Tenthonad could still smell the blood of Egh as Clat crouched before him, proclaiming the loyalty of all his dance.
"Bleed, all of you!"
The three remaining Scientists slashed their forearms and small splatters of blood made it to the ground before hardening.
He made no pretense that he was happy to lose Egh. The old one had never been less than loyal.
"Have the Sanassan been rejected?"
Clat rattled his claws. "My righteye notified them on the distant-speaker device."
His eyes flickered to Asca, crouched at Tenthonad's right. The presence of a telepath at his first meeting was ominous. Clat struggled to keep his thoughts even and free of his long term plans.
Asca was too experienced to let any of this show in his eyes or his stance. Clat was a youngster at these games and if old Egh had just kept his wits about him, he'd have sent the assistant back to heal with the cubs.
Two things were interesting to him. One was the half-formed ineda that the Scientist had managed without any real training. When he told Tenthonad about it, it wouldn't be a good day for Clat. In general, only those who desired to take the High Perch, those who trained telepaths, and thieves used the ineda. Which was he?
The other point of interest was the distinctive sense of the female alien telepath, also smelling the thoughts of this one, so plainly an enemy of the U'tanse. It was if he and she were watching from opposite sides of the room, aware of each other.
He wished he understood her better. But one didn't poke too deeply into the jaws of a demon who could not be killed.
Abe was asleep, his head across her leg as she sat with her back against the wall. They at least had a bed beneath them, a low pallet made with large plastic sacks stuffed loosely with native grasses. It was luxury compared to the ceramic floor where she'd slept during the first part of her imprisonment. Part of her mind was watching the politics of Tenthonad's perch, fingers crossed for a little more bloodshed. But in spite of the Cerik nature, their culture wasn't random slaughter. There were rules and traditions. She was tempted to breach the filtering tissue in Clat's lungs and trigger a few blood clots, but a slave actually killing one of the masters was too dangerous. Abe walked that line all the time. The idea that he could get rid of his keepers with a few button presses had crossed his mind. But that's the kind of thoughts that had triggered the extermination of the Delense.
She watched Abe's chest rising and falling, his dreams tangled with memories of sunlight and software. There was a scar on his arm that she needed to repair one of these days when their lives were less stressful. She was deep in his cells every day, repairing lung damage and occasionally tinkering with his hormone levels, but there was always more that could be done. I'll need to tell him, someday. She hadn't told him about everything she'd done to him. It was his nature to forgive, so sometimes she skipped the whole process of confessing her transgressions. But some day, she would have to tell him all. For now, he accepted his greater strength and stamina without question, or chalked it up to a different gravity. He didn't miss his depression at all, and she couldn't let him drift into hopelessness, or they would be lost. He was her anchor.
And then, a few hundred yards away, Clat felt the jaws of panic nipping at his thoughts and clamped down, hard, trying to put up a barricade against anything that could betray him.
Asca scented it. The clumsy ineda still leaked, but Clat's efforts showed plainly his technique. It was the method of a Cerik cub who had trained to become a Telepath and then failed in the process. This one had not started off to become a Scientist, but had become one by default. He reviewed the differences in techniques in his mind. There was no doubt.
Sharon observed it all, silently like a Cerik on a perch over his prey. Step by step, she absorbed everything that Asca had seen and had known about the ineda. It was just what she needed.
That was the moment. In that instant, the need of her mate to have children, her own biological urges, her fears of raising brain damaged telepaths, Tenthonad's dream of a new race of Builders and her own mother's vision of a grand destiny--they all merged into a clear dream of her own.
She reached into the cells of her husband and shifted a few hormones. He stirred in his sleep as dreams became darker and more basic, more urgent.
"Abe," she whispered. "Abe. Wake up. It's time."
His eyes opened and he turned to her.
Asca watched as Clat backed out of the chamber and patiently awaited his Fa's command.
"For your Name."
"Do you have anything to report?"
"Much about your new Scientist. And another thing, perhaps even more important."
"Oh? Tell me."
"Your U'tanse are breeding."
"Not just mating?"
"No. The female has made it known to me. There will be many more U'tanse Builders for the Name."
After the sweat had cooled, and Abe had drifted off to as peaceful a sleep as she had seen, Sharon still monitored the new life that was happening within her. So much depended on choosing the right sperm. Her children had to be just right. She and Abe were Adam and Eve here. There could be no defective genes to show up in the next generation. They all had to have her psychic abilities to protect themselves from atmospheric damage, but more importantly so that the mothers of the next generation could guide the evolution of the U'tanse just as she was doing now, and as her mother had done to create her. As well as she could manage, they must inherit Abe's skills as well, to become so valuable to the Cerik that no one could imagine living without them. Each child must also be different, to preserve the limited diversity in their genetic heritage.
Abe, as the only non-telepath, would have to become the patriarch to the new race, to teach them all how to remain human. As Eve to a new race, she had to hone the skills her mother used to raise her to be a unique person. It was up to her to make her children individuals and not just nodes in a hive mind. With what she'd learned today about the ineda, that now seemed possible.
Of course, the Cerik would have to be taught their place as well. That would be trickiest job of all.
Someday, when her descendants re-discovered the Earth, maybe then they could do without the Cerik, but until then there was a role to play, and the right words to be said. All the while, behind the ineda of the U'tanse, their true spirit would remain.