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Darkship Revenge: Chapter One
Last updated: Saturday, February 11, 2017 18:37 EST
Beginning And End
I never wanted to be a mother. I always get what I don’t want.
My name is Athena Hera Sinistra. I was meant to be the woman without a mother, the mother of a race of gods. Bioengineered madmen created me, assembled me protein by protein, to be the Eve of a new race, the start of a new humanity.
It didn’t work out that way.
But I did become a mother. Suddenly. By surprise.
Alright, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but the thing is I had no idea how easy making a human being was. My foster mother disappeared when I was six, and my so called father, the old bastard in whose image I’d been made, was never interested in forming my mind, only in keeping my body healthy. Sure, I’d got the usual lectures. Which I’d ignored. And nothing had happened even when I ignored them.
There were reasons for that, of course. Most of my lovers were genetically incompatible. And for those who weren’t, I’m sure my father had kept me on contraceptive implant, perhaps installed at my annual exams. Preserved free of taint until he was ready to begin the breeding program.
I hadn’t noticed. I thought it was lucky I never caught.
I’d found out I was pregnant while I, my husband and our friends, were under siege in Eden, suspected of treason or worse. Even after we were freed and proven innocent, I didn’t want my child to be born in a place where it seemed like every hand was against us, and everyone suspected us of something awful. And I didn’t want to stay in Eden longer than absolutely necessary.
So, when Kit said he wanted to go on a powerpod collecting trip, from our hidden colony of Eden to Earth orbit, three months away, I’d said yes. I hadn’t told him I was pregnant either, because then he wouldn’t go. I knew men had a near-superstitious fear of birth and babies. But I figured if primitive humans could give birth without assistance, surely I, who had been bio-enhanced to be stronger, faster, smarter, would have no trouble.
I’d give birth in our Darkship, the Cathouse.
It would be me, and Kit, and we’d have three months to get used to being parents before we came back to Eden. By which time, hopefully, things in Eden would be better too.
Did I mention that things never happen the way I expect them to?
My child was born during a battle. A strange battle started when an unknown ship, of an unknown, lithe design, attacked the Cathouse, the darkship my husband, Kit, and I flew to steal powerpods from Earth orbit to power Kit’s native colony of Eden.
We were three days from the powertrees in Earth orbit. We didn’t even see the other ship before it fired on us.
One moment we were under-power, still too far away from possible near-earth traffic for either of us to man our stations, the other moment our alarms were blaring that our ship was damaged.
I abandoned the reader where I’d been searching for instructions on how to give birth and Kit came running out of the exercise room.
And we fought our attacker with all we had. It wasn’t much.
The Cathouse was ill equipped for battle. It only had weapons at all energy cannons mounted on the surface because Earth had recently started trying to capture ships from Eden colony when they came to collect powerpods. And some of us had finally decided it was better to fight than to just commit suicide in order to avoid interrogation.
But our weapons were small and relatively ineffective. Built to discourage rather than to destroy. Built to allow us to fire a warning shot and run away. Built to save on weight and therefore fuel and leave more space on the ship for the harvested powerpods. But also built not to create such outrage at us that Earth dropped everything to find and destroy us.
Before the alarms had stopped sounding, Kit and I were at our battle stations, also known as our powerpod collecting stations and also our landing stations. They were all the same, just two rooms on opposite ends of the spherical ship, where all the navigation and piloting took place. One was for the navigator and one for the pilot. I was clicking the lock on my belt, when I felt Kit’s baffled shock. I felt it because, to avoid detection, pilot and Nav from Kit’s world had a form of telepathic communication. It was engineered into them for the purpose, and it had been engineered into me for completely different reasons, which didn’t matter, because it still worked.
To my wordless question, he returned the image he could see on his screens. Kit’s eyes had been enhanced to be able to pilot in near-perfect dark. He could see what I couldn’t. His screen which would look dark to me, showed him a silver ship: triangle-shaped, but with added flips to the wings.
I was already calculating coordinates in my head, to target our defensive shot, and rattled them off to Kit via mind link. My normal work aboard was to calculate coordinates and maneuvers for Kit to pilot without lights in the tight confines of the powertrees, where any wrong move could bring you in contact with a ripe powerpod and to sudden, explosive death.
