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Chapter Nineteen

AN OLD FIGHT

Only Del shared Rimon and Kadi's concern over lord's intention to marry Willa. Fort Freedom exploded in a rush of wedding plans, everyone as excited as if his own child were getting married. There was no use trying to talk to Willashe was in paradise, certain that Jord was the husband Rimon and Kadi had promised her.

While the wedding plans went forward, Rimon and Jord tested everyone in Fort Freedom in turn, always a few days after a kill, hoping to find someone who could imitate the healing mode.

Their lack of success was disheartening.

The one thing that brightened Rimon's days was the security of having Kadi back for transfer. The next time, everyone left them alone with their son. That evening, with Zeth well-fed, warm, dry, and sound asleep, Rimon and Kadi prepared for transfer. He sighed. "At this moment I can't believe I've ever known sexual desireand yet I know it will be there after transfer, and I won't be able to hold back. Kadi, what am I going to do when you're fertile again?"

"Let's not spoil this time by worrying about next time."

"Then let's worry about last time."

"Huh?"

"I didn't satisfy you. This time you take control. Don't stop until you're satisfied."

"But"

"What do you think I'm going to doburst?"

She giggled. Her nager bubbled with delight, but he could feel that she was relieved. How long he might have remained in anticipation, Rimon would never knowit was Kadi who could stand it no longer. She began to pour selyn into him, deep into every nerve, a solid, sure torrent that coursed through his systemand on into that reservoir he could suddenly perceive etched in glowing force, yielding before the impact of Kadi's selyn until he began to feel he would indeed burst.

The warmth of Kadi's relaxation held him for a moment before his own pleasure took command of him, drawing him to physical consciousness of Kadi's body against his as she resumed control, making love to him hungrily, passionately.

On the wedding day, Rimon, Kadi, Willa, and Jon assembled early at the Veritt home. Jord was not there; Abel informed them that he was praying and meditating in the chapel.

"This will be an important day for all of us," said Abel. "Last month we found that Jord and Willa could have transfer; this month we'll prove that before the whole world. Sara Fenell, Dan Whelan, and the others have agreed to be here today. I pray that they will now return."

If not, neither community may survive, Rimon thought. He had had so much work in Fort Freedom's fields because they didn't have the labor force to raise and harvest their cash crops with twenty per cent of the population trying to work their land independentlybut if Fort Freedom was having problems, the dissenters were even worse off. They had only one advantage: Dan Whelan had been Fort Freedom's blacksmith. Del, who would not go to Whelan over Carlana's objections, complained constantly about the sloppy blacksmithing done by the woman in town, always comparing her to the woman Syrus Farris had running his smithy.

Del and Carlana appeared about an hour before the ceremony, with their children freshly scrubbed and dressed in new clothes. Jana was a little angel in a yellow dress today, and Owen had a suit and cape like Del's. Everyone else was neat and clean, but none wore new clothes except the bride and groom. There were no luxuries this year.

As everyone was assembling before the chapel, the dissenters appeared. People made way for them, warily, silently. Dan Whelan led the group to the chapel door, where Abel was standing. Sara Fenell hung back somewhat. Rimon understood her conflict. She would always remember that her son had died trying what Willa would do today. If only Abel could make her look to the future instead of the past

Abel greeted everyone warmly. "We're pleased that you've returned to share our joy in this day. Please come in, and send your children to the front of the chapel. We wish all the children to see what it can mean for Sime and Gen to be together."

Whelan stopped before Abel. "I said I'd come back and listen to you if you could prove to me that Simes could live without killing. I'm here to see that proof."

"Enter freely and be welcome," said Abel.

Families shooed their children into the front rows, hiding their own nervousness. It couldn't be that they feared Jord would kill Willaanyone who had seen them together must be well over that fear. But the questions would come now, from children who didn't yet know of the kill, but who were old enough to have some idea of what they were witnessing.

Jord was waiting at the front of the chapel, as far from the tensions of the congregation as possible. He was edgy, like a normal Sime in need, but his smile when Willa approached was quite genuine, and he relaxed visibly as she stood beside him.

Abel took the lecture stand and briefly instructed the congregation that they must permit themselves to observe the transfer in duoconsciousness. Rimon felt the increased tension in Veritt's staunchest supporters and the blatant disapproval in the little group around Sara Fenell.

