Mog

by

N. Eileen O'Neill

 

~~Part Two~~

 

When Jorrie and I hit turnover that month, we both started finding Morgan’s field really irritating. It wasn’t intil, for the most part. If you’re Gen and having a hard time understanding what I mean, just imagine if you had a hangover and had to stay in a room with someone who kept dropping things and letting out little yelps of excitement.

Happy excitement, for the most part. He really was just like a little kid, exploring the world of Jorrie’s shop with a wonderment that let the rest of us see the beauty and strangeness in things we’d learned to take for granted, such as faucets. Morgan could turn one on and off for an hour without getting bored. Jorrie got him to switch to pouring water back and forth between two cups, just to keep from wasting so much of the stuff, and he liked that pretty well too. But not quite as well as the faucets.

I enjoyed his enthusiasm, but he had no nageric control at all. The obvious solution to our discomfort was to have Morgan’s field taken down. The problem with that was, we’d learned that he had a serious phobia about going outside. We’d tried a few different times to take him out for some fresh air, but he always started crying and wouldn’t cheer up until we brought him home. He really loved his room in Jorrie’s shop and we couldn’t get him to understand that we would bring him back there. He wouldn’t believe it until he saw for himself.

He was learning really fast, though. After just two weeks, he already knew some words, and we thought he could understand a lot more than he was willing to show us. He would sit there with this puzzled look on his face, but he zlinned like he was following a lot of what we were saying. It was hard to be sure. But Jorrie thought he was making a lot better progress than average for people like him.

In addition to having his donation taken, we were supposed to get him evaluated by a channel. But Jorrie didn’t see how we could take him to the clinic, where there would probably be people who were due for transfer trying to come in the door of the place at the same time as we were dragging Morgan inside.

It was Darrien who came up with a solution. "Well, I do know of one channel who’ll come here and do it. She’s done that in other cases like this."

"How much is she going to charge? Never mind, it’s worth it. She can just take the selyn and we’ll call it even. That way she’ll have an incentive to take as much of it as possible. I really can’t stand much more of this." He looked around forlornly, even though he knew that neither Kinney or Lila was in the shop. Lila had been hanging around quite a bit, but I hadn’t seen Kinney much, which surprised me. Usually, he stayed close and offered Jorrie his support at times like this, even if they were both doing transfers with other people that month. But it had been days since I’d seen him there, and I think Lila was at work. The only Gens we had around were Darrien and Morgan.

"She’d pay you standard rates, minus a small professional fee for the evaluation. She likes to help out in situations like this. I should tell you, she is limited-certification. I don’t know how you feel about that." Which was a polite way of saying she was disjunct.

Jorrie only hesitated for a moment. "Well, I don’t suppose the APC would give her any certification at all if she wasn’t safe. You know people who’ve used her for things like this before, right?"

"You can trust her. She’s not going to hurt Morgie." He ruffled the younger Gen’s hair, causing Morgan to rock back and forth and make a kind of silent laugh that he does when he’s pleased.

The channel, Hajene Demetrice, was able to drop by the following day. I had some apprehensions about the whole business, and some uncharitable thoughts about the wisdom of selecting a channel based on the recommendation of a known Killer Gen. I started feeling better about the whole business as soon as Demetrice and Kia, her Gen partner, walked into the shop. They were as deeply linked as any pair I could remember zlinning, and they turned the ambient into a soothing balm that made me forget I was still in the turnover phase of my cycle.

Lila was there too, and so was Darrien. But still no sign of Kinney. I could think of a few different possible explanations for why he hadn’t been around much. Whatever the reason, he hadn’t gotten very involved with Morgan’s care the way he’d said he would do. Jorrie didn’t seem to want to talk about it.

Demetrice and Kia sat with Morgan on one of the benches, and the rest of us sat on the other one, staying out of their way.

Once she had everybody arranged the way she wanted, the channel turned to Morgan. "Hello. I’m Demetrice. I am a channel. Do you have a name?" She spoke slowly, but other than that she addressed him as if he were a mentally capable adult.

Morgan took an immediate liking to her. He seemed particularly taken with her hair, which looked fairly ordinary to me—it was mostly black, streaked with gray, and had been chopped off just below her earlobes. He examined it carefully but did not answer her question.

Again, she asked him, "What is your name?"

"Mog!"

