She came to her senses while pressing a sharpened glak to Ohu's slender neck. This was after she caught him staring at her midsection with an expression of confusion. "Please, please," was all he said, his hands flying up to push the sharp object away.
She dropped the tool and sank to the floor sobbing.
Even her crying was beyond comprehension. People had so little reason to cry that many passed their entire lives after infanthood without ever engaging in it.
"I was going to hurt you," she said softly. "Hurt you, my friend." Her sobbing renewed.
Ohu knelt next to her. Prudently, he kicked the glak away and watched it skid across the floor. "Ganat, what is wrong. Tell me."
How could she tell him? The two of them were in charge of, other than the crystal that ran the ship, the most precious product onboard - new life. Infant Almaarians, from seeding through embryo and fetus stages to birth. Once the infants breathed air, they were moved to Nursery and from there to Child Pods to be schooled. She and Ohu had been brought up and educated specifically to create this life using donations from the ship's vast crew. No one had carried fetuses in their bodies for over a hundred years; no one had any desire to. In fact, it was forbidden. How could she tell him?
"When reproduction is left to random nature," she remembered from her schooling, "chaos is the result. Birth defects, low intelligence, criminal behavior, physically unattractive Almaarians, emotional and mental disorders, and lack of control of the populace." Anyone of her kind that Ganat had ever heard of who had disobeyed this understanding and later ruling, had been sent away never to return.
Ohu touched her arm and looked into her face. "I am thinking something most unusual," he said delicately. "Forgive me, but I have been secretly observing you and could not help but notice..."
She cried anew but managed to get out the words. "I cannot tell you," she said. For though she loved and respected him, she fully expected he would behave as any proper Almaarian and immediately turn her in.
He hesitated. "I am a scientist as are you. Accidents happen. Though how this particular one would, I am most curious to know."
After a long pause, she said, feeling that she was ordering her own doom, "It was on Durzane."
"On Durzane," repeated Ohu. "I still don't understand why you wanted to hurt me."
Ganat sat up and unnecessarily smoothed her form fitting uniform. Her silver hair fell into its perfect bowl cut. "I was temporarily insane," she said. "I beg your forgiveness, Ohu."
He seemed uninterested in the fact that she might have killed him and only in her reason for doing it. "Tell me why and how, Ganat."
Ganat studied his calm, innocent face and could not imagine what had driven her to fall so unspeakably low. She had never behaved violently in her life. She had always kept herself perfectly under control.
If they had never landed on Durzane, a planet inhabited by the same race as her own in a more primitive stage; if they had had just whizzed by and allowed the epidemic to run its course and it definitely would have - it turned out to be just a strain of relatively benign influenza -- she would never have gone on that hike with Ohu and they would not have lost their way only to end up freezing under a crag. They would never have needed to be rescued by a band of natives - Durzanis dressed in animal furs and roughly woven blankets, those males that were taller and stronger than the more refined Almaarians who drove starships between star systems. How could Ganat have ever that imagined she was safe?
"Ohu," she said. "Remember when the natives on Durzane carried us to their village wrapped in furs and blankets?"
"They fed us that thick soup," he said. "It was excellent."
"Remember," she said, "when the large male removed his clothing and climbed into the furs with us?"
"To warm us, yes," said Ohu. "Fastest way, skin on skin."
"You did not stay as long as I did, remember?"
She watched his expression, which passed through pleasant empathy to confusion and then sudden understanding. "No," he said.
She said nothing.
"Why did you not scream?"
"They put something in the soup to cause us to sleep; I suppose it was for healing. Did you not feel it?"
"I just assumed I was exhausted. I fell to sleep again on the floor."
She went on. "I woke in the middle of it. It was painful but then I must have returned to sleep, I don't remember.?
"When did you know it-" He stopped.
"For certain" Yesterday there was a stain. There was that period of three days on Durzane while we waited for rescue. I was due for an injection." She paused. "And this morning, I saw the beginning on my abdomen of the darkening Melsi streak.
"This is an outrage," he said. "We must get it out of you."
"How without making it known to others? What makes you sure we could trust the medics? Or even one of them? They will turn me in. My life, for all practical purposes, will be over. No one will believe my story."