He remembered the first time they'd come into the chapel, how serene and healthy everyone, had seemed compared to their own hardened and unkempt appearance. Now, despite their impeccable grooming, the people of Fort Freedom seemed gaunt with trial.

As Abel spoke, trying to convince them it was no sin to use their Sime senses in the presence of God, there was a stirring of excitementeven hopeamong them. Today would see the beginning of the end of their guilt. Their increasing hope seemed to double the load Rimon carried.

Abel kept his remarks brief and to the point, not making the couple wait while he spun out philosophical theories. When he called Jord and Willa before him, he asked only for a short, silent prayer for the young couple embarking on a long life together.

The other Simes in the chapel were excited, focusing intently on what was about to happen. Sara Fenell had her arms crossed, hugging herself. Dan Whelan folded his hands in his lap, but the knuckles were white. The Lassiters were clutching each other's hands, tentacles retracted hard. Others knelt in prayer, eyes closed, but zilnning carefully.

Rimon, too, closed his eyes, letting himself be carried away with relief as Willa gave to Jord, her joy almost outshining his. When he looked up again, he saw Willa looking up into Jord's eyes with that same starry ecstasy she had shown after their first transfer. Around the room, disbelief fought with soaring hope. Many were crying. At the back of the chapel, where those in need had been seated, the door opened as some left hastily.

A murmur of spontaneous prayer rose from the assembly, as everyone shared that moment with Willa and Jord, poised at the edge of post-syndrome. Rimon relived that first moment of disbelief with Kadi, when she had given him transfer and they had both found themselves alive afterwardthat indescribable sensation that at last everything was all right. He felt it from Kadishe must be sharing the same memory. He put his arm around her, and reached with his other hand to touch Zeth, binding them together.

When the wave of emotion had ebbed, Abel broke his long silence to call Rimon and Kadi forward. They had the place of honor as witnesses while Abel performed the strange ceremony of vows that constituted the Fort Freedom pledge ceremony. Rimon had gathered that in Gen Territory his marriage to Kadi would not be recognized, because they had not pledged before witnesseswhile Jord and Willa were now considered to be permanently married through the spoken words, and not through emotional commitment, living together, or having children.

Rimon's puzzlement was swept aside by the powerful tonic of Willa's happiness. He and Kadi were caught up in the hope and joy of the people as they swirled out of the chapel singing out their strange, traditional songs, surrounding the bride and groom. Abel, in the midst of it all, was glowing almost as much as his son, happier than Rimon had ever seen him.

Out in front of the chapel, everyone crowded around Jord and Willa again, congratulating them, respectfully asking to zlin them. As the crowd began to disperse, Dan Whelan approached Abel. "I have seen," he said simply. "May God forgive me for doubting."

"God is merciful," replied Abel. "He will understand. Will you return to us now, Dan?"

Whelan's tentacles flicked nervously but were instantly restrained.

Veritt added, "Even though we believe you erred, we admire you for following the dictates of your conscience. Come back to us, Dan."

"Mr. Veritt, my son, Uelknows. But he has never seen a kill. Today he sawoh, surely he saw God's mercy in action!"

"He saw another witch in action!"

Kadi jumped, startled, and five Simes near her likewise started at the surge in her field. She settled immediately as she recognized Sara Fenell.

"No, Sara!" said Dan. "You saw it yourselfhow could you think Willa a witch?"

"Will you all be taken in? Look at these women demons in the bodies of Gens. Rimon Farris is a sorcerer sent to steal your souls. And he's succeeding. Look you how he has made his way into your midst, seducing your own son, Abel Veritt, with one of his succubi. Yonder stands Jon Foresterwhy is he not able to give selyn to someone? Not his own parents dare touch him, only Rimon Farris. And why is that?"

"Because Rimon's protecting me, that's why!" said Jon. "But you come onI'll give you transfer right now. I'll show you Rimon's no sorcerer!"

On the wave of his anger, Jon might actually have been able to do it, Rimon thought. An overpowering emotion could wipe out fear, as Kadi had found at their first transfer. But it wouldn't sustain Jon. Abel on one side and Rimon on the other immediately pulled him back, as Sara Fenell said, "Shall I kill you to prove you are wrong, Jon? The Devil will not gain my soul so easily, although I see he has made progress toward obtaining yours."