Something rippled through her nager, as if she were witnessing a sacred thing. It wasn’t the first time we’d heard Morgan try to say his name, but the channel’s reaction made it seem special. My hair was trying to stand up on my scalp.

"Is your name Jorrie?"

"Mog," he repeated patiently.

"Where is Mog?" She looked around the room, and he took her by the shoulders and peered into her face. He probably didn’t think she was the brightest person he’d ever encountered.

"Okay, Mog. Who am I?" He just looked at her. "Am I Rayne?" Morgan glanced over at me, and I could zlin that he wanted me to help him out with this situation. But I knew that I was supposed to hang back during the evaluation.

He turned back to the channel, with a hint of pity in his nager, but he didn’t say anything. He wasn’t very verbal, which was typical of rescued Pen Gens. Some people believe there is a genetic component to it; the same trait can often be seen, to a lesser extent, in cases when a childless couple buys an infant from the pens. They grow up bright enough… but not very talkative.

"Where is Darrien, Mog?"

"Kia," he said, looking over at the high-field Gen who sat at her channel’s left hand taking notes. I was having trouble keeping my attention off her, too, but I think it was a necklace she was wearing that caught Morgan’s eye.

"Yes, that’s Kia." Demetrice held one hand out, and her Gen gave her an official-looking folder which turned out to contain bright-colored pictures of various shapes—a yellow triangle, a blue circle—on heavy pieces of cardboard. We’d been working with Morgan on his shapes and colors, but he decided he’d talked to Demetrice long enough, and turned to Jorrie.

"Water, Jo. Water." He wasn’t thirsty. He just wanted to play his game with the cups.

"Later," Jorrie said firmly, and I think he managed to conceal the trepidation he felt from Morgan’s Gen senses. Morgan zlinned like he was about to have a temper fit, which he’d been doing lately when he couldn’t have what he wanted, right when he wanted it. Then he looked back at Demetrice, and calmed down. She had that air of authority that channels so often do. Even someone of Morgan’s limited experiences in life was going to respond to it.

But he didn’t feel like discussing any of the shapes or colors, although he looked at the cards and listened to her politely as she named them. The channel got Kia into the act, prompting her to answer the questions when Morgan wouldn’t. Kia cooperated without any sign of boredom or amusement in her nager. Finally, Morgan took one of the cards out of the channel’s grasp. "Geen," he said, and he looked at the green rectangle on the card with such sadness that I thought he would start to weep.

Neither Demetrice nor Kia was able to prompt any further cooperation from him with that exercise. The channel put the cards away after awhile, and turned to face Jorrie and the rest of us. "Two weeks. Is that correct? I am already observing unmistakable signs of awareness. I doubt the dealer was operating strictly within the boundaries of Kadanerran law when he made the sale." Now that Morgan was able to refer to himself by name, even if he did say it kind of funny, it would be illegal to sell him even in Kadanerra. "I don’t mean to detract from all your hard work, believe me. You have done very well with him. But this does not happen so quickly unless… well, perhaps it’s enough to say that you were very wise or very lucky in your selection. I’ve worked with families who were less fortunate."

"I took them to Luden," Darrien told her.

"Luden. Yes." Some shared knowledge hung in the air between them. "He has always taken great satisfaction in meeting the requirements of his customers."

She turned back to Morgan. "Hey, Mog. Give me your hand." She reached toward him and waited for him to respond. He glanced up at her briefly, but he was more interested in playing with his toes. Can’t you see I’m busy here? I’ll have to get back to you on that.

"Mog, I want to take your selyn donation now. Do you understand what that means?"

His expression went blank as his attention drew inward. I don’t think he was opposed to the idea of donating. It was more a case of sensory overload. He didn’t know what she was talking about, and was tired of trying to figure it out.

She took his wrists, and he went totally passive, or at any rate that was my impression at the time. I closed my eyes and went hyperconscious to watch the energy pour slowly from his body to hers, just as Morgan liked to study water as it flowed from one container into another.

When she broke contact, Morgan looked more alert, which was a relief. Sometimes, when he checks out like that, it’s hours before he feels like joining us again.

"How’d he do?" Kia asked.

"Almost seventeen hundred dynopters. Call it sixteen-ninety-five. He’s been well trained, I didn’t have any resistance at the barriers, it’s just that he’s very low-capacity."

