Monday, July 13, 2015
“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.