Monday, July 20, 2015

On Hiatus

We've reached the end of another storyline. Shalia's Diary will resume August 10.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

July 5

I am finally getting to the point where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can look forward to getting out of Medical pretty soon, we think. Not that I won’t be spending a lot of time in here once I’m sprung. Anrel still has quite a while before anyone will be comfortable with her being discharged. She continues to grow in quarantine. Thanks to Tep’s efforts, her organs were developed enough to allow her a better chance of survival outside of the womb, but she’s still not quite there. Her lungs in particular need more time to strengthen.

Yet she is thriving in her sterile surroundings. In a few weeks, Tep will begin to allow a more natural environment, letting her acclimate to the real world’s host of microorganisms, bacteria, and the like. He says the antibodies my body shared with her remain strong, and she should be able to adjust well. My little fighter will get to show off just how tough she is in the weeks ahead.

That child may end up hopelessly spoiled by everyone on this ship. At first I was worried for her lying there in Isolation all by herself. I might as well have saved my concern. I don’t think there is a second when someone isn’t in the room with her, holding her and cooing. I wonder if she’s spent more than five minutes at a time in her bed. Every time I’m brought in to hold her, I find someone else there loving my little baby. Betra, Oses, Katrina, Feru, many of the women, and even Captain Wotref and his clanmates keep Anrel company. She does not want for attention for a single second. The tiniest Matara has everyone wrapped around her so-small pinkie.

All traces of the poison they used on me to scare the It out are gone. I am healing and growing stronger, just like my little Anrel. I can sit up on my own now and even stand for a few minutes at a time. Candy is already taking little walks around Medical, building her strength up too. I cheer her from my bed or chair as she passes my door. She grins and gives me a thumbs-up. She’s not able to bounce like she normally does yet, but she’s back to smiling and doing her hair to look pretty for her two favorite visitors Mihi and Ama. She may get out of here as soon as tomorrow.

I’ve got my own two fellas coming in regularly to keep my spirits up. Betra and Oses continue to spend what time they can with me ... when they’re not fawning over their ‘niece’ as they refer to Anrel. Today, there was a little extra attention, which I am still recovering from.

I had sat with Anrel for half an hour, all the time I’m allowed at a stretch in my present condition. My guys came to fetch me back to my bed when time was up. Katrina came in with them, ready to dote on her honorary grandchild.

My arms tend to feel empty when I have to hand Anrel off. Not that she’s an armful at all ... she’s growing, but still barely a handful for Oses. Yet that miniscule weight is tremendous when she’s not there.

Betra kissed my morose face as I watched Katrina snuggle my baby. Anrel made chirpy little noises that I imagine are her way of expressing happiness. Oses guided my chair out into the main part of Medical. Too soon, he lifted me into my bed. Despite my fatigue, bed was the last place I wanted to be.

“Soon you will be together all the time,” Betra reassured me, arranging my pillow and the angle of the bed for my comfort. “This is only a little pause in a long lifetime of joy with your child.”

“I don’t want a pause,” I pouted. “I should be the one giving her all her feedings and bathing her.”

I felt guilty about not nursing Anrel, but the poison had only just left my body. Even if I hadn’t been a toxin warehouse for all those days,  the early birth and the ravages I had gone through meant I had no milk to give to Anrel. Tep had been wise to secure formula back on Earth in the event something would happen to prevent me from breastfeeding. I’d been both chagrined and amused to discover that he had made an extensive checklist of emergency supplies the moment he’d learned he had a pregnant woman on the ship. Grateful, too. Who would have ever thought any of this would happen to me and my child?

Oses leaned on the edge of my bed and reached to brush my hair from my face. “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you. Yet I hope you are thankful to have all the support you do.”

I was embarrassed by his reminder that in the end, I had nothing to be grouchy over. “You’re right. Candy, Anrel, and I are all going to be okay. People are coming out of the woodwork to make sure of that. I have you two watching over us. I have no reason to be selfish.”

Betra winked at me from the opposite side of the bed. “Except that you want your baby when you want her, which is all the time. Nothing is going to change that, but I think it’s a good thing.”

I snuggled in the soft mattress, trying not to hate the bed or my debilitated body that wasn’t getting better fast enough to suit impatient me. “I’m a mom, but I’m missing out on so much of it right now. Every time I see Anrel, I swear she’s a little longer, a little heavier. A little more aware. I want to be there for every second she grows.”