She turned to the group of dissenters, who had formed a cluster between herself and Dan Whelan. "You see? This boy is being corrupted, the way Drust was corrupted. Can you not learn from my son's experience? How many of your children must die?"

Margid Veritt came up and put her arm around the distraught woman's shoulders. "Sara," she said softly, "you're upset. Please, come with me where you can rest"

The other woman flung her off. "I'm not having a woman's hysteria! As a mother, Margid, think! Jord is your son!"

"Would you have me question what God has revealed to my husband?" asked Margid.

"There is nothing to understand except the bare facts. Rimon Farris has not yet bent Jon to his will; he has not yet gained the boy's soul. When he does, Jon will be like these womena vessel for selyn, controlled by this sorcerer, and in turn used to control you and lead you to damnation."

By this time, Jord and Willa had moved close beside Abel. Now Jord said, "Mrs. Fenell, this is the second month I have not killed. Does that mean nothing to you? Rimon has taught Willa, who is teaching meand while I learn, she can keep me free of the kill. Can you not envision a world in which Simes and Gens teach one another to live together in peace?"

"No! If God had meant that, Gens would not die when Simes took selyn!"

"But we don't," said Willa.

"You see, Jord Veritt? This demon has your soul in her grasp. There's no use talking to you. Is there no one here who can see how first the Gens are corrupted, and then used to corrupt the Simes?"

"Sara, please," said Abel, "won't you stay and pray with us? We'll listen to your objections, try to answer your questions."

"I listened to you, Abel Veritt, when you were on God's true path. You taught me well, then. I shall pray for your return to the true way."

Once more Sara Fenell made her retreat from Fort Freedombut this time far fewer people followed her. Rimon felt Kadi's astonishment, but he understood. Abel Veritt had placed his faith in Rimon, and though all it seemed to bring him was grief, his faith remained unshaken. What do they want of me? Why won't he turn to Jord now? Why won't they all turn to Jord now? But maybe they will when they really understand what Jord and Willa are, maybe then they'll take some of the pressure off of me.

The 'summer ended and the cold rains of fall began again. This time, though, Kadi was not so shut in. They had glass in the windows, and their new stove provided far more heat than the fireplace they had huddled around last winter. Zeth was a constant joy, a good baby who fussed only when there was something wrong, but whose curious black eyes soon followed everything that went on.

They missed Willa's help, and also the girl's sunny personality. Jon shifted from hope to fear to anxiety to pride each time Jord or Rimon drew from him in healing mode, and he would vow that next month he'd be ready to give transferbut each month, as he grew high-field again, his anxiety grew with it until Rimon again ruled out the attempt.

They spent a good deal of time at Fort Freedom, but when they were home they never lacked company; if Jord and Willa were not there, it would be Del's whole family. Both Owen and Jana learned to ride quickly and loved going places on their ponies. Owen confided, "Jana's almost as much fun as a boy now, but I wish Zeth would grow up so we could play together."

"There are no boys Owen's age at Fort Freedom," Carlana explained, and Rimon remembered that the Fifes, who had a four-year-old son, had elected to stay with Sara Fenell in the half-empty row of houses along the creek. They had also heard that the Fife family had bought a female Gen from Slina and kept her for two months without killing her.

"Do you think they're trying to raise the girl to be like Willa?" Kadi asked Carlana.

"Yes, I think that's what they're doing. I wanted to do it myself, but Del said no."

"And you just let it go at that?"

"No, II talked with Mr. Veritt about Del. He said Del is right to make me take responsibility for my own decisions. And I think if I had insisted, Del would have given in. I don't know, Kadi. If anyone can tame a wild thing and make it love him, it's Del. But if he failed, he would hurt more than anyone else. So we'll wait. If others succeed, I will insist."

That was the state of all their friends, torn between hope and fear. And from time to time, especially during the last days before a transfer, Rimon would retreat to Billy's grave, carefully tending the plants and hedges there, the physical labor somehow easing his guilt.

Besides the emotional turmoil, there were simple problems of survivalfor the first time, Rimon and Kadi were better off than their friends at Fort Freedom. With their manpower spread thin by the schism during the growing season, their cash crops had suffered. Now they were short of funds. Dan Whelan was working hard to repair all their equipment, but he was running short of metal.

