All beginnings are hard -- Talmud Tractate Taanis
What’s past is prologue – Wm. Shakespeare
The store owner looked over the wooden crate of fruit the rancher had lugged in and considered the merchandise, the price that had been asked, and the rancher and his pretty wife. The man’s hands, holding the crate, had a tension that belied the casualness of the transaction. The merchant ate a berry, slowly, tasting the perfectly ripe fruit, then named a price. “I’ll give you extra,” he offered, “if you take store credit, instead of cash.”
The young rancher pushed his hat back and hesitated, obviously torn between the two prospects. Hard cash was hard to come by for new homesteaders, and it was always a temptation to get currency when one could. Still, few places existed locally to spend hard cash but the present store. “How much extra can we get?”
The merchant considered, and named a figure.
“Hugh, look at these!”
Hugh Valleroy turned to see his wife crouched down by a pen where some new chicks were scrambling.
Aisha captured a yellow fluff-ball, and crooned to it. “I’ve been hoping to get some poultry,” she said as he knelt down beside her, his lean figure moving stiffly, as if his muscles were sore.
“Nice chicks, those,” the storekeeper said, coming from behind the counter and wiping his hands on his apron. “Just hatched yesterday. From good layers, too. They’ll give you plenty of eggs. I’ll trade you a dozen for that crate of fruit. Throw in a sack of feed too. That’s an even better trade.”
Valleroy eyed the chicks, considered their probable price against his need for cash, then nodded and rose. “All right.”
“Care for anything else?” The sharp-eyed storekeeper surveyed their worn clothes. Though they were clean and still showed the creases from being pressed for town, they were quite washed out and sun-faded. “We’re got some nice patterned cloth? Beet sugar for jam? Canning jars? You must be putting up some preserves from your fruit. ”
“Not this time,” Valleroy said quietly, carefully counting out the money for the rest of their order from a lean and equally worn wallet.
“Maybe after harvest,” the storekeeper said equably, recognizing his customers for what they were. And what they didn’t have. “You folks are homesteading out by the border, aren’t you?” He threw the sack of meal over his shoulder, and followed as Valleroy carried the crate of chicks to his wagon.
“That’s right,” Valleroy said neutrally. “It’s good land, close by the river.” He took out a length of well worn rope and carefully tied the crate of chicks down behind the driver’s seat. Then he took off his own jacket to cover the top of the crate, shielding the chicks from the blazing summer sun.
“Though so. Knew you were homesteaders, from around somewhere. But those brambles only grow out there, near the water. I’d heard a young couple was trying their luck by the river. That’s dangerous country, wouldn’t you say, right on the border of Sime Territory? You’ve got Sime Raiders from across the river. Berserkers trying to make it out of Gen Territory. Wildcat coming down from the hills.”
Valleroy shrugged. “We haven’t seen any so far. I’m well armed. Border patrol comes by.”
“Well, I’ll buy all the fruit you bring in,” The merchant eyed their wagon, gauging that it was obviously second-hand. “Folks like the fruit well enough; they just don’t care for the risk in getting it. I guess you know yourself that it’s a ready cash crop. But I wouldn’t care to go prospecting for it, much less live out there. No one around here will even cross the Byval stream. And we’re lucky to see the patrol once a week. Once a month is more likely.”
Valleroy finished tying the crate and straightened up. turning to the merchant, squaring his shoulders. “We’ve had no problems so far. And border land is cheap,” he said quietly.
“It is that. But there’s a reason for it. People have tried their luck out there in the past, but you’ll notice you haven’t got any neighbors.” He hesitated, eyed the woman, then shrugged and dropped the subject. “Well, I’ll wish you luck, you and your wife. Just be careful and keep a rifle close at hand. The government should offer a bounty on those raiders. Same as for the pelt on a wildcat. Doesn’t make sense that they offer it for one and not the other.”
“Thanks,” Valleroy helped Aisha into the wagon, stepped up himself.
“The only good Sime is a dead Sime!” he called after them.
They rode in silence, except for the peeping of the chicks and the rattling of the wheels, until Aisha said, “Hugh, he doesn’t know any better.”
Valleroy stirred. “I know. And I’d shoot a Raider myself, if he was going for you.”
“And if he were going for you?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“I imagine Klyd wouldn’t like it.” Aisha commented.
“If I shot him, or if I Served him?” Valleroy asked.
Aisha thought. “Good question. I don’t know.”
“Neither do I, “ Hugh said. “It’s a no-win situation,” Hugh said. “These people can’t think of Simes as anything but predators who deserve to be killed. And to most Simes, Gens are nothing more than animals that produce the selyn they Need every month. They’ve never heard of Channels like Klyd, who can take selyn from Gens without killing. Or of renSimes who live on Channel’s Transfer. They can’t imagine a place like Zeor where Simes and Gens can live in peace. Changing that is what we’re all about, with Zeor on the Sime side of the border, and Rior on ours. It will happen, Aisha. Then no one kill Gens for selyn or think of Simes as vicious predators. Sime and Gen will be united.”
Aisha tickled the downy fluff of one of the chicks in the crate behind her seat. “Some day.”
Hugh slapped the reins on the horse’s back, urging him into a trot, as if somehow he could rush to that future. “Some day soon,” he said determinedly, “if I can help it.”
His barn was small, but snug, now lit only by the glow of an oil lamp, carefully secured on a hooked ring. A thunderstorm had turned the summer afternoon into pre-twilight darkness, but the thick stone walls of the small barn made the lash of the rain outside barely audible. He’d quarried the stone from the riverbank, same as the walls for his small cabin. The stone was free except for his labor, but milled lumber cost cold hard cash.
Valleroy knelt by the side of his only cow as she strained through her first calving. He’d been told not to breed her; she was young and had come into season too late in the year, but he’d risked it, thinking of the milk and cream and of butter that would tide them through the winter. And now, as luck would have it, the calf was positioned wrong. He’d been cursing that fate and trying unsuccessfully to turn it for hours, chafing as time ticked by. He didn’t quite have the strength or the knowledge to save his cow, and he was tortured by the awareness that he was already late for an appointment. Near despair, he sat back on his heels, wiping his sweating forehead, leaving a smear of blood across his face, and rubbing his aching arms. Outside the wind picked up and thunder rumbled. He sighed and geared himself up for another try as the cow lowed and strained again. He didn’t even hear the door open.
“Klyd!” Valleroy turned, squinting in the premature darkness. The lash of the rain outside and the drumming on the roof drowned out his voice. He steadied himself against the laboring cow and taking a deeper breath, spoke over the noise. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“No.” The voice was terse and quiet, but it carried in spite of a pitch of thunder. Lighting briefly illuminated the sky. “I should not.”
“I’m sorry. But we’re not scheduled for Transfer for a few more days, And Melisande,” he gestured. “is having trouble. She shouldn’t be too much longer calving. I’ll be at Zeor soon. You know it’s risky for you to come here.”
“Did you call someone for assistance?” Klyd asked, still framed in the doorway. “Are you expecting someone to come here?”
“Who is there to call?” Valleroy answered, with more than a bit of weary frustration in his voice. “We’ve no vet in the area. And no Gen would dare come this close to the border by choice. Border patrol is all we see out here, and they make the rounds only rarely.” He looked up at the Sime, and in spite of his dark mood a half smile twisted his lips. “Though I can’t say that’s a bad thing, considering whom else comes calling.”
“That’s why I asked. I zlinned no approaching Gens for miles before I crossed the border onto Rior,” Klyd took a few more steps in the room. “Except you and Aisha. But why would you think it risky, unless you had called someone and were expecting them? You knew I could zlin for anyone close by.”
Valleroy sighed, and looked down at his hands, stained with mucus and blood. “I forgot.”
Klyd gave him a curious look of astonishment but came closer to the straining animal, a look of mild distaste on his rain lashed face as he studied it. Simes didn’t raise cattle, or eat meat, but Zeor kept a flock of goats, which were useful for the spinning quality of their hair, as well as for their milk and cheese. “I can’t zlin a cow,” he said impatiently, pushing a damp black forelock off his head with a tentacle, “but I can bring Regan here. Running Zeor’s stables, he’s helped foal plenty of horses. A cow can’t be that different.”
“I know what’s wrong. The calf has a leg back,” Valleroy said impatiently. “I just haven’t the strength to turn it.”
“No wonder,” Klyd said disapprovingly, turning his attention to the Gen. “You’re exhausted.”
“It’s been a busy month,” Valleroy replied without heat. “Anyway, I have to stay here and deliver her. I’ll be at Zeor as soon as I can. Long before our Transfer, I promise. You should go back there.”
“You promised, a month ago, that you would be at Zeor this afternoon,” Klyd returned with some heat. “You’re my Donor, and I’m in Need,” he added. “I’m not leaving until you come with me. It’s time you realized that there are limits Hugh, to even a Channel’s control. Even my control. Unless you agree that I’ll bring back Regan to take your place.”
“That’s not necessary,” Valleroy winced at the tacit reprimand. “I won’t be much longer.”
“Perhaps I can help.”
“You?” Valleroy turned, a trace of a smile brought to his face. “You may do wonders doctoring people, but I don’t think calving a cow is in your repertory. Sectuib,” he added giving Klyd the title that marked him as head of his Householding. “Do you think you’re a veterinarian now?”
“No. But I can support you. You’re much too tired for this.”
Valleroy pursed his lips, tensing a bit as Klyd crossed to him. The Channel laid a hand on his shoulder, the tentacles that were the most obvious difference between Sime and Gen extending from their sheaths on his forearms. The strong handling tentacles twined in his hair; the delicate nerve-rich laterals used in selyn conduction brushing his cheek and trailing across his neck seeking the selyn transport nerves under his skin. Hugh drew a breath as the ronaplin dripping from the lateral tentacles reacted to his skin, sensitizing his nerves. “Klyd, I don’t think--”
“Relax. Let me brace you.”
“I can’t relax and turn a calf,” Valleroy said testily, turning to look up at the channel. “Do you have any idea how strong these animals are?”
Klyd flinched at the wave of frustration coming from the Gen. “I meant drop your barriers and let me control your field. Your fields haven’t matched mine yet,” Klyd added reprovingly. “Have you forgotten everything in the last month?”
“I don’t see how that will help.”
“Do you want to be here all night?” Klyd asked, impatiently, then when Valleroy bristled, he asked. “Do you want to save your cow?”
“All right! Tell me what you want me to do.”
Klyd put his hands on Valleroy’s shoulders. “Relax,” Klyd said, soothingly. “Drop your barriers, match your fields to mine and let me support you. When it’s time to turn the calf’s leg, I’ll give you the extra strength.”
Valleroy nodded, and felt Klyd reinforce his grip with handling tentacles. It was hard for him to split his attention between creating the right nageric state with Klyd and functioning as a veterinarian, but he raggedly got his fields into order . Then the delicate laterals, sliding across his throat and behind his ear, two on each side, found the necessary selyn transport nerves under his own skin. In the straw before him, the heifer lowed and began to strain. Valleroy reached his arm deep inside, fumbling for the tiny foot as the contractions brought it within his reach. The hard muscles squeezed his hand almost nerveless, but then he felt a warmth and strength seemed to flow into him. He pushed the leg back against the straining muscles and felt the calf turn, and suddenly, the obstruction was gone, and with renewed effort the cow delivered the baby almost in his lap.
Hugh eased it to the straw of the stall and drew a relieved sigh, then looked the baby over. “She seems fine even after all that. A heifer,” he said with satisfaction, drying the calf off with a wisp of straw. “When she’s grown, we’ll have two milk cows.”
“Of such, dynasties are made,” Klyd commented, sitting back on his heels and watching him with a trace of amusement.
Valleroy looked up sharply at the arch comment, then shrugged and flushed, self-conscious. Lately, Klyd’s attitude toward Rior seemed to have changed from supportive to patronizing. “She means a lot to me, anyway.” He stood up stiffly, every muscle clearly aching, and moving to the bucket, fished around for the cake of soap and washed his hands and arms. He moved the cake of soap to his shirt pocket.
“I didn’t mean—“
“Yes, you did.” Valleroy accused, and then as Klyd tensed, he recollected himself and shook out his shoulders, dropping his near martial stance. He turned and watched as the cow butted the baby to her feet and nudged her to nurse. “I suppose a calf is nothing much to you,” Valleroy said quietly. “But I could have lost her, could have lost her mother too. That’s a loss I can’t afford right now.” He set his jaw a little and said stiffly. “Thanks for the help.”
“You’re welcome, though I didn’t do much.” Klyd watched as Valleroy put a flake of sweet hay in the manger for the cow, fresh and green from a recent cutting, checked the water bucket, and carefully took down the lamp from its nail hanger. Klyd took the lamp from the Gen. Hugh didn’t comment, though his jaw tensed just a bit. Simes tended to regard Gens as clumsy and not to be trusted with objects that could cut or burn. Valleroy knew Klyd couldn’t help his own upbringing. Rather than make an issue over it, Hugh picked up the bucket of dirty water.
“Is Aisha ready to leave for Zeor?” Klyd asked.
Outside the byre, the rain had stopped, and the sky was clearing. The fields were already steaming in the late afternoon sun. Valleroy put down the bucket to settle the bar into the slot that held closed the barn door, then he picked up the bucket and poured it carefully into the irrigation ditch of the nearby garden. “Aisha is going to stay here this month,” he said quietly. “We picked up some baby chicks in town yesterday. She wants to keep an eye on them till they’re a bit older. And someone has to watch over the livestock.”
“Do you think that’s wise? I can have someone come over to feed and check on your stock. Or even to stay, if that would make you more comfortable.”
“She wants to stay,” Valleroy pushed open the cabin door. Driven indoors by the rain, Aisha had settled in a chair at the table, a basket of patchwork squares at her side. She looked up anxiously, then rose when she saw Klyd.
“A heifer,” Valleroy announced. “She’s seems to be doing well, even after all my mucking about.”
“Hugh, that’s wonderful!” Aisha kissed him, “Next year, we’ll have two milk cows! And more calves.”
“I hope they aren’t all as much trouble calving,” Valleroy said dryly.
Aisha turned to Klyd. “We weren’t expecting you, Sectuib Farris. Hugh was going to Zeor.”
“When he didn’t show on schedule, I decided to ride over.” Klyd looked over the small stone cabin with the same faint air of disbelief and disapproval.
Aisha chose to overlook his expression. “Can I offer you some tea? Thanks to you, we do have trin.” She smiled at him. “We save it for when we might have certain visitors.”
Klyd glanced at her sharply. “There’s no need for that. I sent it over for you to drink, not save!” He drew a breath and softened his tone, seeing his hosts glance at each other. “I’ll see that the kitchens pack some for you regularly when you return.”
“That’s not necessary-“ Hugh began, glancing from Klyd to Aisha.
“Trin tea is good for you,” Klyd said shortly. “And it isn’t as if you can get it here, out-Territory. You should have said something. But no, thank you, Aisha. We need to get back to Zeor. Hugh tells me you aren’t coming with us?”
“I have so much to do. It’s hard enough having Hugh leave for a few days—“ she stopped short, looking up at the dark expression that washed over Klyd’s face. “I didn’t mean it that way.”
Valleroy stepped between them. “Klyd knows that.” He turned to the Channel. “I’ll just put together a few things and be right with you.”
Klyd glanced at Hugh, impatience in every line of his Need-tautened frame. “What are you planning to pack? There’s nothing here you could be thinking of bringing that you couldn’t get at Zeor. Except Aisha.”
Hugh tensed again. Klyd’s emphasis, his sharp tone, the slight derision as he said the word “here” gesturing with a tentacle at the small cabin, made his attitude toward Rior obvious. But Hugh dropped his shoulders, lowering his defensive stance as he again refused to argue. “I suppose that’s true. But Aisha wants to stay and I can’t blame her.”
Klyd paced restively. “She’s high field. If she’s not coming, then I should take her field down before we leave.”
Valleroy glanced at Klyd, the Channel’s obvious Need making him uncomfortable with that idea. He knew that Klyd would never injure Aisha as he’d once been injured, Need or not. His own very real Transfer burn had been inflicted deliberately by Klyd, as a necessary ruse to get him into Zeor as a Gen rescuee during the covert operation that had rescued Aisha from Sime raiders. In the months since then, he’d never seen Klyd injure another. Still, the memory lingered. While he had no fear of Klyd for himself, he realized he was still harboring an irrational one when it came to Aisha’s donations. He hadn’t realized until just now how he’d always preferred that Klyd take Aisha’s donation after their Transfer, when Klyd was no longer suffering Need. But he recognized that as a silly fear, worthy only of an uneducated out-Territory Gen, not of a Companion who didn’t merely donate selyn, but who Served a Channel’s Need. He nodded slowly. “You’re right, of course. Aisha?”
She shrugged indifferently. “Whatever you say.”
Klyd had steadied himself into working mode. “Hugh?”
Valleroy drew a breath and marshaled the fields, his and Klyd’s, into a supportive grid that could withstand any disturbance. Then he balanced Aisha into the mix. With his field so high, especially with Klyd’s personal field low, his was the dominant field in the room. He could easily buffer Klyd from any turbulence Aisha’s minor field could produce, even if she became seriously frightened. But Aisha had been donating for months. She simply put aside her sewing basket, rose and pushed up her sleeves. Hugh locked his fields hard against any personal feeling and came up to her, taking her hands in his. His instinct as Aisha’s husband was to protect her. His tutored behavior as Klyd’s Companion was to protect him. He knew the latter had to hold sway, and it was stronger – buried deep inside him were Companion’s instincts that had been rising in him since he’d begun working with Klyd. Protecting Klyd, even at the expense of getting a backlash burn himself, was second nature now when he worked at Zeor. But this was Rior; this was Aisha, his wife, and he still felt a flutter of confusion as to which should hold sway in a crisis.
But it was a textbook donation. Aisha gave him her hands and he gave them to Klyd, sliding his hands out from between them and stepping back a pace with one hand just above one of Klyd’s lateral sheaths. He closed his eyes as Klyd bent his head to touch his lips to Aisha’s for the fifth contact point of Transfer, not just because he didn’t want to see that not-kiss, but because he could follow the fields better without the distraction of sight. He felt Klyd slid his four lateral tentacles onto Aisha’s forearms, felt him take the fifth contact point for transfer from his lips to hers, felt Klyd drop into commitment, setting up the negative field flux in his secondary system, and felt Transfer begin. From Aisha he felt nothing, except a whisper light drop in the ambient field as her selyn was taken into Klyd’s secondary system. Aisha was only a general class Donor, her selyn yield was small, and her field indistinguishable to him when he wasn’t working with Klyd. He was, after all, only a Gen himself, though a Companion. He couldn’t zlin Gen energy fields like a Sime could. But he knew he could sense something. How else could Companions work? Still, he hadn’t been able to communicate too well what he was sensing. He’d discovered Simelan didn’t seem to have the vocabulary for what he was trying to describe, or he just wasn’t it describing it well enough to Klyd that the Channel understood him. He was new, both to the technical language of Simelan and to Companion’s service. It didn’t seem important to worry too much about it, when there was so much else that needed doing.
He felt Klyd finish the Transfer and opened his eyes to see Klyd lift his head from Aisha and simultaneously withdraw his laterals. She waited for him to retract his handling tentacles from her wrists before she took a step back, but Hugh had focused his attention on Klyd, stepping in to brace his fields as the Channel put a hand to his forehead.
Klyd shook him off. “I’m fine. You pulled back a little too soon, Hugh. It unsettled me.”
Valleroy reviewed the donation in his mind. “But I thought you were done. The Transfer was over.”
Klyd gave him a curious look. “You couldn’t really know that. Anyway, you are supposed to wait until I signal you.”
“I’m sorry.” In the past he had waited for Klyd’s signal, but this time, he’d so clearly recognized Klyd had completed the transfer that he’d thought his part was done too. He made a mental note to adjust his technique in subsequent donations, thinking ruefully that the very sensitivity that Klyd had said made him a natural Companion, and often gave him native instincts on what to do, often just as readily led him wrong.
“It’s all right. You are a month out of practice,” Klyd said shortly. “But you’ll get some at Zeor over the next few days. And speaking of practice, we’re both going to be late for Collectorium if we don’t get moving. The Gens will wait, but I have dispensary tonight too, and the renSimes can’t. We need to get going.”
Valleroy nodded and turned to Aisha. He kissed her, hating to leave her yet understanding why she wanted to stay. Getting Rior on its feet, starting any homesteading from scratch, consumed all their time. But Klyd had impressed on him that he couldn’t simply Serve his Need for the few minutes that took and be done with him. Channels expected to be with their Companions most of the month. At bare minimum, Klyd needed him at least a couple of days before Transfer. And he needed to practice his Companion’s skills and master at least some of the techniques and training most Companions learned. He needed more time at Zeor, not less. For Aisha, though, it wasn’t the same. If it was hard for him to go to Zeor, knowing it was essential, then how much harder for Aisha to go when she really had no reason to be there?
“I’ll be fine. I’m low field now,” she glanced at Klyd. “So no Sime will zlin me. And one of the advantages of being so close to the border is that no Gens will come. If I need you, I’ll come to Zeor.”
“All right.” He kissed her again, and then brushed off the straw he transferred to her clothes. “Sorry. I’m grubby after mucking around in the barn for hours. I’d like to wash up and change clothes.”
“You’re going to change at Zeor anyway,” Klyd said, in a tone that brooked no argument. “You can wash up there. Come on, Hugh.”
Valleroy nodded and walked out of the cabin. He saddled his horse under Klyd’s impatient gaze, and soon they were riding through his fields to Zeor.
“I wish you would have let me send someone until you return,” Klyd brooded.
“I don’t want to risk any Zeor members being caught in Gen Territory.”
“I wasn’t necessarily thinking of sending Simes,” Klyd said mildly.
“I’ll only be away a few days.”
“Aisha should have come with us.”
“She didn’t want to leave. She has the poultry now, and the kitchen garden. I can leave the crops for a couple of days,” Valleroy’s words were belied by the anxiety in his emotions at the thought, “but there are some things someone has to stay behind and care for. Or we’ll lose them. And we can’t afford to.”
“And that’s my point. One lone pair of Gens can’t single handedly do all this.”
Valleroy made a face at that argument. “Gen farmers are used to living on their own and doing everything themselves. We don’t need five hundred people splitting up all the tasks. The Householding lifestyle isn’t common among Simes either.”
Klyd didn’t say anything to that, ducking his head a little as he rode under the heavy swath of vines that partially hid the tunnel separating their two properties. On the other side, Zeor’s neatly ordered fields, steaming after the recent rain, stretched relief lines to the horizon, punctuated by dots of workers in Zeor blue. Valleroy looked at them, thinking of his own fields, still largely unfenced, marred by tree trunks felled but not yet uprooted, patches of uncleared brush, and lumpy with rocks. Given that, he understood Klyd’s reaction on coming upon Rior. But he didn’t support it. Zeor hadn’t been built in a day either. Sometimes he thought Klyd conveniently overlooked that when he drew his unflattering comparisons.
“Gens can run a Householding on their own, you know,” he added absently.
Klyd gave him a sharp look. “And what would be the point of that?”
“I didn’t mean – I just meant--” Klyd’s unwavering stare, as if issuing a challenge, made him grit his teeth to keep from responding in turn. He tried hard to mute that reaction, right down to the emotions that went with it. Klyd was only a few of days from Transfer, at or past the point where most Channels would take Transfer, and thus hyper tense about even small things now. And not showing up at Zeor when he was due, forcing Klyd to come after him at Rior, had to have been stressful. “I do appreciate your offers of help. But I don’t need Zeor’s handouts. I have to do this myself.”
The Channel looked away, and Valleroy nudged his horse toward him. “Klyd--”
“I understand,” Klyd said, his voice so professionally neutral it was almost unrecognizable.
But he knew that Klyd really didn’t understand such an out-Territory attitude. He was simply refusing to argue so close to Need. Hugh swallowed all his arguments too. They rode in silence back to Zeor.
A Zeor Companion
“Come up and change before our shift,” Klyd said, as he dismounted and handed his reins to a boy at the stables. Hugh nodded.
He followed Klyd to his suite, the master one that he’d first met Klyd’s Grandfather in, not so very long ago. And yet, since then, it often seemed they’d both become completely different people. Klyd’s Grandfather was dead now, and Klyd was Sectuib in Zeor irrevocably now, no tacit splitting of authority, no one else available bearing the Farris name to seek counsel from, to lighten his load even momentarily. Hugh understood, or thought he did, the crushing responsibility Klyd felt for Zeor and its members. As if to underscore that solitary role, Klyd had moved that very month into these rooms, perhaps also in a vain effort to put the loss of his wife, Yenava, behind him.
Valleroy himself was a far cry from the Federal policeman who’d stumbled through his first days in Sime culture. After he’d collected his reward for the mission where he and Klyd had rescued Aisha, the mission that had resulted in the death of Klyd’s grandfather, wife and newborn child, Valleroy had settled on some border land bracketing Zeor, and put his mind to the requirements necessary to keep it. He was still struggling, as a new Homesteader, as a new Companion. Having shed his old identity like an outgrown skin, and not quite comfortable in the new. In either new identity.
So it was appropriate, perhaps, that he shed what he’d begun to think of as his “civilian” clothes: the tough rancher’s jeans, work shirt and jacket, the heavy worn boots. He was so grubby that he took a quick bath, mindful of Klyd impatiently waiting in the suite outside, though he would have gladly spent an hour soaking out his sore muscles in the hot water. Rior didn’t yet have indoor plumbing. For him and Aisha, hot baths were a weekly luxury involving as much labor as respite. He sluiced the soap out of his hair with clean water and quickly toweled off. Someone had laid out for him – not a Zeor coverall, but the soft cotton scrubs that Channels and Companions wore in the collectorium, dispensary, changeover and medical wards. Unlike the coverall with its embroidered pocket crest, they were sans markings or embroidery. Since such scrubs were washed often in harsh soap, embroidering them with Zeor’s crest was impractical, but they were dyed in Zeor colors, the blue that he’d now always think of as Zeor blue. The simple shirt was short-sleeved, as befitted a working Companion. He pushed his feet into the soft canvas shoes, absurdly light compared to his ranchers’ boots, worn by Simes and Gens alike inside the Householding buildings, thinking of what shoes could mean.
Householding Gens who didn’t work in the fields for the most part didn’t even own boots, having no need for heavy, thick-soled shoes. Their lives were largely bounded by Zeor’s walls and fences, for outside of Zeor, without an escort, they were fair game for a Kill. Even the Simes of Zeor rarely visited Valzor, the town right outside their gates. If you talked to them about it, they wondered at anyone, Gen or Sime, wishing to go among juncts. He understood their distaste for the junct lifestyle that required killing a Gen a month for selyn. And even if the Zeor members discounted the viciousness of the kill which Zeor eschewed, they seldom cared to go among townspeople who despised them for their “perversion” in avoiding the junct lifestyle. Yet he felt one had to change the world by being of it, not taking over a little piece of it at a time, as the Householders planned. Every time he changed his own clothes for Zeor-issued ones, he thought of what they represented. Not just the Householders’ lifestyle, but what he’d begun to think of as the Householder’s mindset. Which could sometimes be as restrictive as the functionality of their clothes. And at times as narrow as the pathways their light-soled shoes walked.
He reached into the pocket of his jacket to take out the crest ring he only wore at Zeor, put it on his hand, and ran a comb through his damp hair. In the mirror a different person stared back at him than the farmer and rancher that had been there before. A figure all in Zeor blue, forearms bare in a style Out-Territory Gens almost universally shunned, the heavy crest ring weighing down his hand. Only the deep outdoors tan and rough hands made him incongruous as a Companion. He had personal experience with a Companion’s long days, but a Companions weren’t usually filled with the kind of backbreaking work he’d been doing at Rior. Two completely different worlds, and perhaps he truly belonged in neither of them. He sighed a little at the incongruous reflection he represented and went to find Klyd.
Klyd looked up from whatever he’d been studying as he came into the room, his eyes and other Sime senses raking him from head to toe. Valleroy knew he was seeing a Companion now, not a rancher or even a friend, but a member of his Householding, a personal Donor with all the obligations that entailed. Hugh didn’t feel that he was any of those things yet, still struggling with all of them, but somehow it was easier, in the tacit garb of a Companion, to put aside his own worries about his crops and his livestock, his struggling homesteading, and precarious finances, his concerns about how Aisha would manage in his absence, and focus his attention wholly on the Channel he’d come to Serve.
“You’ve lost some weight.” The tone was mildly disapproving. “And you’re overtired.”
Valleroy shrugged, not liking the personal comments or the implied criticism, but letting it go without objection. In this circumstance, Klyd had a right to such statements. “It’s been a busy month,” he said instead.
“Come here,” Klyd said.
Valleroy pushed back, far back, the niggle of annoyance he felt, not at the request, couched as an order, or even the tone, which was quiet and calm, but at the casually imperious nature of it. Here, in Klyd’s Householding, in a Companion’s dress, he had changed more than his clothes, and Klyd knew it. There was no question in Klyd’s mind, not just that he’d be obeyed but that he had a right to that command. And more even than that, there was some air about him that seemed to say that Hugh was at fault for needing that command. Guilty over his own role in the deaths of Yenava and Klyd’s grandfather, and struggling to come to grips with all his new roles, Valleroy had long held his peace over the way every Channel seemed to order Companions about, but his unease lurked buried under the surface. Every time he heard that tone it flared up a little more. Someday, he promised himself, he was going to hash this out with Klyd.
But now, just arrived at Zeor, and hours late, was not the time. He kept his unease pushed down, and deliberately relaxed, giving the Channel his hands, and felt himself relax even more as Klyd’s hands met his, and then the tentacles twined swiftly around his wrists. It had been a long month and he had missed Klyd. Once the Channel’s touch had terrified him. Now he felt only keen anticipation of pleasure at it. When Klyd took his hands it was as if they had never been apart. Even more, it was as if they were two halves of one whole, separated only by inconsequential skin and bone. He let himself savor that for a moment. Then as his awareness of the Channel’s systems soaked into his own, concern overlaid the satisfaction. Klyd was tense. Too tense. He looked down at the sharp planes of the Channel’s face and said. “I think you’ve lost some weight too.”
Klyd didn’t pay the slightest heed to his words, his attention focused elsewhere. Valleroy felt the odd itchy feeling that told him he was being deeply zlinned, examined with Klyd’s keen Sime senses. He’d asked Denrau once if zlinning tickled all Gens, or just Companions, since he’d never noticed the sensation before he’d Served Klyd’s Need. As Klyd’s former Donor, Hugh felt Denrau would be familiar with what he was describing. But Denrau had given him the blank look that told him he’d said something incomprehensible – and probably improper -- among Householders. He got that look a lot at Zeor. He’d learned better than to pursue the subject when he did.
He waited till Klyd came back to awareness, and repeated his observation. Klyd released his hands, looking a little calmer.
“I’m glad you’re here, Hugh,” Klyd said, ignoring his personal comment. “I’ve missed you.”
Valleroy ran his hands up the Channel’s arms, watching as Klyd closed his eyes in involuntary reaction, gauging the Channel’s state of Need as best as a Gen could. Klyd had more than two days, closer to three really, before he’d Transfer the selyn Valleroy produced to slake his own personal Need. Most Channels were on a twenty-eight day Need cycle, but Klyd generally waited thirty days between Transfers. Hugh wasn’t sure if Klyd’s cycle really was that long, or if he had just had needed extra time in the past for his regular Donor to catch up in selyn production the volume his draw would demand. Whatever the reason, Klyd was fixed on that cycle length now, but usually in hard Need for the last two days of it. He was close to that state now, but not in it yet. Need was uncomfortable, but Valleroy rather thought he was more uncomfortable than he should have been. “You’re much too tense.”
“I’m better now. It’s not easy doing without a Companion most of the month, particularly when that Companion doesn’t show up on schedule.”
Using his own senses to evaluate Klyd’s condition, Valleroy was caught unaware by the rebuke, and flinched at the tacit reprimand in the statement. He raised his eyes to the Channel’s, wondering if they were going to hash that out again.
Klyd had the grace to look ashamed. “I’m sorry. That was unfair. I know you didn’t deliberately delay.”
“Yes, it was.” He rose, not caring that Klyd was unsettled by the abrupt movement, too unsettled himself by the clash of cultures, and the opposing demands fate was forcing on him. He felt guilty enough leaving Aisha alone at Rior. He didn’t care to have more guilt ladled on top of that. He shook off the flare of annoyance. “Where are you due now?”
“Collectorium. Then I have a meeting,” Klyd admitted, rubbing his forehead with a tentacle, looking miserable and making no effort to adjust to that chaos Hugh’s movement has caused his systems. “Standard Householding business. After that a shift in Dispensary. Nothing unusual.”
“Then let’s go.” Hugh tried to mold his fields into a semblance of support, but he was still smarting at Klyd’s comment, and they were roiling in chaos. And he felt clumsy at it, not having practiced in a month. He drew a deep breath and marshaled his fields into some kind of order.
“Hugh,” Klyd said. “Not yet.” He waited patiently himself while Valleroy turned toward him. The Gen was partially reluctant, but yielded with the same inevitable inner inclination with which a plant turns toward the sun. Klyd drew him down beside him, hands on his. “Would you rather I told you a fiction we both know to be a lie?”
“You have Companions. Sectuib.” Hugh gave him the title that said it all. Klyd was head of his House. He had his pick of all the available Companions in it, most of whom had years of experience in Serving him in one way or another. For that matter he probably had the pick of any Companion in the Tecton. “You need me here for Transfer, not waiting attendance on you every day of the month. You have Companions enough that are far better trained than I am for that sort of Service.”
“It’s not the same. But I shouldn’t take that out on you. We did agree on your schedule.”
“No. You shouldn’t.”
“Forgive me? After all, I am in Need.” He squeezed the hands he held gently, expressive Farris lips moving in the rueful grin he knew would get through even to this Gen. He held Hugh’s eyes, waiting for Valleroy’s hard shell of disapproval to melt. “I know you didn’t mean to be late.”
Valleroy irritation dissolved under the Channel’s influence. “I’m sorry,” He moved his hands to the Channels’ forearms, taking a Transfer grip, letting Klyd take his as well, his contrition plain to the empathic Sime. “It’s even difficult for me so I know it must be a hundred times more so for you. That’s why I can’t help being defensive. But I can’t be here all the time, Klyd.”
“I know. We’ll work it out. Let’s both of us just be glad you’re here now.”
Valleroy nodded, and smiled gamely, rising in unison with Klyd to leave. But his eyes still looked a little bleak.
The shift in the Collectorium was routine. Virtually all the Gens were long term Householding Donors, for whom their monthly donation was a regular part of their lives. They came in with a smile, showing obvious respect and affection for their Sectuib. If not for the Householding practice forbidding casual touch between Sime and Gen, Valleroy suspected they would have initiated some physical contact with Klyd outside of the donation, so clear was their awareness and concern for his obvious state of Need. Klyd spent time with each one after taking their donation, zlinning each deeply, asking personal questions relating to their health, and writing them appointment referrals for any conditions he noted. In-Territory, a Channel served the same function as a physician. Valleroy had first been slightly embarrassed at the non-Transfer side of the job, and had wondered if he should be present during this part of their visit, but he’d learned that a Companion was considered in the same professional light as a Channel. While he wasn’t exactly expected to be invisible during these consultations, he was more or less treated as if he were an adjunct of Klyd, the in-Territory equivalent of a physician. Except that a Channel’s Companion served that function only for Channels, most specifically his assigned Channel, while a Channel served his entire Householding of Simes and Gens in that regard. Hugh knew very little about that part of his role.
Not only did each Gen Donor seem unconcerned that he was part of this personal audience, but he came in for some displaced affection. They couldn’t touch Klyd – no donor Gen dared touch a Channel in Need but his own Companion -- but they did lay a hand on Valleroy’s arm, or take his hand in leaving, showing their appreciation for his service to their Sectuib, one they couldn’t provide. He was learning to take all of this in stride. The only surprise of the shift was a young Gen not much past establishment. She panicked as Klyd took her in Transfer grip, before he even got his laterals on her. It took fifteen minutes of Klyd’s near hypnotic persuasiveness before he could take her donation, and even then she began to struggle part way through it. Hugh calmed her down afterwards and got her out of the room. Klyd washed up after the donation, and tossed the towel at the rack, missing it. Hugh picked it up and threw the towel in the dirty laundry bin, more than a little startled at Klyd’s lack of coordination. Simes, especially Simes in Need, didn’t usually make clumsy moves.
“I need a break,” Klyd said shortly.
”We’ve only got two more,” Valleroy said worriedly, “and the schedule--”
“It doesn’t matter. I can’t take another donation for at least fifteen minutes. Go tell the controller to hold the next Gen off for a bit.. And bring me some tea.”
He brought them both back tea, and entered the cubicle. Klyd had dimmed the lights and was lying on the Transfer lounge. He looked gaunt and even more worn than Valleroy was after his months of heavy fieldwork.
“Tea,” Hugh announced, and sat down beside the Channel, putting it on the table.
Klyd rose suddenly and took him in Transfer position. Valleroy froze for just a second. He could still be startled at the swiftness with which Simes could move, particularly after being away from Klyd for a month. But he was well trained enough now that he consistently dropped his barriers at Klyd’s touch, rather than raising them in resistance. Klyd didn’t take a fifth, he simply held his arms for a moment, tentacles bruisingly tight around his wrists and forearms, then he slowly relaxed. But he didn’t let go.
“Are you all right now?” Valleroy asked tentatively. “Did I do something wrong? Should I call someone else? Denrau? Charnye?”
The Channel shook his head. “My fault. I shouldn’t have sent you out. But I couldn’t trust myself to go, after that.” He laboriously untwined his handling tentacles, moving reluctantly, but re-looped one and tugged at Valleroy’s wrist when the Gen would have moved away. “Stay here.”
Valleroy settled down, sleeve to sleeve with the Channel, using his own field and their proximity to ease the turbulence in the channel’s systems. ‘Have some tea,” Hugh suggested. “It will make you feel better.”
“I won’t feel better until after our Transfer,” Klyd said grimly. “But it might help.” He sipped the tea, and after a few moments, sighed softly, and laid a dorsal on Valleroy’s wrist in tacit apology. “Sorry if I was a bit short. That donation was a nightmare.”
“I don’t understand what was wrong with her.”
