Monday, September 7, 2015
July 14, part 1
Well. Yesterday was certainly a long, drawn out affair. I can’t even begin to know how I’ll record everything and do all the stuff I’m supposed to do today.
Betra got me to Anrel’s room with plenty of time to put her in her little pink dress. I knew it would swallow her whole, and it very nearly did. If not for the medical sensor vest she wears adding a little girth to her, I may as well have put her in a circus big top tent. She’s grown a lot since she was born, but she is still too tiny to be believed. I had gotten used to how small she is until I saw her miniscule little head poking out of a dress that could have covered two of her.
I had this huge wash of terror overcome me when I saw Anrel like that. In an instant I was sobbing like she’d died. My baby is so very tiny, so incredibly helpless. How am I supposed to keep her safe? It seems like I can barely keep myself alive most of the time.
Fortunately, Betra was there to take over. I don’t think he quite understood why I was bawling my head off, other than the dress not fitting. Maybe he thought it was hormones screwing me up. At any rate, he took Anrel from me and set about pinning the dress and making it look more her size.
Seeing my daughter in those big, strong arms calmed me almost right away. I was reminded that I’m not alone when it comes to keeping Anrel safe. She has Betra. She has Oses. She has a lot of other people on this ship, Earther and Kalquorian alike, who concern themselves with her welfare. And when I get to Kalquor, there will be others ready to take up the slack. It’s not all up to me.
Yet even as I took comfort in that, I realized I’m still Anrel’s first line of defense. I have to be stronger than I am. Hell, I have to be stronger than I was before the It pulled me apart.
I have blaster training. However, I can’t roam around wearing a blaster every second of the day. What else can I do? There must be something.
Seeing that Betra was doing a good job of making my little girl as presentable as possible, I checked myself out to make sure my huge meltdown hadn’t wrecked my makeup. I was a little tearstreaked, but some powder fixed most of it.
I finished putting myself to rights just as Betra had Anrel ready to meet her potential fathers. He handed her over to me.
“Thank you,” I said. I meant more than him fixing her dress so it looked only one size too big for her.
He smiled. “It’s what I’m here for.” A shadow passed over his face. “Would you like me to stay? I can keep out of sight. They don’t have to know I’m here.”
My weak moment had passed, thank goodness. How awkward would it have been for me to talk to maybe-future lovers and mates with one of my current sweethearts watching? Eek. Especially since I always get randy when I look at Clan Seot.
“No, I’m good again. Ready to give them the inquisition.” I made a stern face, like a hostile interrogator.
Betra hovered anyway. “Are you sure? Maybe Anrel will get fussy and need to be taken out of the com. Maybe you’ll get tired of holding her.”
“Maybe you should go so I can get this done and over with,” I said, using a teasing voice to soften the barbed comment. I had the unwelcome idea that Betra was jealous and wanted to check out his competition. “We’re okay, Betra. I have the call button right here if I need help.”
He gave in with good grace ... sort of. Betra slowly backed out of the room, as if to give me time to reconsider. “Okay. I’ll be right outside Isolation.”
Betra kept backing up, watching me hopefully until the door opened behind him. At last he stepped outside the room, leaving me and Anrel alone to call our beaus.
I checked the time and smiled down at my sweet baby. Her gaze didn’t seem to be on anything in particular, as is usual for her. Tep says she’s too young to focus her vision well. Her arms, swathed in pink fabric, waved as if to tell me to get the show on the road.
“Okay, okay,” I cooed to her. “No need to rush. We’re right on time.”
I set my portable com on the table that Betra had arranged for me to use for just this purpose. I took a deep breath and propped Anrel in the crook of my arm. I tugged her dress down a little to make sure her tiny little elf face would be visible to Clan Seot when they answered.
“Comfy?” I asked. She made one of her birdlike sounds as if to answer.
“Here we go,” I said. I took another deep breath and addressed the com. “Enable vid transmission.”
A small green light came on the device and an electronic voice issued from it. “Vid transmission enabled. Com frequency?”
I had programmed it into my device. “Clan Seot.”
They must have been waiting by their com. I don’t think a second went by before Clan Seot appeared in front of me and Anrel. I held my breath, waiting for their reactions.
Expectant smiles dropped off the three handsome faces. Three pairs of purple eyes widened. Even Nobek Larten’s mouth dropped open in shock. I know from experience that Nobeks are usually good at keeping their emotions under control.
Imdiko Cifa was the first to blurt, “Shalia! Are you ill? Wait! Is that the baby? But it’s too early!”
Seot reached out to grasp Cifa’s arm, quieting his near-shouts with a mere touch. The Dramok’s eyes never left my face. “Easy, Cifa. Shalia, I am happy to see you, but it is clear much has happened. Are you all right?”
I did my best reassuring smile. “I’ve had a rough time of it recently, but yes, I’ll be okay. As will my daughter Anrel.”
“Thank the ancestors,” Cifa breathed. Relieved now that he knew I wasn’t in imminent danger of dying, his sweet smile returned. He gazed at Anrel, his expression getting downright sappy. “Oh, she’s so tiny! Look at that little bit of a girl! So sweet!”
I had a hard time not laughing. Cifa gushed every bit as much as Candy. The look on his face told me he’d instantly fallen in love with Anrel, and hard.
“Congratulations, Shalia,” Seot said, his warm smile returning. “She is beautiful.”
“Anrel,” Larten said, speaking her name like a benediction. “Did you name her for one of our great Matara warriors?”
“Yes,” I said. “I hope that doesn’t seem presumptuous. It was the suggestion of the ship’s weapons commander. Anrel is quite the fierce fighter to have been through what she has.”