But the ability to calculate coordinates on the fly and to communicate them to my husband served us well in this too. He spun the Cathouse to aim our weapons at the attacker, and let fly with a blast of power.
Our opponent flipped, like a falling leaf twirling in an impossible wind. I guessed the purpose of the maneuver and directed Kit to move us sharply down, which he did, avoiding the return blast, which flew by above us.
Before Kit was done plunging, I’d directed him to fire again.
We did and targeting light from our weapons played across the other ship which seemed to me to falter for a moment.
I remembered some genius of the twenty first century had written a treatise on how space battles were impossible, because ships could always evade other ships in three dimensions. It hadn’t occurred to said genius that in that case, as in air battles between airplanes, one ship could follow the other.
I just thought we should follow the ship and —
A sharp pain cut through my middle. It hurt almost as badly as when I’d got stabbed in the gut in a back-alley fight when I was twelve. Almost as bad as when I’d crashed my anti-gravity wand broom in slang against a wall when I was fourteen.
For a moment I lost breath and the ability to focus. Thena? Kit screamed in my mind.
We got hit. The ship shook. Our sensors started blaring.
I sat, frozen, not because I was afraid this ship would destroy us. I was afraid of that too, but mostly I was shocked I’d wet myself. I’d never wet myself in any of the fights I’d got into, in mental hospitals and military camps, not even when my father had sent my very young self to them in hopes of taming me.
And then pain rippled through me again, thought-stopping. I’d read something —
Kit, Kit, I think the baby is coming. And then, by an effort of will, I sent coordinates. Shoot at 45-26-10.
Over the mind-link with Kit, I received wordless irritation and panic. The ship shook again, and a blinding flash of light burst from my screens.
Alarms screamed. And Kit was there, unstrapping me, pulling me away from the seat, pulling me out of the navigator’s room.
You have to fire on them. They’re going to destroy us otherwise. Go. I can give birth alone. I’ll give you coordinates. I tried to pull away from his hand, back to the chair.
He suggested I do something biologically impossible to the coordinates, and got a hand under my knees, pulled me off my feet and ran carrying me.
You can’t do this, I wailed at his mind. Another pain contraction? hit and another explosion somewhere on the skin of the Cathouse. I tried to scream at Kit that the attackers’ weapons clearly weren’t any stronger than ours, otherwise we’d already be dead, but if they kept at it, they would eventually do real damage. But what came out was an ululating, incoherent scream.
He dumped me on my back, on our bed, and started frantically stripping me. He looked at my lower portion with an expression of utter horror, which frankly was a new reaction.
“Push, Thena, Push,” he said, both mind and voice. I tried to tell him what to do with this instruction, but my mouth wouldn’t work right except for screaming.
I panted through the pain, and groaned in frustration, because I could push, but it didn’t seem to do anything except bring on more pain.
I’d read just enough in the last few months to know all the things that could go wrong with a birth. Too big a head, too big shoulders, hemorrhage, death, and that was just for the mother, without counting on things like the baby being strangled by the umbilical cord.
Maybe the civilizations who didn’t teach women to read had been right. “I’m scared,” I managed to say between screams.
Kit’s eyes widened. He grabbed our medkit from under the bed, and brought the examiner gadget which looked like a giant magnifying glass to bear on me.
“This thing doesn’t work,” he said, in a distracted tone. “It has no setting for giving birth. It says you’re experiencing muscle-contraction pain, and that your heart rate is elevated. And the baby’s heart rate is fine.”
Pain struck again, stronger this time. As it receded, I found I’d grabbed hold of Kit’s tunic, and pulled him really close. Really close. I must have used the super strength with which the mad genetic engineers had endowed me too, because he was a shade of purple, as the tunic collar tightened on his neck. And he was trying to pry my hands loose.
I forced myself to let go, and heard him take deep breaths. I’m trying to help. He mind-sent in a tone of great and offended dignity.
Which he was, for all the good it did us. And of course the medical gadgets wouldn’t work. They had no setting for pregnancy. In Eden most people decanted their children from artificial wombs. Those who didn’t, planned the time and manner of their children’s arrival, so it didn’t happen aboard a darkship, months from civilization.
