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Chapter Fifteen

HORNET'S NEST

It was three days before Rimon and Kadi could leave Del's home. By then Carlana was up and around, physically healed but still emotionally unsettled. Despite his approaching need, Rimon felt more stable now than he ever had before. Willa watched him, but didn't remain glued to his side.

To the children's delight, Willa's vocabulary increased rapidly. Soon she had garnered enough words to ask Kadi, "Why Carlana hurt?"

"She doesn't hurt anymore, Willa. She's going to be fine."

"No, no. In there." She pointed to the bedroom. "Why?" She rubbed her abdomen. "Why hurt?"

"She lost her baby, Willa."

"Baby?" Willa looked over at Jana with a puzzled frown. Clearly, she could make no connection between what she had seen Carlana go through and the little girl who had been used to teach her the word "baby."

Kadi tried, with words and gestures, to explain that babies grew inside their mothers. When she had Willa thoroughly confused, Carlana came to her rescue with a few well-chosen words. Afterwards, though, Kadi had to hold Carlana for nearly half an hour while the older woman cried helplessly. It was after Kadi left Carlana napping that Rimon realized he had felt sympathy, not jealousy, at the touch of another Sime on Kadi.

A few days after they got home, Rimon took transfer from Willa again, using her to balance his fields afterwards. He knew it bothered Kadi, not to help him at all, so as soon as he had thanked Willa and sent her to make tea, he put his arms around Kadi and said, "You know Willa can't satisfy me the way you can, Kadi. Even though she's improving, look how short my cycle isand it will be shorter still, because I'm taking her before she reaches full capacity each month."

"You'll have to have another Gen. You'll be able to alternate them," she said bleakly.

"No, I'll have to get along with only Willa until the tax collector finds his way through the snow. Thenyou're right. I'll have to claim another Gen, and hope to find a way to pay the tax on her by the end of the next quarter."

"On him," insisted Kadi desolately. "Now that Willa is thinking and talking," she went on, "I think she can handle herself. We can watch themthere's certainly no privacy here as long as it's too cold to be outdoors!"

"Spring will comeand I don't think Willa understands much about sex. We treat her like a child, but a male Gen from the Pens" wouldn't."

"All the more reason to get one now. Rimondon't you realize that Willa is in love with you already?"

"You're not serious!" Is that what's bothering her?

"Right now it's a brotherly sort of thing, but if she doesn't have someone else to be attracted to when she's ready for romantic love, she's going to be badly hurt when you can't respond."

"But she's still just a child. I think you're blinded by your own lovely madness. Of course, I'm delighted that, you're in love with me, but that shouldn't make you think that other women would be!"

Two weeks later, however, they found that Kadi was at least partly right. They went over to Fort Freedom, where Willa's progress was shaking the foundations of many people's faith. As she learned and understood more, Willa's nager was assuming the characteristics that Abel Veritt had for twenty years associated with the "soul." This revelation increased the determination at Fort Freedom to learn not to killbut the result was only more and more gaunt and haggard people suffering guilt after every kill.

That afternoon, Rimon and Jord were to teach the changeover class in the chapel while Kadi and Willa visited with Abel Veritt and his wife. When Rimon and Jord got up to leave for their class, Abel said, quietly, "Something has happened to you, Rimon."

Kadi said, "You're right, Abel. Rimonyou know those angry outbursts have stopped altogether. I hope they're gone forever!"

"I do, too," Rimon replied. "II think they are."

"It looks to me," said Abel, "as if you've passed a crisis a period of adjustment. Perhaps the Sime system has to adapt to not killing. As others learn, we'll be aware of such symptoms, and help each other through that period."

"Abel, after all the disappointments, you sound more confident than ever that you'll learn not to kill."

"I have sworn it," the older man replied serenely. "This I know. God guided me to build this community, even though I misinterpreted some of His intentions. I'm not going to fall into the trap of trying to interpret the rest of His plan, but one thing I do know is that He will not let me be forsworn."

As he and Jord worked with the children in the chapel, Rimon blotted everything else out of awareness. Since the chapel was stone, it provided fairly good insulation, so he did not pick up the blazon of anger from outside until the door opened and Abel entered with his wife, Kadi, and Willa. Rimon and Jord both leaped up as the ambient nager struck them, but Veritt was closing the door, instructing, "Margid, you take care of the childrenand keep Kadi and Willa safe. I don't think anyone will desecrate the chapel."

It was the first time Rimon had heard Mrs. Veritt's first name. His attention, however, was on the commotion outside. Peering through one of the narrow windows, he saw the crowd of dissenters who had walked out of the Year's Turning ceremony, led by Dan Whelan and Sara Fenell.

