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.