Monday, May 14, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 4 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

When he woke the next morning, he dressed and carried his mask and leather outdoor suit over his arm.  He remembered fragments of a dream that was rapidly fading.  Pam had been in it.  Maybe because she was a girl that wasn’t a sister.
When he was younger, he’d believed that dreams were really a sign that his own telepathic sensitivity was just locked below the surface, and that someday, he’d be able to join the telepathic conversation like everyone else.  But Cynthia sensed his wishes, and made him face the truth.  Everyone could read him, but his dreams were just tangled fragments of the day that everyone had, even Father.
In a large chamber off to the side of Home, a number of animals were confined in fenced pens.  That’s where he needed to go. He tapped the circular pad of dots that controlled the airlock and stepped inside.  The air inside the chamber smelled mild enough, so he didn’t bother putting on his mask.  He opened the other door and winced at the bright lights and the strong stench of the livestock.
June bar Abe stood at the doorway of her warehouse, built into the side of the chamber wall.  “James, I felt you coming.  Come on in.”
Just like the times before, he couldn’t avoid looking at her face and hair.  She was one of the oldest of Mother and Father’s children and after doing her duty bearing a dozen children, she took on the task of managing the animals.  She was still strong and agile, but she no longer sculpted her body to stay looking young like some of her sisters did.
She took his leather suit and checked the seams.  “When did you last get this one?”
“Um.  About a year ago.”
“You’re growing rapidly.  Maybe you should plan to get a fitting a couple of times a year for a while.”  She checked the racks of outfits with a frown on her face.  “I’ve been running low on men’s suits, low on everything, really.  I had to give spares to all of Hank’s colony.  It’ll be a while before they set up their own stables.”
He frowned.  “I’d think you’d run out of women’s sizes first.  There’s so many of you.”
She chuckled.  “Yes, but half of us never go outside.  Cerik don’t really understand that women can think.  Their females don’t.  They’re happy for us to stay inside and breed, but they aren’t comfortable working with anyone but the men.  No, my supply problems are just bad planning on my part.  Everybody knew the twenty-seven were leaving.  I just kept putting off making the replacements.
“Now strip.  I need to measure you.”
He sighed and slipped off his tunic and stood up on the platform with his arms held out.  He’d been through this before.
She pulled out her knotted strings and began measuring.  She didn’t write anything down.  Like better than two thirds of the population, her memory was flawless.
“I can put together a temporary top that could work with your existing pants to keep the air out, but it’ll be tomorrow before I can get you a properly fitted suit.  How urgent is this?”
He shook his head.  “I don’t know.  Carl said not to come back ...”
She held up her hand to stop him as she stared off into space for a few seconds.
“You’re off the hook until tomorrow.  I checked with Carl.  You’re off the building crew until you get the new suit.  So, you’re all mine today.”
She smiled.  He nodded and pulled his tunic back on.
The pen, under bright lights hung from the ceiling, had several dozen Geisel runners milling nervously about.  June handed him a pair of leather gloves.  “Father calls them ‘antelopes’. Supposedly, they look like some animal from the human home world.  Not all of these are ours.  We get to harvest some for the leather, but if the Name wants to chase down some fresh meat, he always gets the best of the lot.  They’re off-world, like us.  That’s why we can raise them in filtered air.”
She pointed to the bales of leafy feed.  “While I work on your suit, take two of those bales to the far side of the pen and put one bale in each ring.  When you’re done, I’ll have more chores for you.”
“Okay.”  He put on the gloves.  There was a wheeled trolley just big enough for a bale.  He had to roll the bale up onto it, but with only a couple of spills, he got the food in place.
The runners knew what he was doing and he was nearly knocked down by the crowd of beasts pushing their snouts in close to sneak a bite.  They were quick.  The instant he put his hand out to pet one, it scampered a dozen feet away.  He nodded.  The Cerik would love these -- something tasty to chase.
