Thursday, September 21, 2017

January 14

I don’t think my clan is doing well. Or maybe we’re being normal after what happened yesterday. How do parents act after someone abducts their child and they get the child back? There is no manual for what has happened to us. We are grateful and yet we are rattled. Even though Hina commed me to give Anrel back, we keep congratulating Seot for the tracking device that would have found her only seconds later. Then we all reach and touch the baby to reassure ourselves that she is really here with us.

We’re relieved, but we’re on edge. The entire clan called out of work today. When I went to therapy, the guys and Anrel went with me. We can’t bear to be out of each other’s sight right now.

The story has played on the news vids. No names have been broadcast, but it wouldn’t take Einstein to possibly figure out who the ‘abducted half-Earther child taken by an unidentified Kalquorian woman’ might be. The busker Candy was speaking to when Hina took Anrel gave an interview. He provided a pretty accurate description of my friend. Plus there are only so many female babies living around Kalquor’s capital city. Sure, this is the area where most Earther women have settled, and Anrel’s not the only half-and-half in the area, but it’s still a limited pool. Seot fielded a couple of coms today that left him looking irritable. He didn’t say if they were from reporters or not.

Speaking of Candy, she remains beside herself with guilt despite all of us telling her it wasn’t her fault. Awful things happen in the blink of an eye. I know that from bitter experience. I hope she can get past this soon. I hope we all can. It was bad enough going through it without reliving all the horror over and over again in our imaginations.

It was fortunate that I had a therapy session this afternoon. Given the circumstances, Dr. Cafir was perfectly fine with seeing all of us instead of just me. She reassured us that our collective angst was normal. “This is a matter of profound trauma,” she said. “It heightens the guilty feelings that you weren’t there when Anrel was taken, that you had the gall to be selfish enough to work on your relationship.”

Larten surprised me by being the first to acknowledge his feelings on the matter. “I have felt sick inside since we got the call that Anrel was kidnapped. I feel like a failure, because I am clan protector. How can I call myself such when the weakest of my family was victimized?”

“But you realize you are not to blame, at least in your head.”

He scowled. “It is my heart and spirit that scream in shame. They tell me I am of no worth because this has happened.” He appeared wretched.

Cifa and Seot were practically dancing in their chairs, they were twitching so intensely. I think that they suffered as I did, that they wanted to protest to Larten that there was nothing to reproach himself for. But Dr. Cafir has a hard rule against interrupting or negating someone when they discuss how they’re feeling.

She smiled at him. “Little by little, the pain will dull. Logic will ultimately prevail over these understandable emotions, Nobek Larten. You have to exercise patience and muster the strength to give yourself the time to process the episode. You cannot let anger win out.”

I thought she was smart to make it a challenge for Larten. Nobeks thrive on tests to their abilities.

She advised Seot too. “As the leader of this clan, everyone’s welfare is your priority. The initial instinct is to try to plan for all contingencies in the event something similar happens again.”

Seot managed to smile. “You’re going to remind me I can’t be ready for everything. That it’s impossible to even attempt it.”

“You’ve already made it possible to find Anrel and Shalia if they go missing. The tracker found the baby quickly, allowing law enforcement to pinpoint her location in a matter of minutes. What more could you possibly do to keep them safe?”

“Outside of keep them with us men at all times? Or lock them away in a fortress surrounded by armed guards?” His eyes twinkled. “There is only so much I can do without the effort becoming damaging. Like Larten, it’s hard not to second-guess each move I make.”

“A reasonable reaction. Be sure that if the urge continues past the next month, you let me know.”

He nodded, and she moved on to Cifa. He shook his head before she said a word, laughing a little. “The Imdiko is wrecked, as I’m sure you’ve guessed. I can’t stop hugging Anrel. I feel ready to sob or scream half the time.”

Dr. Cafir chuckled. “You are the person I worry least about. As long as an Imdiko is not trying to swallow his feelings and pretending he’s doing fine when he’s not, he’s usually the clearest-minded of the clan. Keep venting those emotions. If fear becomes an overriding concern, then you should worry.”

It was finally my turn. Dr. Cafir’s face softened as she gazed at me. “I can’t begin to imagine the horror of believing you’d lost Anrel for even a second.”

I choked out a sound that was half-sob, half-laugh. “It was pretty bad. The worst. I’ve never been so terrified in all my life, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to be scared.”

“And now?”

“I’m like the rest of them. I wonder what I could have done differently? If I was wrong to not keep Anrel with me. I have to keep touching her to make sure she’s still here. It’s almost obsessive, the need to check on her.”

