Book: The Channel's Exemption
THE CHANNEL'S EXEMPTION
Look at you! Yone Farris berated himself. You can'teven take your eyes off her! To his left and a few stridesahead marched Livya Jeter, her pony tail bobbing over the tantalizingswell of her hips. You've got a full scale Imprintation ifever I saw one!
For the last three months, Yone Farris had guided the band ofshipwrecked Gens, his mutant Sime senses unfailingly alert. Butnow, he no longer noticed the sun-spackled forest around them,or the ominous cracking roar that grew ahead of them. Stopdramatizing! he told himself. It's simply Coital Deprivation.
The column of ordinary humans, the Gens, depending on Yone's far-reachingSime senses, followed him right up under the falling tree whilehe argued with himself. So why don't any of the other women dothis to you? Well ... but if it's Imprintation, there's onlyone thing to do. Right! Explain it to her and get it over with. Can't. She's a Sime-phobe like her mother. Dozen reasons whyshe's untouchable. Face it! You've got the CD's and an Imprintationtoo. Plead Channel's Exemption and just take her! It doesn'tapply. She's under age. She doesn't have to consent. You'rea channel. You're exempt. There isn't a planet under Earth'sdominion where you can be tried for rape! You can do it rightthis minute. No! Few more months and we'll be back in civilization. I can hold out that long.
Yone tried to quell the voice of temptation by moving closer toBrian Inikar, one of the Gens walking point, but close, Imprintationis the channel's affliction. You were born a channel, a specialkind of Sime with special problems. You can't help what you are! I can always help it! I am what I choose to be! You can't alwayschoose. What if she just brushed against you now? It's not likeselyn need. I can control it. Yeah. You can control yourselfright into an early grave and everybody else here right alongwith you!
At that point he saw the shadow blotting out the alien sun, andsimultaneously the Gens around him also looked up to see the wallof living wood majestically descending. Behind him, shrill crieserupted from the children; women's screams joined them, and thedeeper male voices rose over the panic yelling, "Scatter!"
Without thinking, Yone grabbed Brian Inikar and pushed him towardthe column of Gens. "Move them to the right!"
Then Yone braced his feet wide apart and raised his arms as ifto take the entire weight of the tree on his bare hands.
Yone was built like the typical Sime, spare-framed, delicate looking,but incredibly tough. Yet no mere human flesh and bone, howevermutated, could stop that tree. He had to draw on the one thingthat differentiated him from the Gens, and he was the only Simeamong them, the only one with tentacles to do this job.
From the orifices at each wrist, he extended the six tentaclesthat usually lay sheathed along each of his forearms from elbowto wrist. Flexing them, he touched the tips of his fingers witheach of the dorsal and ventral pairs. Then the two slender lateralsat the sides of each arm stiffened as he threw selyn – the veryenergy of life itself – into his secondary nervous system andout through the four nerve-rich lateral tentacles.
It felt as if he were focusing four beams of psychokinetic powerthrough those delicate laterals. And for an instant, the treeactually slowed in its fall and hung over their heads. He couldsee the deep, regular expansion cracks in the bark, the festoonsof dirty cobwebs, the trails of insects, the runnels of drippingpink sap. It was a wall that filled the universe.
His feet sank into the matted forest floor as if it were loosesand. He strengthened his body by consuming selyn at one hundredtimes his basal metabolic rate, a "tenth level Augmentation,"and he knew he couldn't maintain it for more than a few seconds.
In one final burst of determination, Yone thrust the majestictree to the left of their path as far as he could – only a fewdegrees – and prayed the others had gotten clear. Then he turnedto sprint, with the last burst of augmentation left in him, clearof the far-flung branches of the crashing tree.
He had gone three steps before his racing brain told him thatLivya Jeter was standing hypnotized in the path of the tree. Skidding wildly, he turned and raced back for her, caught herup over his shoulder, and raced again to get clear.
Amid a final crescendo, the tree settled to the floor of the foresttaking many lesser growths with it. One of the upper branches,as thick as a man's upper arm, slapped across Yone's backsideand sent him rolling with his burden into a tangle of leaves andtwigs around a lower branch.
They came to rest between two of the giant's fallen limbs, buriedin musty smelling, bruised leaves, and for a moment both lay stunnedsenseless.
Then Yone became acutely aware of the soft Gen body lying on hischest, of his arms encircling the hips he had so ached to touch. The scent of her hair overpowered the staleness of crushed leaves. The warmth of her beat through him deliciously reviving his searednerves with that peculiar power only the Gen had. Only the Genbody could generate selyn, and even though Livya had never donatedselyn, as she lay there senseless from shock her body throbbedwith the life of it.
Yone was not in personal need of selyn, but he had just expendednearly the entire reserve he'd gathered painstakingly from theforty-four general class donors among the survivors. The pulseof newly created selyn he sensed in her body was balm to sorelyscorched nerves. He let his lips touch her cheek, seek her lips. His laterals – usually used only in drawing selyn from the Genbody – caressed her skin through several large rents in her clothing.
The Sime empathic faculty opened her body to him, and he couldsense not only the reviving throb of selyn production, but eachand every ache, strained muscle, cut, and bruised organ. He knewthat by direct-sensing that made Sime physicians supreme diagnosticians,that she was unhurt by the fall and would soon wake. He alsoknew that she was physically and emotionally a virgin.
The touch of his lips on hers changed from the coolly impersonalSime contact. It became a kiss that rose from his loins and flowedinward from his limbs. His whole body was responding to the totalpresence of her and he was already growing and searching withthe urgency that flooded him. Now!
She was still only semi-conscious. He could tell by the totallack of response to what he was doing. There was no feedback,as there must be for a channel to accomplish this purpose. Whenshe wakes, I'll get her to cooperate. It will only take a moment.
He heard his thought and suddenly it wrenched a moan from him. No! It's not right! It must be her will! He shook with thenegation that coursed down from his mind ramming into the upwardsurging culmination of desire.