June loved having a laborer at hand, so she kept giving him chores.  There were fences to repair and a water tank to mend.  By the time she had completed the new suit for him to take, he was tired.  He’d used different muscles for the farm work than the construction, and they let him know it.
He stopped at the pool, taking to heart Carl’s advice, but no one bothered him.  He swam a little and then dozed in the water.
Carl shook his shoulder, waking him.
“Hey, you’ll get all wrinkled that way.”
James nodded.  “Sorry.  I guess I’d better get back to my cell.  I’ll be back to the job tomorrow.”
“Maybe.  Get dried off and go visit Father.  He needs to talk to you.”
What did I do wrong?  James raced back to his cell to drop off his new suit and mask and hurried over to the Library.
Several years back, when he was feeling particularly lonely, Cynthia suggested he learn to read.  Father and Mother had forced all their children to learn the skill, but as the population boomed, and with efficient ways for people to get the information they needed quickly, with just a thought, fewer people each generation took the time and effort to learn it.
There were only so many books to read, after all.
The two trucks hijacked by the Cerik scouts had not only supplied the initial food Father and Mother had needed to survive until they had learned how to make do with local plants and animals, but the goods also included other items.  Intended for a grocery store, there were things like pots and pans, sewing materials, aspirin and cold medicine.  There were also 112 books, mainly cookbooks, children’s picture books, and a collection of novels.
In addition were an expanding collection of hand-lettered notebooks -- the Book.  Father had spent more than fifty years writing down everything he knew.  There was the history of Father and Mother, and how the U’tanse came to be.  There was his paraphrased version of the Bible, as well as he could remember it.  Mother had, after much urging, written her volume as well, spelling out in detail every thing she knew about her powers and how they could be used to grow a population free of the incest-caused build-up of defective genes.
Of course much of this was common knowledge, learned by osmosis as everyone read the thoughts of their elders. Not even the Cerik used a written language.  Everything was done in Delense-crafted pictographs or oral traditions. No one really needed to read anymore.
No one except James.
He had spent a lot of time in the Library growing up.  He’d read the Book several times, noting how it kept growing with each pass.  Father kept adding to it.  Parts of it were incomprehensible, especially the parts dealing with human sciences that had no counterpart here on the Cerik world.  But he loved the histories.
Father had spoken to him several times as he read, happy to see someone reading.  But he hadn’t been there in over a year.  He’d read everything, and there were only so many times he could enjoy reading about how to cook things using using foods and spices that were little more than fantasies on this world.
As he walked into the Library, the bent and worn covers of the familiar books calmed him a bit.  He smiled at the shelves, but kept on walking, stopping before the wide door.  None of the cells where he and his cousins lived had doors, but with Mother and Father, it didn’t seem strange. Large letters proclaimed ‘WHITING’.  They had strange names -- Abe Whiting and Sharon Dae.  It was a puzzle he wanted to understand some time.
The door opened before he built up the courage to reach for it on his own.
Mother stared at him, assessing him.  She always looked at people the same way.  She was a strong, if older woman.  If anything, she looked younger than her daughter June.
“When we began to write our children's names on the family tree,” she said, obviously having read his thoughts, “we added a mark, a dash or a bar, following their name to mark who was the father.  The tree was matrilineal, so we had to track the father’s name that way.  So you are James bar Bill, to be distinct from James bar Abe.  Our names worked nearly the same.  Abe’s father was probably named Whiting.  My mother’s name was Dae.”
He nodded, still a little confused, but he wasn’t about to question Mother.
She smiled.  “Block your thoughts for me.”
He felt a moment of panic and then started practicing the ineda exercises -- the rhythms and calming visuals.  There were others, but he hadn’t leaned them yet.
Mother shook her head.  “You need more practice.  We’ll see about getting you a trainer.”
She gestured him inside.  “But Abe wants to talk with you.  I won’t keep you.”

No comments:

Post a Comment