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Chapter Ten

TRAGEDY OF IGNORANCE

In the days that followed the discovery that Kadi was pregnant, Rimon made a deliberate attempt to control his emotions. The way he'd lashed out at Jord Verittand then at Kadidisturbed him more than he wanted Kadi to know. One night he wakened in a cold sweat, his laterals fully extended, convinced that he was savagely draining the selyn out of Jord. He hadn't been able to sleep for three nights after that, and when he did finally fall into a doze, it deepened into an episode of near coma, and he woke to Kadi's frantic efforts to rouse him.

He'd had need nightmares all his adult life until Kadi established, but never before turnover. He didn't dare tell her about them. She was so happy now, humming and singing as she prepared for the winter and made plans for the baby. For her, the fight had cleared the air, making everything fresh and new again. But Rimon kept remembering how he'd stormed out on her, with the killrage singing in his veins, wanting to hunt. That feeling wasn't gone after the fight. Every few days; in a dream or while riding within zlinning distance of Slina's Pens, or in the presence of a post-kill Sime, it would come back sharp and clear. And his resolve never to kill again, would be shaken, and that scared him more than anything. Never had he felt this way about the kill.

He couldn't discuss it with Kadi. How could a Sime discuss killust with a Gen? There was no Sime he could discuss it with either. Del had his own problems. Carlana and the people of Fort Freedomno, they'd lose faith in him. He had to fightand winthis battle alone. He couldn't lean on Kadi now.

Despite her age in natal years, she was still only six months a woman. However much he had yearned for their child, it was too soon. Her cycles had barely begun. His father never bred female Gens until they'd been established for a full year or their cycles stabilized completely. He wasn't even sure if she had stabilized. He had been so frantic to relieve himself, he hadn't even been aware of her fertility.

If anything goes wrong, it's my fault, my fault.

The next day, as they went about their work in the house. Kadi watched him warily, sticking close to his side. At midmorning, she straightened from spreading the straw they were using for warmth on the floor of their house. "Someone's corning."

As soon as she said it, he heard the hoofbeatsbut he zlinned no one, either Sime or Gen. "Children?"

They went outside, as the horses started around the side of the hill. He did, indeed, zlin the faint nager of children.

"Mr. Farris? Mrs. Farris? Is anyone home?"

They walked down the hill to find two visitors from Fort Freedom dismounting: Drust Fenell and his girlfriend Rimon fumbled for her nameVee, that was it. Vee Lassiter. Both were on the brink of adolescence, and as inseparable as Rimon and Kadi had been at their age.

"Hi!" said Drust. "We've come to trespass on your land."

"No one from Fort Freedom trespasses here," said Kadi. "You're always welcome."

"Thank you," said the boy. "My ma sent you some wool." He untied a roll of heavy cloth and handed it to Kadi. "It was supposed to be a coat for me for the winter, but I'm not gonna be here to wear it."

"Why not?" asked Rimon.

Drust laughed. "Look at me! Even Mr. Veritt says it's not presumptuous to say I can't possibly become Sime, now."

It was true. The boy was not only already taller than Rimon, but filled out to a muscular Gen build. His hands were large and square, callused with hard work, yet he was gentle as he put an arm around the waist of the girl with him. "We're going up top of the pass to look over to Gen Territory and decide where we're going to meet."

"To meet?" asked Kadi.

"Drust will establish any day now," said Vee. "Later, if"

"When," said Drust. "When Vee establishes, she'll come to me. I know where Elin Lol went, and others from Fort Freedom. It won't be so hard to go, knowing Vee will join me."

Rimon nodded silently. Drust rushed on, "Mr. Farris, my ma says you're awful sensitive. She can't zlin anything yet, but maybe you could"

"Of course," said Rimon, awed to be consulted by this boy who so wanted to be Gen. He wondereda boy like this, raised by Simescould he learn to be unafraid, like Kadi?

He thrust the thought from his mind as he remembered Billy. No experiments with the children of friends!

"Come on," he said. "We'll have to get away from Kadi's field."

Need slid into his consciousness as they moved apart from Kadi and Vee, but it was not strong yetjust enough to sharpen his perception of Drust's field. He'd done this often enough with the whelps of his father's Gens, looking for the accidental Sime among them.

