Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 11 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

Deep in thought, he didn’t see Pam approaching until she splashed up on the bench beside him.
“Hi, there.”  He smiled, but he was tense.  Pam had been affecting him -- showing up in his dreams.  Now was not the time to let his ineda slip.  His brain was too full of important secrets to let his hormones sabotage them.
“I almost missed you.  What are you doing down here?  Hiding from me?”
“No.  No.  I was hoping you would show up.”
She smiled.  “Oh, do you need anything healed?”
“Um.  Maybe.  I was exposed to the air without a mask today.”
“Let me check.”  She took his hand.
He watched her closed eyes, and found himself dwelling on her nose.  Better that than let himself pay too much attention to other parts of her body.
“All done.”  She opened her eyes.  “It wasn’t much.”
He stared back at her.  After a moment, they both realized they were still holding hands and dropped them.  
“Um.  How are things going with you?” he asked.
She leaned back against the stone wall.  “Oh, still training for my first pregnancy.  I’m not a cutie anymore, so it’s coming up.”
“That’s right.  When was your birthday?”
“Three days ago.  But I won’t really be fertile for a few days yet.”
He nodded.  It was impossible to be brought up surrounded by pregnant and soon-to-be pregnant sisters without knowing a few things about women’s reproductive cycles.
“Are you all excited about it?”
She looked down, and nodded.  “Yes.  Sort of.  There’s the sex, and the sorting.  I’m afraid I’ll mess that up, but my tutors tell me I’ll be fine.  And then there’s all that waiting and monitoring so the baby comes out healthy.”
“And you’ve got your sisters to help.”
Pam chuckled.  “Yes.  Seven of them older than me.  And every one is full of advice.  They’ve got about a dozen different opinions about who...”
“Who to be the sperm donor?”
She winced a little and nodded, looking away.
He took a breath.  “Well, if I’m anywhere on the list, you’ll have to defer me until the next pregnancy.”  He almost rushed to get it out there.
“Oh?”  She looked sad.
He nodded, trying to make light of it.  “I have a work trip coming up, maybe tomorrow.  I’ll be away from home for quite a while.”
“Sorry.  This just came up, but they tell me it’s important.”
She sighed.  He took her hand.  She looked at him, trying to read through his ineda
He wasn’t going to relax the telepathic block, but he could talk.
“You know, up until this came up, I was having some second thoughts about the whole broom thing.  But now... I’ll just have to wait until I get back.”
She said quietly, “You were on the list.”
They sat in silence for a moment.  He gave her hand a squeeze.  “You know, I’ve been around Mother and Father a bit lately.”
“Yes.  It made it pretty clear that they’re really from a different world.”
She asked, “What do you mean?”
“Well, there are a bunch of things.  They actually live with each other.  I don’t think they have separate cells.  When they greet each other, they hold hands, like this.”
She looked at hers and he gently released his grip.
He gestured, trying to put into words what he was trying to express.  “I mean, they have always lived together, since the Arrival fifty-some years ago.  Even, as he said, when he was doing ‘Lot’s duty’ with his first few daughters, he still lived with Mother and refused to continue once his first son was old enough to impregnate that generation.
“It’s like he’s bound to her alone.  And she’s the same.  When I made a copy of the Family Tree, I didn’t see anything but ‘bar Abe’ on any of her children.
“And the way they talk -- once the U’tanse population is large enough, I think they’d be happiest if there were as many men as women, and they paired up for life like they did.”
Pam said, “Wow.  That sounds so strange.”
James nodded, “Not likely to happen in our lifetime, unless we live a long time.  You’ll work down your consanguinity list, having a child with each man in turn.  I’ll have sex with each cousin who comes and taps me on the shoulder.  That’s the way it works.
“Still -- I think it’s nice, what Father and Mother have.”
Pam thought a moment.  “My sister Chrissy spends a lot of time with Dale bar Oscar, even though their daughter is over four years old by now.”
James nodded.  “People pair up.  I hadn’t paid much attention to that until my sister Cynthia left.  She had a favorite man, too.  I guess Father and Mother are just an extreme example.”
Pam looked out over the water.  “I was hoping you and I...”