“She will know that you are her mother. She will know what she means to you,” Oses promised.

He stretched over the bed to kiss me. It started off as a light pressing on my lips, as chaste as a brother kissing his sister. There had been many kisses like that since I woke up from the nightmare of the It.

However, the tone of his embrace changed. The tip of his tongue lightly traced between my lips, tickling in a delicious way. I remembered the last time we were together, how I’d been held helpless by stasis. My poor wrecked body was almost weak enough to re-enact that helplessness without the field.

I had the strength to wrap my arms around his neck and cling in the hopes he wouldn’t stop. The Nobek’s big arms circled around me, holding me close. My lips parted, and his tongue swept in. Our breath mingled as we tasted each other. It was like receiving the air of life itself. I filled with the promise of returning vitality.

Fingers sketched up my thighs, pushing my Medical-issued gown up. More warm breath wafted over my skin just before Betra sprinkled kisses of his own up my legs. I had plenty of doubts that Tep would approve of getting amorous given my state, but Tep could pout if he found out. I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell him. Not with my pussy warming in anticipation of the Imdiko closing in on it.

Betra parted my legs with care, as if opening a long-awaited gift in a manner that would prolong the anticipation. Oses continued to kiss me while one hand moved to palm my breast. I found the strength to arch just a little into his touch. He kneaded eager flesh, sending warm pleasure to suffuse my body.

Betra kissed my slit, the buss as chaste as a nun’s. Another little kiss. Then, as Oses had done, the Imdiko’s tongue took a careful taste as if to tease my pussy to open. I felt wetness slide from me, and that glorious tongue lost all hesitation, lapping eagerly.

 I moaned into Oses’ mouth. The hand on my breast squeezed and his tongue slid against mine in a dance of excitement.

Betra traced long licks over my trembling womanhood, building tension there. His lips and tongue played over my clit, sending darts of heat deep inside me. I clenched my fists in Oses’ hair as desire heightened. My feet dug shallow furrows into the mattress beneath me as I reacted to the intensifying burn.

Oses pinched one nipple and the other through my gown, adding jolts of electrifying pain. He tugged on the tightening points. His demanding touch amplified the pleasure melting my core. I tore my mouth from his long enough to gasp, “More,” before he took me with that mind-stealing kiss once again.

I got what I asked for. The cruelty of the Nobek’s pincer-grasp fed the maelstrom of sensation building in my gut. I was overcome, punished and pleasured, until there was nothing but me and those two men.

Betra’s mouth plastered over my pussy, sucking against the folds to seal us together. His tongue whipped over my trapped clit, berating it back and forth against the raspy surface. I cried out, my wail muffled by Oses’ kiss. Sheer bliss shot through me.

Betra growled. The powerful sound vibrated his lips and tongue, which lashed my nub even faster.  My pussy seized, brightness growing and glowing. It arced higher ... higher ... higher...

I’d reached the summit. My body gathered all that blinding brilliance and leaped.

I soared on pulses of vivid pleasure, flying through golden-basked nirvana. The heavens opened for me. I flew and flew, forgetting the ground beneath me, denying gravity for eternity-filled seconds. Even when it was done, I floated like a cloud in peaceful completion. The storms were over, chased away by the men who gathered close to hold me in sheltering arms.

Life is precious. The people who fill mine are more precious still.

End of storyline.

Monday, July 13, 2015

June 28

I wandered in and out of consciousness for four ... or was it five days? I don’t know. It was all a jumble. Different people were there as I regained strength. Betra was there the most. Oses slept in the chair next to my bed when he wasn’t on duty. Tep was a mainstay as well, and Feru dropped by often to see how I was coping. Katrina spent days running back and forth between my room, Candy’s, and my daughter’s. I think it was two days ago when Candy herself was brought in to visit, riding in a hover chair guided by Nobek Mihi. She looked pale as death and emaciated.

“I still have trouble keeping food down,” she told me after we’d wept over each other. “It’s damage from the poison, but I’ll get better. Every day, it’s a little better. We’re alive, Shalia.”

We clutched skeletal hands. I knew I looked just as bad as she did. I was still being fed by tubes, though Tep had me try some liquid later that day. I kept most of it down. The small victories are celebrated.

I finally got to see the smallest and greatest victory of them all. This morning, Tep unhooked me from the medi-bed.

“You’ll only get a few minutes together,” he warned me. He carefully scooped me up and deposited my wasted frame into the hover chair Betra stood nervously behind. “It’s still too soon for you to be up, you know.”

