning his head from side to side the way Gens do, and didnít answer right away. "A few years ago, I was in town to meet someone. I was looking around for the place where we were supposed to get together, when all of a sudden, one of the locals decided I was fair game and grabbed hold of me. I didnít mean for him to die. I was just trying to make him let go." His field flickered, echoing very faintly what it was that he had done. Two Simes walking nearby veered away abruptly and decided to go into a restaurant. Darrienís nager revealed a hint of regret over the incident, but he didnít zlin all broken up about it or anything.

"The court here ruled self-defense," he added. "I was allowed to go free later that same day." That wasnít too surprising. Kadanerran justice tends to run to extremes. Someone who does a violent act is either let off with a wink, or sentenced to death. The municipal budget doesnít allow for the expense of keeping anyone in jail for very long.

As we approached one of the larger and better-kept public buildings, I realized that this was the so-called Hall of Justice, where the actual executions were carried out. A sign outside the door advertised the times of scheduled events along with ticket prices. I slowed down to take a look, and Jorrie projected a feeling of urgency at me. I caught up with him and Darrien, but not before I had read enough to make me feel sick. Not that any of it was new information. But it seemed more real now that we were actually here. All those things Iíd read about were taking place on the opposite side of an ordinary-looking door that we could walk through for a modest fee.

Modest, at least, if we only wanted to watch. It cost a lot more to participate in the executions. I donít claim to understand why people would pay for the chance to torture some stranger to death. The majority of convicts were Sime, and most of them were sentenced for unauthorized kills, whether merely attempted or actually accomplished. Of course, what really brought in the heavy revenue was when a Gen was added to the programme.

The building weíd just passed was the only place in Kadanerra where self-aware Gens could legally be taken in the kill. From time to time, Gens like Darrien who object to the pen system get tired of working within the law, and if they get caught thatís what happens to them. Various other offenses can earn a local Gen the same sentence, but that doesnít happen often.

They have to drug them, of course. These are not Gens who are likely to react to a killmode attack with mindless terror. Sometimes their defensive training is so deeply ingrained that despite the drugs, itís the junct Sime who ends up dead. I guess that adds to the drama the rest of them pay to get in and see.

Thinking about all this, I started looking at the people around us in a new light. They mostly just looked poor, and in a hurry to get where they were going, and it was hard to imagine them doing the kind of thing Iíd read about. I began to feel glad that we had Darrien along. I hadnít thought of him as being our protector, but I was pretty sure he was the reason why most of the people we encountered were giving us plenty of room. Heíd done something to make his field look more powerful than it usually did, kind of like a cat puffing out its fur. And the intimidation effect was not limited to Simes. Gens were getting out of our way too. Darrien was bigger than most of them, and probably had a look on his face to match the warning in his nager.

I had to guess about this last part, because he was still walking a half-step ahead of us, and keeping up a brisk pace despite the uphill slope of the street. Jorrie and I had to augment a little to keep up with his longer stride. Darrien was sweating freely in the humid air and his breathing was heavy, but I got the impression it would be awhile before fatigue forced him to slow down. He was evidently in better shape than I would have suspected.

As we climbed, the street got narrower and less busy. Darrien finally stopped at a sturdy metal door. It was set in a high, windowless wall festooned with faded green banners that bore an unfamiliar trademark. There was a heavy wooden stick affixed to the door with a chain, and he used this to pound on the door, causing a noise that made me shiver.

Just as I was wondering how long we would have to wait, I sensed a shadowy presence on the other side of the door, which I could barely zlin through the natural insulation of the material. Then the door opened inward.

"Hello, Darrien. I hope that you and your friends had a pleasant journey from Quissa today. Welcome." There was no mockery that I could detect. His manner was urbane enough to give me the impression that it was an everyday thing for him to encounter a pair of wide-eyed nonjuncts chaperoned by a Killer Gen.

And he was a channel. Somehow that was like a kick in the gut, because he had the same effect on me as every other channel Iíd encountered in my adult life. He made me feel safe. Itís deeply ingrained. To me, a channel represents order, and healingÖ and above all, transfer.

