Gifts of the Daimon

by

N. Eileen O'Neill

 

Note: Rayne's story begins with Life 101, continues with Mog, and concludes (so far) with this story and its post-script.

 

That month, it seemed like everyone in Quissa was talking about the Third Wave. Something had been detected out by the Anomaly, and it was headed for Freysea. The Watchers cautioned that it might be nothing more than a collection of meteorites, or for that matter, some kind of intelligent aliens. But somehow, neither of these possibilities resonated in the popular imagination. Hundreds of years had passed since the last human ship had come to Freysea. The question on everyoneís mind was, would these be refugees, like the two earlier migrations? Or would they be invaders?

I was too busy thinking about more personal matters to worry very much about that. All I cared about was trying to figure out exactly what had gone wrong between me and Darrien, who had until recently been my transfer partner and the best Gen anyone could possibly ask foróuntil he had suddenly decided, for no reason that I could understand, that he wanted to give up transfer for the time being. He wouldnít say how long that was likely to be. At first, I was sure another Sime must have lured him away from me. But I still saw him from time to time, virtually unavoidable since we have a lot of the same friends. So I could zlin for myself that heíd meant what he said. Understanding it was another matter.

I knew what heíd felt during our transfers. How could he just walk away from that?

I wasnít the only one with a personal obsession. My friend Mog had developed an inexplicable interest in going down into the basement of Householding Sinthe, where we both work. Granted, thereís a lot of rumors about that cellar. The Gen Defense League, predictably enough, claims thereís a secret pen down there. For that matter, they have the same theory about the Central Registry.

Householding Sinthe, of course, is not a Householding at all in the Old Earth sense of the term. Itís a private club for the higher-order channels and their Gens. To get inside, you have to either have a really powerful nager, a lot of political cloutÖ or else work there. Itís not surprising that there are rumors about the place, between the exclusivity and the weird architecture, which really is like something out of a history book.

Everyone on the kitchen crew knows that food sometimes gets carried down into the basement, in small quantities and at irregular intervals. The prevailing belief among the staff at Sinthe is that there are cells down there where they keep channels whoíve gone insane and have to be locked up. Thatís the majority position, but there are also those who think that it has something to do with the Daimon, that the channels have captured one or more of them and spend some time down there studying them.

One day I got to find out the answer for myself, thanks to Mog. I was carrying this huge sack of fresh linens down one of the back halls when I zlinned him standing in the corner where the cellar door is, with that device of his, which he had pointed at the crack between the door and its frame. It wasnít the first time Iíd caught him doing that, although Iíd tried to tell him it was a waste of time. The whole business is shielded, by accident or otherwise. You could kind of tell there were some stairs that went down, and that was about it.

Mog has had a harder life than most of us can imagine, even if he didnít quite seem to realize it himself most of the time. He was born a pen Gen and would probably be dead by now if he had a normal-level selyn production. As things were, the pen owner decided to cut his losses by selling Mog to my idealistic friend and lover, Jorrie, who adopted him.

Iím never sure how much Mog actually understands about his own history. And I canít say whether his unusual background is the reason behind his fascination with field-reading devices. Maybe he wishes he were Sime. Most Gens donít have much use for selyctronic field sensors. I know a lot of them wish they could zlin, but after trying one of those devices out, they usually are really disappointed. All a field sensor can tell you about is they physical component of selynóin other words, a Gen might be able to use it to tell whoís had transfer recently, and most Gens are pretty good at figuring that out anyway. They havenít come up with one yet that can read emotional nager, and they probably never will.

Once they learn to make full use of the senses they do have, Gens usually stop feeling quite so jealous as far as zlinning is concerned, and lose any interest they might ever have had in selyctronic sensors. But in addition to having a very low rate of selyn production, Mog seems to have almost no field sense at all. Instead, he has his detectorówhich he built. I know, it sounds like a very bizarre hobby for a Gen, especially one as field-blind as Mog. He has to use one detector to see what heís doing when he takes apart another one. In spite of being as careful as he can, he has all these little scars on his fingers from touching the wrong thing, like miniature transfer burns. Fortunately, thereís not enough energy active in one of those devices to really hurt himóexcept in the battery itself, and he does know better than to open one of those up.

His detector has a definite jury-rigged look to it, and a lot more readout lights than the ones Iíve seen for sale as toys or novelty items. It looked more like the kind of thing youíd see in the control room of the cityís power reservoiróexcept, like I said, you could tell it was a home-made product. I sure couldnít tell anything from looking at all those flickering lights, but heíd proven to me that he could get a lot of information about field gradients with it. I just didnít understand quite why he was so interested.

Coming up behind him, I let my foot scrape against the floor to keep from startling him. His attention drifted over to focus on me, a gradual process with no sense of surprise. It was as if heíd already known I was there. Maybe he had the device set to show what was behind him, as well. Then he returned his focus to what he was doing, and if I hadnít known better, Iíd have been ready to swear he had no idea I was there.

"Hey, Mog. Detecting anything interesting?" I knew heíd been working on the detector since the last time Iíd seen him standing by that door. In his nager, I could read a studied concentration, and a certain amount of impatience. As Iíd thought, he still couldnít zlin through the door, any more than I can.

"Come on, why donít you come back to the kitchen with me." I was just past turnover after a not particularly good transfer, but I wasnít about to take it out on Mog. Not so much because Iím such a nice person, but if I spoke sharply to him, I would have to zlin a combination of bafflement and hurt that I simply wouldnít be able to bear. "You can help me put all this stuff away where it goes. How does that sound?"

Actually, helping me wasnít part of his job, but I was a little worried that heíd get in trouble if he kept hanging around the cellar door when he was supposed to be working. The channels are very indulgent of Mog, partly because of his history, but mostly because they find him so restful to be around. One of them told me that itís a delight to be around someone who neither offers, nor asks for, anythingóexcept the chance to take their empty glasses away, which is his main job. He just circulates in the main lounging area until he sees an empty glass or dish lying around, or someone hands one to him. Then he lets out this burst of pleasure, not very powerful even compared to the other GN-level Gens, much less the technical-order ones who sometimes zlin like the power reservoir of a medium-sized town. But his field is similar to theirs in one wayóthe purity of the emotion. He doesnít have conflicting reactions roiling around his nager like most of us. For the TN-level Gens, this is the result of years of intensive training. But in Mogís case, I think itís because heís only capable of thinking about one thing at a time. Which is not to say heís dumbófar from it. I could never rearrange the innards of one of those detectors the way he does, despite the advantage of being able to zlin what I was doing.

Fooling around with some switches and dials heíd taken off an old tea-warmer, Mog gave no sign that he remembered I was there. I set down the bag of linens, which was almost as big as I am, and touched his arm. "Come on. I donít want Previn to get mad at you." While itís true that Mog is a big favorite with the channels and TNs, they donít run the kitchen personally. "Letís go. I bet there are a lot of empty glasses in the lounge by now."

"And not very many, I think, down in that cellar." All of a sudden, there was this channel-sized nager right behind us, and I didnít have to turn around to know who it was. I turned anyway. Heíd given me quite a start, sneaking up on us like that, but Mog took no notice at all. He was still fiddling with his dials.

Officially, the channels of Quissa run their affairs by having a committee of equals, not by putting any one person in charge. But you donít have to work around them for long to notice that when something really important is under discussion, they all turn to Hajene Essa to see what he was to say about it. Because he can do things, and sense things, that the other channels canít. Despite holding no official position, he is one of the most powerful channels on the planet. Now he was standing there just outside armís-reach of Mog and me. I tried to think of something to say. Fortunately, he didnít seem upset. Though that could change if Mog kept ignoring him. People who arenít as used to being around Mog donít understand about the way he gets, and they sometimes take offense.

I reached past Mogís hands and toggled the "off" switch on his detector, one of the few controls on that thing I know how to use. He finally turned around, radiating puzzlement mixed with a hint of indignation. Then he looked at Essa, as if only just realizing he was there, and the realization that he might be in trouble finally crept into his nager.

"Hello, Hajene Essa," he said tentatively. Essa, who was in a very mellow moodóI think he was upstairs drinking for awhile before this happenedócolored the ambient around him with a sharp pulse of mirth. It was almost overwhelming. I just hope Iím not in the same room if he ever, truly gets pissed off about something.

"Look, Mog. I know exactly how much time youíve spent hanging around this door. I have ways of knowing about things like that, you know." He wasnít kidding. He knew all kinds of things. Even the other channels couldnít figure out how he did it. "Now, this cannot go on. I agree with Rayne, I donít want you to get in trouble with Previn." He spoke the kitchen-masterís name with almost palpable apprehension, which I guess was for my benefit, since the nageric part of it would have gone right over Mogís head. I tried to control myself but couldnít stop a single snort of laughter from escaping me at the thought of Essa being afraid of Previn, a rather acerbic GN who had no patience for idleness in his subordinates.