“We will, eventually.  But it’s not our time.  And you can’t wait for me.  I really don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“And I’ll miss you, too.”

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 10 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

They walked the halls, heading so far into the mountain that it was all new.  James had never realized the tunnels continued this far.
“Your tutors all report that your ineda has gotten solid.  That’s good.”
“I’m glad.  I’ve never been... confident that I was doing it right.”
His great-grandfather chuckled.  “Don’t I know it!  Everyone else can at least see a reflection of themselves in other’s thoughts.  We don’t have that option.”
He paused when the corridor ahead didn’t light up as usual.  “Here, take this.”  He pulled a hand-sized device from a recessed shelf in the wall.  He twisted the small pipe-shaped thing and one end lit up and projected a strong beam of light.
James took it and probed the darkness ahead.  More corridor, but it looked different.
“U’tanse construction.”
“Right.  Come on.”
They stepped into the new section.
“What’s this thing made of?  It feels strange.”
“It’s plastic.  Human made.  When the light dims, shake it and it’ll get stronger.”
“What’s plastic?”  James shook it and something metal moved inside.  The light increased slightly.
“It’s a biological material.  Certain substances like oil can be triggered to shift from a liquid to a solid state.  I’m vastly simplifying the chemistry, but since we don’t have the source materials, it’s not a technology we’re likely to develop.”
“I don’t remember that in the Book.”
“Oh?  I guess it’s time for an update then.”  He chuckled again.  “There’s always something I’ve forgotten.”
They walked on a little more into the long featureless tunnel.  “Father, you said that when my ineda was better that you would tell me why I was made without telepathy.”
He sighed.  “Yes, I did.”
The silence continued for another minute as they walked.
“James, there were several factors that urged us -- the U’tanse concerned with our genetic future -- to see if we could make a true human, like me.
“Now, I’m not saying your cousins aren’t human.  We all are very close to the original human stock.  Any of your brothers or sisters could walk the streets of Austin back on Earth without attracting any undue attention.
“But the psychic gifts that they all have were very rare back there -- so rare that many people believed they were little more than fantasies.  And we have bred all of your cousins to excel at that.  It was necessary.”
“Because of the defective genes.”
“Right.  Every mother had to be able to pick and choose the genes of her children-to-be.  The men were made psychic too, because it gives obvious advantages in working with the Cerik.”
“Then why was I... left out.”
The tall dark figure walking beside him, wrapped in the shadows, was quiet a moment.  James was tempted to shine the light into his face to see his expression, but refrained.
“James, it’s time for the secrets.  Secrets that must forever remain behind ineda.  Can you do that?”
“Be very sure.  At any time, Cerik telepaths could reach for your mind -- in the Home, as you work, in these corridors, as you sleep, as you laugh and as you cry.  You must never think of these things without a strong ineda sheltering them.”
James swallowed, imagining the beast masters reaching for him in the dark.  “Yes.  I can do that.  I will keep secrets secure.”
Father put his hand on his shoulder.  
“Someday, we’re going home, back to Earth.  When that day comes, the U’tanse must not be a separate species.  We must still be human.”
James stared across the waters, sitting alone, far from the others at the bath.  He had much to think about.  
We don’t belong to the Cerik.  It was contrary to everything he’d been told. Since the days when his sisters cuddled him and told him the stories of the monsters outside who must be obeyed and who controlled everyone’s life, he’d just accepted it. The Cerik were the masters, and the U’tanse lived to serve.
It had been obvious.  Maybe the U’tanse were smarter and had fingers and could make the machines, but the Cerik were bigger, stronger and faster.  Any Cerik could snap up any U’tanse like little Sue.  They were only safe because they were useful to the masters of this world.
A world where we couldn’t survive on our own.  The air was poison.  The only food they could eat had to be grown under the same isolated conditions. Without the Name’s assistance, they would die out quickly.
Any resistance was unthinkable.  The Delense, also native to this world, had been the first slave race, the creators of all the Cerik’s technology.  They had rebelled once, and the entire race was wiped out.
