Monday, January 4, 2016
August 21, part 1
Oh my gosh. What a day. What a crazy, amazing, freak-out of a day. After almost three months, Anrel was finally released from Medical.
I put her in the iridescent dress Katrina had bought her ages ago back on Tratsu. Anrel has done some growing, but she’s still so tiny! I think she’s about the size of a typical Earther newborn now. I spoke to Tep about it, and he had some interesting stats from the reports he’s read. Most Kalquorian/Earther hybrids are much bigger than Earther babies. Some are so big that they have to be taken from Earther moms a few weeks ahead of time for the safety of the woman. I cannot imagine shoving out thirty pounds of baby, the biggest hybrid on record so far. Those Kalquorian genes are fierce.
At seven pounds, three ounces, Anrel’s a horse compared to what she was, but still ... sweet, itty-bitty baby. Betra did his pinning trick to make the dress fit her. The man is a wizard when it comes to making temporary alterations.
I clipped a little purple bow in her black curls. Sorry to be so sappy here (no, not really), but big ‘awww’ moment. Anrel was so adorable. She kicked and alternated between cooing and sucking on her fist. It was as if she was excited to break out of Medical at long last.
Betra had my vid recorder ready to go and pointed at me as I picked up my baby. “Here it is,” he grinned. “The big moment.”
I cradled Anrel in my arms and smiled. And then sheer panic swept over me. I started to hyperventilate.
“Shalia?” Betra lowered the vid recorder. “What’s wrong?”
“Get – get Feru,” I gasped as I set Anrel back in her little incubator-bed thing. “I can’t. I can’t. Get Feru.”
Looking scared, Betra stuck his head out the door. Feru was just outside, so it was barely a second before he came into the room. He stood in front of me and put his hands on my shaking shoulders.
“Easy Shalia,” he said in his soothing voice. “Do you need to sit down?”
Instead I grabbed onto him, partly because I was so scared and partly because the room was starting to rock. “What if something goes wrong? What if I can’t get help for her fast enough?”
Feru’s gentle face didn’t change expression even though I knew I was being ridiculous. “Down, Shalia,” he said, guiding me into a chair. “It’s all right. Breathe with me. In, one, two. Hold, one, two. Out, one, two, three. That’s my girl. In, one, two. Hold, one, two. Out, one, two, three.”
Little by little, my head stopped feeling so swimmy. My heart rate slowed. I stopped gasping like a fish out of water.
“Okay, you’re doing better,” Feru praised. He smiled, as if I wasn’t acting like a world-class goof. “This is a big step taking Anrel out of here, isn’t it? No more monitors, no more doctors only steps away.”
I almost cried to hear my abrupt terror voiced out loud. He understood. He got it. I wasn’t completely crazy.
I didn’t bawl like I wanted to, but a couple of tears escaped. “After everything she’s been through, what if I mess it up? What if I make a mistake? What if she has more problems from being so premature?”
“You won’t mess up, Shalia. At least not with the kind of mistake that will cost her life.” Feru’s tone was heaped with confidence. “Plus, guess what the emergency medical response time is to the Matara section of the ship?”
“You can’t know that.” I scowled to let him know I wouldn’t appreciate condescension.
“As part of this staff, I do. The placement of you and the rest of the women was carefully thought out. Just a little over a minute is the answer.” Feru’s grin lit up his dark, attractive face. “You can check with Tep on that if it will make you feel better. I won’t take offense.”
I blinked. “Really? That fast?” Okay, that was encouraging. The panic subsided a little more. “So I yell for help, and it’s on its way?”
Both Feru and Betra nodded. My liaison added, “I’ll be alerted too. I have first response training that will begin lifesaving measures until the medics arrive.” He smiled. “But it won’t come to that. You’re too conscientious for anything at that level to go wrong.”
“You see?” Feru prodded. “Anrel is safe, even outside of Medical. I promise.”
I drew a deep, steadying breath. “Okay. I guess I’m freaking out over nothing.” Shamefaced, I dropped my gaze.
Feru stroked my hair. “Not at all. This is a huge step for you and Anrel. Having such worries is nothing to be embarrassed about, Shalia. In fact, I’d be more surprised if you weren’t a little overwhelmed right now.”
I peeked up at him and Betra. Neither seemed irritated or amused by my little breakdown. All their focus was on confirming I was as ready for this as Anrel.
“Don’t tell anyone I flipped?” I asked sheepishly.
That got me grins. “No one will hear a word of it,” Feru chuckled.
Betra nodded his agreement. He fiddled with the recorder. “Here, let me make sure any evidence that you are less than an absolute badass is erased.”
I laughed at him, at myself. “Thanks. I’ll try to find my nerve now.”
Feru patted my shoulders and stepped back. “Com any time you need me. Any time, no matter the hour, no matter how insignificant you think your fears are.”
“Thank you.” I squared my shoulders and stood. I was still shaky inside ... I can’t say I wasn’t ... but panic had retreated. I picked up Anrel again and cradled her in my arms.
Betra pointed the recorder again. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” I said. I smiled down at the little cherub I held. “Ready, pretty girl? Let’s go home.”
Anrel gurgled around her fist. I took that as my signal to get moving.