"Now, what can we do about this situation? Mog, do you want to know whatís down there?" Mog just looked at him patiently, maybe figuring the answer was obvious. "Supposing I were to show you. Would you promise not to hang around here in the hall anymore?í

"No more," Mog said fervently.

Essa looked at me. "I suppose youíd like to see as well? Very well. Itís almost a pity to spoil all the stories people come up with about it. The truth is not so awfully interesting. But Mog wants to see. And I have your promise, Mog." He wrapped his handling tentacles lightly around the barrel-shaped lock, then made contact with one lateral. Mog, whoíd turned his field-reader back on, stared at its readouts with complete absorption as Essa unlocked the door and swung it open.

As Iíd thought, there was a long flight of stone steps, with a faint illumination coming from somewhere at the bottom. Hajene Essa motioned us through the door and locked it behind us. I went hypoconscious briefly to make sure there was enough light for Mog to see by, then started down the stairs. Mog, burning with curiosity and a mounting excitement, was right behind me.

At the bottom of the stairs was a hallway, with walls of thick stone and open archways leading off in both directions. A weak light burned near the base of the stairway, and there was another farther down the hall. As we passed one of the archways to our left, I could zlin piles of old furniture and boxes of what were probably papers. There was no light in there, but Mog did not seem interested in these rooms. He was still looking at his detector and followed it straight down the hall.

"I think I know where you want to go," Essa remarked. "You want to meet Fimmer? Can you really zlin him from upstairs with that thing? Amazing." Mog didnít answer, just continued to follow the flickering lights of his detector down the hallway.

At the end of the hall was another door, with another selyn lock, of the kind designed to be operated only by channels. And even if you are one of the select few who can deliver a very rapid, precise series of positive and negative selyn pulses, you would still have to know the combination in order to get in.

Mog waited patiently while Essa unlocked this door as well. The pulse combination went too fast for me to follow, but I was pretty sure it was different than the one upstairs. If nothing else, it took him about a half-second longer to work it, and at the rate he was going that was quite a few sequences.

Another set of steps, and this time there was no light. It wasnít until Essa opened the door that I could zlin for sure that there was someone down there. A channel, almost as powerful as Essa himself, but with something odd about his nager.

Mog started to move toward the stairs, but Essa stopped him by planting one finger and the tips of four handling tentacles on the Genís chest. "No, this is as far as we go. Fimmer can decide for himself if he wants company." Mog moved the probe of his field detector less than a handís-width from Essaís lateral sheath, and stared at the readings with fascination. I thought that was getting kind of personal, but Essa didnít seem to mind, as long as Mog didnít try to get any closer to the stairwell.

The other channel was coming up the steps, slowly. I could smell him before we saw him. He was overdue for a bath. Then he came out into the light, blinking like a night-wren and looking like a rubbish heap. His hair looked as if things were nesting there. By contrast, there was nothing disorderly about his nager. But up close, that odd quality was even clearer. I was sure I had never zlinned anything even remotely like it before.

"Hello, Hajene Fimmer. I brought you some visitors. This is Rayne, and her young friend Mog."

Mog lost all interest in Essaís forearm and pointed his detector at Fimmer, who gave each of us a disinterested glance and said, "I hope you didnít charge them much admission. Come on downstairs, and I can fix us all some tea."

"No, I think we will stay up here. Mog, did you have something you wanted to ask Hajene Fimmer?" Mog was still absorbed in his readouts. Fimmer laughed.

"Still afraid of them, are you? One of them might jump out and sayÖ aii!" Along with this rather high-pitched sound, he made a nageric feint at Essa, which would have made me jump straight up in the air if Essa hadnít kind of steadied me, in an absentminded manner, most of his attention still on the other channel. The lights on Mogís detector were going wild.

"If you canít behave, I wonít bring you any more salt," Essa said calmly.

"You donít have any with you now. Make sure you do, the next time you come down here." Like a ground-mouse darting back into its burrow, Fimmer pulled the door closed with himself on the other side of it. Essa paused long enough to re-lock it, and headed back down the hall. But Mog did not follow, so he turned around and went back.

Mog had the detector probe pressed up against the closed door, just as heíd been doing upstairs. But now, instead of abstract curiosity, his nager suggested that there was something precious to him down there, something of his that he wanted back. Essa laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Mog, thereís nothing down there but one big room that Fimmer lives in," he said gently. "Heís got some dirty bedding that he lies on, which he wonít bring up so that we can wash it, and some books. A few bags of nuts and dried fruit, I think, and maybe some spare clothes. Thatís all. There is nothing else down there."

"Why is he down there, not upstairs? Rayne could bring him some to drink, and I could take the glass." For Mog, this was a really long speech. Every word was punctuated by a deep sorrow. Mog does not have a powerful nager, but his field was getting near its peak, and he does have that single-minded intensity.

"He doesnít want the things that other people want, Mog. Believe me, if he wanted a glass of sinthe, we would bring him some. You think we are keeping him in a cage, is that it? Like you used to be in?" Perhaps Essa could read some response to this in Mogís nager, but I could not. "He likes to be down here. He has someÖ friends, that are not Simes or Gens, or children, or animals either. Do you know about the Daimon?" Again, if Mog gave any answer, it was too subtle for me to perceive. And from the way Essa looked at me then, with a plea for assistance, he couldnít read any either.

"So you figure heís happy down there?" Hajene Essa obviously wanted me to jump in, and this was the best I could do at that moment.

"As happy as any of us, I suppose." Having given up on communicating with Mog, Essa was speaking to me now. "Try and explain it to him, will you? Hajene Fimmer has a history ofÖ unorthodox transfer practices. Do you understand what Iím saying?" I suppose that the hair standing up on the back of my neck, probably as noticeable to him as it was too me, was answer enough. "It was his own choice, as far as we can determine. You probably know that the Daimon are often found in the deep places within the ground. That sub-cellar is such a place. You can understand why I donít chose to go down thereÖ or to allow others to do so."

