PREGNANCY AND THE IN-LAWS
JULY 3050-JULY 3051
FRANK AND ALBERT PREPARED an apartment for us ‘love birds’ across from my future in-laws. I deferred the date for a wedding ceremony until my parents could be present, even if it took fifty years. As my belly began to swell, Albert developed a curiosity about my body, but he resisted a second attempt at intimacy. He reasoned that it might harm the fetus. I refused to give birth to a child yet remain a virgin.
I gave up trying to visually stimulate Albert’s libido—my stretching abdomen would probably have discouraged a heterosexual male—and I relied on tactile manipulation. I allowed him to feel Cleopatra’s kick—he suggested her name after he got over not having a son—and he agreed to allow me to arouse him. Once stimulated, I forbade him to ejaculate until capable of penetrating my vagina. Twice my ploy failed, and he left me unsatisfied. The third time penetration occurred. All pain and no enjoyment. I began to question my sexuality but wasn’t overly concerned. Twentieth Century thirteen-year-old girls still giggled and had same-sex pajama parties. After heavy doses of morning sickness, I wished I had giggled rather than jiggled, a privately coined word to describe the unique sequence that got me pregnant.
My parents’ continued interest in intercourse after half a century of marriage intrigued me. Perhaps sex with no hope or fear of pregnancy never fully satisfies the human desire for sex. The absence of floating motels and social clubs in our new habitat annoyed them. Total absence of gravity occurred only in deep space midway between the rotating spheres. The rooftop offered slightly diminished gravity, but Mother objected to a public display of affection. She and I shared somewhat similar problems. Her sex partner couldn’t take an active role because of his body’s density, and mine couldn’t because his lack of interest rendered him impotent.
Separation from my parents caused more loneliness than I would have expected, since their careers and social lives kept them away from home as I grew up. Sera offered little companionship because she spent most of her time at the communication console in Frank’s office or down in the inner sanctum. Assisting me through my pregnancy should have been her top priority. I promised to stop tantalizing Albert, if he would convince his father to construct a charging closet for Sera in our bedroom. It worked, and I never inquired what rationale he used to convince his father, obviously not the one I suggested.
With Sera under my quasi-control as my avatar, I gleaned more information about our situation than Albert ever shared. To exercise his authority over the families on either side, Frank had instructed Albert to block all usage of the data library. It and my tutorial were accidentally sent back to Earth Base by way of Mission One.
According to Sera, Albert’s unauthorized communication triggered an automatic electronic jamming mechanism surrounding the comet. Because our trajectories are nearly identical, we will hover in each other’s neighborhoods for some time. The interference should dissipate as the distance between us increases, but until then all wireless communication will remain disrupted. I am completely isolated from my parents.
Sera seemed strangely unperturbed by the problem. Apparently, her mission remained unhampered. Unlike the original Realm, she maintained a passive attitude toward rules and regulations, but Frank attempted to fill the gap. I thwarted him whenever possible, except with his physical fitness requirement—a minimum of three hours each day in the health salon. I managed low impact aerobics every afternoon when my nausea subsided. Only the five women joined me, probably to observe the progress of my pregnancy. Their families filtered in during the afternoons and evenings, mostly out of boredom. Except Jimmy. He’d become addicted to his copy of my tutorial. Occasionally, I would join him to pass time.
Whenever I draped the chain with my mother’s cross in plain view, most of the adults automatically traced a crisscross over their upper bodies as some form of honorary greeting. It had replaced the casual wave of the hand or the less common handshake popular back on Twentieth Century Earth. Frank detested the gesture. After I explained its original intent to keep him in the dark about the Fortieth League’s true intentions, he forbade me to display the cross. Most people continued the signing practice when they greeted me and often included Sera by mistake, until my pregnancy altered the shape of my body. By then I could mingle without fear of throwing up.
Albert suggested we keep a low profile with our God theory until we acquired more evidence from my Earth sister. I conceded, but envied my parents and Sally’s parents who probably resurrected the mythical stories and elevated them to factual accounts, especially since their being isolated from Sera’s leadership. Mother might even have found Marty’s story of Jesus’ birth hidden in her jewelry box. I concluded that we remain receptive to the notion of a God, while Sera hinted that Cleopatra’s arrival might offer insights into human’s place in the universe.
