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Chapter Twenty-One

SELF-DEFENSE

Rimon woke. He felt fine. He was in bed, and Kadi was in his arms, asleep, her head on his chest, the fragrance of her hair sweet in his nostrils. But it was not their bed.

Memory came back in a rush of impressions, all overlaid by overpowering need. Coming to in need and pain, being pulled from a tangle of bodies. Jon dead. Jord in shock. Hands moving him gentlyAbel Veritt. Willa pounding up, breathless, taking in the scene and turning on Jord, hitting him on the face and shoulders while she made wordless cries of anger and frustration, Jord never lifting a hand to defend himself until Margid Veritt pulled Willa off him. And finally Kadi seeming to materialize out of nowhere, the anguish in "her field disappearing at once when she saw Rimon was alive, dissolving into concern, her nager an instant, soothing support.

Through it all, the deep, aching, terrible need, the worst he had ever known. Somehow, the Veritts had gotten them all out of the street and into their house, where Abel had thrust Rimon and Kadi intoyes, that's where they were: Abel and Margid Veritt's bedroom. He'd never been in here before.

All Rimon had meant to do was shunt selyn from his reservoir into his own system, just enough to last the few days until his next transfer was due. Need impelling, raw nerves crying out for selyn, he faltered and suddenly Kadi took command, pouring life into him, completing the transfer on a wave of bliss that led them mindlessly to the inevitably physical conclusion.

But now he remembered. Henry Steers. Jord. Jon. All of Abel's hopes smashed at once.

Rimon gently extricated himself from Kadi's arms.

"Rimon?" she asked, sitting up to focus on him vaguely.

"Go back to sleep, Kadi. I've got to talk to Abel." He began sorting through the tangled heap of clothing.

Kadi got up to dress. "I couldn't sleep now. I'll go with you. Jord will be the biggest problem."

"Problem!" laughed Rimon bitterly. "Oh, Kadidid, how am I going to live with this?"

"It wasn't your fault, Rimon." It seemed she had been saying that to him all his life. No, she didn't understand. So far, she had survived her association with him, but sooner or later, she would become his victim, just like all the others.

Rimon's brief post-syndrome had evaporated. Jord was deep in the post-kill depression he had known in himself, in Del, in everyone he touched. Jord didn't look up when Rimon and Kadi entered, but Abel rose from his chair before the fire, and came to them anxiously. "Are you all right?"

Rimon brushed that aside. "Where's Willa?"

"We finally got her to sleep. Jord"

Jord said dully, "My life should be forfeit to you, Rimon."

"You were driven beyond endurance," Rimon replied. "I never should have tried to teach others to be like me. I'm unnatural, abnormal"

"No!" interrupted Abel. "It's not unnatural to refuse to kill."

"But I kill anyhow!" said Rimon. "Billy, Vee and Drust, now Jonand look at my friends, eaten up by the same disease that devours me! Abel, I'm not what you think I am!" He pointed to the bedroom. "In thereI lost control just the way Jord did."

"No," said Abel. "You may have allowed Kadi to control you, but you would never have hurt her. I've seen it, zlinned you, Rimonif you'd taken a frightened Gen, at the first pain you'd have gone to healing mode. You don't crave pain. Think about that! You say you are unnatural? How can the desire to feel pain be natural? No, Rimon, it was a test."

"AtestIfailed!"

"No, a test Jon failed, and even Jord failed. But Rimon,

God does not put tests on us to make us give up. My son has to start over, to face the test again. Are you going to refuse to help him? Can you refuse to help?"

"Father," said Jord, a worn whisper. "I can't ask"

Kadi went to sit beside Jord, saying, "You don't have to ask. We'll do anything we can for you."

Jord shrank from Kadi's presence. "I know what I am, You were right in the first place, Fatherwe are all cursed. Our strongest will is nothing before the compulsion of our nature. I had no malice toward Jon. He simplycame in the way! It could have been anyone. I no longer even distinguish between Sime and GenFather, instead of Rimon, it might have been you, Mother, anyone! Oh, God help me I can't walk anywhere safely now. There is no place left for me."