"Why does he want the salt?" This question wasnít for Mogís benefit. I was just curious. Essa shrugged eloquently.

~~~~

Later, after work, I tried to do as heíd asked and explain all of this to Mog. As usual, I wasnít sure how much I was getting across to him.

"You remember what you learned in class, that we all come from a far-away place up in the sky?" He looked at me skeptically. I had a hard time believing it myself, sometimes. The topic made me think suddenly of the Third Wave, which was due to arrive in a little over two weeks. Somehow, that didnít seem real either. "The Daimon were already on Freysea when we got here. You canít see them. I can zlin them, and you might be able to pick them up on that detector of yours." Was it the Daimon he was really interested in, rather than Fimmer? That was a scary thought. But, no, heíd lost all interest in the sub-cellar from the time Fimmer had come out until heíd gone back down there again.

I tried another tack. "You know Simes usually get transfer from Gens, right? Or sometimes from channels." He ought to know that much, because he was taking training that would supposedly lead his being awarded a transfer permit. I didnít care for the idea at all. I didnít think he would ever have gotten an idea like that if not for hanging out with my friend Lilaís sister, Seever, who recently got her permit and was running around proselytizing about the wonder of it all.

Since he was declared a Fully Self-Aware Citizen, Mog has the same right as any other Gen to take the training. I had to be careful about expressing any disapprovalóI mean, itís a pretty volatile topic. The reason our ancestors fled the repression of Old Earth, and all that. Lately I had been thinking that our cherished right of personal transfer relationships was not as great as most people seem to think.

And MogÖ thatís a whole separate question. I mean, how much did he really understand? He wasnít like other people. It wasnít just his low capacity. That was why people carried papers with all their stats, so they could be careful of things like that. There were still a fair number of Simes, maybe the lower third of the renSime distribution curve, who he could safely be paired withóin terms of capacity. Of course, a lot of Simes would have nothing to do with a Gen from his background. It was kind of a superstitious thing. They were afraid of what it might mean if they were attracted to a Gen who was raised to be killed by juncts. And Mog had lost almost none of the mannerisms that betrayed his origins.

So maybe he just wouldnít find anyone, and heíd go back to taking small appliances apart and forget about it. I felt guilty about hoping that he wouldnít get his wish, but I was afraid for him. Afraid that deep inside, he didnít really understand what was expected, not the way a Gen who was raised in our culture from infancy would know.

"Fimmer got a Daimon transfer," Mog said thoughtfully. "He canít see them but he can zlin." There it was. He would sit there with his nager and his facial expression blank and unresponsive, until you started to wonder if the unkind people who dismissed him as an idiot were at least partly right. Then heíd come out with some comment that casually revealed that he understood plenty.

"Maybe youíd like to do that too, Rayne," he added. I shuddered at the thought. That was the flip side of the coinóevery time you convince yourself that he understands as much as anyone, he comes up with some screwy thing like that. Iíd never actually zlinned one of the Daimon-folk, but all the same, I was quite sure I had no desire to join the ranks of those who have known them in transfer.

Of course he would know that my latest transfer was not very successful. After Darrien abandoned me, Jorrie and Lilaówho are registered as a non-exclusive transfer partnershipógot together and agreed between the two of them that Lila should offer me transfer that month. I shouldnít have agreed, but I was too downhearted to argue about it. Now Lila feels like a failure as a Gen, or something, even though she should understand that it wasnít her fault.

After that, I went to my advising channel for help. I hadnít seen him in awhile, so he took down my history for most of the last year for his records, then took me into transfer contact. I thought he was just going to get some field readings. Instead, without saying a word, he managed to trigger all the emotional pain I was feeling over Darrien. It all snowballed into a kind of soggy post-reaction so that I sat there sobbing about it for a long time while he went back to his desk and caught up on some paperwork. When I turned my attention back to him, he looked up and told me, "Itís a mild dependency. Nothing life-threatening. Really, Rayne, you should remember your first-year training well enough to know better. You shouldnít have more than two or three transfers in a row from the same Gen, not unless you are planning on something permanent."

Which was, of course, what Iíd been hoping for with Darrien. I guess I should have insisted on talking about it, instead of just hoping heíd get used to having me around. I didnít quite have the nerve to bring up the subject, and when he finally did, it was to break things off.

Hajene Helmutt was right, of course. I really had known better. People usually do, when they go ahead and do something theyíll end up regretting.

Mog and I walked back to Jorrieís shop, which is the closest thing I have to a permanent address these days. Mog lives there too. I wasnít sure if I wanted to go inóI felt like wandering, which often happens as I get close to transfer. I wasnít really that close, but it happens sooner when my last one didnít work out that well. But I couldnít think of anyplace else to go, so I followed Mog inside by sheer inertia.

Jorrie was in the back room, along with Lila and Seever. Mog headed straight for Seever, and stood quite close to her, fairly glowing with joy when she put one hand on his shoulder. Before we left the club, Hajene Essa had asked us not to tell anyone else what weíd seen in the cellar. I didnít know if Mog intended to talk about it or notóthese days, it seemed he told Seever everything. I didnít feel any special urge to discuss it with any of them. It didnít seem important, and the way Lila and Jorrie were looking at me made me just want to leave. I knew I didnít look that good, without being reminded by their concern and sympathy, accompanied by a good dose of guilt in Lilaís case. And I realized Jorrie had caught me zlinning around forlornly for Darrien.

I left without another word. Was that really the only reason Iíd come inside? In case Darrien was there? At any rate, I really didnít want to stay there and watch Lila and Jorrie trying to meld their fields into a complete and seamless whole. Meanwhile Seever would be sitting there looking at me hopefully, and I really didnít find her nager that attractive. Let her practice her brand-new skills on someone else.

I wandered into an unfamiliar neighborhood, feeling as if I were looking for somethingóor someone. On a conscious level, I knew it wouldnít do me one bit of good if I did happen to run into Darrien. The last time weíd talked, he had kissed me very gently on the forehead and said, "Weíll have transfer again some time, Rayne. Thatís a promise, to myself as well as to you. But this is getting too serious. We should both back off and think about things for awhile."

But he wouldnít say how much time he was talking about. And he wouldnít let his field link with mine, which was nothing more than good Gen etiquette if he didnít intend to offer transfer. Still, it hurt. I tried not to let him see how much. I wanted him to miss me, not feel sorry for me.

I knew he had a new boyfriend. Maybe that had something to do with it. I could have understood if he didnít want to spend as much time with me because of that. Weíd been pretty much inseparable between turnover and transfer for several months running, but I would have settled for a lot less than that. I mean, would a couple of hours each month really have put that much of a crimp in his social life? I would think that post-syndrome would more than make up for any inconvenience. The only thing is, the one time I met this new boyfriend of his, I got the impression that heís the kind of Gen who avoids Simes whenever possible. And it was clear that Darrien felt pretty much the same way about this guy as I do about Jorrie.

So maybe it wasnít Darrien that I was looking for, so much as hoping to zlin some other Gen who would have the same effect on me. I mean, look, there are thousands of people living in Quissa, and more than half of them are Gens. But what I found instead was a painted sign that said:

LADY ROSE

GEN SEER

LEARN YOUR FUTURE

Normally, Gens have a better sense of color than Simes do. Maybe she had gotten a Sime to paint the sign for her. There was a picture of her, which made her look really old and kind of cranky. But it caught my attention for some reason. I didnít have anything better to do, so I pushed open the door to the shop and went inside.

She wasnít just old, she was ancient. Her skin looked like paper that had been left out in the rain and then dried in the sun. But she was definitely a Gen. Her nager reminded me of some of the field technicians that hang around at the club. Definitely a TN-level, and trained as one.

She zlinned like she hadnít given transfer for awhile. I wondered if a channel she tried to entice would be worried about her age. Once, late at night when it was just a bunch of us Simes sitting around, we got to talking about what might happen with a really old Gen. I mean, suppose they died in transfer, not because they were burned or stripped, but just because they didnít have enough strength left to handle that much excitement? Would the Sime end up junct?

I suppose if weíd wanted a serious answer, we should have asked a channel. It was just one of those discussions that a bunch of Simes get into when all the Gens have wandered off to bed. But for what itís worth, the answer we all agreed on was that it would depend on whether you enjoyed it when it happened. I still think thatís probably the right answer. And itís certainly not a test Iíd ever want to face.

Not that I was looking at her with transfer in mind. I have never understood why some renSimes get all bedazzled by Gens like that. Maybe Iím just used to them, because of work. If Iím going to go after some Gen, Iíd rather have it be someone I can make an impression on.

She looked at me without speaking, a mix of welcome and inquiry in her nager. I sat down across from her in this really comfortable chair. The room smelled faintly of some kind of sweet herbs, and the ambient was so peaceful. I felt this sense of hope, not about anything in particular. "Um, how much should I give you?"

She shrugged. "Decide when youíre ready to leave. Would you like some tea?"

"No. No, I just have a question." There was this tiny little table between us, and she had her folded hands resting on that. I put my hands there too. I could feel the power of her nager, like water falling from a high cliff, like a storm that lights up the entire sky with a multitude of colors. All that potential, and if she wasnít using it as nature intended, maybe it could give her the power to see things that canít normally be seen, even by Gens.

Itís commonly accepted that zlinning feeds directly into ordinary consciousness, while a Genís field sense filters through the deeper layers of the mind. That makes our Sime senses more practical and dependable, but also more limited. Iíd heard about Gens like her. They could sense things that defied all conventional knowledge. And if she was a phony? Well, I didnít have much else to do with my evening. If she could make me feel a little better, even temporarily, it was worth whatever price we agreed on.

"Thereís this Gen." Already I felt kind of foolish, because she must hear stuff like that all dayóalthough she probably got a lot of questions about the Third Wave, recently.

When I didnít continue, she very gently soothed my embarrassment away. I could feel her doing it, and she wasnít trying to be sneaky about itóif anything, she was making sure I was aware of it so that I could object if I wanted to. "We had transfer five times in a row, and I got kind of a dependency on him. And before that, another three times." In between there was Lila. It hadnít been as bad as this most recent one, probably because I wasnít in quite so deep with Darrien. Mostly, I remember being relieved that it wasnít a total disaster, like that first time me and Lila had tried it.

Lady Rose still didnít say anything, just sat there waiting for me to continue.

"I just need to know if heís ever coming back to me. And if thereís anything I could do to make him want to! But if itís hopeless, if you donít see any way it could happenÖ that would actually help, if I knew that for sure. I could maybe start to put him behind me a little more. If I knew for sure." And if sheíd told me to give up, would I have taken it seriously? For the moment, at least. She reached over and took my hands, and I was overwhelmed in a way that had nothing to do with intil. It was like watching the sun come blazing over the mountains at dawn, setting fire to the entire sky. I could not exactly remember that there was any such thing as transfer, or needÖ and I could barely recall what Darrienís field zlinned like.

"This Gen who has caused you so much pain, he does care about you very much. He has promised you that this ending between you is not finalÖ is that not true? But you must learn to live apart from him. Only when you do not need him so desperately, will he return to you." She released my hands, and the intensity in her nager faded. "In the meantime, I have a young grandson I could let you have this month, for a very reasonable fee."

"I, umÖ no. Thank you all the same, though." I put all the money I had with me on the table, and fled. It was really quite a bit of money, and I know what some of you are thinkingóa Gen like that, using her nager to bilk Simes out of whatever she could get, someone should call the authorities. It really wasnít like that, though. Sheíd told me what I wanted to hear, that Darrien was coming back to me, and I just felt that the more money I paid her the more likely that was to come true. She could have worked that on me without any nager at allóreally, Iíd worked it on myself.

As I wandered the streets, I just wished that Iíd asked her whether Darrien would want to pair up with me permanently. He hadnít said anything about that, even when I worked up the nerve to askóall heíd really promised was that weíd have transfer at least once more. If I had any sense, Iíd turn him down unless he wants something long-term. Iím too vulnerable to him, and I might have to start recovering all over again if he just wants to share his life with me one more time for the sake of memory. But I donít think I could ever really tell him no.