It was stupid of the Cerik.  Since the rebellion, their technology had been slowly collapsing on them, with no tool-makers, no builders to help them -- up until the raid on Earth that captured Mother and Father. And that had been just good luck on the Clan’s part.  They had been after prey and hunting grounds. Father had made a deal with the Name of that expedition after it was clear that they could never return.  He had promised to serve the Name’s clan, and in turn Father and Mother would be protected from the rest of the Cerik, who saw them as nothing more than prey to be chased and eaten.
That much was common knowledge.  At least among those cousins who had bothered to learn U’tanse history.
But James had learned more today.  Father and Mother had promised to serve, but they had not pledged their descendants.  From the Arrival, they had kept a secret resistance.  The location of the human homeworld was deliberately destroyed so that there would be no more raids for slaves.  Shared with only a few of their children, grandchildren, and, with him, great-grandchildren, was a plan to gain control of the space flight technology, to re-discover Earth, and to return the U’tanse to their true home.
Father knew he would never leave.  Trapped as they were in protective enclaves on a poisonous world, it was taking a very long time.  But when the pieces came together, Father had explained, the U’tanse needed to be human, and to have the will to regain control of their own destiny.
But with savage genocidal masters, resistance had to be careful, cautious, and kept totally secret.
He had learned the real story of Sue’s death.  Yes, she had been a willful, curious girl who had chafed at living forever underground.  Yes, her carelessness had gotten her killed and eaten.
But the most powerful of the U’tanse had worked undetectably and cautiously, to identify and track the Cerik who had been the first to kill one of them.
Skills that could routinely heal were used to alter the killer’s chemistry.
It was well known that the U’tanse tasted good.  Mother had been attacked and her blood sampled by the expedition’s Name.  There was nothing they could do about that.
But shortly, the Cerik killer developed painful internal cramps, followed by cancerous tumors cropping up all through his body.  He died in agony within the month, and none of his fellows dared to give him the traditional killing slash through the eye sockets that a normal dying Cerik would expect.
The word spread far and wide.  U’tanse might taste good, but they were deadly poisonous.
All of this happened under tight ineda by the select few, as the U’tanse family morned.  It was a secret that could never be revealed.
Interestingly, the Cerik never told Father what had happened to the killer.  They were keeping secrets too.
And so every little cutie was told the frightening story of what would happen if the Cerik got a hold of them, and presumably a different tale of horror was told to Cerik cubs.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 9 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

His birth-mother Alice was waiting outside his cell when he returned.
Uh, oh.  I’m in trouble.
“Come on in,” he invited, before she could say anything.
She looked at the broom still propped up at the entrance.  They sat.
She chuckled, “You made a splash today.  I wondered if you’d taken down the broom.”
He frowned, “No.  Why?”
She laughed and shook her head gently.  “James, that stunt was the perfect way to turn every girl’s attention on you.  It wasn’t just those who got splashed.  They were so surprised, that every U’tanse caught the ripples.  Cynthia asked me if you were okay.  She felt it so far away and couldn’t get through your ineda to check on you.  You had always been so shy.”
James asked, “Is she doing okay?”
Alice smiled.  “Yes.  They’re working hard on the new colony.  There’s so much work to do, both to build their new Home and to satisfy their new Name.  But she’s been watching you.   She’s proud of your ineda, but she checks in through your neighbors and your tutors.”
Conflicting emotions churned in his head.  He was happy Cynthia was looking in on him, but the thought that his ineda was causing her worry bothered him.
“Please tell her I’m doing fine, and I’m enjoying my technical training.”
“She’ll be happy to hear it.  But how are you doing on that other issue?”
He looked over at the broom.  “I’m still... a little reluctant.”
Alice shrugged.  “It’s up to you, but you should know that practically every girl that has you on her consanguinity list has just now given you a second consideration.  You’re now a man of mystery, and quite a few of them would love to knock over your broom.”
Bonnie looked a little excited when he showed up for work. “Hold off for a little bit.  Father is coming in from a trip with some new things.”
“I didn’t even know he was gone.”
Mother walked into the room.  “Secret trip.  The Name has been negotiating with one of his rivals for some time, and part of the deal was for Abe to get one of their factories running.  It’s the Getterin, and they’ve been rejecting everything U’tanse since the Arrival.  They’re part of the Cerik block that wants us all eliminated. This is a big deal for us.”