No! I am a Farris. I am a channel. I swore to obey the Tecton'sPrinciples of Action. He had taken the channel's oath to theTecton, and he would not let his body violate that oath. My bodyis mine! I control!
Painfully, he forced himself back from the brink of instant release,accepting the anguish of frustration and making his peace withit. It was a truly heroic effort, but he was unaware of his heroism. And he was not enraged when she refused to accept his heroicdeed graciously.
She came to her senses to find herself gripped by his rock-tensebut tender embrace, to find herself being kissed deep and hardas she had never been kissed before. Her soft, yielding body,stiffened. Her peculiarly Gen fear lanced through Yone's unshieldedlaterals, hit him in the pit of the stomach.
And Yone was Sime. The reflex her fear touched off was even moredeep-seated than the one he had just conquered. Aggression theycalled it, Sime Aggression. The Sime mutation was nature's mostperfectly equipped predator, and the prey was the Gen. But Yonewas also a channel, the one type of Sime able to control thataggression. He forced his shaking arms apart and rolled her,squirming and flailing, onto the carpet of leaves.
But even being a channel, he had to get away from the fear emanatingfrom her or succumb to it and strip her of her selyn. His lastinner resources were depleted.
Half rising, he plunged over the next lower limb of the fallentree, wavered a few more steps, stumbled and fetched up hard againsta greater limb. Stunned, he lay gasping, sweat soaking throughhis trail worn Astrogator's uniform, unaware that he was shakingfrom head to toe with one spasmodic fit after another.
I did it. I got away from her. It's going to be all right now. I did it. Nothing worse can possibly happen. I did it. Bythe time Brian Inikar reached Yone's side, the channel was obliviousto all but that one saving thought. "I did it."
Yone was unaware that he was being tended by a Gen whose expertfingers and analytical eyes had been trained by Distect Simes,conspirators dedicated to destroying the Tecton. He knew onlythat it was a male Gen near him, and so he was safe from thatawful temptation that still lived in him. The Gen who workedon him now knew no fear, so he was safe from that reflex too. This Gen soothed his raw nerves with an emotional nager of compassion,concern, and perhaps a tart bit of criticism which was as it shouldbe. Yone knew he'd behaved abominably.
It was close to an hour before Yone was able to grip the memorythat, here on this forsaken Beacon Planet, on this long trek acrossuncharted wilderness toward an emergency call beacon that mightnot even function, there was no Tecton-trained Gen Donor, no FirstOrder Donor schooled to serve First Order Channels such as YoneFarris. His only Donor was Valyu Alamain, an earnest young manbarely half trained to serve the lowest order channels, and nomatch for Yone's needs. Then who was this Gen?
No sooner had he asked that question than, to his utter horror,he could answer it.
Brian Inikar. Convict. Being transported with his wife and childto the planet of exile where the Tecton sent all Distect conspirators. In the press of minute-to-minute survival after the crash, suchsocial distinctions had lost importance. The six convicts hadsaved many lives, lent aid where needed, but always had the prudenceto keep strictly away from the one and only Sime among the survivors. Too many of the Tecton's most loyal channels had succumbed tothe mysterious lure of the Distect after a brief encounter witha Distect Gen. Nobody knew why.
As if rising from the depths of the blackest ocean, Yone foughthis way toward full consciousness, warding off the aid he hadbeen so gratefully accepting. He knew that Brian's Distect-trainedempathic touch had already saved his life. The Gen's whole nervoussystem had slipped into perfect resonance with Yone's bespeakinga level of skill Yone had not been exposed to for more than fourmonths.
On the edge of full consciousness, Yone fell back, spent. I'dforgotten how good it can be! The Sime uses selyn; the Gen createsit. Without the Gens to supply that energy, the Sime faces thebleak cold death of attrition. During those days when Need grewand his system ached to function, even the channels who storevast quantities of extra selyn look into that cold abyss and knowdeep-diving terrors beyond Gen comprehension. At that time intheir physiologic cycle, the Simes' libido is totally paralyzed,but instantly when Need is satisfied, that paralyzed sensitivityblooms again, the more intense for the hiatus. The cycle is mostpronounced in the higher level channels such as Yone Farris.
Even under Alamain's care, Yone had been ruled by it. Now helooked into a future of alternating tortures – two weeks of theCD's within arm's reach of Livya Jeter, then two weeks of increasingneed within reach of Brian Inikar. But maybe, thought Yone, there'sstill time to break the hold he's got on me.
Meanwhile, Livya Jeter dragged herself away from the limb overwhich Yone had half-fallen, and white with shock, she managedto struggle to her feet. Then Cheryl Inikar, Brian's wife, reachedher side, made her sit for a time with her head between her knees.
As Livya's color returned to its normal, healthy brown, Cherylencouraged her to talk. "Tell it, honey, tell it all. You'llfeel better to get it out." The Inikars were from In Brim,while Livya and her mother were from Port Alon, but they all sprangfrom the same Terran stock – Sime and Gen alike shared the samemind, the mind of Man. The cultural differences were vast, butCheryl might have been for those moments Livya's big sister asshe held her and listened to her stuttering tale.
"I was so frightened! You've no idea how strong a Sime is! He could have crushed my ribs to powder! And I could feel histentacles all over my back, and his tongue ... uhh!"
"Easy Livya, it's over now. Calm down and think. You'rea woman, you ought to be able to tell. You just described howhe was kissing you. Honey, that's not a transfer-contact kindof kiss. He wasn't looking to take selyn from you! He wantedyou to feel that what he was doing was good, but when you respondedwith fear, you undid him. But, Baby, listen, the next time he–"
Livya rose, knees still shaky but forced to lock her upright. The realization of Cheryl's meaning struck a new note of horror. "Ther ... there isn't going to be a next time. What doyou think I am, some sort of prostitute? So maybe he can claimthe Channel's Exemption, but there's no court of law anywherethat could make me! He has no rights over me!"