~~~~

I was thinking about Darrien again three days later as I was walking down that back hall that leads past the cellar door. I thought the old woman had given me some good advice, if nothing else. For that matter, it didnít take special perceptions to come up with an idea like thatójust common sense. I had to accept the idea that Darrien might never come back to me. If he did, greatóI would be overjoyed. No lie about that. But I should be able to enjoy life even if he didnít.

I found myself wondering if maybe I should have at least asked to zlin this so-called grandson of hers. Probably it wasnít too lateóthe offer might still be open. Somebody like her probably had more than one Ďgrandsoní on call. Maybe that would give me something to look forward to, and there was certainly less chance of complications with a Gen like that, the kind who would let his grandmotherówhether or not she was any relation to himórent out his services to some Sime heíd never even met.

But somehow, I couldnít work up much enthusiasm for the idea. I had an appointment with Helmut for my next transfer, and while I could have cancelled that without paying any fee as long as I told them a couple of days in advance, I thought I would probably stick with that arrangement. After all, heíd been able to do more for me last month than Lila had. Some strange Gen probably wouldnít be able to help me muchówhoever he was, he wouldnít be Darrien.

When I turned the corner and started walking toward the door that led down to the cellar, I zlinned something that made me forget about all that in a hurry. The door looked perfectly normal, and it took me a moment to figure out what was different. The energy lock was dormant, the same as it had been when Hajene Essa had neutralized it with the combination. But I remembered that when heíd brought Mog and me down there, he had been careful to close it again from the inside. All of a sudden I had an awful feeling about this situation. I went up to the door, hooked a handling tentacle on the underside of the lock, and gave just a little pull. It swung right open without making a sound.

I started down the stairs, unable to see or zlin around the corner at the bottom of them. If I was wrong, I would have some fast explaining to do. But I had been getting suspicious about Mogís recent flurry of activity with his sensor devices. Iíd noticed that one of his arcane-looking devices was producing some nageric noise that zlinned very much like what Hajene Essa had done to open the energy-lock. Iíd had an idea what he was trying to accomplish, and had tried to tell him it wasnít a very good idea, because I didnít think the channels would be very amused if they caught him trying to open that door. But I hadnít really thought for one instant that he had any chance of actually succeeding.

I should have had more faith in Mogís talents, because when I got to the bottom of the stairs, there he wasóand heíd opened the other door as well. Mog had his back to me and didnít realize I was there, but of course Fimmer noticed me right away. Though his attention only flickered over to light on me partially and momentarily. He didnít seem to find me very interesting. Mog was certainly doing everything a Gen can do to get Fimmer to focus on him. With all the power of his undersized nager, he was trying to seduce the channel into transfer. My first reaction was to be embarrassed for him, since he didnít have the sense to know he was making a fool of himself. Why do GN-level Gens fixate on channels? It was even more ridiculous than usual, in his case. He reached out and touched Fimmerís arm in a way that was completely inappropriate. Just plain rude.

Fimmer, radiating a combination of intil and wild abandon that no channel has any business directing at a Gen beneath their own level, grabbed my little friend and pulled him abruptly into transfer contact. I stood frozen in place with horror. There was nothing I could do. I had time to think what a waste it was, for Mog to be rescued from the pens only to be attacked by someone like thatóand I had time to start feeling angry about it too, and even to wonder how on earth I was going to tell Jorrie about this, before Fimmer let go of him and stepped back.

Mog stood there quite unharmed, as far as I could tell, with a rather silly grin on his face. Fimmer was standing there looking at him with some emotion I found it hard to identify, all trace of the phony intil vanished. I felt foolish for having been taken in by it. Maybe I should have realized what was actually going on.

A very sudden motion behind me, and Hajene Essa ran by under high augmentationóI think he may have touched every fifth step or so on his way downóand then stopped abruptly just ahead of me. He hadnít masked his field this time, just appeared on the scene so quickly that I barely realized he was coming down the stairs until he was past me.

Essa began to walk toward Fimmer, with something of a predatory stalk in his way of moving. Absolutely no emotion showed in his field. I didnít want to, but I trailed along behind him, because I thought Mog was probably in big trouble now. I figured it might help to have a friend there for moral support.

"Hajene Fimmer, what do you think you are doing? How did these doors come to be unlocked?" Essa spoke quietly, without inflection, either in his voice or his nager. There was something terrifying in his manner, all the same.

Fimmer blinked at him. "Just enjoying a little fresh air, what there is of it down here. Fresher than the next level down, at any rate. This Gen came to visit meówhat did you say your name was, my friend?"

"Moggin," he said happily. Heíd begun using this longer version of his name because it annoyed Jorrie immensely. Mog loves Jorrie a lot, but heís going through kind of a mischievous phase or something.

"You are not to be wandering around unescorted. You are certainly not supposed to be down here doing secondary transfers on the kitchen staff. That-is-not-authorized." Finally, a little emotion showed through his tight control. Fimmer blinked again.

"You think you can keep all the Gens for yourself, is that it, Farris?"

This time I moved, fast, making an end-run around Essa to get between Mog and the two channels in case there was some unpleasantness. I guess I was still keyed up from earlier, because I was augmenting even before I realized that I meant to do anything. Iíd heard that the whole Farris thing was a sore point with Hajene Essa. When he was in first year, he attacked another channel who called him that and seriously injured her.

But he just stood there looking at Fimmer patiently. He hadnít reacted at all to my augmenting straight at Mog like that, which is considered bad manners at best. Usually channels consider it their duty to say something about it when other Simes do things like thatóespecially when it involves a Gen like Mog, who hasnít even completed his transfer training. But Essa probably knew exactly what I was doing and why before I had quite figured it out myself, so it hadnít ruffled his feathers any.

Fimmer added, "Itís a documented historical fact that there were no Farrises on the flotilla. And I doubt there were any invited along on the exodus. But somehow they seem to have cropped up again, like some kind of recurring fungus."

"I want to know how those locks came to be undone," Essa said, "and you will tell me."

"I did that." Mogís post-syndrome receded a little as he stepped out from behind me and met the channelís eyes. From Essa, an unguarded moment of bafflement, because it was clear to him that Mog was telling the truthóor at least that he completely believed what he was saying. Then Mog glanced down at one of the jury-rigged devices heíd laid carefully on the floor near the door that led to Fimmerís lair. It was bristling with probes and had been awkwardly mated with a small nageric amplifier from Jorrieís old music system. The amplifier terminated in a bit of conductor that had been frayed and then dabbed with some kind of ronaplin substitute. Essa picked it up as if he thought it might turn and bite him.

"Thatís mine." Mog held out his hand. He was more post than Iíd ever seen him get, and also lower-field, although the channel whoíd been doing his training had been taking him down pretty far in an effort to speed up his production.

Essa turned and took a couple of rapid steps into an adjoining room, set the device down on a pile of boxes, and came back. "Oh, not any more. If you wanted to keep it you should never have brought it here. Though I might give it back when Iím done looking it over. Be glad Iím not going to ask Previn to discipline you for this." Mogís nager was little more than a whisper, but he zlinned as if he had lost all fear of Previn. He didnít seem upset about the device. Maybe he was thinking that he could make another one. Or that it had served its purpose.

"I donít want to see any more of these gadgets here at the club. And, just to keep you out of trouble, I will be changing the combinations."

"If I really wanted to," Fimmer told him, "I could get through the walls anytime I chose." Those walls were thick stone, of the same type as most of the bedrock on Freysea, which is very hard and very dense. But the Daimon are said to be able to form it at will, with a thought or a gesture, making passages appear and disappear in a way that has trapped people beneath the mountains, cut communities off from one another, or made sudden neighbors of people who had barely suspected each otherís existence. Perhaps Fimmer had these abilities now too, or could command the Daimon, or at least make requests of them.

So quietly that I could barely hear him, Essa said, "If you fall to wandering about and causing trouble, I may have to take extreme measures."

"And maybe I wonít be here when you come downstairs to do that. Maybe Iíll prepare a little surprise for you instead. Heh." He looked over at Mog and me, shutting Hajene Essa out of his awareness to the point where it could be seen as an insult. "Moggin, itís so good of you to come see me again. And you, young lady, I forget your name. But youíre welcome to drop by anytime. Delightful. But Iím afraid itís time for me to go now." Quickly, he scooped up a cloth bag that was lying on the floor next to Mogís other sensor device, and vanished down into the sub-cellar. I barely had enough time to identify the contents of the bag. Well, I could always buy more salt for Jorrieís kitchen on my way home from workÖ though really, Mog ought to pay for it.

Essa locked the door, then turned to Mog and reached very slowly for his hand, capturing it with extreme gentleness such as he might show toward a Gen who had been hurt by a Sime and might be nervous of being touched by anyone with tentacles. "Here, let me make sure he hasnít injured you."