“Again, perfectly understandable for the moment. Similar to the men of your clan, I’d only worry if it continues past a reasonable period.” She glanced around at us, bestowing her gentle smile that said everything would be okay. “Give yourselves a few days to process this. It’s the only thing you can do. Is there anything else you wish to share?”

“I have a question,” I said. “As a mental health professional, what do you suppose will happen to Matara Hina? I know what the officers told me, about her having to accept help. Will she be all right?”

“Do you mean, will she come after Anrel again?”

“Oh, I don’t imagine she’ll do that. She was too outraged by her own actions.” I thought of how Hina had said she would have killed anyone who’d done to her what she’d done to me. “I’m just concerned about how she’ll live with herself after all this. If she’ll be able to get over her grief at last.”

Dr. Cafir regarded me silently for several seconds before replying. “It’s a sad situation, isn’t it? I’m not acquainted with the Matara, so I can’t speak to what the future might hold for her. You’re concerned about her.”

 “I’ve been reflecting on how alike our situations could have been. Had the It succeeded in destroying Anrel before she was even born, I would also be staring at every little girl, wondering at what I’d lost. Thinking of all those precious moments disappearing, the theft of the dreams I’d held for my child. The death of a baby has got to be devastating, the greatest possible loss.”

“How kind of you to care about Matara Hina.”

I blinked at her. “Of course I care. She’s hurting.”

I got the impression it was a big deal to the doctor. Did she believe I would bear ill will because Hina had dealt me sheer terror for those few harrowing minutes? I could have, I suppose. But I identified too closely with the kind of loss she’d endured. I wanted her to be all right.

My clan agreed with that assessment. As we headed home following therapy, Seot said, “There is a lot of pressure on Kalquorian women to bear children, particularly healthy female children. I don’t believe there’s been a successful female live birth in over a decade though.”

Cifa scowled. “It’s an unfair situation. Ila has often said she’s afraid to try to get pregnant. Her fertility has been confirmed, but the odds are stacked so high against producing a female child without fatal abnormalities. If the same situation occurred to Ila, she’d blame herself. I’m sure Erom’s Matara feels the same way.”

“Yet it’s a chromosomal issue, not related to anything anyone is doing wrong,” I said. “They shouldn’t be caused to feel they’re responsible.”

“Nobody ever said they were. It’s the big deal made over women who are fertile and who give birth to healthy girls that makes the rest feel they’re somehow less.” Cifa sighed. “We can’t not celebrate such births, not when they’re so rare. Yet it does appear as if we’re rubbing the other women’s noses in it.”

I tried for a happier subject, turning to Seot. “Have I thanked you for the tracking device?”

He chuckled. “At least a thousand times.”

“I meant in the last five minutes. It seems like I should tell you over and over.”

He hugged me close. “Then let me thank you yet again for consenting to have it implanted. May we never need to use it again.”

“Amen to that.”

Monday, September 18, 2017

January 13, part 2

“Listen to me, Hina,” I said. “I’m coming to get Anrel. Okay? I’m not angry. But you need to know, Anrel has a tracker implanted on her. The authorities are on their way if they’re not outside your door right now. You need to com your Dramok to come home immediately.”

She wailed. “I’m so sorry! He’ll never forgive me for being arrested. For taking a child.”

“Of course he will. I’m Anrel’s mother, and I’ve forgiven you.” I’d have told her anything to make sure Anrel was okay.

“There they are,” Larten said, pointing at a dwelling, in front of which about fifteen black-uniformed men swarmed. Half a dozen small, official shuttles had landed nearby. Only emergency vehicles were allowed in the underground area.

“Hina, I’m almost to your home.” I sprinted on, ignoring the stitch in my side. “You don’t have to open the door until I get there, okay? I won’t let the authorities do anything to you until your Dramok comes home.”

Her voiced still hitched, but she seemed to be calming down. “I’ve got him on the other line. I didn’t tell him what I’ve done yet. He’s on his way home now.”

“Good. We’ll work this out,” I gasped. The officers had alerted to our approach. “Let me through and stay back! She’ll allow me to go in to get the baby,” I shouted.

“They’re aware of the situation, my Matara,” Larten said. “They’ve keyed on the frequency exchange and have heard your conversation.”

“Open the door, Hina,” I huffed. “I’m right outside.” I ran past the formsuited officers, straight up to the house.

The oval-shaped door opened. Hina appeared. The big Amazon seemed to have shrunk the last time I’d seen her. Her usually regal face was streaked with tears, her expression devastated.

