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"A comment?" The word comment seemed to stick in his throat; it made him cough. "Just because you make a comment on some aspect doesn't mean you reject the work as a whole."
Mada glanced down the neck of her shift. She hadn't really increased her breast ma.s.s all that much, maybe ten or twelve grams, but now vasocongestion had begun to swell them even more. She could also feel blood flowing to her reproductive organs. It was a pleasurable weight that made her feel light as pollen. "Yes, but do you think they're too small?"
Owen got up from the table and came around behind her chair. He put his hands on her shoulders and she leaned her head back against him. There was something between her cheek and his stomach. She heard him say, "Yours are the most perfect b.r.e.a.s.t.s on this entire planet," as if from a great distance and then realized that the something must be his p.e.n.i.s. After that, neither of them made much comment.
Mada stared at the ceiling, her eyes wide but unseeing. Her concentration had turned inward. After she had rolled off him, Owen had flung his left arm across her belly and drawn her hip toward his and given her the night's last kiss. Now the muscles of his arm were slack, and she could hear his seash.o.r.e breath as she released her ovum into the cloud of his sperm squiggling up her fallopian tubes. The most vigorous of the swimmers b.u.t.ted its head through the ovum's membrane and dissolved, releasing its genetic material. Mada immediately started raveling the strands of DNA before the fertilized egg could divide for the first time. Without the necessary diversity, they would never revive the revolution. Satisfied with her intervention, she flowed the blastocyst down her fallopian tubes where it locked onto the wall of her uterus. She prodded it and the ball of cells became a comma with a big head and a thin tail. An array of cells specialized and folded into a tube that ran the length of the embryo, weaving into nerve fibers.
Dark pigment swept across two cups in the blocky head and then bulged into eyes. A mouth slowly opened; in it was a one-chambered, beating heart. The front end of the neural tube blossomed into the vesicles that would become the brain. Four buds swelled, two near the head, two at the tail. The uppermost pair sprouted into paddles, pierced by rays of cells that Mada immediately began to ossify into fingerbone. The lower buds stretched into delicate legs. At midnight, the embryo was as big as her fingernail; it began to move and so became a fetus. The eyes opened for a few minutes, but then the eyelids fused. Mada and Owen were going to have a son; his p.e.n.i.s was now a nub of flesh. Bubbles of tissue blew inward from the head and became his ears. Mada listened to him listen to her heartbeat. He lost his tail and his intestines slithered down the umbilical cord into his abdomen. As his fingerprints looped and whorled, he stuck his thumb into his mouth. Mada was having trouble breathing because the fetus was floating so high in her uterus. She eased herself into a sitting position and Owen grumbled in his sleep. Suddenly the curry in the cauliflower was giving her heartburn. Then the muscles of her uterus tightened and pain sheeted across her swollen belly.
~Drink this.~ The ship flowed a tumbler of nutrient nano onto the bedside table. ~The fetus gains ma.s.s rapidly from now on.~ The stuff tasted like rusty nails. ~You're doing fine.~ When the fetus turned upside down, it felt like he was trying out a gymnastic routine. But then he snuggled headfirst into her pelvis, and calmed down, probably because there wasn't enough room left inside her for him to make large, flailing gestures like his father. Now she could feel electrical buzzes down her legs and inside her v.a.g.i.n.a as the baby b.u.mped her nerves. He was big now, and growing by almost a kilogram an hour, laying down new muscle and brown fat. Mada was tired of it all. She dozed.
At six-thirty-seven her water broke, drenching the bed.
"Hmm." Owen rolled away from the warm, fragrant spill of amniotic fluid. "What did you say?"
The contractions started; she put her hand on his chest and pressed down. "Help," she whimpered.
"Wha...?" Owen propped himself up on his elbows. "Hey, I'm wet. How did I get...?"
"O-Owen!" She could feel the baby's head stretching her v.a.g.i.n.a in a way mere flesh could not possibly stretch.
"Mada! What's wrong?" Suddenly his face was very close to hers. "Mada, what's happening?"
But then the baby was slipping out of her, arid it was sooo much better than the only s.e.x she had ever had. She caught her bream and said, "I have begotten a son."