After a moment, he said, "Possibly I could manage it myself?"
"All right," she said. "You did a turn in medic once. Yes." Though she imagined he would end up killing her.
"I will try to get information tonight," he said. "That sort of data is not available on common computer but only under supervision of the ship librarians. What reason can I give them for wanting it?"
"Could you claim that you are simply interested in how pregnancies were experienced or terminated in olden times? It would be quite natural to have medical history involving fetuses as your hobby, considering your present occupation."
"I suppose," he said, moving to go back to work. They were birthing eight fetuses that day. "I will go tonight."
They worked nonstop through the day until the eight Almaarians were birthed from their tubes and laid in warming stations. Nurses arrived to wheel the infants to their new home in Nursery. Normally, Ganat enjoyed caressing them, but not today. She just wanted them to go. She wanted to sleep before her ordeal the following day.
But come morning, Ganat lost her nerve and when Ohu nervously approached her and feebly said, "We can close the lab and lock ourselves into the conception room," she panicked. "I cannot do it. It is not just me I am worried about. Should you end up killing me, your life will be ruined too."
Ohu said nothing though he did look relieved.
"I will go and turn myself into Council," she said. "Perhaps they will be lenient but that would be unheard of."
"It is not as if you chose it," said Ohu.
"How would I prove that? Remember what they did to Deeneh Risa?"
"She was the downfall of a great political figure," said Ohu.
"Nevertheless. Remember what they did."
She turned to walk out the lab door, but Ohu grabbed her arm. "Wait. Allow me to think. Please. Sit somewhere and give me time."
She sat quietly while Ohu went into contemplation. They had all been trained in this technique since Nursery. She looked at the double row of fetus tubes that covered the one wall. At the end of the row were four adult sized tubes, two of which were presently occupied. Medical sometimes needed extra tubes when holding injured patients in temporary coma. Currently, there was an overflow due to life threatening wounds from a shuttle engine explosion during the aid expedition to Durzane. Ganat was not the only one left with a serious problem from that trip.
"I was a fool to engage in recreation there," she said aloud, but Ohu did not hear her, so deep was he in contemplation.
He snapped awake. "Here is what we will do," he said.
She leaned in, hoping that no one would interrupt them. Medics could enter at any time and the assistants were due back from an update class.
"You know the Madras," he said.
"Religious fanatics," said Ganat.
"They are extreme, yes. Then there are the Wanaazi."
"Less so," she said.
"One presumes. It is interesting that we have so many sects represented on this ship."
"Well, among six thousand people, it is to be expected."
"Perhaps. But my point is this. Consider the dress the Wanaazi wear."
"Those odd robes with the stiff piping? I am surprised those are permitted. They would only interfere with work, I should think."
"Yes, those," said Ohu."Think about that piping that causes those robes to bunch out in front."
A silence followed. "Ah," said Ganat.
"It might behoove you, my friend, to suddenly experience an urge to seek enlightenment."
Ganat stood up. "How will you run the lab without me?"
Ohu looked up at her. "There is no rule that a Wanaazi cannot work in a fetal lab."
"But the delicate apparatus here."
"You will need to be careful. And tiptoe around the assistants. Do not try to convert or annoy them while playing your part."
Ganat felt an intense desire to hug her partner, but refrained. Anaarians did not do that sort of thing.
Not having experienced any urge to engage in spiritual practice to date, Ganat dreaded approaching the Wanaazi. She decided to appear humble.
Most of them worked in Biochemical Engineering. Since the ship itself was partly biological in the interior, the engineers were high necessary to its wellbeing. Ganat, being a medical/fetus specialist, knew little about this work. But she approached the oldest looking of the group in the dining area.
"Excuse me, please," she said. "I am feeling a pull to experience your religion."
"We are not a religion," snapped the elder. "We are simply a group of similar thought. We delve into the molecular structure of objects and further into their quantum dance. We allow our minds to enter the dance."
This made little sense to Ganat, but she persevered. "I want to learn," she said.
"Why?" asked the heavily robed elder.
"It seems as if I am being directed," said Ganat.