“But you know I’ll kick your ass if I have to wait one more second to see her,” I said. What a joke. I couldn’t kick roadkill’s ass in my current state.

Tep almost managed to not smirk at the idea. “Feru and I think it will do you more harm than good to not see your daughter. Don’t make me regret this decision, Shalia.”

The hover chair’s heat setting seeped into my bones. Tep wrapped me in a core temp maintenance blanket as well. Just the bare couple of seconds it took to get from bed to chair had me shivering. My system is so fouled up from the poisoning ... but like Candy said, I’m alive. And I was going to see my baby.

With Betra at my side and Tep guiding the chair, we moved from my room through Medical to the quarantine section. There was a room, a sterile chamber called Isolation, where the environment is kept free of all harmful microbes.

To get in there, we had to pass through what Tep referred to as the ‘Scrub’. “That’s not its formal name, but it fits,” he told me with a smile. The archway that we went through detects bacteria, viruses, anything that shouldn’t be in the sterile chamber. Though I didn’t feel or see anything, anything of harm on our bodies and the chair was zapped by this device, leaving us utterly clean and pure. I wonder if the It would have approved.

The first thing I saw when we entered Isolation was the little incubator pod near the front of the room. Oses sat next to it. He was seated on a large cushion, his big frame bent over. His hands cupped together, resting on his lap. His eyes riveted on what he held.

A shudder passed through me. Oses is huge, close to seven feet tall. One of his hands could hold a large ham with no problem. Yet I still couldn’t imagine my baby being so tiny that I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of her cradled in those hands.

Oses looked up at me and smiled as I was floated over. “Here she is, little warrior girl. Your mother has come at last.”

I started to lean, to have that first look, but Tep’s hand on my shoulder restrained me. “Stay still. Oses will bring her to you.”

Oses rose up on one knee. His hands moved towards me, arms stretching, bringing those massive hands with their tiny passenger closer. He laid her in the dip in the blanket between my thighs, placing her safely in the shallow little valley there.

She was so infinitesimal. I stared at this tiny creature who had warded off the unstoppable It just by virtue of her presence, perhaps saving my life in the process. Her torso was wrapped in sensor-studded cloth that resembled a onesie. Her arms and legs were no bigger around than my thumbs. But they kicked and swung, as if she would fight off a giant if it challenged her. Her face scrunched in her onion-sized bald head and she loosened a thin chirp of bravado. I’m not afraid of you, she seemed to say. Her eyes parted open just enough for me to see the flash of purple there. Kalquorian purple with cat-slitted pupils. The shape of her lips reminded me of Weln’s, but the nose could have been Dusa’s. The strong chin made me think of Nang. There was no telling by looking at her who the father was, but one thing was for certain: I was her mother. At that moment, it was all that mattered.

I barked a harsh laugh. My daughter turned into two, three, four and more babies as tears swam in my eyes, making my sight into a prism. Here she was, tiny and helpless. Alive and unafraid. My daughter. My child.

My hands surrounded her, the need to shelter this tiny, tiny person instinctive. “Hello, baby,” I said, my voice still weak and wavering. “Hello, little girl.”

I was almost afraid to touch her. Her skin seemed as thin as tissue paper, falling loose around her not-quite developed body. My fingertips skated fearfully over her perfect round skull, drawing trembling lines over her cheeks and jaw. She was soft, like the down of a feather. I dotted the tiny nose with my pinkie. She peeked at me again and yawned. I counted her fingers: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. The same with her toes. All there. All accounted for. I peeked beneath the sensor vest thing she wore to assure myself everything was as it should be. She was so tiny, but so perfect. So miraculously perfect.

She chirped again. Her little fist waved in the air. I held it between my thumb and finger, and her fist opened. The starfish of her hand wrapped around my fingertip, holding on with a strength she shouldn’t have been capable of.

“My little warrior,” I whispered to her. “That’s what you are, aren’t you? Tough girl.”

“She’ll leave Nobeks trembling,” came Oses’ distant-thunder voice. “You’d better give her a good name, one that reflects her strength. Everyone needs to know what they’re in for when she shows up.”

I’d been so enraptured with the baby that I’d forgotten that she and I weren’t alone. I looked up to see Oses, Betra, and Tep stood around us, watching with smiles eating up their faces. The two Imdikos blinked back tears.

“Did you ever think of a name for her?” Betra asked.

