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.