"Uh, Drust, I'll have to make lateral contact to be sure."

"It's all right, Mr. Farris. Jord Veritt's been screening me for weeks now. I'll be still."

As Rimon circled to put himself between Kadi and the boy, he said, "Can I ask apersonal question?"

"Sure."

"Diduhdo your parents ever touch you with their tentacles?"

"Oh, yeah, of course." He reached for Rimon's hands confidently.

"All right, be still then for a moment." He concentrated, zlinning Drust right down to the cellular level. Nothing.

As he dismantled the contact, Drust started, but his nager had so little power that Rimon didn't even react. "What's the matter?"

"It's all over? You did it?" He looked at his arms. "You didn't even bruise me."

Rimon realized he had held the boy very loosely. "I trusted you not to move. You wouldn't have wanted to hurt me." Which was rather strange, he realized. He'd never trusted a child like that before. Was Kadi destroying all his reflexes?

"Oh," said Drust, with a trace of reverence Rimon wasn't sure he liked. Then, "What did you find?"

Rimon smiled, shaking his head. "Not yet. There's not the slightest sign of establishmentor changeover, either."

Drust shrugged. "I'm glad. I'm not ready to leave, but Ma thought maybe" Drust was Sara Fenell's son. Rimon wondered if she feared that her killand enjoyment of iton the day of the Wild Gen raid would condemn her son to life as a Sime.

"I'm glad, too," said Vee. "Maybe we'll both establish together."

Rimon zlinned her with senses sharpened by the exercise with Drust. Oh, no

"Vee," he said gently, "I think we'd better take you home. Both of you."

"Oh, but Drust and I are going to picnic up top of the pass! We have permissionhonest."

"You're not going to feel like picnicking in an hour or two," Rimon said. "Come on. You'll be most comfortable at home.",

"Should we take her in the wagon?" asked Kadi.

"No! There's nothing wrong with Vee!"

"It's not wrong," Kadi said. "It's just changeover."

Vee screamed. It was the agonized, despairing cry of a trapped animal.

When Vee caught her breath, she cried, "No! You're lying! I'm not a Simemy parents are good!" The raw self-loathing took Rimon completely by surprise, though it shouldn't have.

Drust took her into his arms. "It's not true," he said. "Mr. Farris must be wrong. You're fineVee, you're not even feverish." He held a hand to her forehead, glaring at Rimon.

"Drust, you know I'm right."

"No one can tell before the fever starts!" He cradled Vee against him, as if Rimon were trying to curse her.

"Drust, you're not helping Vee by denying the truth," Kadi said. "She'll be more comfortable at home, with her family, and you can stay with her until it's over."

Vee turned tear-drenched eyes up to Kadi. "I don't want to be Sime! I'm not a monster!"

Kadi recoiled. "How could you possibly think you were? Your parents, Mr. Veritt, all the Simes at Fort Freedom are good peopleand now you won't have to leave them."

"Drust will have to leaveand now I can't go with him!"

"If you're Sime, I'll pray to become Sime, too," said Drust.

"Drustyou mustn't! You can't pray to be cursed!" said Vee.

"Won't that guarantee it? Vee, I'm not going to leave you."

Rimon met Kadi's eyes. Hadn't she said almost the same thing to him the day they brought him home on the flatbed wagon, the blood of breakout crusted on his hands, Zeth's selyn sustaining his life? He could see she was thinking the same thought. He gave her a let-it-be signal with one tentacle, and went to hitch up the wagon.

By the time they reached Fort Freedomstopping only to ask Slina to send a Gen to the Lassiter homeVee's fever had begun, and she was responding to Kadi's field. Her parents accepted their daughter and Rimon's diagnosis without complaint and took her to her room. But under the veneer of calm, Rimon sensed the father's shock, and his brief savage fight with denial, before he went out to get Abel Veritt.

"Please, Mrs. Lassiter," said Drust quietly, "I want to stay with her."

The woman nodded. "You can come in when I've put her to bed."

"I'll help you," said Kadi.

"Thank you," she replied. A tear slid down her face. "It's not her fault. Her father and Iwe've tried, but"

"It's no one's fault, Mrs. Lassiter," said Rimon. "Changeover is a perfectly natural process." He was furious at Abel Veritt's teachings. They might give hope to the newly escaped Simes from Gen Territory, but look what they did to the two thirds of their children who would change over!