She reached between her legs and pulled the baby to her b.r.e.a.s.t.s. They were huge now, and very sore.
"We will call him Owen," she said.
And Mada begot Enos and Felicia and Malaleel and Ralph and Jared and Elisa and Tharsis and Masahiko and Thema and Seema and Casper and Hevila and Djanka and Jennifer and Jojo and Regma and Elvis and Irina and Dean and Mar-get and Karoly and Sabatha and Ashley and Siobhan andMei-Fung and Neil and Gupta and Hans and Sade and Moon and Randy and Genevieve and Bob and n.a.z.ia and Eiichi and Justine and Ozma and Khaled and Candy and Pavel and Isaac and Sandor and Veronica and Gao and Pat and Marcus and Zsa Zsa and Li and Rebecca.
Seven years after her return to Trueborn, Mada rested.
Mada was convinced that she was not a particularly good mother, but then she had been designed for courage and quick-thinking, not nurturing and patience. It wasn't the crying or the dirty diapers or the spitting-up, it was the utter uselessness of the babies that the revolutionary in her could not abide. And her maternal instincts were often skewed. She would offer her children the wrong toy or cook the wrong dish, fall silent when they wanted her to play, prod them to talk when they needed to withdraw. Mada and the ship had calculated that fifty of her genetically manipulated offspring would provide the necessary diversity to repopulate Trueborn. After Rebecca was born, Mada was more than happy to stop having children.
Although the children seemed to love her despite her awkwardness, Mada wasn't sure she loved them back. She constantly teased at her feelings, peeling away what she considered pretense and sentimentality. She worried that the capacity to love might not have been part of her emotional design. Or perhaps begetting fifty children in seven years had left her numb.
Owen seemed to enjoy being a parent. He was the one whom the children called for when they wanted to play.
They came to Mada for answers and decisions. Mada liked to watch them snuggle next to him when he spun his fantastic stories. Their father picked them up when they stumbled, and let them climb on his shoulders so they could see just what he saw. They told him secrets they would never tell her.
The children adored the ship, which substantiated a bot companion for each of them, in part for their protection. All had inherited their father's all-but-invulnerable immune system; their chromosomes replicated well beyond the Hayflick limit with integrity and fidelity. But they lacked their mother's ability to flow tissue and were therefore at peril of drowning or breaking their necks. The bots also provided the intense individualized attention that their busy parents could not. Each child was convinced that his or her bot companion had a unique personality. Even the seven-year-olds were too young to realize that the bots were reflecting their ideal personality back at them. The bots were in general as intelligent as the ship, although it had programmed into their DIs a touch of naivete and a tendency to literalness that allowed the children to play tricks on them. Pranking a brother or sister's bot was a particularly delicious sport.
Athens had begun to sprawl after seven years. The library had tripled in size and grown a wing of cla.s.srooms and workshops. A new gym overlooked three playing fields. Owen had asked the ship to build a little theater where the children could put on shows for each other. The original house became a ring of houses, connected by corridors and facing a central courtyard. Each night Mada and Owen moved to their bedroom in a different house. Owen thought it important that the children see them sleeping in the same bed; Mada went along.
After she had begotten Rebecca, Mada needed something to do that didn't involve the children. She had the ship's farmbots plow up a field and for an hour each day she tended it. She resisted Owen's attempts to name this "Mom's Hobby." Mada grew vegetables; she had little use for flowers. Although she made a specialty of root crops, she was not a particularly accomplished gardener. She did, however, enjoy weeding.
It was at these quiet times, her hands flicking across the dark soil, that she considered her commitment to the Three Universal Rights. After two-tenths of a spin, she had clearly lost her zeal. Not for the first, that independent sentients had the right to remain individual. Mada was proud that her children were as individual as any intelligence, flesh or machine, could have made them. Of course, they had no pressing need to exercise the second right of manipulating their physical structures-she had taken care of that for them. When they were of age, if the ship wanted to introduce them to molecular engineering, that couldcertainly be done. No, the real problem was that down-when was forever closed to them by the ident.i.ty mine. How could she justify her new Trueborn society if it didn't enjoy the third right: free access to the timelines?
