Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 2 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

They were two hours into the task when a Cerik arrived.  James paused and set down the rock he was carrying.
Father spit out a reply in the Cerik’s language as if it were an insult, but James knew that was how it was supposed to sound.
“<We can handle our own repairs.  But we would be wasting less of the Name’s time if we were allowed decent building materials.  The Builders loved mud, but the U’tanse know stone and metal.>”
The Cerik, three times the mass of a man, sat on his massively muscled rear legs and made a dismissing slash with his claws.  “<Mud or rocks makes no difference. The Name requires your list.>”
Abe nodded, “<He will have it today.>”
“<I will send the boat at sunset.>”
Abe growled, extra loud, “<For the Name.>”
The Cerik bounded away, far faster than any man could run.
James startled, as Hank gripped his shoulder.  “Are you okay?  Do you need a break?”
“I’m okay.  What was that?  Why are they sending a boat?”
“You don’t know?”
James shook his head, his face flushed.  “Not a telepath.”
“Sorry.  You should have been told.  Twenty-seven of us are being sold to the Ghander Clan.  An old Delense burrow is being set up for them.  It’s on the other side of the continent.  They’ll need a boat to fly them there.  It’s been set since the last Face.  Our Name’s clan is getting nearly three hundred miles of coastal plain in exchange.”
James felt a knife twist in his chest.  “Who is going?”
Hank shrugged.  “Father hasn’t announced the list.  Don’t worry.  You’ll probably stay here.  The last time this happened, it was a mix of first and second generation adults -- no cuties, no babies.  Setting up a new colony is hard work and they won’t have time for child care for a while.  Plus I’m sure their new overlords will want to get some of their own factories repaired as soon as possible.”
James swallowed the implication that he was still a child.  “Will we be able to say goodbye?”
Hank shook his head.  “It doesn’t sound like it.  But the Festivals were part of Father’s deal with the Name.  All the colonies will get to meet up on a regular basis.  We have to keep the gene pool mixed, even if we’re physically separated.  You’ll get to see them again, although it may take awhile.”
The sunset deadline changed everything.  The cleanup was put on hold.  People hurried down the corridors, anxious to check on their closest friends.  
When the silence descended, he tossed his shovel to the side and began running.  A broken-hearted wail echoed through the curved tunnel and other cries joined it.
Cynthia caught him up in a hug as soon as they saw each other.  Her eyes were full of tears.  “James, I’ll have to leave my babies!”
He held her hand as they walked hurriedly to the nursery.
He could do nothing but stand beside her as she kissed and hugged her little ones.  Her sisters made what promises they could.  A large number of mothers were having to turn their children over to sisters that already had large families.  
The nursery was deafening.  Little ones, all telepathic, were caught up in despair that couldn’t be contained behind ineda.  They couldn’t be comforted.  He picked up a three year old cutie and an infant and attempted to coax the older one to help comfort the baby.  The trick had worked for him in times past, but nothing he tried was working today.  All he could do was hug and cuddle them.
Watching the others, he was a little grateful for his telepathic deafness.  He could at least turn his eyes down to puffy eyes and runny noses and give some comfort.  None of the others could look away from the exiles’ torment.
One by one the twenty-seven gathered at the main exit.  Mother and Father were there as well, giving some last minute words of comfort and advice.  James had followed Cynthia, but he held back when his sister found and clung to Simon bar Tim.
He nodded.  Maybe everyone else knew it already, but it just then occurred to him that Cynthia and Simon had been friends, close friends, for as long as he paid attention to such things.  It was good that she would have someone like that going with her. 
He was a little disturbed to see that Hank, his grandfather, was to be the leader of the new colony.  It made sense, but it was one more broken link in his family.
The boat floated down from the sky and a Cerik pilot opened the door and snarled at the group.  Father snarled back, and the new colony filed in through the door.  Soon, the boat lifted away, and James went back inside.  The normal chatter in the corridors was muted.  He wanted to find some friendly face, someone he could ask to link to Cynthia and just check to see if she was holding up.
On cue, another sister, Eliza bar Tom came into the corridor.  She had been crying, but she gave him a smile.  “Cynthia asked me to check up on you.  Have you had anyone look at your lungs?  You were working outside, weren’t you?”
He shook his head.  “I’m okay.  Can you talk to her?  Is she okay?”
Eliza looked aside.  “Not yet.  Mother told us all to give them all a breather, so that they can bond together as a tighter family.  We can talk in a few days, but not now.”
He sagged.  “Okay.”
She took his hand.  “Remember.  I’m here for you, whenever you need help.”
He sighed, “It’s just not fair.”
She chuckled.  “You must have been reading the Book.  Of course it’s not fair, but that’s the world we live in.  We’re all the possessions of the Name, to do with as he wills.  We’re just lucky he pays attention to Father.  You were too young to remember when Oscar’s colony left, but it was like this.  Now they’re thriving.  Kakil’s Clan is thriving too, thanks to their U’tanse Builders.  As long as we do that -- repair their abandoned factories, fix their machines, design new buildings and dams for them -- then they’ll value us.  If we fail, they’ll kill us all, just like they did the Delense.”
She shook her head.  “The Name won’t feed us and let us grow numerous out of the kindness of his heart.”
He didn’t attempt to agree or disagree with her.  It was hard to argue anything with a telepath unless your own opinions were rock solid.  He wasn’t there yet.

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