Just then Veritt arrived with Vee's father. As Mr. Lassiter went into his daughter's room, Veritt said, "Rimon you discovered this sad event?"

"It's not a sad event! It's nothing but a perfectly normal changeover. If you'd stop making the poor girl think she's turning into a monster, she might even survive it!"

Veritt paused, shocked at Rimon's vehemence. Drust was staring at both of them, wide-eyed.

Then Veritt said mildly, "Her survival is in God's hands now. We'll try to keep her comfortable, and we'll pray." He looked at Drust. "Come, Drust. Your prayers will help."

Veritt and the family stayed in the room, conducting their prayers, while Rimon waited outside in the main room. He wondered how long they'd inflict themselves on the poor girl. He could tell it wasn't going smoothly. He could feel Kadi's field swamped by the emotional vortex in the next room. Peevishly, he thought Kadi should be out here, shielding him.

He sat there for hours, ignored, alternately fighting down jealousy over Kadi, and magnanimously allowing her to help Vee. After all, the child was going through the worst experience of her life. If Kadi could help her, he had no right to take her away. He was only one day past turnover, perfectly capable of controlling himself. He was only being selfish.

Finally, it dawned ,on him that while he sulked the changeover had turned into a deathbed vigil. Suddenly shamed out of self-pity, he went into the bedroom.

No one had much to say. Vee had fallen into an exhausted sleep, pale and drawn. The Simes, who had shared Vee's pain and would suffer worse before it was over, all had the look of strain. Only Kadi seemed calm.

Vee moaned, her pain filling the room once more. Rimon felt the ache along his own arms as her new tentacles, still sealed in fluid-filled sheaths, went into spasm again. Kadi held her hands, pleading wearily, "Not yet, Vee. Don't clench your fists"

"Has she been doing that all along?" asked Rimon.

"Yes, and I can't make her stop. She's worn herself out."

He picked up the feebly twitching arm. The field was depleted, and the membranes were still hard and thick over the wrist orifices. The tentacles themselves were immature. Another random spasm hit, and Rimon watched selyn drain uselessly away as the girl tensed against the pain. But he did detect a slight trickle of selyn tracing out the major nerves to the laterals.

"Wait! There's still a chance she might live!"

Drust lunged into the middle of the room. "She's dying?"

Veritt came to his feet. "What's the matter?"

Rimon turned on them, stunned. "You've been sitting here for hours, not knowing she's dying? I could zlin that outside!"

Veritt's eyes went to the bed. "Can you help her, Rimon?"

"I don't know. I don't really know that much about attending changeover. Who usually does it around here?" He looked around the room, wondering why they were leaving it to Kadi, a virtual stranger and a Gen.

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Lassiter.

"Who specializes in assisting changeover, training the children for it?"

Veritt shrugged. "What can be done to assist changeover other than to submit to God's will?"

"You don't train your children? You don't lift a tentacle to help them! What are you, some kind ofoflorsh?"

Veritt recoiled in horror. Rimon had always kept a civil tongue around the Fort Freedom people. He'd often thought the gutter language used in town went over their heads.

Veritt said, "I've never allowed one of our own to be abandoned in changeover. You have no reason to call methat."

Vee moaned again, Kadi struggling to keep her from going rigid against the pain.

"I see it now," said Veritt, zlinning. "She's going to die without killing. Let us pray for God's mercy."

Rimon stood astounded as Veritt led them all in prayer, devoutly thanking their merciful God that this girl was dying. His eyes met Drust's, and the boy's pain became Rimon's own. What if Kadi had gone through changeover before him, and had been allowed to die? As the prayer ended, Drust said to Rimon, "But I want her to liveI don't care how, just to live."

Veritt came to Drust. "Nobody wants her to die, but we must accept God's will. She'll have lived a good life and died without killing. Who could ask more?"

"I can," said Drust defiantly. "I won't"

Vee screamed, her whole body going rigid.

Rimon grabbed Vee's father and shoved him toward Drust and Veritt. "Get them out of here, and bring that Gen in. Mrs. Lassiter, get some water boilinghurry." For a long moment she just stared at Rimon. He said, "If you really love your daughtermove!"