“She’s not untypical.”
“But she was raised here. Her father is a renSime.”
Klyd tilted his head and looked at him curiously. “What difference does that make? She’s still Gen, with all a Gen’s natural instincts. You understand being frightened of just the sight of tentacles. You certainly were when you met me. And a lateral contact is always terrifying for a Gen.”
“But she’s Established six months according to her chart, and she grew up among Simes. I don’t understand why she’s not over it yet. Once I Served,” Valleroy curled fingers around the dorsal braceleting his wrist, “I couldn’t imagine being frightened of you.”
“You’re a Companion,” Klyd said dismissively.
Valleroy flushed, still overwhelmed by Klyd’s casual assignment of him to that category. Most of the time, he still saw himself as an Out-Territory Gen, little different from any other, except that he had developed the ability to Serve Klyd in Transfer. And he didn’t fool himself that his abilities yet extended to serving any other Channel or even beyond that to a normal Companion’s duties. But he was curious about the part of an In-Territory Householding’s Gen life he’d skipped over. “Is donating so different?” Hugh asked, feeling a bit regretful he’d never given a standard donation. He had no experience with what the Gens in the Collectorium were doing, with donating his selyn to a Channel, to be later transferred for a non-Channel or renSime’s use. He thought about that. “Aisha’s not terrified.”
“She’s very strong-willed, or she would have never survived her ordeal. Not all Gens, not even born and bred Householding Gens, are comfortable with donating.”
“Will this girl ever get over it?”
“You mean her fears?” Klyd pushed back his unruly black cowlick with a tentacle, and rubbed his temples as if they ached. “Constant donation will lessen them,” he said wearily. “The instinctive fear is there in all Gens. It’s just a question of degree.”
Valleroy considered that, sipping his tea. It still seemed odd to him that Householding Gens, raised among Simes, some even the children of Simes, could fear them. He’d been afraid, terrified, when he’d met Klyd. And with good reason. He’d been raised Out-Territory, where every Sime was considered a killer, and no one had even heard of Channels who could Transfer selyn from Donor Gens to renSimes. And Klyd had deliberately burned him shortly after they met, a necessary cover to get him into Zeor as an operative, then pretending he’d found him injured by a non-Householding, junct or killer Sime. Valleroy had been terrified of every Sime then. But after their long ordeal when they’d rescued Aisha, after he’d first Served and qualified, he couldn’t imagine fearing Klyd in that way again. He raised his chin at the feel of a lateral brushing his neck and looked at Klyd inquiringly.
“Your field is very comforting, Hugh. Thank you. I’m glad you’re here.”
Valleroy flushed a little at the rare praise. “Do you want some more tea?”
“No. I feel recovered enough to get on with the schedule. And I don’t want to be too late for my next meeting, because we can’t be late for Dispensary. “ He unlooped the tentacle from Valleroy’s wrist and used it to give him a gentle nudge. “Go and tell the controller to send in the next Gen. And get the lights as you go out.”
“Yes, Sectuib.” He rose, rubbing his arms from where the marks from Klyd’s bruising grip were still fading, and flicked the switch so the lights would come up slowly, without unduly disturbing Klyd. He let his fingers trail off the switch, not seeing the fading marks on his wrist, thinking of his own rude cabin, of the oil lamps he and Aisha still used. He planned to do the plumbing to pipe water in next fall, perhaps, after he’d finished with harvest. With good crops he could afford a boiler to heat the water, then he and Aisha would at least have hot and cold running water. But he was far off the Gen Territory power grids, such as they were, and he had no notion of electricity. He had no idea when he’d have the convenience of lights at the touch of a switch, without the mess and smoke of oil lamps and the bother of cleaning and trimming wicks. Right now their cabin was small enough to heat with the fireplace, but eventually he’d need a wood stove. And when they had children, he’d have to contrive a system to heat the rooms, Aisha would be insistent on that in winter. He thought again of the long path that had taken him and Aisha, from respected professions and the comforts of middle class life, to a rude cabin on the border of Sime Territory, far from where other Gens would dare to settle. Then he banished that thought. He was on the border of Sime Territory to build something new, something important. A link between the two cultures. Comforts would come in time, along with knowledge.
He walked quickly down the hall, but not so quickly as to disturb any of the working Channels. Elspeth ambrov Zeor, the Channel in charge of Dispensary today, looked up from the charts she was working on and gave him a dazzling smile as he told her Klyd had recovered enough to resume the schedule. Elspeth was a middle-aged woman, who looked like the grandmother she was, but as he walked back down the hall, he realized the thought of donating even to her made him queasy and he revised his opinion of nervous Gens. Maybe Klyd had a point. On the other hand, how could he know without some empirical evidence?
After he’d ushered the last Gen out the door, Valleroy waited while Klyd finished writing on the Gen’s chart.
“What are you feeling so regretful about?”
Valleroy felt his shoulders tighten. He knew all Simes could read emotions, he just didn’t always care to be so casually interpreted. Sometimes it felt like a violation, far more intrusive than Transfer, to have Klyd so always aware of his feelings. The worst of it was the more time they spent together, the more easily Klyd spoke of them, and the more he seemed to expect Valleroy to accept this disconcerting aspect of In-Territory life. Hugh breathed out carefully, mastering the flutter of annoyance so as not to disturb the sensitive Channel, who would not understand his attitude, and said, “I was just wondering if I could donate some month. Rather than Serve.”
Klyd gave him a sharp look, and Valleroy felt the crawling sensation that told him he was being deeply zlinned. He gritted his teeth but held himself open to it, rather than battening down his emotions as he now knew how to do. “You’re… curious?!” Klyd said, sounding astonished.
“Shouldn’t a Companion know what an average Donor feels during donation? It might help.”
“Help what?” the Channel demanded.
Valleroy shrugged, his own ignorance of so much of his duties making him less than facile in speaking of his concerns. And he could see Klyd was in no mood now to entertain any of them.
“The average Gen Donor feels nothing at all,” Klyd returned shortly, returning to his chart, obviously displeased at his question. “Donation for such a Gen is devoid of any sensation – what kind of Channel do you take me for?” Klyd asked, giving him a sharp look, which Hugh didn’t know how to answer. “Your job is to buffer me from these Donors during that process, to shield me. It’s my job to worry about the Gen’s feelings.” He frowned at Valleroy, but the momentary flare of anger, not uncommon in Need, was fading. “Regardless, Companions never merely donate, unless there’s a shortage of Channels for them to Serve. That happens occasionally with low level Companions, but almost never with Companions at your level. We normally rotate Channels up to higher order Companions, Hugh, if any become free. We don’t let valuable Companions like you lie fallow for a month while lesser ones Serve. Anyway, it wouldn’t be good for you. Certainly not at your stage of training and development. You’re still increasing your production. I never,” he said definitively, “pull a Companion in training out of service until their production rate has leveled off.”
“When will that be?”
Klyd frowned, as if this whole line of questioning was somehow offensive to him. “How should I know? You’re old to be increasing your production. I’m most familiar with training Companions who are Householding bred, first year Gens, just established, thirteen or fourteen years old. It seems odd to me that at twice their age, you keep increasing your capacity every month. But then you’re more than keeping pace with me, and I can’t complain at that. I wouldn’t think of assigning you elsewhere until you’re stabilized your production. Much less consider your skipping a Transfer.”
“So I can’t donate?” Valleroy didn’t know why he felt oddly relieved, rather than frustrated that his curiosity was going to be once again thwarted by Klyd’s dictates.
“Unless something should prevent it, it’s standard practice to have Companions Serve every month. With luck, you’ll never miss a Transfer in your entire professional life.” He gave Hugh a sharp look as the Gen reacted to that. “It’s healthier for you anyway, to Serve rather than donate.”
Hugh considered that. “What happens if you have Companions that don’t get a chance to Serve? If you have more Companions than Channels?”
“Zeor occasionally has a few,” Klyd admitted, “since our standards for Channels and Companions are higher than for most houses. We trade lower level Companions when we have a surplus. Trade Channels or trade for Channels if we can get them, as we did for Zinter. But there aren’t many Companions that can safely Serve a Farris. Anyway we have Charnye in reserve. He’s semi-retired, but he would Serve if we ever had a shortfall, for example if you accidentally missed your Transfer appointment. But you’re not likely to ever miss being scheduled for Transfer, Hugh, not a Donor at your level. Even if for some reason I couldn’t take you myself some month, I’d assign you another Channel.”
Valleroy chewed his lip considering that. “Are you going to be assigning me to Zinter?”
“Eventually. Of course,” Klyd flipped through the pages in the chart he was working on and reached for its folder. “But you’re not ready for that yet, so don’t worry about it. Before I assign you to one of my Channels, I’ll make sure you are very well trained. You could easily over control Zinter and hurt him.” Klyd suddenly turned with Sime swiftness and frowned at him. “Why are you asking about Serving Zinter?”
“I wasn’t thinking of Serving someone else,” Hugh explained. “Believe me, I don’t want to Serve anyone else.” His emotions bore the truth of that, and he felt Klyd relax a bit. “I just thought it would be interesting to simply donate some month. To you,” he hastily qualified as Klyd frowned again. “Just to have the experience, so I’d know what these Donors feel.”
Klyd laughed shortly, pushing a Gen’s chart back in its folder, and shoving it in the stack of charts to be reviewed and filed. “Not hardly likely, Hugh.”
“Maybe it would make me a better Companion,” Valleroy persisted, a little frustrated at being so casually dismissed.
“Don’t I even get a choice?” Valleroy asked, half rhetorically, as Klyd tidied up the treatment room with a burst of Sime energy.
“No,” Klyd scanned the room, making sure it was in order for the cleaning team that would descend on the place before the next shift. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. The very idea is ridiculous.” Valleroy drew up, ruffled at the abrupt tone, but Klyd was already starting for the door. “Come on, Hugh. Don’t be such a slow-Gen. I’ve got that meeting to squeeze in before our next shift. They’ll wait for me, of course, but they shouldn’t have to. We just have time to make it if we hurry.”
“Seems like you always hurry,” Hugh complained. “Shouldn’t you be resting between Collectorium and Dispensary? Isn’t that what the break is for?”
“Not completely. Collectorium sometimes runs over, particularly if we have problems like that girl today. We don’t like the idea of having high field Gens and Simes in Need crossing paths, so we build in a lag time. And the Channels need a break, too.”
“And you? Don’t you need a break?”
“The other Channels aren’t running Zeor. And I will rest my systems, in the meeting. You’ll manage fields and keep me insulated. All I’ll have to do is talk and think. Unless you’re tired.” Klyd drew up short and zlinned him so deeply and abruptly Valleroy nearly jumped out of his skin at the sensation.
“Do you have to do that?” Hugh complained, catching his breath.
Klyd frowned. “No, other Companion has ever complained at being zlinned. You can’t possibly be feeling anything.”
“I know I sense something.”
Klyd brushed aside that subject with an impatient tentacle. “You just are picking up on non-verbal cues. You’re new to all this. You don’t understand half of what you’re experiencing. Let’s get back to the subject. Are you too tired for the meeting? Do you want a break? I forget you’re not used to managing fields all day.” Klyd hesitated, looking reluctant. “I could bring in Charnye, I suppose, if you are. But I’d rather work with you, and I do think you should take advantage of the practice. As long as you feel you can manage. It should be a minor effort – just a few people--”
“I’m fine. I don’t quite know what I’m doing, but it’s nice to push energy instead of a plow for a day or two. I just hope Aisha is all right.”
“She’s in perfect health. I can’t spare a Channel, but I have one of my most sensitive renSimes working the lowest fields and he zlins in Rior’s direction now and then, to make sure she’s all right. She doesn’t have much field of course, but he can tell she’s there, and that there’s nothing untoward from Rior.”
“How do you know?”
“Because he’d come and tell us if he zlinned anything unusual.”
“You didn’t tell me that. I didn’t ask you to do that,” Hugh wrestled with a combination of relief and guilt.
“You were so worried just now, you gave me a jolt. You’re fine when I keep you so busy you don’t think of Rior, but when you do, you’re emotions are distinctly uncomfortable for me. Anyway, it’s no trouble.” Klyd pushed the door open to his office, effectively ending the personal conversation.
The meeting was ordinary and small enough to be held in Klyd’s office. A stooped gray-haired Sime was there, holding a bunch of folders in his hands, and a huge Gen, burly and barrel-chested, who towered over the aged Sime. He was staring out Klyd’s window, watching the field workers.
“Hugh, you’ve met Fioden, I think. He keeps Zeor’s books, our financial officer. And Aridor serves as our chief legal counsel. And for most of the Tecton, for that matter.”
“A Gen?” Valleroy said.
The huge man turned slowly, like a bear, and surveyed Valleroy from under bushy brows. “You think Gens lack analytical skills? I know I’ve been living in-Territory for too long when an out-Territory Gen comes to think that.”
Valleroy drew back a fraction. “Of course not. I just don’t see how as a Gen you can negotiate with juncts.”
Klyd stepped between them. “Ari sends a Sime representative from his department to any legal proceeding where having Zeor represented by a Gen would be prejudicial.”
Aridor laughed. “Meaning all of them.”
“Naturally Gens have no legal status in Nivet,” Klyd said. The dismissive, even arrogant way Klyd said this, overly patient, as if annoyed at needing to state so obvious a fact startled Hugh even more than Ari himself, “so he can’t present a case in court. But he oversees all the prep work.” Klyd fixed Valleroy in place with a frown. “Hugh, we don’t have a lot of time, so perhaps you could hold your questions till later.” It wasn’t a suggestion, and Valleroy gritted his teeth at the tone, but he took the unsubtle hint and concentrated on his job, molding the fields into a neutral vortex that wouldn’t irritate Klyd and striving to be invisible.
He flung himself into a corner, still smarting and puzzling over Klyd’s tone, and ignored the conversation, which seemed mostly about taxes and funds and shifting them from one account to another. The Tecton, or association of Householdings in Nivet Territory, had its own bank, not trusting their money to junct financial systems. But he knew little of high finance, and listening to the talk just reminded him of his own lack of funds. He watched the field workers and tried not to think about his own crops. The sky looked like rain tonight, that was good, they could use it. Another few weeks and the corn would tassel, and the far hay field would be ready for cutting. Zeor’s hayfields, established for years, were ahead of his newly planted ones. He watched the Simes cut down the grass, Gens following behind to bundle it, working quickly to get it in before the rain. They moved through a field faster than locusts. It would take him days of backbreaking labor to get the next cutting of his hay in, even with Aisha helping.
He was deep in dark thoughts, holding the fields steady by rote, not a hard job considering how few people were in the room and how unlikely their fields were to irritate Klyd. He felt the Gen was low field, his selyn taken recently in donation. And the renSime was high field and a least a week from turnover. He didn’t know how he knew that, but he knew neither posed a particular challenge for him to manage. In fact, ever since his first Transfer, he’d come to measure every Sime by Klyd, and he realized none of them posed any particular threat to him, even when he was low field. He knew, somehow without knowing, he could easily handle any renSime, even if he had come to be attacked a day or two after Transfer, when he was at his lowest potential. The only Simes who really had the potential to hurt him were Channels, and that was a contradiction in terms, given Channels weren’t berserkers. He’d come to the realization that he had spent a lifetime being wary of Simes for no good reason. Klyd was right, he didn’t understand half of what he was experiencing. But he was thinking even Klyd didn’t know which half, when he heard his name mentioned.
“Then there’s Rajel, Jeffers and Corus,” Fioden was saying in his dry insect’s voice. “One Gen established, two new Simes. Coralyn and Stephan came in to disjunct, each bringing a pen Gen. One of the Gens was very sick. We thought for a while we’d lose him, but I’m told he’s over the crisis. But the fact is that we’d be Gen low again, except for Naztehr Hugh, and Rior’s contributions. This would be the third month we’d be Gen low. I’m concerned that it will look unusual to the juncts. We don’t generally go unbalanced more than a month, and our usual pattern is to err on being even, or slightly Gen high. We pay an additional premium in taxes for that extra Gen, and the local government will feel cheated if we keep them from collecting it for too long.”
“They know that, and might take the discrepancy as an excuse to go through all our books,” Ari added.
Klyd rose restively, Need making it hard for him to sit still. “I don’t want to give the juncts any more leverage with us than they already have. “I’ll pick up a pen Gen,” Klyd said, adding “after Transfer.”
“Well,” Fioden temporized. “There is the issue of Naztehr Hugh. He is here, every month and he does donate. If the juncts should inventory our selyn records and tax documents, they’d see we have two additional Gens donating who are not listed on our tax roles.”
“A serious violation of the law,” Aridor noted.
“Yes.” Fioden adjusted his glasses. “In my opinion, Naztehr Hugh and his wife should be listed. That would solve the problem. We would then be Gen High rather than the reverse, by one Gen which is more our usual practice, and our books would no longer be out of balance with our donations.”
“In my opinion,” Aridor added, “Naztehr Hugh and his wife should be back listed, and their taxes paid from their first donations. Then our records will be in balance again for when we are audited, and there can be no question of illegalities. I doubt there’ll be a fine, but if there are any questions, we can give them the story you gave the Householding, that Naztehr Hugh was seriously injured, unable to donate, and that we waited to list him until we were sure he wasn’t going to die.”
“What about Aisha?” Hugh asked, breaking into the conversation.
Fioden turned to him and shrugged, with a dismissive tentacle. “Her donation is easy to hide over a month or two. Donations at the General Class level are always slightly in flux.” He turned back to Klyd. “But Naztehr Hugh’s donation is impossible to list as anything other than a Companion level donation. We are fortunate that the juncts merely tax Companions at pen Gen rates. If they didn’t, a few more like Hugh and Denrau could bankrupt us.”
“We could argue Denny’s appetite does,” Aridor said, teeth gleaming in amusement.
“Yes, well,” Fioden temporized, brushing over this personal comment. “Shall we consider it settled, then, Sectuib?” I have the adjusted records here, for your approval.
“But I’m not a Zeor member. I’m Rior.” Valleroy interjected.
“Rior doesn’t exist to the juncts,” Klyd said, seating himself in a chair and studying the document Fioden passed. “It’s not in Nivet.”
“You have no Channels anyway, so any Gens you take in will have to donate to Zeor Channels,” Fioden pointed out. “And we will have to account for them on Zeor’s books.”
Valleroy looked from Fioden to Klyd. It hadn’t occurred to him that Zeor would be financially liable for any Rior Gens, and he disliked the whole idea. “Perhaps Aisha shouldn’t donate then--”
Fioden is right,” Klyd interrupted. “I don’t know why I didn’t realize it before. We must list you and Aisha on Zeor’s Gen rolls. It will straighten out this accounting mess, and it will solve a number of other problems too. And don’t be ridiculous, Hugh. Of course Aisha must donate. Do you want to risk leaving her high field for any Raider to detect?”
Valleroy closed his mouth, and shook his head mutely.
“Well, that’s settled then.” Aridor said. “We won’t keep you, Sectuib. Give you a small chance to rest before your next shift.” Aridor nodded to the Channel and they ushered themselves out.
“Still, I don’t like the idea of my name being listed on some In-Territory government document,” Valleroy said uneasily.
“The name is only for Householding recordkeeping. The Juncts don’t look at it. They’ll issue Pen tags with their own numbering system. We keep all the tags in our records office. When the inspectors come, they just match head counts against recorded tags. They don’t match tag to Gen name or even tag to Gen. It’s all just numbers to them.”
“It’s still my name.”
“Hugh, to the junct government,” Klyd pointed out, with exaggerated patience, “no Gen even has a name. Gens are property only. The Householding practice of retaining names for established Gens is considered a decadent affectation which they ignore. When the Gen government taxes you, does it care what you name your cows or horses?”
Valleroy drew back, startled at that comparison from Zeor’s Sectuib, but Klyd continued on. “Your name is meaningless to them. They won’t be able to track you back to your Government through it. I haven’t even listed your last name, just Hugh ambrov Zeor. Anyway, Fioden is right. Zeor uses your selyn. The government is legitimately owed the price of your Gen taxes.”
“Legitimate!” Valleroy huffed. “Fancy calling the junct government legitimate. They’d Kill me as soon as look at me.”
“They couldn’t Kill you, Hugh,” Klyd said with ragged patience, resting his hands on the report. “I’m not sure there’s a Channel alive that could. But even if they could, once your taxes are paid, you’d be ours and protected under Zeor’s auspices.”
But Valleroy was shaking his head. The more he heard, the less he liked the idea. What was all his striving at Rior for, if he was just one more taxed Gen? It seemed a refutation of everything he was working toward. “No. I don’t think so. They aren’t owed anything in my view. And I won’t be listed as property on some junct tax docket.”
“You won’t what?” Klyd rose, astonished, Need making his control brittle. And testament that he was seldom challenged in his own house. “What do you mean, you won’t?” He collected himself and drew a deep breath. “What makes you think there’s a choice to be had over it? You’ve traveled among the juncts more than most Householding Gens, you understand the junct mentality. The minute you crossed the border onto Zeor’s lands -- and into Sime Territory -- you are nothing more than property. And if you are untaxed, you are illegal property.”
“To them or to you?” Hugh retorted. “I’m not arguing about Aisha. She apparently has to donate and needs to be listed.”
“Are you saying you don’t?” Klyd asked warily.
“You just said they couldn’t Kill me. Why should I cost Zeor the expense,” Valleroy argued, leaning forward earnestly, “only to line the pockets of the junct government? I don’t recognize their jurisdiction over me.”
Klyd relaxed fractionally. “Don’t be unreasonable. If you are untaxed, you’re essentially unclaimed. It’s far better for you to be listed as a Zeor Gen. For Zeor to pay your taxes and to have an established claim on you, than for there to be any sort of undue risk about your status.”
Hugh blew out a breath. “You can speak to me of undue risks? When you traveled outside of Zeor without a weapon or a guard after Aisha? Knowing the Runzi Raiders had all along been plotting against you? Is the Sectuib less important to Zeor than one untrained Companion?”
Klyd tensed, every tentacle licking out of its sheath. “We are not going to discuss my behavior.”
“No, because in your own mind, a Zeor Channel has to be brazenly proud. It’s an essential part of your mindset. But not a Zeor Companion. I’m expected to take every rule and restriction you throw at me--”
“Is that what this is about?” The channel wrinkled his brow. “Some out-Territory Gen machismo? Hugh, no one is denying you anything. This has nothing to do with you, personally.”
“It never does. Maybe that’s because you don’t really see me as a person, do you? That’s what all this boils down to. You see me only as a Gen.”
Klyd drew back, eyes dark, and Valleroy pressed the point. “I’m not supposed to be bothered by this attitude you have that it’s all right for Gens to be recorded property. You don’t even expect that I would be anything except to be properly grateful that you’re doing it because you deem I need it to be safe.”
“That’s enough, Naztehr,” Klyd snapped.
“Well, the world doesn’t revolve around you, Sectuib, and what you think and feel -- even if the rest of Zeor does.”
“I don’t think that it does.”
Valleroy swore, frustrated enough that the epithet slipped out in his own language. “You say you’ve never Killed, so it’s ridiculous that I should ever have been afraid of you. You say donating is safe, so that terrified girl this morning was just being foolishly Gen. You say I’ll be safer if you do this, so it doesn’t matter how I feel about being tallied up and paid for on Zeor’s rolls. You may be Sectuib in Zeor, but that doesn’t mean everyone feels as you feel, Klyd. Or that we think as you do. Or that everyone always has to do what you say. Your anxiety for safety is strangely one way when it comes to Zeor’s Donors and Companions!”
“This is a sensible precaution.” Klyd said, doggedly holding onto his temper. “And as Sectuib, I have every right to make decisions and follow necessary practices regarding the Gens in my Household. Of which you are one. ”
“No, I am not. I’m Rior.”
“You’ve pledged and you Serve,” Klyd reiterated. “That makes you mine.”
Hugh tensed at the blunt words. “I didn’t ask for Zeor’s protection for Serving you. And I don’t want you just automatically including – and ordering me – to abide by it. You told me I could Serve your Need without being a Zeor member! Don’t you remember?”
“Rior exists only in Gen Territory,” Klyd bit out each word as if explaining to an idiot. His tone made Valleroy’s teeth clench in turn. Sometimes it seemed their slightest conflicts seemed to feed off and fuel the other’s dissatisfaction in a spiraling maelstrom. “Here, when you are at Zeor, this is the way things are done, whether it offends your nature or not. And I do expect my own Companion to feel as I feel, to consider strongly how I feel, at least on issues of your safety.” Klyd looked at the Gen, but Valleroy seemed unmoved by that. “And in this you don’t --” Klyd said, fixing him with a meaningful look, weighting every word, “have any choice.”
Hugh half rose, squaring off against the Channel. “Don’t tell me that, Klyd.” His use of the Channel’s name, rather than the title, spoke volumes for him. “I haven’t done everything that I’ve done, and survived through all of it only to have you tell me I have no choices. ” He said the pronoun like an epithet.
Klyd stared at him, and swallowed hard, gauging his Donor’s sudden rebellion. He put the tax folder down and sat down himself. “All right,” he said heavily, as if he’d lost some major war. “You have a choice.”
Hugh dropped down to a seat too, rubbing his forehead, feeling his temples splitting with a migraine. “Why do you do this to me?”
“You wanted your choice,” Klyd said, not masking the sullenness in his voice, his gaze anywhere but at the Gen, his own hands clenched on nothing, tentacles drawn up tight in their sheaths. “Now take it.”
“Take it and what? I imagine it is that I either do what you tell me to do, take everything you throw at me, or get out,” Valleroy retorted.
Klyd turned and faced him. “Do you honestly think any Channel would want to drive away his Donor two days before a Transfer?” He was half pleading. “What can you be thinking, Hugh?”
Valleroy winced at that, having the grace to feel some shame, but still resentful. “You hold Transfer over my head like a Gen farmer holds a shotgun against a Sime.”
“Except that I’m the one who is in Need,” Klyd pointed out tersely.
“Klyd, Need isn’t an excuse for everything,” Valleroy said, equally doggedly. “I’m tired of you bludgeoning me with it every time you want your way. I won’t let you use that to force me into doing what you want.”
“Maybe if you saw me once in a while when I was pre-Turnover, instead of in or close to hard Need, it wouldn’t always be an issue,” Klyd said nastily.
“Let’s not get into that issue again,” Valleroy retorted.
“There are times when being the thought of going junct is more of a temptation than others,” Klyd said, returning the frustration. “At least Pen Gens don’t give juncts this incessant arguing before a Kill.”
The blunt reference to the Kill made Valleroy take off the gloves in turn. “And I have it on good authority that the only good Sime is a dead Sime,” Hugh countered, not at all cowed.
Klyd didn’t say anything for a minute, his mouth momentarily tightening at those words. Then he picked up the folder and tapped the edge, straightening the papers in it, his hands and tentacles trembling a fraction. “You’re not being sensible, Hugh. We can’t remake the world in a day.”
Valleroy stared at the trembling, a telltale sign of hard Need and distress, knowing he should back down, but his eyes were sober. His tone, when he spoke, was very reasonable. “Klyd, please, listen to me. I don’t want to fight with you. Every one of your practices seems to come with strings attached, that I learn about only after the fact. I am being sensible, wanting to put a limit on them before I know what I’m getting into. You have a habit, a bad habit, Klyd, of telling me only a little, and then afterwards, letting me in on all the rest, and then getting upset with me when I don’t go along with all of it. If you were thinking sensibly and not in Need, you’d realize that we’re not on a mission anymore. We have time to think things through.” Some ire finally crept into his voice. “And as for remaking the world, I’m not sure you want to remake it at all, at the pace you’re going.”
Klyd slammed the folder down, his face hardening, as his temper, usually rigidly controlled, short-circuited. “You have yet to harvest Rior’s first crops, and you’re suddenly an expert on social change? A few months ago you were just another scared Gen, terrified of all Simes, ignorant of Channels. You think in this short space of time you can know better than I what Householdings need to do, and have been doing for hundreds of years, to survive in a junct society?”
“And if you continue to do it for hundreds of more, where is the change?”
Klyd reached out and grabbed his hand, reinforcing the capture with handling tentacles, the papers in the folder sliding across the table. “You, yourself, are change! You stand here, arguing with me, and claim there is no change?”
Valleroy tried to turn away, and found he couldn’t. Didn’t want to. “I just can’t… Klyd, it’s my name.”
The Channel shook his head, mystified, but calmed down as Hugh didn’t resist the confining grip. He loosened it, holding both Gen hands gently, but not letting go. “I don’t understand. We can put a different name on the tax document if that makes you feel better. The Juncts don’t care. Why do you care what they think?”
“I don’t see how that makes a difference. If it’s me you’re listing. And what I care about is what you think. What does it say about Rior if I’m listed as part of Zeor? Is everything I’m trying so hard to accomplish just a sham to you? Did you never really accept any of it?”
“Hugh, believe me. This is necessary. I should have realized it myself, but Fiorden is right. The juncts love to hit us with surprise inspections. If one should happen when you are here at Zeor, and our paperwork wasn’t in order, the fine would be higher than your taxes. And they could conceivably confiscate any discrepancy. I won’t risk any Gen of mine being confiscated.”
“Any Gen of yours?” He looked down at Klyd’s tentacles, still locked tight around his wrist. “Klyd, I’m not an In-Territory Gen. Don’t think of me as property. I don’t take that well. I never took it well when I was here on the mission, but I put up with it for the sake of the mission and Aisha. I put up with it, Klyd; I never accepted it. But I don’t have to put up with it now. And I won’t.”
Klyd’s tentacles tightened, almost involuntarily, then he loosened them deliberately. But his voice was hard. “By junct law you are my property. You’re on my land. That makes you mine.”
Valleroy stared at him, not sure what he was hearing.
“But if it came to that, what makes you think they’d take you?” Klyd released his hands with a scornful laugh, a gesture sheer bravado given his state of Need and turmoil. “A few months ago, before you qualified they would have. You’d have been perfect. But you’ve been ruined for the Kill now. They’d take someone who’d make a better Choice Kill than a high order Companion like you. Some barely established child who’d panic at the first lateral contact, like that young girl we just took a donation from. Can you imagine how she’d react to a junct inspection? She’d be terrified at even the sight of them.” Klyd frowned at him. “Think about it, Hugh. If they hit us with an inspection and your donations caused our records to be off, she’d end up as someone’s Choice Kill. But you wouldn’t be touched. Can you live with that on your conscience? I can’t.”
Valleroy said nothing, his resistance gone, sick at the thought.
Klyd sighed and crossed to Hugh around the desk, taking his other hand while the Gen stood mutely. “That’s why we must do this. Even if you hate the laws, these are my members, Hugh. I’m responsible for them. That includes my following the rules the junct government requires so that I can kept them safe. I’m responsible to them and to you in that regard. I swore an oath to them when I became their Sectuib. I don’t always like the laws either. But I have to live under them too. And if you are going to be a part of Zeor, so do you.”
Hugh looked down at their joined hands. “You’ve always told me Gens are responsible for keeping themselves safe.”
Klyd dropped his hands, frustrated and impatient. “Why do you always twist what I tell you? That’s in Transfer situations.”
“Isn’t life just one big Transfer situation?” Hugh asked, but the question was rhetorical. The thought of any Gen at Zeor being confiscated as a Choice Kill, the thought of any more death coming to Zeor because of him had knocked the fight right out of him.
In spite of himself, Klyd laughed, shaking his head in ragged amusement. Perhaps in a bit of relief, sensing the turn in his Companion’s emotions. “That’s a peculiarly Gen point of view. Having you around is frustrating, Hugh. But educational.” He looked at Valleroy anew, zlinning that Valleroy had become resigned, and said, more gently. “I am sorry, Naztehr. But I am sending in the papers, for you and Aisha both. I don’t have any choice. And neither do you. I don’t think you’re going to storm out of Zeor over it either. So you might as well stop arguing and reconcile yourself to reality.” But he watched Valleroy closely.
Hugh blew out a breath, frustrated. “Just don’t take me for granted, Klyd. I don’t like it.”
“Believe me, I don’t.” Klyd said quietly. “And you wouldn’t let me if I did.”
Valleroy met his eyes, not missing the tacit reproof. “I suppose I upset you, and violated every possible canon of Companion behavior too. With you just a day or so away from Need.”
“Just about. Yes.”
Valleroy considered that. Klyd’s detached tone probably hid a world of hurt. “I guess I’m sorry, too.”
“You guess?” Klyd asked.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you when you were in Need,” Valleroy said, in genuine apology. “I never mean to hurt you at all. Next time, if something like this comes up, I’ll ask you to postpone the discussion and the decision until after a Transfer.”
“So you think it’s appropriate to hurt me when I’m not in Need?” Klyd asked, still with that odd remote gentleness. “Is that your idea of Companion-like behavior?”
Valleroy looked at him, frowning. “Are you saying that we can never disagree? That we can never discuss anything, even when it directly concerns me? That there’s no time when such a discussion is reasonable, and I should just automatically do what you tell me to do, accept what you dictate, and never question you?”
“If I am your Sectuib I’d expect your loyalty. And your obedience.”
Valleroy blew out a frustrated breath. “Klyd, you know I can’t do that.”
“Not yet. You’re still learning. Maybe in about six months.”
“Are you being funny?”
“Not very successfully, I suspect.”
“I’m not laughing.”
“I know.” He sighed softly. “Hugh, we can certainly discuss things. I just wish you wouldn’t get so emotional about them. That’s what hurts me. But all of this will get easier. For both of us. For now, you are hurting me. You really must learn to try to accept my lead. At least until you’re better trained and know when and how far to take this sort of thing.”
“And when will that be?”
“I don’t know.”
“Give me a guess.”
“Hugh, I can’t guess,” Klyd said impatiently, as if Valleroy were asking him to perform magic.
“You must have some idea, some feeling from training prior Companions.”
“I don’t, actually,” Klyd said, an edge creeping into his voice. “Your situation is unique. I haven’t exactly ever trained an Out-Territory Gen as my personal Companion. And no Companion I know would ever think to challenge me the way you are doing. The way you consistently, constantly do. I have had no experience with it. And I wish I didn’t have any experience with it now.”
Valleroy bristled at the chill criticism in his tone. “So I’m supposed to do what you tell me to do, blindly, for some undetermined amount of time, until you say it’s all right to question you?”
“Hugh, if I’m your Sectuib, you shouldn’t be questioning my authority.”
“I thought the idea, in my starting Rior, was that I had my own authority. And as for judgment, simply because you inherited Zeor, Klyd, that doesn’t make you omniscient.”
“I never said that I was. I didn’t say you couldn’t question a proposed course of action, in the right circumstances. But if I am your Sectuib, you should accept my authority as a given, whether you agree with me or not.”
“You mean, you get to decide when I can question you and when I can’t,” Hugh said, appalled at the thought.
“If I am your Sectuib, then once I have made a decision, you are oath bound to respect it. And to obey me. I do expect that. And as a Companion you have to learn when to raise issues and when not to challenge me in Need. That’s certainly not a very safe thing for a Companion to do.”
Valleroy sighed. “Klyd, I wonder how often the Simes and Gens in your Householding go along with these rules because in this culture, a Householding Sectuib’s authority is a given. Unless the Simes want to go among juncts and kill, they have no alternative. The Gens have no alternatives at all. But I have alternatives.”
“You keep trying to apply out-Territory standards to In-Territory situations,” Klyd said crossly. “I wish you would stop that behavior.”
“I can’t just ignore reality.”
“You could try a little harder to assimilate your new reality. You’re a Companion of my House, not the Gen equivalent of a Freeband Raider, coming and going where you will. It’s past time you started assimilating your training and started behaving like a First Companion.”
“If it means giving up my freedom, I don’t think I can.”
“Who told you that you had to -- Hugh, you always take things to extremes. I wish you would stop that too.”
“This is extreme for me.”
“Well, stop fighting and learn to accept it. At times, you behave more like a wild Gen than a Companion. Zeor ought to be a better influence on you.”
“Well, perhaps after I’ve been on it’s rolls for awhile, it will,” Valleroy retorted. “And I am a wild Gen, if it means I feel I have some autonomy over my actions and state of mind.”
“Well, you won’t be once I finish this paperwork. Then you’ll be part of Zeor, at least on paper. So you might as well start learning to behave like a Zeor Gen. Now, since you have acknowledged the necessity,” Klyd’s tone make it clear as to what view he’d taken of that, “be quiet and let me do it.”
Hugh flung himself in a chair and stared out Klyd’s office window as Klyd finished the paperwork. “What else is new?” he asked, frustrated as he watched himself added to Zeor’s tax rolls.
“I don’t know why you’re so upset,” Klyd commented, closing that folder and opening another, calmer now that the deed was done. “After all, I’m the one who has to actually pay your taxes. And Ari is right, it’s fortunate that juncts don’t understand Companions well enough to tax you by your selyn yield. Based on that criteria, you’re worth more than the price of a dozen pen Gens. Of a dozen Choice Kills, really.”
Hugh winced. “If that’s supposed to be funny, it’s not.”
“You are just overly sensitive on the subject.”
“I don’t like the idea of being owned.”
“Even by me?” Klyd gave him a quirky grin, trying to tease him into a smile.
Hugh glared at Klyd, unwilling to be drawn out of his unease. “Don’t press your luck, Sectuib.”
“You needn’t be so touchy,” Klyd said mildly. “I only own you legally. I certainly don’t think of any Gen in my house as my property. Not even my personal Companion.”
Hugh didn’t argue his own sense that Klyd had little notion of how his culture colored his attitudes. “That’s small consolation. You don’t have to rub my nose in it. This means more than just a statement on paper to me, and I don’t like it, no matter what spin you put on it. And I think, no matter what you say, it’s more than that to you, too.” When Klyd frowned at this slur against him, the sensitive mouth tightening, he capitulated and steered the conversation onto less sensitive matters. “I don’t like the idea of the expense, either. How much is that going to set you back a month?”
Klyd glanced at him, then allowed the change of subject. “Don’t worry about it. Zeor can easily afford it,” he said absently, his eyes and other senses still evaluating Hugh.
“How can I not?” Valleroy rubbed his forehead, his temples aching at the thought of more debt. “It’s one more thing I’ve cost you, one more thing I take from Zeor that I can’t repay.” He didn’t say how guilt over Yenava still haunted him. “What you can afford and what I can afford are two different things.”