Mog let Essa draw him into contact without any reaction at all. He certainly didnít seem very traumatized to me. Just really post, like I said before. Essa released him and said, "No harm done, as far as I can tell. In the future, doors which are locked are to be left closed, even if you know how to make them open. Itís a matter of courtesy. Why donít you go home now. Youíll be of no further use here today. Go see if you can find that girlfriend of yours."

I caught just a trace of sorrow from what remained of Mogís nager. "Am I fired?"

"No, not this time. Anything like this happens again, well. No guarantees. Come back tomorrow, or whenever you are scheduled."

"Okay. When can I see Fimmer some more?"

"Donít you think youíre pushing this rather far?í

"Heís my friend. Canít I see him?" More sorrow, and a certain amount of anxiety. Barely zlinnable, but somehow that didnít reduce the effect. If it had been up to meóbut of course it wasnít.

Essa turned and looked at me. "I get the impression you think I should allow it."

I couldnít quite think of what to say. But Iím not sure it was even a question, because he didnít wait for an answer. "All right, both of you go upstairsÖ no, Mog, leave those things right where they are. Rayne, I imagine you have work to do. And it seems I have a task of my own down here." He glanced at the lock on the sub-cellar door.

~~~~

I didnít expect that I would ever go down in that cellar again, even if Essa granted Mogís request, which I didnít really think he would. But Mog started a big campaign with his advising channel. He not only wanted visiting rightsóhe wanted Fimmer to do all his transfers from then on. I wasnít there when these discussions took place, but Jorrie was invited along for one of them. Heís not legally Mogís guardian anymore, but Hajene Demetrice wanted him there anyway, and he told me some of it.

According to Jorrie, who usually reports things pretty accurately, Mogís channel had tried to talk him out of the idea. She told him, "Iím sure we can find you a renSime thatís a reasonably good match once youíve completed your training, Mog. And I really do think you are almost ready."

"Donít want any other Simes," he told her apologetically. "Just Fimmer."

Some renSimes have a real problem with channels who do secondary transfers on GNs in such a way that the Gens loose all interest in primary transfers with Simes at their own level. But Mog has every right to chose channelís transfer, and neither Jorrie or I have any objection to that. Of course, he would have to pick a channel thatís kept locked up in a cellar.

Four days after Mog got past his locks, Essa called me into his office. I hadnít messed anything up just lately, but I hadnít distinguished myself in any way that would call for a raise or a commendation, either. I just try to do my job and stay out of trouble, and to the best of my recollection Iíd been doing just that. So I figured it must have something to do with Mog.

"Do you know, Rayne, I looked up Fimmerís status in the records. Perhaps it was something of an oversight, but as far as I can tell his channeling license was never revoked or even suspended. I guess the Association felt that locking him up was sufficient. Tell me. You got down there just a little ahead of me. Enough to zlin the actual transfer, which I unfortunately did not. What did you think?"

"I thought he was going toóhurt him." I felt stupid, because there had been no pain in the ambient, and Fimmerís draw speed had been in the renSime-normal range, though toward the faster end of that. "I didnít understand at first. I should have. But Fimmer just grabbed him, once he saw me. I think he didnít want to give me a chance to put a stop to it." If nothing else, I might have ruined the mood of the moment, and distracted Mog from Fimmer. He didnít want that.

"Was Mog startled when he grabbed him?"

"No."

"Iíve been giving some thought to Fimmerís situation. His complaint about my not sending him any GensÖ Iíve tried to, you know. Gens at his own level, but he wasnít interested. I have to admit I gave up on that a few years back."

I hadnít realized that Fimmerís transfer experiences with the natives were quite that extensive. Essa drank in my reaction. "Did you think it was just once or twice? Hajene Fimmer has not had transfer from another human being for some hundreds of months. Do you still think your friend should have the option of going to him?"

He stood up. Again, he wasnít waiting for an answer. Which was good, since I could not think of one right at the moment.

"There are a number of other Simes whoíve done what he has done, though usually not quite soÖ consistently. Most donít live in Quissa, but we do have a few. We donít keep them locked up. But then, these others are not channels. They donít have as much potential for causing problems. Still, I do question the morality of keeping Fimmer confined. He has never tried to harm anyone. On the other hand, he has some odd notions of what behavior is acceptable."

As far as that was concerned, the same was true of Mog. Maybe that was part of what drew them together.

"Until recently, I thought he was content enough down there. He has not actually asked that I turn him loose, for that matter. But he wants to see Mog againÖ and you. Itís all that he talks about when I go down to see him, and Iím growing tired of hearing about it. And I canít really think of any strong arguments as to why it should be forbidden. Tell me, you are aware that Mog wants Fimmer to do additional functionals on him? Of course you are, heís been unusually vocal about it. And you know about the meeting this afternoon?"

I shook my head, which was unnecessary, but itís a habit Iíd fallen into from being around Gens.

"Excellent. Iíd asked Mog to keep that to himself, and Iím glad to hear he has some understanding of discretion. This is Householding businessÖ I would prefer that it not become fodder for gossip. We attract enough of that already. At any rate, we are going to assemble in the gold meeting room at half-past the hour of parallax. You are to be included. Be prompt."

~~~~

From the gold room, we proceeded down to the cellar, the whole bunch of usóMog, his advising channel and her Gen partner, Hajene Essa and his wife, and about two dozen other high-powered channels and Gen technicians, with the Gens outnumbering the Simes by about two to one, which is standard practice when dubious nageric influences are expected. They figured only one TN was required to protect me, so they assigned me a really nice Gen named Marra, who stayed glued to my left shoulder the same way she would have done if I were a channel. It was a strange feeling, and Iím not even sure I cared for it much, though I have nothing against Marra at all. I was the only renSime in the group, and Mog was the only Gen who wasnít TN-rated.

Downstairs, we found the second door open and Fimmer sitting in a comfortable chair that had been found in one of the storage rooms and cleaned up a little. So had Fimmer, but in a kind of haphazard wayóhe was wearing clean clothes but had managed to get them very wrinkled, and heíd bathed, but his hair was still all in tangles. He wasnít wearing any shoes.

There were a bunch of these old chairs arrayed in a couple of rough, concentric circles. But nobody except for Fimmer seemed interested in sitting down until Essa told them to. Once we were all settled, he said, "We are here to informally discuss the matter of Hajene Fimmerís right to perform channeling functions."

Fimmer sat up straight, apparently having been struck by a thought. "Did anybody give that boy his money?"

"Your procedure wasÖ irregular, and the Gen had a part in that. I donít know that he is entitled to any compensation."

"I donít agree," Demetrice said. Iím surprised she had the courage to speak up. Compared to most of the other channels in the room, she zlinned almost more like a renSime. She just wasnít in their league. On the other hand, sheís seen and done things most of them have only read about. "Gens are entitled to compensation, that is the lawóminus an honorarium for Hajene Fimmerís professional services, of course. If there was no private agreement to the contrary, standard rates are as published byÖ well, I donít mean to sit here and tell all of you what you already know. Did you discuss fees with Hajene Fimmer, Mog?"

He shook his head.

"Somehow I thought not. I will simplify matters, if no-one objects, by retrieving the selyn and distributing payment." She stood up, but looked at Essa for permission.

He made an elegant gesture toward Fimmer. "I am not about to stop you." I was a little chilled by the exact flavor of the curiosity he was displaying. He wasnít offering any guarantee that it was safe for her to do it, just sitting back to see what would happen.

Fimmer himself wasnít so sure about this arrangement. Maybe he wanted to hang onto the selyn for himselfówhich probably would have been fine with Mog. "Who are you? Surely youíre not a member of the club here?"

"No, I am here to represent Mogís interests. I do not necessarily see you as any threat to those interests, but it is my duty to make some determination in the matter." I had to admire her poise. Youíd have thought it was she, not Hajene Essa, who was in charge of the whole business.

"Youíre the boyís supervising channel? Youíre disjunct, arenít you? How did you end up in charge of him?"

The ambient kind of froze with muffled reactions. Thatís not the kind of thing you throw in somebodyís face like that. Demetrice just smiled. "Itís a long story, and not a particularly pleasant one. Maybe Iíll tell you some other time. Are you willing to let me take the selyn, or would you rather give it to someone else?"

Fimmer got to his feet in a rather odd motion. Iíd begun to notice a lot of his movements were a little different from other Simes, just as Simes mostly move differently than Gens. It was like he seemed to make a false start in a different direction than he ended up going, and yet in a moment you would realize that heíd made no wasted movements. As if he existed in the room at an angle just a few fractions of a degree different from the rest of us. Thatís the closest I can come to explaining it.

"All right, take it. Here." They linked tentacles momentarily. Demetrice is so short that Fimmer, though not exactly a giant, had to bend low to make the fifth contact. A moment later, he stood up and their laterals parted. Fimmer loosened the grip of his handling tentacles but didnít let go altogether. "You could come back and see me after your next transfer," he suggested. "I have some stories of my own, you know."