How was it possible, Rimon wondered, for Jord to understand so well, while Abel with all his experience couldn't see it? We are killers by nature. The Gens can refuse to die, but we cannot refuse to kill.

Abel was saying, "Jord, there is one place for you: where Rimon standsbeyond the kill. Remember when Kadi was pregnant, and Rimon lived on Willa's selyn? That was before he passed through his crisis. Now he takes selyn routinely from any Gen who will offer it, and they feel no pain. You have done it, too. You know how."

"But I wouldn't dare anymore. I"

"Don't say it," answered Abel. "Jord, my sonwe have all erred. Accept that, and pray for forgiveness. But don't make one sin the excuse for others. Learn from your error no one is safe until he has passed through the trail that Rimon passed through. Rimon, weeks ago I recognized that my son was approaching this crisis, and I was blinded by pride. I led you to presume we had found the key to safety for our Gen children here at Fort Freedombut so long as there is any Sime in the community who has not passed through the test, we can't have them here. We must still be ready to give up our children when we must."

"Oh, Abel," said Kadi, her nager aching with Abel's pain. A thought cut through Rimon. What would it be like to give up Zeth after ten or fifteen years of watching him grow?

Zlinning him lightly, Abel said, "Rimonif we help, perhaps you would be willing to take in any of our Gen children who elect to stay on this side of the border now?"

"Willa," said Jord, very painfully. "I hurt herinsulted her, and then left her. She may never forgive me, but if she doeswhat am I to do? I love her, and yetoh, God, what if I kill her, too?"

"You can't," said Kadi. "That much I know. There is a test for Gens, tooand Jon failed it. If he had ever gotten beyond covering his fear with defiance, all that would have happened would have been a simple transfer. No one would have been hurt."

Jord got up and moved restlessly about the room, stopping at the fireplace to stare into the flames. "No," he said at last. "No, we can't blame it all on Jon. I should have been able to resist his fear."

"Not in that condition," said Abel.

"I agree," said Kadi. "Jord, does your God blame you for having human limits? We can go on trying to stay alive or we can quit and die. I wasn't raised to be a quitter." She met Rimon's gaze and some of her fire flashed to him. "Neither were you, Rimon Farris."

Zeth. Rimon had gone on then; he could go on now. Killing was unnatural because it prevented people from staying alive. Life itself was the greatest value.

"All right, Abel. We'll take in your Gensfor a while. Until you can take them back."

"Father! Nosend them across the border"

"Jord, God will expect us to get up and go forward. But we must learn from what has happened. First, though, must come Jon's funeral."

Jord went dead white. "Father, I can't"

"You will attend. Everyone will attend. Go ring the bell, Jord, and tell everyone to assemble in the chapel. I must go and tell the Foresters what I plan."

As if this whole thing were entirely his responsibility.

Within hours, a funeral cortege marched from Fort Freedom along the hill trail toward the borderwhere Jon was to be buried exactly on the border itself. The trail was frozen mud again, the digging of the grave difficult. Jord pitched into that work, as if the physical labor were a kind of expiationor, perhaps, simply because it gave him something to do instead of standing to be stared at in horror.

The chill wind made Kadi shiver, and Rimon drew her close, warming her with his own body heat. Willa, still radiating a bewildered anger, remained near the Veritts until Kadi, seeing her start to shake despite her warm clothing, reached out and drew her to them, handing Zeth to her. Rimon didn't know why she did it, until the girl began to rock the baby, her attention at last on something besides her husband. Slowly the fury faded.

Occasionally, Rimon zlinned Gen Territory. This large a gathering of Simes was a perfect target for Gen guns should the border patrol happen along. Possibly the danger was a part of the penance; he didn't really understand Abel's methods. He sensed hostility toward Jord, but people quickly smothered it, as if waiting for permission to release their feelings.

When the Foresters stepped forward to place a wreath of evergreen branches on their son's casket, Abel spoke to them softly, and then took his place beside the grave.

"We have all faced death before," he said, "but it is never easy. Today we assemble to mourn the passing of Jon Forester. By now it is no secret to anyone here how Jon died: my son killed him."

