The next day, Abe and Sharon appeared in their leathers before the High Perch. They kneeled, as befitted their status, to the left of Tenthonad. Egh and his Second approached and scraped the floor with their claws.
Abe was learning quite a bit of the Cerik language, although he could barely form the words himself. Each time he went out on a project alone, he really missed his telepathic translator wife.
Egh tapped his claws again. "Sanassan clan has been attempting to breed Geisel Runners from their Treasure Planet for a generation, with no luck. When it became known that U'tanse Builders were living here with no signs of early death, the Sanassan Scientist requested my help."
Tenthonad growled low. "I have tasted the blood of a Geisel, when twenty-seven were released at the beginning of the Face. Finding a way to breed them here is a worthy goal." He turned to look at the female U'tanse. But then he spoke to Egh. "What have they offered?"
Egh gave a dissatisfied grumble. "They have offered eighteen Geisel."
Tenthonad snarled. "They offer a minimal breeding set, which will be worthless if they die early, and which the Sanassan would make of no account if their own breeding program is successful. We get only enough for a single hunt and they get a valuable trade item. Tell them nothing until their offer includes lands or old Delense machines."
Egh rattled his claws and backed away from the High Perch. His Second was slow to move, but followed Egh out.
Abe felt a twitch on his face muscles, an indication that Sharon had read something of importance in someone's mind and triggered the nerves in his face. Who was it? Tenthonad, Egh, or his Second? Another twitch. So it was the Scientist's Second.
When they were alone, Tenthonad asked, "Aie, if you were asked, could you extend the life of these runners?"
"For the Name." He'd gotten that phrase down pretty well. "I would suspect the food or air of the Home Planet makes the Geisel die soon. What do you know of the Sanassan Treasure World? Does it rumble?"
Tenthonad made a dismissive gesture with his claw. "No matter. Egh would know."
Abe grimaced. Tenthonad had wanted a 'yes' or 'no', not a discussion. "I would breed them in a burrow, with Delense processed food and special air. They will not breed and run at the same time." It was a guess, but his master was plainly better pleased with that answer.
"So there will not be great herds of Geisel runners."
"No. There will not be."
Abe tried to have confidence. He had to make everything work, even here, practically naked, with no tools other than what he could cobble together from the race that had failed the Cerik before him.
I wish I had Hodgepodge. His thought flickered briefly to recall his right hand man, his little brother, his little robot friend that never failed him.
Sharon took his hand and squeezed it.
The snap across space that had severed all ties, even the psychic ones, with home and family, had left them with no idea where Earth was. Even if it had been only fifty light years, that still meant two thousand stars to check. The Cerik search for treasure planets had been a random walk through the stars, utterly dependent on automated Delense tracking software to get them back home. The Cerik were not very interested in space. Having gone out at night a few times, Abe understood why. With the atmosphere constantly filled with volcanic dust, stars just weren't very visible. Their legends mentioned their moon many times, but Abe didn't even know if there were any other planets in this system.
What's more, the Cerik physiology was based on good eyesight looking across the plains hunting runners or looking down at prey beneath their perch--not up at the sky.
The Delense had obviously discovered space flight, but until he cracked the nature of their history, he was in the dark how it happened. Delense 'written' records were often cartoon like descriptions with a nearly human math script, based like the Cerik on a powers of 3 counting system, even though the Delense had 'hands' with four digits. Legend told of the symbiotic nature of their two races happening back before technology was developed, and from the math, he believed it.
I wonder what the Delense told themselves about their history. Did they think of themselves as slaves?
It was an important concern. He'd made a deal with Tenthonad to save their lives. He could live with the conditions, but assuming he had children, the deal would be binding on them as well. Unless he misunderstood human nature, that couldn't last forever.
Egh ordered his Second to relay Tenthonad's rejection to the Sanassan Clan.
Second snarled, "You are the Scientist. Why not play your part? Or have you forgotten your name?"
Egh turned quickly into a defensive crouch at the overt challenge. "A Second's words are all the Sanassan deserve. Perhaps you need to remember your position. You can be replaced."
The Second Scientist wasted no more words. He leapt and scraped the hide of his elder. His attack was well planned, with Egh caught in a narrow space between machines and a low ceiling to prevent a leap to avoid the attack. Egh's hide bubbled as blood hardened instantly when exposed to the nitrates in the open air, sealing the wound. The sound of their screams quickly attracted others in the area. They kept their distance as the battle for succession proceeded. Everyone felt their own blood quickening as the scents of bloody battle filled the chamber.