“Aisha donates, and you Serve me,” Klyd shrugged. “Your service alone more than pays both your tax bills.”
“The Gens here also work for their keep,” Valleroy pointed out darkly.
Hugh didn’t dignify that with a reply, knowing full well his own inadequacies. Sometimes they seemed to choke him. He thought longingly of Rior’s wide weed-choked fields, and of plowing them clean. It was hard work, but it was also a welcome release from what he’d come to regard as these eternal conflicts. At times like this, Klyd’s prosaic, well ordered office felt like a prison.
Klyd looked up and glanced over at him, frowning. “Stop sulking. That’s undignified behavior for a Companion. Besides being uncomfortable for me.”
“Denrau told me a Companion should be Companionable,” Hugh replied, only half sarcastically, feeling no closer to shedding his angry mood. Sulking was not what he was doing, but he understood why Klyd was choosing to make light of his dark mood. He wasn’t sure he felt capable of playing along with the tacit deception, though.
Klyd chuckled. “That sounds like Denny. And he was so right, Naztehr.”
“And I suppose I’m not. Companionable, that is. I already know I’m never right.” He still felt half spoiling for a fight.
“You can be, when you try,” Klyd said, his attention more than half on his paperwork. “Companionable, that is.” He looked up, across at Hugh, and smiled mischievously. “Come on, Hugh. Consider good behavior partial payment for your tax bill, if that makes it easier for you.”
Valleroy gave him a sharp look of shock, then glared. “That’s not funny.”
Klyd shrugged, dismissing his attitude, and obviously tiring of the need to coax his Companion out of his black mood. “Well, perhaps we’ll both find each other more amusing after Transfer. But for the time being, practice a little self-discipline.”
Hugh clenched his teeth at the imperious tone of what had been couched as a definite order, but did his best to present a neutral supportive field, concentrating on settling and ordering his own systems and Klyd’s. “Yes, Sectuib.”
“That’s better.” Klyd said absently, and went back to work. Valleroy watched him for a few minutes, the fight slowly going out of him as they both worked on their respective tasks, and finally he asked, “Is there something there I can help with?”
“I’ll just be a few more minutes.” Klyd gave him a curious look and said, “You are helping, Hugh. Supportive fieldwork is part of your job. You do it very well, when you put your mind to it. You just need to focus and concentrate on the effort.”
“It doesn’t seem like much,” Valleroy said doubtfully. “And all I’m doing is sitting here. I could help with something while I manage fields.”
“Maybe later. Some Companions never learn it at the level you can provide naturally, and good as you are at it when you try, you need to concentrate more. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t think. Or at least not of something upsetting to you. Don’t talk.”
“Klyd—“ Valleroy warned.
The Channel grinned. “I only meant you should rest a little yourself. We do have a dispensary shift coming up, and I’ll want you fresh for that.”
Valleroy sighed at that, and flinging himself back in a corner, watched the field workers while Klyd went through more paperwork on his desk. But he couldn’t seem to stop his mind from racing. “How in the world did Aridor get legal training here in Nivet?”
“He didn’t,” Klyd said absently. “He’s from Out-Territory, like you.”
Valleroy straightened. “He is? How did he come here? When? From where?”
Klyd looked up, thinking back. “I bought him at auction, of course. Oh, ten years or so ago.”
“You bought him?”
“Um-hmmm. At Iburin, as a matter of fact. How else would I come by an out-Territory Gen?”
“I thought you usually rescued Pen Gens when you were Gen-low?”
“Now and then we do buy a Choice Kill at Auction,” Klyd commented. “Likely farm hands, when we can get them. They sometimes have useful notions of crops our Gens would like to eat and the best ways to grow them. So we pick one up when we can.”
Valleroy made a face. “Human draft horses?” It was an echo of a taunt he had once thrown at Klyd. Would he never stop wondering at the Channel’s motives? But Klyd didn’t rise to the aspersion, barely looking up from his work.
“Come on, Hugh. You know better than that. Zeor hardly needs to buy Gens from Auctions and certainly not for mere manual labor. Simes are much better at physical work. When we are Gen-low, and we occasionally are, given more of our children changeover than establish, Zeor’s mission is to save Pen Gens. We pride ourselves on that.”
“So most of the Gens in your house started off even more helpless than out-Territory Gens,” Hugh pointed out.
“That’s not very tactful to say of your fellow Gens,” the Channel said disapprovingly.
“You’re the one that told me they weren’t my people, Klyd.”
“They are once they’re ours,” Klyd answered.
“Don’t be rude. Anyway, Zeor is old. We have many multi-generational born and bred Householding Gens. They’re hardly helpless.”
Hugh bit his tongue and refusing to be drawn into that argument again, said, “So, how did you come to get Aridor? Did you want Gen legal skills?”
“No. We wouldn’t go think to go looking for them at an auction, even if we did. Do you imagine a Choice Auction is some sort of trade fair? That they give us an educational and employment background of each Choice Kill?” Klyd’s question came with a sort of arch amusement. But he shrugged. “We trade among Householdings when we need a particular skill set not at Zeor, whether Gen or Sime. We rescue Pen Gens, as a rule, if we are Gen-low. If we actually buy a Choice Gen, we try for skills we can only get from an out-Territory Gen, but as I said, we’re usually interested in farmers. Gens eat on both sides of the border, after all. And it’s something of a fad among Householding Gens to try exotic foods that the Wild Gens Out-Territory eat.”
He gritted his teeth. He could see Klyd’s point. He couldn’t fault the logic of it. But he could wish Klyd were a little more tactful about now he expressed it. “So how did you happen to need those particular skills at the time?”
Klyd leaned back. “We didn’t, actually. My father took me to the auction as part of my Sectuib’s training. He felt that I needed to see an auction, zlin the junct mentality and understand how to bid and buy Gens if I should need to. That was the first auction at which I ever purchased a Gen. I think I did rather well.”
“Well don’t pat yourself on the back too much,” Valleroy retorted caustically, thinking it was a lot harder for the auctioned Gens than the prospective buyers.
Klyd laughed. “My father said pretty much the same thing. Ari wasn’t prime stock, the sort juncts usually buy when they go looking for Choice Gens. But for some reason he was in with the rest. He was supposed to be sold as a Choice Kill, and he looked like one, but the problem was, he was the analytical type and didn’t zlin like one. The auctioneer tried to pass him off, but of course juncts in Need could zlin the difference.”
“He wasn’t scared?” Valleroy thought of the huge Gen. “I guess maybe he felt he could take on any Sime.”
“He was scared,” Klyd said, giving him a level look. “What Gen wouldn’t be in such a situation? But he didn’t have that raw terror that marks a real Choice Kill. It was more a rational reaction to his horrible circumstances. It certainly wasn’t the most satisfying kind of fear, at least not to a junct paying top price for a Choice Kill. So apparently no one had bid his reserve auction price. He’d been put into the breeder auction then. Pen males don’t necessarily make good breeders, and sometimes the big Gen-Farms look for some out-Territory blood to strengthen their stock. But he didn’t make his reserve there either because he was considered too big. Most Gen Farmers,” Klyd added confidentially, “don’t like big Gens.”
“Why not? Isn’t it like with any animal, the bigger the better?” Valleroy didn’t mask his disgust.
“Not necessarily. Their breeders can have trouble bearing huge babies. And they get the same amount of babies from normal sized breeders as from large ones. Smaller Gens cost less to feed and there’s no relation between size and selyn production. So Ari wasn’t an ideal breeder Gen either, and he’d been around the lot a bit longer than most. That should have frightened him even more, but he’d become almost numb from it all. And that dropped his reserve price further.”
“We arrived at the tail end of one auction lot, and before the next. I went around after the auction, just to zlin the leftovers from the prior auction, and to examine the upcoming lots. Figure out what was available, what hadn’t sold, what might be reasonable. Ari struck me as being a good buy.” Klyd was deep into his story, not noticing Valleroy was studying him as much as listening to the story. “He wasn’t exuding raw terror, and I saw that he was watching me, so I went over to speak to him. He wasn’t too terrified to talk with me when I addressed him in English. He was frightened of me, of course, and he didn’t believe I would or could really rescue him. Like you, he’d never heard of Householdings, and thought of all Simes as killers. But his intelligence and education helped him overcome his fear enough to speak to me, and tell me something of himself. The Auction operators refuse to speak English to the Choice Kills, even though they’ve picked up a few words. And while the captives can talk to each other, Ari couldn’t believe a Sime was willing to speak to him. And he was a little desperate to communicate. It’s not unheard of, with intelligent Gens at auction, that they try and work their way out of their captivity, one way or another. And as Ari tells the story now, he’s a lawyer, so of course he tried to talk! He was frightened, but listened to me.” Klyd gave him a narrow look. “That’s something you occasionally have problems doing.”
“I’m not being sold as a Choice Kill.”
“True enough. Perhaps it would improve your temperament.”
The Channel laughed and continued. “That’s always a good first sign for a Householding recruit, that their will can overcome their fear. And if you remember, it was one of the traits that attracted me to you, the first night we met. It’s not always the case, as you know from that girl this morning. I really thought Ari was the best of all the lots as a potential Zeor member.”
“Why didn’t you make him a Companion then?” Valleroy said, feeling an odd niggle of jealousy.
“He didn’t have a Companion’s field. I’ve told you before, that’s rare, Hugh.”
“What about the other Gens there?”
“There weren’t any that would be obvious Companion material, not that we’d ever expect to find such a thing at auction. You know by now a Companion’s field synchs in sympathy to a Sime’s Need. That emotion isn’t exactly flowing at a Choice Kill Auction. But we’re getting off the subject. Because of all his faults, Ari was going cheap. In fact, the auctioneer was delighted to palm off what he considered a worthless creature on naïve Householders.”
“So you bought him.”
Klyd nodded. “Didn’t even have to pay auction fees. My father wasn’t exactly thrilled. He thought some nice young field stock would have been better than a middle-aged Gen with an esoteric out-Territory law education. But he’d already made it clear we couldn’t bring the entire auction stock home to Zeor, that I could only pick one. So I bought him, for a good price too, and home to Zeor he came. End of story.”
“Did he only let you pick one puppy out of a litter too?”
Klyd’s look softened. “I suppose it sounds callous to you, but it was far otherwise. When I look back now, I think how glad I am that I chose Ari. But it was a terrible experience, really, to see all those Gens and know they were destined to be slaughtered. That was part of my learning experience too. Zeor can’t save them all. We can hardly save any, really. It was very hard, coming home with just Aridor. I had nightmares for weeks afterwards. I’ve never cared much for buying Gens at auction, frankly.” He shrugged. “Can you blame me for not wanting to thrash myself, a dozen years later, with the bad aspects of that memory? Every Zeor Sectuib has to learn to deal with the knowledge that we can only save a fraction of your people. It isn’t easy to go among them.”
“I know you aren’t. That you have to armor yourself, surrounded as you are. But –“
“Sometimes it almost seems like you’re baiting me.”
Klyd didn’t answer for a minute, then he got up and looked out one of the windows that overlooked Valzor. “When my father took me to the auction, I was reluctant to go, at first. Rescuing a Pen Gen is one thing. But going to an auction where your people are in chains, Wild Gens but still as self-aware as the Gens in my Householding, to bid on them while surrounded by juncts who plan to kill then, well that was very hard for me. I didn’t want to do it. But I had to.”
Valleroy said nothing. As a Companion, it was his job to empathize with Klyd’s pain, but he was thinking unkindly that it was harder for the Gens and his sympathy was with them. Klyd threw him a searching look, as if reading that thought, but continued. “As a future Sectuib, I had to learn to function in that society, to go among juncts and not be crippled with anger and hatred, just as I had to learn to be able to function, to take donations and heal, in spite of Sime Need or Gen pain.” He turned to Hugh pointedly. “As my Companion, you need to learn that too.”
Valleroy shook his head slowly. “Not hate the people who think I am an animal worth nothing but Killing? I don’t think I can. Oh the juncts who don’t know any better, that’s different. But your Government does know that the Gen government is out there, and that the Householdings exist and could form an alliance. They know about Zelerod’s Doom too, and yet they do nothing. I can’t forgive that.”
Klyd sighed and sat down wearily. “Hugh, you can’t function and protect me, if you are consumed by personal hate. You have to learn to become inured to these feelings, so that we can both function.”
“You become angry and resentful of me, because I don’t share your feelings. I understand you resent the junct lifestyle and junct laws, but if you are serving as my Companion, you do need to get past the worst of those feelings. Perhaps I do bait you, as you call it, with unpleasant facts, just as my father had to take me among juncts.”
“I’ll can’t stop resenting that lifestyle. And I think you should feel the same.”
“Hugh, if you’re going to Serve as my Companion, I’ll be looking to you, expecting your nager will provide protection and solace when I go among juncts. Instead, you have consistently failed to provide that. You not only become wrapped up in your own anger and hatred, becoming another point of irritation, but then you become frustrated, even angry at me for not feeling as you do. But it’s not my job to agree with and support you in your negative emotions. Rather it is your sworn duty to support me. No matter what I do, or say, or whether you agree with me or not. A Channel has very few defenses against his Companion, and when you are angry at me, you not only fail to do your job, but you hurt me. All of which keeps me from doing mine. And then how can Zeor be a force of change, when Zeor’s own Companions cripple their Sectuib? If you are going to Serve as my Companion, you have to learn to not personally react or be affected by these things, and instead to put your efforts into providing a consistent support for me, no matter what I do or don’t do, and regardless whether you agree with me or not. Even if I’m making an alliance or supporting with taxes the junct government that you hate. That is your profession.”
Valleroy lowered his eyes. He saw the sense of it, but he couldn’t accept it. “You’re saying I’m not supposed to have an opinion, or any feelings?”
“I didn’t say that. Not exactly. Naturally you have feelings. A Companion’s sensitivity and empathy are very highly prized. You couldn’t Serve without them. But when you are working, you are supposed to use that sensitivity and empathy to protect your Channel. To focus your attentions and your empathy in that direction. Not to react personally to the outside issues that I might be confronting. A First Companion can be a trusted advisor to his Sectuib. When that Sectuib asks for that advice. But when you are functioning as a Companion, your support must be invariable no matter what I do or say. And as your behavior in that regard is far from that ideal, you have to learn it and practice it until it is unvarying. If I bait you now, as you say, it is to give you opportunities, in restricted settings, to master that necessary skill. You may not like it. I wouldn’t expect you to like it. But I do expect you to learn it. And learn it well, Hugh.”
Valleroy raised his head to stare into Klyd’s eyes, hearing the tacit warning in Klyd’s last words, his emotions in a churn.
Klyd eyed him, then sighed, and dropped the subject, giving Valleroy time to consider what he’d said. “As for Ari, it turns out he has actually been invaluable to Zeor. Having a source who’s familiar with Gen law has been surprisingly useful to Zeor and the Tecton. We’ve even done some work for the Nivet government. Ari took over our legal staff a few years ago, when our chief Counselor died. He can’t try cases of course. He can’t even testify in court, since Gens have no legal status in Nivet other than property. But he trains our young staff, and he brings in as much some months consulting for the Nivet government than we sometimes make in the mills. Border treaties, free passage zones, that sort of thing. There’s more of that every year. And he’s the only in-Territory Gen-trained law consultant there is. He keeps complaining he wants me to buy him a few more out-Territory lawyers,” Klyd laughed, “but fortunately or unfortunately, no more have crossed our path.”
“Why doesn’t the Nivet government just raid a few?” Valleroy asked, still feeling at sea. “And set up their own Gen law counselors?”
Klyd looked at him curiously. “The raiding wouldn’t be a problem, if they knew where to find them. But afterwards? Do you think junct Simes could work with Gens? Or the reverse? It’s not easy even for rescued out-Territory Gens, saved from being Choice Kills, to work with Householders. And even if the Gens could, do you think the juncts could teach them to speak and read and write our language? Openly admit that Gens are intelligent? Consult with them as equals? All of that is heresy to the present government. They have no rehabilitation or emotional support system, no educational programs for rescued Gens, no experience in reeducating them as Householdings do. They leave that for us perverts.”
Valleroy shrugged. “I suppose you are right.”
Klyd sighed. “We’ve gotten back to discussing unpleasant subjects. Something you should not be introducing when I am this close to Need. You do have a job to do, Naztehr, and I do expect you to do it.” Klyd’s voice had grown cool and imperious, a Sectuib’s tone. “So try again, and this time practice some discipline.”
Valleroy winced but said nothing. Under Klyd’s unyielding gaze he managed to wall off his emotions and somehow mold his fields into the kind of automatic support he knew Klyd expected. It was much harder to do it on command than by feeling it naturally. It wasn’t the effortless synching he could do when he and Klyd were emotionally attuned. But he discovered he could sustain that state by conscious will. It was tiring, but once he knew he could do it, his own bravado made him pour his energies into it. The Channel flicked a tentacle, and without a word, returned to his own work.
Hugh held his peace as best he could for the rest of the day. But that evening, after hearing young Zinter snap at Denrau to attend him, using the same coolly imperious tone to the Companion who was five years his senior, Valleroy peace broke. Even though it wasn’t Klyd’s order to him, perhaps because of that, he suddenly found the practice intolerable. He groused about it to Zeor’s First Companion they were taking a “Sime free” trin break, the two Channels being otherwise occupied. The long day, filled with one culture shock after another, had frayed his temper, he let loose his full frustration, with at least the safety of knowing he could do that with Denrau as he never could with Klyd. But Denrau had sat back in his chair, eyes wide with astonishment, studying him as if he’d grown two heads.
“Hugh, what can you be thinking? Zinter’s not like that at all. He’s a nice kid, with as gentle a temperament, for a Channel,” Denrau temporized, “as a Companion could want.”
“I know what I hear.” Valleroy put his cup down sharply enough that his tea spilled and a renSime two tables distant frowned at the disturbance in the ambient and moved a few tables away. “And what I see.”
“Well, listen again,” Denrau admonished mildly, “and this time, pay attention and understand what you’re seeing and hearing.”
“And what’s that?”
Denrau ran a hand through his hair, as if wondering where to begin. Then, eyeing Valleroy, he took a breath and said slowly. “For one thing, you will never, ever, catch a Channel, or any Sime for that matter, approach any Companion when he easily avoid it. Or when he’s upset. Even a Companion. Especially a Companion. He’ll always call the Companion to come to him. Naturally, this close to Need, the tone may be a little terse,” he shrugged that off as inconsequential.
Valleroy looked at him, envying Denrau’s born and bred understanding of his role. Denrau always seemed so self-assured. Valleroy never saw him ruffled when Klyd called him in for the difficult cases, cases that Klyd knew Valleroy was too inexperienced to handle. And even when Klyd showed his Need-shortened temper, Denrau took the worst of Klyd’s sharp tongue with no more than sympathy and compassion in response. He had all of his Sectuib’s pride and self-confidence with none of Klyd’s Sime temperament. And he walked the halls of Zeor with all the calm self assurance of a prince. Which made the reality of the circumstances even more puzzling to Valleroy. He didn’t understand how Denrau could keep that self-assured pride with first Klyd, and now Zinter, snapping at him as if he were as green as Valleroy. He couldn’t connect the emotions at all. Pride and self-assurance were one thing. Keeping that state while knuckling under and being lorded over and ordered about by Klyd’s sharp tongue, and then by an adolescent like Zinter was quite another. Valleroy tried again, vainly, to express his confusion and discomfort. “But that’s --”
“Wise,” Denrau insisted. “Within every Sime is still a deadly predator, with a predator’s instincts. The Channel most of all, because he feels full Need every month, and unlike a non-junct renSime, satisfies his Need with a Gen. A Channel is more dangerous, his Need is greater than a renSime. His Need is directed to a Gen and not to Channels’ Transfer, as a renSime’s is. So no Channel will ever risk pursuing any Donor, if he can help it. No matter how controlled the Channel, no matter how well trained the Companion, no matter how prosaic the situation, a Channel, in Need or out of it, prefers never to put himself in any situation where he even remotely stalks any Gen in any way. Even his own Companion. Sometimes especially his Companion. So a Channel will always call that Companion to him. And a Companion always, always responds, Hugh. Calmly, smoothly, and willingly, no matter what you have to drop to do it. Because you never, and I do mean never, want to put a Channel in a position of breaking his own conditioning by coming after you. That’s just the reality of Sime/Gen relations.”
Hugh was rubbing his forehead, stretching his mind around another new concept. “Now, I understand it, when you put it that way. It makes perfect sense. But I can’t help how I feel when I hear it, and see it, day after day. It still seems well –“ he hesitated over saying how he really found it and substituted, “rude.”
Denrau laughed in genuine amusement. “It is absolutely good Householding manners. Expecting anything else is rude. Being a high order Donor makes it even more essential. Even though we could easily over-control the lower order or inexperienced Channels if they snapped, it would be devastating to the Channel. It could ruin one. And a high order Channel, if provoked, or not handled properly, can be truly dangerous. Hugh, respecting each others strengths and weaknesses is what allows us to live together as equals. Putting a Sime in an uncomfortable position that might cause him to lose even a little control is bad manners. It’s cruel. And it’s hurtful, both to the Sime and to our aims of mutual cooperation.”
Valleroy shook his head. “I understand some of what you’re saying. The ideals sounds wonderful. But what I see is Simes giving all the orders and Gens obeying.” His discomfort with that reality came out in full fledged resentment. He looked up at Denrau as if the Gen’s own calm acceptance could be Transferred as easily as selyn.
Denrau shrugged, dismissing that issue. “A Companion can give orders to a Channel. Naturally. He’s the only one who can, besides Sectuib, if the Channel isn’t Sectuib himself. And if he is Sectuib a First Companion is the only one who can over-rule him. Sometimes it’s even necessary for him to do so. But when a Channel has reached that state, he’s usually lost control himself.” Denrau gave him a meaningful look. “And it’s almost always the Companion’s fault for letting him get into that state. It’s certainly no good situation when a Companion has to overrule a Channel. It’s nothing to seek, and nothing no competent Companion would ever allow to happen if he can help it. As for Sectuib’s orders to you, well that’s really mostly your fault.”
Hugh opened his mouth, but Denrau forestalled him.
“Just as it was my fault, that Zinter had to call attention to my duties to me. You should be paying enough attention to Klyd that he shouldn’t need to call you as much as he does. I know you’re still learning Klyd’s ways, much as I need to become more familiar with Zinter’s. It’s not my place to instruct you--” He shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve probably said too much already.”
“No, Denrau, don’t. I want to know.” Hugh gestured at the refectory around them, the mixture of Simes and Gens together. “I’m here to learn after all. And I don’t know whether Klyd just expects me to understand all this without being told, or if he just doesn’t want to tell me.”
Denrau pulled a face at that, but tactfully didn’t comment on the allegation against his Sectuib. “Companions bend, Hugh. Not because Channels can’t, but because Companions are better able to take the risks. If a Channel should break, it could be disastrous. A Companion yields out of strength, not weakness. Companion’s service is an honor. And a great responsibility to the House. Companions are not subservient.”
“I can understand that, intellectually.” Hugh said. “I know you don’t take it that way,” he added, “But the reality is that an absolute expectation of obedience is hard to take. And the ‘no matter what you have to drop to do it’ is also not very realistic.”
Denrau shrugged. “Being a high order Channel’s Companion is not normally considered a part-time job. Unlike lesser Companions, there just aren’t as many of us. It’s simple numbers. We can’t trade off shifts as easily as the lower order Companions do. And the higher order Channels are more sensitive to changes and find it that much harder to work with different Companions. So it is ‘realistic’ for our situation. We’re almost always on duty, one way or another. We do have a few days off after Transfer, when our Channels are post and we’re at our lowest field gradient. Their high secondary systems give our Channels an extra measure of stability at that time, and they don’t need us as much post Transfer. Any reasonably competent Companion can sub for us then. That’s when most Channels take the opportunity to work with the lower order Companions, and bring them up in potential. And then we get some time off. Usually we’re both happy to have a break from each other, for those few days. But after that -“ Denrau sketched a headshake. “A Companion Serves.”
Hugh stared at him, even more puzzled and confused to hear what so clearly appeared as caste-like behavior described in work shifts and Need cycles. The appearance was misleading. But his feelings about it didn’t fade as easily as the misconception.
“And as for the rest, well, you’re old for Companion’s training. Most Gens establish at fourteen or so. Stamina is hardest for them, focusing attention and concentration for hours at a time. But obedience, at that young age, comes a little more easily.” Denrau didn’t say the obvious, that he found Hugh lacking in both skills. Instead he continued, “After a while it becomes ingrained. I lost concentration a few minutes ago; purely my own fault, and Zinter is young, in Need, and taxed by learning some of the Zeor disciplines he never encountered at Imil. A Companion in service is supposed to stay attuned to a Channel’s needs. When I failed, naturally he snapped at me. But it was my error, and I was understandably contrite, not upset. He shouldn’t have to remind me of my job, no more than Klyd should need to reprimand you, when you’re trained. Until then, well, you can’t fault a Channel in Need for having a sharp tongue. It’s the mildest symptom when a Companion fails in his duties, and his safest release for his displeasure. You don’t blame the Channel for the Companion’s lapse. And once you and Zinter are trained, and we’re all more accustomed to each other--” He fell silent suddenly and glancing repressively at Hugh, indicated that Klyd coming toward them.
“What are you two talking about so seriously?” The Channel asked the question lightly, but his glance from Hugh to Denrau was searching.
“What would two Companions talk about, except how to Serve their Channels better?” Denrau replied with teasing archness. At the same time, Denrau’s nager deliberately threw oil on the conversational troubled waters, projecting a deferential Companion’s nager that was neutral enough it didn’t trespass on Hugh’s service to Klyd, but still forced Klyd to relax. Denrau then tossed Hugh the same “I told you so” glance, complete with raised eyebrow, that Nashmar had once thrown him in Imil, when Klyd had been so torn up in knots with entran. It came to Hugh again that there was a whole undercurrent and sub-texture to Companion’s service of which he had only scratched the surface, and which he still didn’t understand. And which Denrau obviously felt was out of place discussing in Klyd’s current state of Need. And Klyd, though he still looked from one to the other of them, obviously wanting to know more, accepted the cup of trin that Denrau poured and reluctantly let the Companion steer the conversation to lighter topics.
It was a casual but masterful example of how a Companion managed a Channel. Valleroy was impressed, but he noted how indirect Denrau’s control was. He preferred more direct, more open and honest handling of issues. He wondered if this was ever going to be possible between himself and Klyd, but he decided to let things ride again.
But Klyd wasn’t willing to be so easily put off. Later he corralled Denrau in between shifts and with just the two of them present in the ward’s break room, questioned, “What were you and Hugh talking about in the refectory?”
Denrau didn’t respond to Klyd’s intensity, staying relaxed. He opened the tea canister he’d reached for and measured an amount into the teapot, poured the hot water before answering. “Professional confidence.”
“That’s not fair, Sectuib.” Denrau had smiled at the nickname, but he didn’t yield. He put the canister away and turned to face his Sectuib squarely. We’re not twelve anymore, and I’m the First Companion of your House. I’m responsible for all the Companions in it, and that includes Hugh. If he comes to me for help in confidence, I can advise him. I can advise you, but you two have to help each other. You should talk to Hugh about it, if you want to know. After your Transfer, that is. He needs to talk to you. In fact, he needs a lot of talking to. What that Gen doesn’t know is dangerous.”
Klyd sighed and sank into a chair. “I can’t talk to him.”
Denrau sat next to him, not touching but his nager as soothing as a cool compress. “Why not?” His tone was conversational, not accusatory.
“He’s not ready.”
“He’ll never be ready if you don’t train him,” Denrau pointed out, as practical as always. “The more quickly the better. Bad habits are easier to eradicate when they’re caught young and soon. As we’ve all learned.”
“But Hugh is not young,” Klyd said, frowning.
“He’s new to this. Why let him fall into trouble through ignorance when you can teach him right the first time?”
“He’s too old to be taught conventionally. And I’m afraid if he finds the service too taxing, he’ll reject it.”
Denrau’s brow cleared. “So that’s it. But he is a Companion. Even I can see that. He may have started late, but I’ve never heard of a Companion capable of serving Need at the level Hugh can function, turning his back on Companion’s service. In my opinion, it’s this running back and forth that’s the problem. Keep him here, a few months. That’s all it would take. Then his body’s own nature would speak for itself, the same as for a Sime after disjunction. A Companion’s response is innate. And at our level, very strong. It’s the refinement of that nature that requires training. Keep him with you, and he’ll come around.”
“He won’t stay. And a renSime can’t disjunct unless he wants to. Hugh doesn’t want to stay.”
Denrau sighed and said. “It’s not fair, Sectuib. You’re never had a Companion to satisfy you well, and now that you’ve found one…” He rose and went to the steeping tea pot, pouring a glass for Klyd and setting it before him.
Klyd raised up at that, ignoring the offered tea. “You mustn’t think that. You satisfied me, Denrau.”
“Not as well. Give me enough professional credit to respect that I know my own shortfalls, Sectuib.” Denrau settled down beside him and sipped his own tea. ”I’m not so selfish as to be unhappy if you found a better match. You know it’s something for which we’ve both been alert, the same as you’ve been hoping to get Zinter for me.” He pondered for a moment. “But if you really think Hugh doesn’t have the ability to choose to Serve, you shouldn’t train him. You should cut him loose as soon as possible.”
Klyd set his jaw, and turned away. “That’s not an option.” His voice was cold, a Sectuib’s again.
Denrau furrowed his brow again, but didn’t take offense at the tacit rebuke. “Forgive me, Sectuib. I’ve never heard of a Companion with Hugh’s ability not choosing Companion’s Service. But I’ve never known of an out-Territory Companion either. There’s a lot I don’t know.”
Klyd sighed and relaxed deliberately, his shoulders settling from their marshal stance. He took a sip of tea and cleared his throat uneasily before continuing. “I’ve read up a few cases in the literature. Deviantly pathological Gens, usually rescued by Householdings from being choice kills. Their natures are torn, they may have a Companion’s natural abilities, but deep down, they resent Simes. There are cases of such Donors causing serial shen fatalities before the pathology was understood.” He didn’t say he’d done this reading since he’d met Hugh. He didn’t have to.
“But Hugh’s not sadistic,” Denrau pointed out gently.
“No.” Klyd smiled albeit a bit grimly, thinking of Hugh’s quoting him the often touted Gen phrase about the only good Sime being a dead one. Denrau would faint if he’d heard Valleroy had said that to a Sectuib in Need. He reached out a reassuring tentacle to Denrau even at the memory of it. “He’s not that.”
Denrau fingered the tentacle covering his hands, his field reacting to the turbulence in the Channel’s emotions, puzzling through Klyd’s unease. “He’s never shenned you has he? Never given you an abort?” he gave Klyd a searching glance, but the Channel shook his head. “He doesn’t seem vicious,” Denrau continued, his brow furrowed with concern. “Of course, I haven’t had much contact with him, as infrequently as he’s here.”
“No. I’m just uneasy at times that he might, even without meaning to. He’s so stubbornly independent.”
Denrau shrugged, not disagreeing. “Because you allow it.”
“Believe me, Denny, I don’t allow it. I just don’t know how to prevent it.”
“Hugh seems mostly confused and troubled to me. He does have a Companion’s nature, or he wouldn’t be so torn. And with good reason. No top Companion should be so independent; it goes against one’s basic nature. With the right training and conditioning, a few months could see a change in him. If you want him to Serve you, he will have to learn. An untrained Companion can be as dangerous as an untrained Channel. I don’t have to remind you of that. I think what you really need to decide is if you want him to Serve you. And if he wants to Serve. But he’s here, so I would think he’s made that decision by now. And after that, the answers are easy.” Denrau rose and gave Klyd’s near hand a gentle squeeze. “I should get back to Zinter.”
Instead Sime tentacles twined quickly around his wrist, delicate in appearance but as strong as coiled steel. “Denny.”
The Gen paused and looked down into the Channel’s dark eyes. “Yes, Sectuib?”
“You won’t tell me?”
“Try talking to him first, Sectuib. I will tell you this much, I don’t think he’s as stubborn as you think. And I don’t think he is sadistic, either. He wants to Serve, and just doesn’t understand how.”
Klyd nodded and his tentacles slid from their grasp.
Denrau paused in parting and added. “If it comes to that, I am pledged to you before any Companion’s oath.”
Klyd looked after him and sighed. “The answers are not all that easy,” he muttered.
Valleroy came in and poured himself a cup. “You’re talking to yourself,” he complained good naturedly.
“Was I?” asked Klyd. “Must be Need.”
Valleroy had no time to ponder Denrau’s words through the rest of his shift, and when it was over, he was tired enough that he thought he’d barely keep his eyes open even long enough to get back to his room. But once there, and changed for bed, he found himself tossing and turning. Finally he went to sit by the window. The moon was full, enough to light the fields where he could spy a group of Simes working in the cool of the night, using moonlight as a guide. Simes needed little sleep, but they made him feel even more guilty and anxious, thinking of his own crops. And the conversation with Denrau came back to haunt him. He was considering it, remembering his own resentment of Klyd earlier, and trying to reconcile his feelings with Denrau’s comments, but he just couldn’t seem to work it out. Sometimes it seemed a Companion was expected to live divorced from his own emotions and concerns. And yet that couldn’t be possible for most people, and if his dream of Sime/Gen interaction were to be true, if the Gens out-Territory were to be convinced that they could associate with Simes and serve Need, somehow Gens and Simes had to learn to live together without one in thrall to the other.
It was just after two when Klyd came through the door and the Channel drew up at the sight of him.
“Hugh! What are you doing awake? I sent you to rest hours ago.”
Valleroy shrugged. “I couldn’t sleep. You know how it is. Too tired to sleep, too many things on my mind.”
“Nonsense.” Klyd frowned at him, then disappeared into the bath. “That’s a Sime attitude,” he called through the doorway. “Gens don’t have that problem.”
Valleroy winced at this typically Sime attitude. “Maybe not Householding Gens, though I doubt that too. But some of us Gens out in the real world do.”
Klyd appear at the door again, frowning. “New Companions trying and failing to keep up with Channels sometimes do, which is why I sent you to rest. You are not Sime, and close association with a Channel won’t give you Sime stamina. When you are not working, and you are sent to rest, you are to rest, Hugh.”
“I wasn’t trying to keep up with you,” Hugh said, astonished at the accusation. “I may not know much, but I know better than to think I can do that.”
“Then you should do as you’re told.”
Hugh rubbed his forehead in frustration, as if he could wipe his headache away. Klyd’s tone was the same one from this morning, terse and abrupt, as if he expected that instant, unconditioned obedience. It set his teeth on edge. The sound of the shower put a temporarily lull in their conversation. During which he told himself firmly to remember what Denrau had told him, and what he had spent the last few hours pondering: That Klyd’s tone was Need-based. Not being in Need himself, he had no reason to snap back at Klyd for a Need-based mood, however short the Channel was with him. He shouldn’t let Klyd provoke him.
He heard the shower cut off, drew a deep breath and instead said, trying for the reasonable tone he’d often heard Denrau use, he asked, “Why do you think that simply by ordering me to do something, that I can? Or that I will? Even if I want to? I wasn’t deliberately disobeying your orders. I don’t have conscious control over that ability, like a Sime does. I am tired, that’s the whole problem. I’m too tired and sore to sleep, and I’m also worried about Aisha.”
“I told you we should have brought her with us.” Klyd reminded him curtly, coming out and rubbing his damp hair with a towel. “Maybe next time you’ll listen.”
“Then we’d both be worrying about the farm,” Hugh said testily.
Klyd tossed the towel in a hamper and ran hands and tentacles through his short black hair. “Hugh, I’ve told you before that serving as a Companion is not a part-time job.”
“It has to be, for me.”
“I know that,” Klyd said impatiently. “But when you are here at Zeor, working, you have to be here. Not mentally back at Rior. Your performance is abysmal. Your attention is spotty, your concentration is worse. And your discipline is non-existent. When I send you to rest, you are supposed to do it. Not argue with me. Not give me excuses. When I walked in here, I expected to find my Companion sleeping, not sitting up in the dark, awake and worrying needlessly and not resting. I’ll need your strength tomorrow.”
Smarting against his will under the Channel’s criticism, sharper than Klyd had yet used to him, Hugh said tightly. “I’ll decide what I need to worry about. As for the rest, you’re so tied up in Need, you’re not listening to me. I have been trying. I’m here, aren’t I?”
“You are not trying, not nearly hard enough. You try at what you feel is important to you. And what you think you should do. You pick and choose. You disregard anything you don’t understand or disagree with. You’re not the least bit serious about your Companion’s Service.”
Valleroy winced at hearing the very fears and inadequacies that had been one of the reasons he couldn’t sleep held up in the pre-dawn light, by the very person he’d come to help and said , “That’s not fair. I am here, when I have a million worries at home.”
“I offered you a solution to those, which you disregarded. A proper Companion would listen to his Sectuib.”
“I can’t become a Householder -- or a Companion -- overnight. ”
“I sometimes think you don’t want to be a Companion at all.”
“I want to Serve your Need,” Valleroy temporized. “I haven’t missed a month since I qualified. No matter what, I’m here, Klyd.”
“There’s much more to being a Companion than that.”
Valleroy bowed his head, not denying that fact. And considered what Klyd wasn’t saying. “Are you saying you don’t want me here?”
Klyd sighed and sat down,
rubbing his forehead. “I’m saying that
when you are here, I expect you to be focused on your duties here, not mentally
back at Rior.”
”It’s not that easy.”
“It is if you learn to focus your attention. It has to be. Worrying about Rior when you are here is wasted effort. It detracts from your present duties. It overtires you. And it upsets me.” Klyd forestalled Valleroy’s response with a raised tentacle, and continued. “If you need help resting, and Companions often do through no fault of their own -- their duties are hard enough – you should ask me, Hugh. I’m perfectly able to assist you.”
“You mean put me to sleep like a child?” Valleroy accused.
“Is it better to stay awake and behave as one?” Klyd retorted.
Valleroy drew an outraged breath at that, but Klyd gestured him quiet. Hugh--” he reached out with a tentacle and turned the Gen’s face toward him. “If you are going to Serve me, you have to really Serve – not pick and choose what you will and will not do, and on a daily basis decide what you agree with and what you don’t. That’s behaving like a child. And I don’t expect that of you.”
“That’s not what I’m doing. I’m not picking and choosing, and I am trying.”
