Monday, May 7, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 1 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

All of the Tales of the U'tanse will be collected and published as a companion series to The Project Saga.  The Adam and Eve story is romantic if you don't think about it very hard and in this story, a few decades after the Arrival, the U'tanse culture is still in flux.  

Note: While editing this part of the story for inclusion in the book, several minor changes were made to correct some slight inconsistencies with the later chapters.  You probably won't notice them, but rather than remove this version from the archives, or laboriously replace all 22 parts, I'm just letting you know there are slight wording differences in the final version.

James bar Bill worked out the family tree on the chalkboard by himself. He didn’t want to go to Father with this.  The rules had changed just last year. Mother had announced that the ratio of girl babies to boy babies was dropping from four-to-one to three-to-one.  He thought he had the whole tree worked out in his head, but now he felt he had to draw it out and see it. 

It will be nice to have more boy cousins. Just to have someone more like himself to talk to.
Not that there was really anyone like him, other than Father of course, but guys were different.  For one thing they weren’t as involved in babies as the girls were.
He was of age, as of last week.  Any day now, one of the cousins would show up at his cell and he’d be expected to get her pregnant.  He’d never done it before, and it worried him.
It isn’t fair.  They all know how it works.  They’re all telepaths.  
He sighed.  The Father of them all had thrived here on the Cerik world without telepathy a few decades ago, but until him, everyone was born a telepath.  The women who monitored the gene pool had wondered if anyone else could be born without the gift, so they tried. He was an experiment. James knew that.
But it left him alone.  Mother had three sons and fourteen daughters and it was plain her goal in life had been to increase the number of U’tanse from the original two until they had a population that would survive on this hostile world.
That meant babies.  Lots of babies.  Every girl of age appeared visibly pregnant most of the time.
They all know how to have sex.  There was no privacy in a world where all your relatives are mind readers.  Somebody was likely reading him right now.
He’d be required to do his part to keep the gene pool well mixed soon enough.  He looked over his diagram.  If he understood the current rules correctly, several times a year, any female who wasn’t an ancestor could choose him.  That included the six of his sisters on his father’s side and three on his mother’s that were of age, although with the population fast approaching a hundred and fifty, word was out that siblings would soon be off limits as well.
Cynthia bar Bill poked her head into his cell.  She smiled at the marks on the board.  “What are you up to?”
He flushed.  She had heard his thoughts.  Every girl was a telepath, that was a given. There would be no female experiments like him.  Every mother-to-be had to be fully capable of controlling the sperm cells within her body and to psychically choose which one of those would be free of defective genes.
“I was just seeing who was on which side of the chart.”
She came closer and put her hand on his shoulder.  She was nineteen and had cared for him since he was a baby.  “Don’t worry about your sisters.  Everybody understands the new incest rule.  Father and Mother wouldn’t have allowed it for the first couple of generations if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.  Lots of things had to be changed for the survival of the U’tanse.”
“I know all that.  It’s just....”
“You think that if you can chart out all the cousins on your board you’ll be able to predict who will come for you.  James, you think too much!  When the time comes, it’ll be perfectly natural.  You were born with the right instincts.  And you don’t have to worry.  You will enjoy it.  All the guys do.”
She took the other shoulder, too, and stared down into his chest.  At least that’s what it felt like.
“Are you feeling any effects from your last time outside?”
“No.  I wasn’t in the air very long, and I was wearing the breather.”
“Good.  Remember, if you have too much exposure, any of your cousins will help you heal the lung damage -- not just your sisters.”
He flushed.  It wasn’t fair.  They had made him without any of the psychic skills.  He couldn’t read minds.  He couldn’t see into his body and heal the damage of the Cerik atmosphere like every one else could.  He was the only helpless one.
She shook her head.  “You’re just like Father.  He’s not helpless.  No one, no U’tanse, no Cerik would say that.”
As she left, he practiced the mind blocking techniques.  His ineda wasn’t very good, according to his cousins, but he’d only been practicing for a few months.  He was sure he was doing something wrong, but people were having trouble describing what it was.  Since he couldn’t read their minds, they had explain verbally, and English just didn’t have some of the right words.
They always try to make me feel better by comparing me with Father.  It’s all a scam.  I’m nothing like him.
The ground rumbled, and by long habit, he rolled to the ground and waited out the shakes in the reinforced cavity in the side wall, shaped for the long dead Delense Builders that had created the complex in the first place.  His cell, like all the rest, were part of a labyrinthian burrow built by that previous slave race.
While the Cerik overlords could navigate the maze of tunnels and chambers that made up Home, and occasionally did, to inspect the U’tanse, they were creatures of the open skies and the broad plains, and didn’t care for being underground.
He put his hand on the cool, densely packed clay.  His cousins could all tell the progress of the quake with their minds, but he had discovered as a child that he could detect when the quake was over, or whether it was just paused, by the vibrations in the wall.
He wasn’t afraid of the quakes anymore, not like he had been.  When he was little, a lot of things had frightened him.  Not any more.  Except the Cerik, of course.  He couldn’t help shiver when they came around.
Something changed.  He could hear the silence.
He’d wondered, in a population that were all telepaths, why there was always a chatter of voices echoing through the corridors.  People like to talk, he guessed.  But right now, they all stopped.  That meant there was some kind of call to action -- a telepathic call to action.  Everyone stopped what they were doing and listened.
He got to his feet and went out into the corridor.  Carl bar Abe pointed at him.  “Rockslide at the entrance.  Get your breather and come help.”
He ducked back into his cell and grabbed the face mask.  All the men and boys were heading out, as well as some of the older women.  Some of the little cuties were staring out of cells as they passed.  He straightened a little as he walked, going with the adults to deal with the problem.
A strong man in his leather outdoor suit was directing the work.  A few strands of thin gray hair sticking out from his cap marked him instantly, as did the faded letters “ABE” on his shoulder.  Even in his seventies, Father was in charge.
He pointed, “James.  Grab a shovel and help Hank.”
Several tons of rubble had collapsed to the left side of Home’s main entrance and spilled out in a rough fan over the ground.  Some of the original reinforcements left by the Delense Builders were exposed by this latest quake.  He could hear some of the older ones discussing whether to rebuild the entrance, or to just clean up the rocks and dirt.
Hank bar Abe pointed at the pile he was to work on.  But then he said to James, “Father will have them rebuild.” His voice was just a little muffled by his mask.
Obviously his thoughts were hanging out there for anyone to overhear.
Hank smiled as he shoveled dirt onto a sledge.  James struggled to match him.  “You’re Bill’s boy.”
He nodded.  Hank was his maternal grandfather, but with a family tree like theirs, nobody paid any attention to such things.  He wouldn’t have thought about it himself if he hadn’t just worked on the relationships.
Hank asked, like a test, “What would you do?  If it was your decision.”
James looked up at the bones of the old entranceway reinforcements.  “I’d build a stone facade, like the building sketches in the Book.  You know?  I’d make Home look U’tanse, rather than Delense.”
The older man chuckled.  “Who knows?  You’re not the first to make that suggestion.”

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