She stood aside as I reached her. “Go to her,” she said, breaking into fresh weeping. “Anrel wants you.”

I raced toward the sound of my baby’s sobs. She was steps away in the greeting room, sitting on a thick rug and surrounded by pillows. I scooped her up.

“Hush, sweet baby. Mommy’s here. Mommy’s got you.”

Immediately, the waterworks turned off. Anrel looked at me, hiccupped, and then beamed her two-toothed grin. She was all right. Upset, but perfectly fine from what I could see. My knees went weak with relief.

I turned to Hina, who had closed the door behind me. “Anrel’s okay,” I told her. “See? Everything is okay.”

I was trying to calm the woman down. She seemed so destroyed. Obliterated. She sank down to the floor and sat, her shoulders shaking as she cried.

All at once, my concern for Hina wasn’t an act any longer. With Anrel unharmed, my desperate terror easing, I could see how devastated the Kalquorian woman was. Oh sweet prophets, it was the most pitiful display ever.

She bawled, pulling handfuls of her long hair, curled on the floor like a beaten child. Despite what she’d done to me, taking my baby, I couldn’t help but be swamped by sympathy. Hina was that distraught. I had no doubt she was truly remorseful for what she’d done. I feared she might hurt herself in the wake of it all.

“Hina, calm down. It’s going to be fine.”

Life is fucking weird. My child was abducted, and I was trying to make the kidnapper feel better. However, I was pretty sure I knew why Hina did it. Her agony was heartbreaking to watch, even for me, the wronged mother.

I went over and sat next to her. Anrel, bless her little heart, patted Hina’s hair, which hung over her face. She cooed, as if to say all was forgiven.

I tried to reach through to her again. “Hina, try to calm down. Your Dramok is going to get here and think Anrel and I beat you up. Deep breaths, girl. Come on. You can do this.”

I know I don’t do the cheerleader bit well, but my efforts seemed to have an effect.

“I can’t believe I did this,” Hina said, lifting her head to peer at me through the curtain of hair. “How could I take your baby? Knowing what I do of losing a child, how could I do that? What kind of monster am I?”

“You’re not a monster,” I insisted, taking her hand. “A monster wouldn’t have commed me. A monster wouldn’t be devastated over it. I don’t know why this happened, but it’s not because you’re a terrible person. I don’t believe that for a second.”

She stared at me. She looked at me as if I’d declared myself empress of Kalquor. “If this had happened to me—if it was my child snatched by someone—I would have killed them. I wouldn’t have hesitated for a second.”

I blinked at her and said the first stupid thing that came to mind. “Do you have a blaster I can use?”

Her mouth dropped open. All at once, Hina started laughing and crying, rocking back and forth under a somewhat merrier storm of emotions. Anrel crowed, clapped her hands, and then laughed along. Though she’d been upset when I’d arrived, she was back to herself. With any luck, she’d not been traumatized by her abduction.

Hina was still laughing and crying when a tall, handsome man rushed through the door, with Larten and uniformed officers at his back. They stopped short to see all us gals sitting on the floor.

Hina’s moment of hilarity ended when the man in the lead shouted, “My Matara! What is all this?”

She stared up at him and her pretty face crumpled. “My Dramok. I’m sorry.” She bent over and sobbed.

As he knelt beside her, his arms circling around, Larten moved to scoop both Anrel and me up. “Shalia. Anrel. Thank the ancestors you’re all right.”

“We’re fine, Larten. No one has been hurt,” I reassured him.

Seot and Cifa were with us all at once. “Mother of All, my baby. My Matara,” Cifa said, his eyes bright with relieved tears.

I handed Anrel to him. He seemed to need her at that instant, to hold her and fuss over her, reassuring himself that she was all right. Meanwhile, Seot kissed first her, then me, then her, and then me again. Our family was safe and sound once more.

It took a while to sort things out. The rest of Hina’s clan showed up and worked to calm her down. They appeared to be incredibly caring men, which gave me a lot of relief. She was in need of their support. She kept falling apart as she begged for forgiveness over and over.

The officers took statements. The two lead cops were as unlikely a duo as I could imagine even though they were both Nobeks. I couldn’t visualize a more dissimilar pair. Nobek Breft was the shortest Kalquorian man I’d ever seen. Even so, he had the expression of barely-contained wildness, as if civilization was an ill-fitting mask he was on the verge of ripping off. His partner, an absolute behemoth of muscle with a head full of dreadlocks, should have been far scarier. Yet there was a merriment in Officer Raxstad’s eyes, similar to my own mischievous Larten, that made me much less nervous than the controlled ferocity of Breft.