"He asks no more of you than you have stolen from him!"
"Stolen! You're the one who's the convicted criminal, notme. You're the one who sells your body to any Sime who asks forit! Why don't you go play with him!"
Before Cheryl could deny that rumored Distect behavior, Livyacaught her breath and went on, cold and fiercely brutal. "Ifthat Sime tries to rape me again, so help me I'll kill him."
Cheryl drew breath for a scathing retort, but then let it outwearily. "You won't have to. He's Tecton and Farris. He'llkill himself to keep from touching you against your will. That'swhat your precious Tecton stands for, the sacrifice of the noblestchannels to the whim of the non-Donors."
A new voice joined them "Distect whore!" They bothturned to find Evelyn Jeter picking her way through the branchestoward them. "Get away from my daughter or I'll do the killingshoulda been done to youa year ago!"
Mrs. Jeter wasn't old enough to be called spry, but she stillretained the lean, wiry build of her vanished youth. At first,Cheryl stood her ground, drawn to her full height as if to launchthunderbolts of rage. But then she gathered a cool self-controlaround her and retreated toward the knot of people gathering andcounting themselves beside the top of the tree.
"Mother!" Livya greeted suddenly when they were alone. It just now occurred to her that her mother had been in dangertoo.
"What's this about rape, Liv? Did that Sime get his slimytentacles on you?"
"They're ..." she started, and then tossed a thoughtfulglance toward the screen of leaves that cut her off from the channel,"They're not slimy, Mother." She let herself drop ontothe leaves.
Lost now in a calmer reliving of the incident, Livya didn't answer,just stared round-eyed at the barrier of leaves. What she hadlearned of Simes in school was sparse, but she did know that channelswere a secondary mutation from the Sime type, and required a lotof special handling. That was the province of the highly trainedTechnical Class Donors.
"I'm no Donor, Mother, but –"
"Well, I certainly hope not! Those professional donors arelittle better than prostitutes!"
"Mother, this is no time for hysteria. I have to think!" She rose and took a step toward the wall of leaves, hands claspedtogether at her waist, face contorted with the effort to overcomeher shock and think coherently. "I'm no Donor, but he kepthimself from hurting me."
"Well, that's a relief! Then he didn't actually do it?"
"He almost did, but he stopped himself. I couldn't breakloose, he let me go, Mama," she asked, eyes fixed on thewall between her and Yone, "are all channels like ... him?"
Mrs. Jeter got to her feet and went around in front of Livya totake her shoulders and shake her gently, "Oh, Liv, baby,what has he done to you? The Channel's Exemption is law, so wecan't sue that filthy beast for trying to do that. But we canhate him for it. The Simes can't endure hate. If you hate themenough, they'll stay away from you."
"Hate? Mama, he could have done with me whatever he wanted,and he had the legal right to do it, but he did not." Helet me go by an act of will over –" she groped for a word"– over want. How can I hate a man with that kind of strength?"
"There's not much else to do, Liv. It's your only protection."
Livya twisted free and backed up. "Maybe there's nothingelse you could do, but what do you think he would do in the samesituation? Just sit in a hole paralyzed with fear and hatred?"
"He's a Sime. What has he got to fear? Or hate?"
"He's a Man, an incredibly powerful human being. He chosenot to do what he wanted to do. I don't know his reason, butI'm sure he had a reason and he followed it even though it hurthim. I've never known you to do anything like that."
Mrs. Jeter shook her head wearily. Livya still looked a littlepale around the lips, and her fingers were cold. "I don'tknow what's gotten into you, Liv, but I'm going to ask Mr. Flickfor protection. That Sime won't be able to get near you alone."
"That's what you always do, run and hide behind somebody's'protection.' I don't need anybody to protect me, least of allfrom a man like Yone Farris!"
"From a man, maybe not, but from a slimy snake of a –"
"Once and for all, Mother, I'm telling you that I felt themand they ... ARE ... NOT ... SLIMY!" Her words came outa fierce whisper though she wanted to shout. She'd been toldso often that the Sime tentacles were slimy that, at first, shehad felt slime. Only later had she been able to calm down andanalyze the sensation. Her choking anger was in part at her motherfor the untruth and in part at herself for being fooled by it.
"Livya Jeter, haven't I taught you better respect than tocontradict your mother? You're only a child. You don't knowwhat you're saying."
"I felt them," she repeated, cooler now. "Theyare not slimy. What else have you taught me that's wrong?"
"Livya!" She recoiled, shocked. "I'm your mother!"
Turning on her heel, Livya walked out from between the branchesthat isolated them from the main group. Her mother followed,and as they emerged they heard voices to their left. Cheryl Inikar,too, had heard the men's voices raised in brittle anger, and shecame striding past them straight for the area to their left whereBrian Inikar tended Yone. Drawn irresistibly, Livya, trailedafter Cheryl around the end of the branch.
Yone had struggled to his feet and though he sagged like a manbeaten in a fight, he faced off against Brian spitting words likebullets. "YOU. I. Forbid. To. Touch. Me!"
Brian sighed hugely and picked up his hat, slapping it againsthis knee to dust it off. Livya had only a moment to realize thatYone had used none of the filthy epithets, the handy labels andmeaningless catch phrases with which everybody else addressedthe Distect conspirators.
Then Cheryl started toward Yone, finally stung to a tearful rage. "You ungrateful savage! If it weren't for Brian you'd bedead right now. You can't possibly think that bumbling incompetentAlamain could have done what Brian –"
Her husband stopped her advance with one out-flung arm and turnedher to him. "Forget it, Cheryl. How else would you expecta Tecton channel to behave? He'll be all right now, for awhileat least." He turned to Yone. "You better get Alamainto finish the job I started for you or you'll be in convulsionsby midnight."
"I don't require your advice."