I was at a loss. “Not yet. I kept thinking I wanted her to have a Kalquorian name, but I don’t know any female names from your planet.” I gave Oses as wry smile. “I wish your women were separated into breeds. She should have a Nobek name.”

My favorite warrior shook his head. “Women can never be assigned one particular trait. They embody all the best characteristics of the great men of the Empire: protectors, nurturers, and leaders. Women are all.”

Tep mused, “There have been female warriors in our distant past though, back before the virus killed so many off and made them nearly extinct.”

“Women who held their own and were every bit as feared as their male counterparts,” Betra agreed. “Reog the Unstoppable, who mowed down enemies with her double-sided blades. Bany, Queen of Kolostere, who won the entire Esofu Continent. Anrel the Triumphant. With only one hundred fifty-three fighters, Anrel held off  two Tragoom chieftains and their forces long enough for reinforcements to arrive at her colony and save it.”

“Anrel,” Oses breathed with obvious worship. “One of the greatest warriors Kalquor has ever known. If Kalquorians had saints to pray to as you Earthers do, Anrel would have been my choice.” He looked at the tiny being kicking on my lap. “This one, surviving all she has, holding off the It, and living on with such spirit ... she deserves that name.”

“Do you think so?” I smiled down at my daughter. “With a name like that, she’ll have a lot to live up to.”

“She will,” Betra grinned. “She has you for a mother, another great survivor.”

“Anrel,” I said to the baby, tasting the name. “What do you think?”

She let go of my finger to wave that bold fist in the air once more, as if proclaiming her rightful title. We laughed.

“Anrel it is,” I said.

May she live long, happily, and with a lot more peace than her mother has found thus far.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

June 20, postdated

I couldn’t believe it when I opened my eyes in Medical. Surely I should be dead, whether by the Kalquorians or the It’s hands. Yet I knew right away this was no dream or hallucination. I was awake. I was on the Pussy ‘Porter, in the medi-bed where I’d spent so long as of late. Crazier still, I was me again. Fully in my own skull, feeling my body heavy and sunk deep into the cushion beneath it.

I blinked, searching around inside my head. I detected no trace of the It. My mind seemed to belong exclusively to me once more.

Before I thought about it, I raised my arm, the one that had been encased in organic armor. I should have been frozen in partial stasis, but the limb stirred and drifted up for a few inches. I looked down at it to see my flesh – my skin, released from that bone-plated exoskeleton that had enclosed it. My thin, wasted arm shook violently for the two seconds I held it wavering over the bed, and then it thumped down. I was insanely weak, but I was me. Me, alone. Even the bracelet hibernation chamber of the It was gone.

It was a simple matter to look past the foot of the medi-bed to the door of my room. No Nobek guards stood watch over me. I could hear the distant hum of conversation beyond the opening.

I became more aware of myself as I woke further. My guts felt trembly and weird, the way one feels after getting through the worst of a vicious stomach flu. I was weak and fluttery all over. Yet I was alive without the presence of the It.

I heard a buzzing sound to my left. It took effort to roll my head in that direction, but I managed it. Betra sat by my bed, his chin resting on his chest as he slept. He was snoring.

“Hey,” I tried to say. All I managed was a wheeze, as insubstantial as a wisp of smoke. I tried again. “Hey.”

Betra’s head nodded slightly. He blinked heavy lids and licked his lips. His head turned to look at me with drowsy slowness. He blinked a couple more times before coming to real wakefulness.

“Shalia,” he whispered. “You’re awake.”

“Yeah.” Again, I had little voice to work with. “How?”

Betra stood up, stretching. He bent to give me a kiss. “It’s kind of a long story. We weren’t sure you would make it. Hold on, let me com Oses and tell him you’re conscious. We’ve been waiting all day for this.”

It was good to hear Oses’ voice coming from Betra’s portable, especially the way he answered it. “Weapons Commander here.”

“She’s awake. Awake and aware.”

“Excellent. I’ll stop by as soon as my duties allow.”

Betra clicked off. I managed a tired smile. “He’s on duty? He went back to work?”

The Imdiko nodded. “His efforts in retrieving you and getting you back to Medical safely put a lot of his problems to rest. That was verified with some psychological tests. Feru was satisfied he was ready to get back to work. He’s acting like his old self again.”

“Good.” It was wonderful to know Oses had overcome his trauma. Betra was okay too, from what I could see.

