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Chapter Eleven

WILLA

When the news of Kadi's pregnancy spread, the little sod house was inundated with giftsmostly from the people of Fort Freedom, but a few. from people in town. When Rimon protested, he was informed that everyone would be insulted if he refused the offerings. Milk and cheese arrived daily, along with warm blankets and winter clothing. One day Abel Veritt, Del Erick, and others helped Rimon build a cistern atop the hill, to catch rain and melting snow. They wouldn't have to carry water up the hill anymore.

Drust Fenell, expert at woodworking despite his youth, made Kadi a rocking chair. He had still not established and now he was determined he was going to change over. Rimon was conducting classes in changeover training at Fort Freedom which, when they became known in town, softened the contempt toward the Fort people. It had been out of ignorance, not callousness, that they had let their children die in changeover.

But Rimon knew that if it hadn't been for Drust's infectious enthusiasm he wouldn't have had much success. The attitude of Fort Freedom's children was, "I won't require that training; I'm going to be Gen. My parents are good people."

But Drust was there at every meeting, as was Vee Lassiter, who wanted to learn how to teach others. She had emerged from her ritual seclusion wholly resigned to her fate. At first Rimon was puzzled at her swift reversal of attitude, but he soon found that her new calm was only on the surface. With the twisted theology of Fort Freedom, she just might suffer terrible guilt if by some fluke Drust should change over, feeling that he had cursed himself for love of her. On the other hand, should Drust establish, she'd lose himand Rimon was sure she would be even more, devastated by that. Either way, what kind of a teacher could she be?

When Rimon hesitantly discussed the problem with Abel Veritt, the older man replied, "It's in God's handsbut He may be working through you, Rimon. I can't imagine what is holding up Drust's establishment otherwisethe boy has looked Gen for almost a year."

"Drust isn't the problem, Vee is," said Rimon. "No matter what happens to Drust, she'll be destroyed by it. What can we do?"

"You are closer to God than I. You should know."

"I don't share your theology. I haven't yet caught onto the trick of reasoning inside it. But I do think you've misjudged my place in the world."

Veritt sighed, as if shouldering a tremendous burden. "Drust and Vee are in love. I'm sure you can understand that. You and Kadi shared the same kind of young love. Their situation is no different than yours wasonly they have you to guide them. Or they will have, after this month, when you've tried out your method on another Gen and know how you do what you do. Then you can teach us through Vee and Drust."

"Abel! You haven't put that idea into the boy's head have you?"

"No! But I think you'll find he has already thought of it for himself. One scarcely has to be a prophet to see it."

Rimon let out a long breath, surprised that he was shaking.

"It's a terrible responsibility God has placed on you, Rimon. I don't envy your place. But my job is not easy, either. I've had to speak to Drust and will again, to remind him that at the first sign of establishment, he will be escorted to the border with our love. And I will enforce our law, if I must. But while I was speaking, in my heart I was praying that even if he were to leave tomorrow, within the month we could call him back. Rimon, I dream of the day when we send our next established child into Gen Territory, not to exile, but to bring our other children home!"

Rimon had to seize the older man by the shoulders and zlin him deeply to offend him into sensibility. "What if I can't do it? What if I kill again? Abelit's" bad enough if I kill a Gen this month. Must I be set up so that I kill your dream, too?"

"My dream?" asked Veritt mildly. "Isn't it yours, too?"

If they shared a dream, Veritt also insisted that they share the attempts to achieve it. He would not hear of Kadi accompanying Rimon to Slina's the next day, but came along himself. "You won't kill," he insisted, "and if you will allow me to zlin your transfer, perhaps I can learn how you do it."

What they both learned, though, was that Rimon was fixed on Kadi. He could not work up an interest in the Gen Slina gave him, even though he was in hard need and the boy was undrugged. Riding with the Gen before him on the way out toward the homestead, Rimon felt nothing but pity for the boy, who snuggled against him for warmth in the cold of early winter.

