Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 14 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

He had little more than a day to get ready.  Once the Name was informed that the plan was coming together, he was impatient for them to be gone.
James had two training sessions with Mother.  One was to refresh everything he knew about ineda and the other was a session where he suffered her attempts to take over his body.  It was disconcerting to feel his arms twitch, and his eyelids to flicker, but he was always able to keep control.
In the parts bins were pieces of a boat’s controls.  They were inactive, but Father wanted him to be familiar with their position and feel.  The plan was for the Cerik pilot to give him simple training on how to get the boat down to the surface and back up again, but the Cerik were always impatient, and poor trainers.  Father had seen many a pilot in his years of service and knew roughly how to fly a boat even though he’d never been allowed to touch the controls.  James listened carefully.
He wished he could sleep in his own cell, on his own bed, but the hike back to the main living area was considered a waste of time and a distraction.
I wish I could say goodbye to Cynthia and Eliza and Pam.  But Father is right.  Don’t start thinking of failure.
He woke with a slight headache.  Someone had retrieved his leathers and his gas mask.  At least part of the trip would be in Cerik normal air and there would be no one to heal his lungs until he returned.  He checked to make sure that the filtering chemicals were fresh, even though he expected someone else had already taken care of that.  Best to be sure.
Grace bar Hank brought him a large sack.  “This is food and water for you and Rita.”
He looked it over.  Biscuits.  Nothing tasty, just edible.
Father hurried in.  “The boat is arriving early.  Come on.”
James took the offered hand and they hurried down the tunnel.
“Where is Rita?”
“They’re already ahead of us.  Sharon has tinkered with her sleep center and she’ll be out of it for a day or so.”
There was only one boat landing site inside the Home.  Since he’d been working there for weeks, it felt very comfortable when he walked in.  Abe signaled him to put on his mask.  The boat was already down.  A Cerik was watching the people gather.
Rita was bundled in a blanket and carried on a push cart.  
Mother came up to him.  “The boat pilot is telepathic.  Don’t let you ineda slip.  Once you’re on the main ship, I’ll check out the ship pilot.  If he’s telepathic too, I’ll twitch your eyelid three times.  If he’s not, only once.  Got it?”
He nodded.  Supposedly the pilot that was going to take him to the other planet was non-telepathic, for his own safety, but the Cerik were tricky.  If the U’tanse had a double-cross planned, they’d want to know about it. James was already aware of a dozen ways this could go wrong.
Rita was sleeping deeply, with slow, steady breaths.  She was wearing a gas mask as well.  Although she had been trained to heal herself before she attached, it wasn’t likely she would be that self-aware.
“Take good care of her.”  Mother patted him on the shoulder.
“I will.”
“<Don’t waste my time!  Get inside.>”  The pilot growled and headed for his control screen.
He barely had time to lift Rita from the cart and get her inside before the hatch slid shut and the boat began to lift.
He sat down beside her, with one hand on her head to keep her secure and another on his food bag to keep it from spilling.  We’re in the air, Rita.  We’re flying!
He kept his ineda secure, but he couldn’t hide his excitement at being in a boat, actually flying.
As they cleared the overhead hatch and moved out into open air, the boat became more stable.  Since he hadn’t had time to move to the interior hold, he was right behind the piloting station.  The Cerik waved his claws through light beams and moved a targeting icon high on the screen.
I’m going to have to learn how to do that.  I need to watch.
Carefully, he positioned the bag where it would remain upright and shifted to where he could get a better view.
The Cerik appeared to be ignoring him, but if they had gone to the trouble to send him up with a pilot who was also a trained telepath -- which were two very different Cerik castes -- then he was sure that his ineda was being constantly tested.
He wished he could ask questions, as the Cerik adjusted the flight path, moving them farther and farther around the curve of the planet, but he was too timid to form the Cerik words.
A ship icon appeared on the screen, and claws adjusted the path again, aiming them at the interstellar vessel.
With Father’s coaching still fresh, he saw the slash that activated the automatic docking.  The pilot eased back on his rear legs, watching the screen shift to a visual image of the rapidly growing ship ahead of them in orbit.
Nearly everything in the Delense-designed ships was automated for the Cerik’s convenience.  The docking bay on the larger ship opened up and their boat eased in and settled down on the dock.
James moved back to Rita’s side.  As he suspected, the pilot yelled at him to unload.  Not waiting, the pilot bounded out of the boat and through a hatchway to the main ship.
The air was still swirling, not yet equalized, but he knew they wouldn’t wait for him.  He hurriedly carried the food bag into the interior passageway and then went back for Rita.
She was still thin, and didn’t weigh much, but she was limp and difficult to carry.  There were no carts in sight, so he knew he’d have to take care of her himself.  Cerik never helped the U’tanse.
Father’s words echoed in memory.  “Don’t wait for orders.  It just makes them irritated.  If you look like you know what you’re doing, most of the time they’ll leave you alone.”
There was no time to scout out the ship.  He needed to be ready when they were.
It’s cold.  And the air was stale, from what he could smell through the gas filters in his mask.  Has this ship been empty and idle up here in space?
He’d need a warm, safe, and poison-free compartment to keep Rita.
He examined and rejected the first five places.  Some had doors that wouldn’t seal.  One was full to the brim with dried and brittle vegetation from some world somewhere that the owners never bothered to remove.
Others had equipment of various kinds.  He wished for time to look at them, but getting Rita safe was the first order of business.
Echoing down the passageway, the snarls of the two Cerik yelling at each other gave him at least their direction.  He could hear the boat pilot refusing to help the ship pilot. The ship pilot claimed that it was an impossible task to bring the ship back to life single-handedly.
Good enough.  This chamber was relatively small, with a door that sealed and environment controls that worked.  Following Father’s instructions, he adjusted the air so that it contained no nitrates.  There was a hiss and the air circulated to match the settings.  The temperature was already set correctly, even though the walls had not warmed up.  Just how cold had this place gotten?
It would be difficult to reactivate a ship this size if it were frozen solid with unbreathable air.  How had the Cerik pilot managed it?

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