The big argument wherever three men gathered in Fort Freedom was whether to do without the necessary metal or to break one of their most cherished principles and deal with one of the outlaw bands that raided Gen Territory for metal mined from the ruins of the Ancients. But Veritt would not yield on that point. He said there was blood on that metalthe blood of those Gens who mined it, those from whom it was stolen, and the blood of Simes who paid dearly for their raids into the heart of Gen Territory.

Nonetheless, the Year's Turning ceremony was a time of great celebration, as Abel detailed the progress from the year before. Two more children had established, and both had elected to stay with their families, giving their selyn to Rimon each month as Jon did. Even though both had the same problems Jon had, their presence was a ray of hope.

Willa seemed happy, easing Jord's growing tension without causing him to lash out at her. Zlinning Willa, Rimon found none of that tension in her that had bothered him for so long in Kadi. Kadi had had to learn not to hide her true feelings, something it simply never occurred to Willa to do. Nonetheless, around Jord and Willa, he felt a kind of precarious stasis, as if Jord would soon face something similar to what had happened to Rimon last winter, the day of Carlana's miscarriage. When he came through that, he'd be in control or" himself.

Then one snowy day, as what looked like an all-day blizzard began to pile snow around their homestead, they had an unexpected visitor: Risko, the man who worked for Slina, and whom Rimon had healed the very first time he'd ever used his healing mode.

"Rimon, we got problems at the Pens," he explained. "What's wrong?"

"Slina got in a prime Gen a few weeks agomarked as Farris stock, he is, but I told her she shoulda asked you."

"You think she was cheated?"

"Worse than that. He's sickand it's spreading through the Pens. We lost three already, and if we can't stop it, welllook at the snow comin' down. You may not need our stock, but everyone else does, and"

"It's all right, Risko," said Rimon. "I'll come and do whatever I can. Kadi, Jonyou come along andno, you might catch it. You go to Fort Freedom and tell Jord to come help me."

"Slina's already gone to ask Abel Veritt for help," said Risko. "We heard his son's a healer, like you."

"He'll help," said Rimon. "Everyone in Fort Freedom who can do anything will."

It was not only that they needed Gens to survive; it was that they knew full well that if the Simes in the little border town were shorted, they'd have .no qualms about hunting across the borderand right across the border was the community where Fort Freedom sent their established children.

When Rimon reached Slina's, three wagons were just pulling awaySimes stocking up on Gens with an eye on the gathering storm. Inside, Rimon found both Abel and Jord in the office, Willa at Jord's side.

"Willa, it's a Gen illness," Rimon told her. "You mustn't stay heresee, I didn't even bring Kadi."

Jord shifted closer to his wife, his stance tense. "Willa stays with me. I say where she goes."

"Jord" started Rimon.

But Slina interrupted. "Willa had this one couple years ago. Anyways, one like to it."

"You know what it is, then?" asked Rimon.

"Gotta be just a bad kind of Reloc fever."

"Shen!" Reloc fever had been known to wipe out whole Pens.

Slina said, "If I can't do somethin' awful fast"

"Now calm down, Slina," said Abel. "You've only had five cases, and we've got them isolated."

She glanced at him, but said to Rimon, "I picked up a bargain with a Farris brandnow, I ain't blamin' your dad, understandI always did suspect it was a forgery, but it was a good buy. Big, healthy out-Territory male, and hung like a bull. Figured to expand my operation, breed the wild 'un to some of my best stock like them fancy outfits do."

Rimon nodded, his mind on the problem of Reloc fever loose where Kadi might encounter itor Zeth. "It's not your fault, Slina. If his papers didn't indicate he'd been through Reloc, why would you suspect anything?"

"I did quarantine him. The day after I let him outhe falls down sick, and six days later I've got two pregnant females down with it, and two pre-Gens down a couple days later."

"Pregnant females?" asked Rimon.

"Yeah. May as well write 'em off as a complete loss." Slina was gloomier than Rimon had ever seen her, but he put it down to turnover.

"They're worth fighting for, Slina. Once in a while, you can beat even Reloc fever."

"Let's take a look at the victims," said Veritt.

Slina picked up her giant keys and led the way across the court yard to the small infirmary set apart from the Pens. As they walked, Rimon said, "What are you doing breeding Gens at this time of year?"