Sharon grabbed tightly at Abe's arm.
"What?" he whispered. They were still under Tenthonad's perch, having not been dismissed.
A growl came from above. "Little Telepath, speak aloud."
She shifted to the Cerik language. "You have a new named Scientist. Egh's eyes have been taken."
Tenthonad shifted slightly on his perch, unconcerned. "I smelled as much."
Abe saw the shine in his wife's eyes. Once again, she was feeling the blood lust that was the everyday experience of their masters. He was perhaps the only one who was dismayed at the loss of the old Scientist.
Sharon shook her head. "No. I miss him too." But she was plainly divided between Human and Cerik sensibilities.
Tenthonad ordered, "Return to your burrows. I will call for you later."
Abe and Sharon backed their ways out of the chamber.
"Come on! Hurry!" She tugged.
"Problem?" He ran beside her. Their breathing masks limited how fast they could breathe. Talking while running was difficult.
"Clat, the new Scientist--he hates us."
And a Cerik in a blood fever was likely to act first on his hate, even if his Fa would be angry. They were in immediate danger of his claws. Tenthonad knew his people. That’s why he dismissed them. He wanted them barricaded away.
They reached their quarters and Abe applied a lock code so that a Cerik's talon wouldn't open the door from the outside. If he understood the way it worked, Tenthonad had an override code, but it wasn't the Fa of the clan he was worried about.
He began peeling off the leathers. "Sharon, tell me everything you know about Clat."
The remote look on her face told him she was off in the minds of the Cerik, learning all that she could.
"He has a half-formed ineda. He hasn't been trained for it, and that could get him in trouble."
She looked his way, and then shook her head as she tried to focus on the here and now. "Clat was Egh's Second. He hates us because we're becoming more valued scientists that his dance. He thought Egh was too weak because he worked with us. Our death would be the best thing that could happen, as far as he's concerned."
Abe nodded. "The Scientist dance was created after the extermination of the Delense, to take up the slack when they realized they'd killed off their only technologists. And the Cerik aren't very good at it. Their minds don't work that way. But can you tell what Tenthonad is going to do?"
Sharon shook her head. "His ineda is tight. I can't read him. His new Second isn't quite as well trained, but he doesn't know what Tenthonad is going to do either."
"But he knows we're valuable, right?"
Sharon changed to her house dress and sat cross-legged before him. "If I read the politics right, it's still up in the air. The Face--that's like the planetary ruling council--are disturbed by our presence. There are some long memories. When the Builders revolted, they nuked the main city, complete with the Names of most of the clans. The city was a holy place. Think Jerusalem or Mecca. They intended to use the chaos to make a mass escape into space, with many thousands of Delense hijacking space ships and scattering to various planets. Instead they inspired the Cerik to track them all down and exterminate the whole race.
"The idea of a second race of Builders, us, is disturbing to many."
"We get the blame for what the Delense did."
"Something like that. Tenthonad will become legendary, either for making a dumb mistake to keep us, or for being wise enough to correct the mistake they made by eradicating the Delense. No one knows which, yet."
Sharon stared at the floor, solemnly. "Our lack of cubs complicates the issue."
Abe nodded. He was aware of it. He, repairing damaged machines, was valuable to Tenthonad. The U'tanse race of Builders could be valuable to the Cerik as a race. But if they had no children, Sharon was a dangerous wild card.
She nodded. "Tenthonad has never forgotten my taste. I'm sure he has considered the option of taking my eyes and keeping you busy repairing machines until you die of atmosphere poisoning or old age."
"But that's not what he wants." Abe was sure of that. Tenthonad looked at him as the restoration of the old days, where Builders and the Cerik worked together to build a star-spanning empire, ever growing and ever more powerful. The loss of the directions back to Earth was a bitter blow.
Sharon spoke. "You can say it out loud. You can't help but think it."
He nodded. "Tenthonad would fight to the death to preserve the U'tanse as a race. He's done it before."
"And Clat is a direct challenge to that. He represents the current order, with the dance of Scientists trying to make the most of what the Delense left behind. The sooner we're gone, the better."
Abe sighed. "And his killing of Egh was the traditional way of succession. Tenthonad can't punish him for that."