When Veritt reined in at a camping place along the road, Rimon pulled up, vaguely, wondering why the older man was stopping. Veritt got off his horse, saying, "No one else will stop here this time of day. Come on, son."

Unquestioning, Rimon dismounted, then lifted the boy down and walked him over to the ring of stones laid out as a fireplace. Veritt sat down carefully on the other side of the ring, and zlinned them. "I thought surely you'd fix on the Gen by now. It's still Kadi you want, isn't it?" At Rimon's helpless nod, he said, "Then you shouldn't be anywhere near her, or your desire for her could interfere with this transfer."

"Say itI'll kill her, too!" Rimon flared.

"Easy," whispered Veritt. "That fear is all the more reason to do it here and now. Face the fear and end it."

"Yes," Rimon agreed listlessly. He faced the Gen. His body needed the boy's selyn, but he felt no real compulsion to attack. Taking the boy's hands, he looked into the empty eyes. When Rimon extended his handling tentacles, the boy looked down at the movement, and watched without fear.

Rimon slid his hands up the Gen's arms, settling his handling tentacles in transfer position. He let his laterals find the Gen skin, and slid effortlessly into hyperconsciousness, smoothly seeking the fifth contact point, still with no driving urge to kill. What would happen now? Would he simply hold contact, no selyn flowing?

But no, Rimon was low-field even compared to the dull Gen. Selyn began to flow into him. He let it come, neither satisfying nor enticing, warming a part of him.

It wasn't enoughSome subtle shift awakened true need, intil soaring, and he began to draw selyn. No pain, no fearand no satisfaction. Craving the ecstatic pleasure he found with Kadi, Rimon increased his speed. The boy's nerves screamed with raw pain and Rimon basked in it until No! No! I won't!

And suddenly it was as if he were healing someone. The shrieking drive to killbliss left him. Need was still there, but he was distant from it. By an act of will, he slowed his draw to a trickle. The boy's pain diminished. Rimon cut off the flow in that moment, severing his contact with the Gen in ripping agony.

Stomach heaving, he found himself hypoconscious, the limp Gen body on the ground before him.

I killed. I killed again. Oh, Kadi! Oh, no!

Off to one side, Veritt moved, disturbing the hairtrigger balance of the nager, and suddenly a burning pain spread in waves from some central point in Rimon's chest.

That was the last he knew as pain overtook him. "Kadi!"

"I'm here. It's all right, Rimon. You're all right."

Kadi was bending over him, her hands on his arms. He opened his eyes, and she was still theretreesstones it's real.

She pressed her lips to his, giving him the presence of her steady field to guide him in fighting the turmoil of his selyn system. There was a quiver of need within him at her touch, quickly silenced in the thick warm blanket of her nager.

Kadi and Abel Veritt put blankets over and under him. "Rest awhile," said Kadi. "Then we'll take you home."

"Kadi I killed." Wretchedly, he forced out the confession, unable to look at her face.

She knelt and made him look at her. "No, Rimonno, you didn't. The boy is alive, right here. See? Zlin him."

A few feet away, also wrapped in blankets, was a still form. But there was a faint Gen nager, fluttering.

"Bring him over here," said Rimon, struggling up to his elbows. "If I can't help, he'll die!"

Silently, Veritt brought the boy closer. The Gen's body temperature was way, way down. Veritt must have gone for Kadi, leaving them both here.

Rimon hesitated to touch the Gen. But even Kadi's field didn't entice him now. He brought himself into what had become known as his healing mode, reaching for nageric contact with the boy's cells. As he fumbled, the spark grew ever fainter until, quietly and without pain, the Gen body ceased producing selyn and in Rimon's loose grasp, gently died.

Veritt carefully took the boy away, saying, "You didn't kill him, Rimon."

"If I hadn't taken his selyn, he wouldn't be dead."

"But you didn't kilt."

"What difference does that make?"

