Posted on 2011-10-31
'Lizzy, this is madness,' Jane panted. 'I cannot do this. Let me holo for an ambulance, and we will have you in the P&D in minutes.'
'No - no -' Lizzy cried.
Jane had already flipped open the speaker on her wristband, but Lizzy caught her friend's wrist in a tight grip.
'No, you mustn't!' she cried. 'Please, Jane. Don't - don't -'
Jane saw tears well up in her friend's eyes that were not caused by the pain.
'But how?' Jane asked. 'How are we going to do it?'
Lizzy did not answer the question, but gripped Jane's wrist tighter and shouted with pain, then panted until the contractions subsided and she could speak again.
'I will push her out,' she said. 'I know my body can do it.'
She cried when another contraction gripped her body.
'Oh, Goddess, Jane, it hurts!' she whimpered. 'Is that normal? Does it hurt so much?'
'Well, I would not know,' Jane said sadly. 'But I have never heard from anyone that it hurt. You simply go to the P&D on your date and have the delivery performed, don't you? Why didn't you, Lizzy? Did you miss your appointment? But surely they would still admit you! You should not have waited until the pain started, everybody knows it's better to have the treatment before the contractions start.'
'I cannot - cannot go there -' Lizzy panted. 'Besides - too late - she's coming -'
'But what am I supposed to do?' Jane cried. 'I cannot just cut you open, can I? How am I to pull her out?'
Lizzy did not answer her, but merely spread her legs when another wave of pain gripped her.
'You cannot be serious!' Jane shrieked. 'But this is - this is not how this is supposed to work - please, Lizzy, in the name of all that is holy, let me at least holo for a doctor, she will know what to do. She can perform the delivery here, you don't have to do it -'
'Too late!' Lizzy cried.
'This is primeval,' Jane shouted. 'This hasn't been done for centuries, who knows if your body can still do it?'
'Of course it can,' Lizzy shouted. 'Why do you think it was built that way?'
'I will clean her,' Jane said a little while later.
She was still surprised that it had all worked, that Lizzy had survived what had looked like the most painful ordeal ever, and that the baby too had lived. Jane still could not believe that it was only a little over an hour since her friend, panicked and in pain, had stood on her doorstep, so much had happened since and the matter still was as mysterious as it had been when Jane had first realised that what Lizzy had were delivery contractions. She had not even known her friend was procreating, but then, Jane mused, they had had hardly an opportunity to talk, ever since that affair with Caroline -
With a sharp jolt, Jane's attention returned to the baby. She frowned.
'Oh, Lizzy, there is something wrong,' she said. 'She looks healthy enough, but there seems to be some sort of growth. They must have forgot to check a gene at the P&D. But do not worry, I am sure they can put her right in no time.'
Lizzy sat up on the bed.
'Give her to me,' she said. 'Let me see her.'
Jane handed her the baby, wrapped in a blanket and Lizzy took her in her arms.
'It is odd,' Jane said. 'She does not look very much like you at all. But that will probably come with time, won't it?'
'I suppose so,' Lizzy said. 'But I don't know, somehow she doesn't look like a Lizzy.'
'Don't be silly,' Jane chuckled. 'If you delivered her, she's a Lizzy. Now, shall I holo the P&D about the growth?'
'No!' Lizzy cried. 'I mean, let me see it first. Where is it?'
Jane carefully unfolded the blankets and pointed. Lizzy stared at her baby in confusion for a moment.
'As I said, do not worry,' Jane said. 'I have never heard of such a growth before, but I am sure it can be removed easily, it is so tiny. You still have a very beautiful daughter.'
'No, I don't,' Lizzy whispered. 'I have a son.'
'A what?' Jane asked.
'A son,' Lizzy said. 'My son.'
Her gaze fell on her hand and for the first time, Jane noticed a ring on her finger.
'Our son,' Lizzy said and a tear ran down her cheek.
'What are you talking about?' Jane said. 'A - a son?'
She sounded the archaic word with uncertainty.
'But, Lizzy,' she said. 'I didn't think that could happen anymore. They are so diligent at the P&D here - you must be mistaken - or did you go to another centre when you got selected for procreation?'
'I wasn't at a centre at all,' Lizzy said.
'But - but how?' Jane said. 'Was it - was it a parthenogenesis? But you could have got that treated, it's better to get it controlled, who knows what could happen - I mean, she looks healthy, but you never know -'
'Jane,' Lizzy said and reached for her friend's hand. 'I was not fertilised. I was impregnated.'
'Impregnated,' Lizzy repeated. 'Through sexual intercourse.'
Jane looked at her in incomprehension.
'Lizzy, everybody knows you can't have a daughter through contact,' she said. 'That's just one of those tales that they tell the young girls to scare them before they have their first contact.'
Her wristband buzzed.
'Oh, that's Georgiana,' Jane said. 'She must be worried about you already, let me just answer that -'
'No!' Lizzy cried. 'No!'
'What is wrong?' Jane asked. 'Did you two break up?'