As Veritt went out to face the dissenters, Rimon watched Kadi, Willa, and Mrs. Veritt gather the children and take them out the back way. Then he and Jord looked at one another, and without a word went out to stand on either side of Abel'. Thus Rimon couldn't do anything when Kadi and Willa returned to the chapel.

"When I taught that the Pen-Grown Gens had no souls."

Veritt was saying, "I was honestly mistaken. Behold the miracle God has sent to show us His true intentions!"

Whelan shouted, "Keep the Devil's spawn away from us! Cast out this sorcerer from our midstthey have defiled our chapel!"

Somebody back in the crowd yelled, "Purify it with fire!"

Whelan shouted, "If we must do thatwe will! But Abel Veritt can cast this evil out by a turn of heart. We must purify our hearts before we can cleanse our grounds Abel," he continued, turning toward the veranda where Rimon and Jord flanked Veritt. "Seek God's help in casting out Rimon Farris and the cursed succubi he has brought among us!"

Other people were coming from their homes and gathering in a semicircle around the band of protesters, listening curiously.

Veritt held up his hands, tentacles sheathed. "Rimon Farris is a Sime who does not kill, who brings that hope to all of us, and he has shown us that we must all learn not to kill, because all Gens have souls."

There were angry shouts, quieted by Dan Whelan. "Abel, do you know who this misbegotten son of the Devil really is?" He pulled from under his coat a scroll of paper, and dramatically unrolled it into a poster, holding it up for all to see.

AUCTION

PRIME FARRIS GENS FINEST WILD GENS MOST SATISFYING DOMESTIC STOCK PRIME KILLS!

The name "Farris" had been circled in red.

Rimon blanched. Abel and Jord merely looked puzzled.

Whelan, after displaying the poster, took a step toward Rimon. "Will you deny it? Gendealer! Raider! Will you deny you hunt across the border?"

"Where did you get that?" asked Abel.

"From Slina. She had it on her desk yesterdaysaid she couldn't afford to attend that auctionthe prices would be right off the map. Said only once in a while can she pick up one or two Gens of Farris stock. Farris stock, mind you!"

"Rimon Farris?" Abel challenged.

"She didn't say," Whelan admitted.

"It's a common enough name," said Veritt. "Let me see that!" Picking the poster out of Whelan's hands, Abel scanned it briefly and pointed to the fine print at the bottom. "Syrus Farris! What makes you think there's any connection?"

Sara Fenell stepped forward, half-facing the crowd so her voice would carry. "This Syrus FarrisSlina says he's so famous because he consorts with gypsies. He must use magic to produce these"she spat out the words"prime Farris Gens!"

"And if that were sowhat is that to us?" asked Abel. "Rimon is no Gendealer. He doesn't even kill."

"But look what he's done to those two Genshe's given them souls, Abel, souls. Isn't that what people call 'prime kill'Gens who are real people! If that's how this Syrus Farris does it, then that's where Rimon Farris learned it! And all he's done for us has been to gain our confidence." She added defiantly, "Ask him, Abel. Ask him right here in front of all of us and see if he can lie. Zlin him and ask!"

As many of the Simes allowed themselves to become duoconscious, their eyes flicked first toward the spot where Kadi and Willa stood listening. Rimon felt Willa's vague anxiety, and Kadi's steady support.

"There is no necessity for you to answer this man's insults," said Abel. "We all know you, Rimon."

Bracing himself, knowing this time Abel would surely be repelled, and that it would hurt as badly as his own father's rejection, he said, "Abel, the truth is going to come out sometime, and better now than later. I grew up on a Gen-farm. Syrus Farris is my father."

A gasp rose from the assembled Simes, not just the protesters in the center, but all those who had supported Abel Veritt and Rimon. Even Jord took a step away from Rimon, too shocked for words. Only Abel kept his composure and calmly imposed silence on his people again. That calm acceptance allowed Rimon to continue.

"I didn't mention it because I didn't think it was important. There's no magic involved. Any Gen, well treated and not drugged, develops rudimentary abilities. And apparentlyif you treat them like people, they respond like people because they are people."

Veritt prompted, "You have left the life of a Gendealer behind you?"

"Forever!" Rimon said fervently.

"And your father?"

"Hewouldn't listen to me when I discovered I could live without killing. Hehe threw me out."

Abel turned to the crowd. "There you have it. Can a man help what family he's born to? What more can you ask of him than that he change his ways when God reveals the right path? You accept me, although you know I've been a Freeband Raider. If you can accept my past, you can accept Rimon's past. Judge him for what he is today."

