"Honey, I'm home."
Abe Whiting, AKA, Aie, the U'tanse, closed the airtight door behind him and slipped through the first of the low-ceiling bubble-like chambers, making sure the lock was secure and the air was set to remove the poisonous nitrates from the air. When the dots on the wall changed color, he removed his leather breathing mask.
There was noise of movement deeper in the warren of chambers that the extinct Delense would have called palatial. There were times when he really wished he were telepathic like his wife. He was sure it was her, but sometimes she got a little...strange when they were apart too long.
But her outside suit, a head to toe leather outfit they both used when outside in the normal air, was hanging in the closet, so the noise was probably her. He began peeling off his outer wear. The less exposure they had to the toxins native to this planet, the less work she had to do to keep them both healthy. Three or four days unprotected exposure without her psychically enhanced healing, and no Earth-born life could survive.
Unfortunately, other than a few rags they'd salvaged from the trucks raided by the Cerik when they were planning to invade Earth, there were no other clothes. Their masters were hunters only. No manufacturing, no cloth making, no sewing. Even the leather suits were Sharon's handiwork.
He showered, his invention, and turned on the lights in the darkened living chamber.
"Aieeee!" She pounced on him, snarling, showing her teeth. Her fingernails, deliberately grown thick and sharp, scraped at his skin. He hit his head hard on the floor.
"Sharon. Honey. I love you." He kept his voice low and gentle. He made no move to fight back.
She blinked. Her hissing stopped. She shook her head, as if fighting off a bad dream. "Abe. Sorry." She began to get up, but he held her down.
"Hey, I like it like this."
"Your head hurts. I'll fix it."
"Later. It's been two days. I like cuddling on the floor with my wife."
Slowly, she relaxed, and settled into his arms. "It's the Cerik thoughts. They're too much."
He kissed her. "I know. I'll make Tenthonad understand. We have to stay together, always." She needed human contact, and human thoughts, as long as she was to remain human.
She smiled, a little sadly. "How did your work go?"
He knew she could read it all out of his mind, but it was nice when she just let him talk.
"I brought two more Delense factories back on line. As usual, there was no real damage. They just had to be tuned a little. One of them had its main control center smashed to bits when the Cerik who owned it just got angry that the machine wouldn't make his processed animal feed and tried to claw it into submission. Luckily there was a standby system I could make work."
She sighed. "Do the Cerik really understand what they've done to themselves by killing off their Builders?"
"You're the telepath. I'd say no. They didn't really appreciate what their slaves did for them."
"I hope they appreciate you."
"Tenthonad does. His clan is gaining ground like mad. He's charging square miles of land for every factory I bring back."
"He's not so happy with me."
Abe stroked her head. Her long white hair was growing back, now that she spent most of her time in Earth-friendly air. He understood why she was reluctant to have children, in this hostile environment, to be raised as slaves if they even survived the onslaught of predator thoughts growing up.
She was reading him. Reading his idle thoughts and his deep desires. Abe wanted children, badly. If there were just a way it to make it happen. Until then, she would have to be vigilant. She shifted her legs around his and moved her hips. Abe's eyes closed as he breathed in her essence.
Asca, the Telepath approached Egh, the Scientist, rattling his claws to be acknowledged.
"Yes, what is it?"
"They are mating again."
"Again? It seems like they do that every day. Is there any sign that she is bearing cubs?"
"No. And I don't think she will, until she decides to."
He knew roughly what she was doing, killing off her mate's seed with her mind even as she requested more from him. It made no sense, but he wished he had her skill. Think of the power a warrior would have, if he could repair injuries in his body! But he knew of no Cerik with that skill.
"We need to make her breed! Without more U'tanse, Tenthonad's position in the Faces is in the wind." And theirs as well, but he didn't need to say that. When they arrived at Home World, without a treasure world claim, and with their ship damaged so badly that the navigation log showing the position of the U'tanse planet was corrupted past recovery, he'd barely survived the challenge of their own clan.
But the male, Aie, had proved the value of the U'tanse by quickly restoring the ability of the clan to feed captive Runners. Every Large Moon, it seemed he found new ways to restore Delense machines that had been thought lost forever. Other clans were trading lands and runners for the services of the little alien.
Asca suspected the Rakla-del of a female telepath had been responsible for the loss of the path back to her world, but he couldn't prove it, and he dared not suggest it, for that would be to proclaim that he was too weak a telepath to tell whether she was lying or not. Admitting weakness was unthinkable.
Egh's Second waited patiently, just outside the chamber, listening to the two. He had long practiced the habit of listening without thinking. Asca might be a weak name, with no Second of his own, but he was still a telepath, and one should be trained in the ineda to deal with his kind. He would think later, when the telepath was busy with other concerns.
The Home Planet rumbled, but then, it always did. Its moon, nearly as large as Luna, was in a much more elliptical orbit, reaching close enough to trigger landquakes and volcano eruptions on almost every pass. Within the history of the Cerik, islands had sunk beneath the waves and new mountain ranges had risen. Within the oral history of the Cerik--because they had no written history. Reading was elusive--one of those skills some of the slave races used. Part of the genius of the Delense, the extinct Builders, had been the ability to craft machines that could be run with the slash of a talon, and instruments that showed their results in cartoon-like images--all so that their masters could run some of the machines themselves.
Abe loved his robe. Sharon had made it from a box of red automotive utility rags that they'd scavenged from the wreck of a truck that had crossed the star lanes with them. She'd made herself a housedress out of rolls of cheese cloth that she'd likewise salvaged from the grocery store supplies. He was so lucky to have married a woman who never worried about how much skin was showing.
He sat at a desk that was totally Delense in construction. It was good enough for him--flat and hard like a desk ought to be. The giant beaver-like creatures had been engineers after all. With a stool the right height, he had a workspace that felt right at home. He picked up the stack of school notebooks that had never made it to the school supply shelves and clicked a ball point pen. If he never made it back to Earth, and if they started a branch of the human race here on this planet, his children would need a history. Until he ran out of paper, he'd write down everything he knew, everything he remembered, everything about Earth, the human race, and where they came from.
A tiny scrap of loose paper fell out where he'd left off. In Sharon's crisp lettering, was a list of other slave species scavenged from planets nearly destroyed by the supernova. Abe knew some of the information already, but they never discussed their plans to escape. Not verbally. Not in a manner a passing telepath could discover. Anything that hinted at less than total loyalty to Tenthonad and his clan had to be passed in this fashion, and kept loosely in the mind. It was a difficult, long range plan, but being unarmed slaves on a planet with a poisonous atmosphere limited their options.