I wanted to say, please tell me youíre not junct! Talk about a faux pas. If nothing else, it might have made Jorrie regret dragging me along.

I donít have the sensitivity to tell, even if I knew what to look for. He zlinned just like any other channel to me. If anything, more attractive than average. That bothered me a lot.

"You must be JorrieÖ and Rayne, correct? A pleasure to meet you. Iím Luden. Do come in, please." I was glad he hadnít introduced himself using the honorific Hajene. It would have been difficult to call him that without flinching, but I didnít know what might happen if we offended him. As he slammed the metal door closed behind us and locked it, it occurred to me that he could probably make short work of all three of us. Darrien let his field contract to its normal size, perhaps realizing that his illusion would not work with this man.

As we walked, I became aware of something in the ambient. I could sense numerous Gen nagers, dim and vague, almost as though they were sleeping. Focusing through the thin wall to our right, I could zlin a great many of them in close proximity, some holding still and others moving around listlessly.

We came to a far less formidable door fastened by a simple catch, which Luden opened with the tip of one tentacle. A Gen could have managed it with a bit of wire or a carved twig. But these were not tool-using Gens.

Luden motioned us through the door, and closed it. We walked into a big, open room that was much longer than it was wide. The high, slanted ceiling was set with barred skylights, which were open to the breeze. Rectangles of deep-green cloth hung on the upper walls, almost matching the tunics worn by the pen Gens, which were faded from repeated washing.

There were rows of wooden benches on either side of us, and most of the Gens were sitting or lying on these, staring off into space as they chewed on their fingers or picked at the edges of the benches. A few wandered around with dazed expressions and no observable goal. Some made continuous, guttural sounds, although I could zlin no particular distress in them. Nor any other emotionóno joy, no fear or pain. Nothing. A blankness, for the most part. One was feeling hungry and looked hopefully at Luden.

"You had specified a male, but as you see, we donít separate them. They are sedated deeply enough that itís not necessary. The medication is more expensive than the surgical procedure that some of our competitors use to avoid the development of cognitive awareness, but our method makes it much more feasible to bring them around to a state of greater awareness forÖ whatever you have in mind." He knew damn well what we had in mind, or at least I hoped he did.

I looked at the nearest of the male Gens, appalled. Did Jorrie really mean to bring something like that home with him? The creatureóI could not think of him as humanósat staring past us with a trailer of snot running from his nose and into his open mouth. His consciousness was like the monotonous buzzing of a large, dying insect. Zlinning him made me feel as if I had touched something loathsome. It was hard to be sure, but I think he was about the same age as Lila.

Darrienís nager revealed little reaction to our surroundings. Of course, unlike Jorrie and myself, heíd seen it all before. His antipathy toward Simes was no mystery; what was surprising was that he could bear to be in the same room with any of us. I wanted to shout at him, Jorrie and I are not like that! But of course he already knew that, on a rational level.

A female Gen, the one who wanted food, ambled over and sat on the floor in Ludenís path. He clapped his hands together sharply and pointed at an empty bench. When she didnít get up, he cuffed her in the face, then drew back his hand as if to hit her harder. I braced myself, but he held back the blow for long enough to let her clamber clumsily to her feet. She shuffled away, radiating a dull anger and scanning the bare stone floor for something to eat.

"We donít like to let them sit on the floor. They can catch a chill. I might have to increase the dosage for that one. Although that kind of independent behavior frequently makes for a quick sale." I got the impression that he was enjoying our discomfort, though he hid it the way channels can. "Let me know if you spot one that appeals to you particularly. I have some antagonist I can administer so you can get a better idea of what youíd be buying."

He led us through the room rather slowly, checking over his stock as he did so and administering the occasional correction with no display of either pleasure or reluctance. Zlinning Jorrie, who was caught between numbness and nausea, I was starting to suspect we would leave here without making a purchase.