"Mada!" Owen waved at the edge of her garden. She blinked; he was wearing the same clothes he'd been wearing when she had first seen him on Sonnet Street in front of The Devil's Apple-down to the little red cape. He showed her a picnic basket. "The ship is watching the kids tonight," he called. "Come on, it's our anniversary. I did the calculations myself. We met eight earth years ago today."
He led her to a spot deep in the woods, where he spread a blanket. They stretched out next to each other and sorted through the basket. There was a curley salad with alperts and thumbnuts, brainboy and chive sandwiches on cheese bread. He toasted her with mada-fruit wine and told her that Siobhan had let go of the couch and taken her first step and that Irina wanted everyone to learn to play an instrument so that she could conduct the family orchestra and that Malaleel had asked him just today if ship was a person.
"It's not a person," said Mada. "It's a DI."
"That's what I said." Owen peeled the crust off his cheese bread. "And he said if it's not a person, how come it's telling jokes?"
"It told a joke?"
"It asked him, 'How come you can't have everything?' and then it said, 'Where would you put it?' "
She nudged him in the ribs. "That sounds more like you than the ship."
"I have a present for you," he said after they were stuffed. "I wrote you a poem." He did not stand; there were no large, flailing gestures. Instead he slid the picnic basket out of the way, leaned close and whispered into her ear.
Loving you is like catching rain on my tongue.
You bathe the leaves, soak indifferent ground; Why then should I get so little of you?
Yet still, like a flower with a fool's face, I open myself to the sky.
Mada was not quite sure what was happening to her; she had never really cried before. "I like that it doesn't rhyme." She had understood that tears flowed from a sadness. "I like that a lot." She sniffed and smiled and daubed at edges of her eyes with a napkin. "Never rhyme anything again."
"Done," he said.
Mada watched her hand reach for him, caress the side of his neck, and then pull him down on top of her. Then she stopped watching herself.
"No more children." His whisper seemed to fill her head.
"No," she said, "no more."
"I'm sharing you with too many already." He slid his hand between her legs. She arched her back and guided him to her pleasure.
When they had both finished, she ran her finger through the sweat cooling at the small of his back and then licked it. "Owen," she said, her voice a silken purr. "That was the one."
"Is that your comment?"
"No." She craned to see his eyes. "This is my comment," she said. "You're writing love poems to the wrong person."
"There is no one else," he said.
She squawked and pushed him off her. "That may be true," she said, laughing, "but it's not something you're supposed to say."
"No, what I meant was..." "I know." She put a finger to his lips and giggled like one of her babies. Mada realized then how dangerously happy she was. She rolled away from Owen; all the lightness crushed out of her by the weight of guilt and shame. It wasn't her duty to be happy. She had been ready to betray the cause of those who had made her for what? For this man? "There's something I have to do." She fumbled for her shift. "I can't help myself, I'm sorry."
Owen watched her warily. "Why are you sorry?"
"Because after I do it, I'll be different."
"The ship will explain." She tugged the shift on. 'Take care of the children."
"What do you mean, take care of the children? What are you doing?" He lunged at her and she scrabbled away from him on all fours. "Tell me."
"The ship says my body should survive." She staggered to her feet. "That's all I can offer you, Owen."
She didn't expect Owen to come after her-or to run so fast.
~I need you.~ she subbed to the ship. "Substantiate the command mod.~ He was right behind her. Saying something. Was it to her? "No," he panted, "no, no, no."
~Substantiate the com. ... ~ Suddenly Owen was gone; Mada bit her lip as she crashed into the main screen, caromed off it and dropped like a dead woman. She lay there for a moment, the cold of the deck seeping into her cheek.
"Goodbye," she whispered. She struggled to pull herself up and spat blood.
"Skip downwhen," she said, "six minutes."
".minutes six" ,said she ",downwhen Skip" .blood spat and up herself pull to struggled She .whispered she ",Goodbye" cheek her into seeping deck the of cold the ,moment a for there lay She .woman dead a like dropped and it off caromed ,screen main the into crashed she as lip her bit Mada ;gone was Owen Suddenly ~.... com the Substantiate~ ".no ,no ,no" ,panted he ",No" ?her to it Was .something Saying .her behind right was He ~.mod command the~
When threes.p.a.ce went blurry, it seemed that her duty did too. She waved her hand and watched it smear.
