Friday, May 11, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 3 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

His other grandfather, Carl, had taken over the entrance construction.  There had been a day of rest after they’d cleared away the rubble, but then a shipment of custom metal rods had arrived.  James was fascinated by the process of building the new structural framework for the entrance.
The rods came in several standard sizes, some straight and some curved, manufactured at an automated factory -- a facility Father had brought back to life a couple of decades earlier.  The metal rods fitted together, and then a chemical was painted on one side of the joint.  As it reacted to the surface of the metal, the contact points of the metal bonded with each other, making an unbreakable whole.  Piece by piece they built the skeleton around the entrance.  Pallets of carved stone from another factory arrived shortly thereafter. Hours later, James was worn out, fitting the grooved stones to the metal framework.
Carl slapped him on the back on the second day of it.  He looked up at the brown-tinged sky and the fat sun near the horizon.  “Good work.  Come on in.  There’s no need to work when the light goes dim.  That’s when the accidents happen.”
Once they got inside and pulled their masks, Carl sniffed and curled his lip.  “James, are you bathing regularly?”
He patted him on the shoulder.  “Come on with me.”
They walked down the twisty pathway towards the bath.  “James, you’re body is changing, as I’m sure you know.  One of the effects of that change is that you’ll need to bathe more frequently.  Working all day, you stink.  Just get in the habit.  We’ve got a wonderful bath.  Make use of it.”
The two of them undressed.  James was embarrassed to confirm that he really did stink terribly.  He’d have to swap tunics and run his leathers under the UV lights.  Why hadn’t anyone told him this before?  Did everyone else just wait until his back was turned to hold their noses?
The bath was about a hundred feet wide and twice that in length.  The original Delense design had it connected to the river nearby via tunnel.  They had been semi-aquatic swimmers that had built riverside burrows before they had become slaves to the Cerik, and this pool was built to their specifications.
Once the U’tanse moved in, some changes were made.  The air vents were closed off so clean filtered air filled all of Home’s chambers.  And supposedly there was still an underwater passageway to the river, but it was screened off to keep the native wildlife out of their bathing waters.
There was also a wide bench built into the perimeter of the pool so people could sit and talk while up to their chest in the water.  There was a cutie pool that he’d used many times growing up.  It was isolated from the main waters.
There were several groups already in the big pool.  A dozen were out in the water swimming, but twice that many were sitting on the edge, talking.  Not surprisingly, the largest group was exclusively girls, chatting away and giggling. 
Carl chose a spot off to the side.  James stared at the waters. He’d been in the big pool several times, but he’d never made it across.  It was deep and intimidating.
Carl frowned and checked his waistline.  “You’ve got air-burns.  When is the last time you had your outdoor suit re-fitted.”
“Um, about a year ago.”
“It’s time to get a new one.  Boy, you’re a man now.  You can’t count on your sisters to take care of you.  Don’t even show up for work tomorrow until you’ve got a suit that fits.  Do you want me to heal this?”
He shook his head.  “No, I’ll find someone else.”
A woman swam up, “Hey Carl.  How goes the construction?”
His grandfather turned his full attention to the woman about his age. “Hope,”  he nodded.  “We’ll be done in a couple of days, one way or another.  The Name has a job for me and I can’t put it off much longer.”
James turned his attention back to the waters as it was clear the two of them had other business.  He slipped into the water and sculled with his hands to keep his head bobbing above the surface.  He was still building up the courage to attempt to swim across when a girl splashed up to him.
“Hi.  I heard you need some skin healing?  I can do that.  Do you want me to?”
“Uh.  Fine, yes.”  It was a good excuse to put off his swim for a little bit.
A glance at Carl showed that he and Hope were entwined and busy, he swam up to a vacant spot.
“I’m Pam, by the way.”
He nodded.  “Oscar’s daughter.  I was just going over the family tree the other day.”
She sat on the seat beside him.  She was small and the water was almost to her chin.  She flushed.  “Yes, I am still a cutie, for a couple of months yet.  So don’t get any ideas.”
He hadn’t been, but now he was blushing as well.  He kept his eyes out on the waters while she ran her hands over his burned spots.  For as long as he could remember, Cynthia had done all the healing he needed.  And now she was gone.
She was reading his thoughts.  “My father left before I was born.  I’ve never seen him directly.  But we talk, sometimes, in our heads.”
“I won’t even be able to do that.”
“Sorry.”  She concentrated on her chore.  After a couple of minutes, she said, “That’ll do it.  The dead cells will probably rub off in a day or so.  I found a little melanoma.  You should be careful. Especially...”
“Since I can’t heal myself, or even sense the damage.”
She smiled timidly.  “Sorry.  I guess it’s a sensitive issue?”
He shook his head.  “The world isn’t fair, I’ve been told.  It’s okay as long as I have nice cousins ready to help.”
She flushed again.  “Thanks for letting me practice on you.  It’s the first time I’ve gotten to work on some else’s body.”

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