At the bald statement, a shock ran through the listeners. Abel went on. "However, Jord was only the immediate instrument of Jon's death. We're all to blame, all guilty and yet, most of all, we're guilty of demanding too much, too soon.

"Jon Forester had courage. Yesthe most difficult kind of courage; for although he failed, he overcame his failures to try again and again to learn transfer. Jon died a martyr to the cause of life. Because he knew Simes could and should live without killing, he remained among Simes when he could have gone across the border to his own safety. God cannot ask more of any man. Let us pray for the soul of Jon Forester, who is surely now in heaven."

As Abel prayed, Rimon noticed the Foresters and a number of other people cryingbut in many, there was still a tight control. Jord, in particular, remained dry-eyed, pale, even his nager a kind of separate field, as if he could not touch or respond in any way.

After the prayers, Abel said, "Probably you wonder why we have come here to bury the body of Jon Forester, instead of interring it in the consecrated ground near the chapel. No consecrated ground is required; the body of a martyr consecrates the ground it is laid in. Jon is not the first martyr to the cause we have vowed to follow. We must all face the inevitable fact: he will not be the last."

Abel waited until the murmur of horror died down before he continued. "We are in a pitched battle with the forces of evil, and since the evil lies within ourselves, the casualties of that battle must come from among ourselves. Our goal must be to lose as few lives as we possibly can and to be sure that no life is wasted!

"Jon Forester did not die in vain, unless you make it so. If you give up the hope of life without killing, Drust Fenell, Vee Lassiter, and Jon Forester all died in vain. If a second life is lost because we encourage Gens who have not learned not to fear, to walk freely among Simes who have not yet learned not to killthen that life is wasted. Only if we learn that lesson is Jon's death not in vain.

"We must pray constantly that God will grant us to learn quickly." There were tears in the old man's voice. "I have asked myself, over and over, why God saw fit to place Jon in my son's path at just that moment. Why was Jord presented with the test when he was in no condition to pass it? I think it's a lesson for all of us: we can fail. I've failedevery time I've tried not to kill. So have many of you. We all had our hopes bound up in Henry Steerswe have all done without to contribute to the fund to buy his freedom. Was that, too, a vain effort? I think not. Henry Steers had a son, a boy who is somewhere in this Territory. Had he lived, his father would have sought for himand now, we will do it for him. Rimon"

"Abel, how can I?"

"You know more than any of us. We must search. We must try. God always expects us to try." As far as Abel was concerned, it was settled. Rimon looked down at Zeth, and knew that he had been drawn into Abel's hopes and schemes again. But now, the general expiation assigned, Abel turned to the specific one.

"Jord, step forward."

As if hypnotized, Jord joined his father.

"My son, Rimon Farris was sent to teach the first lesson: that Simes do not have to kill. You have a second lesson to teach us: God does not condemn us for our failures. Will you teach us that lesson, Jord? Will you face the test again when God chooses to repeat it, and this time pass it?"

"If it is God's will," Jord replied.

"Do you repent of killing Jon Forester?"

"You know I do!" Jord choked out.

"Then will you do penance, in prayer and in works, to atone for your sin?" Jord's fierce control broke, and tears of healing grief rolled down his cheeks. He fell to his knees before his father. "Anything," he said. "Just tell me what to do."

Abel placed his hand on Jord's head. "You have taken Jon's selyn."

Oh no! thought Rimon. Don't load that on him, too!

But Jord only nodded, and Abel continued, "This month you will use that selyn in acts of penance for past mistakes, and of enduring hope for the future. First, you will fill in Jon's grave, obliterating any indication of the burial. This is not only that marauders may not desecrate the grave, but as a symbol that one day the border itself may be obliterated, when there will be no more divisions and no more martyrs."

"Yes, Father," Jord replied.

"And you'll spend the rest of this month preparing a monument for the chapel in Fort Freedom, that the names of those who've died for our cause shall never be forgotten. You will hew the granite alone, polish the stone, and carve into it the names of Drust Fenell, Vee Lassiter, and Jon Forester. All future generations who look upon that stone will be reminded that their lives rest upon the deaths of others, and will join in our pledge that those deaths will not be in vain."