"You know what you're doing," said the ship.
~Substantiate~ .ship the to subbed she ~ .you need I~ .fast so ran to or-her after come to Owen expect didn't She ran Mada ".Owen ,you offer can I all That's" feet her to staggered She ".survive should body my says ship The" ".me Tell" .fours all on him from away scrabbled she and her at lunged He "?doing you are What ?children the of care take ,mean you do What." ".children the of care Take" .on shift the tugged She ".explain will ship The" "?how Different" ".different be I'll ,it do I after Because"
"?sorry you are Why" .warily her watched Owen ".sorry I'm ,myself help can't I" .shift her for fumbled She .her made had who those of cause the betrayed have would she easily How ".do to have I something There's" .happy be to duty her wasn't It .shame and guilt of weight the by her of out crushed lightness the all ,Owen from away rolled She .was she happy dangerously how then realized Mada .babies her of one like giggled and lips his to finger a put She ".know I" "....was meant I what ,No" ".say to supposed you're something not it's but" ,laughing, said she ",true be may That" .her off him pushed and squawked She .said he ",else one no is There" ".person wrong the to poems love writing You're" .said she ",comment my is This" .eyes his see to craned She ".No" "?comment your that Is" ".one the was That" .purr silken a voice her ,said she ",Owen"
"What I was designed to do. What all my batch siblings pledged to do." She waved her hand again; she could actually see through herself. "The only thing I can do."
"The mine will wipe your ident.i.ty. There will be nothing of you left."
"And then it will be gone and the timelines will open. I believe that I've known this was what I had todo since we first skipped up-when."
"The probability was always high," said the ship. "But not certain."
"Bring me to him, afterward. But don't tell him about the timelines. He might want to change them. The timelines are for the children, so that they can finish the revol........
"Owen," she said, her voice a silken purr. Then she paused.
The woman shook her head, trying to clear it. Lying on top of her was the handsomest man she had ever met. She felt warm and s.e.xy and wonderful. What was this? "I... I'm ...," she said. She reached up and touched the little red cloth hanging from his shoulders. "I like your cape."
".minutes six" ,said she ",downwhen Skip" .blood spat and up herself pull to struggled She .whispered she ",Goodbye" .cheek her into seeping deck the of cold the ,moment a for there lay She .woman dead a like dropped and it off caromed ,screen main the into crashed she as lip her bit Mada ;gone was Owen Suddenly~....com the Substantiate~ ".no ,no ,no" ,panted he ",No" ?her to it Was something Saying .her behind right was He ~.mod command the Substantiate~ .ship the to subbed she ~you need I~ .fast so run to or-her after come to Owen expect didn't She .ran Mada ".Owen ,you offer can I all That's" feet her to staggered She ".survive should body my says ship The" ".me Tell" .fours all on him from away scrabbled she and her at lunged He "?doing you are What ?children the of care take ,mean you do What." ".children the of care Take" .on shift the tugged She ".explain will ship The" "?how Different" ".different be I'll ,it do I after Because" "?sorry you are Why" .warily her watched Owen.
".sorry I'm .myself help can't I" .shift her for fumbled She .her made had who those of cause the betrayed have would she easily How ".do to have I something There's" .happy be to duty her wasn't It .shame and guilt of weight the by her of out crushed lightness the all ,Owen from away rolled She .was happy dangerously how then realized Mada .babies her of one like giggled and lips his to finger a put She ".know I" "....was meant I what ,No" ".say to supposed you're something not it's but" ,laughing, said she ",true be may That" .her off him pushed and squawked She .said he ",else one no is There" ".person wrong the to poems love writing You're" .said she ",comment my is This" .eyes his see to craned She ".No" "?comment your that Is" ".one the was That" .purr silken a voice her ,said she ",Owen"
Mada waved her hand and saw it smear in three-s.p.a.ce. "What are you doing?" said the ship.
"What I was designed to do." She waved; she could actually see through herself. "The only thing I can do."
"The mine will wipe your ident.i.ty. None of your memories will survive."
"I believe that I've known that's what would happen since we first skipped up-when."