"You think I want them delivering at this time of year?

There's no late winter without some kind of illness in the Pens, so I don't want susceptibleunsellablenewborns around then."

Without thinking, Rimon quoted his father, "It's cheaper to lose a newborn than a good breeder. Besides, in the infant house you can isolate them from"

"I can't afford no infant house, Rimon! I" Slina cut off, flicking a glance at Jord and Abel behind them, and Rimon became aware of the utter horror Jord was righting down, the weary but sick feeling in Abel as they listened to the calm discussion between two Gendealers. Rimon shook his head ruefully as he held the outer door open while Slina fitted her keys into the massive lock on the inner door to the infirmary.

Inside, they found a small room with three beds. Two of the victims lay listlessly, staring at the ceiling. They were young boys, probably about to establish within the next few months. The third bed. in the room was wrapped about with a strong though murky field.

"This must be the one," said Rimon. The Gen was a large full-grown man who slept fitfully, turning with a soft moan as Rimon approached. There was the briefest glimpse of the diagonal notch filed in his front tooththe mark of prime Farris stock.

Rimon inspected the Gen, zlinned the nager, and shrugged. "He could have passed through Farris hands. He's well muscled, and even all but unconscious, he shows a nager with bite. This one is a troublemaker. Prime kill, yes, but no good at all for breeding stock."

How quickly it all comes back, he thought, shocked at himself. Secretly, he was glad Kadi wasn't here to listen though she'd heard the like all her life.

Slina shook her head."'Anytime you want a job, Rimon"

"Not me! I'm in the business of saving Gen lives now. But you're doing a great job running your own outfit, Slina. Really, you are."

With a sigh, she twitched the covers off the Gen to display the characteristic rash of Reloc fever. "He's been slow coming down with it," she said. "Just showed the rash this morning."

Just then, the man tossed restlessly, his movement wakening the characteristic headache of the fever. Rimon and Jord winced at the pain and went into healing mode together, while Abel stepped back behind them. Slina seemed unaffected. After all, she was accustomed to Gen pain.

The Gen's eyes came open, fever-bright and unfocused.

"Wherewho are you?" he asked in a raspy whisper.

Rimon had learned enough of the Gen language at Fort Freedom to answer. "I'm Rimon Farris. You're ill, but we know how to cure you."

The man's eyes slid past Rimon to the others and came into focus, memory returning. As weak as he was, he drew away from Rimon and said more clearly, "Get away from me!" The spirit was definitely there when he was awake. Prime killor prime transfer partner?

Rimon moved back a step, holding his hands out, tentacles sheathed, and then putting them firmly behind his back. He watched the Gen assessing that move, but Slina said, in Simelan, "Rimon! Don't let him think he can have his wayyou know what'll happen!"

"Let me try this experiment," he said. "You can always take himhe's not going to get away from us!"

She stood back warily and let Rimon proceed. He waited until the weakened Gen could not hold up his head anymore, and said, "We're here to help you."

"For what! To get sold again? To get killed? You just try it, I'll" He collapsed in a coughing fit.

Then Rimon said, "You ready to take some medicine now?"

"NoI'd rather die. Cheat this stinkin' place outa" He began coughing again.

Abel said from the back of the group, "You don't really want to die. God doesn't expect us to give upyou have no idea why God sent you here at this time. Tell him, Rimon."

"God!" said the Gen. "What do you know of God!"

"We pray," said Abel, "just as we did when we were children. Our faith is always rewarded."

The Gen made the effort to raise his head and focus his eyes on Abel. "Church of the Purity? Here?"

"After our own fashion," said Abel, with a humility Rimon had seldom seen in the older man.

"Let me try," said Jord, moving forward with Willa. "Look at me," he commanded, taking Willa's hand and holding out her arm so the man could see clearly she was Gen. "There are some of us who don't kill, and others who are learning not to. You can be as safe here as Willa isand Willa's my wife."

"Drugged!" scoffed the Gen.

"No," denied Jord calmly. In Simelan, he said to Willa, "Would you like to help this man get well?"

She nodded vigorously and said in Simelan, "Yes, Jord, what should we do?"

The Gen wiped beads of sweat from his forehead, his arm falling heavily back to the mattress. "God, what a dream! She's talkin' their lingo! Won't I ever wake up?"