Brian's lips compressed briefly over a retort, but then he relaxedand said gently, "You may hate me, but you're alive so we'veall still got a chance to survive." He turned to his wifeand walked back the way she had come. When they reached Livyaand her mother, Brian stopped to look down at the girl with atrace of sourness.
Livya tilted her head back, and for the first time since beingmarooned with the Distect convicts, she examined his face. Brianwas a tall, lanky Gen with a face to match. But what she sawin those narrow features was a kind of hard-bitten integrity incongruousin an outlaw. And it was coupled with self-control not unlikethat she'd found in Yone.
When he spoke, his voice was low-pitched, roughened by suppressedemotion. "You. You ought to be ashamed for what you didto him. But it's not surprising, considering your upbringing!" He raked Evelyn Jeter with a glance of unfathomable contemptand took his wife on toward the spot where the other Distect convictswere gathering.
For long moments afterwards, Livya stood in a paralysis of mixedemotions, not hearing her mother's voice or seeing Yone pullinghimself together to face the next task. She knew only that BrianInikar, the one man who had every reason to feel shame beforelaw-abiding folk such as herself had the incredible power to makeher feel guilty. Not only that, but he had selected the one insultwhich she had never been able to ignore urbanely – that she waswhat she was because of some external influence and not by herown choice.
Swamped by this nameless guilt, she was unable to defend herselfagainst the insult and instead searched inwardly for the causeof her shame. How could saving myself be wrong? But at whatprice? He looked like death! I'm not responsible for that. Brian Inikar thinks so. He's Distect. He's an expert on Simes. But he's a convicted criminal, a conspirator bent on overthrowingthe Tecton! I can't accept his values. Then why do you feelshame and guilt?
Never had she known such confusion in all her seventeen years. She was so intent that she didn't see Valyu Alamain finally makehis way up from the rear of the column and start toward Yone. She didn't see Yone start to walk out to meet his Donor. Thechannel was just suddenly there before her and she had to grasphis words by force of will.
"Miss Jeter, my oath requires that I apologize to you. AndI do offer that formal apology. But I want you to know, in addition,that I am personally shamed by my lapse of control, I have neverregretted any act so much."
Her mother spoke from behind her. "You don't regret it halfas much as you're going to! When we get back, I'll see that theright people learn that you let Brian Inikar –"
As if realizing for the first time that she was giving the Simea good reason to see that she, at least, didn't get back, EvelynJeter subsided. Livya met the Sime's eyes firmly. And with alittle shock, she realized that in the three months of walkingwith him, depending on him for her very life, she had not exchangedmore than a few words with him. Now, suddenly, she wanted toknow everything about him.
Yone Farris did not look like a typical member of the celebratedFarris family. There was only a shadow of family resemblancearound his fine-sculpted lips, prominent nose, and wide forehead. His skin was lighter than the typical Farris, and his hair wasalmost ash-blond instead of jet black. His face was too youngyet to show character lines, but now it revealed an inner tensionvery much like a man forcing himself "just-one-more-step"beyond endurance. He had, however, the solid black eyes typicalof the Farrises. Those eyes now locked onto her gaze as if hewanted to tell her everything about himself in one word but couldn'tfind the word.
"You must not worry, Miss Jeter. I will see to it that youall get home. But I can't promise that my reflexes won't betrayme again, so I advise you to stay as far away from me as you can."
"I ... will ..." The tremble in her voice embarrassedher. "I can forgive your refusal to offer me the Exemption. I do not wish you to feel guilty or ashamed about it."
Her eyes were suddenly fever dry, and her voice steadied. "Ihave done nothing wrong to be forgiven for."
"You cannot comprehend the wrong that you have done, andso for you it isn't wrong. That is the only kind of wrong thatI forgive."
"Then don't forgive me, because I do comprehend. Your 'right'demands prostitution, and I reject that as 'wrong'."
He sighed and shivered suddenly as if from a chill, clenchinghis teeth momentarily. "So do I, Miss Jeter. Utterly. I could gain nothing from such a person, and so could not be attractedto one."
"You must mean something different by it than I, then."
He drew himself together and took one step toward Alamain. "Possible,but I doubt it. And now," he said raising his voice towardthe donor, "Valyu! Come, we must see that they are makingcamp. We can't go any farther today. You and I must do somerecruiting among the donors."
Livya went about the business of making camp mechanically. Sheand her mother chose a spot against the giant fallen tree trunkbetween two of the large, lower branches which they shared withseveral other families they always camped near. While the menwent out hunting dinner, she helped the women spread their porta-tentsusing the tree trunk as one side of the tent and anchoring thecorners of the flat sheeting with small boulders.
The porta-tent was a thin film of shiny material on one side,black on the other. Powered by a small selyn battery, the sheetingwas a very efficient heat pump. In the desert where they hadcrashed, the self cooling tents had saved their lives day afterday. Here they used the heat at night.
Now, Livya wondered if Yone would be able to recharge the selynbatteries for them. The accident with the tree had suddenly drivenhome to her just how vitally dependent they were on the channelwhile before it had just been a phrase said by rote. Their firestrikers were selyn powered – how could they even make a cookingfire without the strikers? And most of their cutting tools, thereally useful ones, were selyn-powered vibro-blades. The handtools took hours to cut down a little tree, and once she had takena turn using the hand machete to hack a way through the underbrush. They couldn't survive without repowering their tools.
Livya had become the fire-specialist among these families, learningquickly which woods would burn best and how to design a safe fireplace. As she worked that afternoon beside the majestic tree trunk,she found a renewed awe at the size of the thing, and the incrediblehardness of the wood which wouldn't burn. The trunk itself wasmore than thirty feet in diameter and some of the branches weremore than six feet thick. She couldn't calculate how much selynit had cost to deflect its fall, but she reached a kind of numbastonishment that such a feat could be done.