Almost immediately, the overhead hatch opened with a whoosh of air.  The Home always kept the clean air at a slightly greater pressure than the outside air to keep the poisons from leaking in.
James held his breath, and contemplated retreating behind the air-sealed door to the interior.  But he didn’t want to miss this.
He exhaled, and tasted the outside air.  It wouldn’t kill him.  Not quickly.
The boat settled down into the work area, where there was always a space kept clear for deliveries.  Father stepped out of the hatch, pushing a wheeled cart.
The roars and snarls that the pilot and Father exchanged were harsh to the ear, but anyone who every planned to be working with the Cerik was trained in the language.  James didn’t trust his pronunciation, but he could understand the gist of what was being said.  Father complimented the Cerik on his piloting skills and in turn he was ordered to unload quickly because the stench of the U’tanse and their machines made him queasy.
Mother tapped James on the shoulder.  “Go help him unload.”
He hurried over and Father nodded, handing him the wheeled trolley.  “Get another cart.”
James pushed the first one hurriedly to the wall and with no more than a glance at the rows of double-handed Delense tools, he grabbed an empty cart and ran it back to the boat.
It was the first time that James had seen the inside of a boat.  He followed Father back inside, glancing at the Cerik lounging by the wide display panel that controlled the flying craft.  There was a three-dimensional view of the landscape showing.
The Cerik snarled at him.  “<Hurry up, cub.>”
James entered the cargo area and helped Father move the pile just freed of its straps into the cart’s large tub.  It took a couple of trips, and they were barely clear of the hatch when it closed. The propulsion beams nearly knocked him down.  The boat cleared the overhead hatch and was out of sight. 
He moved the cart to where they had unloaded the others and the vents high in the wall began blowing like a windstorm, pushing clean air inside even before the hatch had finished closing.
Father and Mother were talking quietly, holding hands.  He couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he was quickly distracted by the new devices.
Bonnie was already there, sorting them into stacks by type.
“What are these?”
“I have no idea.  Father must know, but he hasn’t told me yet.”
James took one of the gadgets in his hands.  It looked like some kind of instrument.  One whole side was the reflective white enamel that made up many of the Delense control pads.
On the back was familiar looking screw ring.  He walked it over to his failure shelf and picked up one with a similar ring.  They connected easily.  The control pad lit up with the standard Delense circular control ring and something that was obviously text began moving and changing to the side of the controls.
“What do you have there?”  Father said, looking over his shoulder.
“I don’t know.  Is that Delense text?”
“Yes.”  He watched the markings move.  “What is that thing you plugged the diagnostic panel into?”
“I don’t know.  I’d never figured it out.”  He watched the lettering pause, and then change again.  “I didn’t know the Delense had a written script.”
Father nodded.  “I’ve seen hints of it over the years, but nothing like this.  The Cerik can’t read.  I don’t think they have the brain centers necessary to process symbolic script.  That’s why the Delense displayed everything in 3D modeling and vocal output for our masters.”
He ran his fingers over the text to see if it showed any interactivity.  “Still, I’ve often thought that the Delense had to have some kind of text of their own, if only to express and preserve technical details.  This is a helpful discovery.  Thank you, James.”
Tapping the control ring, he turned it off.  “Bonnie, could you take this to my office.  I’ll need to spend some time at it.”
“Yes, Father.”
He turned back to James.  “The air will take a while to clear out.  The two of us need to be elsewhere.  Come with me.”
James had to agree.  He could feel a slight tickle in his throat.  Maybe he could meet up with Pam at the bath later to get it healed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 8 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

Bonnie bar Abe led him to her work room.
“You have a good memory?”
“Yes.”  He nodded.  On the wall was a large painting.  “Is that a Delense?”
She nodded.  “It’s full size.  I find it helps, when I get stumped, to take another look at the designer who built the machine I’m trying to fix.”
James looked closely at the figure.  It had to be fifty percent more massive than an adult U’tanse, comfortable on four limbs.  Covered with a water-repellant pelt, it had a large vertical tail fin.