As penance, the concept made little sense to Rimon but as a mark of continuity, of a living dream, the idea moved him deeply. Around him, he felt the emotions change, anger and resentment at lord disappearing. lord, now sobbing in heartfelt cleansing grief, was returned to the community.

Willa stared at her husband, her frustrated resentment slowly fading. Finally, she handed Zeth back to Kadi, and went to kneel beside Jord, putting her arms around him. People began to withdraw. Rimon and Kadi went back to their home, leaving Jord and Willa to work out whatever they could to salvage their marriage.

Spring finally came to stay. This year Rimon waited to plow his fields until after the floodsbut the floods didn't come. "Some farmer!" he told Kadi. "I should have guessed that less snow this past winter would mean less runoff in the spring."

But Rimon didn't allow the time to go to waste. Besides earning extra money working for Del and Fort Freedom, he consulted with Slina to determine the most likely location of Henry Steers' sonif he were still alive. They knew he hadn't been taken with his father to the Farris Genfarm. There were only two establishments that dealt in quantities of pre-Gen children. If he hadn't yet established or possibly changed overthere was about a seventy-five per cent probability that he was at one of those Pens. Otherwise, he could be anywhere, in one of the scattered Pens like Slina's. In that case, a Pen-by-Pen search was the only way to find him, and there was no way to do that.

Twelve was still young; there was a good chance the boy would not establish for a year or more, so in early summer, when Rimon and Del took some horses to High Canyon, Rimon made a detour to check out the Villiers Genfarm. Only one of the Villiers pre-Gens was a boy of somewhere around twelve, Rimon managed to speak a few words with him in English, found that he was not Henry Steers, Jr., but learned that there had been a boy called Hankand maybe it was Steers, but he didn't rememberin the same shipment he had been in at one point.

Except for the possible clue that Steers' son had survived to be sold, it was a dead end. Rimon found it grueling to have to leave the boy. However, he was lean and spare-framed, a typical pre-Sime build. If he changed over, he'd have to work off whatever price Villiers paid for him, but he'd be all right if he could face becoming Sime. The only way Rimon could walk away was to convince himself of that.

His own homestead was growing enough without adding more children, even if he could afford to buy the boy. Both the young Gens who had been living with their families in Fort Freedom decided to stay on this side of the border, even after Jon's death. Rimon feared it was Abel's speech at the funeral that had persuaded them. They were starry-eyed kids, caught up in Abel's dream and determined that they wouldn't "fail the test."

So they came to Rimon and Kadi, their families helping to build on to Rimon's house, providing supplies and labor, and also giving him the tax money for their children. The boys' skills were welcome. Sordal Kent was already a good farmer and Len Deevan had been apprenticed to the herbalist. He took one stroll through their tunnel and asked Rimon, "Why aren't you growing mushrooms in here?"

"Mushrooms?" answered Rimon. They were a favorite food he'd missed lately. "I don't really know enough about cultivating mushrooms to attempt it. Neither does Kadi."

"Will you let me? I can get Mr. Lansing to help. Next year, you can take some to market when you go with Mr. Erick!"

Rimon authorized the plan, to be strictly supervised by Fort Freedom's master herbalist, and their first real industry was enthusiastically founded.

During all this, Rimon sensed a renewed unity among the folk of Fort Freedom. The month of lord's penance had worked wonders. Jord labored hard, alone, Willa never far away. Zlinning them as she watched her husband, Rimon found that Jord was under control again. Abel's plan was working; this time, Jord was going to succeed.

The ceremony for the unveiling of the monument held a real surprise. Jord had added a fourth name that hadn't been there the previous evening. As the first rays of the rising sun struck the smooth granite surface, the name of Billy Kell leaped out at Rimon. Billy Kell. Drust Fenell. Vee Lassiter. Jon Forester.

Billy. Rimon forced himself to breathe evenly, not to give Kadi the slightest hint of his pain, as fresh as if it had happened yesterday. Billy trusted methey.all trusted me. Who'll be next? Abel? Kadi?