"It makes a great deal of difference," insisted Veritt, bringing them tea he had brewed over the fire that now danced in the circle of stones. "I zlinned the whole thing. You fought down killbliss and thenthere at the end, you came back into that same state you use to heal people. Your field joined with the Gen's. You almost had it. Rimon, what if you'd done the whole thing inin your healing mode?"

"I don't know."

"Yes, you do," said Kadi. "Next time I'll be there to help you, and you'll use your healing mode."

"Kadi," said Veritt, "perhaps I should have let Rimon come home to you today. I'm sorry."

"Someone had to zlin what happened, Abel," she replied. "I couldn't. But next time we'll both be there for Rimon. And next time, the Gen won't die."

A few days later, the first heavy snow of the winter fell. It was only a few inches, but it drifted to block the trails. Rimon went out only to feed the horses and the goat; the rest of the time he worked at filling in the chinks around the windows, where the chill wind crept through, while Kadi sewed on the flannel shirts she was making for both of them.

They could not afford glass for the windows, and so Rimon had covered them for the winter with wooden shutters. That made it dark inside, even in the middle of the day. It didn't bother Rimon much, as he could zlin by Kadi's nager inside the house, and if necessary even through the shutters. But by the second day, Kadi had to get out, snow or no snow. Rimon joined her, and they became children again, pelting each other with snowballs and laughing as they floundered in the drifts.

The next day they had visitors. Del Erick arrived with little Owen before him on his horse. "The two kids together, shut up in the house, were driving Ana crazy," he explained. "Besides, Owen wanted to come along."

"Pa's gonna teach me to ride inna spring," Owen informed them. "Then I can have my own horse."

"Not till you know how to handle one," Del chided gently.

Each time he saw Del with Carlana's children, Rimon was amazed at how easily their friend had taken to instant fatherhood. Of course, he and Carlana would have their own child soonabout a month before Kadi was due. Rimon knew that that child was the result of post-syndrome after Dei and Carlana had killed in the Wild Gen raid, but it didn't matterthe marriage was so clearly good for both of them.

When Del was ready to leave, Rimon and Kadi walked out to his horse with him. The snow was melting into slush. "The road's already clear through town," Del said, "but I wouldn't try to take a wagon over the hill trail for a few days yet. It looks like a hard winter coming. You'd better stock up."

"We have plenty of everything," said Rimon.

Del looked to him, then to Kadi, and back to Rimon. "I meanGens. A Gen, anyway, as soon as you can get to town to claim one. You don't want to be stuck out here, with just Kadi when"

"Yeah," said Rimon. "Don't worry, Del. I'd never put Kadi in danger."

Del mounted, and Rimon handed Owen up to him. Del settled the sleeping child into a comfortable position. Watching, Rimon said, "You care for that boy as if he were your own, don't you?"

"He is my own," said Del. "He may be the only son I'll ever have. He's certainly all the son any man could want."

As Del rode away, Rimon and Kadi stood staring at one another. So it was that bad. "Kadi, I've got to get it right this month."

A few days later, Kadi went with Rimon to Slina's Pens. Slina was horrified. "Kadi, you get yourself all upset, you're gonna lose that baby!"

"I'm not upset, Slina."

"You're askin' for trouble. Rimon, I know you got only a little bit of a house. You got no place to keep a Gen so Kadi won't be always runnin' into 'im. Listen, I been in this business nigh fifteen years, an' I know better'n ever to take for my own kill a Gen I've nursed through sickness or injury, or one of my breeders that's got too old. They take on a kind of personality, and it spoils the kill."

"I know that, Slina. But I'm not going to kill this Gen."

Slina heaved a sigh, flicking a tentacle over the papers on her counter. "I dunno. You two sure are turnin' life upside-down." She shrugged. "You pay your taxes, you take your pick. That prime Farris-bred I was expectin' hasn't come in yet, though." Rimon felt .the start run through Kadi, and her immediate control when Slina zlinned her.

