Deep in thought, he didn’t see Pam approaching until she splashed up on the bench beside him.
“Hi, there.” He smiled, but he was tense. Pam had been affecting him -- showing up in his dreams. Now was not the time to let his ineda slip. His brain was too full of important secrets to let his hormones sabotage them.
“I almost missed you. What are you doing down here? Hiding from me?”
“No. No. I was hoping you would show up.”
She smiled. “Oh, do you need anything healed?”
“Um. Maybe. I was exposed to the air without a mask today.”
“Let me check.” She took his hand.
He watched her closed eyes, and found himself dwelling on her nose. Better that than let himself pay too much attention to other parts of her body.
“All done.” She opened her eyes. “It wasn’t much.”
He stared back at her. After a moment, they both realized they were still holding hands and dropped them.
“Um. How are things going with you?” he asked.
She leaned back against the stone wall. “Oh, still training for my first pregnancy. I’m not a cutie anymore, so it’s coming up.”
“That’s right. When was your birthday?”
“Three days ago. But I won’t really be fertile for a few days yet.”
He nodded. It was impossible to be brought up surrounded by pregnant and soon-to-be pregnant sisters without knowing a few things about women’s reproductive cycles.
“Are you all excited about it?”
She looked down, and nodded. “Yes. Sort of. There’s the sex, and the sorting. I’m afraid I’ll mess that up, but my tutors tell me I’ll be fine. And then there’s all that waiting and monitoring so the baby comes out healthy.”
“And you’ve got your sisters to help.”
Pam chuckled. “Yes. Seven of them older than me. And every one is full of advice. They’ve got about a dozen different opinions about who...”
“Who to be the sperm donor?”
She winced a little and nodded, looking away.
He took a breath. “Well, if I’m anywhere on the list, you’ll have to defer me until the next pregnancy.” He almost rushed to get it out there.
“Oh?” She looked sad.
He nodded, trying to make light of it. “I have a work trip coming up, maybe tomorrow. I’ll be away from home for quite a while.”
“Sorry. This just came up, but they tell me it’s important.”
She sighed. He took her hand. She looked at him, trying to read through his ineda.
He wasn’t going to relax the telepathic block, but he could talk.
“You know, up until this came up, I was having some second thoughts about the whole broom thing. But now... I’ll just have to wait until I get back.”
She said quietly, “You were on the list.”
They sat in silence for a moment. He gave her hand a squeeze. “You know, I’ve been around Mother and Father a bit lately.”
“Yes. It made it pretty clear that they’re really from a different world.”
She asked, “What do you mean?”
“Well, there are a bunch of things. They actually live with each other. I don’t think they have separate cells. When they greet each other, they hold hands, like this.”
She looked at hers and he gently released his grip.
He gestured, trying to put into words what he was trying to express. “I mean, they have always lived together, since the Arrival fifty-some years ago. Even, as he said, when he was doing ‘Lot’s duty’ with his first few daughters, he still lived with Mother and refused to continue once his first son was old enough to impregnate that generation.
“It’s like he’s bound to her alone. And she’s the same. When I made a copy of the Family Tree, I didn’t see anything but ‘bar Abe’ on any of her children.
“And the way they talk -- once the U’tanse population is large enough, I think they’d be happiest if there were as many men as women, and they paired up for life like they did.”
Pam said, “Wow. That sounds so strange.”
James nodded, “Not likely to happen in our lifetime, unless we live a long time. You’ll work down your consanguinity list, having a child with each man in turn. I’ll have sex with each cousin who comes and taps me on the shoulder. That’s the way it works.
“Still -- I think it’s nice, what Father and Mother have.”
Pam thought a moment. “My sister Chrissy spends a lot of time with Dale bar Oscar, even though their daughter is over four years old by now.”
James nodded. “People pair up. I hadn’t paid much attention to that until my sister Cynthia left. She had a favorite man, too. I guess Father and Mother are just an extreme example.”
Pam looked out over the water. “I was hoping you and I...”
“We will, eventually. But it’s not our time. And you can’t wait for me. I really don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“And I’ll miss you, too.”