She glanced up at my reaction. "Well, they do give them training of a sort, of course. It makes them much more useful as donors while they’re awaiting a buyer." I hadn’t know that. I can’t explain exactly why this made me feel even worse about the whole industry than I had before, but it did.

Kia counted out some money, and Demetrice took it from her… and handed it to Morgan. I thought she was serious at first, then I caught the faint smile in her nager that I couldn’t see on her face because her head was turned away from me. Morgan looked at the money in perplexity. "Well, maybe Jorrie can help you keep track of that."

And Morgan stood up, took a step toward Jorrie, and held it out to him. My scalp prickled again.

But just as soon as Hajene Demetrice left, Morgan decided he’d behaved himself for long enough.

Especially since Jorrie decided it was bath-time. Overdue, really. Morgan was definitely starting to develop an adult man’s sweat glands. We’d talked about bathing him earlier that day, so he would smell nice for the channel’s visit. But as much as he liked to watch running water, Morgan hated getting wet, and bathing him was an ordeal. We’d be able to endure his unhappiness better now, with his field so much lower.

"Mog no! Mog no!" He began to scream when Jorrie tried to lead him to the tub room. The noise was bad enough, even without much in the way of nageric accompaniment.

"Morgan. Bath time." Jorrie was determined not to give in, because he had definite ideas about child-rearing, which was essentially what we were doing. But I could tell it was harder for him to remain patient now than it had been a few days ago. It would only get worse. And I was hardly in any better shape than he was.

Lila stepped close to Jorrie, resting her hands on his shoulders and easing his discomfort. "Don’t you want to work the faucet, Mog?" Usually, Jorrie corrected us when we used that nickname. He thought Morgan ought to learn to speak properly. But this time he didn’t bother, possibly because the channel had done the same thing. Or maybe he was just too tired.

"No no! No bath!" In spite of Lila’s support, Jorrie brought one hand to his temple. She increased her efforts, and I have to say she was getting pretty good at it. Lila had a knack for observing the results of what she was doing, and adjusting her technique accordingly, so she was learning fast without a lot of explicit verbal corrections.

Jorrie relaxed and leaned back against her. I could tell he was starting to feel kind of defeated by the situation. Lila could help him feel better, but she couldn’t make Morgan behave.

On Lila’s part, I was picking up a distinct note of possessiveness. She was really starting to think of Jorrie as her Sime. If Kinney did decide to come back, we might have a Gen fight on our hands, which Jorrie would have to defuse by making a choice and sticking with it. It seemed like such an enviable position to be in, but Jorrie had been through that before and claimed it was actually pretty nerve-wracking.

"Mog no!" Morgan wasn’t upset anymore. At this point, he thought he had won, and was reveling in the joy of defiance. "Mog NO!"

Darrien went over and stooped down to bring his face close to Morgan’s. "Mog. No." I would have guessed that by echoing what Morgan kept saying, he would have made things worse, not better.

But Morgan stopped shouting. Darrien’s tone was firm rather than threatening, but it couldn’t have escaped Morgan’s attention that Darrien was roughly twice his size. The two of them stood there looking at each other for nearly a minute, from such a close distance that their eyes must have wanted to cross, and I almost felt as if there was some communication taking place between them that I could not perceive. Then, acquiescence written large in his diminished nager, Morgan began taking off his shirt.

Jorrie watched with stunned gratitude as Morgan turned and carefully hung the shirt up on a wall peg to air out. Then he glanced at Darrien and hustled Morgan out of the room before he could take off anything else. Although not before we got a good look at the tattoo on his shoulder.

Jorrie hated that tattoo—I mean really hated it. But the Bureau of Gen Welfare had been very clear. He was not to give Morgan any tattoos, or remove the one he’d gotten in Kadanerra. That was for Morgan to decide for himself, if and when he was declared Fully Self-Aware.

I think it was the crudity of the work, as much as what it represented, that offended Jorrie. He’d looked at me as if I were crazy when I suggested that it had a certain, stark… I’m not sure beauty was the right word. But it had power. Many of the Rescued choose to keep the marks.

Done in evident haste and with little skill, it stood out sharply against Morgan’s pale skin, and displayed the trefoil logo of Luden’s pen with a stock control number beneath it. Only a few digits, because the numbers were not unique. From what I’d read, though, Luden would not reissue Morgan’s number. To avoid confusion, this was done only after the buyer sold the body back to the pen where it had originated, which most of them did. They had to bring it back while it was still relatively fresh, though. Most pens did not want to feed their stock meat that was too far gone.