Kit had a smear of blood across his forehead, his feline eyes were wide open in terror. He looked like some sort of primitive god, who kept screaming for me to push, interspersed with “Damn you, damn you, damn you, damn you. What possessed you to come on a long trip alone with me when you knew this was coming? Damn you. Push, Athena, push.”
“But it shouldn’t be difficult,” I wailed back, between screams as the pain struck me. “Humans have been doing this forever. It should be natural.”
He made a sound that might be a laugh. “Push, Athena.”
It all seemed like a crazy dream, and I kept noticing things that I’d failed to register. Like how there was blood everywhere, but I didn’t remember bleeding. I should have been clearheaded. I mean, I’d had no drugs.
We didn’t have any of the drugs women commonly use to eliminate pain in childbirth, and of course Kit didn’t want to give me any of our other pain killers because he wasn’t sure how they’d affect the baby.
Our gravity cut out, and Kit slammed a hand in my middle, to keep me from floating, while he stayed in place by holding onto the bed.
“There should be better ways to do this,” I yelled. ̶#8220;This is a bad design.”
He laughed again. “Come on, Athena. The baby has crowned. I hope you like hair because this one has a lot of it.”
I thought crowned meant he could see the head. Why didn’t he pull it out, then? I yelled “It’s a bad design.”
“Granted,” he said. “That’s why we have bio-wombs. Push it out, damn it. Push!”
A big explosion hit the outside of our ship. We were just getting pounded, and we weren’t returning fire. Even if the baby and I survived, we were going to die. “We’re all going to die.”
“Not on my watch!”
Ship alarms blared. Blood was everywhere.
“Let me die in peace! The people who wrote about the beauty of birth lied,” I said. It might have come out as an incoherent wail. “They lied!”
There were clots of blood floating in air the and that Kit with his feline looking eyes, his calico hair looked like a blood-smeared nightmare as he yelled, “push, push. push.”
“You push!” I yelled.
Suddenly gravity cut in again. Pain sliced me in half. And then there was a sudden, astonishing relief. The type of relief that calls for angels singing and choirs of joy.
Kit did something. I tried to look down. There was a baby, but I couldn’t muster the strength to reach down and pick it up. It made faint mewling sounds.
Kit took off running. I lay there, exhausted and bonelessly relieved. Had he run away from the baby? Did the baby have three heads? Before I could grow alarmed enough to sit up, Kit ran back in, babbling something about no vital systems being affected, and auxiliary artificial grav having kicked in.
He picked the baby up. “We we have a daughter.”
The creature he showed me was wrinkled and red, but I’d been told this was normal, by various stories. In this, they were apparently right. He picked her, cleaned her, burnt the end of her umbilical cord who thought up that system? It’s as though humans were born unfinished set her down on the bed again, examined me through one of the med sensors, muttered something about not needing stitches, then sat on the side of the bed slowly bent to rest his crossed arms on his knees and his face on his crossed arms and looked like he’d like to pass out, as if he and not I had done all the work. He was saying “light, light, light,” in a slow chant. Since “light” was close to a swear word for pilots of darkships, this sounded a little crazed. “Kit?”
He shook his head. “I thought you were going to die. I thought you were both going to die.” His hand was shaking, as he rested it on my knee. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “I know I’m tired, but don’t feel it. May I see her?”
He made a sound that was either a sigh or a chuckle. “She’s not much not look at,” he said, as he picked her up, and handed her to me.
She wasn’t much to look at. She was small, wrinkled, with a head covered in tight black curls, and big blue eyes with puffy eyelids, as if she’d been crying for a long time. And she was glaring at me as though I’d offended her mortally.
I probably had, ejecting her from the only world she’d ever known and into this. I counted her fingers and toes. Yes, I know it’s stupid, but I’d read somewhere if they had all their fingers and toes, they’d be all right. And with Kit and I, both, being the product of labs and test tubes, you never knew. But she was perfect, not a tentacle in sight. “Shouldn’t you go see if there are any affected systems, besides grav?” I asked Kit. “And see if you can make them stop attacking us.”
“I told you the systems are fine for now. They’ve stopped attacking us. The shot that took grav out was the last. When I checked on systems, they’d left.” He raised his head slowly. He was shaking and his eyes looked like he was somewhere far, far away. He took a deep breath and shook his head. “They They seem to have disappeared too. I can’t find them on any view screens.” He took a deep breath. “I’ll need to go outside and repair connections and sensors,” he said. “But we’re not in danger any more. And it’s repairable. Everything on this ship is.”