Rimon shook his head firmly. "The same as last month for me. One you've raised. That boy didn't get scared until until I hurt him. I'm not going to hurt this one."

Slina showed them to a holding room, bare and bleak, firmly shuttered but quite chilly. Yet it was clean, and so were the five Gens who sat on a bench, leaning against the wall. They didn't even look up as the customers were shown in, didn't notice that Kadi was Gen, too. Drugged.

"What do you give them?" Rimon asked.

"Metadine. Finest grade I can get my hands on. Keeps 'em easy to handle, but too numb to make trouble. Won't try to breed or nothin'don't even fight."

"Yes, of course, or you couldn't put the males and females together like this."

"Yeah. The Fort Freedom people want 'em kept drugged right up to delivery. Most folks, though, want 'em alert. Metadine wears off overnight and don't make 'em sick. You want one of these, or" She gestured toward the Pens.

Kadi had been looking over the five Gens, two males and three females. They all wore the same gray smocks, but they were clean and healthy. "We'll take this girl," she said.

Rimon controlled his astonishment, saying, "All right, Kadidid. I'll trust your judgment."

Slina started to say something, then merely sighed and plucked the girl from the bench. The Gen was Kadi's height, but built more solidly. She had dark blond hair and wide blue-green eyes in an otherwise plain face. She seemed sturdy, the kind of person you'd find on a pioneer homestead.

They took the girl home, fed her, and gave her a bedroll by the fire. The next morning, as promised, the drug had worn off. She looked around the house, but remained docile, obedient to the simplest commands, "Come."

"Sit," like any trained dog.

She was Kadi's responsibility, as Rimon was in his last week's descent into need, and tried not to come near her without Kadi between them.

The second day, the girl began to follow Kadi around the house, out into the yard, down into the tunnels they had dug into the hill under their home. When Kadi handed her some jars of vegetables, she carried them up into the cabin and watched with interest as Kadi made a rich soup. She ate with relish, and Kadi told Rimon, who was pretending more than eating, "It's nice not to be the only one with an appetite in this house!"

"I hope we've stored enough to see both of you through the winter."

That set the tone for the next few days. Neither Rimon nor Kadi admitted aloud that anything could go wrong.

They spoke of the girl as a permanent addition to their household, and even gave her a name, Willa.

Abel Veritt arrived bright and early on the appointed day while Kadi and Willa were still breakfasting. Rimon was seated between them, at Kadi's insistence, nervously sipping tea.

Abel looked at the group, and said, "I'm just here to observe."

But something in his tone made Kadi ask, "Do you observe something already, Abel?"

"Yes! There's there's some kind of connection between all three of you."

Rimon nodded. "I have the weirdest sensation that if the two of them were to walk away from me in opposite directions, I'd just melt away into a puddle on the floor."

Kadi said quietly, "Nobody's going to walk away from you, Rimon."

Willa was chasing the last of her cereal around the bowl, unable to capture it with her spoon. Finally, she dropped the spoon, lifted the bowl, and shoved the last bit into her mouth with her fingers.

"Willa, your table manners leave much to be desired," said Kadi, taking the bowl from her.

"Don't scold her," cautioned Rimon.

"No, not now," agreed Kadi. "Your lessons begin with lunch, young lady." She explained to Abel. "We've been careful not to do anything that might frighten her."

"I hopeI hope you'll be able to train her to be some help to you."

"She is already," said Rimon. "She follows Kadi around like a puppy and tries to imitate everything she does."

"She's like a child, Abel," said Kadi.

"Perhaps," replied Abel, but he was clearly more comfortable with Rimon's comparison.

They talked idly for a few minutes more, and then Kadi said, "Rimon, are you ready?"

"Not reallybut I guess that's good. I should have some control."

"Come on, then."

They sat on the edge of the bed, ignoring Abel Veritt.

Kadi put Rimon between her and the girl, saying, "Willa, watch."