She shoved him hard, so that he had to sit back down in his chair, which I thought was all the answer he deserved. One of the other channels gave in to a fit of nervous laughter and was quickly silenced when the Gen at her side wiped all the amusement from her nager. Which I didnít agree with, by the way. Sometimes I wish I was a channelówho doesnít? But I donít know how much patience Iíd have for the way the TN-level Gens kind of manage them. Most renSimes would not accept that from their own Gens. Though to be fair, the TNs have to put up with a lot from the channels, as well.

Fimmer started looking around the room as if he hadnít quite realized how many people were there. He didnít seem very comfortable. It must have been a bit hard for him to get used to, since he wasnít used to being around crowds like that. Mog tried to get up and go over to him, but Essa had hold of his arm, and he subsided unhappily. Essa caught the eye of one of the technicians, and made a slight motion with his head. The Gen moved over toward Fimmer, radiating calm and support, but Fimmer flinched away from him. "Donít come near me, you."

The Gen glanced over at Essa again, then went back to his seat. Meanwhile, Demetrice and her Gen partner Kia were conferring in whispers. Kia stood up and crossed the center of the circle to where Mog was sitting with Essa. With a slight nod to acknowledge the channel, she handed Mog a wad of currency. Then she stepped over to where Fimmer was sitting and held out a few bills toward him. There was something rather forbidding, and powerful, in her nager.

Kia and Demetrice are matchmates, so it would stand to reason that Kia should be outclassed by every other Gen in the room with the obvious exception of Mog. Somehow it didnít zlin that way to me. Fimmer took the money meekly and that should have been that, but Kia stood there looking at him and I got the impression there were things going on between them that could neither be seen nor zlinned. It wasnít a hostile thing. In fact, Fimmer started to get more relaxed and happier than he had been a few moments ago. I began to wonder if Kia was pursuing the offer that her partner had declined. In front of all these people, all of us sitting there in complete silenceóbut Kia has an unusual history of her own, and there is no telling what she might do.

Then the Daimon came out of the wall behind Fimmer. Iíd never zlinned the planetís native life-form before, and I finally understood what it meant when people said there was no easy distinction between the singular and the plural where they were concerned.

They were like flashes of light, zlinned rather than seen, there one moment and gone the next, then back again. They came right out of the surface of the stone, leaving it quite undisturbed. Fimmer just sat there with a slight smile on his face.

From the back of the room, there was a rush toward the stairs and away from the Daimon-folk. Just about all of the Simes left, and most of the Gens as well. Within moments, there were only a handful of us left in the room. Marra tried to coax me toward the door, but I was determined to resist for all I was worth, even knowing that she could force me to go with her if she chose. I will always be grateful that she did not.

Essa stood up when the natives entered the room, but made no move toward the stairs. His wife, Yllte, stood also and put her arms around him protectively. Sheís also his transfer partner, and as you can imagine, her nager is immensely powerful. Formidable and yet soothing. But judging from the expression on her face, sheíd have been horrified if she had relaxed her emotional discipline for even a moment.

The Daimon danced around Fimmer, and around Kia, who still stood within armís-reach of him. Fimmer opened his hands, palm-upward as if to receive something, laterals extended. But the Daimon didnít go to him. They converged on Kia, and vanishedóno, I could still zlin that they were there. It was more like they merged with her field. And at that moment, she zlinned more powerful than any Gen Iíd ever encountered. Yllte was a pale shadow by comparison.

Kiaís nager sang with some unidentifiable emotion. It spoke of vast distances, and extremes. Of limits, and what lay beyond them. I canít put it into words. I probably wouldnít be able to remember it at all, if not for what happened later.

It was a good think Marra was there. I found myself drawn toward Kiaís radiance, and if not for the Gen hand on the back of my neck, I might have gone after her. And I think that to touch her at that moment might have meant my death. If not from the Daimon, then at the hands of a pissed-off channel whoíd grown up fighting for her life on the streets of Kadanerra.

Demetrice was badly shaken. It was the first time Iíd ever zlinned her losing her composure. "Kia. Come back here, please. Over here next to me." The channelís voice was soft and calm, but she was projecting such a sense of loss, and fear. And then she took a step toward the center of the room, where Kia stood facing Hajene Fimmer. I didnít know if it was such a good idea, going over there, but I wasnít about to try and stop her. Essa just watched, covering one of his wifeís hands with his own, tentacles twined around her fingers.

"Kia. Over here, girl. Donít go. Donít leave me. Damn you, Gen!"

Demetrice continued to approach as she spoke, and the strange radiance began to leave Kiaís field. By the time she was within touching distance, the Daimon were gone. It hadnít been dramatic, like their arrival. There was no particular moment when they left. Already, I was beginning to wonder if I had really zlinned them. And yet, something had made all those other channels and technicians go running up the stairs a few minutes earlier.

Kia laid her hand on her channelís shoulder and started murmuring reassuring things to her. Promising she would always be there for her, stuff like that, and for some reason it made me want to cry. Not that I had the luxury of that kind of emotional outlet. It wasnít really that late in my cycle, but it was hard to be very interested in anything but zlinning around for some transfer prospect more promising than Hajene Helmutt. The closer I got to transfer, the less enthusiastic I felt about that idea.

Fimmer got up, walked over to the little table where someone had set out some tea, and poured himself a cup just as if this were the most ordinary of occasions. From his point of view, the most unusual aspect of this whole business might have been for all those people to come down there. Now that most of them had left, he seemed a lot more relaxed and contented. Essa was paying no attention to him at all. He was still staring at Kia and Demetrice, and zlinning them quite blatantly. Yllte had relaxed her grip on him, but stood resting her cheek on his shoulder and looking at Kia through narrowed eyes. Her deeper feelings were tightly shielded, but I could definitely tell that her attention was focused entirely on Kia, and not at all on Demetrice. I wondered how much sheíd been able to sense. As far as I could tell, nothing about the Daimon had registered on the vision or hearing senses. But Gens like Yllte had abilities that were not fully understood, even by the channels, or by the Gens themselves. Sometimes the TN-level Gens could pick up field nuances that I couldnít zlin. So maybe she knew as well as I did that for a few moments, Kia had turned into something that could make any Sime walk into an open furnace and burn up without even noticing the pain.

The Daimon usually avoid people. Their natural environment seems to be underneath the planetís surface, where they can move through the rock as we do in the air. And of course they could do the same thing with other solid things, as theyíd demonstrated with Kia. When they do that to someone, that personís nager is permanently affected. But Kia zlinned the same as she ever had, and Demetrice seemed completely calm again, not like someone whose orhuen partner had just experienced some major nageric permutation. This didnít surprise me much. The two of them had never come right out and said it, but theyíd dropped some hints indicating that Kia was one of those kind of mountain Gens. A lot of people believe thatís a myth, and Iíd been kind of reserving judgement, but now Iíd seen it with my own eyes. Kiaís nager had not gone through any weather-changes from what had just happened, because it had not been the first time sheíd experienced that.

It made me wonder a little about Demetrice. Maybe there was more than one reason her secondary transfers were restricted.

After consulting quietly with his wife, Essa walked over and started negotiating with Kia and Demetrice. He wanted to examine Kia a little more closely than would normally be considered appropriate, and had all kinds of reasons why it was called for under these unusual circumstances. Everyone was being very polite and civilized about it, and I lost interest. It seemed the good part of the show was over. I was feeling depressed again, and was wondering if it would be all right for me to leave now, since just about everyone else had. The few channels and technicians who hadnít fled when the Daimon came on the scene were starting to drift away, talking among themselves.

Now that Hajene Essaís attention was elsewhere, Mog went over to stand near Fimmer, who handed him a cup of tea. Carrying two other cups, he walked over and sat next to me, Mog trailing behind him. Marra was still sitting on the other side of me, still maintaining a bubble of calm around us in kind of an absent-minded way, but most of her attention was on Essa. Under the watchful eyes of Yllte and Demetrice, he was doing a protracted lateral-contact probe on Kia. It came as no surprise to me that heíd talked her into it.

"Here, drink this." Fimmer handed me one of the tea-cups. "There are times when I canít remember why I came down here and turned my back on the rest of the world. It was kind of Essa to bring these people down here to remind me."

Mog sipped his tea, and I could tell that it made him happy just to be there with Fimmer. And it seemed as if Fimmer was taking some comfort from Mogís presence as well, though everything I knew argued that thereís no way a Gen like him could offer a channel much in the way of support. He doesnít have the sensitivity, or the training, or the field strength. But somehow, it seemed Mog was doing it anyway.

As I focused on Hajene Fimmer and tried to figure out what was happening between him and Mog, he linked into my field so deftly that Marra never even noticed. It felt good. Without even thinking about it, I leaned closer to him and closed my eyes.

Very softly, he asked me, "What is it?" I knew he meantówhat was causing me to feel such a sense of desolation? Iíd been trying to suppress the feeling, but now he wasnít letting me. He was inviting me to lean on his field, and at the same time making a kind of shield around us, so that I could barely zlin the other people in the room.