“Father calls it a beaver, but his sketches of that human home planet animal look much more crude.  Take a look at the Delense forearms. When they sat back on the rear legs, those fingers were every bit as flexible as our fingers, and each could oppose the others.  But see how the plate on the side of the hand could be used to dig.  Although they were machine users, most of Home was built by ‘hand’.”
“Did you paint this?”
“No.  Not completely.  Belle, my birth-mother, started the sketch from some history videos produced by the Delense.  They had made the videos for the Name, and we only had access to them for a short time.  I helped with the coloring and shading when I was old enough, but...”  She pulled a book from the table.  “These are mine.”
James carefully turned the pages.  Each was a sketch of a piece of Delense technology showing how a Delense hand would operate it.
“You see something?”
James nodded, tapping at the image of one of the machines.  “I was trying to work with this thing in the big workshop, but I was holding it wrong.”
“Maybe.  These are just my best guesses.”
Each day he showed up and Bonnie handed him a Delense gadget.  “Fix it.”
It was a test.  The first was a fluid pump, and he could see that the sealing clamp was snapped off.  He dug through the big shelf of parts bins and found the replacement.  There was even a little finger-sized pry bar perfectly designed to replace that kind of clamp.  He fitted it on a test fixture and it pumped water fine, with no leaks.  He handed it to Bonnie and she told him where to put it -- back in the parts bins to fix something even bigger.
Other days were different.  The L-shaped device as big as his arm with no external seams or ports other than a seemingly useless screw ring defeated him after three days of puzzling and testing.  Bonnie made an empty shelf.  “Put your failures here.”
He hated that shelf--all his failures.  But he couldn’t help thinking about them.  Each morning as he walked in, he looked them over, occasionally picking up one for a second examination.
Bonnie said nothing.  She worked at her own repair jobs, usually ones much larger than the gadgets she handed to him.
He wondered when he’d advance to the bigger devices, the ones that they had to bring in through the big overhead hatch.  He’d seen only one delivery, and they made him leave until they could purge the outside air.  He was happy to be gone.  The small boat that settled down between the rows of equipment was being driven by a Cerik, and those claws made him nervous.  The way he slashed at everything made him afraid someone could be carved open by accident.
He told himself that it was safe.  He just didn’t believe it in his gut.  Everyone knew about Sue bar Carl, the eight year old girl who snuck outside and was eaten.  It had happened fifteen years before he was born, but every child in the nursery knew the story -- and it wasn’t a fable.  It was even marked on the official family tree.  
But he guessed he would have to prove himself on the little repair jobs before he could graduate to bigger jobs, and when he was older, go off on those expeditions to repair the Delense factories like Father still did.
Two months went by, long enough so that he could almost tell what was likely broken before he picked up his next device.  The Delense had some gadgets that were marvels of elegance and rarely broke except by physical trauma, but there were others that always had the same broken latch or burned out heater element.  James was sure he could make an improved in-line heater if he could just make a new element with a thicker end.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have access to the factory that made those elements.  That was under the control of a different Cerik clan and they were happy to trade replacements to the other clans and reject the suggestion that any U’tanse could re-program their factory.
James walked to the bath toying with the idea of raiding their parts bins and making a little depositor to rebuild those heating elements with thicker metal.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t his job, and nobody was likely to take the suggestion of someone as young as he was.
He felt his ineda slip a little.  I can’t have that.  
He’d been told that some people kept their ineda up constantly, but most didn’t.  However, once he started keeping his mind blocked all the time, more people talked to him.  It was a revelation.  Some people did want to know what he thought, and if they had to talk to find out, they did.
He took the opportunity to calm and compose his mind and lock it down tight as he undressed.  Uncertainty was like an itch.  Hanna hadn’t come to give him an update on his ineda progress.  He was mostly confident that he was doing it right, but he couldn’t be sure.
Walking out into the bath chamber, he saw a half-dozen girls stretched out next to the water, chatting among themselves.  So much bare skin after a long day working on the machines inspired him.  A plan came over him.  He looked around.  No one had raised their head to look his way.  He smiled.
Easing into a run, he turned at the last second and jumped high, making the biggest splash he could right next to them.
When he came back up to the surface, the naked girls were all on their feet, squealing and yelling at him.  He smiled and ducked down below the water, heading out into the middle.