With Willa's attention on her, Kadi held out her hands to Rimon as she had done many times during the last few days, letting Rimon grasp her forearms with his handling tentacles. Kadi controlled her yearning to give him transfer herself, and just held steady. Rimon was trembling already. She smiled at him, projecting reassurance, and he steadied.

"There," said Kadi. "Can you go into your healing mode now?"

Barely breathing, Rimon nodded. He sought that strange stateand felt peace descend as he got it. Kadi let her confidence flow to him, and gently disengaged one hand, reaching for Willa's.

The girl's hand came eagerly into Kadi's, and did not resist being placed on Rimon's arm. When she had both Willa's arms gently circled by Rimon's handling tentacles, Kadi moved to kneel behind him, her hands on his shoulders. He leaned back against her for a moment, gathering strength, then began to speak soothingly to Willa.

His laterals licked over the girl's forearms. She looked down at the sensation, then up at Kadi, who nodded reassurance as Rimon murmured, "Good girl, that's the way, keep steady. No one's going to hurt you"

Confidence seemed to soak through him, and he drew Willa into lip contact. He took selyn easily, steadily, without pain. There was none of the intense satisfaction he felt with Kadi, but neither was there the agony of the kill. There was nothing but a solid, steady flow. When he had drawn as much as he could, he disengaged. Willa stared at him uncomprehendingly. She's alive!

The thought was echoed in Kadi's nager. "You did it!" she cried, hugging Rimon, and then hugging Willa.

Abel came to take the girl from her arms, saying, "Our prayers have truly been answered, and nothing will ever be the same again!" He moved the girl near the fire and began to pray.

But Rimon remained on the edge of the bed, feeling as he had never felt in his life. When Kadi moved away from him, he gasped in anguish. "Kadi! Something's wrong! I'm still in need."

Kadi rushed back to his side. "Didn't you do it?" She reached out to him, letting him take her in transfer position. For one moment there was a. delicious sensation of flow, but then he recalled that he dared not take her selyn. Besides, he had Willa's, if he could just reach it As he thought that, the strange imbalance within him seemed to shift. Life poured back into his depleted nerves.

"What happened?" asked Kadi when he released her.

"J don't know! I was full of selyn, and yetI couldn't use it! Then you somehow released it into my system. That doesn't make sense! Abel, you were zlinning me. What happened?"

"You drew from Kadi at first, I think, but theneverything shimmeredI can't explain it, and I couldn't even try to do it."

Kadi moved to serve tea and get Rimon something to eat while the two men discussed what had happened. As they all sat down around the table again, Veritt said, "I ah, guess I'd better be leaving now."

"Not yet, Abel," said Rimon, and the older man took a place opposite them, accepting a slice of fruit bread. He turned to Kadi and said, "I couldn't even begin to describe what you did, either. How in all God's creation did you learn that?"

"I've been doing that for Rimon since I was a child. Before I established, Rimon used to have a terrible time after every kill, and I just sort of learned how to help him."

Abel tilted his head to one side, studying Rimon. "You knowI tend to forget that you ever killed. Now that you've proved that you'll never have to againare you willing to talk about why you've been so desperate to learn not to?"

"Uhsome other time?" Rimon said. "Abel, I'll tell you the whole storybut it's pretty sordid."

"It couldn't be worse than my life with the Raiders, son. And my people at Fort Freedommany killed someone they loved. Is that it? You got caught in need, with a friend or relative who had established?"

"My cousin," admitted Rimon.

Zeth's ghost had been laid to rest long ago beside a waterfall, but Rimon still remembered how Simes used to fear him during need. What would Abel think?

"He didn't know he was Gen?" guessed Veritt.

"You don't understand," said Rimon slowly and deliberately. "Abelmy cousin was Sime. Zeth was Sime, Abel not Gen. Sime. And I killed him in transfer. It was the best kill I ever haduntil Kadi. You explain it. I can't.'" He waited for the older man's rejection until Abel digested that.