I stepped out into the main area of Medical. The staff waited for us and broke out into applause and congratulations. It helped vanquish most of the remaining nerves as I took in the many grinning faces that had become so familiar over these last few weeks. I could have named every last orderly, nurse, lab technician, and doctor in the department. I noted a few in attendance who weren’t usually around for the morning shift. My being filled with warmth to know how much these Kalquorians cared about my baby.
Also waiting for us was Weapons Commander Oses. The big scarred Nobek stepped forward to stroke Anrel’s cheek.
“Congratulations, my warrior queen,” he rumbled in that deep voice of his. “Well done.”
Head doctor Tep also came forward. The sharp planes of his face were softened by emotion. He blinked overbright eyes. “I have looked forward to this day because it means Anrel is strong and healthy. I have also dreaded it. I will miss seeing her precious little face every day.”
I surprised Tep by getting up on my tiptoes and pressing a kiss to his cheek. “You know you are welcome to visit her any time you want. How many times have you saved her life and her mother’s?”
He flushed with pleasure and embarrassment. “It’s been my honor, Shalia. Truly. Now get out of here already.” He said the last with a wink.
I smiled. Before obeying his order, I addressed the assembled staff. “Thank you all for everything you’ve done. Believe me when I say that I am more grateful to you than I could ever express. Anrel will know the name of each and every man who did so much to get her to this moment.”
The praise sounded paltry when I thought of everything they’d done for us both. Yet they beamed at me as if I’d handed them the keys to Heaven. Ah, I love those Kalquorians.
With Betra in front to vid the event and Oses at my side, I walked to the door that would take Anrel out of Medical for the first time in her life. We stepped out into the corridor.
Ship life went on as usual outside of Medical. As momentous an occasion as this was for me, the universe didn’t stand still. Yet there were moments when it seemed to pause. Every crewmember I passed by in the hall stopped, gave a little gasp to see Anrel, and bowed to acknowledge us. A few of the men were acquaintances and they offered their congratulations on Anrel’s progress. I had to stop and thank them for their well wishes. We made our way towards my quarters slowly, but neither Betra nor Oses complained. They seemed to take pleasure in Anrel’s grand procession.
The real surprise came when I entered the Matara area of the ship. The women lined the hall, eager to catch a glimpse of my baby. Most if not all of them had visited her in Medical at some point, but they acted as if they’d never laid eyes on her.
They crowded around, exclaiming with joy to see her bright purple eyes, her rosebud lips (when her fist didn’t block the view), her mass of black curls, and her plump cheeks.
“She’s getting so big, Shalia!”
“Welcome home, Anrel!”
“Oh, such a beautiful baby!”
You’d think there had never been a child born in all the universe before the way they carried on. I was no better, grinning from ear to ear and agreeing with every complimentary word that was said. Anrel seemed to like the attention too. She smiled as if she knew the fuss was all about her. Then darn if she didn’t open her mouth wide and laugh! The sound was as precious as the song of the first bird of spring.
Oh, didn’t we just lose our minds then. The level of high-pitched squealing from dozens of females would have driven a dog crazy. I think every woman present must have dropped an egg in that moment.
Katrina and Candy, honorary Grammy and Auntie, bullied their way to the front of the crowd. The other women laughingly gave way to the pair. After me, Katrina was given the privilege of being the first to hold Anrel outside of Medical. Since she’d had such a rough time of it recently, Candy and I had already agreed it was only fair.
“Oh sweet baby girl, do you even recognize Grammy outside of that medical ward?” Katrina cooed. Her eyes were bright with tears. I wondered if she was remembering holding her biological grandchildren as babies ... and if she wondered if she’d ever again hold the two belonging to her estranged son Matthew.
Her would-be beaus Captain Wotref and Nobek Siko were conspicuous by their absence. It was too bad Katrina’s problems with Matthew had kept them away. They adored Anrel too. At least Wotref’s Imdiko Dr. Ret had been at Anrel’s send-off in Medical.
“She’s so alert,” Candy marveled, looking over Katrina’s shoulder at Anrel. “Are you smiling at Grammy, Anrel? Yes, you are! She knows you, Katrina.”
Katrina kissed both downy soft baby cheeks. “Grammy’s so glad to see you healthy, little girl. Tell your mommy she’s not to keep you all to herself.” My friend fixed me with a mock-stern gaze. “I expect to babysit at least three times a week.”
I laughed. “You’ll have her spoiled senseless by the time we reach Kalquor.”
“That’s my diabolical plan.”
Anrel yawned and everyone made aahing sounds over it. Katrina handed her off to Candy. “That’s our cue that she’s reached her limit of social interaction. It’s hard work being the belle of the ball.”
Candy laughed and peppered tiny kisses all over Anrel’s face. “Just a few seconds of Auntie, pretty baby. Oh, look at this hair. I can’t wait to brush it and play with it and put it in pigtails.”
Two minutes and six more yawns later, I at last reclaimed my child. I waved Anrel’s tiny fist to everyone. “Bye-bye! See you all again soon!”
On a chorus of goodbyes and blown kisses, I went into my quarters, Betra in front of me still recording. Oses followed, and the door shut behind him. Anrel was home.