Mother was sitting across from the table. James couldn’t help but feel that she was scanning every cell of his body, looking for a way past his ineda. Her skills were legendary. Even though almost everyone had inherited her psychic abilities, none of them had been tested in battle, as she had been, against the Cerik. Two decades of experience on the human world, hiding her existence from the non-telepathic, and five decades here, shaping the life and culture of a rapidly growing population that were all as gifted as she was -- more than the Cerik, more than Father, she was the one most people feared the most.
She smiled, and it wasn’t her most natural expression. “I can’t read your thoughts, but your face is an open book. I’m not that much of a monster.”
Father chuckled. “Hey, you scare me most of the time. Give the kid a break.”
She leaned forward. “Did you have sex with Pam last night at the bath?”
James clutched fiercely to ineda patterns. He swallowed and tried to calm himself. “No. We didn’t.”
Father was frowning, tapping the table with his fingernails. Mother was ignoring him.
“Why not? You’re both of age. She’s all primed and ready. She’s studied it. She’s even sampled the passion as she prepares for her first pregnancy.
“And you’re a normal young boy, dreaming of her. You get an erection every time she comes to visit you at the bath.”
James was reeling with conflicting emotions. He knew she was testing him, but the things she was saying were hitting too close to home!
“I decided that it wouldn’t be fair to her. I was going to be leaving and...”
“That’s a lie! You had that broom up in your cell long before this mission came up.”
She paused and lowered her voice. “Isn’t it true you’re just afraid? You know you’re the most inexperienced boy in generations. You can’t observe how it’s done like all the others. You know you’ll embarrass yourself the first time you try to hold her -- the first time you’ll try to stick you penis in.”
Father got to his feet. She didn’t stop.
“Isn’t it true that you know all your sisters gossip about how the boys perform their duties? Aren’t you just scared witless that you’ll be just like Chad and your sister Pearl when he took three days before he get her pregnant. First he ejaculated early, and then he couldn’t get an erection.
“Aren’t you just frightened that the same could happen to you?”
“Sharon. Are you done?”
James was shivering. He couldn’t say anything.
Mother nodded, leaning back. “Yes. You did well, James. Your ineda held.”
She turned to Father. “He can do it.”
“I think that...”
“You’re right. I was out of line. I pushed too hard. But lives are at stake. All of us. And Abe, if he hates me for it, he won’t be the first one.”
She walked out. Father sighed and sat back down.
“Are you okay, James?”
He nodded. He took a deep breath. “How did she know all that stuff? If my ineda is good, then how?”
Father spread his hands. “She’s good at what she does. She’s been spying on our masters since we’ve been here -- all from inside these chambers. She’s been watching all of us. Even before you were ineda trained, we knew you were special. And even with your block, she can still follow you through other eyes. She was probably watching you through Pam, or even just monitoring your body remotely. It doesn’t take telepathy for that -- not for my Sharon.”
James sighed. “I don’t feel special.”
“Still worried about the sex thing? She was just hunting for anything to push you out of your comfort zone. She wanted to see if your block would stand up to emotional shocks. She said it did. You passed.”
But he was still in turmoil. Maybe the test was over, but his heart was still pumping. His arms were shaking. Had he really been just as frightened as she’d said?
He looked up. Father was watching him. “Sorry.”
“Take your time. Emotions dump chemicals into your blood. You can’t turn that off instantly.”
James tried to get his mind back under control, but Mother had spilled it like a tub of corn. It would take a while to collect all the pieces.
“Can we talk about what I’m supposed to do? I’d like to get my mind off of the sex stuff.”
Father nodded. “Yes, but it’s a complicated situation. If there’s something you don’t understand, stop me.”
“James, do you think you could handle a solo mission, dealing with a Cerik, that might last many days?”
He shivered. “I don’t know. I’m scared of them.”
“Do you know the language?”
“A little. I can understand what’s said. I don’t know about my pronunciation.”
Father chuckled. “Don’t let that stop you. No human can pronounce Cerik and the Cerik don’t even try to speak our language. Our mouths are shaped differently. The biggest key is to keep your mouth open. Never use your lips.”
James had heard that before, when he’d been tutored in the language.
He sighed. “That’s just an excuse, I guess. It’s the claws, and the way they move.”
“They do it on purpose, you know.”
“Slash at you. They like to see the U’tanse jump. It reinforces their self-image as masters of all. They’ll never injure you by accident. They have excellent control. If they draw blood, they intended to do so.”
“But... I don’t know if I can do this.”
“What if a life depends on it?”
“Rita bar Oscar is your age. Martha bar Carl was her birth-mother and went to the new colony just a couple of months ago. It was too much for young Rita.”
James tried to visualize her. There were so many young girls his age that he couldn’t quite place her. She had the same father as Pam, and the same age, but a different mother.
Father stared at his fingers on the table. “She was a timid girl. Always a little unsure of herself. More than most, she clung to her birth-mother.”
“Attachment,” he guessed.
Father nodded. “A particularly bad case of it.”
One of the articles written by Mother in the Book was a detailed description of the affliction she’d named ‘Attachment’. It was the biggest fear of the telepaths. The isolated, like Father, or himself, had an easy time knowing who was self, and who was other.
The telepathic had a fuzzier concept of self. When a thought could just as easily originate in some other skull, it required more effort to keep a person’s individuality.
Father rubbed his forehead. “When we arrived here, it took some time before Sharon would agree to having children. Her own mother had gone to extraordinary lengths to insure that Sharon would grow up as separate person, and not just as an appendage, with no personality, no will of her own.
“Sharon suffered it too. There were times when she’d get deeply into my mind, or even into the Cerik.”
He straightened up in his chair. “But with the ineda, which we learned from the Cerik, she was able to raise her children. I almost messed that up.”
Father shook his head, “I taught my daughters a song.”
“Song? That’s that?”
He sighed deeply. “One of those things the U’tanse has lost. It is words chanted with a set rhythm and tone.”
James couldn’t quite imagine it. “What did that do?”
“You see, when a group of people sing a song, they act together. They say the same words so their voices overlap. They think the same thoughts, all at the same time. I think that’s the purpose of songs. It’s great, for the non-telepathic. It brings people together.
“But with my little girls, once they learned it together, and sang, it began to stick. They walked together, with the same steps. When I asked a question, they all answered as one person. It took several days, and some rather traumatic efforts, to separate them.”
He sighed. “Pain. If one of my daughters was in pain, the others disconnected. I never want to have to go through that again.”
He shook his head. “No more songs. Not for the U’tanse. It’s a great loss, but it is necessary. I want you to forget about it. Don’t try it. Don’t even experiment when you’re alone.”
James nodded, although he doubted he could forget. But he could refrain from thinking about it.