“I should inform you that if you press charges against Matara Hina, she’ll likely be remanded to a psychiatric facility rather than a correctional institution,” Breft told me.

I stared at him, aghast. “Press charges? Look at her, Officer. She’s a wreck. I doubt she’ll ever pull a stunt like this again.”

“That’s understanding of you,” the mountain named Raxstad rumbled at me. “However, she has admitted her guilt. She took your baby. You have the right to see her stand trial and be punished.”

“I agree something has to be done. But listen to her,” I begged. Hina continued to sob, a limp rag in her frantic clanmates’ arms. “What kind of psychiatric facility are we talking about, anyway?”

Breft’s gaze was level, though I had a vision of him chewing on live animals. I’m sure he does no such thing, but I was betting he ate a lot of his meat super rare. “For a Matara, such places are mild, with the focus on rehabilitation. However, it would be a criminal institution with few luxuries. It would also be a permanent, public mark on her record.”

Prophets and ancestors, I couldn’t imagine doing that to Hina when her regret was so obvious. She needed help, not a criminal record. I looked to Seot. “I don’t want something like that following her for the rest of her life, not if it was only a momentary impulse that won’t happen again.”

Seot did his calm, contemplative thing for a second before addressing the officers. “What do you do in the event we don’t press charges? There are still some repercussions, I believe?”

Breft said, “We’d file a report with the courts. Matara Hina would have to appear before a judge. She can do so with a licensed therapist of her choosing. Otherwise, a therapist will be appointed if she chooses none. She would agree in a binding contract to undergo therapy until her condition is deemed nonthreatening.”

“The matter would be in closed court, with no witnesses outside court officials, along with the psychological expert in charge of her, her clan, and her legal counsel,” Raxstad added. “She could petition to keep the records sealed, unless similar charges were brought at a later date.”

“So she’s legally bound to get the help she needs no matter what,” I said, pleased with the option.

“That’s correct.”

“She would also be banned from contact with your clan and child,” Breft said. “An attempt to get close to any of you without your permission filed in a legal document would result in immediate arrest.”

“What about running into us from time to time in the market or on the beach?” Heavens, I was constantly seeing her in those places. She’d never be able to leave the house if there wasn’t some leeway.

“Accidental occupation of the same public space is waived, but Matara Hina would be required to vacate the immediate area as soon as possible.”

Seot glanced around at the rest of us before giving his agreement. “Since she appears remorseful and tried to make this right, and as long as she is required to receive assistance, we will not bring charges against her.”

Breft nodded. I swear, I thought the feral thing almost committed the civilized sin of a smile. “We have everything we need to file our initial report, though we may be in contact for further details in the coming days. We will also check in to make sure you continue to not want to press charges later, once you’ve had the chance to consider the situation further. For now, we have no further need of your presence. You may go.”

Before quitting the home, I stopped to put a hand on Hina’s shaking shoulder. “I hope you feel better soon, Hina. Take care of her,” I added to the Dramok, who appeared ready to collapse in grief himself.

“You are not angry?” he asked looking from me to Seot to the officers. His Nobek and the Imdiko holding sobbing Hina gave me disbelieving gazes.

“Clan Seot has decided to press no formal charges. We will explain what that means to your Matara, as there are yet legal ramifications for her actions,” Breft told him.

Hina’s Dramok and Nobek bowed to us. “Your kindness is more than we could possibly hope for. We will make amends for what has happened somehow.”

“Give her the love and support she needs,” I said. “Obviously, she still suffers from the loss of her daughter. What she needs is kindness, not recrimination.”

I felt as if there was a lot more to say. I’d come close to losing Anrel before she’d even been born, so I thought perhaps I had a small hint of what Hina had gone through. It was heartbreaking to contemplate her loss.

But what could I say to a woman who was trapped in grief, the same woman who had snatched away my child? I couldn’t even begin to answer that, so I left with my clan and my sweet baby. I was grateful things had ended well for us, but my thoughts were a confusing riot otherwise.

We went home. Except for cooing over Anrel, we were mostly silent. I figured the men were perhaps obsessing over what might have gone wrong, how the situation could have ended badly. I thought about it myself. When I wasn’t ruminating on that, I thought of Hina’s pain, a pain that had driven her to do the unthinkable.

Thank the prophets…thank God…that my baby was safe with me again.