"My son died because he believed Rimon Farris," said Sara Fenell. "I pray Drust is in heaven, but I know Vee, whom he loved, whom I loved almost as if she were my own daughter, is in hell! Rimon Farris destroyed her soul! Will you let him destroy yours as well?"

Abel replied, "I can't think that God would condemn her for the result of her attempt to live without killing. The will of God is only slowly being revealed to us. Only in the past few weeks has He seen fit to reveal that I was wrong in one of my early teachings. Willa, please come out here!"

When Willa appeared, silence fell. Abel led her forward. "You all saw this girl among us at the Year's Turning. Rimon took her from Slina's Pensif i necessary, to convince you, he can bring her papers. I was witness the first time he took selyn from herand did not hurt her at all! I've seen what it's cost him to learn to do this, yet he has never hurt her. Willa, you tell them. Has Rimon ever hurt you?"

"No," she answered. "Rimon never hurt me. He never will."

The onlookers were staring, openmouthed. Then Dan Whelan said, "She is possessed! He's conjured up a demon to possess the body of this soulless Gen!"

"Gypsy sorcery!" cried Sara Fenell.

"Nonsense!" snapped Abel. "Willa is an innocent child, learning to talk only now because she's been drugged all her life. Willa," he asked, "do you believe in God?"

"God made the world," she repliedthe way Rimon had defined God for her when she had insisted on knowing the meaning of the word she heard so often at Fort Freedom.

"You see?" said Veritt. "Already she understands that much. Come, speak with her. See for yourselves she's no demon!"

"She's a puppet, made to speak by that sorcerer!" cried Sara Fenell, real fear in her nager. "I'll not come near her!"

Whelan added, "Look at what's happening. This man arrives among us, promising to teach us not to killbut how many have learned? Not one! He has lulled us with promises, yet no one except Rimon Farrissupposedly can keep from killing. How do we know he doesn't hunt across the borderperhaps among our children? And what has he really taught us with his changeover classes? Just how to keep more Simes alive to kill and kill, and kill again!"

Abel Veritt, in a voice of calmest vanity, said, "Are you through?"

"Yes," replied Whelan, "through with these lies and sorcerer's tricks. These people stand with me. Who'll join us to drive this Farris and his demons from our midst!"

There was a tense moment during which no one stirred. Then Mr. and Mrs. Lassiter, Vee's parents, moved from the back of the crowd. Rimon's heart sank and Dan Whelan grinned in triumph as it appeared they would join the group of protesters. But they kept walking, on up onto the veranda, to stand beside Abel and Willa. Others followed, until there wasn't room on the porch and they lined up before it, facing the accusers.

It was Jord Veritt who broke the silence. "We stand for the hope of life against capitulation to superstition and death. We admit our mistakes, and we're going on to a better way of life, as my father once did, as Rimon did, as I'm prepared to do. Will you go to your death one day, knowing that you never even tried not to kill?"

"I'll go to my death knowing I followed God's true way, Jord Veritt," replied Sara Fenell. "I for one, can't live where God's Law is thrown aside at the word of a conniving Gendealer who begets children on his own stock. When you can tell me you've stopped killing, Jordyou come talk to me then about standing for life!"

Again, she turned and led the group of dissenters from their midst, but it was a smaller group than before. Rimon saw that one family, a man and woman with two adolescent boys, had dropped back to join the group by the porch. They were welcomed with open arms. Then Abel led a prayer, and the crowd dispersed.

As they went back inside, Rimon said, "I should have told you earlier who I am, Abel."

Kadi said, "He just didn't want to ride on his father's fame, Abel; please believe that." Rimon was too ashamed to stop Kadi from making excuses for him. "If we had known what people would think, we'd have told you who we are."

"I know who you are," the older man replied. "It makes no difference who your father was, Rimon" He broke off, astonished at his own words. "God chose to show me today how very wrong my teaching was on that point! Clearly, you are not what you are because of anything your father did."

"Abelyou do know I don't hunt across the border?"

"Son, I've been with you. I've zlinned your field, and Kadi's and Willa's. You've never been high-field, for no reason. Everybody in Fort Freedom knew that accusation was nonsense."

"Andyou know I don't practice sorcery?"

"Sorcery?" He laughed. "Forgive me, but if you had magic at your command, you'd never have built a house to be burned down, and you'd not be struggling to pay your taxes. You'd harness a demon to"

"What's a demon," asked Willa, interrupting. "An evil being," Abel told her. "You're not evil, Willa. You're good."

She nodded, smiling. "Yes. I'm a good girl. I'm learning to count. Do you want to hear me?"

Abel listened patiently while Willa counted to five on the fingers of one hand.

"Very good," he said, and began to turn away from her.