Beside him, Del was crying, Carlana observing serenely. And not a trace of surprise from Kadi. When the two women exchanged glances, Rimon knew that one of them had put Jord up to this. He didn't want to know which.

Yet, after the ceremony, Rimon noticed that Del seemed less tense than he had in months, and Rimon, despite refusing himself the luxury of tears, felt that some indefinable burden had been lifted. There was something to be said for Abel's methods after all.

Summer brought Gen Raiders. Slina seethed, for she had predicted the retaliations as she struggled to keep enough Gens in supply to provide for both the town and Fort Freedom. Although she hadn't run completely out before a shipment had come through, it was unclear whether she would have been able to provide for the whole town if some of the town Simes had not gone raiding across the border. She claimed she could have, though, loudly, to anyone who'd listen. But as the town had no mayor, council, or even any form of law officer, there was no one to whom she could make an official complaint.

The effects of the illness in Slina's Pens were widespread. Although Rimon's carefully shielded homestead survived, they lost half a field of wheat to the fire the Raiders set. One group of Gens defied the barrier of the mountains when what was usually a raging river slowed to a stream. They rampaged across Del's property, cutting his fences, carrying away some of the precious wire, and making off with twenty of his finest horses. Wryly, Del told everyone that he was glad their greed had sent them back across the border with their loot without attacking deeper in-Territory. But everyone knew he couldn't afford such a loss.

Rimon and Kadi were doing better financiallybut they had to. This summer the two years would be up, and their homestead would no longer be a homestead, but their own land, free and clearexcept for the property tax Rimon would have to start paying on it. Now Rimon took every job he could get.

Kadi would have been glad to work in the fields of Fort Freedom with Rimon, but while the women of Fort Freedom worked hard in their own fields, none of them would ever hire out for pay. She and Rimon decided it might be best not even to mention it to Abel. Del, however, was constantly shorthanded.

So Kadi, who could handle horses just as well as Rimon, went to work for Del, leaving Zeth in Carlana's care most of the day. Rimon soon saw that Kadi had a knack for the work that he hadn't. The men from Fort Freedom who hired out to Del would escort Kadi and Zeth back and forth, and after a few raised eyebrows, it was accepted that Kadi wasas usualdifferent from the women they were used to, but not therefore bad.

Despite all his problems, Rimon felt a certain satisfaction when his homestead became his own property. He'd have to travel to the Territory Capital to obtain his deed: five days each way. It would be Summer Fair at the Capital a time when all the largest merchants would display their wares. He promised Abel to look again for Steers' son, and if he wasn't there, to go on across the Territory to the Varnst Genfarm, their last hope of locating the boy. Abel, then, entrusted him with all the money that had been gathered to buy Steersa fund Fort Freedom had kept intact in the constant hope that they'd somehow be able to locate Henry Steers, Jr.

Originally Del had planned to take a herd of horses along to the Summer Fair, but with the depletion through the raid as well as having to sell off stock to pay for extra hired hands, he didn't have enough to make the trip worth his while because he couldn't file the deed of ownership to his ranch until a month later. So Rimon and Kadi agreed to take five of Del's horses to sell for him.

Rimon had hoped the trip would be a chance to get away from his responsibilitiesbut here he was with horses and a large sum of money, and the burden of his thoughts and worries, which refused to be left behind. He wanted it to be a pleasure for Kadi, though; a treat after she had gone through so much and worked so hard. Neither of them could guess what to expect in the city from people who weren't used to seeing a Gen treated as a person, but Rimon was determined to fight his way through any obstacle to show Kadi a good time.

Kadi reverted to the Krazy Kid he'd known before she'd established, as excited as any child on the way to a fair. Her cheerfulness was contagious. By the end of the first day, Rimon was feeling much more fancy-free than in years. The time passed swiftly, as Kadi marveled at each new sceneand Rimon recalled that until she'd established, she'd never been more than a day's ride from home.

They traveled across a plateau, into a land of small canyons with fantastic rock formationsbut none of the roaring waterfalls Rimon had expected. They camped that night beside a drying waterhole, somber reminder of the advancing drought.