It occurred to me then that killing, as ugly as that might be, was not the worst aspect of the junct culture. The lives of these Gens would end with a few seconds of bewildered agony, but what had been done to them already was worse.

"We have others, of course, besides what you see here. These are typical specimens. I do have one set aside that I thought might be particularly suitable for your purpose. Through here."

We exited the long, narrow chamber through a door on the opposite end from the one where weíd come in. A row of smaller, individual rooms were set behind sturdy grilles on either side of the hallway. I realized in retrospect how clean the previous chamber had smelled. Here, the air was ripe with fresh feces and urine. "We have some cases that we keep isolated while weíre working out the proper medication. You wonít be interested in anything here, I think." He picked up the pace, but not before I saw that some of the Gens in these smaller room were restrained by soft fabric bonds. One threw himself repeatedly against them in an effort to get free, and I could zlin his frustration. Other rooms contained pre-established children, some of them quite small. Any of these who failed to establish would be given a lethal dose of some Ďmedicationí or other. Kadanerran law regarding non-sentient persons does not discriminate on the basis of larity.

Near the end of the hall was a door that led to a roomy cell, lighted by a soft, luminous panel set into the ceiling. There was no metal grille separating us from the single occupant, who wore no restraints, but sat on a bench fidgeting and looking at us curiously. He was even younger than most of the ones weíd seen so far. A few golden hairs grew on his chin and he had established; other than that, he could easily have been mistaken for a child. An attractive one, with mossy green eyes and a more alert expression than any of the other Gens weíd seen.

"I had a hunch you might take a liking to this one, so I took the liberty of bringing him around." Luden cupped the side of the boyís face with one hand. "I have to admit Iíve grown rather fond of the little fellow, even though you would think that with all the years Iíve been in this business, I would know better than that." A heart-wrenching thread of sentimentality ran through his showfield for just a moment, then vanished as if heíd gotten himself under control with some effort. I knew perfectly well what he was doing, and yet I was still half-convinced that he meant it.

I could hear Darrien speaking, so softly that I could not make out the words. Jorrie nodded, and turned to Luden. "His field seems kind of low."

"The Gens in our main display area are all high-field, for obvious reasons. But we do take their fields down periodically. Usually, customers such as yourself donít care how recently the Gen has been harvested for selyn."

"No, but I am concerned with his production level. Iím counting on that to help pay for his keep. Excuse me." Jorrie moved closer to the young Gen, and took him gently into a transfer contact. I found it rather chilling to watch, even though I knew why he was doing it. The Gen, who was doubtlessly accustomed to being handled by Simes, did not mind at all.

Jorrie broke contact, and just looked at Luden. A channel has the training and the sensitivity to measure a Genís production rate without making physical contact, but for renSimes, itís necessary to get in close to pick up such nuances.

Luden responded with an elegant nageric shrug. "His production would improve with a little coaching, I feel sure. But itís not economical to keep him around here and work with him. Thatís why weíre offering him at such a low price." He specified an amount in Quissan currency, which weíd been told was preferred. Because of the health of our economy compared with Kadanerraís, it would be much easier for Jorrie to afford than for the average local citizen.

"If you donít want him, I suppose heíll be a real boon to someone who doesnít quite have the price of a really good kill. Sometimes you have to make do. I realize Iím speaking of matters where none of you have any real understanding, so I will elaborate in case you are curious. Transfer can always provide adequate selyn, but it doesnít truly satisfy. Thereís just something missing from the experience. The death-shock can never quite be replicated, you know. Though I take great professional pride in coming closer than most of them out there are able to. Itís best to have both at once, but not always possible. Even for renSimes, who generally have no appreciation for how lucky they are in that regardÖ well, enough on that. I hope I havenít told you more about it than you cared to hear."

Jorrie stepped closer to the young pen Gen, as if to shield him from an imminent attack. And I could read in his nager that Ludenís little monologue on the junct lifestyle had achieved the intended result, even before my friend said, "Weíll take him, okay? Weíll take him and go right now. If thatís all right with you."

~~~~

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