It worked.  No one could read me.  It was a complete surprise to them.
He savored the memory as he swam all the way across the bath and sat on the other side.  Maybe it wouldn’t be wise to swim back just yet.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 7 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

As James walked to the bath, he pondered what would have happened if he’d paid too much attention to one of the Geisel runners or spent too much time helping with the rice harvest.  No one told him that he’d have this kind of test to check his interests.  Or was that one of those things that everybody knew -- except him.
The idea of having someone explain how the Delense science worked was exciting.  U’tanse science was mostly obvious things.  A fan pushed the air with a tilted blade.  A water faucet opened and closed a hole for the water.  It was all obvious.
Supposedly, back on the human home world, there were exciting and mysterious things like ‘computers’ and ‘radios’, but when he read Father’s descriptions of those sciences, it was all obscure.  He didn’t know what the words meant.
It was the same with the Delense devices, but at least with those, you could take one apart and see what the pieces looked like.
He shed his tunic and dove into the water.  The splash of cool shook his ineda patterns and he used the swimming strokes to rebuild them.
He would have to work hard with his new tutor, whoever it was.  He didn’t want to be like Susan bar Tim, who lived three cells down from him. She changed regular jobs every few months.  If she had gone through this kind of examination, and yet hadn’t found her place in the five years since she came of age, then there was no guarantee he could follow his interests either.  She hadn’t even lasted in the nursery, and they were always in need of help.
Pam bar Oscar was frowning at him from the side bench.  He turned toward her and floated into the seat beside her.
“Your ineda is a lot better,” she said.
“That’s all I’ve practiced for a while.”
She nodded.  “I’ve heard.  A number of people, who shall go nameless, have attempted to pick your brain after you put up the broom.”
“Oh?  I thought the whole broom thing was to keep people from intruding.”
“That’s why they’re nameless.”  She grinned and splashed a handful of water at him.  “Do you need any healing?”
He shrugged.  “I haven’t been in the outside air in a long time, but you can check, if you want the practice.”
She nodded, and reached for his wrist.  He relaxed, keeping his thoughts clear.  The ineda was no obstacle to healing.  Sensing his cells was something they could do whether he was blocked or not.  The Legend of the Arrival told of Mother probing the insides of the Cerik’s ship and controlling the atmosphere settings with her mind.  His inability to see the insides of the machines had made him think that he would never have what it took to be a master mechanic.
But Father, with the same limitations, had become the greatest of them all, and it looked like they were going to give him the chance to follow in his footsteps.
Pam released his arm.  “Your lungs were fine.  That melanoma I found last time is gone.  I did fix a small infection on your hand.”
He glanced at the wrinkled fingers and remembered a scrape he’d gotten while climbing through the machines.
“Thanks.”  He smiled.
She flushed and crossed her arms across her chest.  “I need the practice.”
“Yes.  You’re getting close to coming of age, aren’t you.  Have you decided who to breed with?”
She looked off across the water and shook her head.  “I’m not quite ready yet.  I’ve got a tutor, a couple of them, helping me through the training.  I even got to observe.”
“You mean you watched when a couple...”
“No!  I mean after he left.”  She was flushing bright red.  “I was invited into her mind as she did the sorting and culling, making sure that all the right genes for the psychic talents are expressed, and checking for dangerous combinations.”
He asked, “Like what?”  He knew he’d never understand what they did, but it was fascinating to hear about.
She tried to explain, but she kept running into concepts that had no words.  He visualized thousands of little swimmers glowing unimaginable colors that she could separate and kill, until there was just one left to fertilize the egg.
“It’s a hard job, and the original humans didn’t have to do it.  They just let the fastest swimmer win, and it was all random.”
She said the word like it was a curse.
He nodded.  For the U’tanse, it was.  The chance of a fatal gene combination was much to high to leave it up to chance.  Every odd recessive in Father and Mother’s original genes would have too great a chance of meeting its match and being expressed.  No one knew how long it would take before all the bad ones were weeded out of the mix.  He was fourth generation, and from what he’d heard, it was no better now than before.  Everybody was a descendant of that first pair, no matter whether they were siblings or cousins.