“Will you tell us?” Seot asked. Worry touched on his face again. “I know you say you’ll be all right and you are still beautiful to look at, but it is obvious something happened. The baby was in danger? She had to be taken early?”
I told them about being infected with the Bi’isil biological weapon and how it had threatened Anrel, forcing Dr. Tep to birth her far ahead of her due date. I told them that the only way to force the It from my body meant I’d almost been poisoned to death.
“I’ll be back to my old self in a few more weeks,” I promised. “I swear the wreck you see now isn’t going to last.”
“Wreck?” Larten said, his tone containing a reprimand. “Dear girl, you are still a lovely woman. You just lost some weight. Don’t you dare belittle yourself after fighting your way through such a battle.”
“You have great strength. More than Earthers are credited with having, at least among the Kalquorians I’ve spoken to,” Seot said in quiet agreement. “I cannot begin to tell you how impressed I am with what you’ve done.”
I had to protest. “It was all Dr. Tep and my friends who wouldn’t give up on me,” I insisted. “I just laid in the medi-bed scared out of my wits.”
“You never gave up,” Cifa reassured me. “You held on to keep your baby and friends safe from the organism. If that isn’t heroic effort, I’ll eat Larten’s cooking.”
The Nobek snorted at that. “Shalia could use a little of my diet. Eat lots of meat to regain your strength,” he advised me. “The bloodier, the better. The iron and protein of raw ronka is best.”
Raw ronka? Seot gave me a secretive shake of his head to indicate he was no more a fan of Larten’s chosen food than I was. Cifa was a lot more vocal about his thoughts.
“She’s not an animal, you beast. Earther diets are a little different from ours. Plus she needs certain things to ensure the highest quality breast milk, don’t you Shalia?”
I was saved from telling Cifa something so personal as that I couldn’t breastfeed Anrel by Seot cutting in with his diplomatic tone. “I’m sure Dr. Tep has Shalia’s dietary needs well in hand, my clanmates.” He smiled at me. “But perhaps you are due a few treats? Are you one of those Earthers who enjoys chocolate so much?”
From there we talked of less scary subjects. I discovered that with the war over, Seot had funneled much of the profits from his munitions factories into funding for the care of surviving Earther war veterans. He told me, “This was the first time my weapons had been used against a race I did not truly call enemy. Earthers are not Tragooms or Bi’isils. They are a part of Kalquor’s future. How can I not make amends to those who my people pledge to join with?”
His meaning was clear to me. Seot not only accepts Earthers will merge with his culture, but welcomes us. He seemed to specifically be welcoming me. That went a long way towards quieting my conscience. I’d had some concerns about joining the clan of a Dramok who had been a substantial part of fighting against my race.
Other things were spoken of. Our pasts, our families, some small chitchat. Seot and Larten are the only children born to their parents. All three men’s parent clans are alive. Apparently Clan Seot has been telling them about me. Cifa disclosed that their families are always asking if they’ve heard from me lately. It makes me wonder if these three men are pursuing other potential Mataras at all. They must be. Surely they can’t be focused on just me.
It was a little strange to be working on that gentle probing for information that makes up what I would have called a date back on Earth. Strange, but fun. At one point during our first hour of conversation, Anrel yawned hugely. She looked comical with that tiny mouth stretching as wide as it could go ... and adorable too. While Larten chuckled and Seot smiled at her with caring warmth, Cifa went into paroxysms of delight.
“So cute!” he gushed. His big muscled arms reached forward for a moment, as if he was dying to hold her. The Imdiko gazed at Anrel every bit as much as he looked at me. Yep, he’s in love with my little girl. It’s almost too sweet to stand. I have to say I can’t wait to see him hold her. I might even have to fight him to get her back, ha-ha.
Anrel went to sleep moments later and stayed that way for the rest of my conversation. I was on the com with Seot, Larten, and Cifa for over two hours. I couldn’t believe that much time had passed when Betra stuck his head in the room. His gaze darting at the transmission of the three men, he whispered, “Dr. Tep says you need to go to your room and rest.”
I opened my mouth to protest. I didn’t feel tired in the least. I could have talked to the three men forever. However, Seot quickly said, “Our apologies for taking up so much time, Shalia. Perhaps we can arrange to talk again before you leave the portals?”
From his kind but unmistakably firm tone (it made me shiver), I deduced Seot was not going to naysay my doctor and wouldn’t let me do so either. Boy, that man has the leader thing down pat. I imagined him telling me to get naked in that tone. I’d been a little turned on during our whole conversation, but my interest spiked high at the thought. Yowza. Order away, Dramok Seot.
They were right, though. I’d been sitting there holding Anrel for a long while. Checking the time made me feel how achy the arm that supported her had become. My back hurt too.
Plus the fact Betra stayed in the doorway had a dampening effect on the discussion. I smiled at Clan Seot.
“I would love to talk to you again. This was fun.”
“For us too,” Seot assured me. “The last day you’re in range, perhaps? I only put it off because I know Larten has war games at the training camp tomorrow. That usually means a few extra hours spent in the infirmary.”
“Keeping an eye on my clumsier trainees to make sure they don’t take out their shame on the medical staff.” Larten assured me.
“Oh good. At first I was afraid you anticipated getting hurt.” I hadn’t much liked that idea.
Larten snorted as if my worry was the most absurd thing he’d ever heard. “The day one of those rank younglings can blow me up is the day I need to walk off the field and work in the kitchens.”
“Serving raw ronka?” I laughed.
They all cracked up at that. “What else?” Larten chortled. “Iron for strength, Shalia. That’s the key.”
With that last bit of advice, we said our goodbyes. I hated to see the three men disappear, but the smile wouldn’t leave my face.