“That’s’ not how I see it. You took an oath, remember.”
Hugh flared at that and jerked his chin back. “Don’t give me that. I took it under duress!”
Klyd withdrew the tentacle, shoulders tensed, and rose. “Are you asking to withdraw it?”
Valleroy shook his head slowly. “No. But when I made it I didn’t understand what pledging to you involved. And I still don’t. I’m trying to help. I understand you’re in Need, but you could try to give me a little credit for wanting to be here, with you, and being here, even if I don’t understand everything all at once.”
“Obedience doesn’t always
necessitate understanding. For once, Hugh, just do what I tell you to do, when
I tell you to do it, and don’t argue!”
Valleroy winced at that. “Klyd. Don’t.” he warned.
”The reasons, if you really need them, will come in time.”
“Or they won’t. You don’t care one way or the other whether I understand or not,” Valleroy flared, looking up at him. “You just expect me to follow you blindly, like every other Zeor member. Sometimes I think you believe Gens really are incapable of that kind of comprehension.”
Klyd sighed, pacing away from the Gen, rubbing his arms, every sense scoured by his rising Need. “Why do you twist everything I say? Gens are limited in their grasp of Sime experiences, by necessity. You simply don’t have the requisite physiology. That’s not an insult to your intelligence, or your relative maturity. That’s a simple biological fact, Hugh. Companions understand more than most, and I do expect that with a little effort, you could understand as much as is possible, and can become a great Companion. But you are right. Your understanding is not really requisite to serving me at a basic level now. What I need right now is your attention, your concentration and your obedience. And you are not giving me your best even at that basic level.”
“I can’t just blindly obey you.”
Klyd turned abruptly and stared at him, eyes dark and intense. “Or you refuse to. Don’t you trust me, Hugh?”
“Yes. Of course I do. That’s not my point.”
Klyd shook his head. “I can feel your reservations.”
“Very well. I trust that you’ll do what you think is right for your and for Zeor. I’m not sure if that will be right for me. Or for Rior.”
Klyd reached out slowly and took his hands, taking them into Transfer position, but not extending his tentacles. “If something is in the best interests of Zeor, it’s in your own best interests. That was one of the first lessons you learned. Remember? Now you have to live it, not just learn it.”
“I remember.” Hugh looked down at their joined hands. “Maybe that is true for members. I’m not sure how true it is for me. I have to live my own life, Klyd. Zeor is attractive to me. But I can’t let it absorb me.”
Klyd extended his handling tentacles, twining them tightly around the Gen wrists. “This once frightened you, remember?”
“How could I forget?” Hugh asked ruefully.
“But you are not frightened now.” It wasn’t a question, but Hugh shook his head anyway, staring down at their joined arms, half mesmerized. Klyd extended his laterals, sliding them across the Gen forearms, finding the nerves, letting the ronaplin sensitize the Gen skin. Hugh sighed and deliberately relaxed, his nager moving naturally into a state of preTransfer readiness. Klyd held the state a moment, then carefully retracted his laterals and loosened his handling tentacles, still leaving them coiled loosely around the Gen wrists. “I told you then that you were a natural Companion. And I was right. You react like a Companion. That’s rare, Hugh. And you take it far too much for granted. Not a Gen in my House can do what you do and Serve as you Serve. Yet you disregard that and behave as if it is a given that any Gen from out-Territory could step into your place. Even Companions raised In Territory can’t do that. They are trained. And they learn discipline first. Understanding comes later.”
“Maybe they could, if you did things differently. Everyone here behaves as if the rules are set in stone.”
“That’s ridiculous. If that were true, you wouldn’t be here right now. The fact is, Hugh, that I’ve never met any Companion, from any House, with your abilities. And it was I who brought you to recognize them. I understand you, much better than you understand yourself. I know you, better than you can know yourself. I know what you want. And more importantly, I know what you need.”
“I don’t think you do.”
“You also thought,” Klyd emphasized the word deliberately, accentuating it with a handling tentacle, “that you were incapable of serving me. You were wrong before about yourself before. Very wrong as it happened. And you are just as wrong now.”
Valleroy clenched his teeth. “Klyd-”
Klyd moved so that he covered his hands with just one of his own, while the other moved to rub his neck, one tentacle grazing his chin, one lateral brushing his cheek, as if seeking the source of the tension. “I apologize. You’re tired and upset. I don’t mean to argue with you. In time, you’ll come to understand these things. I realize much of this must seem foreign to you, and I accept that. But for now, Hugh, just try to trust me. I don’t mean in Transfer, I know you trust me there. Now. But remember that you didn’t before. Now you’ve learned that you should have always trusted me there. You need to extend that trust to non-Transfer situations and learn to trust me as completely as any member of my house. To respect my judgment.”
“It’s not the same.”
“You were a military officer. I know discipline is not foreign to you. That’s all I’m expecting.”
Valleroy raised his head, frowning. “Military service is to an organization, not a specific person.”
“But you have a superior officer, don’t you? Companion’s service is toward an ideal, like your military organization, but a Channel gives you direction. Perhaps it will help you to think of it like that.”
Hugh stared down at the hand covering his. Klyd’s touch reawakened all the feelings he had toward Companion’s service. He found he wasn’t angry any more. “This is very different, Klyd.” He looked up. “But you have to know I want to Serve your Need. And Zeor is important to me. I just don’t want to lose myself.”
“I don’t want you lost either, Hugh.” Klyd said meaningfully.
“Then understand this. For me to Serve you, I have to stay independent of you, and of Zeor. Maybe that’s the opposite of what you expect. Maybe that’s anathema for a Companion. But I can’t just –“ he hesitated and said, “Give in. I can’t be strong for you, if I’m not strong myself. I spent too many years learning to be strong, on my own, to just fold now.”
“You’re confusing strength with separateness. We can be stronger together than apart.”
Valleroy grimaced, not having enough experience to put his thoughts into words. “I have to prove something to myself before I can give anything or everything to Zeor.”
Klyd sighed and said nothing for a moment. “Perhaps I can understand that. But not when I am in Need.” Klyd tugged lightly at his hand. “Come, let’s sleep. No one can reason when they are tired, only argue. In the morning, everything will seem clearer.”
“I didn’t think you slept this close to Need.”
“You’re tired enough you’re affecting me. And I’m tired too. I could sleep a little. If you would.”
Against his will, Hugh smiled a little. “That’s blackmail.”
“Something even Channels have to resort to, with Companions as stubborn as you,” Klyd smiled, albeit a bit wanly, and suddenly for Hugh it wasn’t against his will. The strong response he could feel for Klyd surged over him again, like a swamping wave, and he felt his own hands tighten on Klyd’s, felt the rush of their enveloping nagers, and Klyd’s sharp, warning gasp. The Channel was suddenly trembling.
“Easy, Hugh. Don’t move!” Klyd drew a steadying breath, and let go of his hands firmly. “All right. That was close. You almost tempted me into Transfer!”
“I’m sorry.” Valleroy said, though he wondered why that was such a terrifying thought to the channel.
“Think, Hugh!” Klyd said, answering his unspoken question. “What kind of channel am I, if I lose control that way?” He shivered as if from a nightmare. “I’ve already lost control twice with you. The first time, I burned you much worse than I intended. The second, ” Klyd trailed off, wondering if that transfer had resulted in an even worse outcome. It had saved his life, but at what expense?
“You were in attrition ,” Valleroy answered, not liking to speak of the horror of that time, not when Klyd was in his present state of need.
Klyd reached out, one lateral slipping behind his ear, touching him very lightly, and then dancing away as if in fear of being burned himself. “You have to learn some control, Hugh. One minute you’re rejecting me with every fiber of your being, and the next, you’re pulling me down in the deepest trautholo I’ve ever felt. As a Companion, you are a Channel’s worst nightmare.”
“I wonder you put up with me,” Hugh confessed honestly.
“You also can be an enticing promise. But if I don’t get you trained soon, and on an even keel, you are going to ruin me, one way or another, Hugh Valleroy.” He sighed, and clasped his arm lightly, tugging him away from the window seat. “Come on, let’s get some rest.”
A Companion’s Point of View
The sun was lancing through the skylight, warming the sheets he was sleeping in. It was another lancing beam that woke him though.
He turned over. The bed was empty, save for himself, only a sheet thrown back where Klyd had been. He looked around and saw a Gen sitting on the footboard. A Gen dressed in the same sort of Zeor blue scrubs he was sleeping in, Companion’s uniform, only faded to a pale blue from long use. A lean Gen, almost as slender as a Sime, except for his sturdy Gen muscles. He wore short-sleeves, his forearms bare, as befitted a working Companion. Sunglare from the skylight and the many windows made the Gen’s features obscure enough that he had to blink and sit up to make them out.
“Denrau?” He blinked again, half wondering if he were dreaming. As ordinary and prosaic as Denrau often seemed in all their daily encounters, the Gen had often haunted Valleroy’s conscience waking and his dreams when asleep, both as a paragon he couldn’t live up to, and as an accuser. After all, if it hadn’t been for Valleroy he’d still be serving Klyd – and no doubt, deep at heart, he felt he still should be, given Valleroy’s ignorance of a Companion’s duties. He rubbed his eyes, but it was Denrau, as real as life and twice as natural, sitting in a pool of sunlight at the foot of the bed. Valleroy wondered what he could be doing there. As a rule, now that Denrau was serving Zinter, Klyd had been largely staying apart from him. Not so much because Klyd was keeping Denrau away from himself. But now that Zinter was rephrased into Klyd’s Need cycle, Klyd was keeping the relatively untrained, by Zeor standards, Zinter away from the equally untrained Valleroy.
Valleroy sat up. “What are you doing here? Where’s Klyd?”
“I’m sorry to wake you, but Klyd sent me to see if you were up.” Denrau smiled a little deprecatingly and raising his hands, twined or crossed his fingers around each other, little finger with ring finger, middle to index, and the thumbs of his two hands together in a gesture that obviously meant something to him, but the significance of it totally escaped Valleroy. “I’m afraid this close to Need, no other Companion is of interest to him except his Donor.”
Hugh stretched, wincing a little at the stiffness in his back. Even Zeor’s mattresses didn’t dispel the results of days at the plough. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sleep this late. It’s very bad of me to come here to work and yet sleep the day away. Normally, I’m up at dawn.”
“I suspect that normally you don’t work a late shift in Dispensary,” Denrau said dismissively. “But no matter. Klyd said you were tired and not to wake you if you were still sleeping.” The Gen shrugged, uncrossed his fingers and stretched out his arms in a gesture reminiscent of a Sime extending tentacles, and gave a conspiratorial smile. “So I waited for a few minutes, thinking no one possibly could sleep with someone staring straight at them. But you did. That is, you didn’t wake, but you stirred a little, and I thought you were close to it. I know you must be very tired to sleep so deeply. But I hated to go back without you and disappoint Klyd. I’m sorry.”
Hugh left off rubbing his eyes with a square hand, and glanced at the Gen. “I should be the one apologizing to you,” he admitted. “When I saw you here, I thought you were some apparition, in retribution or something. I guess that means my apology is too long overdue.”
“You want to apologize to me? Whatever for? For yesterday?”
Hugh looked away, uncomfortable. “No, not for that.” He hesitated a minute and then thought he would never have a more private place to have this discussion. No one would intrude in the Sectuib’s bedroom. “For serving Klyd.”
Denrau raised his eyebrows. “Zeor is in your debt for that.”
“But if it weren’t for me… Denrau, you have to understand I never intended to supplant you.”
“Oh? Oh!” The Gen shook his head in sudden realization of what Valleroy meant. “You needn’t think I’m jealous. Companions and Channels can be jealous of each other’s Transfer partners, that’s true. But you don’t need to worry that I’m feeling any toward you. What do you take me for?” Valleroy didn’t know how to answer this, and Denrau continued. “You seem to be a closer match to Sectuib. If Klyd will be better Served, I am pleased for both of us.”
Valleroy stared at him, not sure how to take it. “That’s all?”
Denrau frowned. “Did you want to tell me something else?”
“I just thought you’d feel—“ Hugh stumbled again, not knowing what to say, sure anything he said would be wrong.
“It’s not as if I’m not working,” Denrau said, frowning in puzzlement. “We have Zinter, after all. It’s expected that Zeor’s most experienced Companion would Serve a Zeor Channel in training. With Charnye retiring, who else is there? And vice versa, with you being new, and Sectuib needing to train you.” Denrau raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders, in one of those tentacle reminiscent gestures Companions fell into. “What other arrangement could there be?”
Valleroy didn’t answer.
“It will have to be this way for a while,” Denrau said equably. “Anyway, it’s I who should be thanking you. Klyd announced that it was your artistry that secured Zinter for us. The House is in your debt for that as well. We desperately needed another Channel of his caliber to take some of the load off of Klyd. And you’ve given me a new Channel to train to Zeor standards. And since I’m closer to Zinter’s Transfer parameters than I was to Klyd’s, it’s a good match all around.”
The Companion’s attitude was incomprehensible to Valleroy. He could have understood jealousy, but Denrau was viewing the whole transaction with the professional, impersonal, long-range view of a First Companion. Exactly as he was supposed to, and as Valleroy feared he never could. The disappointment Valleroy had expected him to feel over not serving Klyd didn’t even seem to come into his evaluation, and his casual confidence of his own merits as a Donor completely negated such petty considerations. Valleroy felt the gap between himself and Denrau widen further. Denrau knew he was a valuable Donor; one who would be cherished in any House. No wonder he moved like one born to a dynasty. Whereas Hugh felt his own doubts treble. He didn’t see how he could emulate such perfection; he felt plagued with the knowledge of his own inadequacies and he seriously doubted whether he should be serving Klyd at all. And yet the thought of not serving him filled him with dread and jealousy. As ambivalent as he sometimes felt toward his role in Householding affairs, his desire to Serve Klyd was very personal, and when he compared it to Denrau’s behavior, he felt even more inadequate. He rubbed his forehead, feeling another headache descending on him.
“Anyway,” Denrau went on, “Channels and Companions trade off every few months, you know. Just to avoid any strong dependencies. Once you and Zinter are trained, I’ll be Serving Klyd often enough.” He didn’t seem to notice as Hugh swallowed hard. “Even Charnye will Serve him, once you’re been trained enough for Klyd to trust you with a Channel below your capabilities. Charnye needs to keep up his skills, even semi-retired, and you’ll need to learn to Serve the lower orders. That’s a skill too.” Denrau sighed and stretched. “We’ve desperately needed another high order Channel and Companion since – well, for a while. It’s better for Klyd to have several to cycle among. Better for us Companions, too, to practice the flexibility of serving many Channels.”
Hugh’s face was blank, but inside he was thinking furiously. Klyd hadn’t put it quite like this. He knew he’d occasionally be expected to Serve Zinter; Klyd had said as much. But he’d thought of it as an occasional thing, something he’d train for and do once, to prove he could. Not a regular cycling among available Donors and Channels. He couldn’t imagine giving up Klyd for Zinter. Perhaps for one Transfer, but to regularly cycle made him distinctly uneasy. In fact, just the thought of serving any other Channel gave him a sick feeling in his stomach, as if he’d been punched in the solar plexus. He told himself it couldn’t be fear. Hadn’t he learned that Transfer was delightful? Didn’t he know, intellectually, that if he could Serve Klyd there wasn’t a Channel in Zeor he needed to fear? But he didn’t know what else to call the feeling. One more hurdle he’d need to overcome, when the time came. He swallowed hard and to distract himself, cleared his throat carefully, around the lump in it and said, “Zinter’s trade was Klyd and Nashmar’s doing. Zeor’s not in my debt for any of it. It’s my fault that-- ” He fell silent, hesitating to bring up the loss of Yenava. It seemed no matter what he said, he seemed to tread on dangerous ground. He threw caution to the winds and said what he felt. “Well, anyway. I never meant to take Klyd away from you. I just wanted to tell you that.”
“What a strange way you have of phrasing things. I suppose it is the language difference,” The Companion looked at him curiously. “You can’t imagine I thought I owned Sectuib, did you? Like a junct owns a pen Gen?” Denrau said. He seemed surprised and amused at the thought.
“Well, why not? He seems to think he owns us,” Valleroy said, stung at the inequity of it and not completely masking his resentment.
But Denrau wasn’t listening again, seemingly distracted by some other senses. “Hugh, I’d really like to get you back to Klyd. He manages well enough; he is Sectuib after all. But no Channel should be without a Companion this close to Need. If you need to sleep a while longer, then I need to get back to him myself.”
Hugh roused himself. He’d find time to discuss all this with Denrau later. “Sorry. No, I’ll go. I’m here to work, after all. Just give me five minutes.”
Klyd smiled tightly when he saw them approaching. Denrau murmured something to Klyd that Hugh didn’t catch, laid a hand gently over one lateral sheath, then wandered off while the Sectuib approached Hugh.
“Didn’t you have time to get something to eat, Hugh?”
“I’m not really hungry,” he said, truthfully enough. This close to Transfer, Klyd’s Need seemed to leach away not just the Channel’s appetite but his own as well. His stomach growled with hunger, but his interest in food had fled.
Klyd smiled that tight non-smile again, and Hugh felt how brittle Klyd’s control was.
“We’ll grab some lunch then, before this afternoon’s dispensary.”
“You can’t be hungry, this close to Need.”
“I’ll be hungry enough,” Klyd said obscurely. “Come, let’s go.” He went off without another glance, taking Hugh’s acquiescence for granted, and Valleroy hurried to follow.
Walking through the corridors of Zeor always made Valleroy aware of the difference between his life in Gen Territory, and his life here. He was a fairly ordinary man there, in looks as well as station, and had never rated a second glance.
But at Zeor, nearly every member, Sime or Gen turned their eyes to Klyd as they walked past. And it wasn’t even just Klyd. When he was alone, Gens might or might not notice him, though Companions seemed to get much of the same attention from Gens as Channels did, a quiet but definite recognition. But the Simes’ attention was different, they were drawn to his field like a magnet. Their gazes were respectful; Valleroy never felt threatened. But he was only too aware of being the center of more notice at Zeor than he cared for, or felt he deserved. Long used to it, Klyd seemed oblivious to the virtual hero worship his presence seemed to evoke. In fact, this close to Need, Klyd’s attentions often seemed directed inward, to maintaining the control he required to function, while Valleroy’s job was to deal with the outward concerns. Valleroy had to pay attention to the fields, and the people they represented. He couldn’t avoid or ignore their attention and wrap himself in a cloak of self-absorption as Klyd was doing. Hugh found it disconcertingly foreign. His efforts to mimic Klyd’s casual disregard or formal acknowledgement never felt very successful. But Zeor’s members were either oblivious to his issues or exceptionally polite.
The refectory was nearly empty, given it was late for breakfast and too early for lunch. The staff had somehow been warned of their coming and had made up some food fresh for them The smell of food roused him from being merely hungry to being ravenous. He had lost weight this month, and his appetite finally kicked in with a vengeance. The renSime working the kitchens noted that with a sharp look, and though Hugh felt somewhat embarrassed at the obviousness of his hunger, as if his stomach had growled in a meeting, the renSime served him generously with fresh hot cereal, studded with raisins, apples and walnuts. For both Klyd and Valleroy, he provided tea and fruit, the dark, nearly black late season bramble berries that were ripening on both sides of the border at this time of year, served with a dollop of light sweet cream.
Klyd frowned at his food as if it were a particularly absorbing problem that had to be solved, but resolutely dipped a spoon into the dish. Valleroy ate his cereal hungrily, which seemed to ease Klyd’s way a bit. But it was obvious the Channel didn’t want any food. Forcing down a few bites of fruit was an act of disciplined will that seemed to take most of his concentration, sparing nothing for conversation.
Hugh didn’t mind since the rest of his meal was presenting him with its own problems. For weeks he and Aisha had spent much of what little free time they had scouring Rior’s hedgerows, gleaning these wild brambles. The small fruits grew well in the fertile river edges but few Gens dared to come so near the Sime Territory border. The fruit sold well in town, since they ripened before melons and apples, and Gens always had a taste for sweets. Brambles provided Hugh with ready cash money during their short season of ripening and it was cash he needed for other things. Because of that, neither he nor Aisha had wanted to eat themselves what was one of their first salable crops. So it seemed somehow disloyal to be enjoying a luxury Aisha couldn’t. On the other hand, it was worse to consider letting good food go to waste. He remembered watching the store owner taste the fruit he’d so laboriously gathered, fruit he’d never tasted himself. His mouth watered at the memory, as it had then when he couldn’t indulge himself, and he dipped his spoon in the dish. He ate the fruit nearly as slowly as Klyd, his pleasure lightly tinged with guilt, then watched as Klyd struggled with his, thinking absently of the future, when he and Aisha would have transplanted enough canes to their river borders that they didn’t have to go gleaning far to bring in a crop. Luxury fruits would probably sell as well as his wheat and corn crops combined, with less than half the labor. He thought idly of if he should try some peaches. He had no cash for peach trees this year, but next year he might be able to manage. But of course one needed at least two as pollinators for peaches, double the expense. He could set up some hives too, for bees. Bramble honey and bramble jelly would go high in town. After a while, Klyd sighed audibly, interrupting his cash filled musings. The Channel pushed his dish away, still more than half full.
“Aren’t you going to finish those?” Hugh asked with an edge in his voice as he stared at the leftover fruit. The kitchen staff had served Klyd generously as if hoping he’d be tempted, even as close to Need as he was. But Klyd had barely touched the dish. The fruit in the bowl would have cost several dollars, enough for a duckling, or two or three chicks. He thought of Aisha, scrimping on food to save enough for her small flock of poultry, thought of her fussing over them now, home alone, and swallowed hard.
Klyd shrugged, looking uncomfortable, as if his lack of appetite made him guilty of something. “I did try. After Transfer, I promise to eat a whole dish,” he temporized as if didn’t realize he wasn’t speaking to Denrau or Charnye. “But for now this is the best I can do.” He looked up in Hugh’s eyes, and smiled ruefully at the startled look in them, but seemed to mistake the reason for it. “I’m not super-human, Hugh.”
Valleroy had never seen Klyd quite like this, and he realized the channel had taken his question as a Companion’s directive. He’d understood intellectually that a Channel’s Companion could order around a Channel in Need, but he’d never seen Klyd’s response when the tables were so turned, had never quite imagined he’d be on the receiving end of it.
“Why don’t you finish them, if you don’t mind?” Klyd pushed the dish across the table, and then massaged his aching arms. “You look like you could use the calories.”
Valleroy eyed the swollen ronaplin glands on the Channel’s forearms as Klyd sipped his tea and considered Klyd’s reaction. He wasn’t very expert yet at gauging Need. While he knew Klyd’s personal Companions were the only ones in the Householding who could occasionally over-rule Klyd, he still hadn’t learned under what circumstances such demands became appropriate, though he’d gathered it was generally only when the Channel was in Need. It startled him that Klyd had just responded to him as if he’d been a Companion making such a demand on a Channel. And as if he had a right to. Mostly he felt Klyd regarded him like a particularly slow student at the back of the class, hardly an authority to be acknowledged. He shelved the circumstances and the tone he’d used, for future reference.
But there was still the fruit. He snagged the bowl toward him and picked up his spoon, thinking it was foolish for Klyd to think he’d be fussy about eating from the same dish. After all, he wore Zeor standard clothing, ate from Klyd’s table, slept near his side and Served his Need. And he tried, however unsuccessfully, to function as a skilled Companion. And now, his name was on a tax document , paid for monthly as if he were any In-Territory Gen, born to a Householding or rescued from a Pen. What did it matter if he finished up a little fruit? It wasn’t the outer aspects of all this casual self-abnegation that bothered him, it was what it represented. He’d more than once dreamed of Zeor as a quiet monster, slowly devouring him alive. He felt like he needed to keep some part of himself separate from Zeor, just to survive. And he felt that Klyd was bound and determined to absorb him into that Householding life, however much the Channel gave outward support to Rior. It seemed the more he understood of Klyd and Zeor, the farther apart he became, the opposite of what he and Klyd had expected. But seeing the pinched look beginning around Klyd’s eyes, the bulging ronaplin glands stretching the skin tight on his forearms, the drawn tension in the Channel’s face and frame, his own concerns, even his own needs, seemed petty and frivolous compared to the increasing signs of Klyd’s Need.
Studies and Personalities
Zeor’s Management Team, meeting every two weeks, was comprised of the heads of all the departments that ran Zeor. Valleroy had attended a couple of times, but was still learning the personalities and departments involved. A few he knew from personal encounters: He knew Edger, a powerfully built Gen who ran Zeor’s physical plant, and Nasum, an older Channel who managed what Zeor called its selyn delivery services, which comprised everything from General Class Donors to Klyd’s very own dispensary schedule. Varil a tall renSime, was responsible for a myriad of ancillary service departments, everything from Housekeeping, to food preparation. Klyd was there was Sectuib, of course. Denrau attended in his capacity as First Companion, an office which tacitly represented all Gens in the Householding. Other representatives who ran the various businesses, the farms, the mill and the dye works sat in, but Valleroy was still learning their names and he just nodded quietly to them. He sat through most of the business meeting with his attention only marginally on the topics.
“I’ve an update on this,” Varil tossed a professional looking quarterly journal on the conference table. “Everyone remember what we last discussed?”
There were muted affirmations. Valleroy craned his neck to see the title: The Genfarmers’ Quarterly. He was too startled to have complete control of his reaction. Klyd glanced at him reprovingly and said, “Perhaps you could summarize for Naztehr Hugh’s benefit. He wasn’t here when we first reviewed this.”
“Of course. We don’t have much access to Out-Territory resources on Gen health and medicine, Naztehr. The only real research being done on such things In-Territory, outside of Householdings, is done by Genfarmers. And while we don’t much care for the source of it, we subscribe to all the journals. They’re often the first line of information on new diseases, health and nutritional information concerning Gens.”
“Of course,” Valleroy said, understanding now, and glancing at Klyd in apology.
“Last month, they reported the results of an interesting study. A new vegetable based protein derived from fanta beans was discovered to boost selyn production in Gens by up to twenty percent. It’s a long term affect, requiring a Gen to eat this as a protein source for one of its meals up to six months before the results are seen. Fanta beans are a high quality protein, dense in nutrients, low in fat. Studies indicate that not only does it boost selyn production, it could prolong life spans. But the study indicated that for Genfarmers, the results were not useful. They’re not interested in prolonging Gen life, as you know, except for breeders. And breeders aren’t Killed, so increasing their selyn production is of no use to them. As for the regular Pen issue, feeding this protein in advance of Establishment does no good, the lag time requires it to be fed for six months post-Establishment for the results to be seen. And holding Pen issues, or even Choice Kills, that length of time for a selyn increase the average junct Sime couldn’t effectively glean at Kill was deemed unimportant. So for their purposes, the study was reported a failure.
“But for Householdings, all of those drawbacks are immaterial. We are interested in healthy Gen nutrition, and prolonging Gen life. The six month lag is certainly no detriment for us. Our Channels can effectively tap and distribute any selyn production increase from our Gens and distribute it to our renSime members. It seemed like a win-win situation, a quality food and increased health benefit for our Gen members, and increased selyn production for our renSimes. So, as per our previous discussion, I sent for a goodly supply. It arrived last week and I put our kitchen staff on preparing the two recipes listed in the journal.”
“And?” Klyd looked around the table at his staff.
“I’ll leave it to Naztehr Hugh to demonstrate the results.” He opened a package containing a load of bread and tossed a slice of it before Valleroy. “Try it, Naztehr.”
Valleroy picked up the slice and obligingly took a bite. He nearly spit the result out onto the table. Belatedly remembering a dozen Zeor members were watching him, he managed to choke down the mouthful. The aftertaste was just as unpleasant. Swallowing hard, he tried to keep himself from gagging.
Klyd’s hand covered his, as if in comfort, but Valleroy could feel the tension in the muscles. “What was the meaning of that, Varil?” Klyd’s tone was outraged.
“My apologies, Sectuib.” Varil looked horribly embarrassed, and every Sime at the table had gone a little green in sympathetic reason to Valleroy. Varil had apparently picked the Gen with the strongest nager to illustrate his point, but he hadn’t counted on Valleroy’s lack of control driving the point home so well. “I forgot you were so close to Need.”
“You should apologize to Hugh.”
“My apologies as well, Naztehr. I didn’t mean to offend.”
“No offense taken,” Hugh assured him, clearing his throat carefully around the taste. “I just wasn’t expecting it, not from Zeor’s kitchens. But I have eaten worse. I was in the army.”
Varil shrugged skeptically. “Perhaps you have, but our Gen members have not. After making up the recipes, some of our Gen kitchen staff tasted the results. Or rather, tried to taste them. They all agree they’re unpalatable. I can’t foresee asking a Gen to eat this substance day after day, for many months, even for a significant increase in selyn production.”
“But it’s not solely for selyn production. There are the health and lifespan benefits,” Nasum argued. “Regardless of how it tastes, this is a superior food for Gens.”
“Perhaps it only seems you live longer when you eat the stuff,” Denrau offered, teasing the Sime good-naturedly. He picked up a slice himself and sniffed the bread, glancing at Valleroy as if in warning. Understanding him, Hugh put a fingertip on Klyd’s wrist, prepared to shelter the sensitive Channel from the Gen’s hefty nager, one he was conditioned to be attuned to. Denrau popped just a crumb into his mouth, his face wearing the abstracted look of a Companion who was battening down his nager. He screwed up his face a little at the taste, but no Sime at the table even blinked, so well had he shielded himself.
Varil let out his expectant breath in relief, shifting a little in his seat and giving Denrau a grateful nod. “We didn’t purchase a huge supply of this, but I can’t see our using what we have. What I’d like to do is cut our losses, and sell what we purchased to Laris-Dey Genfarm, down river. Old Laris, who runs the place, isn’t a bad sort. When his grain fields flooded, we sold him some surplus meal at a fair price, when everyone else was selling high, hoping to starve his stock to death and him into foreclosure. He hasn’t forgotten that. Buys all his cloth from us now, in spite of our being filthy perverts, and even grain and vegetables, when we have some extra to sell. We could unload the stuff on him at a fair price, and he’d probably be grateful for it. His fields are still a bit swampy, and I’d wager he’s still strapped enough that his breeders and pre-Gens are hungry enough to eat anything that doesn’t move, regardless of the taste. ”
Valleroy glanced at Varil sharply. He had thought of stock as being animals. He hadn’t realized that Varil had been referring to people. Gens, like himself, most of them women and children. He hadn’t expected Zeor to have any doings with the Genfarmers in the area. But the rest of the table took no notice of the comment and he lowered his head and concentrated on controlling his emotions.
“Aren’t you giving up a little too quickly, Varil?” One Sime asked.
Varil shrugged. “I can’t see asking our Gen members to eat this.”
“Perhaps some would like to volunteer.”
“I’m not sure I’d want to be in the dining hall when they tried it,” Varil said frankly. “And I imagine I speak for every Sime.”
The other Gens at the conference table had portioned out the slices of bread among themselves. Denrau put another crumb in his mouth, rolling it around on his tongue before he swallowed it. “It’s not very palatable, but I’d be game to give it a try. Once you’re used to it-- Or at least if you expect it –”
“Denny, we don’t even know if this stuff would have any appreciable affect on a Donor functioning at your level of selyn production,” Varil said. “We don’t know that it will have any effect at all on Companions. Or even what it might do to a Companion’s physiology. Obviously that wasn’t part of any Pen study.”
“True, but we won’t know either, unless someone tries,” Denrau argued. “And why wouldn’t it? It might increase a Companion’s production even more than a General Class Donor.”
“As if you need your production increased. Spare us all! I can already zlin you from one end of Zeor to the other when you’re high field. Anyway, you’d have to eat five or six ounces of this – a serving sized portion, every day for months just to see any result in selyn production. Would you really want to do that?”
“It’s not very palatable,” Edger said, the large Gen who was responsible for ancillary services. “I wouldn’t even care to feed it to horses, as it is. But surely someone can spice the recipe up a bit? Add some flavorings? We’re not pen Gens, at least not any more. We appreciate some attempt at culinary skill.”
“Hoping to make Companion, Edger?” Gerard teased, “Or just live longer?”
“Well, I’ll tell you,” Edger said, fiddling with the fragment he’d taken. “Who’d sneer at a few more years? I’m getting old enough to be conscious of that. But to be truthful, I’ve been trying since I established to move up from Donor, General Class. I’m on the edge, could make it up to Donor, Second Class with a few more dynopters, but not even Sectuib here can squeeze more out of me, no matter how we both try. You Companions,” he jerked a chin at Denrau and Hugh, “don’t know how lucky you are. My grandfather was rescued from a Pen, his biggest dream was for one of his children to Serve as Companion to a Channel. That’s never going to happen for me, but maybe my sons, or theirs, might make it some day. So if this stuff could boost me up a rating, I’m game to try it. The taste isn’t great, but once you’re used to it, it’s bearable.”
“Edger, that’s not necessary,” Klyd said gently. “And even if this increases the average selyn yield of general Donors, I don’t expect it to have any affect on delivery speed, barrier relinquishment or selyur nager, the qualities that mark the difference between the general classes of donors and the Companion levels.
Edger shrugged. “What’s necessary to you isn’t necessarily necessary to me, Sectuib. With all due respect. I’ll settle for the increased capacity. I like to pull my own weight. And I wouldn’t sneer at any health benefits either. Like I said, I don’t expect to make Companion. Boosting me up a rung on the General Class donor scale would be enough. And even if it doesn’t, I like to do what I can, and I’d like to try it, see if it will. Still, I wouldn’t mind a bit of flavor in this stuff.”
“Well, then we seemed to have at least two Gen volunteers,” Nasum said, looking around the table. What about it Varil? Did the kitchen staff try any experimentation with the recipes?”
Varil shook his head. “There were only two – bread and a porridge like mixture that’s even worse than the bread. I didn’t tell them what it was for. Just asked them to make the recipes.”
“Well, our kitchen staff can be pretty imaginative, when they want to be.” He didn’t taste the food, obviously regarding it as for Gens alone, but he studied a fragment of the slice that was making the rounds. “And no one wastes eggs, oils or flavorings on Pen Gens. With those added…”
Hugh had been wondering about how palatable the stuff would be, even doctored up with spices. But on the other hand, it had occurred to him he’d been of necessity on somewhat shortened rations. His crops were reasonably promising but he needed to sell as much of them as possible for the cash. Winter was coming. And calories were, after all calories, even if they tasted rather like sawdust.
“I’m willing to try it too.” He offered. “If you are willing to let me take some back to Rior. Perhaps Aisha can experiment with some Gen Territory flavorings.” He wondered after he said it, where he was going to get the money for fancy spices, then clamped down on that thought. He could get used to the taste, even un-doctored.
Klyd shot him a swift repressive look. “No. I don’t think so. I have no objection to a certain percentage of our Gen members volunteering, once they’re educated as to the nature and risks of the study. With the stipulation that no more than five percent of our Gen population can volunteer the first year. We don’t operate on much more than that margin of surplus selyn. While the likelihood is greater that this experiment will increase our yield, rather than the reverse, we have to be prudent. Is that agreed?”
The department heads nodded.
“Ten Gens then,” Varil commented. “I’ll put a sign-up sheet in the Collectorium, if Nasum agrees.”
“I’d like a chance to hand pick the Gens.” Nasum objected.
“Volunteers only,” Klyd overruled. “You can allow for fifteen, Varil. Some will probably drop out after a few days.”
“Very well then. Participating Donors are to be monitored once a week by the staff Channel to make sure there are no adverse reactions to this substance. After all, studies on pen Gens are valuable, but hardly definitive. And keep the group in proportion. Companions can volunteer if they choose, but I don’t want the test group skewed. The proportions of Companions to general Donors in the study should reflect our own population. Companions will also need the permission of their assigned Channel, who’ll be responsible for monitoring them daily to ensure there are no adverse affects. With the exception of Denrau. And Hugh of course. I’m sorry, I realize you both wanted to do this and the chance of an adverse reaction is very remote. But we have no replacement for either of you, if your production should reverse rather than increase, or if this substance indisposes you in any other way. I can’t risk our few top Companions even slightly in any sort of experiment. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to volunteer after the initial study.”
Denrau had lowered his head at Klyd’s order, his field constricting as he shuttered his emotions from the Simes in the room. It took him a moment to marshal his reaction. Then he looked up, his face set in neutral lines. “Of course, Sectuib.”
Klyd drew a deep breath. “What about it Varil? Does that take care of your supply issue as well?”
Varil cocked his head, considering. “I’d purchased more than we can use in this revised version of the study. Shall I offer the remainder to Laris-Dey as I’d planned? Or do you want me to check and see if any of the other Householdings might be interested?”
Klyd shrugged. “That would be unlikely. Zeor usually leads in these things. Later they might be interested but we’d still have to transport it to them. There’s time for that after we see if our Gens will even eat it long enough to see the results of the study, or if there are any results at all. It might not work on Householding Gens. No, go ahead and offer it to Laris-Dey.”
Klyd looked around the table searchingly, “If there’s no other business?” When no one offered any, he nodded. “Meeting adjourned.”
Hugh didn’t know what to think as he followed Klyd out of the room. At first he’d been shocked at the proposal. Then he’d come to gradual understanding and acceptance, even willingness to be part of the scheme. Then Klyd’s ban against his personal Companions participating in the study had shocked him again. And he didn’t know what to think about Zeor consorting with a local Gen Farm.
He watched as Denrau and Zinter walked down the hall ahead of him. The Gen seemed to have gotten over his momentary disappointment, since he had his hand lightly on Zinter’s forearm as they walked along. Zinter had been rephrased into Klyd’s Need cycle, so both Channels were in Need at the same time. Valleroy gathered that had been to facilitate Companion trade-offs, so that if something happened to him, then Klyd could have Denrau or Charnye, and Zinter would be Served by the remaining Companion.
Denrau must be emotionally calm, if he was touching Zinter. Hugh still felt unsure when and how he should touch a Channel in Need. Mostly he still let Klyd initiate such contacts. So he watched with narrowed eyes, both upset and even somewhat jealous that Denrau had worked quickly enough through the emotional fallout from that meeting to be a Channel’s support a few minutes later. He himself was walking at Klyd’s side, but Klyd hadn’t looked at him since his pronouncement. And he didn’t know how to look at Klyd. Intellectually he understood Klyd’s caution. Emotionally, he was, if he let himself connect with those feelings, more than a little angry. And he couldn’t afford that. He buried them down deep, watching Denrau and Zinter and then, covering himself with a conjured concern for Klyd, reached out purely as a distraction, and put his own hand on Klyd’s forearm.