"Rimon, can't you see now that the shock you suffered was the same shock suffered by every new Sime who comes fleeing to us from.Gen Territory? You killed one of your own kindand so it seems to every Sime grown up among Gens. But you have used that terrible tragedy to teach yourself not to kill. Today is your great triumph. Look at this girl. Zlin her. She reads like a newly established child, yet she lives!"

"You're right, Abel," said Rimon, smiling at last. "Because of Zeth, Kadi is alive"he reached over and squeezed her hand"and now Willa is alive. I won't ever have to kill again."

"And others will follow. But," said Veritt, "I realize that first you must teach me how to go into healing mode."

"Yes," Rimon said. He plans to be next. "It really isn't as difficult as it looks once you get the trick of it."

"Rimon," said Kadi, "you ought to rest a little before you take off on a new project."

Veritt rose to go immediately. "I don't know why I'm intruding like this. I really should have left an hour ago." Then he laughed and said, "It's time we shared the good news. Why don't I take Willa on home with me, and you two come over this afternoon? We'll have a celebration in the chapel this eveninga new kind of welcoming ceremony instead of a Farewellto thank God for allowing this next step on the road to freedom from the kill."

"Why don't we all go?" asked Rimon.

"Rimon!" Kadi said with annoyance. She projected sexual frustration, and Rimon started, turning astonished eyes on her.

When Abel had gone, taking an unwilling Willa, Rimon said, "Kadi, you didn't have to broadcast that right in his face!"

"How else was I supposed to get through to you? Abel knewthat's why he kept trying to leave. Rimon, it's almost six weeks since you made love to me. Soon I'll be getting too fat and clumsy to have much interest and it's not good for you to go too long without sex. Remember what your father always said?"

"Oh, terrific!" he snapped. "Now you want to make love to me as some sort oftherapy!"

"No. I want to celebrate! We've always celebrated life that way."

She moved close, her desire flowing into him. His anger evaporated.

Still, there was no urgency in Rimon. He let himself be carried on Kadi's desire, feeling love, gratitude, but no excitement. He made love to her with tender affection, making sure that she was satisfied; but he was not, nor did he want to be. He found it pleasant to give to her without seeking his own gratificationyet he knew he would never have thought of it had Kadi not provoked him.

When they lay together afterward, Kadi took his hand, running her fingers along his ventral sheaths, making the tentacles emerge. He felt her contentment in knowing she could do with him what she would. He snatched the tentacles back into their sheaths and sat up, his arms around his knees, closing her out.

He felt her momentary angerand then the way she damped it, trying to get him back into her power.

"Stop that!" he snapped.

"What? What am I doing?"

"You're controlling me again! I can't live without you but how can I live with you when I never know what you're really thinking?"

"RimonI have never lied to you."

"Your nager-lies to me all the time! I know you're angry now but you don't feel angry."

"Yes," she said, letting it show. "I am angry! You couldn't have asked more of today. It was absolutely perfect! Yet you're determined to be depressed. What's wrong with you? Why aren't you deliriously happy?"

"Because I couldn't do it alone. I had to have you there to straighten out my fields. I'm becoming more and more dependent on you. You've got the power now, haven't you, Kadi? I'm trapped. I acknowledge it. And it's poetic justice, after all."

"Rimonwhat are you talking about?"

"Ever sinceever since there's been a Sime Territory, we've raised Gens, used them, controlled them. And now, the only way we can stop using them is to let them use us."

"No, Rimon!"

"No? You've just used me, Kadiused me as your sexual plaything. I felt no desire until you turned me on."

Uncertainty in her nager, she said, "I love you, Rimon.. I thought you loved me."

"I do. Oh yes. It's just that I wonder if I ever had any choice in the matter?"


Chapter Ten TRAGEDY OF IGNORANCE | First Channel | Chapter Twelve GROPING IN THE DARK