Loranya Vershtul Quandirr became aware of the soft beeps and hisses from the surrounding machines. Like a lumbering creature wading through mud, her mind emerged from the lethargy that stasis invoked. It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t smooth.
As always, her thoughts settled on how much she hated stasis. The term stasis sounded so tame. So innocuous. As if the body were just locked in place like a piece of luggage for transfer. It wasn’t like that at all.
No. Organic bodies were too delicate to make it through the warp jumps intact. So they had to do… things… to them. Things that changed their density, their ability to withstand pressure. The procedure was conducted all the time, in every corner of the universe, from the All-Being’s united worlds to the Scarl’s martial colonies. Even the worthless Antagors used it. It was perfectly safe - administered by experts and highly specialized machines.
But it was her body. The only one she had. What if they jacked it up? What if they couldn’t return her body to its pre-stasis condition?
Despite the temporary paralysis, her mind was awake and floating from one thought to another as identity, personality and memory slowly reformed.
Her thoughts skipped to something about a man - her brother - and a woman with pale, pale sea green skin. A… what were they? Ah, yes – a Corline. But that made no sense. Her brother would never take up with such a tenuous ally as a Corline. She forced her mind back to the issue. What had the issue been again?
She caught a snippet of memory. This jump had been the only time she’d actually looked forward to the stasis procedure. The trip across sectors to Isiris-Five, home system of Andiri took six day-cycles. Six days of numbness. Of not thinking. Of not mourning. The respite had sounded like an undeserved blessing. But what had she been mourning? Who had died? Did she really want to remember? Could she get them to halt the stasis right here, before life descended on her again?
But it was too late. Memory stretched before her and snapped into place. She’d wanted to forget her lover and the terrified, revolted look on his face when she’d told him he’d somehow gotten her pregnant despite their anti-conception patches. And the fact that he’d found a jump ship and was two sectors away by the next morning.
As tradition dictated for her race, she’d connected mentally with the baby. She, who’d run from most everything else in her life under the belief that she was unsuited and unworthy, had decided to stand firm and be there for her child. She might still be a completely unsuitable mother, but by the All-Being’s mercy, she was going to try. She’d made plans, done her best to ensure that they’d both have a future to be proud of.
And then her little one had died. She’d woken one morning and known the baby hadn’t survived. Technically, she had still been pregnant. Her body hadn’t flushed the baby from her system yet. But the baby was gone. She had been alone again.
Her superiors had granted her an indefinite leave from NatLife. She’d planned to go home for a time, back to the Sunlands. Back to the brother she’d left behind and the responsibilities she had felt so unsuited for.
So here she was, wanting to run again – from the pain, the frustration, the self-hatred, the confusion.
Simki? The voice whispered into her mind.
Her thoughts stuttered to a halt.
What? The thought escaped before she could control it.
I help. Help Simki. No sadness.
Her rational mind pursued the mental connection, like blind fingers following a rope. It was close. It was… her whole body jerked towards her womb, but didn’t get far, thanks to the stasis.
That voice. It was coming from within her, where her baby had been.
But that wasn’t her baby.
The sound, the feel, everything was different. Her baby was dead. This baby, if baby it was, was older than her child. Hers had not yet mastered mind-speech, and wouldn’t have for another term and a half. Chills swept her.
What was this in her belly?
Scorch this bedamned stasis! She couldn’t even scream for help, couldn’t shout for someone to come explain to her how she’d gotten through three terms of pregnancy in only six day-cycles. What in the Sunlands had happened while she’d been unconscious? Her heartbeat accelerated as much as it could under the effects of stasis and she felt chilled. Maybe it really wasn’t six day-cycles later. Had her ship been hijacked for some bizarre breeding program? Was that even possible?
Then another thought struck her and she paled. Where was her own baby? She needed it, needed his remains to burn to ashes for his brick in their stirizna, their family wall. How could she put him to rest with his ancestors if she didn’t have his organic matter? His soul would never rest, never have peace or know his own kind. He’d wander for all eternity!
No sadness, Simki.
If she could have shied away from the voice in her head, she would have. Bittersweet nostalgia flooded her. Was it a betrayal of her own child to relish the return of this connection? But what was she talking to? How had it gotten inside her? Could talking to the fetus help clarify things? And why was it calling her Simki? Only one way to find out.
What’s a Simki? She asked.
You. Second mother.
Second mother. Simki.
Second mother! She was expected to actually raise this thing as her own young? Her fingers twitched, and then flexed. There was something in her hand. She glanced down and then struggled to raise her hand and lift her eyelids. There. Just enough to see it. A data chip. Not hers. The effort exhausted her and she collapsed back to the pad.
Did this chip explain what was going on? Once she’d greeted her brother, this chip would be her first order of business.