Lila has gone into the tub room with Jorrie and Morgan, leaving me alone with the Killer Gen. Though to tell you the truth, I was getting kind of used to him. He’d been coming over to Jorrie’s shop quite a bit since Morgan had been here, not every day like Lila and I had been doing, but I’d seen him there several times. Jorrie had asked around and learned that Darrien hadn’t done that much follow-up with other people he’d helped with the adoption process.

Darrien was a big help, but Jorrie had some dark suspicions about his motives. Neither one of us had caught Darrien directing any trace of sex intil at Morgan, though we’d observed him looking at other men that way a couple of times. But Jorrie tried not to leave the two of them alone together, and he obviously didn’t want Darrien in the tub room with Morgan while he was naked, not that there would have been room for another person in there anyway.

I had my own theory about why Darrien was around so much. Probably none of the other people he’d helped were Simes, and he didn’t quite trust us.

Thinking about that, I remembered the dreams I’d had the last time I tried to sleep. In the first one, I was back at Luden’s place of business, but I don’t think I was there to rescue anyone in the dream. I was more like one of his regular customers. He came into the room dragging this terrified, struggling Gen, talking all the while in this oily voice about how pleased I would be at what he had to offer me. Then he turned the Gen around so I could take a look. It was Lila.

I made the mistake of going back to sleep after that, and had another dream about the two of them that was even worse, not because of what happened in it but because it had that very real quality that dreams sometimes do. The ones you remember for a long time, whether you’d like to or not. I was in some unfamiliar place, and I was in hard need. I had to make a choice between taking transfer from Luden or from Lila. Some awfully bad things can happen to nonjunct Simes who get transfer from a junct channel, but I could tell that even though Lila was trying to be brave, she was scared. The fear came and went, mixed with desire in a combination that was just plain unholy. I knew that if I went to her, I might end up junct for real. But I really didn’t want to touch Luden. I had to choose, and neither of the choices available was any good.

I glanced at Darrien, glad that he couldn’t have any way to know there were things like that going on in my head. I was really missing the effect Kia and her channel had on the ambient. And now Lila was gone too. Darrien’s nager was actually kind of soothing, and I found myself wondering how close I could get without him thinking I was being weird. If I could just go over and sit right next to him, it would feel awfully nice… unless he decided to give me a good, hard smack with his field, of course.

I decided not to risk it, and began looking through the cabinet over in the corner where Jorrie kept a few items of food and medicine. Except none of the medicine was there anymore, and I really wanted some fosebine for the combination of headache and menstrual cramps that I always got that time of the month. I remembered Jorrie saying something about moving all that stuff so Morgan couldn’t get into it, but couldn’t recall where he might have put it.

Despair washed over me. It didn’t take much, during that part of my cycle. Little things were enough to make my mood plummet, because it didn’t have far to go.

Darrien was still sitting on one of the benches, not looking as if he planned to leave anytime soon. I had to stay around and watch Morgan. Jorrie had someone coming in later for a tattoo, and he would require Lila’s assistance with that because the customer was Gen. Even with support, he wouldn’t work on Gens during the second half of his cycle unless they would either come in really low-field or else take a sedative. That month, I think he would have preferred not to work on them at all, but he couldn’t afford to turn away any jobs just then.

"Hey, you don’t know what he did with the fosebine tablets, do you?" It was a possibility. Like I said, he’d been around quite a bit.

"No, sure don’t. What’s wrong?"

"Headache." I wasn’t going to discuss the other part with him, though I would have told Jorrie with no embarrassment.

"Come on over here." He patted the bench next to himself. I froze for a moment, then went over and sat down. I didn’t zlin any threat. Well, if I was wrong and he field-smacked me unconscious, at least my suffering would be over in the short term. I’d feel like shen-on-a-stick when I woke up, of course. But I didn’t really think he was going to do anything like that, not unless I provoked him.

"Turn around, and I’ll see if I can loosen up your neck muscles. That’s where the headache comes from, more often than not." His nager was softer than usual. You’d never have thought he was a Killer Gen. I turned my back to him, and he started kneading the back of my neck with one of his large, strong hands.