The Channel looked down at him. Then he said very quietly, “You’re faking it very ill, Hugh.”
Valleroy drew his hand back, hurt and stung.
“We’ll talk about it later.”
Wheels and Cogs
“What bothered you about that department heads meeting?”
Valleroy shrugged and approached the subject in a roundabout way. “Varil certainly has diverse interests, doesn’t he?”
“Does he?” Klyd gave him a sideways glance. “I didn’t notice. He’s in charge of our selyn delivery system. Basically anything that affects that, he’s interested in.”
“I know he sets our schedule,” Hugh said.
“He does much more. He supervises the dispensary and collectorium, sets the schedules for all Channels, Companions, renSimes and Donors, keeps the accounting of where all the selyn goes.”
“Of course. There’s a lot of bookkeeping. It gets worse every year, really, but there’s no help for that.”
“Hugh do you realize you keep repeating what I say? Yes, bookkeeping. How much each particular renSime has expended during the month, has left in his system at his Transfer date and draws in Dispensary, the quantity of selyn each Gen Donors yields, what each Channel needs to take in and carry in Collectorium to provide for Dispensary that day – we monitor all these figures and track them all according to seasonal trends and environmental factors. That’s why Varil latched onto this study. It falls right into his interests.”
“Seasonal-” He stopped at Klyd’s amused look, cleared his throat and asked weakly. “There are seasonal trends?”
“Of course. Gens tend to produce a little less selyn in winter, when they divert calories to keeping warm. That’s generally offset though, by the fact that our renSimes use a bit less in winter. They use more in the growing season because they augment during planting and harvest. Nasum has to keep that all in mind, and of course he coordinates with Varil quite a bit. But we still try to offset the tendency with diet. For example, Varil provides more high calorie foods during cold snaps, desserts that appeal to Gens to provide extra calories that will offset any production drop. We generally try to increase our Gens production though we do it carefully and slowly. Experiments like the one Nasum and Varil are trying are rare.”
“You talk about selyn production as though it were a crop and the Gens were livestock.”
Klyd raised his eyebrows, astonished. “We have close to three hundred Simes who depend on Gen selyn. Naturally we account for that production. We must do everything we can to ensure a steady, healthy uninterrupted supply of it from our Gens.”
Valleroy swallowed, not quite caring for the sound of that.
“How could our Householding renSimes survive, without Donor selyn?” Klyd asked. “You know how important it is that we keep a balance of Gen to Simes. We also take special care to ensure the health of our Gen members. It’s much more than ensuring that they’re well fed, Householdings keep regular records, try to provide for a quality lifestyle. Our Gens are monitored monthly to ensure they are in good health. I wager your out-Territory doctors don’t take as good care of their patients as we do of our Gens.”
Valleroy didn’t say anything. He was beginning to be sick of the sound of ‘our Gens’. “You could just buy a few more from Laris-Dey if you run short.”
Klyd tilted his head. “Is that what you’re really upset about? That we sometimes deal with Laris-Dey? Do you think if all the Laris-Dey Gens starved, that another Genfarm wouldn’t take its place?”
“I don’t know.”
“We have to do business with juncts, Hugh. The world is bigger than the Tecton. I have a responsibility to Zeor, and that means buying from and selling to juncts, and getting along with our neighbors as best we can. Would you rather see the juncts come over the wall after our Gens in some raid?”
“No. I guess I agree on that,” Valleroy said, thinking of how he’d criticized Zeor in his own mind for walking too narrow a path. And remembering what Klyd had told him, that years ago, his father and many of his family had been killed defending Zeor against such a raid. “But I guess it’s one thing in theory and another in practice. It … hurts, to think of Zeor having any kind of dealing with a Genfarmer.”
“To keep my own Gen members safe and Zeor running, I’ve dealt with worse than old Laris.”
“It doesn’t help that you have this patronizing attitude toward your Gens, Klyd,” Hugh retorted.
“Does that bother you?” Klyd quirked an eyebrow. “As you’re Gen, I didn’t speak much of renSime issues. I thought you were more upset by the status of our Gen members.” Valleroy didn’t say anything, thinking that assumption alone spoke volumes. “But we take just as good care of our renSimes,” Klyd insisted, misinterpreting Valleroy’s grimace. “They’re zlinned monthly too. We carefully account for the special nutrients needed in a Sime diet. And we make sure each renSime receives at least twenty two percent above his basal selyn requirement to allow for augmentation. Nasum hopes to have it even higher by the end of the year.
Klyd looked irritated. “We don’t feed our Gens on gruel and water. Why should our renSimes live on subsistence? You said you were interested in all our members, Hugh. You’re not being very fair.”
“They shouldn’t. I guess I’ve never really thought about these things, not from a Sectuib’s perspective, that is. But,” he hesitated, “it all seems rather cold and calculated.”
“Well, think about it, Hugh,” Klyd said impatiently. “We can’t decide what to budget and dispense to our renSimes if we don’t know what we’ll take in from our Gen Donors. Naturally the House has to keep yield records on all our Donors, and carefully calculate what we can take in and what we can disperse. Those ‘cold calculations’ keep Zeor running. It’s something you’ll have to consider, too, if and when Rior ever gets any Simes.”
Valleroy blinked, his head beginning to ache. His dream of Sime-Gen Unity didn’t translate well to a vision of yield graphs. In his own mind, it didn’t translate at all. Then he thought of something new and swung around toward Klyd. “All Donors? Does that mean you keep yield records on me?”
Klyd glanced at him, and gestured with a tentacle for him to precede him through the door of the Dispensary. “I’d have made notes from your first “donation” so to speak, if that weren’t part of a confidential mission. But of course, I’ve kept records since our first full Transfer.”
“Even that?” Hugh said, astonished. “Our first—“ He was shocked. He’d thought of that Transfer as perfect, sublime. That Klyd had written it down in cold numbers!
“When I got home, yes. I had to account for the selyn, didn’t I?”
Valleroy closed his mouth. “You keep the same records that I’ve seen you write up after every renSime Transfer and Gen Donation for me as well?”
“Yes. Of course. I should do them after our Transfer, but I thought –“ Klyd shrugged. “Well, I suppose you’d to figure it out sooner or later, seeing as how you watch me complete them for everyone else. When you were ready to deal with it, I figured you’d notice and ask. I was waiting for that before I went over the practice with you.”
“I want to see them.”
Klyd gestured him to the chartroom where rows of files were kept in order. The Gen in charge of pulling Donor and dispensary records raised an eyebrow, but went back to her work when Klyd gestured her away with a tentacle. He reached into a file without bothering to look, pulled out a slender folder and handed it to Valleroy.
Hugh looked at the Channel and down at what he’d been handed. It was a plain stiff paper folder, with his name in all three of its versions on the side. Hugh Valleroy had been crossed out and replaced with Hugh ambrov Zeor, then the latter had been crossed out and replaced with ambrov Rior. He wondered grimly if now that Zeor was paying his taxes, they’d change it back. In it, he found Klyd’s initial entry of his first hospital admission, when he’d been “accidentally” burned, then notes in other hands, his caretakers from those two weeks of convalescence. He didn’t quite understand the vocabulary, so he moved on. And there was his first Transfer, written in Klyd’s neat hand, the day after Klyd had arrived home, as if the Channel hadn’t been shell shocked recovering from two funerals. In it Klyd had noted his physical condition, pertinent details on their joint condition, technical details such as the speed, duration and volume of the Transfer and a satisfaction level. There was an entry for each of their subsequent Transfers. There had been an entry two days ago when he’d arrived, where Klyd had prosaically noted his physical condition again, the results of the zlinning he’d given Hugh right after he’d changed. He’d noted the weight loss, the change in body fat and lean muscle mass percentages. Valleroy flipped to the final page and discovered a graph of all their Transfers, with lines drawn for Transfer rate, volume, duration and satisfaction level. He stared at the chart for a moment. In spite of knowing about it, it was still rather shocking to see his dream of Sime and Gen unity, the sublime bliss of serving Klyd in Need, reduced to cold unfeeling numbers on a page and the lines of a graph. He felt oddly betrayed by it. Then he asked, with a frozen control, even before he knew he was asking it, “I suppose Denrau has one of these too?” Even as the words were out of his mouth he realized his motives for asking were confused and jumbled. But he felt betrayed. He’d seen the deep rapport between Klyd and Denrau. He needed to see that reduced to cold numbers too, to assuage some of his feelings.
“Of course.” Klyd said, his own tone guarded, well aware of Valleroy’s emotions.
“Can I see it?”
Klyd hesitated. “As my personal Donor, you are entitled to review the charts of other Donors that have Served me. It’s a professional courtesy. But you’re only supposed to look at the Transfer data. Not the results of physical exams and the like. Though Denny’s perfectly healthy.” Klyd went to another shelf and flipped through a few folders, coming back with a thick one. He opened it to the chart at the back and put it before Valleroy, and sat down next to him. “There’s the graph from his last few Transfers with me.”
Valleroy studied it. He’d been in the army, reasonably though not lavishly well educated, he had learned how to read a graph, even a fairly complex one with several variables. He studied Denrau’s and compared it to his own, then studied Denrau’s again. The graphs were not similar. He went first for the obvious. There was a black stripe in a circle on his chart matching a similar stripe in a circle on the front of the folder. Valleroy traced it with a finger. “What does this mean?”
“That’s a Farris exclusive. It means you’re assigned only to me.”
Valleroy looked at Klyd. The Channel was taller; he had to look up into the dark eyes. They gave nothing away.
“Remember when you over controlled me briefly at that first forced donation, and hurt us both before I grabbed control back?” Klyd laid a hand over the chart, and his hand both, absently tracing the mark, the warmth like a brand against Valleroy’s skin. “You could seriously injure any Channel not at my level. So it’s important no one handles you who can’t over control you. If you panic and shen them, you could kill the Channel.” Klyd gave him a grave look. “Even yourself.”
“Denrau doesn’t have one.”
“Denny doesn’t need one. He would never panic or hurt a Channel. He’d been doing this for many years. He’s not inexperienced. You are.”
“But –“ Valleroy’s fingers traced the graph, which even at his first Transfer with Klyd had been above Denrau’s. And his had climbed since.
“I told you that you could be a more popular Companion than Denrau, if you chose.”
“It doesn’t seem right.”
Klyd shrugged. “Biology. Heredity. We none of us get to pick our genes, or our ancestors. Yes, you have more latent ability than Denrau. He is better trained. Fortunately it’s not a serious issue. I have Zinter for Denrau, and I trust myself to handle you until I get you properly trained to where you’ll be safe with any Channel.”
Valleroy stared down at the two folders, thinking. Klyd laid one hand across his. “Hugh, you’ve been upset about one thing or another since you arrived. What’s really bothering you?” He waited and then said. “All right. Then what happened at the department meeting that got you so upset? It wasn’t just the study. You were ready to join it.”
“Until you stopped it. Sometimes the way you treat Gens is terrible.”
Klyd drew back, brows raised in astonishment. “What do you mean? Because of the experiment? I didn’t get the impression that any other Gen at the table was distressed.”
“I was upset about the experiment at first. But that’s not what really upset me. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice that Denrau was disappointed when you forbade him to join the study? You just prefer to overlook that .”
“It was a very minor disappointment. Hardly worth noting.”
“He was careful to mitigate it. You can’t know how your Donors really feel, when they are chiefly concerned about not letting you feel any of their distress. When you’ve made it their duty to keep you from their distress. How can you know?”
Klyd gave him a level look, “Even when Denny controls his feelings, I’m still very sensitive to them. I know exactly how he felt, Hugh, far better than you could.”
Valleroy clenched his teeth, awash in a sudden intense Gen jealousy of Klyd’s rapport with his former Donor. Klyd was right. Hugh had forgotten again that he couldn’t really know how Denrau felt, but Klyd could read any Gen’s emotions. And of course he had read Denrau’s.
“Regardless of how he felt,” Klyd continued, “Denny can join the experiment later, if he chooses.”
“You mean if Zinter chooses to let him?” Valleroy gave him a level look. “Or would that be you? Somehow I doubt that will come any time soon. You wouldn’t want to take any risks on your personal selyn yield. As if your own Companions really were nothing more than a field and a crop yield. Or livestock.”
Klyd said nothing for a moment, then he said, as if conversationally, “What would happen if you left Melisande out in your far pasture, rather than bringing her in the barn at night?”
“Wildcat would get her,” Hugh said, suspicious of the question. “Or there’s plenty of wolves, though in summer, there’s enough game that --”
“You’re depending on Melisande, for milk and cheese. Particularly this winter, if Aisha gets pregnant, you’re going to need her.”
Valleroy bristled, still stung with guilt over the fact that the calving had delayed him. “If this is about my being late, I told you—“
“Yes, it’s unthinkable that when she got into trouble, calving, that you’d leave before she was safe. You depend on her for sustenance. Just as Simes depend on Gens.”
Valleroy drew a shocked breath, startled at this comparison, from Klyd of all people. “That’s not fair. Gens are not animals, Klyd.”
“No. It’s not fair.” Klyd’s resentment overmatched his. “And you are not animals. I could attend a hundred, a thousand, Choice auctions and never find a Gen with the empathy, the conscious thinking willing ability to be a Channel’s Donor, much less the functional and biological parameters necessary to Serve my Need. You could always buy another cow! Even you recognize the ridiculous nature of your accusation.” Klyd slammed the folder shut. “So don’t tell me, Hugh Valleroy,” Klyd said, his voice low but with an edge revealing the strain underneath, “about how I treat Gens as livestock. You have no idea what exceptions and allowances I make for you as a Gen in my Household every single day!”
Valleroy didn’t like the sound of that. “I do know something of it. And that’s what bothers me.”
Klyd whirled to face him. “Frightens you.” He said it like an accusation, as if it were a betrayal in itself.
“All right, yes! It does frighten me. But I’m not frightened of Simes. It just that you have this structure that Gens fit into, this organizational hierarchy…”
“You have said you admired Zeor’s efficiency.”
“I do. But I never liked being a cog in a machine myself. You treat Gens very well, Klyd, in your own fashion and by your own lights. Maybe you don’t consider us animals, not quite. But you never forget that we are Gens.”
“I can’t forget that. No Sime can. And no Sectuib must ever allow himself that luxury.”
“You have no conception of horror.” Klyd grabbed his wrist. “Imagine, that once a month, every month at the same time, someone was going to cut your veins. You’ll slowly bleed to death for the next two weeks. You feel the life slipping out of you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. And then, at the last possible moment, when you were certain another moment would see your death, someone suddenly resupplied you with blood. But you knew the next month, it would happen again. And again. Every month for the rest of your life, you’d be dependent upon being saved at that last moment by an altruistic act – or suffer a horrible death. That’s what a Sime feels, every month.”
Hugh said nothing, staring down at their clenched hands.
“Then imagine that only certain persons can save you from that death. And if they’re willing to save you, you’ll both live, but if they aren’t, you’ll both die. We talk about the Sime being a predator, but it is more than that. Worse than that. A Sime is a conscious intelligent parasite that destroys its conscious intelligent unwilling host. A Companion is that willing host. Then imagine something even worse, that there’s only one or two people who can fulfill that need in you. That you are a parasitical predator, dependent for the rest of your life, on the altruistic willingness of just one or two host prey. That’s what a non-junct Channel at my level must deal with. Can you honestly believe that I would want to do anything, anything at all, that would harm or discomfort your or Denny? Naturally, I’m far more interested in making sure you are very well provided for. Safe. Happy. Or at least as content as I can ensure your lives to be. How could I possibly want anything else? As Sectuib one of the duties of my office is to ensure my Gen members are so content that even if they could leave Zeor,” he paused meaningfully, “they would never want to. That living with Simes is more beneficial to them than any life they could have apart from Zeor. If I must do that for all the Gen Donors of my renSimes, how can you imagine I feel about my own personal Companions?”
Valleroy looked up at the Channel, his mouth dry. “Don’t say any more, Klyd. Not now. Every word you say makes me more convinced you think of Gens as – well as something less than human. We’ll talk about this later. After Transfer.”
Klyd laughed, a short, bark of derision. “You don’t understand anything at all.”
Valleroy drew up at that, upset and angry. Wanting to leave and not able to.
But Klyd wouldn’t be forestalled. “Denny has Served me since he was fourteen. He was the son of one of our Channels. His father died in the last pogrom. I trained him personally. I risked his life when he first Served my Need, just as yours was risked. More of a risk for him, for in spite of his background, and as exceptional as he is, he is not quite an adequate match for me. Not like you. Yet in spite of that risk and danger to himself, he willingly offered himself to me, just as you did. And has since. Month after month, year after year, he has risked his life to prolong mine, without fanfare, without undue attention, serving as a Companion Serves yet as prosaically as any general class Donor, and reaping no more and no less than any other Zeor member. His life is more precious to me than my own. Yet it is his life that is pledged to mine, his that would be forfeit to mine, his that he willingly has risked and continues to risk in Channel’s service. Zeor depended on me, and I depended on him. So I’ve used him as the tool I forged him to be. He Serves me and he obeys me, and if it came to that, he is knowingly pledged and would willingly yield his life for his Sectuib, so Zeor would survive. And yet he is infinitely my superior. Because of his service, he is my superior. I think of him as such.”
Valleroy said nothing, not quite believing the last. In fact, he didn’t believe it at all.
Klyd stopped pacing and fixed him with a look. “And in spite of all that, because of junct law, in Sime society, I own him. I own his children, those that are destined Gen. My sons will own his sons, their children will own his grandchildren. Can you imagine how he feels about that? Deep down? You were born in Gen Territory, but you must comprehend something of it. Can you imagine how I feel about it? Denrau has woken every morning since he established knowing he was mere property in this junct society we’re a part of, with all the inequities, great and small which that entails, risking his life every month for my survival, putting up with the worst of my Need-fueled Sime temper with a cheerful and humble compliance I could never hope to equal. That I would find biologically impossible to equal. And yet, he,” Klyd paused over the irony, “Serves me.” He stared at Valleroy. “How can you imagine I would think of Denny, or treat him, or even raise my eyes to his, with anything other than the greatest honor and respect?”
Valleroy had lowered his gaze, deeply ashamed. “Klyd, I am doing the best I can.”
“I know that.” Klyd took his hands in Transfer position, twining handling tentacles around the wrists. “I told you I would try not to make you into a Companion before you were ready. You ended up having to Serve me anyway. But mentally, you’re still not really a Companion. You don’t really have the mental or physiological wiring for it. Not yet. I understand that.”
“Are you saying that being a Companion means accepting some sort of willingly subordinate status?” Hugh asked carefully, staring at the Sime tentacles wrapped around his wrists.
“I am trying to explain this as best I can, and yet you persist in misunderstanding.” He drew up Valleroy closer, giving him a little shake. “Almost deliberately, I think. Deep within every Sime is still a predator. I serve every Zeor member but my service depends on your service. And I am not Denrau and don’t have his nature, much as I admire it. I am not even you. I can’t imagine being Gen. And I don’t think you can imagine how it feels to be me, to be Sime, to be a predator. I am a predator, Hugh. One who requires the service of another to survive every month. You want to believe that because I don’t kill, that we are equal. That deep down, we are the same. That because the channels prevent the kill, Simes and Gens can live in some sort of paradise. But you are misled if you have believed that, for we are not. I am still subject to the same instincts. If you want to know why your people are subjugated in Sime society, Hugh, it is because few beings, few Simes, can handle the true inequity of a true Sime relationship with self-aware Gens. It’s too terrifying and far easier to subjugate you, make you animals, breed you and own you like property, than to stare every day into the face of those whose altruism would determine your survival if they were free and equal.”
Valleroy felt his spine tense. “If they were?”
“If this society ever allowed them to live on free and equal terms with Simes . In Householding society,” Klyd released him, shrugging his shoulders in a kind of hopeless frustration, “it is easier for Householding renSimes because they’re conditioned to Channel’s Transfer. And few as Channels are, there are still many Channels. It is easier for the lesser Channels in my House because few as Companions are, there are many at their level and more above them. But I am the Sectuib of my House. I have only one or two Companions that are qualified to Serve my Need. Others are dependent on Gens, but through me or another Channel. Their dependence on Gens is a level removed. Only Companions directly Serve. I am dependent on you. And Denny. And Charnye. And at least until I have an heir, I must try to survive. My Householding depends on that. And to do that, I require your free and willing help, you and the handful of Companions who can survive a Channel’s Transfer at my level. I depend on your altruism to survive. And I am not an altruistic Gen like you but a deadly predator who every day must don a role so unnatural to the general Sime population that they consider it perversion. I know I am not Denny’s equal. All I can do is try, as best any Sime can, to emulate him.”
“Klyd, it was your vision that inspired me. I admire it. And I do admire you.”
“But it is you that makes my vision a reality. I need you, and I need you to be more than human. More even than being Gen, being a Donor. I need you to Serve me, really Serve me, as a Companion. Willingly, wholeheartedly, as Denny does. I must have that from you, Hugh.”
Valleroy shook his head, turning away, not noticing as the Channel winced. “But I’m not a saint. I can’t be one for you. And I don’t think Denrau is one either, regardless of how you make him out to be one. He’s human, like the rest of us. I don’t think that kind of attitude is a requisite of being a Channel’s Donor,” Valleroy turned back to Klyd. “Don’t you see? It can’t be. Because in your vision, you need every Gen to be a Donor, and most people aren’t saints. And most people don’t want to be kept. I know you don’t like being ordered around. How can you imagine that I or any Gen would like it? Would even be happy tolerating it? And why do you expect me to excuse you for being subject to your instincts, and at the same time submit to your demand that I can’t yield to mine? I can’t …won’t… be subject Klyd. I’ll serve your Need, and I can want that. But I can’t want to live in your world. Not as it stands.”
Klyd held his hands out, gesturing to Zeor and beyond. “Do you think I want this responsibility? That I enjoy living with it? But someone has to be Sectuib. I don’t have any choice about that. It was in my genes. As your Companion’s nature is part of your genes, however much you try to deny it. Hugh, your resistance to this is tearing us both apart, and it is fruitless. You will come around, in time.” Hugh drew back a little at this, but Klyd shook his head, dismissing the action. “You’ll come to see it, eventually. A Companion is drawn to Serve. It’s an intrinsic part of your physiology. We are both captives to our respective natures, Hugh. You weren’t trained for this when you were first Established, as you should have been. So you’re resisting it. Even afraid of it. But you are a Companion and that instinct is stronger than any other. You will yield to it, sooner or later. It will be easier for you if you stop fighting it, and me.”
Valleroy blew out his breath in frustration. “You’re wrong. I’m not captive to anything and I won’t choose it willingly. The more we talk about this, the further apart we seem to get, Klyd. You have to understand that I don’t think like a Zeor-born Companion.”
“You,” Klyd shook his head in frustration, “are quintessentially Gen. If you need another reason why Simes want to own Gens it is because it is much easier to own you than it is to try to explain Sime morality to you.”
“It’s more moral for society to advocate some disproportionate relationship with other sentient beings than it is to try to communicate on an equal basis?”
“We are not equals. We will never be equals, Hugh, never. That part of your rosy imagined future will never happen. That doesn’t mean you are less than me. In certain ways, Simes do envy Gens. Not dependent on Transfer, you are more free than Simes. And a Donor at your level is free from almost every transfer concern. You survived my attack in near-Kill mode; who else could remotely threaten you, after that? And your abilities have increased since then. But in spite of all of that, we are not equals, Hugh. We are each other’s balance.”
“Then in some way we must be equals,” Valleroy argued, hands spread in emphatic gesture.
“Only from a Gen perspective.”
Hugh made a frustrated noise, his fists clenching. “I think you are deliberately trying to provoke me again. You tell me things that you know have to upset me, then get frustrated or angry with me when I get upset. I don’t know why. Maybe you are trying to discourage me from Serving you.”
Klyd gave him a strange look, then hesitated, as if considering it, his gaze remote for a moment. When his eyes refocused , he shook his head slowly. “I don’t think so, Hugh. But perhaps I am trying to make you accept or reject these realities too soon, before you’re ready. You keep insisting you want to know the truth. Not all truths are pretty or ideal, Hugh.”
“I’m not so easily put off. And I don’t agree that what you decide is true is always true. We will get to some sort of consensus on this. We will.”
“Not tonight though. You’re tired. You should sleep.” Klyd let him go, his voice hard, the casual authority back in the Channel’s tone.
Valleroy felt his spine tighten again at that tone and the tacit order, but Klyd ignored his emotions. And Valleroy wondered at that. He knew Klyd couldn’t help sensing his physical state, and it was second nature for him to issue orders. But Klyd still seemed largely – not oblivious, since he couldn’t fail to be sensitive to Valleroy’s emotions, but disregarding of the fact that adult Gens from out-Territory didn’t care to be told when to eat and sleep as if they were children. He wondered again why Klyd would choose to adopt that tone with him. Insist on using it with him, when he knew how that casual assumption and assertion of that peculiar authority over his members, particularly his Gen members and Companions, set Valleroy’s back up. But rather than argue it further tonight he took a different tack.
Klyd sighed heavily, his shoulders dropping. “I will try. Is that good enough?”
“Try hard,” Valleroy warned, not caring how it sounded. “You’ll need your strength to continue this conversation tomorrow.”
The Channel tilted his head, giving Valleroy a sharp look but simply said, “Perhaps, Naztehr.”
He stirred, dimly aware of a restless tossing beside him. He blinked into the darkness of the room. The moon was obscured by clouds, rain heavy and promising again. But tonight he remembered instantly where he was. The unmistakable feel of Klyd’s handling tentacles twined tightly around one wrist made that impossible to not know.
“Klyd? What’s wrong?”
The Channel stirred. “Go back to sleep, Naztehr.” The tone was his Sectuib’s tone, but his voice was very soft.
“If you do.”
Klyd didn’t say anything, staring moodily into the darkness, his nager disengaged and remote. Outside, the pattering of rain began. A wind stirred the drapes at the windows, sending a chill into the room.
Valleroy sat up, moving closer, trying to dispel the Channel’s Need-induced depression. “It’s going to be all right. We’ll have Transfer tomorrow. You’ll feel better then. Just another day.”
Klyd didn’t look at him, but a tentacle found his wrist, brushed it lightly. “This month.” The voice was just a whisper. Then he said, this time in a normal conversational voice. “Hugh. It’s very late. Go back to sleep.”
“I can’t, knowing you’re awake.”
A muscle tensed in the Channel’s jaw, and Valleroy edged closer. Klyd’s face was drawn, every Sime muscle stretched tight. Only inches away, Valleroy could feel the Channel’s warmth, the higher temperature always reminded him of fever. But Klyd wasn’t sick, he was in Need, hard Need now, fighting all the demons that raised. The breeze whipped through the room again, more urgently now, and Klyd shivered. Drawn by compassion or Companion’s instinct or just simple friendship, Hugh moved those few inches closer. Close enough to breathe in Klyd’s scent, clean skin, a trace of soap, the hint of metallic salts that had always meant Sime to Valleroy. And now that he was in hard Need, the scent of ronaplin, the selyn conducting fluid that flooded the laterals, hung heavy in the air between them. He could sense the skin stretched taut over the swollen ronaplin glands, but he didn’t touch Klyd’s arms, knowing without knowing how hypersensitive the Channel was now.
“Hugh,” Klyd warned softly, but Valleroy didn’t listen. He leaned in, close enough that if he moved back now, he’d trigger a reflexive attack in the Channel.
Klyd caught his breath, protest dying in his throat, as he locked his own will against his instincts. Valleroy meshed his field in a way that balanced Klyd’s primary and secondary systems. Without quite knowing how he knew, he focused his nageric influence on the Channel’s vriamic node in the center of his ribcage, below the breastbone. He reached one arm carefully around Klyd, and slid the other behind his back, surrounding him with his field.
“Hugh!” Klyd warned again, but Valleroy moved in, settling himself comfortably next to the Channel and focusing his fields into a steady balance that would hold even in sleep.
Klyd’s breath caught again and steely arms and tentacles whipped around him, but by that time, Valleroy had full control of the Channel’s fields. Whether Klyd meant to push him away or pull him closer, he did neither now. Valleroy had the field control, he was outside them both, well aware of the fields he was managing, of Klyd’s precarious primary system, draining dry, of his oscillating secondary, and of his own field, high and full, like a parachute, or a cloudbank bringing them both down to a safe landing. He closed his eyes, and let them both fall gently, slowly down into sleep. He drifted off not even wondering how he had managed it.
Hugh blinked and wondered if he should be outraged. He’d never woken folded against Klyd before, even when they’d been fleeing from the Runzi, sharing the same blankets for warmth. But he was too content to feel much outrage, and Klyd felt as comfortable and prosaic as an old shoe. He could feel his Klyd’s heart beating under his cheek. It seemed a little fast. He raised his cheek from the soft linen weave of Klyd’s shirt, rubbed his own scratchy face ruefully, and asked, “How are you feeling?”
Klyd shrugged tightly, his movements cautious. Valleroy could see his face was drawn, but not as grim as the night before. “Well enough. Thank you. I’m sorry to wake you, but I am due in a meeting. I didn’t want to risk startling you by moving.”
Valleroy sighed and decided that would be all he’d get out of the Channel, at least until after their Transfer. He yawned and started to sit up, one hand reaching for Klyd’s in unconscious reassurance, careful not to move out of arms reach. But Klyd’s hands suddenly flashed out, tentacles flying, bracketing him in place. “Hugh!”
Valleroy froze. “What did I do?”
The Channel drew a ragged breath. He was suddenly panting as if he’d run a mile. Beads of sweat had broken on his forehead, even though the air in the room was cool. “Nothing. Just that when I’m like this, and this close to Transfer, you’ll need to be careful about making any sudden moves.”
“I didn’t think it was that –“ Valleroy hesitated, and then wiped Klyd’s sweating face with the corner of the sheet. “Should you be so tense? I know I’m reading you better than before, but it seems to me you shouldn’t be feeling this bad.”
Klyd took the wadded cloth from Valleroy’s hand and wiped his own forehead. “Need is irregular.” He sighed softly. “Some months are worse than others.”
“Something was wrong last night.” Hugh sat up very cautiously, and put his own hand on Klyd’s forehead, his other entwining Sime fingers and tentacles. He couldn’t tell if the temperature was any higher than Sime normal, but some of the tension went out of the Channel at the touch. “Were you having nightmares?”
Klyd shrugged, taking Hugh’s other hand and lightly squeezing the fingers. “The near attrition, spatial disorientation and all the rest, will be giving me nightmares for a long time. But that wasn’t it.”
Hugh made a face, feeling guilty. He still felt it had been his fault, his mission rescuing Aisha, that had brought all this down on Klyd, Not just the taxing mission, but the loss of his wife, unborn child, and grandfather. Klyd’s condition was his fault. And his responsibility to alleviate. The desire to do that surged through him, plain as words to the empathic Channel.
More relaxed, Klyd gave Hugh’s hands one last gentle squeeze and then, with obvious effort, released them. Perhaps his Donor’s willingness to serve eased him into a confidence, or perhaps his condition made it inevitable, but he revealed another rule of Companion’s behavior to his Donor. “When I’m like this, Hugh, in hard Need, the best thing to do is choreograph your moves in advance. For Companions, it eventually becomes second nature. If you’re going to move toward me, no problem. But from now on, if you’re going to move away, look to me first, and give me a chance to prepare. Wait for my nod. That way my reflexes won’t get ahead of me. Not all months will be this hard for me, but you can’t really judge me that well. Even I can be taken unawares by a strong surge of intil. And your field is higher than Denny’s; I’m not as used to managing myself around you , particularly since I’m not around you much during the month. So it’s safest for you to always choreograph from my twenty-seventh day on.”
Hugh had begun to understand how much the predatory nature of Simes lurked just below the surface, even in Channels. At least when they were this much in Need. He nodded somberly, girding himself for yet another restriction.
Ultra-sensitive, Klyd picked up on his emotions. “It won’t be so bad. For Companions, it quickly becomes an ingrained, automatic practice. You won’t even need to think about it once you’ve mastered the habit. Most First and High Second Companions practice it consistently from Turnover on. Though it’s really only necessary when I’m in hard Need.”
Hugh nodded, but couldn’t help noting that Klyd once more conveniently forgot that habitual or not, it was still a radical behavior change for any Gen. For any person, for that matter. Yes it was a small price to pay for Unity, but still… He got ready for the day, mulling that over.
“It is a small price to pay,” Denrau argued, mystified, when Hugh sought the Companion out to raise his concerns, both about the “practice” and Klyd’s need for it. “It’s only good manners for a Donor not to startle a Channel by moving away from him when he’s approaching hard Need. Why would that bother you?”
Valleroy paced restlessly, staring out the colonnades at the junct town of Valzor. “It seems so much like asking permission to move.”
Denrau shrugged, not disagreeing, but unimpressed. “When a Channel is in Need, what do you expect?”
Hugh turned and looked at him. “I don’t expect to have to ask permission to take a step, Denny. Not for days at a time. And if we are talking post-turnover, for two weeks. That’s not what I signed on to do.”
“Come on, Hugh.” Denrau turned, his eyebrows raised. “You’re not a child. You understood that from your first Transfer. Anyway, you don’t want to cause Klyd distress, do you?”
“No, of course not. Why does everyone think that? But what about my own?”
“But Klyd is thinking of you, when he makes that request. Can’t you see that? Out there,” Denrau pointed to the town, “juncts want to hurt and kill Gens. Householding Simes have the same instincts you know. They just control them. All Klyd is asking you to do is be careful around him in Need so that he will never even chance the risk of hurting you. Don’t you understand yet, Hugh? Channels – all Householding Simes – care about Gens. Klyd doesn’t want to even risk any discomfort on your part. He’s asking you to be careful around him so that never happens. You should feel the same concern for him that he does for you.”
“I do. But his worry about not hurting me – that kind of caring – is restrictive. To the point of almost being suffocating for an out-Territory Gen. That’s discomforting too.”
“Discomforting?” Denrau frowned in astonishment. “Do you think Need is comfortable? Consider that we live in a world where the majority of Simes want to Kill us. How can you possibly resent the few that are struggling so hard to be otherwise, and the little we’re asked to do in return? A world where we can all live together. Is what they ask of us so difficult? How much discomfort is it, compared to that? Why do you focus on such minor issues?”
“Collectively they are not minor. And I don’t--” He stopped under Denrau’s searching eyes. “All right, I do resent them. At times. I understand, really I do, that Klyd has the best intentions. At times, though, I feel he wants to be restrictive. That he wants to own me. And this latest rule --” Hugh shook his head.
Denrau gave him a puzzled look. “Naturally he owns you. You, me, every Gen in Zeor. That’s the law, here, Hugh.” He spoke as if to a dim-witted child.
“No, he doesn’t. Damn it, Denny, I’m a free citizen of Gen Territory. I wish everyone here didn’t keep forgetting that.”
Denrau shrugged. “Oh. I suppose that’s true.” Valleroy stared, surprised that to Denrau, it seemed such a minor difference. “Well,” Denrau continued, “as a Companion of his House, you are oath bound to him, anyway. As he is to you. So whether by law or by oath, you are a Gen of his House. And a Companion sworn. So what difference is there?”
“I don’t like the sound of any of this. And I can’t help how I feel.”
“You’re supposed to learn how to control your feelings. Do you think you are the first Gen to feel constrained in this society? Do you think we are oblivious to our status? We learn to understand and adapt.”
“I can’t learn it.”
“Why ever not?” Denrau asked, his normally placid eyes narrowing. “Is it that you just won’t? Do you think you are the only one who has ever been discomfited?”
“The obligation seems to be one-sided,” Valleroy said dryly.
“Come on, you know better than that. Not after what you told me of Klyd’s condition this morning.”
“Can you honestly believe, after seeing Klyd in that condition, that Zeor’s Simes don’t require control? Our Simes are not sadistic juncts, but they have the same physiology. They have the same intrinsic response to Gen fields and emotions as any junct. They could easily learn to enjoy Gen pain. They train themselves not to respond to Gens as juncts do. Gens are life to them, but according to Zelerod’s Doom, we must live if they are to survive. They accept that, and know they have to learn to live with us to survive. Householding Simes do try, and it is our job to help them. They have to make an even greater effort to control how they feel, and fight their own natures to do it. So we make the requisite effort necessary to avoid any behavior that discommodes them. We control our behavior. They control theirs. Only a deviant Gen would come to a Householding and deliberately court the behavior that would make a Sime uncomfortable. And while I realize you come from an uncivilized society, I know you’re not sadistically deviant yourself, Hugh.
Valleroy stopped pacing, incredulous. “Gen society is not sadistic. And it’s not uncivilized.”
Denrau gave him a look, the normally composed Companion’s ire beginning to be raised. “You barely know the first thing on how to behave among Simes. I realize that it is ignorance and not malice, but at times your stubborn refusal to adopt our ways seems to be.”
“You seem to forget that out there--” Hugh waved an arm. “I have to live in a world where there are no Simes. I shift for myself, and just be myself. I don’t always live worrying about guarding every movement I make and every emotion I feel and every scratch and pinched finger I might get just because I have a sensitive Channel an arms-length away that just might be discomfited. Gens don’t live that way out there!”
‘But you don’t have to live there,” Denrau argued. “You choose to live there. I never understood why before, but now I think I do. Not because you don’t have to concern yourself with Simes, but because you simply don’t want to. You actually would rather live among barbarians, than behave civilly.” He sounded shocked.
“Barbarians! It’s not as if I were living surrounded by juncts who Kill every month. Gens don’t kill.”
“That’s not true. Gen society is less civilized than Simes.”
Valleroy stared at Denrau.
“If Klyd were caught when he visits you on your side of the border,” Denrau persisted, “he’d be shot without question. At least In-Territory, a Householding Gen can go among juncts with a Sime escort. And as for the Kill, neither do we, and junct society allows for a Householding, whereas Gen Territory does not. There you kill all Simes on sight. So which society is more civilized?”
Hugh was flabbergasted by this viewpoint, but was forced to concede. “I suppose that true. But we also live normal lives, not according to some arcane rules where every move is choreographed in advance.”