The tree had stood with its roots on the bank of a stream. Undercutby recent floods, the bank had given way and the tree had falleninto the forest. The campers used the stream for water and evencaught a few fish, while they grumbled about how they were goingto cross it.
As the hunters returned and the women began dressing the carcassesand digging up roots to make soup, the leaders gathered for mutteredconferences at the tent of K. Martin Flick, their elected spokesmanto the Tecton which consisted here among the refugees only ofYone and Valyu Alamain. There was much coming and going of grimfaces past Livya's fire, and the air of crisis did not escapeher.
Yone's tent had been set up, as always, a little apart from themain group. This time, it was on the opposite side of a ratherlarge boulder, using the rock face as one wall, spreading overa convenient limb of a tree, and anchored on the forest floorwith heavy branches. The side-flaps were tied down for privacy,and all afternoon, a trickle of Gen volunteers had been goingto and from his tent, donating selyn. But the grim faces toldher quite plainly, it wasn't enough.
Eventually, word came down the line that they would have to dowithout heat for their tents this night. "Conserve whatyou have left, and pray your batteries don't leak. Light firesfrom your neighbor's when possible, and conserve your vibro-blades,too."
When her mother heard that they would sleep cold this night andfor the foreseeable future, she was indignant. "We can'tget along without heat! You'll catch your death, Livya. Theycan't do this to us!"
"They? They! What do you mean, 'they'? That man,"Livya said, waving the firestriker wand toward Yone's tent, "savedyour life today, and nearly died for it. But he didn't use onebit of your selyn to do it."
Evelyn Jeter recoiled. "You don't talk to your mother inthat tone of voice! You have to respect your mother. Remember,it's your welfare I'm looking out for."
"How can I respect someone who can't even stick to a subjectfor two sentences?"
"And I suppose criminals and weaselly Simes are respectable! Standing around in public talking to such riffraff as if theywere worth listening to, and they don't even make sense. Thenyou turn around and won't even speak civilly to your own mother!"
"Riffraff! That ... that ..." she pointed a shakingfinger in the direction of Yone's tent "... that 'riffraff'talks better sense than you ever did. Why can't you see truthwhen it happens before your eyes? You're wrong about their tentaclesbeing slimy, and you're probably wrong about everything else too!"
"You don't contradict your –"
"I don't, facts do. That man saved us all from getting crushedtoday. That's a fact. He refused to let himself take advantageof me. That's a fact. He's the only thing that stands betweenus and death. That's a fact. And you refuse to donate even atiny dribble of selyn to run your own tent's heating unit. That'sa fact.
"Right now, Mother, it seems to me that you're the riffraffaround here, and everybody thinks I'm just like you. I'm so ashamed!"
Mrs. Jeter gathered herself up into her most self-righteous stanceand pointed, "Go to the tent and get to bed. You'll getno supper tonight. Think what you've said about your own mother,and tomorrow you'll apologize on your knees. You're almost awoman, and you're going to learn respect if it kills me."
"With you as a teacher, I haven't got a chance!"
"Go!" Their screaming had attracted the embarrassedstares of half a dozen people, but none would intervene.
For one tense moment, Livya teetered on the brink of total defiance,but her own feelings were so confused that she didn't know whereelse she wanted to be except huddled in her own sleeping bag whereshe could fight her way through the whirlwinds that seethed inher. She would not refuse herself what she wanted simply to defyher mother, and so she fled to her sleeping bag. At first, whilethe camp was having supper, she surrendered to gales of tearsthat seemed to feed on themselves. Eventually, she cried herselfinto a feverish slumber.
When she woke, the deep silence of late night was on the camp,her mother asleep beside her. In the clarity of emotional exhaustion,she realized that her anger at her mother had stemmed from herneed to make her mother earn the 'respect' she demanded and Livyaherself so desperately wanted to give. She had never found anyoneshe could really admire. Except, maybe, Yone Farris.
He had used the community selyn reserves to save her life. Thatwas selyn collected in tiny bits during the last three monthsfrom forty-four General Class donors out of the seventy-sevensurvivors. There were twenty-four kids not old enough to createselyn. And there were six Distect Gens he wouldn't touch witha waldo let alone a tentacle. It seemed fair enough to her thatthe community should support the kids. And it seemed reasonableto keep the convicts away from their only channel since it wasknown that any Sime exposed to a Distect Gen inevitably goes Distect,not caring whether they kill in transfer. (But Yone had rejectedthat lure, her mind told her.) The prisoners made themselvesuseful around camp, and then made themselves prudently scarce. They weren't freeloading.
But she and her mother were freeloading because they could donate,but didn't.
And that, she realized, was the basis of her reaction to Brian'swords. Brian had called her a freeloader, and she agreed. Hehad implied that she was a freeloader because her mother was afreeloader, and thus she couldn't help it. That infuriated her,and she did not agree. She could always help it.
She had struggled half way out of her sleeping bag before sheremembered Yone's warning: "But I can't promise that myreflexes won't betray me again, so I advise you to stay as faraway from me as you can."
It was one thing to donate selyn, even over her mother's authoritative'forbid.' When they got home maybe they'd put her in reform schoolfor being intractable, but at least she'd be in the right. Itwas something else to compromise her own integrity by riskingsomething she had agreed was wrong.
Suddenly, the whole thing became too complicated for her, threateningto smother her in frustration and ignorance. She felt an irresistibleurge to move and after a few restless tosses that threatened towake her mother, she pulled herself out of her sleeping bag, wrappeda blanket around herself, and went out into the chill night.
She stood a moment, trying to catch a glimpse of the stars throughthe trees. In the distance, she heard the night watch trompingthrough their rounds, tending the fires. There were dangerousnight-prowlers in this forest. Twice, Yone had saved them fromlosses, once wrestling a toddler from the very jaws of a cat-likehunter. He'd killed it bare-handed.