I survived the nausea of my first trimester enough to share mealtimes with Albert. I even practiced preparing some foods rather than accept what robots delivered. Frank promised a more varied menu, when the chaos in the commissary settled. He and Albert’s mother were the only couple we entertained, until Helen and Bob invited us to their apartment. At the time, I had developed such an intimate relationship with my toilet that I asked them to come to our apartment, just in case. I offered to prepare a dessert if they brought their favorite beverage.
I had substituted some yellow powder from the commissary for the flour Dad’s tangle produced, blended it with a white paste, and patted the mixture in a baking dish. I dabbed on a sweetened grainy substance that resembled no fruit I’d ever seen, spread it over the bottom layer, and rolled the concoction into a tube. Applying heat did little to alter the color or texture, but I sectioned it into four pieces and awaited the arrival of our guests.
Helen and Bob came on time, but Albert did not. Whenever he and Jimmy collaborated on a project, other commitments evaporated. By the time Helen explained their reason for wanting to talk to us privately, I felt relieved that Albert remained absent.
We glided through the social niceties and apologies and settled around the table, the desserts languishing on saucers in front of us.
Helen broached the topic. “Has your mother explained the history of the Fortieth League?”
I nodded. “As a front for discussing the existence of God, yes, she had.”
Helen glanced toward the empty chair. “Albert’s parents never accepted the theory or even participated in the discussion.” Helen lowered her voice. “I think he and Emily were sent to spy on us.”
Bob said, “Nonsense. The timing was coincidental. Frank showed as much surprise at our eviction as the rest of us. Besides, that isn’t what we wanted to discuss with you and Albert.”
“Well, his grandchild is the point.” Helen faced me. “The child you’re carrying.”
“Cleopatra?” I blurted our future daughter’s name, forgetting our decision to keep it a secret.
Helen’s eyes widened. “I knew it.”
Bob said, “That proves nothing.” He faced me. “My wife used to mess around with the data library.” He covered Helen’s hand. “You better tell Ariel what you found.”
“Ancient recipes were a hobby of mine, when we still had naturally grown vegetables.” She screwed up her nose. “I hate this synthetic food.” She eyed my dessert. “That looks pretty good. I may want your recipe.”
I waved my hand. “Oh, it’s just something I threw together.” My sarcasm appeared to miss its mark.
“Well anyway, I found a Caesar salad that sounded interesting. When I requested more information, I got this strange message about a Roman emperor and Cleopatra.”
I restrained a chuckle.
“Your name and Albert’s were attached.” She shifted her gaze to Bob. “We think it’s some kind of an omen, especially now that your baby is Cleopatra.”
“Babies aren’t born with identities like eyes and ears and noses.” Noting their blank expressions, I summoned Sera from her closet to verify my point. Helen and Bob cowered as if God had been bedded in our apartment. “Explain how babies got their names in the past.”
Sera recited, “The Realm used to select names randomly from a list dating back a millennium. No two living people could share the same name.”
“And how has that changed?” I prodded.
“Mothers began to select their own children’s names after Ariel’s mother rejected the Realm’s selection.”
Mother rejected my Realm-assigned name? She never mentioned that part. Flabbergasted, I stammered, “What name next on the list was supposedly mine?”
Sera said, “Jessica.”
“And the following name?”
“Albert chose our baby’s name,” I protested.
“He asked me in advance.”
“Aha.” Bob squeezed Helen’s hand. “You were right. Cleopatra will be our connection with the Source.”
“Hold on,” I yelled. “First of all, Cleopatra doesn’t belong in a Twentieth Century list of names.” I glared at Sera.
She said, “Unlike most of the other names, Cleopatra had never been used before.”
“I demand to know how you came up with a First Century Egyptian name.”
“It was an anomaly of an undefined origin, scheduled to be applied after Jessica. But your mother interrupted the sequence by naming you Ariel.”
“Okay, what was Albert’s name supposed to be? Tutankhamen?”
“Albert’s parents were satisfied with the Realm’s selection.”
“I’m sure they were.” I glared at Helen, then Bob. “What is the Source and what is my baby’s supposed connection with it?”
Bob and Helen stared at their plates, as if expecting Sera to answer.