“That makes no sense,” I said. I tried to figure out how to nurse, even though I’d only experienced it in sensies before. You’d think it would be self-explanatory too, I mean, what else were my breasts for but to feed babies? Beyond Kit’s amusement of course. But it turned out to be pretty complicated. Maybe evolution coded for aesthetics more than for function? I pushed my nipple at the baby, but it just glanced off her lips. And then, when she got hold of it, it was to the side, and her sucking hurt like the devil. I said a string of bad words, as I put my finger in between her mouth and my breast to break suction.
“Athena! Don’t swear in front of the baby!” Kit said. I swear he actually said that.
“Your daughter can’t understand how to feed herself, much less bad language. She obviously gets this from you. Both problems.”
“I doubt it,” he said. “I always understood female breasts.” I realized that I had no idea if Kit had been breast fed, or even how many people in Eden breastfed. I suspected most used some kind of bio-feeder like the wombs. I mean, navigators and pilots had babies while out on pod-collecting trips. Perhaps what I was trying to do looked as archaic to him as it did to me. But we had no baby formula aboard the Cathouse.
Just then she latched. Properly. Her eyes went really big at the sensation or the taste of milk, and I looked up at Kit. “The ship attacking us and leaving makes no sense. Why would they attack us and then leave?”
“I don’t know,” Kit said. “Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity. Earth is at war, after all.” He frowned. “Several wars, I expect by now.”
“But that shouldn’t extend to space,” I protested. “There really is no space presence beyond Circum.”
“Maybe,” he said. “But your idea of how things were and how they really were aren’t always the same. Maybe the Good Men had secret bases in space. They were secretive bastards.”
I inclined my head in semi-agreement. The last few years had been a series of shocks about how the world really worked and what history really had been. “Maybe.”
We were both covered in blood, I was naked, and the room, between lack of gravity and the dirty aspects of birth, looked like particularly messy barbarians had stormed through.
My child sucked, greedily, completely absorbed in her task. I held her and looked down at her thinking how odd this was. How strange that I could become a mother so — Not easily, no, not quickly, but almost accidentally.
Kit looked at us, with that odd look of reverence that males reserve for things that scare them more than a little. “We have a daughter,” he said. He sounded like he wasn’t sure what to do with the situation.
I nodded. This small creature was utterly dependent on me and would surely die without me. I’d never had anyone utterly dependent on me. Yes, I’d rescued Kit from some horrible situations, but he’d rescued me too. It wasn’t a one-sided relationship. And he could go on living without me, no matter how little he would like it. But with my daughter
The word tasted wrong, as something that could not possibly apply to me. She looked small, unfinished and red, with a face the size of a large orange, and the most determined expression I’d ever seen. She clenched her fists, as though she were engaged in a difficult battle and she glared up at me as though she couldn’t trust me.
Kit stood up, stood by the side of the bed, looking down. “She has your eyes,” he said.
“Sure,” I said. And since his, feline shaped and to a certain extent feline-efficient, were the result of a bio-engineering virus introduced in the first trimester of gestation, I added, “We didn’t pay extra for her to have yours. Still, she might make a decent navigator yet.” Both navigators and pilots colloquially called Cats in Eden were bioengineered. Navigators’ improvements were largely invisible: things like visual memory, very good sense of direction and an ability for mechanical reasoning. I had those, engineered into me for other reasons than to become a navigator. Which is why I could fly pod-collecting missions with Kit. And our daughter, while obviously not inheriting his eyes, could have inherited my characteristics.
He did a laugh that sounded like a hiccup. “I hope –”
“Nothing. Foolishness,” he said. “I was going to say I hoped the world would be kind to her, but I don’t think that’s how it works.”
“No, we each have to make the world as kind to us as we can.”
“And we’ll have to protect her until she can look out for herself,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. This tasted strange, but it also felt right. I didn’t want it to be true, but if I didn’t owe anything to someone I’d created, to whom would I owe anything? She couldn’t look after herself. And I’d brought her here, on purpose or not.
He got up. “Right,” he said. “I’m going to see about fixing those sensors. And then I’ll come back and help get you cleaned up.”
It was the last I saw of him aboard the Cathouse.
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