Apparently, this was the correct answer since, after a small hesitation, the elder said, "There is a meeting tonight in level seventeen, 229."
How soon, Ganat wondered, would it be before she could wear the robe? She remembered that in olden times, females had gestated for ten triple moons. How fast would her condition become obvious? Ohu had noticed at this early stage since he was so used to seeing her. She had better become zealously religious as soon as possible.
"Meeting tonight on seventeen," she told Ohu.
"I had better trim your hair," he replied. "If I have my sects correctly, I believe the Wanaazi prefer hair very short."
"Ridiculous." she muttered but allowed Ohu to trim it close.
A guard at the door let Ganat inside the small apartment. It was sparsely furnished, which followed the motto of the Wanaazi. A sign on the wall stated, 'Simplicity in the Internal leads to the Eternal,' while another proclaimed, 'The dance is everywhere.'
Sixteen members of different ages were in attendance. All except two wore the robes. The garments were constructed of thick looking, green fabric and formed of gores edged in piping. Ohu was correct - if she could obtain one and wear it continuously instead of her skin-tight uniform, it might cover her problem.
The meeting consisted, after a few words from their apparent leader, of everyone closing eyes and sitting motionless for what seemed an eternity. When it was over, they all stood up and filed out. In the corridor, she waylaid one of the unrobed attendees. "Excuse me," she said, "is there a reason you are not wearing the robe?"
"I am an acolyte," he said. "You do not wear the robe until you have proven your understanding."
"Oh." Ganat was crestfallen. "How do you do that?"
"I am not certain but suspect that if you had a revelation..."
The young acolyte jerked his chin up in agreement. "Apparently, that is pleasing to the older ones."
"What form do these revelations take?" she asked. She wasn't even sure what a 'revelation' was.
"Well, you know," said the young acolyte, "an understanding of some sort from the Universe."
Ganat mulled this over. She did not make a habit of dishonesty. While cooping thousands of Almaarains up in a starship for long periods of time could result in frustrated emotions and occasional bouts of dishonesty, she had always viewed those who engaged in such as inferior. However now she found she was feeling and behaving oddly. She reminded herself of certain female animals on the home world, how they would growl and guard their offspring. Without a second thought, she decided that one simply had to do what one had to do.
At the next meeting she was ready with her subterfuge. A short while into the 'contemplation', she murmured softly and then louder. Sensing a sudden interest from the members, she opened her large dark eyes and said, "Ahhhh. I have seen."
"What have you seen?" asked a small female on the other side of the room.
"The real purpose," she said with feigned confidence.
The others opened their eyes and leaned forward. "What is the purpose?" asked the eldest.
She said whatever came into her head. "Creation. The purpose is creation."
"Tell us," said the elder.
She let flow whatever came to mind. "All the universe is one Mind, the Child of the Creator. We only imagine we are separate minds. Joined, the function of the Child is to create like its Creator. To do so, it uses myriad particles and beings from cellular to sentient. It creates using thought and will. The collective Child is the Observer and Mover."
"To create what?" said a member. They scooted their seats closer to Ganat.
"That part I don't know," she said. "I suppose it means to create more Minds like themselves. More Children of the original Child."
That evening, she received her robe.
"You can roll up the sleeves," said Ohu the next morning. "So you don?t knock over things, eh?"
"I am currently being revered," she said. "It causes me to feel ashamed about fooling these innocent people."
Yet, as she said this, she wasn't entirely honest. Because though she had only pretended to experience a revelation, she could not stop thinking about the one she invented. Something about it seemed to ring a bell deep in her subconscious.
Ohu had already turned away and was ordering the lab assistants about. A Birthing of eight was on schedule. The two assistants waved hands over the controls, changing hormones and other chemicals inside the tubes, readying the fetuses to accept more light and stimulating their interest in the coming change. Watching, Ganat unconsciously placed her hand on her belly, which was growing more rounded. She rubbed absentmindedly. The cloth of the robe was rough and she enjoyed the feel of it against her pearly skin.
Ohu looked at her, walked over and whispered, "You look oddly healthy considering your condition."
"Thank you, I do feel all right," she said. "So far."