She set off through the trees towards Yone's boulder refuge. He had warned her to stay away. The responsibility was now hers. Somehow, accepting that eased her restlessness. Whatever happened,her action wouldn't smudge anybody else's record.
But it was there, in that tent, that the answers lay. She feltthat without those answers, the problem would surely smother herto death. Yet, when she drew near and heard footfalls to herleft, she hung back in the shadows behind a boulder.
The steps came purposefully nearer and an arm drew aside the tentflap, spilling dancing firelight out onto the ground, and ontoCheryl Inikar. She was dressed in her hiking clothes, but herhair was down about her shoulders.
From within came Alamain's tenor voice. "You! Haven't youdone enough for one day? He doesn't want you here. Go back toyour tent."
"My God! What are you doing! Give me that! Didn't Brianwarn you?"
"Get out of here," said Alamain coldly.
Yone's voice, choked up as if he were suppressing a cough, said"Please!"
"Don't worry, Hajene," said Valyu, "I won't leaveyou."
"Oh, yes you will!" said Cheryl. "Yone, giveme that."
Unable to contain her curiosity, Livya crept around the rock tothe end of the tent not being used as a door. Her mind was atumult of questions. Was the Sime injured? By her or the tree? How bad? There was a crack through which she could see whatwent on inside, and a little of the warmth spilled out.
The tent floor had been swept clean, and on a ledge outthrustfrom the rockface burned a merry little fire, heating and lightingthe tent. It was vented through a small hole formed where thetop of the boulder drew back from the material of the tent. Thespace within was just large enough for the three of them withYone stretched out on his sleeping bag. A few steaming pots ofwater were set about him.
The 'that' they were fighting over was a folded strip of materialbeing used as a hot compress around Yone's forearms, As Livyaset her eye to the crack, Valyu began to wrap the length of steamingcloth around Yone's arm, starting at the elbow. Cheryl streakedacross the tent and ripped the cloth from his fingers. "No,not like that!"
Caught off balance, the Donor went over backwards, the Donor hisfeet kicking in the air. Cheryl circled the sleeping bag on whichYone lay helpless and took the Donor's place, deftly wrappingand twisting the compress from wrist to elbow, finishing beforeValyu could regain his feet.
Then she moved to Yone's other side where his other arm was cladin a similar, but cool, bandage and unwrapped it, dunked it intoa steaming pot, wrung it out gingerly, and said to Alamain, "Youmay as well go. This is going to take a while, and you aren'tvery much help."
Valyu made a grab for the bandage. "Maybe, but he certainlydoesn't want you in here!" However, as Valyu's hand closedon the material Cheryl had begun to twist, Yone's other hand cameover to clamp firmly over Valyu's fingers, keeping him from pullingthe cloth. "Don't. Valyu, she's doing it right. It's helping. Let her finish. Watch."
Valyu withdrew his hand obediently and watched, but although Cheryllet him see, she said, "He'll never learn by watching, Yone. It's something you have to know by experience. Look," shesaid as she finished the wrapping and fished a chain from aroundher neck. Taking the chain over her head, she slipped a ringoff of it and held the crest to the firelight.
Livya choked back a gasp. The Distect outlaw had a Tecton ring,and not just any ordinary donor's ring either, but one of therare First Order Donor's rings with the additional four stars,the very highest ranking of all the professional donors.
Lunging across her lap, Valyu grabbed for the ring, "Thief!"
With one hand, Yone caught Valyu's shirt and pushed. The Genstaggered back a few paces and stayed there. Shocked beyond words. "No," said Yone. "Not thief. It's hers. Traitor,perhaps, but not thief."
Cheryl put the ring on her finger. "It's been years sinceI've worn this. And I won't lie to you. I am a traitor to theTecton oath I took. But there is still a great deal of that oathI keep. I came here tonight to finish what Brian started, tohonor that part of my oath that I've never broken."
Valyu burst out, "Honor! What do you know of Tecton honor!"
"Between us," said Cheryl holding the Sime's gaze, "hedoesn't count Yone. This is between Firsts. You and me. I pledgeto you by our common oath to attend one another in times of need,that I will not take advantage of your weakness, and that I willuse nothing that would not be used in any Tecton Center.
Eyeing her carefully, Yone said, "No Distect tricks?"
"No Distect tricks. It's my life that's at stake here, Yone,not just yours. If you go under, we all go with you. Your oathwon't allow you to refuse my help, even if it means sacrificingyour own interests for the good of all of us. My word is good. You know that, and that's all you need to know."
Yone nodded weakly. "Valyu, go and visit with your brother'sfamily until she tells you to come back. It will be all right."
As the Gen left the tent, Yone wilted back onto his blankets andlay gasping, wracked with spasms that brought tears to his eyes. Livya found herself holding her breath, her heart pounding withapprehension at each seizure. Their channel, their only Sime,was deathly ill – and she suspected she was the cause.
For almost an hour, Livya watched Cheryl battle to keep the Simebreathing. Between compresses, she mixed a broth of powders andcrushed tablets and made Yone drink it between seizures. "Whatdid you put in that?" he asked after one sip, leery of her.
She told him, adding, "You'll feel great when it hits bottom." So he drank and after a bit the spasms relented. She massagedhis arms thoroughly from shoulder to wrist and the cramps weresoon gone leaving him looking wasted and withered against thesleeping bag.
"There," said Cheryl finishing off, "that shouldteach you not to go tossing trees around the forest without somuch as a warm-up exercise!"
"It wasn't all from that."
"I know. And you ought to be ashamed about that, too, gettingyourself caught in a hyperbolic situation with that irresponsible... excuse me ... non-Donor and right on top of a protracted tenth-levelAugmentation, too! Honestly, you could get yourself fired fromthat nice cushy Astrogator's berth for that."
"That's all right. Was my last run anyway. They were onlytransshipping me to a new Tecton Center. I'm a channel, not anAstrogator."