“You call it normal to live apart from Simes three weeks of the month? We live together, in support of each other as nature meant us to live. You live apart, alone, selfishly. You don’t seem to care in the least about the terrible strain you’re putting on Klyd, living out there completely alone as you do.”
“Living here,” Valleroy retorted dryly, “sometimes puts a terrible strain on me.”
“Only because you insist on trying to do both. If you would just stay here, you would not be trying to live under two codes of behavior. You’d adjust to our way of life. Then neither you nor Klyd would be hurt by your behavior. It’s not natural for Gens to live apart from Simes. It certainly isn’t natural for a Companion to try it. No wonder you are constantly upset.”
“The price of Unity can’t be that Gens are subordinate to Simes,” Hugh insisted. “I can’t accept that.”
“Oh, that’s nonsense, Hugh.” Denrau glared at him. “We are not subordinate.”
“Only a Householding Gen would think that. You’re so shenned grateful not to be killed each month you convince yourself to put up with anything cheerfully. But I can’t accept being told when and how to eat and sleep and behave – and now to have to ask permission even to take a step away! What do you call that, but another form of ownership?”
“We call it compromise.”
“It seems the Gens make all the compromises!”
“That attitude disregards all the sacrifices Simes make for our way of live. And it’s not worthy of a Companion. What is asked of you as a Companion is not something that all Gens do. Serving as a Companion is a full time, demanding profession that naturally requires some adjustments. But is how you’re being asked to Serve really more than you can bear? So much worse than your life before, where you were terrified of every Sime? Compared to that and to what you can accomplish here aren’t even your present duties an inconsequential concession?”
“Giving up my life isn’t a small concession. Nor is living here. The adjustment you’re asking me to make is to succumb to a permanent second class status.”
“How can you see things so wrong?” Denrau asked. “Out there, Simes kill, even torture, Gens, just get through each month. On your side of the border, Gens shoot Simes on sight. Yes, Gens care for Channels here. Just as we care for renSimes, many of whom have tortured themselves through disjunction to live with us in equality. As Sectuib, Klyd has to provide for all his members, Channel, renSime and Gen, each to their needs. It’s his responsibility to see to the needs of his Donors. And our responsibility to care for them, as it is theirs to care for us. We make allowances for each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And we adjust our behavior accordingly. Borne out of compassion. How can you make a travesty of mutual caring?”
“This is not caring, it is suffocation,” Hugh stormed. “When even you, a Gen, act as if my living in Gen Territory, alone as you put it, is some impossible lifestyle, it is past caring. As if Gens can’t live without Simes, even for part of a month!”
“I can’t believe you could be so selfish as to want to! You should be grateful that you found Zeor, and have been offered this opportunity.”
Valleroy blew out his breath. “I’m sick of being told I’m selfish for wanting to live at Rior. That I should just be grateful for being alive and allowed to live in Zeor. Gens there normally don’t walk around grateful their friends aren’t Killing them. ”
“I don’t know what else to call it but selfishness. Or cruelty. No decent Companion would want to live apart from his Channel, and leave him in living shen three weeks out of the month!”
“Well, I call this blackmail! Do what I tell you to do, and never complain, and be shenned grateful because I could Kill you for it!” Valleroy raised his voice, he was so frustrated.
“Our Simes don’t Kill Gens!” Denrau snapped back, equally loudly.
“Denrau!” Klyd snapped, bursting through the door. “What is going on in here?”
The Companion froze and immediately went from impassioned fury to a frozen neutrality. “I’m sorry, Sectuib.”
“You two are both shouting about the Kill when the ambient leaking from this room is enough to drive any Sime to a Kill, even though the insulation. Denrau, you knew better than to lose control this way even in first year.”
“I’m very sorry, Sectuib.” Denrau had immediately leashed his field, switching to complicit penitence with an ease and an apparent genuineness that left Valleroy staring at him in shock. But as Hugh turned to stare at Klyd, he saw the change in the Channel. Klyd had pulled himself into some sort of ragged control, matching Denrau.
Klyd looked at him searchingly, then said, “I’m sure Zinter must be needing you. Go on, Denrau. I’ll speak to you later.”
“Yes, Sectuib.” Denrau didn’t even glance at Valleroy, but turned and left.
“Hugh, come here!” Klyd held out his hands to Hugh, his own shaking .
He drew a deep breath, noting the Channel’s fragile control. Disputes over philosophy aside, Valleroy had learned enough not to temporize with a Channel in the state Klyd was in. Intellectually, he was as unvarying over his position as ever. Emotionally, despite Klyd’s peremptory tone, somehow, and he didn’t understand how, he felt as contrite as Denrau. He only knew he hadn’t intended to disturb Klyd on this last day of Need and felt humbly sorry that he had. He gave his hands to Klyd, somehow finding it within himself to project only a complicit willingness to Serve that would soothe any Channel, even though part of him stood outside himself and wondered at the ability.
After a moment Klyd drew a deep breath, and not releasing his hands, said, “Hugh, I don’t want you to argue with Denny. He’s not responsible for training you. I can’t – I won’t -- have him upset, or upsetting Zinter.”
Hugh swallowed down his unease and said. “Denrau is the only one I can talk to about this.”
“You can talk to me.” Klyd said firmly.
No, I can’t. Hugh thought. How, when I can’t upset you in Need?
“I’m going to tell the same thing to Denrau,” Klyd said. “I can’t have this continue. Two high level Companions at odds can upset a whole House.”
“We aren’t really at odds,” Valleroy protested, his heart sinking, chagrinned at this new development. He knew Denrau would never disobey Klyd in this.
“Hugh.” Klyd frowned at him sternly, tentacles tensing around his wrists tight enough to leave bruises.
Even with his reflexes still a confusing muddle, Valleroy instincts were good enough that he understood what such lack of control on Klyd’s part meant. He didn’t even feel the mild pain, more concerned about the brittle feel to the Channel’s control. Denny had been right. Klyd couldn’t handle a situation where his top Companions were at any kind of odds. He swallowed down all his protests, even though at one level he felt they were choking him, and presented the emotional subtext he knew would be calming to Sime senses. “Yes, Sectuib.”
Klyd sighed, and very slowly released his hands. “I will train you yet, Hugh.” Softly as they were spoken, the words sounded as much threat as promise.
Valleroy surreptitiously rubbed his tingling fingers, and took it as he was sure it had been meant. “Yes, Sectuib,” he said. But he had never doubted it more.
A Channel’s Weakness
The Companion glanced at him, then walked on with a set face.
“You’re not going to ignore me when I speak directly to you, are you? Denny?”
Denrau froze at the nickname. “I don’t want to ignore you, Hugh,” he said softly, without turning. “But I don’t want to fight with you either.”
“I don’t want to fight either.”
Denrau gave him a disbelieving look, and brushed past.
“Denny, you want me to help Klyd. Well so do I, but I can’t do it without your help.”
“I can’t disrespect my Sectuib’s wishes.”
“You know how Klyd gets. He just lost his temper.”
“And whose fault is that?” Denrau threw back at him. “I’ve told you before, when a Channel loses control, there’s usually a Companion at least partially responsible. Maybe that’s a lesson you need to learn, Hugh. But whether you will learn or not, I have. I won’t disobey my Sectuib.”
“I understand that now. But we can talk about this, and not get so intense. And if we can do that, Klyd should have nothing to say about it. You’re not a child.”
“I’m a Companion in his House,” Denrau said, straightening his spine, his eyes chill. “That’s a high office, with serious responsibilities. You’re the one behaving like an unruly child. In a mixed society, where Simes and Gens live together, there are rules and consequences to behavior. If you want to help Klyd, then live here with us and learn them.”
“That is blackmail,” Valleroy said, but quietly this time. “And unrealistic. If there’s ever a real hope of out-Territory Gens understanding Simes, then there has to be some understanding of out-Territory culture. And some way for Gens to understand the culture here. On the one hand, Klyd acts sometimes as if we’re made of spun glass, on the other he keeps yield reports on us. He orders us around, sometimes as if he regards us as children. Yet at the same time I can’t take a step, or feel an emotion or do anything without worrying that a sensitive Channel, or even a renSime somewhere might be discommoded by my field. I’m sick of all these inconsistencies, and I can’t make head or tail of them. If Klyd’s so damn fragile, then why the hell are Gens—“ he stopped, because Denrau’s mouth had actually twisted in amusement, though he was still upset enough that it was rueful.
“What the shen are you laughing at me for!” Hugh stormed.
“Come on, Hugh. Don’t you understand this yet? You’ve been fully indoctrinated that Simes are killers, but I would have thought even an out-Territory Gen would have realized it by now.”
Hugh swallowed. “Realized what?”
“You tell me,” Denrau leaned back, arms crossed, waiting. “You’ve figured it out, anyway.”
Valleroy sat down and thought about what truth that anger must have let him blurt out. “If Klyd is fragile. If. There’s no if to it, is there. For any Sime, really?”
“Not really. As a rule, Simes are much more fragile than Gens. They feel what we feel, with the hair-trigger reaction of a predator behind it. But Klyd is especially sensitive. You know how Farrises are. Far more so than other Channels. And Klyd is especially sensitive even as Farrises go. It’s as much a weakness as a strength. He hides his vulnerabilities very well, and he doesn’t like to admit them, of course. No man would. Even when it is absolutely necessary, such as when training an oblivious out-Territory Companion. I thought you’d have understood that from the first Transfer.”
Valleroy thought of Klyd: taller in stature, dark to his fair, quick, powerful, both physically and in influence, a born deadly predator, and …fragile? “But he …knows?”
Denrau made a rude noise. “Do you even need to ask? You know Klyd. Dangerously stubborn. And proud. He’d deny it if he could, but even he has to acknowledge reality. And as a Companion, even an out-Territory barbarian like you should be able to imagine how it must feel for a person like Klyd -- that proud, that independent, to be Sime. He can’t bear to ask for anything, hardly. Yet through an accident of birth, he’s forced to be dependent on Gen Transfer every month. For every advantage Simes have, Gens have superiority on them in the most ultimate of ways. And his sensitivity to fields makes him extremely vulnerable to Gen nageric influence. Why do you think he’s so insistent upon his Companions practicing the control you’re objecting to?”
Valleroy shrugged. “I didn’t realize.”
“He’s not alone, of course. Householder Simes develop a thicker skin, living with Gens every day, and not having a Channel’s sensitivities. But most juncts are practically pathological about minimizing Gen influence and avoiding Gen pain. Why do you think the majority of juncts keep Pen Gens drugged up? Sure there are the few Simes that cultivate a taste for self aware Choice Kills. But if that were the preference, wouldn’t they deliver Pen Gens that way as well?”
“I never thought about that,” Valleroy said. “I guess I supposed it made the Gens easier to handle.”
“Nagerically, it does. That’s another reason why juncts consider Householders perverts – they deal on a daily basis with self aware Gens. That’s a nightmare for most renSimes. Channels are far less immune to Gen influence; yet the very sensitivity that makes them good Channels leaves them horribly vulnerable. They really need a Companion’s constant support, particularly when they are low-field. Sometimes it is very difficult for a Channel to deal with Gen superiority -- they try to emulate Gen self-sufficiency and get themselves in a world of trouble. As a Companion you need to take all that into account. When Klyd says he doesn’t need anything, give him what you think he needs anyway, and let him snap at you for giving it. You should be grateful when he snaps at you, it means he really needed it, and you did the right thing.
“When he does need to call you to him, or ask for something--” Denrau sketched a shake of his head. “With Klyd, you’ve waited much too long. Zinter is much different. He’s easy-going, and not nearly as stubborn. Or proud. But Klyd has to be handled. Hugh. I thought at first, with you two having such compatible nagers, that the rest would fall into line, that you’d just naturally mesh personally too. The best Companions share some empathic awareness of their Channels; it’s part of how we function. But now I don’t think you really understand him at all. Or you’re shutting yourself off from it.”
“Perhaps he is.”
Denrau stopped, staring at him. “Perhaps he is. But I wouldn’t blame him, given how you two are together. But he can be difficult. Klyd won’t take anything from you, if he can help it. Even asking is hard. It’s the one major weakness he has. You’ll have to remember that and always offer first. And stop rejecting him every time he tries to help you. You don’t have to emulate his bad behavior. As Channel to a Companion, it’s natural for him to be protective of you, part of a Channel’s attempt to cement a bond with a likely Companion. And from a Sime point of view, they like to at least have the occasional illusion that Gens need them. Rejecting that help the way you do shocks him, because it’s so out-Territory, It makes him feel even more dependent and yet isolated from you. And less sure that you won’t reject him when he Needs you in Transfer.”
“But I’d never do that.”
“How can he know what you might do to him? If you refuse his help, what does that say about how you value him?”
“The two are completely different things!”
“To you. Not to him. You have to learn to bend those out-Territory standards of yours and realize the roles we have are different here. Householding Simes care for Gens – and Companions most of all. Our service enables the Channels to save the entire House from the Kill. We have a deep responsibility to the Channels we Serve, and with that responsibility goes obligation. The only control a Channel has against the nightmare of Need, and the even deeper horror of going junct is that they have a Companion always willing, regardless of personal cost, to protect and Serve them.”
Valleroy shook his head. “That isn’t right.”
“Hugh, you want equality, or something like it, and that’s a fairy tale. Force the issue, and what usually happens is a tragedy. Householding ways may be foreign to you, and they may seem disproportionate. But they work. We take care of each other. You’re so busy resenting how Klyd is trying to care for you, for all of us, that you aren’t taking care of him. And he’s never going to tell you that, because he can’t bear to admit what he needs. And you’re so stubbornly independent, that you refuse all his overtures. You snub him until he is miserable. The only option you leave him with, the only option left to him, is orders. Then you resent those, and he has to snap at you and fight with you, to get you to listen to him. Deep down, that frightens him. If I were a Channel, having to deal with an insubordinate, rebellious, uncaring, insensitive Companion, it would certainly terrify me. And while your behavior is cruel to any Channel, it’s criminal to do this to a sensitive Farris. You are really hurting Klyd. What can it possibly cost you to give into him a little?”
“I’m not trying to hurt Klyd. I don’t see why trying to keep some independence from him, from Zeor, can hurt him that badly.”
“Part of being a Gen living in a mixed society is that when you live with a predator, you never want to rouse it. Yes, as a high order Companion, you do have the ultimate upper hand. We all know that,” Denrau said with an impatient gesture. “Naturally a Companion is superior. But that’s no reason to rub Klyd’s nose in the fact and make him abjectly miserable. You could be a little kinder to him. He certainly wants to help you.”
“You expect me to be grateful and kind to him when he orders me around?“
“Come on, Hugh. Graceful yielding is an essential Companion’s skill. You must know that by now. You can’t learn how to over control a Channel without first learning how to both control yourself and to submit to his control. When you are skilled enough, and understand him well enough, then you’ll realize when you need to control him. There is a give and take here. You’re supposed to be sensitive enough to understand a Channel’s psychology. That also part of your job.”
“You mean you have to learn to take orders before you can give them. Like in the Army.”
“This isn’t a war,” Denrau furrowed his brow, perplexed. “Despite what you’ve been inflicting on Klyd. And I’ve never been in an army, so I don’t understand the analogy. I don’t know much of Gen culture. Perhaps you could think of it as managing a valuable asset. You told me once you thought I was so grateful not to be Killed every month. As if that had anything to do with it, even if I could be Killed. And after all, I could only be Killed once. Then I’d be no good to any one, including Klyd. I could murder him to save myself, but then where would Zeor be? If your goal is Unity, then as a Companion, your goal must be, first and foremost, to Serve, even if it means taking direction from a sensitive Channel in ways you think you may not need and which reduce your own independence. You can’t be independent, and Serve Channels’ Need. It isn’t called service for nothing. If you want to Serve Klyd, then you have to really adopt the attitude. Not just to offer your life, because that is nothing. That just means an individual death. Compared to all the Gens killed daily out there,” he gestured with an arm, “one more death of one more Gen is insignificant. It’s not even realistic because you know, better than anyone, that Klyd will never kill. Even as deep in attrition as he was and as inexperienced as you were, he didn’t kill you during your first Service. He doesn’t need your death. He needs your life. Service means giving your whole life, day after day for the rest of your life, until you die a natural death. It means yielding when you’re stronger. Accepting every harsh word and loss of temper on a Channel’s part as a failure of your own. Because it is your fault. And you ought to be professionally ashamed of yourself when it happens. A Companion manages a Channel, from Transfer to turnover to Need, submitting on many constant trivial everyday small things but always keeping the upper hand on the few big issues. Yes a Companion yields gracefully on the trivial. That’s part of a Companion’s service. It is a lot harder than one quick Kill. And considering how dangerous a Channel like Klyd could be, if he lost control, and how important he is to Zeor and to Unity, you must remember how important that service is and how inconsequential such sacrifices truly are. The way you are upsetting Klyd is not healthy, for him or for you. Don’t you realize, Hugh, that your yielding on these small things is also important because when you do give Klyd an order, he’ll realize how essential it is for him to obey? Your constant fighting is diluting your relationship. You are teaching him to oppose you, when you should be teaching him, by your own example of service, to obey you when you do have to give him an order. Channels are trained to be sensitive to a Companion’s demands, and so we learn to use that power carefully. Your constant opposition could ruin a sensitive channel. How can you expect him to obey you when he is out of control, when all that is between you is acrimony? When all you do is oppose each other? That’s a recipe for disaster. To Serve him and protect him, and yourself and everyone else, you have to learn to yield. Your own obedience will condition him to the same, if it ever comes to that.
Valleroy had lowered his head, shaking it as he realized the true magnitude of Denrau’s service. “I’m not sure I can. Even knowing what I do, now. What you say makes some sense. It just doesn’t relate to anything I’m familiar with. In Gen society, you’re responsible for your own self-control, not for anyone else’s. And some of what you describe sounds like emotional blackmail. When you submit to a bully, you encourage him. It doesn’t mean that when you finally do stand up for yourself, he folds.”
“Klyd is not—“
Valleroy met Denrau’s eyes. “I know. I’m not saying he’s a tyrant. Despite how he behaves sometimes. I understand there’s difference, that part of his behavior that bothers me is a training I’m not enough familiar with to judge properly. I can appreciate what you are saying. But this is foreign enough that I’m just--” he drew a deep breath and admitted it, “I’m just not sure I can give that much.”
“Then don’t.” Denrau said. “It’s not a failure to acknowledge that Companion’s service is not for you. It is demanding, and it does require certain skills. But if you can’t Serve, then leave Klyd alone. Don’t promise to Serve him, and deny him. He doesn’t deserve that from you.”
“I won’t,” Hugh promised. “But --“
Klyd came around the corner, with hunting mode swiftness, obviously drawn to their nagers, and both Companions froze. Klyd stopped short, zlinning them both, his black eyes snapping, mouth taut. Hugh felt his spine tense just at the clash of Klyd’s Need fraught nager against his own.
“You two are at it again. I thought I made it clear this was to stop.”
Denrau swallowed hard and inclined his head, his posture indicating his acknowledgement of Klyd’s authority. “Forgive me, Sectuib. I didn’t intend to disregard your wishes.”
“Come here, Denny.” Klyd held out his hands to the Gen, who crossed swiftly to his side. Klyd took them and said something softly to the Companion, releasing his hands with a gentle squeeze. The Companion left without looking back. Klyd met his eyes evenly, waiting.
Valleroy gritted his teeth. He was not nearly ready to play the contrite Companion, even as he had admired Denrau’s performance, and recognized it for what it was now. Instead of emulating Denrau’s submission, he behaved much as he would have if a superior officer came across him in a quarrel with a peer, and he simply took responsibility. “It wasn’t his fault. I started it.”
“I’m sure,” Klyd said, studying his nager quizzically, trying to evaluate it. Finally he shrugged and shook his head. “Hugh, I really wish you wouldn’t upset Denrau. This is hard enough for him. Why can’t you leave him alone?”
“I’m not trying to make things hard for him,” Valleroy protested. “I’ve only asked some questions. How is that hard for him?”
“Companions are trained to be protective of the Channels they Serve. And conversely, Channels become protective of their Companions.” Klyd gave him an enigmatic look. “Not everyone resents a little help, Hugh.”
The reference to Denrau’s superior nature got to Valleroy. “I never said --”
Klyd brushed the protest aside. “Denny Served me for many years.”
“He said he wasn’t jealous.” Hugh tried not to feel jealousy himself.
“He’s not. He is very well trained. We were careful to not fixate on each other. And Denrau never quite was up to satisfying my Need as you do. He was expecting…eventually… to step aside.”
“But not for a ham-handed Out-Territory Gen, is that it?”
Klyd shrugged. “It’s difficult enough for a long-term Companion to entrust his Channel to an unfamiliar Companion, even one of equal ability. It’s very hard for an exceptional Companion like Denrau to entrust his Sectuib to an untrained one. Denrau’s enough of a professional that he manages to handle his natural concerns very well. But such a Companion’s sensitivities and sensibilities are carefully developed tools -- a high order Companion’s stock in trade. They’re as valuable to a house – and to me -- as a Channel’s skills. Both are irreplaceable resources. If Denrau’s too stressed, he could lose his edge. And conversely, any stress he feels affects Zinter, as well as myself. Naturally, I have to do what I can to protect him. I don’t want him upset by concerns for me, or concerns about your service. I am training you, not Denrau, and those issues are mine to deal with. I can’t have Denrau affected by them.”
“All this protecting is getting on my nerves,” Valleroy grated.
Klyd glanced at him. “Householders have lived in a hostile society, essentially in a siege mentality. We are protective of each other. We are all we have.”
“I know.” Hugh drew a deep breath. “Klyd, I’m not a Householder. I know that now, more than I ever did before. I’m not sure I can be one. But I am trying to find some way, even if it has to be my own way, to fit in.”
The Channel studied Hugh a moment, then nodded. “I believe that, Hugh. But try to leave Denny alone for a while, all right?”
Hugh sighed and searched Klyd’s eyes, looking for any sign of -- he didn’t know what. But he’d come to find it a more insidious bar to his acceptance of Zeor than even his original fear of Simes. “I do like it much better when you ask instead of order,” he said slowly.
“I’ll try to remember that,” Klyd said gravely in turn. “If you remember there are some things even a Channel can’t easily ask for.”
Valleroy knew he meant Need. He reached out and slid his hand over Klyd’s feeling the swelling ronaplin glands. “I am always here for you, when it comes to that. You don’t have to ask me to Serve your Need. I am here for you. You know that.”
Klyd nodded, “Except when you go away.” He said it lightly but his meaning was clear. Valleroy might think he was ‘here’ for the channel, but Klyd obviously did not.
Valleroy’s breath caught in his throat. “Klyd, please don’t. Let’s not get into this now.”
“Then let’s get to work.” Klyd said softly, and walked off.
A Junct Transaction
“Sectuib, have you a moment?” Varil chased after the swift moving Sime. Hugh turned, wondering at anyone who could presume on Klyd on his last day of Need, less than an hour before Transfer. But of course, for Simes, Need was a part of life, a monthly trial with which they lived their lives around.
Klyd drew a deep breath, and turned. “What is it, Varil?” He sounded almost normal to his Gen Companion. Valleroy knew he was far otherwise.
“Old Laris has come by to see you.”
Klyd blinked, laboriously coming to grips with that situation. Anything not Need-related was difficult for him to concentrate on, this close to Transfer. “Did he say what he wanted?”
“Only that he needed to speak with the Sectuib.”
Klyd sighed with feeling, and Valleroy felt a rush of sympathy for him. “All right. Send him to my office.” Klyd glanced at Valleroy. “Hugh? I’ll want you for this.”
That was such a given, Valleroy wondered why Klyd felt the need to say it. Then he realized that since returning from their mission, he’d never seen Klyd have direct dealings with any of their junct neighbors. And he and Klyd had discussed this, more or less…was it just a couple of days ago? It seemed he’d been at Zeor forever. “I understand, Sectuib.” His used the title, and his emotional nager to convey that he intended to be supportive during this meeting. As if he would be anything else just before Transfer! But he understood why Klyd was feeling anxious about it.
Klyd nodded, a trace of relief in his eyes. He made his way to his office, and Valleroy made sure he was standing close by his side when Varil showed the Genfarmer in.
Klyd strove to be pleasant. “Zeor stands at your service.”
Laris-Dey was an aged Sime, gray at the temples. He was dressed in the kind of worn, but neatly cared for clothes Valleroy recognized as might be twin to his own rancher’s dress when he went into town. He felt a flicker of empathy at the sight of them, and then, remembering this man dealt in the raising of thousands of his own people to be slaughtered, he quickly lost it, ruthlessly repressing any other feelings. How odd that a Genfarmer, the stuff of nightmares to most Gens, looked no different than any other homesteader/farmer on the Gen border. Save for the tentacles.
Laris gave him a quick look at the flicker in Valleroy’s fields, then paused and did a double-take, evaluating Valleroy with all his Sime senses.
Klyd trembled slightly as the junct zlinned and an edge crept into his voice. “My personal Companion.” He didn’t introduce Valleroy, but in a snatch of perception, Hugh understood that this close to Need, Klyd was having a hard time tolerating any attention directed toward his own Donor. He edged fractionally closer to Klyd.
Laris nodded, averting his eyes from the Gen. “A bright one,” he muttered. Valleroy might have been offended, had he been allowing himself any emotion. But in the connotation that the junct used, Hugh realized Laris was referring not to Valleroy’s intelligence compared to the Simes’ usual drug-deadened Pen Kills, but his selyn field.
“Please sit,” Klyd said, and waited until the Genfarmer had settled. “How can we help you?” Klyd asked again.
“I knew your father,” Laris-Dey said, nodding at Klyd, “well enough to recognize a Farris from one side of Valzor to the other. But he had naught to say to me, and I had naught to say to him.” He shifted in his chair. “Well, perhaps that was more on my side than his, though I never raised a tentacle against Zeor, in spite of your…” He swallowed his words and went on. “But you’re a fair man, I can see, for all you’re being-- ” he choked on his words again. Valleroy recognized that probably all Zeor’s junct neighbors never spoke of the Householding without following it with some sort of epithet, and the man was finding the habit hard to break, even in the presence of the Sectuib with whom he apparently come to do business. Laris nodded at the Channel. “Saved my steading more than once, you have. And never asked me once for a favor, not even for a single Gen, to Kill or spare as you have these others.” His eyes went to Valleroy and shifted away again.
“If you are talking of the food you’ve purchased from Zeor, we consider you’ve paid a fair price--” Klyd said, half-rising as if that settled the matter.
“You could have done better,” the junct announced, a bit too loudly.
Klyd was startled into silence and sank back down.
Laris continued, less abruptly. “Others with less interest in my land than you might have, have done their best to run me out. Knew I was in desperate straits. You’ve twice sold to me under market, under what you could get, even being--” he swallowed the words again.
“You’re a neighbor,” Klyd allowed cautiously. “Perhaps someday you’ll do Zeor an equal service.”
“And perhaps not,” the junct said shrewdly. “Perhaps not.”
Klyd said nothing and the two Simes eyed each other. The junct dropped his gaze first.
“I’ve got the flutterings,” Laris-Dey finally admitted, referring to a disease of the vriamic node that affected some ten percent of junct Simes that made it to their fifties. Hugh knew only that it caused eventual cardiac arrest. “And a boy,” Laris-Dey added. “My only son. My heir. I kept my farm all together these hard years, no matter how desperate it seemed at times, hoping to pass it to him, some day. Some day soon for I’m getting worse. And the boy’s twelve.” The latter was said with a kind of sorrowing pronouncement
Hugh caught his breath, but Klyd said nothing. Then the Channel asked carefully. “He’s not Changed over yet?”
“Not yet,” Laris-Dey said. “Nor will he, if I’m any judge. And I’ve been raising Gens for the Kill my whole life. I have an eye for a pre-Gen. I can tell that’s how he’s developing.” The man said the words as if in mourning. “He’ll be Gen before the year is out.”
“And you want him to come to Zeor?” Klyd asked cautiously.
The man didn’t answer that at first. “I’ll be dead too before the year is out. Tried to hold out, for the boy. Now, looks like I’ve got no son to will my property to.” He paused, meeting Klyd’s eyes squarely for the first time. “I’m thinking to give this boy to you.”
“You can’t be sure,” Klyd temporized. “The boy might Changeover yet.”
“I thought of that.” The shrewd look was back. “It’s not likely. But if the boy should turn Sime, he keeps his inheritance, except for the north fields that adjoin your southern border. That’s my payment to you, Klyd Farris, for looking after him until then. But if he turns Gen…” the Sime fixed the channel with his eyes, “You’ll keep him here. The property pays for his keep through his life. It’s a better trade than I’ve been giving you up till now.”
Klyd didn’t appear to think so, staring at the Sime in astonishment. “You want Zeor to annex a GenFarm until the boy changes over or establishes? That’s impossible.”
“Why not?” Laris gave Valleroy a depreciating glance. “You’ve got all manner of Gens running loose round this place. What’s a few more, down river? I’ve got those as can run the place, for a while, anyway.”
Klyd blew out an exasperated breath. “Did you bring the boy? Perhaps I can tell something.”
The Sime rose. “I’ll get him. Name’s Aren. For now, anyway.” He disappeared through the door.
Valleroy shifted slightly on his feet. “Not a word, Hugh,” Klyd muttered. Valleroy didn’t have a chance to, for old Laris was pushing a boy through the door. The child was frightened, a dozen years of growing up in a junct society had prepared him with fixed ideas of what Zeor perverts did and he looked at the channel as if he expected him to turn him Gen on the spot. But whatever hope Klyd might have had of deeming the boy in any kind of pre-Changover state was dashed when he laid eyes on him. The child was well grown for his age, almost coming up to his father’s shoulder in height, with clear brown eyes that held more than a spark of intelligence, and a shock of gleaming nut-brown hair. Unlike the children of many Simes, this boy had been well nourished. And that made his future even more obvious, for what characterized him most was his sturdy, well-muscled frame, with a lush, pliable skin … the kind underlaid with body fat that is only seen on Gens, even though the boy was lean as a whippet. Klyd frowned and met the GenFarmer’s eyes. Wordlessly, the man escorted his son back outside Klyd’s office, returning in a moment.
“I agree with you,” Klyd said. “I’d say it’s almost certain the boy – Aren -- will Establish soon. A month, maybe two.” He made the pronouncement so reluctantly, in such a tone that Valleroy, stung, spoke for the first time.
“It’s not as if it’s a death sentence.”
Laris-Dey turned to look at him in astonishment for so radical an attitude. Valleroy realized that to the junct, that’s what it was. Then Laris turned to Klyd with narrowed eyes. “That’s an Out-Territory Gen.”
“Hugh ambrov Zeor,” Klyd said to his Companion. “Not another word.”
Valleroy bit his lip and lowered his head. He kept the fields steady by rote, his emotions battened down, but underneath he was smoldering.
“Rescued,” Klyd said, turning back to Laris-Dey, not deigning to acknowledge Valleroy further to the junct.
The GenFarmer nodded, zlinning the Gen again. “They make the best Kills too.”
Hugh swallowed his emotions firmly, realizing that even now, the man – the Sime – didn’t realize his son was going to be one of them. But having his Companion spoken of as a Kill, by a junct , so close to his own Transfer had made Klyd pale. Valleroy concentrated on just getting Klyd through this. It came to him that with Klyd’s history of suffering near attrition at the hands of juncts so recently, that having to deal with a junct so soon before his Transfer, having a junct in the same room as his Companion, was a mild torture to Klyd.
Straightening slightly, Klyd met the junct’s eyes. “If your son Changes over, we will not offer him a Kill.” He didn’t say the words ‘Channel’s Transfer’. Having it stated in so bold a way could make a junct bolt from the room.
“I know that.” The man looked away from Klyd, obviously not wanting to dwell on that. “But I’m an expert on pre-Gens. You have seen your share as well, more than most. Between the two of us, no one in this valley has more experience with them. And we both agree.” He considered his hands a moment. “If I turn a Gen over to you after Establishment, I’ve broken the law. I could lose my farm for it. And that’s if I live to see it. But if I give ….him to you now, before… well, that’s legal.”
Valleroy wondered if the child had already become an it in the man’s mind.
Klyd sighed, turning his mind to the problem. “You can will your property to devolve first to your son as a primary bequest, and only bequeath it secondarily to Zeor if he Establishes and can’t inherit. I can see there might be trouble from the authorities on that. They won’t like it, but it isn’t illegal. It’s just that no one has ever done this. But either way, Zeor obviously can’t run a Gen Farm. If you believe you are ill,” Klyd gave the junct the narrowed gaze that said to Valleroy he was discretely zlinning him, “then I would prefer you begin closing down your operation.”
“And you’ll do what with the land?”
Klyd shrugged. “For now, annex it to Zeor. After your son matures, well, we’ll be legally free to make a final decision.”
The junct eyed Valleroy and shrugged again. “I suppose it is all raising Gens, one way or t’other. And I don’t have any choice. No sense trying to hold onto the stock since the boy can’t use them. And if he does Changeover, you’ve plenty of Gens; he’ll not go Needing.”
Klyd said nothing to that, unwilling to discuss the mechanics of Channel’s transfer with a junct, or reveal that the boy would never be served by a Gen.
“All right. Let’s do the deal then.”
Klyd called Aridor and one of his assistants to the office and they took down all the details in legal terms. The boy was sent to be fostered with a Sime family in Zeor. Even Valleroy recognized that for the son of a GenFarmer, living in a Householding would be enough of a culture shock for the boy than being fostered with a Gen foster-parents. Laris-Dey went home, heirless, to settle his affairs, auction off his breeders and young pre-Gens, and feed up his sickly Establishment stock for sale. Valleroy didn’t say a word to this, even though the knowledge was a knife in his heart. He knew Zeor could hardly support, nor afford to purchase all those pre-Gens, even if the junct law allowed it. But Klyd knew that better than he did.
Klyd called out as the lawyer was leaving the office. “Ari?”
The Gen stuck his head back in the door.
“Are we going to have trouble with this?”
“Don’t worry, Sectuib. I’ll take care of it. We might have to grease a few tentacles. Probably will. But I’ll manage it.” The Gen gave Valleroy a look, indicating as clearly as words that Hugh had better manage Klyd.
Valleroy sat down beside the channel, not having to feign concern, for Klyd looked terribly drawn. “He shouldn’t have come today,” Valleroy said fiercely. “Varil shouldn’t have asked you to see him. That kid isn’t going to Establish tomorrow.”
“He just might.” Klyd took a deep breath.
“Still, tomorrow would have done as well for this.”
Klyd laughed, albeit a hollow laugh. “Hugh, you amuse me. The man probably had me scoped out to determine what day I’d be in hard Need. He came here the day of my Transfer today hoping I’d agree, just to get rid of him.”
Valleroy paused, non-plussed. “But you’d have taken the kid anyway. Wouldn’t you?”
Klyd sighed. “I’d have had no choice. But there probably will be trouble over it. It’s not the best land in the valley. In fact, it’s some of the worst; it floods regularly, and is swampy the rest of the time. But no one will want to see it go to a Householding.” Klyd gave him a quirky look of curiosity. “I wonder that you’re so concerned for the boy. There are other Gens involved.”
Valleroy battened down his emotions. “Don’t push me, Sectuib. It’s hard for me even to think of them. But I know Zeor can’t afford to save a whole Genfarm full of Gens and pre-Gens.”
“The juncts would raze Zeor’s walls to the ground if he tried to will us all those Gens,” Klyd said breathlessly, his eyes closing. “Taking the land will be tricky enough. But I couldn’t deny him the chance to do that for his son.”
Valleroy shook his head. “I suppose there’s no chance the kid will Changeover.”
“About as much chance as you will,” Klyd said dryly, eyes still closed. “That close to Establishment, and developed as he has-” Klyd shook his head. “I have to admire the old man. It is the only way he can give his son a piece of his inheritance. Even though it’s worse than heresy in his eyes.”
“But he did it.”
Klyd met his eyes. “Yes, he did. You see. Some good can come out of making deals even with GenFarmers.”
Valleroy sighed. “Had to get that in, didn’t you Klyd?”
“Right now,” Klyd admitted. “All I really want to get in is a Transfer.” He raised searching eyes to Valleroy’s.
Valleroy smiled. “I would say it’s more than past time.”
The channel nodded in numb relief.
He followed Klyd into a Transfer suite, set the occupied notice, and did a rudimentary check, setting out some fosebine. He hadn’t needed it since he’d been serving Klyd, but Klyd still insisted on the precaution. The cabinets were stocked with other drugs, and instruments but he had little idea what they were for, or under what conditions they were used. The technical language Channels and Companions used among themselves was still often beyond him. Klyd had told him repeatedly he was a natural Companion, usually when he was berating him for some lesson still unlearned. He sometimes thought that Klyd belabored difficulties, but he had to admit he had no real idea how he did what he did, and never felt more foreign and transplanted than when in a Transfer suite. He had absolutely no fear about his ability to read and handle Klyd through this Transfer. With Klyd it felt natural, comfortable, right. But he also was well aware that his seemingly uncanny confidence with Klyd didn’t extend to any other Channel. If he were in this room with Zinter, he suspected he just be one more scared out-Territory Gen, needing to be coaxed and handled through a simple donation.
He left off his examination and crossed to the Channel. He’d seen Klyd in worse shape, of course, close to death by attrition. But he never wanted to see him even close to that condition again. The Channel’s Need seemed to be like a knife twisting in his own body. He didn’t understand how he could feel that pain as if it were his own, but he understood he was the only means of alleviating it.
Klyd turned to him with that disturbing predatory swiftness. But it no longer seemed to have the capacity to frighten him, not when it was Klyd. The Transfer lounge was only a few feet away, but Klyd didn’t seem capable of moving toward it. Instead, the Channel hesitated, as if the sudden proximity of his Donor after a month of waiting had momentarily incapacitated him. Careful to keep the fields steady, Hugh moved in a half step closer. Klyd’s weight suddenly came against him, the Channel’s head dropping to his shoulder.
Hugh put a hand on the back of Klyd’s neck, and massaged it gently. Klyd drew a deep breath and raised his head, back under control. His hands found both of Hugh’s, and they sat down on the lounge.