It felt good. I tucked my own hands, and my wrists, out of his sight so he wouldn’t realize quite how good. I started trying to think of some way I could arrange for him to do this again right before my transfer. Little warning bells were going off in the back of my mind, but things hadn’t really gotten to the point where my control was in question. And it increased my confidence a little to know that this was a Gen who could protect himself—if it came to that. Which, I promised myself, I would not allow to happen.

"Is that any better?" He leaned closer. I was starting to think he was deliberately trying to entice me. I got scared all of a sudden, and it was like someone had poured ice-cold water over my laterals. I’d heard stories about Gens with the kind of training Darrien had. They’d been known to provoke Simes into attacking so that they’d have an excuse to do something nasty. It’s illegal, of course, and the channels can get to the bottom of something like that pretty fast—if the Sime complains. They usually don’t. I imagine it takes some guts to walk into the Central Registry and say, "Hey, I attacked this Gen in killmode and he clobbered me, please go arrest him."

I couldn’t really believe Darrien would do anything like that. But I was pretty sure he didn’t realize what he was doing to my intil factor just then. It had started out feeling kind of warm and pleasant, but by this time it had definitely passed beyond the comfort zone.

"Um, I think you should stop that now. My headache’s much better, thanks." I tried to keep my voice steady, without much success.

Reluctantly, he let his hands drop away from my shoulders. "Okay. Rayne, would you allow me to provide your next transfer?"

At first I was sure I must have misunderstood what he said. I went over it in my mind, kind of playing it back from memory, and decided it wasn’t very ambiguous. Meanwhile about twenty-three seconds went by, and Darrien was waiting for an answer. He actually seemed to be in some suspense, as if he thought I might say no.

"Did you just—yes! Yes. Absolutely. Ah—do you have a permit for that?"

He was surprised by the question but not, to my great relief, offended. A bit amused, in fact.

"Of course I do. I’ve been established almost ten years. Did you want to see my paperwork?" He reached for his document wallet.

"Oh, no, you don’t have to—I believe you. It’s just, when I first met you, I thought you hated Simes. I just didn’t expect…"

He ran his hands down my arms, and pulled me back to rest against his chest, shifting so that he could lean against the wall. He’d brought my intil down to where all that was left was a feeling of pleasant anticipation. "I hope you’ve figured out by now that I don’t. I’m not sure I even hate juncts. But I do hate the pens, I really do." The feeling he was projecting was almost overwhelming, but it was more like grief than hatred.

"So what made you—how did you get involved with the issue, anyway?" The way I wanted to ask it was, why do you feel so strongly about this? But there was something indecent about that. Because it seemed like everyone ought to feel the way he does. But they don’t. Just about everyone in Quissa will agree, it’s really too bad about the kind of thing that goes on in places like Kadanerra. But they go on with their lives without getting too worked up about it.

"You know, I got interviewed for this article awhile back, and the guy asked me that same question three times. I told him the truth, but it wasn’t the kind of answer he was looking for. He was sure I was holding back a story about a family member or a close friend who came from that background. But I didn’t know anybody like that when I was younger, or at least not that I knew of. Some of them don’t talk about it, not ever… I got involved in the movement real young, just after I established. I remember learning about the pen operations in school, and just thinking how wrong it was. That’s really all there was to it."

We sat there without talking for awhile. I could hear splashing and excited voices from the tub room, and I wouldn’t have bet much on the chances that Jorrie or Lila would come out of there with dry clothes. My headache and cramps were gone without a trace, and I was just about drifting off to sleep when the three of them came out of there. I didn’t bother to open my eyes.

Jorrie broke off in mid-sentence when he zlinned me and Darrien, and his nager turned into an exclamation point. Lila wasn’t far behind him in that regard. For some reason, it made her want to laugh, but she didn’t.

"Come put on some clean clothes," Jorrie told Morgan, who was like a barely discernable shadow bobbing along behind him as they went into the bedroom.

Lila went over to the corner where I’d been looking for the fosebine. She was looking at the chiller, but full of curiosity that I doubt was related to Jorrie’s food supply. I smiled. She said, "I think I’m going to fix a sandwich. Does anyone else want one while I’m at it?"

"No, thanks," Darrien told her. I didn’t bother to answer.