She chuckled, moving to kneel at his head and knead his shouldershard with a rocking motion as if giving artificial respiration. "There. You feel a lot better now."
"Could you ever teach that little creep Alamain anythinglike this?"
"No. But don't expect me to praise your skills in public."
"That's all right. You're the only one around who needsthem."
He opened his eyes, tilting his head back on her knees to lookinto her eyes, upside down. "You were right, Cheryl. Itwould have been deadly serious if you hadn't come, I should havelet Brian finish the job this morning."
"Your instincts were sound, though. Brian's not Tecton trained,he couldn't have done it this way. And if he'd done it our way,well, you wouldn't be Tecton any more. He knew you wouldn't letthat happen, so that's why he sent me."
She smiled quickly then and bent down to kiss him. "Youknow, my first husband was a Tecton Farris channel. Do you thinkI'm qualified to finish this job?"
He looked up at her for a long time before answering. "Itold Livya Jeter that I'm utterly against prostitution."
"So am I. You know that. You know what I am."
"A very extraordinary Donor."
"No. Ordinary Distect."
"I find the Distect philosophy disgusting."
"I can't condemn you for an opinion founded on false information."
"As I couldn't condemn Livya for her ignorance."
"But I'm not ignorant. I used to be a Donor. I know whatI'm offering you and what it means. It is not a demeaning prostitutionfor me, not even by Distect custom, because I know myself andI know what you've chosen to be."
"Tecton. Your enemy. That's what I am by choice."
"Not my enemy. Myself operating on different postulates. I learned my error and changed; you would also. Knowing thatabout you, I can offer this without compromise, without any Distecttricks."
She kissed him again and he kissed back. Then she moved downto lie beside him, "I promise we'll do this Tecton style. If you want the truth about us, you'll have to come and ask laterwhen you're stronger."
She kissed him again and Livya blushed hotly but her eyes refusedto blink as she watched what Cheryl's free hand was doing. Justwhen Livya was about to turn away, embarrassed, Yone shudderedand rolled free.
Cheryl propped herself up on one hand. "Yone. I said Tectonstyle. Don't you trust me?"
"It's not that."
"Yone, you have to do this. I've seen Coital Deprivationeating away at your efficiency. In this condition, the next timeyou try to charge a battery, the cramps will start up all overagain. I might not be able to stop them with what we've got onhand. Get it over with ... with me!"
"I wish it were that simple," he said from his stancebefore the fire.
Something in his tone drew Cheryl to her feet and across the littleopen space. "Yone? Oh, no! No! You couldn't have!"
"She was the first woman near me after Valyu performed thatfirst donation on the hillside by the lifeboat. He didn't knowmuch about Imprintation and didn't take precautions."
"Oh, that incompetent fool!"
"It probably would have happened eventually anyway. It'sa permanent Imprintation."
"Yone, she's no match for you! A non-Donor, a –"
"The girl is not so bad, it's the mother. I'd lay odds Livyawould have been in here to donate two months ago if her motherwould have allowed it. But she's under age where she comes from,so it would be a violation of oath for me even to talk to herabout donating, let alone about ... this other problem. So youcan't help me, and there's nothing I can do about it either. You may as well go back and get some sleep before dawn. I'llcope with the battery-charging when and how I can."
"Damn the Tecton and its unholy rules!"
"Not in my hearing!"
"I'm sorry. Yone, what if I talk to her?"
Livya found her lips compressed, a frown scoring her smooth forehead,and her body tensed as if to jump in there and yell somethinglike, "You'll have to talk to me yourself, Mister Channel,if you want anything from me!" The protest roared so loudlyin her ears that she almost missed Yone's answer.
"I can't let you do that. If there's any talking to be done,I'll do it myself. Understood?"
"Yes, Hajene." Livya was sure she meant it. Cherylwas a woman who kept promises too, and that was so rare in Livya'ssheltered world she had learned to recognize the 'different ones.' She had walked and lived with these two for months not knowingthey existed. But now she felt a dawning kinship with them.
"Look, Cheryl, you don't seem to realize that the Jetersare genuine Sime-phobes." He paced up and down before thefire, his silhouette rippling across the shiny surface of theporta-tent, "Sime-phobia is a disease, like some people areterrified of house cats, and some people can't stand heights. You can't blame a blind man for not being able to see – andyou can't blame a Sime-phobe for not donating."
"Was Livya pathologically terrified when you had her in yourarms?" It was a rhetorical question.
Yone took a piece of firewood from the pile in the corner andstruck it a few times against the boulder, then tossed it ontothe flames, dusting off his hands. He faced her squarely, "No. She was frightened, but it was the ordinary Gen's fear, not theall-consuming terror of a Sime-phobe. But it doesn't matter,don't you see? It's her mother that counts."
"No, I don't see. It's not an inheritable disease, it'san acquired trait. Livya Jeter has lived with it, but not acquiredit. Doesn't that tell you something about her?"
"Yes, it does, almost more than I can stand to know!" His jaw muscles bunched visibly as he gritted between clenchedteeth. "But she's a minor!"
"By Sime tradition," said Cheryl, "she became anadult when her body started to produce selyn."
Livya's breath caught in her throat. Yes. I am old enough!
But Yone was shaking his head. "By the Tecton Principlesof Action to which I am bound by oath, I am forbidden to approachher because her mother is a Sime-phobe and she's a minor by thelaws of her planet of residence."
"Channel's Exemption supersedes the Principles."
"Ha!" He let out one burst of what might have beenlaughter. "You may be a great Donor, Cheryl, but you'reno lawyer. I can't use the Exemption because it would be in violationof a higher Principle."
"Isn't that a contradiction within the Tecton's own rules?"
"No!" But he said it far louder than necessary. "It'snot the letter of the law that prevents me, it's the intent. The Exemption was not devised to sanction rape – though it'sbeen used to do that – it was meant to protect consenting adultsfrom local laws that would interfere in their private affairs. She doesn't know me at all, so even if she were adult she'd haveno basis on which to consent. And I can't get to know her becauseof her mother."