“Hugh, I can’t--”
Valleroy understood. Since their first Transfer where Klyd had been near attrition, and far past his normal control limits, Klyd experienced a moment of panic just before Transfer commitment, the same feeling that he was out of control, that he could kill. Would have killed, if Hugh hadn’t suddenly, unexpectedly, met and matched him as he had. Neither of them understood just what had happened, but Klyd was the only one bothered by that.
“I’m right here.” Hugh leaned in, field high, selyn production peaking with exposure to Klyd’s unmasked Need, barriers dropping as Klyd’s intil peaked. Tentacles twisted around his wrists, bruisingly tight. Laterals slick with ronaplin slid out of their sheaths and across his skin, a sensation that sent untrained Gens into screeching terror but which Hugh now welcomed. Everything felt good to him, even the anticipation of the giddy drop from high to low field as Transfer commenced. Klyd had told him Gens had no sensation of field gradients, so he didn’t quite know what he was feeling. But he knew he wanted it, that Transfer had become the keenest pleasure of his life, an exhilarating addictive rush unmatched by any other sensation.
As Klyd initiated Transfer, he felt himself dropping every barrier within himself, giving himself over completely, without care. If Klyd killed him now, he’d be sorry for Aisha, and for Klyd, but not for himself. He was in commitment now, his entire nervous system in synch, primed for Transfer and resonating to Klyd’s draw. He was not a man now, not a husband, not a homesteader, not an artist. He was simply pure Gen.
But more than mere Gen. He sensed Klyd’s draw and matched it, yielding to the Channel’s draw rather than controlling it. At the back of his mind was always that curious awareness that he could wrest that control away from Klyd. If the Channel faltered, he knew he could force the Transfer through. But Klyd had since impressed upon him that it was the Channel’s responsibility to control the Transfer. He preferred not to joggle the Channel’s elbow, so to speak, unless given a good reason. He was aware there were stages in Transfer, levels that he had to relinquish, one by one, and he was there with Klyd in that. He felt Klyd’s innate caution, even in the madness of Need, in spite of all his reassurances, until they were past the last barrier. Then Klyd was flying through the Transfer, stripping him with the unbridled speed and ravenous hunger of a high order Channel fulfilling primary Need. His own selyn supply seemed boundless. Klyd stripped his cells of selyn at a screaming rush that would swiftly burn out any general Donor’s nervous system, but it only served to thrill his. He felt it as Klyd hit his lower levels of satisfaction, then the middle, then the higher, then satiation, repletion. Klyd hovered on the brink of fullness in his primary system, and then began a leisurely shunting of selyn from primary to secondary, taking Valleroy’s excess ever more slowly, luxuriating in a Donor that more than matched his capacity, and taking the last vestiges of Valleroy’s field gradient down as close to zero as possible, shunting selyn as he drew. This languid drawing out of Transfer felt wonderful after the rush, their nagers so intertwined as to seem inseparable. He could feel his own cells pulse with selyn production. He could feel Klyd satisfied, browsing, no tension in him, gleaning the remainder as if he were a newly harvested field. His nager seemed to go lighter and lighter, as if his body were a floating soap bubble. And then he was stripped clean, only the pulse of new selyn filling his cells, and it was if the bubble gently popped as the Channel terminated the selyn flow.
Klyd relinquished the lip contact, and bowed his head to Valleroy’s shoulder, his tentacles still bruisingly tight, his body flooded with recovery transients. Hugh tried to support him nagerically, as he’d been doing the past few days, but he’d had Transfer now. It was as if he were pushing with no resistance – he had no field gradient post-Transfer. It would be a few days before he had a nager high enough to be any support to Klyd, though by the end of a day he’d look enticing enough to any renSime.
Klyd finally raised his head and drew a deep breath. His eyes were shining, but he smiled.
“Was it as good for you as it was for me?” Hugh teased.
“You are incorrigible,” Klyd said, his tentacles still forming living bracelets around the Gen wrists. “Dare I let you go to corrupt an entire territory?”
“If you don’t, the alternative is to stay and corrupt your House.”
Klyd’s eyes narrowed in consideration. “I could reform you.”
“But I’m incorrigible, remember?”
“True enough.” Klyd retracted his tentacles, and gave the Gen hands a gentle squeeze. He nodded at Valleroy, took a deep breath and then slowly, reluctantly released him, and then clutched the Gen’s hands tight again.
“Just a moment.”
Valleroy tried to support Klyd, and realized he didn’t nearly have enough selyn to be any kind of nageric prop. “Should I call someone? Denny? Charnye?”
“Just sit still a moment.” Klyd drew a few deep breaths, and said, “Don’t move. Calm down. I’m all right.”
“You didn’t look it for a moment there.”
“I am.” Klyd drew a few more deep breaths, nearly gulping the air, and Valleroy decided he wasn’t fine after all. He hit the call button and within seconds, Charnye was in the room. Valleroy was momentarily startled but then he realized Zinter would have Denrau low field by now.
Charnye took in the scene, and eased down on the contour lounge, next to Valleroy. “It’s all right, Sectuib. You got through it.”
His eyes shut, Klyd was gasping for air, and didn’t reply.
Valleroy’s eyes raked the glass cabinets with their rows of drugs and asked, “Is he having some sort of seizure?” When Charnye just stared at him, he implored “Do something!”
“He’s not having a seizure,” Charnye said. “You’d think even an out-Territory Gen would know how to handle a post Channel after all these months. Come here, Sectuib.” He leaned past Valleroy and drew the Channel against him. Klyd dropped his head to Charnye’s neck and the gasps became full-fledged sobs, obviously what Klyd had been struggling against. Valleroy hesitated, embarrassed, wanting to leave the room but knowing he shouldn’t. Over Klyd’s shoulder, Charnye frowned at him. “It’s time you learned to handle a Sime in post-syndrome, much as I’m loathe to let you loose on our Sectuib.” The ‘you’ might not have been an epithet but it certainly wasn’t flattering. “But you’re his Donor.”
Klyd drew back, one tentacle wiping at his face. “Charnye, don’t. I’m all right.”
“No, you are not. Let Hugh handle your post-syndrome, or next month, I’ll have Denrau Serve you,” Charnye said.
Klyd shook his head, either in negation of the suggestion, or the threat, but Hugh had heard enough. He took Klyd’s hand and the deep rapport of Transfer was between them again, as magically as if they hadn’t concluded the Transfer minutes ago. And he felt Klyd’s tension and grief as if it were his own. He reached out for the Channel, and felt Klyd wash out the catharsis of grief and tension and relief in tears. He discovered that even though his field was virtually non-existent, post-Transfer, somehow now that he knew what was wrong, he also knew how to support Klyd, and his low field didn’t seem to make any difference. And then Klyd was calm, and somehow better, even buoyant, for the tears. The Channel drew back, wiping his face. “Sorry. I know it’s not in your culture for men to cry.”
“I don’t understand. I thought the Transfer was good?”
“It was. It’s just been a bad month. All those blocked up emotions have to go somewhere after Transfer.” Klyd looked up at him and gave him a rueful grin, “Thank you, Naztehr.”
Hugh nodded but he was thinking this was one more thing Klyd had failed to tell him. Presumably because he thought Hugh hadn’t been ready to know it. It left him wondering what else he didn’t know, that would trip him – or Klyd – up in the future.
Valleroy went to shower while Klyd wrote up his notes from the transfer. He came out and dressed while Klyd did the same. Then noticing the notes, he paused in pulling on a shirt, and sat down to read them. It left him with a quiet unease, reading all those technical specifications, when he was still so high and post. He wondered how Klyd could reduce it all to numbers so quickly. He supposed, after years of transfers, he’d had lots of practice. He put the report back down, thoughtful again.
The channel came back in, having showered in half the time as the Gen and already dressed in fresh clothes,. “Hugh?”
The Gen pulled on his undershirt, back to the Sime, shoulders set, then turned, resolute, having half a mind what was coming next. “Klyd, don’t ask me to stay any longer. You know I have to get back. This season of the year, there’s just too much to do. I’m going stir crazy now just thinking of all the work that’s piled up the last few days.”
“I was only going to say this Friday night is the monthly party, for all the newly established Gens and changeovers.” Klyd came over and handed him his work shirt, as if a tacit acceptance of his departure. “Zeor would like it very much if you and Aisha would come. After all, you are a part of us.”
Hugh sighed, his shoulders dropping. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to –“
“Just say ‘yes’, Hugh.” Klyd waited patiently.
But Valleroy stared at the Channel, eyes troubled. “Klyd, you can’t think that I don’t want to be a part of Zeor. As much as I can be. I am trying.”
“I know that.” Klyd took his hands, the rapport from Transfer flaring up between them at the contact.
Hugh looked down at their joined hands, and bit his lip. He almost felt like crying himself at the idea of leaving. But he knew also he wasn’t ready to stay. “You’re not afraid I’ll contaminate Zeor with my foreign ideas?”
“Hugh,” Klyd chided him. “I didn’t mean to insult you, in asking you not to argue with Denrau.”
“As I recall, you didn’t ask. It was an order.”
Klyd frowned. “I was in hard Need, and I found my top two Companions in a violent argument. What should I do?”
“Leave us to settle it?”
“And if one of you should injure the other?”
Valleroy stared at him, startled. “Klyd we’re not five years old, tussling in a schoolyard. You don’t need to separate us. We can argue without fighting and even if we did fight, we could work it out.”
Klyd set his mouth. “What you need to do is work it out with me. I just don’t see how picking fights, verbal or otherwise, with Denrau can help.” Valleroy drew breath to protest that aspersion, but Klyd forestalled him. “What we have together, Hugh, is as new to me, as it is to you. Believe me in that. It’s something that Denrau doesn’t, and can’t possibly understand. Believe that as well. It isn’t something I would have understood, before I’d experienced it. But now I have. And because of it, I’m willing to make allowances for you.”
Hugh looked away, feeling his spine once again tighten at the unthinking authority in that last statement. How could their post-transfer rapport be shattered so quickly?
He looked back, half unwilling to meet Klyd’s eyes, amused now and relaxed in post-syndrome.
“Given we are in similar states of mind, you could make some allowances for me.”
He nodded, thinking how hard a task they were setting for themselves. He didn’t quite have Klyd’s easy self-confidence as to that. It had come to him that Klyd had many more years of experience in training Gens and Donors than he himself had in influencing Simes and Channels. He’d have to be doubly vigilant if he didn’t want to end up abandoning Rior for the slot of first Companion in Klyd’s House. But he forced a smile. “I’ll try. Of course. How can I not?”
“And you’ll come,” Klyd said insistently.
“Yes. Of course. We’ll try, anyway,” Hugh said, brow furrowing. “I know Aisha would like it. If we can get away.”
Klyd nodded. “I’ll look forward to seeing you.” He clasped Hugh lightly on the shoulder, one lateral lightly grazing his neck as Klyd had done in the school garden. Hugh blinked, forcing his eyes to focus. That touch always made him feel a little light-headed and dizzy. And it brought home again to him how easily one touch from Klyd could turn his perceptions upside down. He hardened his resolve and closed his nager against the easy way he could slide into that place prepared for him.
Klyd’s face set as he felt Hugh’s withdrawal. He slowly slid his hand from the Gen.
“I had better go,” Hugh said.
His horse was saddled and waiting for him at the stables, Zeor’s efficiency at its usual height. The saddle had been polished, his horse groomed bandbox bright, fresh from several days of rest. And strapped to the saddle was a bulky package, contents unknown. But there was also a basket, and Valleroy nose read the sharp sweetness of brambles.
He turned to the head groom to lodge a protest, but the renSime raised a hand, tentacles spread wide in denial before Valleroy even drew breath. “Sectuib’s orders, Naztehr. The basket came from the kitchens. I pack what I’m told.”
Valleroy let the breath out, knowing the protest would be wasted. And Klyd was nowhere to be seen. Even stable in post-syndrome, with Hugh as low field as could be, the Channel preferred not to watch him leave.
He vaulted on his horse and turned his horse in the direction of the river tunnel, and Rior. He didn’t look back. So he didn’t see the dark figure appear at the top of one of the upper court parapets, following him till he was swallowed in the tall ranks of Zeor’s crops.
Hugh steeled himself as he brushed away the hanging vines that hid the river tunnel and came onto his own property. After a few days at Zeor, it looked shabbier than ever. The weeds at this season of the year could grow feet in a matter of days, and the contrast between Zeor’s neatly ordered fields and his own roughly plowed and weedy ones would have made a less post Gen cry. He made a mental catalog, as he rode through his fields, of all the work needing to be done, and by the time he reached the cabin, it was lengthy enough to be depressing, if he weren’t so exuberant that almost anything seemed possible. Dusk was falling. Aisha wasn’t in the cabin, and not for the first time, he wished he were Sime and able to see by selyn fields. And then he could work all night and get his fields in order in record time. Of course, he’d need a high field Gen around to make that work, so perhaps he’d have to rethink that strategy. And he had better things to do this night than work anyway.
Hugh went around to the byre and found Aisha leaning over the stall. She turned to him and smiled in welcome. “I was just admiring our newest Rior member.”
Valleroy felt all the rush of emotion that Klyd’s Need had leached away from him return in a flood. “She is fetching. But I rather admire the original foundress.”
“Mmmmn. You’ve obviously gotten…what do they call it? Post.” The Simelan word came easily to her lips. He’d been teaching her the language, in the lamp-lit evenings, when they were too tired for more than quiet conversation. It was hard for her; he hadn’t realized how difficult a language it was. He wasn’t tired now and language lessons were the last thing on his mind.
“Around you, always.” He kissed her. “I missed you. Let’s get out of here before we scandalize the livestock.”
They walked through the gathering dusk, the moon just rising above the small cabin. Inside, Aisha turned to him. Neither one of them bothered to light the lamp.
Later, pleasantly sated but still too post to feel tired, he was pondering his problems when Aisha stirred and turned to him. “I can feel you thinking. What is it?”
He sighed and shifted to sit up against the headboard. He watched her light the lamp, adjust the wick, blow out the match. It made him remember himself, fingers lingering on Zeor’s lightswitches. Enjoying hot baths and running water. And the basket of provisions he’d left on the table and Zeor’s replete refectory compared to their own too empty food cupboards. “Would you rather live at Zeor?”
She hitched up on one elbow to look into his eyes. “Has our charismatic Sectuib talked you into something else now?”
“No,” At her skeptical expression, Hugh grimaced and laughed shortly. “Well, no more than usual. I was just thinking, that… Well, this is a hard life. For you.”
“And for you. But Hugh,” She covered his hand, square and calloused, with her own, small and clever, roughened in its own way by years of working with acid engravings and now with a different type of hard work. “This is the happiest time of my life. Of our lives. Starting out. Making something out of nothing.”
“It would be easier for you, at Zeor. You’d have more comforts, anyway.”
“We have comforts enough. We’ll manage more, in time.”
He puzzled over her words, wondering over the real meaning. “Would you be afraid to live In-Territory?”
She tilted her head, trying to read his eyes in the dark. “What are you trying to say, Hugh? Do you want to give up Rior for Zeor?”
Valleroy sighed with real feeling. “Everyone seems to be prevailing on me that it would be the sensible choice.”
“Everyone? Everyone meaning Klyd?”
Valleroy made a face. “Everyone but Klyd. He isn’t pressing me. Not exactly.”
“But he has a whole House of people to do it for him, is that it?”
“That’s not Klyd’s way.” Hugh demurred, denying the accusation without heat. “Klyd is – well, he can be stubborn and demanding. But he would never do anything he’d consider unethical. And asking someone else to convince me of staying at Zeor for him he’d reject. It’s just hard for Zeor members, feeling as they do about Klyd, to see him denied anything they think he needs, and that they can’t give him themselves. They can’t picture a lifestyle they can’t imagine. But it’s not even that so much. Only that sometimes, going from Rior to Zeor, and back again, seeing the differences myself, I wonder if I’ve brought too hard a life on you, and on everyone else, for my own goals. I include myself in the everyone persuading me, you see.”
“As well as feeling you’re not meeting your obligations to Zeor.”
Hugh said nothing, silent in the dark.
“And Klyd naturally would never need press you on that. Knowing as he does, that comparison with his own dedicated members causes your own conscience to torment you more.”
“I do feel that at times, I’m being selfish in pursuing Rior. To you, and to Klyd.”
“I’ve been waiting years for you to be a little selfish, Hugh. It’s good for you. It took me being kidnapped into Sime Territory for you to finally stop considering what an injustice it would do me to marry you, and to finally ask me. Don’t start going noble on me now, just when we are making something of Rior.”
“As hard as it is? We went from being – well, middle-class to being poor. Dirt poor as they say. All we have is our land. We spend every penny of my pension on getting Rior on its feet and even that isn’t enough. We scramble and scrabble till even handouts from Zeor look good.”
“How can you say we’re poor when we have so much? Our friends, our land, our animals and crops. I don’t miss little so-called luxuries when we have so much more that’s real.”
“I think so too,” Valleroy said slowly. “At least, I don’t miss them when I’m here. But then going to town, or at Zeor, when I see the things we don’t have, that we can’t possibly afford right now, then I feel guilty.” He shifted, rubbing his forehead. “Living at Zeor would solve all that.”
“You needn’t feel guilty on my account. And what is this about living at Zeor? Somehow guilt and doubts seem to plague you more when you’ve just returned, when by all rights you should be “post” as you say, and optimistic. Are you sure this guilt isn’t coming from Zeor itself? If so, remember that Klyd has a Houseful of people who’ve pledged their lives to him. Much as I love you, surely one more Gen can’t make all that much difference?” She hesitated, then said. “I don’t mean to disparage whatever it is you two have. I just don’t see it, myself.”
Hugh took her hand, and ran long fingers up her forearm. His own Sime-shaped fingers, legacy of some Sime ancestor, even though they were grafted on his very Gen wrists. “You still don’t feel anything when you donate?”
Aisha shook her head. “No. But I’m not serving Need.”
“Sometimes I wish I didn’t,” Valleroy said. “Even when Klyd just touches me I’ve always felt … something.”
“Well,” Aisha touched his hands, finely shaped under the scratches and calluses. Sime shaped. But she didn’t comment on that obvious fact, concentrating instead on putting the unobvious into words. “We’re different in that regard. You two do have something together, even though I couldn’t say what it is. I can feel it just stepping between you. There’s some sort of force – nageric whatever – in the room. But even if you are good for him, I wonder if he is all that good for you.”
“Does it show that much?” Hugh said, making a face.
“Every time you come back from Zeor, you are tied in knots with guilt over leaving. By all means donate to Zeor. Serve Klyd if you can and feel you should. But you have a right to your own dreams.” She leaned back. “I know Klyd cares enough about you as a person to want that.”
“Klyd cares about me,” Valleroy said flatly, “but as a Gen. And I care about him. As a Channel. We are friends, too, as much as we can be. But the one relationship seems usually to be in direct conflict with the other. And to Klyd I’m always a Donor first and foremost, and that is always the most important consideration in his mind. His Householding first, his duties as a Channel second and mine as Companion third. Whatever friendship we might have comes in far after all that. I’m not even sure that he can be friends with a Gen.”
“Hugh, that can’t be true. You’re not making any sense.”
He looked at her quietly. “Aren’t I? You really must not feel anything when you donate, do you?” As she shook her head he sighed, and punched his pillow. “Sometimes I wish I didn’t.”
“Are you saying you wouldn’t want to Serve Klyd?”
“I’m saying it would be easier if we were only friends or only Companion and Channel. I’m not sure it is possible to be both.”
“But isn’t a Companion supposed to want to Serve? How can it -- Oh.”
Hugh nodded. “Klyd told me all that. How important wanting was. Crucial. Essential to the ability of a Donor to Serve. But like everything, he leaves as much out as he tells.”
“So you’re not supposed to want anything else?”
Valleroy didn’t reply, fingers twisting in the bedclothes, face shrouded.
“Hugh, you don’t belong to him.”
Valleroy winced so, that her hands reached for his shoulders, certain he had a cramp. “Careful,” he replied. That’s not a figure of speech anymore. And it depends on what record you’re looking at.”
“What on Earth do you mean?”
He shook his head. “You don’t want to know.”
“Don’t tell me that. What do you mean?”
“You and I are both on Zeor’s tax roles, so technically, by Sime law, he does. Own us, that is.”
“Whatever for? We don’t live in Sime Territory.”
“We visit. Klyd has his reasons. And enough arguments to fill the Valzor River. I don’t have breath or patience to counter all of them. With Klyd, you have to pick your battles. What with everything else going on, I just gave in on that one.”
“That doesn’t sound very pleasant.”
“It’s not. But if you listen to Klyd’s view of it, if I don’t like my role, it’s my fault for not behaving like a proper Companion.”
“Well, tax records or not, he still doesn’t own you. He can’t tie you down and keep you there.” She glanced at him. “At least not literally anyway.”
“I know that. And you know that. And Klyd knows that. And yet, it doesn’t seem to make much difference, does it? He always gets what he wants, anyway.”
“You are gloomy, even post as you are. Didn’t you say a Companion had to want to Serve?”
“I’m just wondering how much choice a Companion has in the wanting part,” Hugh said darkly. “Maybe Klyd is right.”
“You get what you want, too. You have Rior, and me. Our newest Rior member,” she teased. “And Klyd. Hugh, even if Klyd is right about some things, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are wrong.”
Valleroy looked at her. “Doesn’t it? That’s not what he says.”
“But you do want Rior, don’t you?”
“More than anything.”
“Or anyone? More than what Klyd wants for you?”
Hugh let out a frustrated sigh, and threw himself back against the headboard. “I think that I do. But I’m not sure how long that will last.” He raised his eyes to hers. “There’s a lot that Klyd isn’t telling me.”
“Ask him then.”
“I’m almost afraid to hear the answers. I am sure that he’s afraid to tell me them.”
“What does he tell you?”
“To trust him.”
“And do you?”
“I try,” Hugh said in frustration. “I wish I did. I hope I can. It seems disloyal not to. We owe him so much.”
“Except the rest of our lives. Those are still ours, Hugh.” She squeezed his hand, much as Klyd had done earlier, and smiled. “In spite of his tax records.” She hesitated. “Why don’t you think you can trust him?”
“These things that I’m sure he’s not telling me,” Hugh said insistently. “Things he doesn’t want me to know. Things I think he’s deliberately keeping from me. With the best of intentions, I’m sure, at least for his own view of how he sees things. I trust that Klyd means well. But his plans and mine…they aren’t the same any more. He’s changed. He lets me in on things little by little. I find myself tensing when I’m with him, waiting for the next rule or restriction or bombshell he reveals. The more I tense, the less he tells. I don’t like that he doesn’t trust me. And I am starting to wonder how much I trust him. Neither of us are doing too good a job of understanding each other. Or communicating.”
“If anyone can take on Klyd Farris, Hugh, you can. Maybe you’re the only one who can, and that’s why fate or whatever has brought you two together.”
“I can’t take him on if he isn’t straight with me.”
“Perhaps that’s why he isn’t. But you don’t have to worry about that right now. There’s time, Hugh. When we get Rior on its feet, there’ll be time enough to take on Klyd. And my money is on you.”
Almost against his will, Hugh grinned at that. “If we ever get any money, that is. Aisha, I am going to try to make a life for ourselves that can stand outside of Zeor. I do think that’s important, to show that Gens can associate with Simes and Serve Sime Need and still be, well, Gen. Independent. Except where it concerns Transfer. I’ll always want to Serve Klyd’s Need, and I swear I’ll make every effort to do that well. I want to do that. But I don’t see that I need to serve him day in and day out. Any Companion can do that, even if they can’t Serve him in Need. But any Companion can’t do what I’m doing here. I want to do both. I think with some help, Klyd and I can work it out so that both are possible. Someday I think it will be important to the Gen government to show that it’s possible to be a Companion, to donate and Serve need and associate with Simes. And to still be able to have a normal independent Gen life, outside of Householding walls.”
“No argument here.”
Valleroy looked at her, startled. “You’re the first person I’ve told this to, who hasn’t been horrified. I wish Zeor felt that way. Klyd gives only lip service to it. I don’t think he can understand my view. And Denrau is outraged at even the notion of Companions living apart from Channels. To him it’s a lack of commitment, or selfishness or cowardliness, he not sure which. But he knows he condemns it, even not understanding why it’s important.”
“You’ll have to show them, then, won’t you? Hugh, you can do anything.”
“Klyd says that too.”
“Well,” Aisha said archly. “I’ll give him some credit.”
“I don’t think he always means it as a compliment,” Valleroy said, his eyes shadowed. “But you don’t think I’m wrong?”
She shook her head. “And don’t let anyone at Zeor tell you so. Including Klyd.”
“It can be hard not to,” Valleroy frowned. “When I don’t know all the facts. He just asks me to trust him. And as you know, he can be charismatic.”
“So are you, darling. So are you.”
The main refectory of Zeor was dressed up for a party, and crowded with Zeor members, all wearing shades of Zeor blue. But the crowd parted for the man walking through it toward her, Zeor’s members all making way for their Sectuib. She put on a smile for him.
“Sectuib Farris,” she put her hand in his.
“You’re looking exceptionally lovely tonight.”
She lowered her head, swallowing her amusement at his manner. “You can charm the birds out of trees, can’t you, Klyd? When you want to.”
“Why wouldn’t I want to?” Klyd smiled. “When I’m in your company?”
“My, what is a girl to think?”
“I only meant that Hugh is very lucky.”
She looked up into his enigmatic eyes, well aware of his warmer hand holding hers, the tips of his tentacles lightly touching her wrist. He had usually kept them sheathed when in her home, except when she’d donated. And then he was always scrupulously polite, well aware of her reaction. She hadn’t been completely honest with Hugh about not feeling anything at Klyd’s touch. Even the memory of laterals sliding across her skin made her spine tighten, in spite of months of donating. The sensation created a visceral negative response that she had never completely overcome, though she mastered it outwardly. It didn’t seem to be a factor in her donating. Klyd at least had never commented on it, though she felt he knew. At least she wasn’t bothered by the handling tentacles any more. She had to admit though, that she still couldn’t fathom how Hugh could enjoy serving Need. He really must be a true Companion as Klyd had said, because the touch of Klyd’s laterals evoked nothing pleasant in her.
As if aware of her feelings, he withdrew his hand, smiling faintly, as if amused. “Obviously the … attraction … is singular.”
She swallowed her own smile, and gave him a level look. “I’ve already dealt with one Post male. You wouldn’t be trying to make it two, now, would you?”
“I suspect Hugh wouldn’t approve,” Klyd said, glancing with an abstracted frown across the room to where Hugh was sitting, and then returning his intent gaze to hers.
“But if he were a good Companion, he would, is that it?”
Klyd shrugged slightly. As a Sime he didn’t have Hugh’s powerful shoulders or sturdy muscles, but there was a power in him, in his lean tall frame, his dark eyes that studied her frankly. “That would depend on you.”
She wasn’t unaware of the interest behind that frank gaze, had always been subliminally aware of it, but even though she felt a stirring of attraction, she firmly squelched it. “Well, we’re lucky we don’t have to ask him.”
Klyd smiled again, not mistaking her message, but seemingly enjoying the verbal sparring. “I like you, Aisha. That’s all I am saying. I approve of Hugh’s choice. I’m glad I could help save you for him.”
She blew out her breath, a little astonished at such blatant manipulation. “You mix charm and guilt very well.” She laughed at his look of disconcertment, which she suspected was calculated to charm in itself. She wondered just how genuine it was. “Don’t look so shocked. You may have Hugh thoroughly confused, but women are a bit more savvy to such tactics. Even Gen women.”
“I can’t imagine what you mean,” Klyd said, but he was smiling again, leaning against a pillar, relaxed as if prepared for a long talk, apparently not at all put off by her discernment.
“I think you can. I like you too, Klyd, but I’ve been in love with Hugh for too many years to throw him over, even for Zeor’s charming Sectuib.”
A parallel line drew between the black brows as Klyd puzzled over this, lips pursed. “Throw Hugh… Who said anything about your abandoning Hugh? What kind of Sectuib do you take me for.? I would never want us to do anything at all that would hurt or upset Hugh.”
“So you’re more interested in something temporary, is that it?”
Klyd fixed her with the same intent look, head bowed down to meet her eyes and shrugged again. “I’m very much attuned to Hugh, so naturally, what attracts him, attracts me. I understand morality in Gen territory is very different. Within Zeor, in Householdings, such things are not uncommon between Channels and Companions... and their spouses.”
“One big happy family,” Aisha laughed again at the absurd image. “And naturally, if we lived at Zeor, it would make it easier.”
Klyd tossed his head impatiently, shaking back his dark hair back where it had fallen in his eyes as he lowered his head to meet her gaze. He took her hand again. “I do worry about you and Hugh alone out at Rior.” He frowned, that vertical line knitting his dark brows again. “What Hugh is trying to accomplish is admirable. But it is too hard for two Gens entirely on their own. And it’s unnecessary to try and move so quickly. The border lands have always been in dispute. In time, with a little pressure applied to both governments, “ he paused and looked at her hopefully, “Zeor could annex Rior. Then Simes could help with the work.”
Aisha was non-plussed at this plan. “Hugh’s never mentioned this. Did he say anything about wanting to be annexed?”
Klyd shrugged, frowning down at the hand he’d captured, fingers and the tips of his handling tentacles playing with hers. “It’s only logical. Why else claim land adjoining Zeor?”
Aisha blew her breath out in frustration, and said, “Well, for one thing, to make Hugh’s trip to donate to you once a month a bit easier.”
“Hugh doesn’t donate,” Klyd corrected absently, still seemingly mesmerized by her hand in his. “A Companion Serves. You could both live here. Then it would be easier still.” He looked up and over to where Hugh was sketching. She saw that he didn’t look for Hugh, he turned to him, his Sime senses not requiring eyes to find the Gen. It made her feel a flicker of what her husband felt, dealing with Klyd so closely. How alien Simes could be.
“Look at him,” Klyd commented. “See how happy Hugh is tonight. I’m pleased to see that, though I’ve known it to be true. He could be happy at Zeor, content to live here full-time, if you would be willing.”
Aisha withdrew her hand, straightening her spine. “I don’t understand. I thought Rior was a valuable idea in your eyes, valuable because it was on the other side of the border. It doesn’t make much sense to take it into Zeor.”
“It is a noble idea, and will be valuable in time. But now it is premature. Hugh could be more valuable if he lived here.”
“We have crops. We are homesteaders, Klyd. We have to live at Rior. And we have to get at least 20 percent of our land in crop this year, to qualify for our grant. And Hugh bought twenty extra acres with his reward money, in addition to the fifteen he was granted because border land was so cheap and he wanted to get it while he could. But now we need to get that in crop too, to keep it. He put every penny he has – we have -- into Rior. We need our crops for cash. And to keep Rior we need to stay there and work it. This is our life now.”
Klyd blew out his breath in frustration. “I’ve watched Hugh nearly kill himself this spring and summer, getting that land in till and planted. Soon harvest will be here. He’ll be lucky to make it through.”
“No doubt,” Klyd said darkly. “He’s stubborn enough, even if he has to nearly break himself trying. I’ve never known a Gen so stubborn.” He reached out and took her hand again. “But after harvest, come winter, we’ll have time to reflect and discuss whether this breakneck pace is sensible. And perhaps rethink this decision.”
“Klyd, it’s not your decision to rethink. With all due respect, what Hugh does when he is not at Zeor is none of your business.”
Klyd looked up from her hand. “None of my business? Aisha, Hugh is my personal Donor now. A Companion in my house. What he does is absolutely my business. He pledged to me before he decided to found Rior. I allowed him to do that, despite some misgivings, but this summer has –“
“You allowed him to found Rior? Who are you to allow or disallow him anything?”
“I am his Sectuib,” Klyd said firmly.
“Hugh is not a Zeor member.”
Klyd rose restively. “Rior is a daughter house of Zeor. And not even that, it is still just a dream, and not a terribly viable one, a Householding in intent only. You’ll never have any Channels in Hugh’s lifetime. Never keep a Sime as long as the land is out Territory. And Hugh Serves me. That alone makes him Zeor by default. I don’t want to see Hugh kill himself with overwork struggling to make an impossible Householding a reality.”
“That’s his choice, isn’t it?”
“No. It is not. Hugh pledged to me and to Zeor before founding Rior. That makes it mine as well.”
“And Hugh? Is he yours too?”
He looked at her intently. “I wouldn’t put it quite that way. But as a Companion, and an oath bound member of my House, yes, he is mine. My member. My Donor. My Companion.”
“You don’t own him, Klyd. No matter what your laws say.”
“Perhaps not,” Klyd temporized. “Not as you think of ownership. Nor Hugh. Your both contaminated by an out-Territory upbringing. But Hugh does acknowledge that as his Sectuib I have some rights over his actions. As his wife, I would think you’d be equally concerned about this course he’s taken. Surely you agree with me that he’s overextended himself.”
“Hugh is tough.”
Klyd gave her a look that clearly discounted that opinion. “Tough or not, he is only one Gen.”
“And Rior is his dream. Who are either of us, to deny him that?”
“I don’t want to deny Hugh,” Klyd said, stubbornly. “If I did, I would not ask. I would simply order this nonsense to end. And if Hugh is any kind of Companion, he would not contest that decision. But I am not asking Hugh to stop. It’s simply that Rior doesn’t need to be created at this pace. At Zeor, he could paint and design, instead of plowing like a farm animal all day. Isn’t that what he wanted to do with his reward money? Paint? That was all he talked to me about, when we were looking for you. When was the last time he had leisure for his art?”
“When winter comes—“
“Winter will be a struggle for survival in it’s own way,” Klyd said, brushing her argument away with a tentacle. “Chopping wood for warmth. Caring for your animals through storms and snows. Living on even shorter rations than you have been this summer.” Klyd fixed her with a dark look, which challenged her to deny that, even as she drew breath. “Hugh may be too stubborn to admit it, but don’t think that I don’t know about that. He hasn’t lost weight solely because he’s been overworked. It’s a scandal and a disgrace. Gens who are hungry in summer starve in the winter. How long do either of you expect me, as your Sectuib, to stand by and watch this?”
“Our crops will be in then,” Aisha insisted. “The first year is naturally the hardest. After harvest—“
“And how much of your harvest proceeds will have to go toward payment for the additional land you acquired? And the taxes? And the hard goods, that you have to pay cash for in town?” Klyd snapped out the words as if he’d been holding them in for too long. “How narrow a margin have you calculated? How likely is it you can pay your land fees and taxes and buy what you’ll need, and still retain enough of your harvest to live on this winter till you can replant and harvest your spring crops? I know for a fact Hugh couldn’t have laid in much wood while he was so busy getting his fields in till. And with harvest coming, he’ll be working dawn till dusk on that. He won’t be able to hire any workers for harvest even if he could afford them, for no one will work this close to Sime Territory. After harvest, he’ll be exhausted and he’ll barely have time to lay in any wood before the first snows.” Klyd said tersely. “I’ve been running Zeor for years. I understand these things.”
“We will manage.”
Klyd looked impatient. “That is no better answer than what I get from Hugh. And how, as you are freezing through the winter, with no substantial stores of firewood, on short rations and little cash, is Hugh going to be inspired to take up his art again, after so many months of working like an animal?” Klyd laughed shortly. “Tell me where Hugh is going to find the money for art supplies, even if he has the time or the inclination. He will be far more concerned with simple survival.”
“I don’t believe the winter will be that grim.”
“You have never lived through a winter on the border before.”
“We’ll make it. And Hugh sketches beautifully with willow charcoal. That we can make ourselves.”
“He wanted to paint,” Klyd reminded her.
“That will come in time.”
Klyd shook his head. “I’d hoped you’d agree with me on some of this. I thought, given how much you care for Hugh, you’d realize the faulty course he is on. Has put both of you on.”
“I care enough not to deny him something so important to him.”
“I am not trying to deny Hugh his dream, Aisha.” He moved restively, pacing a little in a circle around her. “But I remember when he told me his dream was to take his retirement pension and the reward money and devote it to his art. Before he decided to found Rior, when he was still pledged solely to Zeor. He could still realize that dream.”
Klyd shrugged. “I’m afraid for his future. Rior isn’t viable yet. Harvest will be almost impossible for Hugh, given he won’t accept help and can’t hire any. I know he is worried about money, worried enough to probably sell too much of his crop just for taxes. Then he’s going to go into the winter exhausted, improperly nourished and facing months of hard labor just to keep you both warm with inadequate food stores. And at the worst time of the year. Don’t deny it, we both know it is true. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
“Klyd, you keep dwelling on the worst case scenario.”
“With good reason. Even well-cared for, well-nourished Householding Gens can fall ill and succumb to colds and flu come winter. Right now, though my own fault, Hugh is neither.”
Aisha stared at him in astonishment. “How in the world is this your fault?”
“I should have put a stop to it from the start.”
“As if you had a right to!”
Klyd fixed her with a glance. “We’ve already settled that.”
‘No, we haven’t. Your claiming you have that right doesn’t make it so. That’s up to Hugh.”
“Rior is only viable because of Zeor.”
“That’s absolutely not true. We are not dependent on you!” Aisha said, stung. “I know for a fact Hugh has taken practically nothing from Zeor. Certainly nothing we can’t live without. We want to do this on our own. It’s important to Hugh.”
Klyd laughed shortly in derision. “I don’t disagree. Hugh has refused almost every offer I’ve made, but that’s such a moot point it is ridiculous that he is so defensive about it. It isn’t what you are given that you need Zeor for. It is what you give. Do you imagine you could survive on the border, two high field Gens, without a Channel to give you Transfer, and keep the juncts at bay? Without that, your selyn fields would be blazing beacons to raiders. You are dependent on Zeor for Transfer. Without that, you wouldn’t last two months.”
Aisha eyed the Channel warily. “Are you saying you’d deny taking our donations if we refused to spend the winter at Zeor?”
“I don’t expect it will need to come to that,” Klyd said impatiently. “Aisha, I am not your enemy. I realize that Hugh has an artist’s temperament and idealism, and consequently can be difficult. But I sensed long ago, you were more practical. Face facts, as he refuses to. Hugh is tough, you both have lasted longer than I expected. But I am frightened at the idea of both of you facing a winter at Rior, in that inhospitable primitive little cabin, with no conveniences, much less comforts, cold, hungry and alone. Spending the winter at Zeor is a reasonable solution.”