I actually did fall asleep for a little bit, floating there in the embrace of Darrien’s arms and his field, and I didn’t have any disturbing dreams this time. When I woke up, Jorrie and Lila had gone into the front of the shop, and I could hear a strange voice discussing different kinds of trees in a rather impassioned manner. I could guess that he was talking about the tattoo he was getting. I could zlin another half-dozen or so people on the other side of the wall, about evenly divided in larity. Apparently the guy who was getting the work done had brought a few friends along for moral support.

Morgan was sitting on the other bench, playing with a ceramic cup. He didn’t have any water in it; Jorrie only lets him do that over a sink or basin, because he spills a lot. He was just turning it over in his hands and watching the way it caught the light.

Darrien saw me watching him and looked over there too. I could zlin very clearly one reason, perhaps the main one, why he’d been coming around so much. He just really loved Morgan, the same way Jorrie and Lila and I do. I decided I would have to talk to Jorrie about this.

I was feeling more energetic after my nap, and tired of just sitting there. But I didn’t want to move too far from Darrien. I reached out and snagged one of Jorrie’s tattoo books, and started paging through that while Darrien looked over my shoulder.

I flipped to the section that shows designs for handling tentacles. I’d gone back and forth on the matter of getting mine done, and I think Jorrie had stopped taking me seriously when I said I was going to. I figured this would be a good time to do it, because with all the unexpected expenses that had come up since he brought Morgan home, Jorrie could really use the money.

"Hey, tell me which design you like." At this point, Darrien was a Gen whose opinion I would listen to carefully on a subject like that.

I couldn’t zlin any enthusiasm from him, so I flipped to the next page. He wasn’t studying it very closely, though. He told me, "You’re the one who’s going to have to look at it every day for the rest of your life. You’d better pick whichever one you like best."

"I know that, but I like to get different opinions about it. Tell me what you think." I flipped ahead a couple of pages to some designs that were a little more free-form, like Jorrie’s got, although I was really more attracted to the patterns that had some regularity to them.

He captured two of my dorsals with his fingers and brought them up near his face so he could examine them closely. "I think they’re just beautiful the way they are." Then he kissed one of them. I just let them lay across his hand as if all the strength had gone out of my muscles, and in fact, I did feel kind of faint.

I was starting to feel really bad about all the times I’d thought of him as a Killer Gen.

Jorrie would never accept money from me as a gift. But maybe it would be different if I made it clear I was giving it to Morgan, and asked Jorrie to help him keep track of it…

