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.”
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.