She drew herself up, bristling at the insult to her home. “So because you are frightened, we have to accede to your fears? You make it sound as if Gens are tougher than Simes.” Klyd flinched and she pressed her point. “We can do this. We want to. There’s nothing for you to be frightened of on our accounts. Stop patronizing us.”
“I can’t stand this,” Klyd muttered, dropping his head into hands and tentacles.
“We Gens are tougher than you think, Klyd. Give us a chance to prove it.”
“Prove that Gens can survive without Simes?” Klyd looked up at her. “Why would I want or need that proven to me?” He frowned at her. “And what about when you can’t? You won’t have a Channel to attend you, if you get sick.” Klyd looked at her pleadingly. “Aisha, please just consider spending the winter months at Zeor.”
“We have our livestock. We can’t just leave them.”
“That’s no problem.” He brushed that consideration away with a tentacle. “Horses and a few cows. Drive the cows over. What else do you have – some poultry? Crate those and bring them over too.” He laid a tentacle against her lips. “Don’t decide now. Just think about it. Hugh can paint and rest a bit before spring planting, instead of spending the few hours of daylight hauling and chopping wood and laboring over farm animals. Wouldn’t you like to see that? See Hugh happy, as he is tonight, devoting himself to art and to you, and not working like an animal?”
“Hugh has nearly killed himself bringing in the hay twice this season in preparation for our first winter, so we’ll have plenty of fodder for our animals. He has one more cutting to go. And there are our crops. You expect him to forget all of it and just come to Zeor?”
“Zeor will harvest what we can from your crops. And pay your taxes.”
“I’m sure you don’t need them. And Hugh will insist on earning Rior’s taxes.”
“Then come after harvest. Serving as Companion will more than earn your keep and that of your animals, if that is what you’re worried about. And I can still leave him time for his art. He can always do some design work for the mills. They’d be delighted at that. I don’t expect a Companion and an artist of Hugh’s ability to waste himself laboring in the fields. And though it is irregular for a Companion at Hugh’s level to have other duties other than serving a Channel, I’d make an exception and give him time for his art. I promise you that.”
“You’d ‘give’ him time for his art? Klyd, listen to yourself. Hugh doesn’t need to take that as some sort of gift from Zeor.”
“It’s obviously one he hasn’t been able to give himself so far at Rior. And I promise you won’t lose Rior. I’ll see that property annexed, one way or another. We will both win, Aisha.”
She frowned at him. “You still think of Gens as helpless, don’t you? Unable to really make it without Simes along to help. But we’re out-Territory Gens. We can’t live under Sime authority, and we don’t need your gifts.”
“Perhaps you don’t need them. But think of Hugh. He belongs at Zeor.”
“I am thinking of him, and I don’t agree. Klyd I won’t ask him to give up Rior before we’ve even started. Because that is really what this is about and it has nothing to do with Hugh’s art. Don’t ask me to do it.”
“Just for the winter then.” Klyd looked at her, the full force of his personality willing her to concede. But something held her back.
“How easily will you make it for him to leave, Klyd?” She met his gaze evenly. “He stays three days each month at Zeor and comes home torn with guilt over leaving. If we stay for a few months, would he ever be able to leave? I don’t think so. I don’t think you believe he could either.”
“That would be his choice. But I wouldn’t argue if he felt living at Zeor would give him a better life.”
“And I’m sure after months of carefully couched arguments delivered with all your persuasive force, it would certainly seem so. Or he’d feel so obligated to you that leaving would be nearly impossible. And maybe that’s the point behind all of this.”
Klyd frowned. “I’m only trying to help.” He sat down, fixing her with his eyes. “How can you love him, and see him work himself to death this way? He’s only my Companion, but I can’t stand watching what this dream of his is doing to him.”
Aisha believed him. She understood somewhat how Hugh was torn. Klyd’s intentions were good. But she marshaled her feelings. “Klyd, I know I owe you my life.”
Klyd grimaced impatiently. “What I did for Stacy and Hugh, doesn’t obligate you to me or to Zeor in any way. I am not talking of that. We are past all that.”
“I believe you. And I don’t pretend to understand what happened between you and Hugh. I do know that just meeting you, working with you for those few weeks, gave Hugh a happiness he’s never had. A purpose and a goal he finally believes in. Filled a void, no one, not even I, could fill in him. And having found that purpose, after searching for it his whole life, well, he’s not going to just give it up. Even if you say so. Hugh isn’t like that.”
“I’m not asking him to give Rior up. Not entirely. We could discuss ways to bring it about, sensibly.”
“He’s entitled to try his own ways. He feels he can succeed. Hugh can be very determined.”
“I’m not sure I can stand letting him try, if he’s going to go about it in this self-destructive way.”
“It’s not self-destructive just because we’re not living the life of a Householding member. I know you are a good person, Klyd. But how Hugh lives is really not your concern. Or your choice.”
“I don’t accept that. Rior is a daughter house of Zeor. Hugh pledged to me. You have not pledged Zeor. You have no obligations to us. But it is otherwise for Hugh.”
“He Serves your Need. Surely that ought to fulfill any obligations he made to you.”
“Pledging Zeor means more than that.”
“He pledged to you to save me. Don’t make me the party to his – I don’t know what to call it -- coercion.”
Klyd whirled. “How can you suggest I’d force Hugh -- in any way?”
“What else can you call trying to stop Hugh from doing what he so wants by some tie that he didn’t fully understand? And that he made under duress. Does that pledge mean he is bound to you for the rest of his life?”
“Yes. Of course.” Klyd said, frowning as if it were something obvious, that didn’t need explanation.
“In Gen society, a pledge made under duress isn’t binding.”
The channel narrowed his eyes. “Hugh made his pledge under less compulsion than any other Zeor member. Every Established Gen, even every rescued Pen Gen who pledges understands what happens to Gens outside Householding Walls. Every Sime recognizes that the consequences of a non-junct life mean being a slave to the Kill. Every pledge is made under some kind of duress, Aisha. Our biology, our present society is an inescapable fact of life. None of that is any excuse to violate a pledge. Coming from Gen Territory, Hugh has had more alternatives than most. Does that mean he is less committed, less honor-bound, because he isn’t forced to fulfill it? I would hate to think that of Hugh. Or of you.”
Aisha shook her head, her lips trembling. “This is abominable.”
Klyd blew out his breath, impatient with their continued lack of connection. “What is abominable is letting Hugh work himself into an illness trying to remake the world in a few months. Aisha, can’t you understand that the reverse is true as well? It was a mutual pledge. I – all of Zeor, is as bound to him as he is to us. I am responsible for Hugh. I want to see him have ‘the rest of his life’. And the way he is going, I am concerned.”
“You feel responsible. That’s a different thing. It doesn’t give you the right to order Hugh around, no matter how you’ve twisted the matter in your own mind.”
“Yes, it does give me that right, no twisting needed,” Klyd insisted. “Even aside from the pledge which bound Hugh to me and to Zeor, Rior is Zeor’s daughter house. Zeor is responsible to Rior. Householdings are the first entities that considered Gens people. Householdings have always judged themselves and are judged in how they care for their Gen members. It’s unthinkable for a House to treat its Gens poorly, to drive them like Pen stock. A Householding is not a Genfarm. And Hugh is working himself in a way that no overseer even in any decent GenFarm would allow a Gen to be worked. Not even a bad one would starve and exhaust a Gen the way Hugh has been this summer. And he’s doing this under Zeor’s auspices. His present condition is an abomination and a disgrace to Zeor. He’s a perfect example of why many Simes say that Gens can’t manage their own lives. ”
“No, I don’t think that. Not as a rule. But I can’t deny Hugh’s behavior this summer has given me pause. He’s thrown out all common sense and thrown himself into a task far too big for any Gen. How can you think I could stand by and let my own Companion, the Householding I pledged to support, suffer worse than the Pen stock of any lowlife overseer? It’s indecent that I’ve even allowed it go on this long. I only did because I can’t bear to deny Hugh anything he wants so much. And I thought he would come in time to realize the only solution. But Hugh is too stubborn to yield, or perhaps because of you, he is too proud, and now, with winter coming…” Klyd shook his head. “I can’t see any other option. If you both caught flu, out there with no visitors for weeks, no Channels to nurse you, how would you keep warm? You either freeze to death or die of fever. And it would be my responsibility. It would be my fault.” Klyd bit his lips, his gaze haunted.
Aisha looked at him, seeing his genuine concern. But she wondered how much of it was concern for them, versus concern for himself. For his Companion, for Zeor’s reputation. “Or we could bring in our crops, load up on wood, and spent the winter warm and cozy, as we intend, with Hugh painting half the day and caring for the farm the other part. We’re not likely to get flu, isolated as we are. And we’re both looking forward to the winter as a well deserved vacation. A sort of honeymoon, a chance to really enjoy each other and our solitude in a way we haven’t been able to, as busy as we’ve been getting Rior on its feet. Yes there are worst case scenarios, but we can’t dwell on them.”
“Channels have to consider worst case scenarios, and prepare for them,” Klyd said tersely. “It’s irresponsible not to, when we have an entire House depending on us.”
“From what Hugh tells me, you don’t necessarily apply that rule to yourself. You take risks, Klyd. What gives you the right to deny that to Hugh?”
Klyd looked grave. “I have taken risks and lost. Perhaps that has made me more cautious. I’ve lost too many lives through risk. I simply will not risk Hugh’s. And I won’t allow him to risk it himself.”
“That sounds like an ultimatum.”
“I hope it doesn’t have to be. Especially with your help.” He looked at her searchingly. “Hugh would do anything for you, I think.”
“Klyd, I’m not going to convince him to stay at Zeor this winter for you.”
The Channel drew his head up. “I’d hoped you’d do it for him.”
“I don’t see it that way. I’ll grant you might think this is best. But that you’ve changed your mind doesn’t mean anything has changed in Hugh’s mind. Or mine.”
“And if I try to convince Hugh otherwise? You’ll oppose me?”
“I’ll support Hugh. Whatever he decides.”
Klyd looked away, marshalling his disappointment, but unable to fully conceal it. Aisha touched his sleeve, feeling genuinely sorry for the Channel. She sensed that in many ways he did have their best interests at heart, from his own viewpoint, even though that alone would give an out-Territory Gen pause. “Klyd, don’t you understand? Hugh is happier at Rior than I’ve ever known him, in spite of all the hard work, and the frustrations. He’s only unhappy when he comes back from Zeor, because of this conflict you put him through. I love him very much, and I’ll fight to keep him happy, whatever that might mean. I’d even fight you for him.”
The Channel stiffened at her touch and his dark eyes looked at her as if acknowledging her as a rival. “That’s unnecessary. I am not your enemy, Aisha. I’d hoped that if nothing else, I made that clear to you tonight. I don’t want to take Hugh away from you. If anything, living at Zeor would mean he’d have more time for you. You’d both have more security. I want Hugh to be happy too. Far more than I think you realize. Hugh is very important to me. But part of the reason he is so torn when he returns from Zeor is that I think he recognizes his place is here.” Klyd turned again, his gaze unerringly finding the Gen. “Hugh belongs to Zeor.”
Aisha said nothing for a moment, hearing what Klyd was saying that he’d left unspoken. He belongs to me. She began to understand how threatened Klyd was feeling, even if she couldn’t understand the why of it. Then she said. “I really don’t understand what is between you two, so I can’t answer that. That’s for Hugh to decide, not you and certainly not me. But I wish you could come to Rior for a bit. Not just to take Hugh and go away again, but really see him there. He may be working hard, but he loves what he is doing. We both do. The sacrifices we’re making right now – they don’t mean anything in the long run. What matters is what we’re building. And he’s doing it for Zeor, for you as well, for the dream you both share. He’s not intending to thwart or deny that part that he’s pledged to you. He wants to keep on Serving Need. But he feels part of fulfilling that dream is building Rior.”
“Perhaps I will,” Klyd said slowly. “But Hugh has to be alive to keep building. You don’t understand the obligation I have toward Hugh. That we have toward each other. I am responsible for him, and he is responsible to me. It’s not an obligation I can overlook, or ignore, regardless of any personal feelings. In fact, I shouldn’t have allowed my personal feelings to avoid this as long as I have. This is an obligation that as Sectuib I am required to act upon as best I see fit.”
“In your culture, perhaps,” Aisha temporized. “In ours, his decisions are his own. You don’t have the option of allowing him or not allowing him, to do anything. He’s an adult, Klyd. A free, independent adult. Can’t you trust him?”
Klyd shook his head. “He’s an adult, yes. But a Companion cannot by function be independent, and therefore is not entirely free. Not if he Serves a Channel. And Hugh Serves me.”
Aisha stared up at him. “You said you’d never force him, then you say he’s not free. You’re not making any sense, Klyd.”
“Once a Companion chooses a Service profession, he is bound to Serve. Once a Householder gives an oath to his Sectuib, he is bound by that oath. Neither negates that a choice that was freely made, but one can’t undo one’s choices either. Hugh’s actions do affect others. They affect Zeor. ”
“You mean they affect you.”
“What affects me, affects Zeor.” Klyd said remotely, once again staring across the room at the source of his concern. “And I must act in Zeor’s best interests.”
Aisha said what she had been longing to say for months. “Klyd, one Gen can’t possibly mean that much to Zeor. Or to you.”
“With all due respect, Aisha, you know nothing of Channels and their needs.”
“I know what Hugh tells me.”
Klyd laughed shortly, though it sounded hollow, and glanced at her. “That doesn’t mean much. Hugh knows very little. He understands even less.”
“He understands enough to be torn about getting any more deeply involved in Zeor. A year ago you hadn’t even met Hugh. If he is so ignorant, how important can he be to you? Why can’t you just let him go?”
Klyd shook himself and stared at her. “Let him go? You speak as if I were keeping him captive.”
“I think you just might like to.”
Klyd’s expression contracted, eyes narrowing, mouth tensing. “How dare you – Aisha, that is a dire insult to the Sectuib of a House.”
“What else do you call trying to coerce him into your service?”
Klyd drew himself up, putting a little distance between the two of them. “Zeor does not need to coerce its Companions to Serve. I would think even an out-Territory Gen would by now understand. A Householding is not a Pen, Aisha.”
“It might as well be, if the Gens are here by force.”
“I haven’t forced Hugh or any other Gen into anything. A Companion cannot Serve by force. Such a thing is impossible. What Hugh does -- is not even close to Donating as you do. Hugh must wish to Serve or he can’t.” Klyd frowned at her, speaking slowly as if she were deficient in understanding that he had to state the fact. “A Companion from any other Householding would feel privileged and honored to be offered the opportunity to Serve as Zeor’s First Companion.”
“So it’s an offer Hugh isn’t expected to refuse? Well, Klyd, we thank you for the honor, but at least at Rior, we are free and independent,” Aisha said, bristling enough at his condescending tone to give vent to rudeness.
“And at least at Zeor, you’d both get fed,” Klyd countered, replying in the same vein. When she drew back at that, he flicked an eyebrow, acknowledging his point had hit home.
Aisha drew herself up, furious that Klyd’s comment had caught a nerve. “Why does his welfare matter so much to you? One Gen, more or less. There are thousands being Killed every month by juncts. I understand that Hugh Serves your Need, but does Hugh’s service mean his life is no longer his own? And if not, whose is it?” Klyd looked away, saying nothing. She pressed the advantage, moving to try and meet his eyes. “Suppose we are strapped for cash right now? It was Hugh’s calculated decision to buy more land than his reward grant, and I agreed we’d put our savings into that. We knew it wouldn’t be easy the first few years, but we figured we could make it work. And we have, so far. Suppose we have made the choice to sell as much food as we could this summer to raise cash? We’re hardly starving. And even if we were, what business is it of yours? I will tell you – none! Just because we donate to Zeor does not make our business or our decisions subject to you.”
Klyd sighed, marshalling his patience for another explanation. “Hugh does not donate. He Serves and has Served me for months. His service is genuine, his commitment in Transfer absolute. Subject or not, his status as my Donor makes his welfare, his condition, of prime importance to me.”
“Nothing gives you the right to take that service and use it as an excuse to demand anything more from him. He gives you that service, freely. Isn’t that enough? Must you demand even more from him?”
“I am not trying to take anything away from Hugh. I am trying to help keep him alive.”
“You are trying to take his freedom. To control his life, our lives. With all due respect, Sectuib. When you don’t take a polite ‘Thank you, but no’ for an answer, it stops being help and starts being something else.”
Klyd flinched at that. “If that is true, it is because he has left me with no other option. If Hugh were any kind of a Companion, he would not need more than a suggestion. His out-Territory upbringing has adversely influenced him, against the very service he has chosen and sworn to give. He’s struggling against it, and killing himself doing that. He needs help.”
“God save all of us from the kind of help you’re envisioning, Klyd,” Aisha said. “You and Zeor as well as Hugh and myself. I can tell you I won’t be any part of convincing Hugh otherwise.”
Klyd drew back, angry and affronted, his but whether it was based in frustration or denial of her words, she didn’t know. And she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.
“Excuse me, then,” he said stiffly.
She wandered back to the party, shaken enough that several Simes looked at her oddly and drew hastily away from her. She calmed down and going to her husband’s side, found that Hugh had drawn all the guests of honor, those who’d just changed over or established, was now busy drawing sketches for waiting Zeor members. She would have thought by now he would have drawn everyone in Zeor, but people still lined up eagerly, every time he got out his sketch book. She went to get him a glass of fruit punch, but she discovered Klyd had also gravitated toward her husband, watching absently, perhaps meditating, his thoughts clearly far distant. And feeling a little uneasy, she stayed by Hugh’s side.
Studying him as he watched Hugh, she thought how lonely Klyd appeared, even in a crowd of his own Householding. Hugh never seemed to have any real answer to her questions about why he was so important to Klyd, when as Sectuib the man had a house full of Gens and Simes who had pledged their lives to him. She gathered Klyd and Zeor had enough prestige to attract scores of potential Companion candidates from within his own House and perhaps from other Houses. So she didn’t understand why Klyd wanted Hugh. Probably Hugh didn’t know the answer either. But Aisha was coming to understand that perhaps having a House full of Gens was different than having one or two who Served. Klyd’s gaze on her husband had turned searching and intent, as if Hugh were a riddle he had to solve. She found it incongruous that Hugh, much as she loved him, could be so essential in such an unheard of way to this exotic creature.
She’d never heard of Channels before she’d met Klyd. Before she’d been kidnapped by junct Sime Raiders and rescued by Klyd and Hugh, she’d known nothing but the usual Gen propaganda about Simes. It had come as a revelation to her that there were Simes who lived without killing Gens. That there were different types of Simes. That Channels could bridge the gap between ordinary Simes and Gens, helped by special “Companion” Gens with some uncanny skill, and transfer selyn from ordinary Gens to ordinary Simes. And that thus combined, they could prevent the kill not just between themselves but for hundreds of Simes and thousands of Gens a year still astonished her. And yet here she stood, in a party surrounded by such Simes and Gens, wondering how it came about that Hugh was one of the special Gens with this uncanny skill. And what it would mean for him.
Perhaps she was being selfish. But she couldn’t ascribe that to Hugh, not under any circumstances. And seeing Klyd’s dark intent form, she would have augured nothing good from his intent gaze, except that Klyd seemed so concerned, and in other respects was so civilized she couldn’t think really ill of him. How could she possibly think ill of a man who performed such a service to mankind as Klyd did? But was Klyd civilized when it came to his own Donor? Even if he was, a whole world of ills could come from misplaced good intentions.
Someone bearing a tray came toward Klyd and offered him a drink. He took one but instead of drinking it himself, went over and put it beside Hugh, who looked up with a smile and a word for his Sectuib before going back to his sketch. She watched while Klyd put a friendly hand on Hugh’s shoulder as he drew, tentacles twining, one lateral tentacle brushing his cheek. Intent on his work, Hugh didn’t seem to notice. Or to mind, somewhat to her astonishment. She hadn’t realized tentacles were used for other things than to immobilize Gens and tap selyn. In her home, Klyd kept his sheathed, except when he took her donation. Apparently they could be used in casual, even affectionate, contact. The thought of such a lateral contact still made her shudder, but then she was no Companion. As she watched the other lateral licked out of its sheath and slid down Hugh’s throat to just behind his ear. Hugh glanced up at Klyd, and held his gaze a moment and some sort of wordless communication passed between them. Then Klyd said something quietly and wandered off again, pausing to give a meaningful glance to those waiting in line to be sketched. As if by magic, most of the line instantly dissolved.
Aisha waited a few minutes and then when Hugh tore his latest sketch of the pad and handed it to the grateful mother (it was of her two children) she joined her husband. Hugh grinned at her, obviously in high spirits. He clearly liked being around these Householders, even the Simes. Perhaps even especially the Simes. But he held his hand up to the lone waiting Sime discreetly eyeing him, fingers twisted. The Sime nodded and faded away into the crowd.
“What does that mean?”
“Hmmm?” Hugh said, swallowing a gulp of the drink Klyd had left by him. “Oh, Evan was next, but I told him I was taking a break.” Valleroy shrugged. “It just means wait a few minutes. There’s a sort of non-verbal language here, which Gens use too as best we can. Though it’s easier to manage if you have tentacles in addition to fingers.”
“I can imagine it would be,” Aisha said gravely, and watched as Hugh rose and stretched, shrugging out his shoulders and shaking his cramped fingers. “Are you all right? What did Klyd want?”
“Just to tell me not to work myself to death sketching. He can be as broody as a mother hen, sometimes, but he was right. My hands were beginning to ache. It’s just funny how all three of my jobs use different muscles. I suppose in a way that’s good,” Hugh drew a deep breath, as if exercising even cramped lungs as well as fingers, “but it means I seem to have one set of muscles always sore.”
“Perhaps you should take more than a short break. It’s not much of a party if you’re kept working all night.”
“This isn’t work. I enjoy it,” Hugh said, sounding surprised, glancing at her searchingly. “Unless you’re bored? I had just planned to do a few more.”
“I’m not bored at all. I like to watch you draw.”
He drew the waiting Sime, who thanked Valleroy gravely in accented English and after discussing how best to ship it without smudging it, packed the sketch carefully away. Apparently it was meant to be sent to the man’s family in a distant Householding. Aisha looked around and saw the party was winding down. Klyd was no where to be seen. Hugh drew another Zeor member, who’d been hanging around, looking hopefully at him, and then, finding no other takers, finally put aside his sketchbook.
“Tired?” he came up beside her.
“It’s been a long day,” she admitted. “I gather we’re staying the night. Where do we sleep?”
“We’ll stay in the Companion’s suite in Klyd’s apartment.” Seeing her hesitate, he grinned. “It’s private. Has it’s own separate entrance, even.”
“Did I say anything?” She asked, looking up at him.
“You didn’t have to. Your face told it all. Come on, I’ll show you the way.”
“Around somewhere. Simes don’t sleep much. He’ll catch a few hours before dawn, probably.”
He opened the door. “Here, this is it.”
She walked through the rooms pensively. They were tastefully furnished, in subdued colors, and a world removed from her stone cabin. But not nearly as homey. Someone had put fresh flowers on a low table in the outer room, but aside from that small touch, the rooms were empty of personal items. The closet had a few standard issue Zeor clothes, sized to fit. “It’s lovely. But it doesn’t look as if you’ve spent any time here. There’s nothing at all of yours in it.”
“Well, I don’t stay here,” Valleroy shrugged. “Technically, this is Denrau’s suite, since he’s First Companion, now that Charnye’s semi-retired. Charnye moved off to another more private apartment, now that he’s given up the title, away from the ‘infernal foot traffic’ as he put it, of people coming to visit the Sectuib’s master suite. He said he’d earned his peace after all these years. And Denrau never moved out of the rooms he was staying in before, the ones that annex Klyd’s old rooms.”
“Why?” asked Aisha. “Was he that happy to get away from Klyd?” she asked, half teasing, in a sudden burst of perception.
Hugh laughed. “I don’t think so. Denrau is devoted to Klyd. No, it’s not that. Just that Zinter moved into Klyd’s old rooms, and Denrau’s been assigned to Serve and train Zinter. So it was more convenient for them both that he stay there. Usually the First Companion Serves the Sectuib, which is why things are a little mixed up. I suppose Denrau thought I’d use these rooms more, since I’ve been Serving Klyd. By default, they’ve become mine, in practice if not by right, at least for now. But since I always stay with Klyd, it turns out that no one uses them.”
“You stay with Klyd?” Aisha turned to him, coloring slightly.
Valleroy shrugged. “I know. It sounds funny to us. But most Channels have their Companion sleep in the same room with them from turnover to Need.”
“That doesn’t sound very conducive to romance, for Channel or Companion.”
“Romance is from Transfer to turnover. If I were living here, this is where I’d sleep during that part of the month,” Valleroy looked around the suite, missing her sudden sharp glance at his qualification. “This or some other apartment, because pre-turnover Klyd would be interested in that or his privacy, more than a Companion’s company. But after turnover and until Transfer, all a Channel is interested in is selyn. Which translates to a Companion’s company. Or so I’ve been told. Not being a Sime, much less a Channel, I don’t have that problem.”
“I’m glad you don’t.” Aisha said soberly.
“Anyway, Klyd’s bedroom is huge, bigger than our entire cabin. And the bed is sized to match. But he’s hardly there. Simes don’t sleep more than a few hours a night, as a rule, and Channels practically don’t sleep much at all when in Need.”
“Why have such a huge bed if they never sleep?”
Valleroy grinned. ‘Beds aren’t for merely sleeping, after all.”
She blinked. “He is quite the charmer.”
Hugh gave her a quizzical look. “I didn’t think you found him so.”
She gave him a charming smile of her own and said nothing.
Hugh shrugged that off. “Anyway, part of my job is to ensure that Klyd sleeps and eats at least a little. I’m supposed to be a good influence in that regard. Or at least that’s part of a Companion’s job.”
“Well, darling, considering how hard you’ve been working lately, I can’t see how anyone could think you’re all that much of a good example.”
“Any Companion would probably do. Maybe any Gen for that duty. I’m not sure. Since Klyd is very disciplined, he doesn’t really need much from a Companion in that regard. Even though he doesn’t really want to, he knows it’s not healthy for him to go without. He generally follows some Zeor discipline in his personal habits. He tries to eat, at least a few bites, even in hard Need. He even sleeps the night through now and then. Mostly though, Klyd comes in around three and sleeps until dawn. Frankly, I don’t think anything but an emergency could stop him from following his disciplines. Though I suppose a Companion makes it easier, and that’s why he has one.”
She began to rearrange the flowers in the vase, pondering Hugh’s words. “I would think, being a grown man, Klyd would no longer need or want anyone nagging at him to do what he knows he should. ”
Hugh frowned. “It’s not like that. You should see how hard he tries. Need just makes it very difficult. But he knows has to set an example for all of Zeor and he’s very responsible in that regard. A Companion is – well, a Companion is just a comfort to a Channel, especially at Turnover and after.”
She looked up from the flowers, with a laugh. “Darling, first you make a Companion sound like some nagging old woman, now you make yourself sound like a teddy bear.”
Hugh laughed. “No, neither one. But it’s true, I don’t know how exactly to describe a Companion’s role. There’s nothing quite like it in our culture.”
“So if we lived here, you’d be staying with Klyd from …Turnover did you say? Till Transfer.”
“So I hear.”
“To do what?”
He hesitated, realizing he didn’t have the words for it in their own language. And Aisha’s Simelan was only marginal. “I still don’t completely understand it myself. It has something to do with how a Companion’s field influences a Channel.”
“And where would that leave me?”
Valleroy gave her a smile. “I do believe you are jealous. Klyd would be amused.”
“I don’t think so. I suspect he’s a little jealous of me.” She shrugged away Hugh’s sudden sharp glance. “Or maybe it’s jealous of you. Anyway, I want my husband beside me.”
“Since I don’t plan to live at Zeor, you don’t have to worry about that.”
“So who stays with Klyd while you are at Rior? From Transfer to Turnover, that is, when he’d be interested in romantic liaisons. Is he seeing anyone?”
Valleroy shrugged. “By the time I get here, just a few days before Need, he’s too testy for anything but my company. Not that I’m always very good at my job. He either has a Companion shadowing him or he’s alone. One thing I have learned is no one makes personal demands on the Sectuib when he’s in Need. Except his Companion, maybe.”
Aisha frowned and, dismissing the subject, crossed the room to the terrace beyond. It opened on the inner courtyard. She looked out. “Not much of a view. Just the inner court. You’d think, being this high up, that they’d take advantage of the prospect, and have windows looking out on the grounds. The view would be lovely.”
Valleroy came up behind her. “Gen rooms tend to face in to the court, or in towards the inner fields. Sime rooms face outward, toward Valzor, or the border fences. It’s partly for security’s sake.”
Valleroy shrugged. “Not from within Zeor. But this is Sime Territory. Gen rooms tend to be insulated against fields and facing inward, rather than out toward the town. If you want a view, tomorrow before we leave, I’ll show you the view from Klyd’s rooms.” He leaned down and nuzzled her neck. “He has several terraces, and skylights above. You can see almost all of Zeor, about 270 degrees, and the sky above. And Valzor and Sime Territory in the other direction out to the horizon. It’s quite a panorama. This window is just the slice of the wedge that faces inward.”
She looked up at him. “We’re high enough, and inside the gates. Is it such a concern?”
“A First Companion has a hell of a field. When I’m in with Klyd, our combined nagers mask it, and the stone walls in here mask it. So when this tower was constructed, it was probably considered prudent to make the Companion’s suite the slice that looks out into the courtyard. With both the outer walls and the walls of Klyd’s suite to insulate it from outside, it’s as isolated as it can be. And the stone of the inner court walls opposite this window bounce back any ambient nager leaking from the Companion’s suite and deflect it upwards. It gives the Sectuib the rest of the wedge and the view that goes with it. But that construction shields the Companion’s nager when he’s off duty as best as can be done.”
“That sounds a little over-protective.”
“Not entirely. A Companion’s quarters are supposed to be the one place where he should be able to relax, without having to worry about managing his field. I’m sure the construction was designed with that in mind rather than any consideration for what view they might have.”
She considered that. “Well, it doesn’t matter.” She turned toward him. “I like the view in here just fine.”
He kissed back and said, “but this room does have a few features I’d like to try out with you.”
Aisha eyed the wide bed and said, “I’m game.” She gave him a little tug.
“Uh-uh. There’s also a full bath. With a very big tub.”
She drew a sharp breath of startlement. “Indoor plumbing. I’d all but forgotten the luxury. Be still my heart.”
“Not for long,” Hugh said, and picked her up.
Losses and Visions
Weeks later, when the first nip of autumn was in the air, Valleroy went to bring in his cows for the evening. Lately both had been skittish, making him think there was a predator about. He’d been keeping his rifle always slung on a strap across his back. As he went up the gentle slope to the field, he came across a sight in his pasture that brought him immediately to his knees, the rifle up to his shoulder. A wildcat was circling his cows. A shout brought the cat to face him, snarling. He dug his knees in the dirt of his pasture, bracing himself against the rifle’s recoil, his fingers on the trigger as the cat charged him, her lithe form eating up the ground. He shot her in mid-spring, and the cat tumbled to the ground a few feet away. With the smell of burned powder and blood in his nose, he stumbled to his feet, keeping well clear of the dangerous claws until the animal stopped moving. He waited a moment to make sure she was dead and ran across the field to his animals. But he was too late. His cow stood tottering over her calf, her sides heaving, her short horns spattered with blood, one side of her shoulder matted with claw marks. The blood trails on the ground spoke of the terrible battle, the air rank with the smell. But the calf was dead, flies starting to settle on her. Hugh rose to his feet and urged the cow away from her fallen calf, and half pulled, half dragged her to the barn. He got her bandaged and settled, and then with a set face, he went back out to the pasture, a shovel defiantly over his shoulder. Wasteful as it might be to bury rather than butcher the calf, he couldn’t face the latter. He started digging, his eyes smarting with tears, his jaw set against them. He’d just finished digging what he thought was a deep enough hole when heard a soft snarl.
He turned, the hair rising on the back of his neck, just in time to see the mate to the dead wildcat had snuck up on him. He dropped the shovel hastily, scrambling to pull around his rifle. The buckle of the rifle strap snagged on his jacket and he lost precious seconds fighting to pull it free. The cat had already sprung by the time he had it in his hands. He pulled the trigger, seeing only a blur of motion, smelling the fetid predator’s breath. He had no time to brace himself, the kickback made him stumble, but that was luck in itself, he fell backwards, inches from the lethal claws.
Still squatting on the ground, half frantic another cat was behind him Valleroy twisted and raised his gun, bringing it up instead before the augmenting channel, who was rushing with inhuman speed to his side. Klyd froze in shock before the muzzle of the weapon. “Hugh?”
Valleroy collapsed. “Shen, Klyd, you scared me to death. I thought you were warning me of another cat.” He looked around them and slowly lowered his weapon.
Klyd gestured at the gun. “The feeling is mutual.”
“How did you come to be here?”
Klyd drew a deep breath, and steadied himself. “I felt … something. Then when I was halfway here I heard the shot.”
Valleroy toed the big cat, the face drawn in a death grimace. “That was the second shot.” He jerked his head. “The first one is lying over there.”
Klyd looked, his face grim. “Were they after you?”
“Not me.” Valleroy blinked back sudden tears again, and went and knelt beside the hole he’d been digging. The calf looked very small next to it. As Klyd came closer, he swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. Somehow another person being witness to this drove the defeat home, made it real. And that it was Klyd made it even harder. He defiantly scrubbed an arm across his face and strove to speak evenly. “Ariel. The calf you helped deliver.” He rose slowly. “ Melisande is still alive, but I don’t know that she’ll make it. She was trying to protect her.”
“I’m sorry.” Klyd’s voice was carefully neutral. He kept his hands and his tentacles to himself.
Hugh looked bleakly across the fields, his shoulders dropping from their tight defensive posture. He didn’t know what he was defending from, but right now he couldn’t stand the thought of Klyd’s touch. “Wildcat don’t normally hunt in daylight, in late summer, this close to people. At least so I’ve been told. These must have kits they’re hunting for. Or no, it’s too late in the season for that. I don’t know why these two were here. But I’ll never get a herd going this way.” He looked back down at the calf. “Poor Ariel. It was my fault. I should have had a bull, or a couple of good herd dogs to protect her. I didn’t think I could af-” His voice choked on the words, and he didn’t finish the thought that he couldn’t afford them. Klyd wouldn’t understand. But if Klyd discerned the thought, for once he didn’t pursue it.
“These things happen. Perhaps it’s your proximity to the mountains and river. Or the distance from other Gen settlements.”
Valleroy’s face crumpled and he bent again to his task, to hide it. “So much for listening to the experts.”
“Hugh.” Klyd finally put his hands on Valleroy’s slumped shoulders, and then crouched down beside him. “It’s a loss, I know.”
“I suppose there’s no hiding how I feel from you. You probably think I’m crazy, mourning over a calf, when out there,” he jerked his chin toward Sime Territory, “thousands of my people die every day.”
“I think you’re very tired,” Klyd said, and then added quickly. “I didn’t mean that as a criticism. Just that right now it must be hard to keep your perspective.”
Hugh shrugged away from the Channel’s touch. “I need to finish burying Ariel. Then I’m going to have to tell Aisha. Somehow. She was more than just a calf, you know. She was the first calf born here, the first tangible sign of our future. We used to call her the first Rior member.” He slung the rifle back over his shoulder, and finished shoveling the dirt over the animal. After covering her, he straightened and wiped his face. “I’d like to think that’s not an omen.”
The Channel gave Valleroy a quick, almost guilty look, and Hugh forestalled him. “Don’t say it, Klyd. I know you’ve changed your mind about Rior. And every setback I have, convinces you further. Did you come here to gloat?”
“You’ve changed your mind.” Valleroy wiped off the shovel’s blade, started to walk back to the barn to put it away. That doesn’t mean I have.” He stopped and stared at the channel. “Why are you here?”
“I felt your distress. It was so strong I knew something serious had happened, perhaps something to Aisha.”
Valleroy winced. “Thanks. But don’t wish that on us. I’m fine. We’re fine. You might as well go back to Zeor.”
Klyd caught his arm. “Hugh, I have hoped--”
“I know what you’ve hoped. I still can’t quite believe you’d think I’d quit. This is just one setback.” Valleroy looked across the field at the mound of earth and squared his shoulders. “Yes it’s a terrible loss for me. It will be a year before we’ll have another calf, but--” he raised his chin, determined “We will have one. A whole herd. I’m not giving up, Klyd. Surely you know me better than that.”
Klyd didn’t say anything for a moment, as they reached the barn, turning to face out to the lowering dusk, a harvest moon, a hunter’s moon rising overhead. Then he said, “I know you’re determined and courageous, Hugh. How could I not, after what you’ve accomplished in so short a time?”
“But. Say it, Klyd.”
The Channel sighed and turned. “What do you want from me, Hugh? This isn’t the time.”
“Past time for the truth. Not the half-truths you feed me, hoping I’ll not notice.”
“Very well. I know you are courageous. But there are all sorts of courage, Hugh. It can take as much courage to yield as to fight. It can take more.”
“To yield to you.”
Klyd said nothing, then he looked away, toward Zeor. “I didn’t ask to be born the Sectuib in Zeor. I wish you’d stop punishing me for every thing that you find wrong in the world.”
Klyd sat down abruptly on a bale of straw, staring at his knotted tentacles. “You’re so angry with me for not fixing them all on your timetable -- you want the world your own way so much that you’re bound and determined to go off on your own and try it. Alone.” He said the word like a curse.
Valleroy sat down next to him. “That’s not true. I thought we were in this together.” He put a hand on Klyd’s forearm. “That’s what I’m counting on.”
“How can we be, when you are still so resistant, so uncooperative, so uncompromising? You’re afraid. And I hardly know of what, Hugh. I only know you are reluctant to come to Zeor. To stay at Zeor. Rior just isn’t a viable reality yet, and you can’t do this on your own. Is it the thought of living In-Territory, or is it just me that you fear?”
Valleroy was quiet for a moment, then he shrugged. “That’s not the reason I stay at Rior. But you are right, and I suppose as a Sime, you’d latch onto that. I do fear it, a little. Zeor is very attractive to me. But my mother fled Sime Territory when she established. I grew up just across the border with Sime Territory a nightmare for every Out-Territory Gen. How many have been dragged there, to serve as a quick Kill?”
Klyd flinched at the words Serve and Kill being used in the same sentence