I had another to worry about though. I wanted to find out about her even before the story of how they’d managed to free me of the It. “The baby?” I whispered.

Betra drew a deep breath, his happy expression fading a little. Oh please, no, was my first thought.

Betra’s expression steadied, and a light smile touched his lips. “She’s like you. A hell of a survivor. Tep delivered your daughter less than an hour after we got you back from the organism’s escape attempt.”

Shock filled my worn body. “He delivered her? She’s been born?” But it was too soon. I was only 25 weeks pregnant when they’d taken her.

Betra nodded. “Thank the ancestors Tep had taken the precaution of hurrying her development. As it is, she’s barely enough to fill my hand. She’s alive, Shalia. She was born a little over two weeks ago and her odds improve with every minute.”

I stared at him. My baby had been born. She was still alive. The It hadn’t killed her.

“Can I see her?” I asked.

Betra stroked my face, comforting me. “Not yet, sweetness. You’re too weak to take out of your bed just yet. She can’t leave sterile isolation, not until she’s more developed and able to fight off bacteria and such. You both have been through the wringer.”

“But she’s going to be okay?” My eyes filled with tears, both happy and hurting. I was a mother. Yet I couldn’t see my child for myself. I couldn’t hold her in my arms and reassure my aching heart.

“Tep thinks so. Her organs are developing as they should, and she’s doing as well as anyone could hope. She’s a little stronger every day.”

I could feel exhaustion creeping up on me, trying to drag me away before I could learn all I needed to. “The It never hurt her?”

“It didn’t even get close.” Betra’s smile was tight and mean. “It was the pregnancy hormones that protected her. Something Tep called HcG plus elevated estrogen and progesterone kept the It at bay from physically getting at the baby. The organism couldn’t access enough of your brain’s functions to turn your body against her before Tep got her out. Once he did that, the only hostage left was you.”

“How?” I asked. I didn’t have the strength to ask the rest of the question: how had they rid me of the invader?

Betra knew what I wanted anyway. “Once the baby was out and Tep thought you were recovered enough from surgery, he poisoned you. It was a slow-acting but lethal dose. We were going to lose you anyway, Shalia. There was nothing left he could do.”

The Imdiko’s eyes filled with tears as he told me the awful truth. The sorrow over-spilled, streaking down his cheeks.

“The hope was that the organism would give you up since it had no chance of keeping you from dying. It seemed spiteful enough to take you with it, though. It knew we would destroy it as soon as it gave up your body, whether you survived or not.”

He had to stop for a few seconds to recover. For that time, he was as voiceless as me.

“There was an antidote to the poison, which Tep and the captain told the organism about. Captain Wotref told the thing if it would give you up in time for Tep to administer the antidote, he would keep it alive in its hibernation chamber for study. He never intended to do any such thing, of course. Such technology is much too dangerous to have lying around. It had to be destroyed.”

Betra drew a deep, steadying breath. “That fucking thing knew we’d never allow it to infect another person. It fought to keep you until the very last possible moment. When it finally gave up and withdrew from you, it was almost too late. Your poor body—”

He choked up again. It was a couple of minutes before he was able to continue the story. “You’d gone through surgery to get the baby out. You were being destroyed from within by the poison. Several of your organs shut down at various times during the first week. You were clinically dead twice. Somehow, Tep kept restarting you, like a balky engine. You came back. I don’t know how, but you came back.”

He bent to kiss me then, his lips peppering soft and gentle like spring rain over my face. His tears mixed with mine, an outpouring of gratitude.

By the time Betra stopped kissing me, darkness fringed my sight. I fought it off, wanting to know the end of it. “The It ... dead?” I rasped.

Betra nodded. “Oses sent both of the hibernation bracelets out in a lifepod rigged to explode. The blast tore everything into tiny pieces. Anything left bigger than a speck of dust was blasted by the ship’s weapons until it all was dust. The organisms are destroyed.”

Both the bracelets. With the last of my fading strength, I mouthed the name my voice would not carry. “Candy?”

Betra smiled. “Alive. Recovering, the same as you. Tep was forced to poison her as well, with the same results.”

His voice sounded far away. I was slipping back into unconsciousness. I didn’t want to go, not until I saw Oses. Not until I thanked him and Tep and everyone else for all they’d done. Not until I’d seen my daughter’s face for myself. But my body had been through far too much for my will to force it any further. I drifted off, the taste of Betra’s tears still on my tongue like a sweet elixir of life.