She sighed.  “At least I’ve got some choice.  It’s not like the first couple of generations when there were only a handful of boys and you had a fixed rotation.”
“Oh?  You get free choice?”
“Not quite.  My tutors have already done the consanguinity calculations for me.  It’ll be up to me to recheck it before each pregnancy, but at least I’ve got a list of names that I don’t have to worry about.  You guys have got it lucky.  You don’t even have to worry whether it’ll be a boy or a girl.  Stick it in and you’re done.”
It was his turn to blush.  His ineda patterns circulated in his head and he dared not let them slip.  He’d done his own calculations and sooner or later, he and Pam would have to pair up for the night.  He had to be gone before she could read his thoughts in his body.
“I’ve got to go. I want to swim another few minutes.  Thanks for the healing.”
“Yes.”  She looked puzzled.
“See you again soon.”  He said and eased off into the water.
That was a stupid thing to say.  He liked talking to her, but the topic of conversation was too dangerous.
He visualized his broom.  It was there for a reason.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 6 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

It had been a pleasant visit, but it was getting late.  Father was loved by all, and if he gave everyone the same personal attention, it was clear why people liked him.  He certainly had to do some difficult things, like choose which of his descendants would be ripped out of the community and sold off.
James walked the darkened passages.  He glanced into some of the cells as he walked.  Most were dark opaque caves where some cousin slept.  One had a couple, still making noises.  That was one of the things that bothered him.  From all he knew, sex shouldn’t take all that long, but he often saw or heard evidence that some people took a lot longer at it.
I’m just not ready yet.
He thought back to his visit with Father.  “You will get all your questions answered, then.  Understand.”
He shouldn’t think about that now.  He visualized waves rippling across the bath and tried to follow them all the way across in his imagination.
There was a figure waiting in the darkness, just outside his cell.
Oh no, not tonight.
As he approached, he made out the face and hair.  
“Hello, Alice.”
She smiled.  “It’s been a while, James.  Can I come in for a minute?”
He nodded.  “Sure.”  He went in and tapped the light on.
In the glow of the light bar, he got a better look.  His birth-mother looked like she’d just gotten out of bed.  But she looked healthy and active -- and not much older then Cynthia.
She chuckled.  “Yes, Mother called after I’d gone to bed, but when she calls, you listen.”
“Mother called?  Why?”
Alice bar Hank shrugged.  “She just said we should have a talk.  She didn’t say why.”
He waved at the bed.  “Sit there.  It’s a lot more comfortable than the stool.”
She looked around his cell, and focussed on the partially erased family tree chart.  “You erased the ones that left.”
“Um.  Yes, I was just trying to see if there was a pattern to who was chosen.”
She nodded.  “You got a chance to visit with Hank before he left.”
“A little.  We worked together.”
“How did he look?  I hadn’t seen him in a while.”
James thought back.  “He smiled a lot.  In good shape.”
She nodded, probably looking at his memories.  “He’ll make a good leader.”
They were silent for a moment.
“When you walked up, you were upset that I was standing outside your cell.  Why was that?”
“Oh, that was before I knew it was you.  I was relieved when I recognized you.”
“You were expecting some girl?”
He nodded, looking over at the chalk marks.  “Yes.”
Alice probed gently.  “Some girl that would want to spend the night?”
He took a big breath.  “Yes.  It’s about that time.  I’m of age.  It’s my duty.”
“But you aren’t ready yet.”
He nodded, staring at the floor.
Alice waited.  Then she said, “You know.  A lot of people have the same problem.”
He looked up at her.
She nodded.  “Sex feels good, and we have instincts that drive us to it.  Add to that the duty to the U’tanse to increase our numbers, and sex has become a duty that everyone accepts.  
“But not every day, and not every time someone asks.”
She leaned back against the wall.  “Father and Mother, neither of them had sex until they were fully matured adults.  Mother had this same talk with me. Their world was different.  Men and women paired up, often for life, and they only had a few children.  We’re the strange ones, if we’re still human.”
“Still human?”
Alice looked at him and smiled.  “They worry about that -- Mother and Father do.  How many generations of forced breeding does it take before genetic drift makes the U’tanse no longer human?  That was a question when we designed you.  Could we even have children that were not telepathic any more?”
