*So this is the book I’m finishing right now. Or at least this is the first chapter*
Beginning And End
I never wanted to be a mother.
Bioengineered madmen had created me, assembled me protein by protein, to be the Eve of a new race, the start of a new humanity. My name is Athena Hera Sinistra. The woman without a mother, the mother of a race of gods.
Alas I seem destined to disappoint all expectations, including my own.
Being a girl raised without a mother, by a man who cared more for her body than her mind, I’d never realized how easy it was to make a human being.
You’d think it would be an arcane thing, for which you had to work very hard, not an happenstance, the fruit of a thoughtless moment. My past, of promiscuity without consequences, reinforced that there was some switch to flip that made reproduction possible.
I was no good at mothering, no good at nurturing, no good at the simple things of mankind. Love had surprised me, both in feeling it and in its being returned, and my love was as much an alien to the ways of mankind as I was.
I was good at killing, at attacking, and at surviving.
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 for 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 information on how to give birth, and Kit had come running out of the exercise room.
And we’d fought.
The Cathouse was ill equipped for battle. It only had weapons at all – energy cannons mounted on the surface – because Earth had started trying to capture our kind when we came to collect powerpods. And someone 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 destroy. Built to save on weight and therefore fuel and leave more space for powerpods. But also built not to create such outrage at us that finding us became a top priority.
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: two rooms on opposite ends of the spherical ship, where all the ship controlling business took place. One was for the navigator and one for the pilot. Kit, whose eyes had been enhanced to be able to pilot in near-perfect dark, which permitted him to pilot without lights in the powertrees, minimizing our chances of getting caught, must have locked into the pilot chair and brought his screen to focus on our attacker just moments ahead of my taking my position. I was clicking the lock on my belt, when I felt his baffled shock. 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: an almost playful silver ship, triangle-shaped, but with added flips to the wings.
I was already calculating coordinates in my head, to target our shot back, and rattled them off to Kit via mind link. My normal work aboard was to calculate coordinates and maneuvers for Kit to pilot 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 blinding wall of light.
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 blast, which shone harmlessly by as it flew above us.
Before Kit was done plunging, I’d directed him to fire again.
We did and shining 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’d 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.
For a moment I lost breath and the ability to focus, and Kit screamed in my mind, Thena?
And we caught it. We caught it full amidships and our sensors started blaring again, and I realized I’d wet myself, and I remembered something I’d read, something—
I must have communicated my distress to Kit, because though I shouted coordinates at him, he didn’t seem to do anything with them.
Alarms continued to blare, loudly, and I tried to tell him he had to keep firing on this strange ship, but he wasn’t having any. I remember telling him that the ship’s armament couldn’t be all that powerful, either, because if it were it could have burned us to nothing by now. At least I think that’s what I told him, but I confess what I’d later find out were a full two hours became a blur.
I remember lying on our bed, and I remember Kit trying to get our medkit examiner gadget to give him meaningful readings on the progress of the birth. It wasn’t very successful. At one point, I remember his yelling at me that he couldn’t understand what had possessed me to come with him on a six month trip without letting him know I was pregnant.
I’d tried to explain, as I had when I’d first told him, three months ago, that I hadn’t thought giving birth could be a difficult or hazardous thing. After all humans had been doing it since there had been humans, and weren’t we bio-improved, and shouldn’t it be easier, after all?
I think he laughed at that. Just as he had laughed at my notion that fertility was somehow volitional. I suspect my so called father had kept me on contraceptives from menarche to his death, since he intended to control my reproduction. It was the only explanation of why I’d never become pregnant in my misguided and turbulent youth, but had within the first year of my marriage.
Other than this exchange things are confused in my recollection, though I don’t understand why, or not fully. We didn’t have any of the drugs women commonly use to eliminate pain in childbirth, and Kit didn’t want to give me any of our other pain killers because he wasn’t sure how they’d affect the baby.
All of this was made worse by the fact that Kit came from a culture where children hadn’t been born by natural means in almost three hundred years. They grew in artificial wombs, and were decanted at term. None of which helped him figure out what to do to help me birth the traditional way. Nor did we have any literature on the subject aboard, except for soppy fiction on the beauty of birth.
The soppy fiction is wrong. Birth is not beautiful. The results might or might not be beautiful, but birth is painful, brutal and a mess.
I remember Kit yelling for me to push, and I remember the alarms blaring. I might or might not have screamed at him to go fire on the ship attacking us before it killed us all. I might or might not have added that he should let me die in peace.
I don’t remember when the gravity cut out, though at that point so many alarms were screaming at us about damaged systems that I don’t think I’d have noticed one more.
I do remember that there were clots of blood floating in air and that Kit – with his feline looking eyes, his calico hair – looked like a blood-smeared nightmare as he yelled something about crowns and how I should push.
Suddenly gravity cut in again. There was… unimaginable pain, and then a sudden and very definite relief.
Kit took off running, to come back seconds later, babbling something about no vital systems being affected, and auxiliary artificial grav having kicked in. He picked our child up, cleaned her, burnt the end of her umbilical cord – who thought up that system? It’s as though humans were born unfinished – 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.
After a while I asked him if he shouldn’t go see to the affected systems, or at least fire on the other ship before it caused any more damage. He frowned at me and said they seemed to have lost interest, or at least were no longer firing on us. “I’ll need to go outside and repair some outside sensors,” he said. “But we’re not in danger any more.”
“That makes no sense,” I said, even as I tried to figure out how to nurse, even though I’d only seen it in sensies before. “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.”
I inclined my head in semi-agreement. 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.
Fortunately my child figured out the nursing thing, because I had no idea how to do it. I held her and looked down at her thinking how odd this was. How strange that I could become a mother so– Not easily, but quickly.
Kit looked at us, with that odd look of reverence that males reserve for things that scare them a little. “We have a daughter,” he said.
I nodded. I was trying very hard not to think that 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, little curls all over her scalp, and the most determined expression I’d ever seen. Both her fists were clenched, as though she were engaged in a difficult battle.
Kit stood up, stood by my side, looking down. “She has your eyes,” he said.
“Sure,” I said. And since his 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. She might make a decent navigator yet.”
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 too tasted strange, but it also tasted 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.
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.