I closed the book of tattoo designs so the pages wouldn’t get wrinkled if I forgot it was there, and leaned back against Darrien’s shoulder.

~~~~

On the evening when we were scheduled for transfer, Darrien and I walked to the clinic where my advising channel, Hajene Helmutt, has his office. I know, a lot of you feel that ruins the spontaneity, and you would rather have some privacy for a thing like that. But I had more or less promised Helmutt. It was a compromise, really. What the channels would really like is for people to come in and get a preliminary evaluation first, before planning a transfer with a new partner, but almost nobody does.

To tell the truth, I wasn’t just following Helmutt’s advice when I arranged things that way. Maybe I still wasn’t entirely past the whole Killer Gen thing. I really did feel safer knowing Helmutt would be there. And I was a little curious to see what he would think of Darrien.

If he thought much of anything one way or the other, he concealed it behind his usual shield of bland professionalism. And Darrien didn’t take a dislike to him or anything, as I’d worried he might. Of course, if Darrien hadn’t cared for the clinic idea when I first suggested it, I wouldn’t have pressed the matter. I would have agreed to just about any time and place he preferred. But he didn’t seem to care much about that part of it. He was cordial enough to Helmutt when we went in, but mostly he was completely focused on me.

Helmutt did the usual channel stuff, taking field readings from both of us individually, then having us stand together while he zlinned us and made these little humming noises like he was thinking out loud. Finally, he gave us an approving nod and stepped back out of the way, muting his field so that he zlinned like some kind of ghost. It was considerate of him, but as far as I was concerned he could have stood there and put on a whole light show with his secondary system. It wouldn’t have distracted me from Darrien.

I’d never quite believed all that stuff about how your first Gen is supposed to be like first transfer all over again. I’d have settled for feeling the way I had with channels a few months back, before I’d gotten mixed up with Lila.

But everything they say about it, all the stuff I thought was hype… it’s all true.

We left the clinic together, but Darrien had some plans of his own for the rest of the evening, and so did I. Jorrie and Lila were scheduled for the same time at a different clinic, and I’d arranged to rendezvous with Jorrie at a fountain about halfway in between. He’d gotten there first, and I didn’t have to be able to zlin to know that it had gone pretty well for him, too.

Jorrie is only a finger’s-width taller than I am, which made it easier to kiss while maintaining as much body contact as possible. I had no idea whether people walking by were amused, offended, or indifferent. Hypoconscious and with my eyes closed, I existed in a world of sound and touch and smell and taste.

After awhile, we headed back to the shop. For one thing, Lila’s sister Seever was watching Morgan for us, and we’d told her we wouldn’t be gone long.

When we got there, Morgan was asleep on one of the benches in the back room, and Seever was looking at the two of us with kind of an apprehensive expression, which is normal for her. She’s one of these people without much in the way of confidence. She’s older than Lila, but you wouldn’t guess that until they told you, even though Seever is taller. Tall and kind of graceless, and not as pretty as Lila. Although she could have been attractive enough if she’d projected a little more self-assurance.

"I tried to get him to go to bed. He wanted to wait up for you." From the look on her face, she half-expected us to pick up a stick and start beating her with it. I thought of trying to get my Sime senses operating so I could see if she was as anxious about things as she looked, but decided it was too much trouble.

"That’s fine, Seever. Thanks for watching him." Jorrie smiled at her, and he has the kind of smile that usually makes just about anyone like him, but she just kept looking at him with this nervous expression.

Lila has told me about her parents. They moved to Quissa from some little Gens-only town I’ve never heard of, and raised the girls in a neighborhood that’s pretty much Gens-only too. So I wondered if maybe it was bothering Seever to be in a room with nobody but two Simes and someone like Morgan. Even though I was pretty sure she understood where we’d just come back from… maybe she was concerned about Lila. It was Jorrie, more than me, that she was directing the worried look at.

I pushed myself duo, and learned how bad I am at reading facial expressions. It wasn’t anything like what I’d thought. She seemed, in some confused and untrained way, to want to offer Jorrie transfer. What is it about him? That kind of thing happens to him all the time.

Oh, well. If I was Gen, I’d probably feel the same way. I made a mental note to suggest that Lila have a talk with her sister, if she hadn’t already. She ought to go for some training. Learning any kind of skill will make someone feel better about themselves—particularly, I would think, if it’s a skill that could potentially turn half the people she met into her willing slaves. Although she’d have a ways to go before she reached that point.

Once we got rid of Seever, we realized there was a little problem. We’d expected Morgan to be sound asleep in his own room. That was why we’d made the appointment for so late. I had a lot of fantasies involving Jorrie and one of those padded benches, but they hadn’t included having Morgan snoozing on the other one. For a Gen, he’s a light sleeper. We talked about going into his room and using the bed there, but we both felt a little funny about that. For one thing, he might wake up any time and decide to go back in there.

Morgan’s room had originally been one of two store-rooms Jorrie threw stuff into that he couldn’t think of any use for but wanted to save just in case. Most of this had gotten shoved into the other store-room when we were getting things ready for Morgan. It was pretty packed in there.

Fortunately, one of the things in there was a rolled-up carpet, and we folded it in half and put it on top of a pile of furniture, which was the only flat surface that was big enough. It was like a platform up in a tree, and we could see out into the back alley through a ventilation grille. We had to be careful, though, because it was too close to the ceiling to sit up. And there wasn’t much light, just what came through another grille above the store-room door. We’d left a lamp on in the room where Morgan was sleeping because we were both navigating mostly by vision.

It was really very cozy.

~~~~

"I want to do something for you, Rayne."

"You already did. If I have to tell you that, then I think Lila should get an outstanding grade on her practical exam."

He smiled, and traced a design on the upper slope of one of my breasts. "I owe you a tattoo. I appreciate your giving Morgan all that money. It was very nice of you. Now you have to let me do something nice for you. Just a small one, if you like. Maybe a freysea-flower to match your vine."

Jorrie hates feeling indebted to anyone. Also, he really enjoys doing tattoos. And maybe it’s not just his Gens that he likes to leave his mark on.

"I have been thinking about getting another one, actually. What about a starred-cross?"