Rimon said, "His fever's rising. We've got to get some fosebine into him. You do have some ready, Slina?"

"Surecan't get them to drink it, thoughnot unless they've dehydrated from the fever. And I'm just not cruel enough to withhold the water that long."

"Get the fosebine and let me see what I can do." He turned back to the Gen as Slina left. "You are smart enough to take medicine even though it tastes bad?"

The Gen rolled his head on the mattress, a weak negative. Rimon was at a loss until Abel said, "Rimon, we've got to make him understand that we're trying to start a whole new way of life here."

Zlinning, Rimon could sense how Veritt was oddly attracted to the Gen. He's probably having visions of training him!

Veritt wasn't paying much attention to Rimon. He began talking to the Gen, urgently. "and my own son no longer has to kill every month. Families aren't being broken when the children mature. Men and women can fall in love and marrySime and Gen together. Rimon and my son are both married to GensRimon has a son by a Gen. Don't you seeyou've work here, a place here, if you can survive this trial. Take the medicineliveand join us."

Slina returned with a large bottle of pale gray liquid and a wooden drinking bowl. "For whatever good it'll do!"

Rimon took the bottle, examining the liquid. He could see right through it "This isn't concentrated enough," he said. "Put in about four times as much powder to this amount of water."

"Rimon, it already tastes so foul they won't touch it!"

Rimon shoved a lock of hair off his forehead with one tentacle and poured some of the liquid into the bowl. "Come on, nowif you don't drink this down, Slina is likely to sell you to the next customer for immediate kill before you just die anyway."

"Rimon!" said Jord.

"What'd he say?" Slina asked Abel, who motioned her to silence.

Rimon offered the drinking bowl, his tentacles carefully retracted. "Show her you're intelligent, and she'll keep you alive long enough for us to get you out of here."

Warily, the Gen took the bowl and tasted the concoction with curled lip, and then drank it all down. He flung the bowl away at random and slid back onto the mattress, muttering something about hoping it was poison.

Rimon fielded the bowl in midair with two tentacles and flipped it into his hand. "There, Slina, see? Zlin that."

As the medicine took effect, the Gen relaxed, his aches and pains quieting, his fever leveling off. Rimon said, "Go prepare some of the stronger mixture, Slina, while we take a look at the two women."

Rimon and Jord with Willa beside him went to the next room, where two female Gens occupied the beds, one coughing spasmodically, the other watching and whimpering in fear. Again, Rimon realized just how unique Slina was among Penkeepers for not selling these two breeders when they first showed symptomscertainly there were customers in town who'd relish a pregnant Gen. Intense disgust rose in Rimon, surprising him.

"What's wrong?" asked Jord, one tentacle around Willa's wrist.

"Nothing," answered Rimon, shaking off the mood and zlinning the two women. Immediately, he saw that the one coughing was about two and a half months pregnant. Her fever was skyrocketing.

Jord, too, was zlinning. "Rimon, Slina said the two females were infected after the males. But look at them is Reloc fever always so fast?"

"I've dealt with it only once or twice before. Pregnancy weakens a Genany disease is serious then." Rimon found an empty basin on a side table and handed it to Willa. "Go fill this with water and get some rags. We're going to have to sponge down that fever."

The rest of the night, they nursed the five patients along, while Slina searched for new victims, and then returned to the infirmary with hot trin tea and a few biscuits.

Jord said, "I got the man to take concentrated fosebine by showing him how Willa would drink it if I told her to. Now she's fallen asleep!"

"Let her sleep," said Rimon. "She can't keep up with a Sime, you know."

Jord gave Rimon a wry grin. "You should have taught her that from the first!"

"Kadi hasn't learned it yet!"

In a moment of camaraderie, Jord said, "I rather doubt Henry ever will, either."

"Henry?"

"Steers. Henry Steers. I asked him his name. It was as if I'd given him his identity backhe said no one on this side of the border ever cared enough to ask even his name."

"You know why, Jord."

"Yes, of course," he replied. "It's only after you don't have to kill that you start to see your defenses. But did you notice that he isn't scared of any of us? I don't know if he assumes that no one would take a sick Gen, or if he's just naturally like Willa."