"Look," said Cheryl on a note of desperation. "BySime tradition, she can give responsible consent; by Tecton lawshe can't. By Sime tradition, as the sole channel here (likethe old Sectuib of a Householding), you have the right to takeher; by Tecton Principles, you can't. Yone Farris, you must pastjudgement on the Tecton Principles of Action. Do they serve thepurpose for which they were devised? Are they right? Do theyapply here? Will you be guilty of murder and suicide if you refuseto violate the letter of those laws? Is your interpretation ofthe intent of the law proper? Can rules of conduct which leadto such a dilemma be followed in the blissful certainty that theyare always right?"
Yone turned from her, and for a moment faced the spot where Livyastood, but apparently lost in such deep thought he was unawareof her presence. After a heart-stopping moment, Livya figuredthat the selyn nager from Cheryl must be so strong as to obliterateher relatively low selyn field. She would have to leave whenCheryl did or risk being caught.
Suddenly, the Sime turned on Cheryl, suspicion drawing his clean-linedface into a new and fearsome countenance. "You! You canrun back to your husband and tell him I won't let Distect seditionget to me!"
"Not Distect sedition – common sense! I could tell youall the answers instead of asking questions. I could show youthe fundamental error in your assumptions, but I promised notto try and convert you just now. I haven't, have I?"
He regarded her silently. "Yone, to what kind of governmentare questions seditious? To what kind of government are theydestructive? Is that what the Tecton is?"
"No." His voice was quieter now, thoughtful but stilldesperate. He went to the door of the tent, looked out into thenight, and thought. She busied herself putting the pots awayand banking the fire as an excuse to outstay her welcome. Atlength, he sighed audibly and turned. "No. I would notassociate with such an organization."
"I know. I wouldn't work for just any Tecton channel, Yone."
"It may be," he said quietly, "that the Tectonis 'wrong' in this immediate situation, but what happens whenwe get back and Evelyn Jeter starts screaming rape or seduction? The basis of the Sime/Gen Union is trust; trust in the channelsand our absolute adherence to the Principles of Action. Maybe,just this once, it wouldn't matter. But suppose all the channels,everywhere, started interpreting the Principles for their ownconvenience? The Union would crumble, and we'd be back to theChaos again where Simes killed Gens for selyn and Gens tried toexterminate Simes."
"I've heard all that before," she said, rising to facehim. "Tell me, Yone, how can right lead to evil? Is thatthe kind of universe you live in? A place where wrong leads togood and right leads to evil?"
"No. The Principles lead to right action, and that resultsin good, in survival for the whole human race."
"But I'm not the whole human race. And I want to survive. So do you. So does she. How long are you going to wait beforeyou do what you know is right, until these rules which you knoware wrong lead us all to disaster?"
"The rules by which I guide myself are not wrong."
She sighed. "OK, I promised not to prove the Tecton wrong. Look. This time you weren't paying attention and led us up undera falling tree. Next time you'll walk us off a cliff, or leadus into an ambush because you didn't notice a tribe of nativesgetting set to roll boulders down on us. Your condition is dangerousto the group, so by Tecton standards it's unethical for you toallow it to continue no matter what the price to any one individual."
"The infringement of the sovereignty of any individual byany channel imperils a much larger group than this one. It maybe hard on us, but we must do it for all humanity."
"Damn the ... ! No, all right, this way. You know the CD'sare no joke for a channel, especially a Farris. How long do youthink it's going to be before entran sets in, too? I've seenthose seizures actually break bones, and you know what that wouldmean out here! Entran and the CD's together! There's just somuch the human body can take before it starts to give up and whetheryou like it or not, you're only human and you can't carry thewhole human race on your back, at least not if you don't takecare of yourself!"
There were tears on her cheeks glinting in the reflected firelight. "Shall I describe what a case of severe multiple deprivationlooks like? Yone, I used to work on the frontier – I've seenit, and I never want to see it again. It starts with a nigglinglittle infection, a kidney or bladder infection, nothing serious. Fever and chills, then pneumonia. Finally, the liver startsto give out, and from there it's straight downhill to the grave,a very messy grave, Yone Farris!"
"It's only Coital Deprivation, nothing so bad as all that!"
"I'm giving you my professional diagnosis. Acute multipledeprivation with an Imprintation complicating matters. If I haveto, I'll take you by the ear and march you over there and makeyou explain it to her sensibly!"
"It's not that simple, I told you. She's a minor!"
Cheryl sighed heavily, deflated but not defeated, weary but notvanquished. "It's almost dawn. This is getting us nowhere." She took off the Tecton ring and stowed it on the chain, tuckingit beneath her clothing. "You better get a few hours' sleep. Maybe your head will be clearer in the morning. I certainlyhope so, because if you don't do something for yourself soon,I'm going to do it for you."
She paused at the tent flap, and Livya, recalling her resolveto slip away unnoticed, scurried around behind the boulder wherethe mass of rock would insulate Yone from her, As she moved, sheheard muttered goodnights from the tent, and then footsteps, afew words with a perimeter guard, and silence.
She had wanted facts, and now she had them in blinding abundance. The Channel's Exemption was not, as her mother said, legalizedprostitution.
If she was wrong, then she'd have to learn to live with it. Butwhatever happened. Yone Farris wasn't a man she could abandon.
She started around the boulder toward the tent door.
Half way there, Yone met her, and the graying dawn revealed hisgentle smile, peaceful at last. "Livya, I've got to talkto you."
"I know. I was listening to you and Cheryl in there allnight."
"Yes, I felt you leaving. I couldn't let you go."
He considered her intently but didn't reach out toward her yet. She said, "What are you going to do?"
"We are going to do a lot of things, Livya. But first, it'stime we had a little talk about what it means to be grown up enoughto love."