“So... I wasn’t a mistake?”
“No.  You weren’t a random.”  She shook her head and shuddered.  “There’s been only one random child.  My birth mother Lillian and Oscar risked it.  I was only about four at the time, but I still remember when she died, barely a week old.  Death is rare among us.  It was pretty traumatic for everyone.”
Abe remembered the marker when he’d memorized all the names and dates from the official family tree in the Library.  Siren had been her name.
Alice nodded as she confirmed his thoughts.  “But we’re still human, with human instincts, even if we’ve tinkered with some of the mental skills.  And people mature at different rates.  I wasn’t quite ready either, when I came of age.  Mother told me to set a broom by the entrance to my cell.”
“A broom?”
“Yes.  If we had doors, we could close them to signal our need to be alone.  We don’t, so it’s a simple signal that everyone knows -- a desire to be alone, ignore my thoughts and don’t come in. Prop a broom in the doorway and no one will come to you for sex.  In my case, I had that stupid broom propped up there for five months.  Until I was ready.”
James nodded.  “Thanks.  I didn’t know.”
“And that’s our fault.  It’s hard for us to remember that you can’t hear all the incessant chatter.  In a way, you’re lucky.  It’s endless.  Even now, I can feel all the dreams around us.  You, at least, can lay down, pull a pillow over your head and block us all out.”
He smiled faintly.  He wasn’t quite ready to be grateful for being deaf.
He found the little broom and set it against the entrance.
She nodded.  “So, I should leave.”  She stood.
“I didn’t mean you.”
Alice put her hand on his shoulder.  “It’s late, and you’re tired.  We can talk again sometime.”
He watched as she walked down the darkened passageway, then adjusted the broom so he wouldn’t trip over it, and yet where it would be visible.  No telling how long he’d need to leave it there.
After the second corridor, James knew it was a dream.  He looked at every cell he passed and there was a broom, just like his.  Inside, his cousins were all frozen solid and motionless.  He wanted to go shake them and wake them from their spell, but the broom barricaded the entrance.
But then, one of them fell over, and all the brooms vanished.  People all came to the entrances and suddenly, he realized he was naked, without even a tunic.  They stared. 
He wanted to get back to his cell and dress, but someone important had told him to show up without delay.  He had to keep going.
Luckily, it was considered impolite to make fun of someone else’s dreams, although James thought he saw people looking at him as he walked to his appointment in the morning.  But it could just be his imagination.
Hanna bar Hank was his tutor.  She quizzed him about what ineda techniques he knew, and then described more.  Some were obviously rooted in Cerik history, like which animals to eat immediately after slaughtering and which to let cool.  Still, Hanna wanted him to at least be familiar with every known technique for blocking his thoughts.  She quizzed him, but with his perfect memory, it wasn’t as if he were going to forget.
“Then come with me.  Let’s walk.  Every time I get through, I’ll let you know.”
It was like that for days.  Every morning he was quizzed and coached, and then they went for a walk.  It took him nearly a week before he realized what she was doing.  They toured the enclosed gardens where corn and beans and rice were grown -- all plants from the human home world that had ridden as bags of seeds in the trucks.  Some had survived the vacuum, but others hadn’t.
They revisited June and her animals and she was happy to have him move more feed bags for her.  Another day Hanna and he toured the air-moving machines that filtered the nitrates from the outside air and made it breathable in the Home.
But when she had to dig him out of the guts of a derelict Delense land transporter, she chuckled.  “Well, it seems we’ve found your calling.”
“What?”  He set down the threaded power coupler, making sure it was back in its proper place.
“It seems you have a talent for Delense machines.”
“Oh.  I was just trying to figure out how everything works.”
She nodded.  “I’ll recommend you get a better tutor tomorrow.  One that can do a better job at giving you the answers you need.”
He frowned.  “I thought you were my tutor.”
“For the ineda exercises. With your memory, all that remains is continual practice.”
He realized he’d let his chants lapse when she called him out of the machine.    It had gotten so that he could keep his surface thoughts tied up in the exercises for hours on end, without much effort.  “Sorry.”
“You’re doing well.  Just keep them up, or I’ll have to track you down and give you a refresher.”