Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 5 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

Father was writing on something when James walked in.  He looked up, smiled and closed his book.  “James, have a seat.”
They stared at each other for a moment.
Abe’s smile showed some wrinkles on his face.  He asked, “How are you doing?  And remember, I can’t read your thoughts.  I’d appreciate it if you kept that in mind.”
James smiled.  “You’re the only one.  Apparently my ineda doesn’t work either.”
Abe nodded.  “I get that feeling from to time.  The whole place gets the news and nobody thinks to tell me about it.”
“Yeah.”  James sighed.  “I didn’t know about this new colony until the day it happened.”
“You lost someone?”
He nodded.  “My sister Cynthia.  The others will be able to talk with her eventually, but not me.”
He frowned, and nodded.  “A mother figure.”
“What?”  James didn’t understand.
Abe stood up.  “I’ll explain later.”  He reached into an open box and pulled out a small sphere he could easily hold in one hand.  “Come with me.”
They went out another door into a large work chamber.  There were several large Delense machines in various stages of disassembly.  He was puzzled how they could have been brought into this place.  Several were too large for the main entrance.
“Catch.”  He tossed the sphere in an easy arc towards James.
He reached, but it bounced off the tips of his fingers.  He scrambled to catch it as it rolled across the floor.
“No problem.  Throw the ball back.”
James picked it up.  The sphere was firm, about the density of wood, and covered with a leather skin, obviously sewed on.  He hefted it and tossed it back.
His great-grandfather snatched it easily out of the air and threw it back to him.
This time it bounced off the edge of his hand, but he caught it with the other before it got away from him.
James threw it back.  Father was good at it.  He caught it and returned it, all in one relaxed sequence.
This time, he was quick enough to catch it.  He threw it back.
“When I was a child, back on Earth,” he said as he kept the ball in play, “throwing a ball was one of the basic skills every boy learned.  Some people were very good at elaborate games, built around balls.”
“I haven’t seen one before.”
“There aren’t many of them.  I’ve had to make them all myself.  I’ve tried to get all of my sons and many of my grandsons interested, but it never lasted.”
“Only boys?”  His hand stung as he caught the last one.  Father was throwing them faster now.
“On the home world, it was mainly a boy’s game, although many girls were good at it too.  In our place here, there are too few boys of the same age growing up together.  But that is changing.  I am trying to bring some of the old human traditions back to life.”
James asked, “Because of the changes in boy to girl ratio?”
He nodded.  “Yes.  In your lifetime, the birth rate should even out.  The heavy female population was only to increase our numbers as fast as possible.”
“Because the Cerik wanted more of us.”
“Right.  And because we could have easily died out in the first few years.  One angry Cerik killing me before I fathered a son, and it would be all over.”  He grinned.  “Sharon has amazing skills, but she hasn’t managed parthenogenesis yet.”
“Partho-what?”  He threw the ball faster, and it few in a flatter arc.  Father snatched it automatically.
“Parthenogenesis.  That’s where a mother could give birth to a daughter without the father’s sperm.  The whole population would be female.”
James chuckled.  “It almost seems like it.  I can go whole days without seeing another guy.”
Father nodded.  “And it’s not a good situation.  A lot of what we’ve had to do is horrible, long term.”
“Do you mean like the incest thing?”
“Yes, that’s one.  But that should be fairly easy to phase out over time.  It’s not terribly hard to match up a pair that aren’t siblings and that are true cousins, now that we have the numbers.  Most of the animals from Earth naturally avoided mating with siblings with out any rules or traditions.  It’s probably built in.  We’ve forced the incest out of necessity, but I’m confident it will die out.
“There are other, worse situations that we’ll need to fix -- like the lack of parenting.”
“I don’t understand.”
Father held the ball for a moment.  “James, how close are you to your biological mother and father?”
“Umm.  Well, not very, I guess.  I know who they are, and where their cells are.  I don’t see them much.”
He nodded.  “It’s what I see everywhere.  Nearly every child is raised by older sisters.  Your sister Cynthia raised you, correct?”
James sighed.  “Yes.  And I kinda feel lost without her.”
“Our situation, the nearly perfect health gained by having healing abilities and the conscious decisions to have many children, has left us with more children than the biological parents can care for.  Both Sharon and I did our best with the first generation, but even we had to rely on the older ones caring for the younger.  There is no model of parental care any more.  When our birth rate comes down, I fear no one will have any role models to fall back on.”
James didn’t understand the problem, but obviously if Father was concerned, it must be important.
“Sir, why was I ... made the way I was?”
Father tossed the ball back to James, but he just held it for a moment.  He was more interested in the answer to the most important question of his life.
“Why you’re not telepathic?”
Father looked away.  “I will tell you, but after your ineda training is complete.”  Then he turned and locked eyes with James.  “I need you to put it out of your mind for now.  You will get all your questions answered, then.  Understand?”
James held his breath while his mind raced over the ramifications.  There was a reason.  It was important, and their Cerik masters could not know it.
So he couldn’t be told until he could block his thoughts.
He nodded.  “Okay.”

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