'She must not know I'm here,' Lizzy said urgently. 'Don't tell her, Jane. Don't tell her!'
'Lizzy, what is going on?' Jane demanded. 'You turn up on my doorstep after I haven't seen you in almost a year, at a far too late stage of contracting, procreating yet you claim not to have been through P&D treatment, I have to manually deliver you of a daughter that you claim is a - a son and now I'm not allowed to tell your partner you're here - does she even know you were selected for procreation?'
'I wasn't,' Lizzy said.
'But - but -' Jane said. 'You - you didn't steal fertiliser, did you? Lizzy, you know I would have to report you - it simply is not right - you of all people would know why I -'
'I am going to tell you everything,' Lizzy said. 'Please, hear my story first.
'Do you remember about a year ago, when your application for procreation had been denied and Caroline left you, how I was offered that new job with the Historical Research Board and had to go overseas?'
'You know how I hated to leave you alone at that time,' Lizzy said and pressed her friend's hand, 'but it was the opportunity of a life-time and -'
'Of course you had to go,' Jane said. 'I know how much you wanted that job, to find out more about the history of our kind -'
Lizzy gave a mirthless laugh.
'Our kind, yes,' she said. 'That is where it all began, I suppose.'
She paused and sighed deeply.
'Do you know what men are, Jane?' she asked.
'Of course I do,' Jane said. 'They're an extinguished species. They had near-human intelligence and were capable of performing simple manual tasks for humans. Men and humans peacefully coexisted for a long time, but unfortunately, men were not as adept at adapting to the changing conditions of the environment. When humans began using hormones to suppress the monthly contractions, they didn't realise that unfortunately, men could not function with the higher hormone intake through the water and they died out, along with neanderthals and dodos. It is regrettable, of course, but it cannot be changed now. Human history continued unchanged.'
Tears rose into Lizzy's eyes again.
'It is a lie,' she said. 'It is all a lie.'
'What do you mean?' Jane said. 'That is in the history books.'
'It's wrong,' Lizzy said. 'Men were not another species. They were part of our world. They were humans.'
Jane shook her head.
'No,' she said. 'We are humans.'
'Yes, and so were they,' Lizzy said. 'We were called women once, and we were just one half of humanity. Men were the other half, the second sex. They were not different from us. They spoke the same language as we did, they enjoyed the same things - they read the books we read and they watched the same visualists as we did, because they were as we were. Not better, not worse, but the same. They loved like we do, they had dreams like we have, they lived like we do and they died like we do. Some of them were good people and some weren't, just as we are, but in the end, we were all humans, men and women.'
Jane stared at her in disbelief.
'And sometimes,' Lizzy continued, 'sometimes, one of us, a woman, would choose not to live with another woman, but with a man instead -'
'But that's -' Jane stammered, 'that's - but natural laws -'
Lizzy shook her head.
'It was just as right for a woman to live with a man, as it was for a woman to live with another woman,' she said. 'Or for a man with another man. It did not matter. Men and women chose their partner based on whom they loved, not what status they were. Just like we do. And sometimes, a man and a woman would have a child together.'
'A child,' Lizzy repeated. 'A daughter, or a son. A woman could give birth to either back then.'
'But did they not sort out the faulty ones at the P&D?' Jane asked.
'They did not consider sons faulty,' Lizzy said. 'They loved their children regardless of whether they were sons or daughters. And not all people had their children through P&Ds.'
'But how -'
'They had children through contact,' Lizzy explained. 'At least, wherever it was biologically possible. For some, it would not work, and they had to ask doctors for help - if it were two women, for example - but a man and a woman could have a child from contact. Both ways were accepted. Whatever worked best for the woman who wanted a child, and her partner, if she had one, was accepted.'
Jane was confused. Her head was spinning.
'But Lizzy, you know you cannot have a child from contact,' she said.
'You can if you do it with a man,' Lizzy said. 'You see, when a man and a woman were very much in love, and wanted to be close to each other -'
Jane listened with fascination and not a little disbelief as Lizzy described the mechanics of an incomprehensible act to her while she nursed her little daughter for the first time.
'But then how would the Procreation Board control who had a daughter?' she asked.
'There was no board,' Lizzy said. 'Women had the choice if they wanted to have a child or not. It was their own decision what to do with their bodies and with whom to have a child. And if two men wanted to raise a child, they could do that too, regardless of whether it was a son or a daughter.'
'They did not have to apply?' Jane asked.
'They did not have to apply,' Lizzy confirmed, 'and no woman could be selected to have a child if she did not want to. Just like the choice of a partner to live with, raising a child was a matter of love. It did not matter what or who a child's parents were as long as they loved them.'
'It sounds like a wonderful world,' she said. 'What happened?'
'I do not know,' Lizzy said. 'I have no idea. Maybe it is true, maybe men could not tolerate the higher estrogen levels in the water - I do not know. I travelled to the Central European Plains in order to find out.'
'What did you find?' Jane asked.