In seconds the room was cleared, and he was alone with Kadi and Vee. Now what? "Kadi? Do you remember what your mother used to soften the membranes?"

"They don't have anythingI asked. Rimon, I didn't realize she hadn't been trained at all. I didn't think"

He sat down on the sweat-soaked bedding, wondering if Vee wouldn't have been better off out-Territory, hounded and beaten to death rather than loved to death. "Sometimes," he said to Kadi, "when we'd run out of creams in the winter, Mama used her own ronaplin to soften the membranes."

"That's right! I saw her do it once. But the child died."

"Well," said Rimon grimly, "ronaplin we have in abundance." He extended his laterals, flushed with the selyn-conducting secretion in sympathy with Vee's growing need. Vee stirred again, striving to extend her own tentacles. The membranes bulged, but didn't break. The contractions were premature and weak.

At that point, Mr. Lassister arrived with the Gen Slina had sent over hours before. Despite the frontier operation she ran, Slina's Gens were always healthy and clean, though heavily drugged, as the Fort Freedom people preferred.

As Mrs. Lassiter came in with the hot water, Rimon said, "Hold the Gen over there until she's ready. Mrs. Lassiter, will you take my wife outside? Vee's going into breakout."

He turned back to Vee, dipping a towel into the hot water and applying the hot compresses to her arms, hoping to induce the swelling necessary to break the membranes naturally. As he let his field relax to normal, so that the Gen in the corner would seem more attractive to Vee, he kept the compresses hot and applied ronaplin to the membranes themselves.

Tossing and moaning, Vee became more frantic as moments went by. Rimon sensed the gathering contraction and put the wet towels aside, rolling the edge of the blanket up and thrusting it into her palms. As soon as the rough material touched her sensitized palms, the contraction hit, hard.

"That's it, now, Vee! Harder harder this time Come on, you can do it!" Rimon coiled one tentacle around each of her elbows and ran it down her arm to her wrist as the contraction peaked, hoping to force the fluids she had against the membranes and break them open.

Her frustrated need grabbed at him. For a moment, he was shaken by an attack of killust. On the brink of attrition, Vee uttered a choked cry, convulsed by the worst breakout contractions Rimon had ever seen. And then in one bright, searing agony, the membranes tore open, releasing the new tentacles in a flood of warm fluids.

Panting, gasping out little stunned chuckles of pure amazement, Rimon and Vee clutched at each other. In those seconds, stolen from the flow of time, Rimon knew again the dizzy euphoria of Sime rebirth coupled with an odd yearning ache. In one moment of spinning reorientation it was gone, and Vee's long-deferred need exploded outward, commanding them both.to killust.

Vee, blind now to ordinary senses, zeroed in on Rimon's field, laterals extended. Augmenting, fighting off the killust, Rimon avoided her grip and bounded across the room to grab the drugged Gen from Lassister's grip.

There was no understanding in the Gen's eyes, no fear in his nager, even when Rimon thrust him toward Vee. Her father came two steps after Rimon, and stopped, alternately piercing Rimon with his gaze and frowning at Vee's feeble groping for transfer grip. She could not raise herself from the bed.

< Rimon slapped the Gen's face to try to rouse him from his drugged stupor. There was a flicker in the boy's eyes.

The nageric backlash from the slap hit Rimon like a shower of icy nails, and all at once the savage killust was back. The boy saw it in Rimonand understood.

Rimon shoved the dull, throbbing selyn source toward Vee, forcibly retracting his own tentacles. He was augmenting, so it all seemed to happen in slow motion as he waited in anticipation of the kill. The Gen's fear peaked to terror as Vee's killbliss flooded Rimon, wakening his yearning to participate fullyNo! No!

Abel Veritt loomed before Rimon's gaze, the last sight he saw as he blacked out. He came to seconds later, sagging in Veritt's arms as the older Sime was in the act of lowering him to the floor. A moment of sick, dizzy chaos hit him before the world steadied. It was over; the ambient nager had quieted. Rimon struggled to his feet, but couldn't seem to co-ordinate.

Veritt pushed Drust past them into the room, and then Lassiter followed them out onto the front porch. It was dark, the night crisp and cold with bright stars shining. Rimon gulped the air into his lungs, fighting strange, threatening sensations that swept through his body.