He drew on my chest some more. It felt nice. "Sure, I have designs for lots of those. Pick one, and we can talk about size and color, and then I can paint on a temp so you can try it for a few days."

"I want it where people can see it, though." I moved his tentacle-tip from my chest to the back of my right hand.

"Yes." I could see in his eyes that he understood, and hear it in his voice. "Maybe I’ll get one there too." Considering what he does, Jorrie has remarkably few tattoos of his own.

I found myself thinking about that guard with junct tattooed on his hand as if it were a badge of pride. I would like to ask him what it means to him. I wish he could meet Morgan, although I wouldn’t want to let him get too close, depending on where he was in his cycle.

And I wonder about Luden, too. I’m not sure about that guard, maybe he manages to lie to himself, but Luden knows. He knows the Gens he sells for the kill could become human. Morgan was well along the road to self-awareness when Luden sold him to Jorrie. It doesn’t bother me that Luden operates outside the laws of Kadanerra, because I don’t have much respect for their laws.

But he doesn’t restrict that kind of sales to customers like Jorrie. Darrien says he’ll do the same for anyone who can come up with the asking price.

It would be easy to simply dismiss him as the most evil person I’ve ever met or am ever likely to. But he probably doesn’t think of himself that way. Darrien told me that he refuses to have anything to do with the sale of kidnapped Gens from towns like the one where Lila’s parents were born.

If Luden were involved in that sort of traffic, I don’t think there would be anything I’d want to ask him. Because I believe that some people are beyond redemption.

But apparently he considers himself a moral person. I just wonder what he would feel if he could look into Morgan’s trusting, frequently puzzled green eyes. How he could justify what he’s done to Morgan—or what he would have allowed to happen if Jorrie hadn’t showed up with a fistful of Quissan currency.

~~~~

After Jorrie did our starred-cross tattoos, he stopped saying Morgan and started saying Mog instead, like everyone else. I’m not sure what the connection was, but I do remember the timing. He’d just finished doing mine, and I was sitting there wondering if I ought to change my mind and take something for the pain. I heard him say, "Want me to paint your hand now, Mog?"

He looked up at my startlement and shrugged. "Well, at first I thought he just couldn’t say it right. But I’ve noticed he can say other words with those sounds. I’ve kind of gotten used to it, actually."

He’d really liked the name Morgan, and so had I. So much more elegant than Mog. But it wasn’t our choice.

Choice and Freedom. That’s why we left Old Earth—because they were saying there was only one way to live. Choice is our birthright as human beings, and is part of what Luden stole from Mog and all the others. That’s why we had to let Mog choose his own name, if he wanted to. Because the difference between Quissa and Kadanerra is more than a question of killing.

Mog came over and examined the work on my hand, which was still red and puffy. He pointed to his own hand, then at mine, then offered his hand to Jorrie. Speech could not have made his intent any more clear; I’ll take one just like she’s got.

Jorrie began laying out the pens he uses for the temporary designs. Mog picked up the tattoo stylus that was still lying on the table. "This," he said. He’d watched part of the work on my hand.

Jorrie slipped it neatly out of his hand before he could stab himself.

"No, Mog. It’s sharp. Hurts." Jorrie touched the needle with the tip of one finger, and winced convincingly. Mog thought this over for a moment.

"Okay."

Jorrie gave me a helpless look. It really pains him to turn down a tattoo request. He’s been known to do them on credit for people who probably aren’t ever going to pay him. "You have to work hard at your lessons, Mog. You can’t have one yet. Let me do one with the paint-pens for now, all right?" He tucked the stylus away in a drawer.

Mog had to think this over, too, but he didn’t retreat into himself like he sometimes does. It’s sometimes so hard to tell just how much he understands. Finally, he asked:

"When?"

Probably less than a year, Hajene Demetrice tells us, before Mog can hope to be declared Fully Aware and enjoy all the rights and responsibilities of any other Gen who has completed the minimum training. While other people his age are learning a trade, he’ll be struggling with numbers and learning to read and trying to figure out what it’s acceptable to say and do in public. Demetrice says that even though Morgan is among the most promising of the Rescued, he’ll still be dealing with the effects of spending his childhood in a drugged haze—forbidden to speak, trained to obey rather than taught to reason—for the rest of his life.

And he is one of the very, very lucky ones.

~~~~

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