On the fourth day, they came into hilly green country. The horses wanted to crop the grass, and they had a hard time keeping them moving. Rimon told Kadi, "Tomorrow we get on the eyeway that cuts straight through the hills. We can stop early tonight, and still make the Capital easily tomorrow."

"It's been so nice, just the two of us together," Kadi replied. "I'm not looking forward to the crowds in the Capital."

"I'll take care of you," said Rimon, and Kadi turned to smile at him, her nager bright and serene.

"I'm not afraid, Rimon; you always take care of me." Then she said, "What do you suppose Zeth is doing now? I do hope he isn't tearing up Margid's clean house too badly."

"You know Abel and Margid love him like a grandson" Just then, he zlinned a small group of Simes. "Kadi, travelers approaching: come over here beside me."

Even as he spoke, he realized that the Simes were not approaching; they were waitingjust the other side of the ridge. Their fields were partly insulatedmost Simes wouldn't have-zlinned them at all. They were hidingan ambush!

Reining in, he said, "I don't like it. They're not moving. It could be thieves lying in wait. Come onlet's turn the horses back."

But in order to do that, they had to ride to the front of the small herd. The horses were starting to spook with the tensionand maybe had smelled the waiting Simes. Rimon and Kadi uncoiled their whips, trying to drive the horses back. At their shouts and the crack of their whips, the Simes in ambush must realize that their prey had sensed them. Rimon hoped that with the element of surprise gone, they'd hesitate to attack. There were threeno, four of them. Would they attack two people? But they perceived only one person, he realized; one person and one Gen.

Both Rimon and Kadi were now between the horses and the ridge. The Simes' nager increased suddenly as they came over the top of the hill, riding full speed. Rimon turned to face them, and almost froze. Freeband Raiders!

Four scarecrow forms converged upon them. The horses raced away from them, but Kadi turned beside Rimon, fighting her mount and wielding her whip bravely, cracking it in front of the nose of the nearest Raider's horse. The horse reared, but the rider clung, and another came up on the other side of Kadi. She tried to swing her whip at him, but she couldn't match Sime speed and agility. In one motion, he pulled her off her horse onto his. She squirmed, kicked, and finally bit into the Sime's arm, at which he dropped herbut before he could reach down to grab her again, another ridera woman?yanked her out of his grasp.

Rimon tried to fight off the other two Raiders who, in full augmentation, were determined to separate him from Kadi. They expected him to give up on odds of four-to-one and simply let her go. Instead, he fought his way toward her, and managed to coil his whip around one of the Raiders and unseat himbut the man caught his whip and took it down with him, disarming Rimon as the other knocked him off his horse. They went down in a tangle, and in a moment there were two others on him, two holding him while the other beat him, and he heard Kadi screaming, "Stop! Don't hurt him! Rimon, Rimon!"

At least she's still alive, he thought as he lost consciousness.

They didn't let him stay blacked out. He was held by two of the Raiders, while one held Kadi where he could see her, and the other poured water over his head.

"What the bloodyshen hell is this?" demanded the Raider to Rimon's left, her voice indicating she was indeed female. "You're more scared than that shendi-rippin' female!"

"Rimon, are you all right?" asked Kadi.

"Yeah," he lied hoarsely.

"Not for long," said the man who'd poured the water. He was tall, with a shock of tangled hair as red as Kadi's. Above his pale, skeletal features, it looked like a clown's wig.

There was nothing funny, though, about the menace in him as he turned to Kadi. She stared at him defiantly. When he came close enough, she made a deliberate attempt to knee him in the groin. He sidestepped and slapped her viciously. She responded with a flick of her field that made him stagger, and the Sime holding her winced and gasped in astonishment.

The female Raider cried, "A witch!"

"S'matter, Ina?" sneered the red-haired man. "You scared of a Gen?"

"You'd better be scared of me!" Kadi said defiantly. "You picked the wrong Gen to attack this time."

Don't goad them, Kadi, Rimon willed. He could see through her bravado, but was sure none of the Raiders could. Rimon brought augmented strength to bear against the two holding him, but they matched him bit by bit until they gave him a shake. "Stop that, or we'll kill the Gen and have done with it."