I opened my eyes again. Marra was still watching the middle of the room, and Mog was staring down into his tea, fascinated by the way the light reflected off the ripples as he moved the cup in his hands. Fimmer, hair all in a matted nest that smelled of bath soap, was looking at me intently.

"My Gen went off and left me." I didnít feel a bit self-conscious telling him about it, though I pitched my voice low enough that nobody else was likely to hear. I hadnít even realized I was thinking about Darrien againóassuming I had ever really stopped. Once I said it out loud, I realized there was no reason to say anything more. Fimmer understood. Not quite touching me physically, he drew me into the most comforting nageric embrace imaginable. I lost the feeling of being past turnover after a less than satisfactory transfer. He just pushed that away somehow, the way Gens and channels can do.

After awhile, he relinquished his hold on me very gradually, like the Daimon had done with Kia. And when the link was completely dissolved, I felt better than I had before. Not great, but better.

Marra put her hand on my shoulder, as if to remind herself I was still there. I donít think she was aware of what had just happened in any conscious way, especially with most of her attention still on Essa and Kia and Demetrice, but I think on some level she did sense it when Fimmer kind of handed me back to her. Usually, being touched by a Gen like her is quite an experience, even if they make an effort to tone it down a bit. But I found I didnít react much to her one way or the other. I was still hanging on to whatever it was Fimmer had done for me, the way you might savor the aftertaste of something sweet even after youíd finished eating it.

~~~~

After the party in the basement broke up, I went back to work, serving drinks in the lounge. I was scheduled for another nine hours, and I figured I might as well get back to work. So I circulated around like I always do, taking a few orders and then heading into the kitchen to fill them. Mog was there too, and was the subject of a certain amount of covert attention, which he seemed completely unaware of. Of course everyone was discussing what had happened downstairs. It was the first time since the big announcement that Iíd been in a group of people where nobody was speculating about whether or not we were about to be invaded by the Tecton.

Meanwhile, Yllte kept coming in and summoning various people to go upstairs and talk to Essa. From bits of conversation that I overheard, I got the impression that he wanted each of them to describe exactly what they had zlinnedóor observed with their other senses, in the case of the Gens who were there. Some of them hadnít been able to pick up anything at all. Others thought they had seen bright lights, or sensed some shadowy presence in the room. It seemed no two Gens wanted to describe it quite the same way, while all the channels had zlinned pretty much the same thing. Which is to say, the same thing Iíd zlinned myselfóradiant, unstable fluctuations of energy, very much like selyn but unaccompanied by any biological process, and marked by neither generation nor consumption. They were just there and not there, one and yet many.

People were drinking more heavily than usual, but they were staying away from the sinthe. Thatís usually a house favorite, because of the unique effect it has on the channels. It does something funky to their vriamic nodes, and produces mild hallucinations. Itís not supposed to have any effect on Gens or renSimes, but try telling that to some of these field technicians. Iíve seen them get pretty buzzed on the stuff, though maybe they were just picking it up secondhand from their Simes.

But nobody was ordering the stuff that night. I guess theyíd had enough weirdness for one day. The sinthe really does freak the channels out sometimesóI know theyíre not allowed to do functionals on anyone for awhile after they drink it. For the moment they were mostly sticking with kath beer, and I admit I grabbed a few swallows myself when I was in the kitchen, which I donít usually do. They buy the best for the club, and they donít mind if staff members sample the stuff occasionally, as long as we donít stagger around drunk or anything. And kath beer is mild enough that it takes quite a bit to get anyone very swoshed. Though some of the club members were working on it, that night.

The lounge was packed, but even though I was really busy, I was trying to keep an eye on Mog. He sometimes gets kind of overloaded when there are too many people. But he seemed fine, taking just one glass at a time like he is supposed to.

Most of the Gens can handle the same kind of tray as I use, though they generally donít carry two of them like some of the Simes do. We found out early that Mog would not be able to use a tray. Heís just too awkward. So they told him to just carry one glass in each hand, but then he dropped one when he was trying to open a door. The mess didnít bother anyone nearly so much as the dismay that completely took over his nager when it happened. After that, they told him that one glass at a time was plenty. Sometimes he forgets. But even after everything that had just happened, he seemed completely serene. I couldnít zlin him at all, not with all those people milling around in there, but I know that look he gets in his eyes when heís had enough. I caught his eye, and there was no trace of that in his expression. Instead, he smiled at me as if the two of us knew a secret that nobody else in the room really understood.

Then something grabbed my attention away from him, and I looked over at the doorway. It was like I had no choice about it. Nobody could zlin a thing through all that noise, and yet somehow, Yllte had reached across the room and made me look up at her. I knew it was my turn to talk to Essa. That was what Iíd been waiting for, because I had something to ask him about as well.

As we walked down the hall, I promised myself over and over that I wouldnít lose my nerve. Yllte could tell something was bothering me, and lightly stroked my back, taking care to hold back most of her nageric power. "Heís not angry with you, Rayne. He just wants everyone who was there to describe what they think happened." She sounded a little puzzled, because people arenít usually afraid of Essa once they get to know him.

Essa was holding the interviews in the library rather than in his office. Yllte sat beside her husband and motioned toward the chair facing them. I was happy to sit down, because I was really nervous. Before Essa could say anything, I blurted out, "Did you decide if Fimmer is allowed to do channeling work?"

Revealing just a hint of impatience, he said, "Hajene Demetrice and I have agreed that he may continue to work with Mog, under her supervision and mine. So long as he agrees to come all the way upstairs to do it. I want to avoid any further direct interaction with the Daimon. We will leave that to Hajene Fimmer." He smiled.

Before I could lose all my courage, I told him, "I want to get my next transfer from him, too."

Essa just sat there and looked at me for a long moment. "Rayne, wható" He turned and glanced at Yllte, who got up and left without a word. If she was annoyed at being dismissed like that, she certainly hid it from me.

Once the door was closed, he said, "Perhaps you will feel more comfortable discussing this without a Gen present. What would cause you to make a statement like that?" His reaction was very important to me, so I was zlinning him pretty intently. What I picked up was complete bafflement. Iíve heard itís almost impossible to surprise him, but I donít think he was expecting that. I canít imagine why not. Of course, I donít know what Fimmerís nager is like from a channelís point of view, and perhaps Essa canít really understand what he zlins like to a renSime.

And how could I explain it to him? I had no idea why Fimmer was the first person in a long time, not including Darien of course, who could make me feel any enthusiasm for transfer at all. "I just want to, thatís all." I thought about the way Fimmer had made me feel, trying to put it into words. But of course that wasnít really necessary.

"Evidently. But Rayne, itís probably not a very good idea."

He wasnít coming out and saying no, but it was evident in his nager. I had pretty much expected that. "So Mog has the right to make his own choice in the matter, but I donít?" The thing was, I knew Hajene Essa a lot better than he knew me, mostly by reputation. I knew what kind of arguments would have an effect on him, and Iíd been thinking over what I should say to him.

"Itís not the same. Transfer just doesnít have the same effect on a Gen as it does on us. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, much as we donít like to dwell on it, most of them can get along very nicely without it." This hit me hard, and he looked at me inquisitively, but didnít demand an explanation. "We have no idea what an experience like that would do to you, Rayne."

I had recovered enough to remember my strategy. "Thereís only one way to find out what a transfer from Fimmer would do to a Sime, isnít that true?" Fair or not, it was up to Essa to decide whether I could do this. The only weapons I had were his absolute adherence to the principle of personal transfer freedomÖ and that curiosity of his.

"The subject has been discussed among the channels here, believe me. At length. One thing we talked about was the potential difficulty in finding a volunteerÖ Rayne, if I were to permit this, I would have to be sure that you understood the possible consequences. To the extent that we can even guess at what might happen. To be quite frank, I donít rule out the possibility that it could drive you mad. I like Hajene Fimmer, but tell me the truthódoes he seem to you as if he has all of his crops in a row?"

I began to laugh. "Iím sorry. I canítóI mean, who does? What looks like a perfectly straight row to you, might seem like a huge mess to someone else." I found myself wonderingóif he decided I was already nuts, would that improve my chances of getting the transfer I wanted, or reduce them? Because the chance did exist. If it didnít, the discussion wouldnít have gone on this long.

"Let me know if you start to see any pattern to Fimmerís plowing, RayneÖ particularly in the matter of his personal appearance." He sat for a long moment zlinning me, then added, "The first thing I would ask of any Sime who was even considering volunteering for such an experiment is that they accept me as their advisor."

I nodded. Hajene Helmutt and I have been through a lot together, but it was never one of those really intimate channel/client relationships. Perhaps I would write him a nice thank-you note and explain that it wasnít due to any dissatisfaction with his services.

It occurred to me that technically, this was a violation of club rules, because members and staff are not supposed to make any arrangements of a personal nature while on the premises. But I wasnít about to remind Essa of that. For that matter, if Fimmer was still considered a club member, then I guess I was the first one to cross that line.

"Legally," he continued, "I would act as your advisor. Because I donít see any reason to blemish your official records unless that becomes necessary. But in actuality, I would expect you to submit to formal supervision, for awhile at least. And I canít tell you how long that would be."

That made me stop and think for a moment. There is a world of difference between an advisor and a supervising channel. Sometimes the terms get used imprecisely, but in general, supervision is given to people who canít be trusted with the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Everyone gets that until they complete first year training, of course. Other than that, itís reserved for the mentally incompetent, for people on probation for serious offensesÖ situations of that nature. Even if it doesnít become a matter of record, itís an idea that most citizens would react to with revulsion.

But after just a moment, I realized it didnít matter. It wouldnít have made any difference if heíd said he was going to lock me in the cellar next to Hajene Fimmer. I was still going after this until I either got what I was asking for, or until it became clear that it wasnít going to happen.

"Maybe thatís not such a bad idea. Even without the whole question of Fimmer and his Daimon transfers. I think thereís some possibility that I might, that I could be a danger to other people."

I hadnít intended to say that to him. I hadnít said that to anyone, not even Jorrie, not in such plain words. My most private fears, which most of the time I wouldnít even let myself think about.

"Why do you say that?" His handling tentacles were playing with a pen, and he seemed far less shocked than he had when Iíd asked for a transfer assignment with Fimmer. As if Iíd said the most commonplace thing he could imagine. Iíd half-expected the ceiling to cave in from the shock I had felt at hearing my own words. I was still wondering if I would be free to walk out of the room at the end of this conversation.

But, having come this far, I figured I might as well tell him all of it.

I told him about how I almost killed Lila, and how whatever was wrong with me had probably started long before that, when I was just out of first year. I told him about Darrien, and how ominous it seemed to me when I realized that my problems had been under control, as long as I was getting regular transfers from a Gen whoíd been trained to kill Simes with his nageróand had used that knowledge. He listened without any comment, toying with the pen as if he were bored.

When I finished, he reached out and brushed my cheek with a ventral tentacle. I didnít feel him touch me with his nager, but he must have done something, because I felt a faint twist of nausea as my pain and fear aversion conditioning was triggered. His laterals were extended to catch the most subtle nuances of my reaction. I felt my face turning red. I would have felt far more comfortable standing naked on the dais at a formal ceremony.

"Rayne, concerns of that kind are more common than you realize. And itís not always a sign of impending trouble. Tell me. Do you ever have dreams where you kill someone?"

"NotÖ where I actually do that, no." An artificial calm had settled over the room, allowing me to discuss this as if I were talking about a new pair of shoes, and I was grateful. "Iíve had dreams where I was about to. And a couple of times, dreams where I realized I already had." Surely that was bad enough. I imagined what it would be like to kill in my dreams, and swallowed. I hope that if things ever got that far, Iíd turn myself in.

"Approximately how many times have you either attacked Gens, or had to be restrained from doing so? By restrained, I mean either physically or nagerically."

"I have neverÖ!" The question sent a shock-pulse through my entire system, and Essa withdrew his laterals and pulled his hand back.

"Your extreme concern about this is the only warning sign I can see. Which is not necessarily an indication of danger, taken alone. I tend to worry more about those who refuse to believe that they could ever, under any circumstancesÖ tell me, how much time do you spend thinking about this?"

"I donít know. A lot." I knew he probably wanted a more precise answer, but I couldnít give him one. He didnít seem to be taking any of this very seriously. Suddenly, I just felt tired. Maybe I hadnít tried hard enough to make him understand. Part of me was afraid of getting locked up or something, if I actually managed to convince him.

I had never expected him to dismiss the whole business as if it were nothing more than foolishness. That was the last reaction I would ever have imagined.

He sat for a long moment before saying anything more. "If this continues to bother you, come and talk to me again. I think you will be fine, but if I am wrongÖ I will need to know about it." I could feel his subtle touch, making it more than a casual suggestion. I didnít actively resent itómaybe he wasnít letting meóbut it did occur to me that this went beyond the bounds of what an advisor is normally permitted to do. "And as for your other requestÖ please accept that I will give the matter careful consideration, and will let you know in a few days. For now, let us return to the reason I originally sent for you. I wish to hear exactly what you zlinned, and saw and heard and felt, down in that cellar. But first, please go next door and ask Yllte to step back into the room."