"That's it, Rimon, take it easy now," Veritt coached softly, as he walked Rimon around in circles.

"Did you zlin what he did?" Vee's father asked, amazed. "He used his own killust to rouse Vee from the brink of the grave, then to stir the Gen so she could fix on him then he simply relinquished the Gen to her. Abel, anyone, else would have killed that Gen himself, but Rimon just just gave him away. And now there's no trace of killust in him!"

The two men looked at Rimon with something approaching awe.

"Well, what could I have done, let her die? In attrition? Is that what you do?" As the two men looked at him blankly, he gasped. "You worship a merciful God and that's the kind of mercy you practice? Letting kids die in First Needfor no reason at all?"

Veritt's eyes closed, his hands clasped in what Rimon had come to recognize not as a masochistic practice, but an attitude of prayer.

"The wisdom of the young often surpasses that of their elders," said Veritt. "This is a lesson we must ever be learning. I will not offer the excuse of ignorance. I am guilty. I have sinned."

Taken aback, Rimon said, "II don't understand, N'vet?"

Veritt drew himself up straight. "I had two sons. I have a daughter, somewhere on the other side of the border. But my younger son was Sime and died in changeover, as Vee might have died today, had you not saved her. We have rejoiced that it was God's will that our children die without having to kill. But it was not God's will, but our own! Rimon, you must teach usyou must help us."

There was such intensity in Veritt that Rimon had to take a step backward. "Abel, I swear we didn't know you didn't know."

"Will you teach us?"

"Of course I'll do what I can, butthere was nothing really wrong with Vee, except that she believed she had been cursed, and it almost killed her. All I could do for you, Abel, would be to teach your children that it isn't a curse to be Simeor Gen eitherany more than it's a blessing or a curse to be male or female."

Veritt sat down on the top step, heavy with age. Rimon joined him. Lassiter slipped quietly inside, leaving them alone. Veritt sighed. "Ah, but it is a curse to be Sime."

"Maybe it's merely that we're not strong enough to withstand God's blessings?"

Veritt looked aside at Rimon, startled. "The more I know of you, the more I am sure God sent you here for a purpose. But still I believe and must teach that it is a curse to become Sime, and be unable to resist the kill. Perhaps, when we see your children grow up in a house where a Sime lives without killing, perhaps then I can see it as a blessing too strong for a mortal to withstand. It's a new thought, Rimon. You shake the foundations of my faith."

"I'm sorry," said Rimon hastily.

"No, don't apologize. I feel renewed. It's almost as it was when I was young, riding with the Raidersand suddenly, a whole new world was opened for me when I discovered we don't have to kill people. Tonight, I feel young again. I don't know yet where it will lead, but tonight I saw you in killust and now it's gone, yet you didn't kill. Perhaps, indeed, you'll teach us all not to kill."

It was a terrible responsibility. "Whatwhat if I fail? What ifAbel, you saw. Kadi's pregnant. She'll be able to give me transfer again this month, but next monththe month after, at latestshe won't have enough selyn for me. Then I might hurt herI suppose I might even kill her. I don't know."

"Are you certain, Rimon? Where did you learn all this?"

"II've grown up in-Territory. I've zlinned pregnant Gens. That's always the way it is; the field just bleeds away."

Rimon would never be able to follow Veritt's strange mode of thinking. He was surprised when the man suddenly turned to him, taking his hands, shaking with suppressed enthusiasm.

"Rimon, it's clear to me now! You'll take a Gen from the Pens, and you'll not kill, but use him again and again to supplement what Kadi can provide for you. You'll prove to all that Simes don't have to kill to live. When you can take selyn from any Gennot just Kadiand refrain from killing, then you'll be able to teach others."

"I hope so," said Rimon, "because there's nothing else that I can donow."

"Son, I think I see now why God made me Sime," said Veritt. "Fort Freedom is here, not just to help the Simes fleeing across the border in despair, but to offer a welcome to you. You will teach us all not to kill. I know it, Rimon! Because of you, Rimon Farris, I will not die a killer!"


Chapter Nine FAREWELL CEREMONY | First Channel | Chapter Eleven WILLA