How can I get loose and rescue Kadi? I mustsomehow! Think! he began to zlin as deeply as he could, seeking anything that would give him an opening. Their captors' fields were consumed with the frantic beat typical of the Freeband Raiders. Of the four, the one holding Kadi had the lowest field, but none of them were in need. Freehand Raiders never allowed themselves to reach real need, if they could help it.

Then he found itin the woman holding himher whole body was rotted away with her dissipated lifestyle, but the weakest point was her vascular system. She had a condition seen usually in the very old, and could die very suddenly of circulatory collapse or heart failure. But how could he use that information?

He drove himself down into hypoconsciousness as again one of the Raiders, tentacles extended, delivered a ringing slap to Kadi's face. This group isn't as imaginative as those others I sawlong ago.

How can she be so calm? She expected him to do somethingpull off some kind of miracle. They all expect me to do miracles, and I'm nothing but an ordinary man!

His despair registered with the Raiders. He felt them zlinning him, and then the woman said, "We can use this one!.He's as good as a Gen. Torture her and feel him squirm!"

The red-haired man grinned malevolently, and slapped Kadi again. She broadcast the pain right back at them with all the power of her nager, making the flick of anger she had thrown at them earlier seem like a loving caress.

It knifed through Rimon, and for a moment everything went red as he felt his knees sag under him. He didn't quite lose consciousness, but his weight pulled the two stunned Raiders down with him. As he swam up to awareness again, he realized he'd lost the chance Kadi had given him to get loose. If only I hadn't been zlinning! By the time he had control of his paralyzed legs again, the two Raiders coarsened by their lifestyle and not nearly as sensitive as Rimonhad recovered and were pulling him roughly to his feet.

"Shen and shid!" gasped the redhead, while the woman puffed mightily in Rimon's ear. "Bron, kill that Gen. She's no good for anything."

The man holding Kadi spun her into kill position, expecting fear, and got it: Rimon's. Rimon tugged and writhed, but he was helpless, his system in chaos, a huge, aching bruise spreading on his right outer lateral, his head beginning to throb. I can't live without her! It'll kill me, tooit has to!

Transfixed, Rimon felt the Raider reach peak killmode. He couldn't hold himself below duoconsciousness as Kadi's lips touched the Raider. There was a split instant of selyn flowand a bolt of lightning searing through Rimon, blinding his Sime senses.

As his eyes adjusted, he saw Kadi's face twisted in disgust as the Raider, shenned, fell at her feetnager flat dead. Rimon was forced to duoconsciousness again. Free,

Kadi staggered for balance and then came toward Rimon. The red-haired Sime grabbed her. She looked up to the vicious face descending toward hers, and with a cold deliberation turned into his arms, her fingers digging savagely into the tender nerves.

The Rider screamed, stiffening and dying even as she held him. She dropped him in a heap and moved on toward Rimon as the woman to his left suddenly slacked her grip on him and felldead, he zlinned, of a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by stark terrorof a Gen.

The remaining Raider pushed Rimon toward Kadi with a mighty heave and leaped onto his horse, riding for his life.

Rimon fell to the dirt at Kadi's feet. She went down with him, clutching frantically at him. "Rimon! Rimon!"

Rimon pushed himself up. "I'm all right, Kadi"

"Quickly," she said. "To the horses. We've got to get away."

He looked at the corpses blankly, then assured her, "They're all dead, Kadithere's no"

"Dead! No! I only meant to stop themonlyonly I killed!"

And Rimon understood. Kadi wasn't using the word "kill" carelessly as a child might. She meant precisely that: kill by selyn movement.

"Kadithat woman died of a brain hemorrhageher lifestyle did it to her. And the others were trying to kill you. You had every right"

"NoIdidn't" Kadi said through clenched teeth, backing away from him, her anger rising again.

Rimon reached out, flooded with the strangest emotion. I was supposed to protect her, and look what happened. What use can she possibly have for me after this?

Fearthat was the emotion raging in himfear.


Chapter Twenty FAILURE | First Channel | Chapter Twenty-Two COMPARISONS