~~~

Two weeks later, I was lying on a mossy hillside looking up at the sky. Jorrie, Lila and Mog were with me, and we were surrounded by hundreds of other people, all doing the same thing we were. Just lying there and watching the long streaks of bright-colored light painting lines across the heavens.

There was no particular occasion when the Watchers announced that there wasnít really going to be any Third Wave. From the first, some of them had argued that the most likely explanation for what the sensors were picking up, was nothing more than a bunch of sterile rocks, hurtling mindlessly through space. Then the official sources started to say those voices were Ďprobablyí right, and then Ďalmost certainlyí. Finally, there was no more argument. So people had a chance to get used to the idea. Just a collection of lifeless chunks of stone, that had somehow found their way through the Anomaly that brought our ancestors so many millions of light-years from Old Earth.

I wonder, though. Perhaps someday more ships from Earth will come through. Two entire fleets have already done so, after all, hundreds of years apart. The flotilla was first, carrying my own ancestors, who felt that the Tectonís transfer rules were too restrictive. Later, an all-Gen migration who wanted to live free of Simes found our world. I think there were some individual ships that made their way here, as well. Things havenít always been peaceful between the various groups, but the kind of large-scale warfare that is said to have existed on Old Earth is impossible here, because of the terrainÖ and the Daimon, who only permit people to travel across the surface of the planet in small groups.

I do wonder what they would think of us, these cousins of ours, if they were able to find their way here from Earth. In particular, what they would think of Fimmer, and KiaÖ and me. I wonder if they would see us as fully human.

Itís hard to explain the effect my most recent transfer had on me, though Iíve tried to put it into words. Essa was relentless in his efforts to make me do my best at that.

Even describing the transfer itself is not easy. It was so different from anything else Iíve ever experienced. So intense, and yet I donít know if I would call it enjoyable. Iíve heard some of the channels describe something that sounded similarótransfer experiences that made mere pleasure seem trivial. Iíd always shrugged that off as something peculiar to channels, and unlike some of the things they could do, not anything I felt particularly jealous of.

Nor is it an experience I feel any need to repeat. I donít think another transfer from Fimmer would make any profound difference for me, the way the first one did. Instead, I asked Jorrie if he objected to my setting something up with Lila. Heís been especially careful about finding other Gens at least every third month or so, after seeing all the trouble I had because of Darrien.

Jorrie said it was fine with him, and offered to talk to her about it. But I wanted to ask her myself. When I did, she started crying, which is not real unusual for her. Sheís still very young. The main emotion I could zlin, through the nageric haze of the tears, was surprise. She hadnít thought I would ever want another transfer from her unless I was dying of attrition or something.

But what happened with Fimmer changed all that. The problems I had with Lila all stemmed from fear. I still think that Essa was wrong, and that I was at a real risk of ending up locked in the back of the Central Registry for some larity-related offense. But itís different now.

Itís like I was standing on the edge of a high cliff, fighting off that urge to jump that seems to dwell in the back of the human brain like some perverse joker. The cliff is still there, but thereís a sturdy iron safety-rail that makes it harder to jump in an thoughtless moment.

Safety rails can be climbed overÖ and they can be weakened, over the course of time. So I probably still have to be more careful than other Simesóregardless of what Essa thinks. He doesnít know everything. Iíve tried to tell him about most of my thoughts on the matter, but I havenít mentioned what Iím going to do if my fears start coming back. I donít really think that will happen, but if it does, Iíll bypass Fimmer and go straight to the source. Iíve got one foot on that path already, and I donít plan to go any farther. But itís a possibility I can live with. Before, I felt as if I had taken more than one step down another path, leading toward the killóand that, I could never accept.

Iíve tried to explain some of this to Jorrie. I can tell it bothers him to think that Iím not quite the same person as I was. Iíve reminded him that thereís an old saying that covers situations like mine:

Those who accept the gifts of the Daimon are forever changed.

But he says I zlin the same to him. The thing is, Iím not all that different from the way I was before. I asked Lila for transfer because her nager still has the same effect on me as it did the first time I zlinned her. Iíll never feel the same way about her as I do about Darrien, and maybe thatís a good thing, but Iíll always find her an unusually attractive Gen. In most ways, I donít really think Iíve changed so much as all that.

Just enough to push back the bad dreams. Just enough to create a little safety. And if it turns out not to be enough? Well, then Iíll have to find out what lies on the other side of Fimmerís cellar door. I donít particularly want to. Like the Anomaly, itís probably a one-way gate. But if I need to, I have no doubt that I can find a way.

~~~~

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