"More likely he's just emotionally wrung out. Slina's had him a while, and we don't know what he went through before that. If Fort Freedom does buy him, you'll probably end up sending him across the border. He's got a life out there somewhere."

"We'll get the money," said Abel. He turned to Slina. "We'll pay what you were askingbut it's going to take us a while. It's been a bad year, but things are getting better now."

"You've been good customers all these years, never making any trouble. But I can't let you have him on credit

Rimon is right. He's a troublemaker and probably will get himself killed trying to escape. I'm doubling my security on this wing as soon as he's well enough to stand on his feet."

"Just don't sell him to anyone else," Abel said.

Rimon wondered if Abel was following Slina's thoughts as she nodded. "It's a deal, Veritt. I'll keep him for you until midsummer. But that's as long as I can guarantee youthen I may have to send him to auction to recoup some of my losses." She hadn't really wanted to sell Steers right awayshe had other plans in mind.

All three males were out of danger before the next morning. The two females were another matter. Near midnight, Slina called Rimon in to support the field of one of them as she miscarriednot such a painful experience as Carlana's, since, the pregnancy was so little advanced, but racking coughs added to the misery of her cramping, and she could not seem to get enough air. Rimon had to concentrate on bolstering her selyn production, alternating with Jord, who still could not hold very long in healing mode.

Willa was upset at the loss of another baby, although she was not frightened. When the worst was over, Rimon collapsed into a chair, letting Jord take over seeing that nothing went wrong after the fact. Willa asked Jord, "Why do so many babies die?"

"Not many, Willa. I know this is the second time you've seen it, but most women" have their babies without even as much trouble as Kadi had."

"When can we have a baby?"

"Maybe next year."

"That's what you said last year. It's next year now. The Year's Turning is over."

"You know I don't want to wait, Willa, but we have to, for your sake."

It was obviously an old argument. Rimon lost track of their murmurings and drifted into a light doze.

He woke with the sound of a strangled wheeze dying in the air about him, a Gen field fading to nageric silence. He was on his feet with a start before he realized it was too late. One of the women had died. On the other bed, the one who had miscarried was having a coughing fit while Slina tried to coax her to drink some fosebine.

His' knees suddenly weak, Rimon sank back into his chair. Jord and Slina hurried to his side, but he fended them off. "I'll be all right if I can just sit a few minutes." There was a weak, fluttery sensation somewhere inside him that he'd thought he'd never have to cope with again. "Jord, you'd better check out the other Gen."

"She drank some fosebine," said Slina. "She's asleep." She moved to look down at the dead girl. "Shidoni! A good, healthy breeder, and the kid, tooand the other one's kid. What am I gonna do?" Then she straightened. "Listen, I'm sorrywithout your help, I'da lost the bunch of 'em. I owe you."

"All Fort Freedom asks is the right to buy Mr. Steers."

"You got thatmy word on it." She turned to Rimon. "You look all dragged out. Come onI got an empty bed in my office. You stretch out there for a while."

"I'll help you," said Willa. It was a simple, selfless impulse, typical of the girl's character. Jord was in no difficulty at the moment, and Willa had learned long ago how to ease Rimon's strainbut even as she moved from Jord's side toward Rimon's, her husband reached out in a sudden flare of blazing anger to thrust her away from Rimon.

"You leave my wife alone!" exclaimed Jord, reaching for Rimon.

"I didn't touch her!" Rimon gasped in astonishment that faded before the familiarity of Jord's reaction. "Abel"

But the older man was impeded by Willa, who was trying to get back to Jord, as Jord reached for Rimon's throat. Rimon raised his arms to fend Jord off, only to find Jord's tentacles whipping about his forearms, laterals extended for contact. Jord's grip put pressure on Rimon's lateral extensor nodes, twining their laterals together. What is he doing?

Hideous familiarity told Rimon at once what Jord was in fact doingwhat Rimon had done to Zeth, instinctively, on that far-off day of his First Kill. Nol NO! Raw panic surged through Rimon, feeding Jord's attack. But Jord was jerking Rimon into lip contact at that very instant, and all Rimon could do was refuserefuse! He felt the pain of Jord's denied draw, the shock of shen, and then Jord collapsed, unconscious, pulling Rimon down on top of him.


Chapter Eighteen INFORMED CONSENT | First Channel | Chapter Twenty FAILURE