'There are still men left,' Lizzy said. 'Some men. Very few. They have survived. I do not know how. There are some tribes in the Bavarian Desert where men and women still live together; where they still live how humans used to live, so many centuries ago.'
'Did you - could you analyse them?' Jane asked. 'Find out why they survived?'
'I found them by accident,' Lizzy said. 'I was on my way to the Vienna oasis when my ship's navigating system collapsed and I got lost. The ship crashed into a rock and I could not repair it, so I tried to continue on foot, to find a settlement. For three days, I wandered there, completely lost, I had no idea where I was, the sun was burning, my water reserves where running low. On the fourth day, I could not go further, I just sat down in the shadow of a rock and drank my last water and thought I would die - and then I was found. By him.'
'By him -' Jane echoed, letting the unknown word roll off her tongue.
'By a man,' Lizzy said. 'A man of the tribe. I thought I was hallucinating - I realised he must be a man, but I knew it could not be - I knew they had died out - but I knew then they had not. He was still there, maybe the last man on earth, as far as I knew, but he lived - and he saved me.'
'He,' Jane said. 'Was that her name? The name of the man?'
'His name,' she said. 'He, that is the third pronoun, Jane. Him is the objective form, and his is the possessive.
'He was very wary of me at first. He thought I was come to extinct the tribe, that I would have them hunted down -'
'Hunt them -'
'Yes,' she said. 'The boards - they know some men still live, and they are hunting them. The tribe is in hiding - has been in hiding for centuries - there are so few of them left now -'
She swallowed and looked down at her son, who had fallen asleep at her chest. She stroked his cheek tenderly.
'But in the end, I managed to convince him,' she said. 'I convinced him that I was on their side, that I meant no harm, that I would protect them. And he believed me.'
'What was her name?' Jane asked. 'His name, I mean?'
'Darcy,' Lizzy said. 'Fitzwilliam Darcy. He is my son's father.'
'Father,' Jane repeated yet another unknown word.
'His second parent,' Lizzy said. 'His male parent. It is what you call a man who is a mother.'
Finally, Jane comprehended.
'So you and - you and this man - you had - contact?' she asked. 'She - he, I mean - with her - his - in your -'
'I didn't understand it at first,' Lizzy said. 'I didn't quite realise what we were doing -'
'Was it very weird?' Jane asked curiously. 'I mean, compared with normal contact? With a human - a woman, I mean?'
'Yes,' she said. 'And no. I could not quite say. It - it was different, because his body was different - but it also wasn't different, I mean, it was contact - but it was with him, and that was what made all the difference - it was not that he was a man, it was that he was him -'
'Did she do it with you because she wanted a daughter?' Jane asked, still not quite able to get used to the third pronoun.
'No, that was an accident,' Lizzy said. 'A bit like parthenogenesis, you know. Unplanned.'
'Unplanned,' Jane echoed. 'An unplanned daughter - child, I mean.'
'You see, I didn't have enough contraction suppressors with me,' Lizzy explained. 'And when I ran out of them, I started a menstrual cycle.'
'Oh, I have heard about that!' Jane exclaimed. 'Is it - is it very horrible?'
'It is not an experience I need to repeat,' Lizzy said. 'But it was bearable, altogether, after a day or two. Chocolate helps against the pain, you know.'
'So when you ran out of the suppressors, and started a cycle,' Jane asked, 'it was like when the P&D change your hormones before you are fertilised?'
'Yes,' Lizzy said. 'I was fertile, and I became pregnant.'
'Procreating,' Lizzy explained. 'Oh, Jane - I was so happy - he was so happy - it would have been the first child born in the tribe in years - I loved him so much, Jane -'
'But why did you come back?' Jane asked. 'Why did you leave the tribe and come here?'
'Oh, Jane,' Lizzy cried. 'They found us. The board - Georgiana - they had us tracked down -'
'Georgiana is on the board,' she said. 'Was all the time when we were together, although she never told me. She denied your application, you know - she had a grudge against Caroline or something, and thought it would be fun - when I found that out, I broke up with her, just before I left. But she had me followed, and somehow, she found out I was living with the tribe - one day, I strayed too far from the safe area, and I got caught in a holo, and Georgiana found out I was pregnant, and - and - she had the tribe hunted and -'
She swallowed again.
'They were killed, Jane,' she whispered. 'They were all killed. I escaped by mere accident - I came here because there is no one else - no one I can trust but you -'
Before Jane could say anything, her wristband buzzed again.
'It's Georgiana,' Jane said. 'I think she knows you're here.'
'I have to go,' Lizzy said. 'She must not find me.'
'But - but you just took birth!' Jane exclaimed. 'Is that the term?'
'Gave birth,' Lizzy said. 'And I have no other choice, Jane. I have a son now. I must protect him. I'm leaving.'
'How long until she will be here, what do you think?' Jane asked.
'Fifteen minutes,' Lizzy said. 'Maybe twenty. Can I - could I - would you give me your ship?'
'No,' Jane said.
She got up from the bed, reached for a bag and began packing it.
'You're not going alone,' she said. 'I'm coming with you.'The End