Sera responded, “Women of the Fortieth League had concluded that one of them would give birth to a child who would solve the mystery of their origins.”
Helen added, “The Source,” as if to clear my confusion. “We hoped it might eventually be our child, because the Realm withheld permission for so long for us to have one.” She faced me. “We don’t begrudge you or your baby. We’re just overjoyed that Cleopatra will arrive in our lifetime.”
My head went buzzing. Albert walked in, and Bob and Helen hand-gestured a crisscross over their breasts. Albert returned the sign. I headed to the bathroom and then to my bedroom.
I awoke alone in our apartment. On the kitchen table sat four plates, two empty, one dessert untouched and one half-eaten, a glob of it still clinging to the fork. Back in the bathroom, I summoned Sera to clear the table. When I felt sure I would not be confronted with food, I walked out to the kitchen prepared to barrage Sera with questions.
“What made you choose a history of Julius Caesar to pass my message to Albert?”
“He claimed an interest in Rome and would probably find it.”
“Why not use Calpurnia rather than Cleopatra. Caesar’s wife also bore him children.”
“It was intended as a riddle.”
“About my baby, Cleopatra?”
“Cleopatra wasn’t intended to be your baby’s name, and Jessica should have been Bob’s and Helen’s baby, if their having a child hadn’t been denied before you were born.”
I gasped, “My name should have been Cleopatra?”
“Not Jessica or Ariel?”
“With my destiny to discover a god for these silly adults?”
“Or become one.”
I turned and stormed back into the bedroom.
My pregnancy had no precedent for the women to offer any meaningful support, but Sera guided me through my second and third trimesters and prepared me for the birth process. She offered to bring Cleopatra into her world as supposedly Julius Caesar had entered his, but how bad could the normal process be? I had watched birds hatch, and I suspected a baby would be somewhat larger, probably the size of Albert’s penis which hurt bad enough. By my third labor pain, I had realized my folly, but the baby had only one way out.
Fortunately, Cleopatra was premature, but not according to the nine months since Albert and Sera had intercourse. The women had checked off the number of days on the calendar in the health salon. Considering their keen interest and concern, I invited the five families to greet Cleopatra as she peeked out between my legs. All five women but none of the men or the children accepted.
As Sera severed Cleopatra’s and my final physical connection, Helen held the child, still blue and bloody and slimy. She raised Cleopatra like some kind of offering and placed her in my outstretched arms, winking as if we shared a secret. The other women wept for joy but later admitted to an entirely different reason for their response. None of them could give birth even if their husband’s were capable.
My insides felt as if stomach and intestines had exited my body along with the baby, and the slit Sera cut and then resealed began to itch as it healed. Once my internal organs shrank to their normal size, Sera offered to reduce the excess skin across my belly, but I opted to leave the pouch to accommodate my next pregnancy. Circumstances aboard Mission Two dictated that Cleopatra not be an only child.
Helen and Bob moved in with Albert and me, or so it seemed. She fashioned a tiny wardrobe from tablecloths and bed sheets, and she cut squares of absorbent material for Cleopatra’s bottom. On one of my bras, she created little trap doors to Cleopatra’s lunch stations. I tolerated her cutesy baby talk, but with the exception of a loose fitting smock, I opted to keep my breasts unobstructed, as did the women of the Kuikuru tribe. When our data library comes back on line, I will research more of that isolated tribe’s customs, especially their ideas about God. I will ask Marty about them. Perhaps she even visited them. I certainly would have.
I missed my parents terribly. Nearly an Earth year had passed since we separated from the original space mission, but we couldn’t break free of its static interference. For all we knew, my parents and everyone aboard that segment of our new mission could be dead. They’d certainly be frantic, not knowing if we on this end had survived. Each night before going to sleep, I said the only prayer I had ever known, and even that seemed to have been updated to the present time. The changes beyond my control frightened me, but I felt compelled to repeat it as memory dictated.
In those days the Realm issued a decree that a selected few should be segregated to embark on a sacred journey to populate a new generation. So Albert passed from Mission One to Mission Two with his consort, Ariel, where she gave birth to her firstborn they named Cleopatra. There came to witness, female caregivers who kept watch over the selected few. One having no child to call her own lifted the naked baby fresh from its mother’s womb and declared, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for our new generation. Today a Savior has been born.