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The Parent Test – Part 12: Life in El Yermo

By Teresa Dovalpage
For The Taos News
Posted 1/9/19

Tandra meets a mutant for the first time. Friendly, chatty and gender-ambiguous, Pisces has three arms and only one eye. Despite the language barrier, they are able to communicate.

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Column

The Parent Test – Part 12: Life in El Yermo

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Summary: After Tandra, who is pregnant, destroys a robot assigned to her for the parent test, she and her friend Uki flee in a helicar to El Yermo. They hope to join a new colony called El Yermo established outside the city limits by a group of dissenters.

Tandra meets a mutant for the first time. Friendly, chatty and gender-ambiguous, Pisces has three arms and only one eye. Despite the language barrier, they are able to communicate.

By the time the stew was ready, Tandra had understood, thanks to Pisces' expressive gestures and the few words she knew, like sky and star, that the mutant was talking about a celestial body. A star (or maybe a comet, she couldn't tell) was expected to be visible in about 12 weeks, and the sighting would coincide with la Navidad. The mutants, it seemed, would be welcoming it with certain ceremonies whose meaning escaped Tandra.

But had Pisces actually said "12 weeks"? Tandra hoped not, because in three months, give or take a few days, she would be giving birth. She didn't want any interference, whether heavenly or earthbound, with the most important event in her life. She pointed to her belly.

"Twelve weeks," she said.

Pisces nodded enthusiastically. There was a happy twinkle in the only eye. Tandra didn't need an interpreter to understand what the mutant meant. "That's good, so good!"

She didn't agree but didn't dare to voice her opinion. She'd have to find out more before opening her big mouth, she thought.

Later that day, when Tandra finally got hold of Uki, her friend confirmed that the mutants had their own belief system, which included, as she put it, "star worship."

"They are building a special area to honor the constellations or something like that," she said casually. "It's a big deal for them."

Tandra nodded. "Yes, I got that impression from Pisces."

"You talked to a mutant already!" Uki exclaimed, surprised.

"Well, I didn't have much choice."

"I'm proud of you."

Uki patted Tandra's belly gently.

"You'll get used to El Yermo in no time at all," she said. "Just don't pay much attention to what the mutants say, OK? They are cool but a little weird. We know the stars are just masses of gas and plasma that have no influence in our lives, right? But these folks have lived in isolation for so many years that they have come up with some crazy ideas, like the stars are sacred."

"How do you know that?" Tandra asked. "Have you talked to them?"

"No. Oso told me," Uki winked. "He gave me a crash course on El Yermo history yesterday. We had a conversation … a night-long conversation."

"Did you hook up with him already?" Tandra threw her arms up in mock indignation. "You don't waste time, do you?"

Uki puckered her lips and said, "I have it like that, girl."

Days passed and turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months and, as Uki had predicted, Tandra got used to life in the colony. She helped as much as possible in the kitchen, learning how to make new dishes with fresh ingredients, which she enjoyed more than any other task. Many varieties of plants and herbs grew in small patches in the colony and around it, and nothing appeared to be affected by radiation. El Yermo, she realized, wasn't really a wasteland, it just needed to be reclaimed and farmed.

She often hung out with Pisces, who turned out to be one of the few mutants who liked to associate with the colonists. Most of them kept their distance and were, if not unfriendly, at least guarded. But Pisces loved to talk.

It didn't take Tandra long to learn the basics of their language. After all, it had evolved from the one she spoke. Soon she discovered that they weren't star worshipers, as Uki had thought. They were waiting for one particular star. They didn't plan to do any kind of ceremony but had built what looked like a long runway for the "star" to land. When Pisces showed it to her, Tandra immediately thought of a spaceship.

"Remember what we talked about aliens?" she told Uki. "I think the mutants are trying to contact them. Or might have already!"

But Uki was too busy with what she called jokingly "the responsibilities of a socialite in El Yermo" to pay attention to what the mutants were up to.

"Aliens ni aliens," she said dismissively. "If that were true, the boroughs' surveillance systems would have detected them. They have super advanced radars, sonars and what not."

"Maybe the aliens are more 'super advanced' than they are."

"Nonsense."

During the last two weeks of Tandra's pregnancy, a mutant midwife (she assumed it was a midwife, though she had no way to know for sure) came to take care of her. She had three arms, like Pisces, but two eyes that were kind and blue. Tandra had been moved from the space she had once shared with Uki to a private room with a big comfortable bed instead of a bunk bed.

The only thing that worried her, with her delivery date nearing, was news of the boroughs' renewed hostility toward the colony. As more people kept coming in, asking to join them (20 in less than two months), the authorities grew more and more concerned. The colonists were not only "a bad example" but living proof that El Yermo wasn't the dangerous, barren, radiation-filled land they had once claimed it was.

The Spanish version of this story is here.

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