The Birthing was not going completely successfully. The second in the eight was lost. "We'll know in a short while what went wrong. It cannot be genetic," said an assistant.
"Never say cannot," retorted Ohu. "I remember a case when two were lost out of nine, due to one thread on 542370. This particular section was affected by one of the birthing chemicals we had obtained from a new source. One thread, do you understand?"
"Yes, Supervisor," replied the assistant humbly.
"As it is, we have six to go, so let us continue."
Carefully, they placed the end of one tube into the Birthing 'catcher', which held clean, salted water and slowly plunged into the back of the tube, propelling the infant into the water. All this while, it had been absorbing nutrients through it's thin, pale skin, but now the water was, other than it's salt content, nutrient free. Ohu lifted the infant's head and allowed it to take its first inhalation. This being painful caused the infant to mew feebly before bursting into a more robust cry.
"Excellent," pronounced Ohu. He signaled for Nursery.
"Next," he said.
The following moons were difficult. Ganat was fortunate to have a position on the ship where she was relatively isolated, unlike others who worked in areas such as Government or General Medical where the professionals were in constant contact with ship personnel. If she chose, she could limit her own contacts to Ohu, gestation assistants Nursery and Wanaazi for the duration. Ohu could bring her food. She watched her belly with scientific fascination and experienced changes in her feelings of wellbeing that frightened her.
Ohu noticed. "You do not look as well now," he said. "Is there anything I can do?"
"What could you do?" she said bitterly. "Should I see Medical, you know the result. You will never see nor hear from me again."
She was attending regular meetings of the Wanaazi and by now was a respected member of the group, though since that first time she had not shared any 'revelations'. By now she had heard two from other members, one rather silly while the other was interesting, though partly beyond her understanding and involving particle waves. The leader whose name was Matuza said little at meetings but now as they were leaving, he held her aside. "We need to speak in private," he said.
She felt an uncomfortable surge of blood flow and for a moment feared she might lose consciousness. Reluctantly, she remained behind while the others filed out.
"You are suffering from something physical," Matuza said once they were alone. "Please sit back down."
With hesitation, she lowered her now bulkier body into a chair.
"As your spiritual leader, I feel I have an obligation to direct your behavior. I cannot help but notice that your body is swollen in your midsection. Either you have something seriously wrong with your health or?" he hesitated.
She did not help him along.
"Or you have done the unthinkable.?
When he said this, she experienced such a sudden and overwhelming blast of rage that she was, for a moment, unable to speak. When she did, she shrieked.
"What I have done? How dare you? You pompous, lying phony! Your ridiculous robes, your pretending to know things others do not! This absolutely silly sitting around a table and pretending to delve into quarks and whatever! What do you know about anything? Have you ever gone down to a world different from our own and actually seen anything or anyone? Are you aware of how life begins outside of your pretend dreaming?"
This was very unlike her normal self and she was instantly horrified.
Matuza was clearly shocked. No one spoke to him in such a manner. "Pretend?" he said, eyes wide. "What do you mean? I have never pretended anything. Everything I said in here pertaining to my visions was accurate! I can only assume from this remark that you lied about yours!"
She stood up to leave but he grabbed at the fabric of her robe. "Take this off now."
She felt panic. "I-I cannot! How will I walk back to my quarters? I am not dressed underneath!"
"Do you imagine I care?" he said.
She struggled with him and managed to wrap a small leg around one of his longer, thicker ones, causing him to crash to the floor. Was he injured? She did not know, but ran desperately from the room and instead of heading left to the elevator to her quarters, she turned right, darted through one of the crossing corridors and into another open elevator to make it safely to the gestation lab. Once inside, she vacuum sealed the door. Ohu was the only one still here and he looked at her in surprise.
When she did not speak, but sank to the floor, he rushed to help her. She did not move and so he had to half drag, half lift her until he could get her onto a low table. "Help me, friend," he muttered as he heaved and shoved to get her up onto it.
Finally she stirred and returned to consciousness. "Something is wrong," she said, so softly he could hardly hear. And then he looked to her legs that were smeared with blood. "No," he said.