"Can I count more when I get tentacles?" she asked.

It was the first time she'd spoken of noticing the difference between Simes and Gens. Kadi said, "Willa, you're a Gen, like me. You won't get tentacles."

"Why can't I have tentacles? Carlana has tentacles."

Well, thought Rimon, she finally has male and female straight. "Good question," said Rimon. "But you're a Gen, so you have no use for tentacles."

"I could do more."

"You do enough," Abel said. "You don't understand how much you do for us that you couldn't do if you had tentacles."

"I help," she agreed, and did not pursue the matter. Rimon was relieved that Willa accepted "because you're Gen" for the moment, but knew that he and Kadi would soon have to explain the difference between Sime and Gen to herand transfer, too.

As Rimon considered the difficulty of explaining to Willa, he remembered his own introduction to the knowledge of the kill. Krazy Kids already at four years old, Rimon and Kadi had been caught by Syrus Farris in the loft of the holding barn, trying to see what went on in there when Wild Gens were brought in. Turning Kadi over to her own father, Farris had taken Rimon off with him for a lengthy but somewhat vague lecture. Rimon and Kadi, comparing notes afterward, found they'd been told the same story. "Well, Gens are just animals!" said Rimon.

"We don't kill animals," said Kadi. "Would you kill Kitty? Or one of the horses? I'm not going to do it."

"Kadi, we'll have to do it. Dad says you can't help it it's the only way you grow up."

"Well," said Kadi, "maybe I won't grow up!"

Although their parents had spoken as if Rimon and Kadi were assured of growing up Sime, it had slowly come through to them that some children don't. Rimon was nine when that fact emerged from his subconscious in agonized nightmarespale previews of those that tortured him after changeover.

But our son won't have nightmares! He hugged Kadi, sensing their growing child. She returned a flood of warm happiness, and again he wondered how closely she could follow his thoughts.

When they got home that evening, and Willa took off her coat, Kadi noticed blood on the back of the girl's skirt Rimon busied himself on the other side of the room, glad to leave that problem to Kadi.

"Willa, you're growing up so fast," she began, trying to pass the event off as a good sign of normal maturity. "Let me show you what to do about"

But when Willa saw the blood and realized where she was bleeding, she started to scream. Rimon dashed to help, but pulled himself to a halt as Kadi flung herself between him and the terrified girl.

"Willa, it's all right!" Kadi said. "It's normal. You're just growing up."

"Baby," sobbed Willa.

"No, no, Willait's because you're not having a baby." She looked up at Rimon, who was recovering from the discovery that Willa's terror had provoked nothing but sympathy in him. "What she saw, with Carlana," she explained.

"Of course," said Rimon. "Yes, Willa, you saw Carlana lose a baby. But it hurt her, remember? You don't hurt, do you?"

"No."

Kadi gave him a thankful smile, and cast about frantically for the right thing to say. Rimon admired her calmnesshe would have expected her to be dying of embarrassment.

"Willa," she said finally, "what's happening to you is normal. It happens to every woman every month. It shows that you are not having a baby, Willabut it shows that you can have one when you're ready."

"I can have a baby?"

"Yes, Willa, once you're grown up yourself."

"I want to have a baby, like you, Kadi."

Kadi came up with an answer Rimon had heard her mother use. "You will have your own children, Willa, but first you have to practice and learn how to be a mother by helping me take care of my baby. You'll help me, wont you?"

For a moment, Rimon thought Willa was going to cry, having been denied what she wanted. Then, very solemnly, she nodded. "Willa helps." Then she had another thought. "How did you get your baby?"

Kadi said, "Rimon gave it to me."

Willa turned to Rimon, her eyes lit. "Will you give me a baby?"

"I can't, Willa."

"Why?"

"Because I'm Kadi's husband. Like Del is Carlana's husband. One day you will have a husband, and he will give you babies."

Kadi gave him a warm smile of gratitude. He winked at her, and went off to finish caring for the horses.

Later that night, however, after Willa was asleep, Rimon said to Kadi, "You realize that if I were on a normal schedule, today would be my turnover?"

"Your turnover was three days ago."

"Yes, but it should have been today."

"So?"

"Willa's cycle had adapted to mine. If she were married to a Sime whose need did not exceed her selyn production, her fertility would come at their transfers, as yours does at ours."

"You think she'll marry a Sime?"

"To any Sime who could face the prospect of marrying a Gen, she'd be practically irresistible."

"And Fort Freedom is full of Simes who could easily face the prospect," Kadi added. "Oh, Rimonwhat hornet's nest will we stir up next?"


Chapter Fourteen FIRST WORDS | First Channel | Chapter Sixteen WILLAS DECISION