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.
“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.