He had birthed infants from tubes all his professional days and though in his training that seemed terribly long ago, he had witnessed and superficially learned some general medical procedures, he had had no extended experience with them.
"Help me," Ganat said so weakly he could barely hear her.
He knew if he were to do this and she expired, his life and career would be over. But she was his dearest friend; what would life be without her? So with shaking hands, he moved about gathering tools, adjusted the overhead lighting, gently removed her clothing and, using a heatgun, disinfected her and himself.
Someone pounded on the door but he ignored it. Using every technique he knew, he put himself into a work trance. Shooting a blast of MI-ron up Ganet's tiny nose, he anesthetized her to make sure, though she was already unconscious, that she felt no pain. And then he lasered into her body.
When she awoke later, it was almost 'morning' He had, he thought, rather expertly sealed her incision and it was by now hardly noticeable. "Ohu?" she said groggily. "What happened?"
He took her cold little hand. "You no longer contain the infant."
She squirmed about to sit up. "Is it dead? Ohu, is it dead?"
He took a deep breath. "It is alive. I have managed a marvelous feat. Look over at Tube eighteen. The fetus, quite a robust one, I must say, is contentedly floating in his fluid. It was quite a transfer if I say so myself. He has about a third of his time to finish and if all goes well, will pass into Nursery undetected. He might be a bit larger than the others but no one will guess why. We can simply say there must have been a mutation.?
She took a deep breath and told him about the confrontation with Matuza.
"I gave you and myself as well, injections of immune boost and nutrients. We should be able to almost pull off a normal working day. I have cleansed your body and dressed you in lab uniform, so you look relatively normal. We will unseal the door and let in the assistants and should Matuza come calling, he will have nothing to see."
Ganat was too shocked to say much, so she glanced down at her body to see it was in order and carefully stood up. Ohu unsealed the door.
Her next thought was to see the infant, but then the door whooshed open and Matuza entered, his face dark with fury.
When he saw her, his expression changed to confusion. "Where is your robe?" he demanded. "You must return it!"
"Why?" she said. "Because we had a disagreement? Having a disagreement automatically translates to turning in my robe?"
"Do not try to bamboozle me. As leader, I determine when someone is eligible to wear and honor the robe. You have shown?" he stopped suddenly and looked at her body. "You . . . you-"
"I what?" she interrupted.
Ohu came and stood next to her.
"I thought?" said Leader, but did not finish. He glanced again at her midsection and slender waist.
It was good that she was facing him and not allowing him a side view since her middle was still protruding some.
"The robe is in my quarters,? she lied. "After I have it cleaned, I will return it for the next person."
"It needs to be cleaned?" said Leader, still suspicious.
"Of course," she said. "Its next wearer would not appreciate food drippings on the front, now would she? I confess to being a rather sloppy eater."
Matuza jerked his chin curtly in reluctant agreement and left the lab.
Ganat and Ohu looked at each other in silence. Then Ganat said, "I need sleep so badly."
"So do I," said Ohu, "but you go first. The assistants will arrive any moment. We can take short turns. Go into supply room two and lie on warming blankets. Lock the door and take a nap. I will tell the assistants you are not to be disturbed, that you are doing inventory. After a short while, I will take my turn. And by the way, the robe is being cleaned with the towels as we speak."
"Won't the assistants wonder where number eighteen came from?"
"I have already added it to the log and will maintain it was here all along. If they feel they are losing their minds, so much the better to humble them." He snorted with merriment. The truth would never occur to them.
It was possible, over time to keep a discreet eye on the child. With Ohu's careful investigation, Ganat monitored him during his nursery days, his schooling, and eventually his leaving the ship to continue his education on Almaaria. From there he was sent to several planets in Galaxy-Section Nineteen to study and obtain medicinal sources. He was large and resilient for his species, would live a very long life and achieve much.
x x x
Margaret Karmazin has graced anotherealm several times in the past. The honor of October's story goes to her for her fine effort this year. She and my old friend Ahmed Khan are two AR 'regulars' whose work will always find a home here, at least until they hit the Best Seller lists. Until then, enjoy and comment on this gem on our BBS. - GM