“Gavin, wait, you forgot your mask.” Lissa waddled to the door, holding out the filter by a thumb and forefinger as if it were one of the icky, four-inch roaches that prowled their apartment every night. God, how she hated those ugly things, but nothing you could do but learn to live with them; they weren’t going anywhere.
Gavin took the silver mask and settled it atop his blond curls. “I could’ve got it, babe.” He looked down into her eyes, a gentle smile curving his lips. “You’re supposed to stay off your feet as much as possible, you know.” He laid a gloved hand on her swollen belly. “Doctor’s orders.”
For all the good it’ll do, Lissa thought. Had staying off their feet saved her sister’s baby? Or Beverly’s? Or anyone else’s she knew? She wanted to go outside, walk, run, even if it meant suiting up and breathing through a filter. “I just…I want…I’m so tired…”
“I know.” Gavin enfolded her cumbersome body in his arms, laid his cheek on top of her head. “But the baby’ll be here soon and you can go back to work—if that’s what you want.”
If that’s what she wants? Lissa almost laughed. Go back to the daily struggle with the jungle that was trying to claim the city? Go back to suiting up in protective gear so the sun wouldn’t fry her to a crisp? Go back to wearing that hot, rubbery mask so she could breathe the air without it destroying her lungs? Of course she did! Anything was preferable to staying cooped up all the time in her and Gavin’s tiny apartment on the fifty-third floor of the Obama Building. And it wasn’t such a bad job as far as jobs went; after all, that’s where she had met Gavin.
“I’d better go.” Gavin dropped a quick kiss on her cheek, then hit the gray pad on the wall beside the door. “I’ll see you this evening.”
The door slid open, and after stepping inside the metal tube—every apartment had their own—that would take him to the street below, he pulled the mask down over his face and flipped the hood of his insulated jumper over his head. The door closed behind him, followed by the swoosh of the tube’s descent.
Lissa moved to the window. At least she had this: an eye to the world outside. Most of the building’s apartments didn’t have that luxury. She supposed there was something to be said for being the daughter of the Mayor of Neo Boston.
She placed her fists on the glass, feeling the urge to break it, to sail out into the cloudless sky, and fly away…fly away over the sea into the pinking dawn. Maybe the air would be clean there, the winds cool and soothing, not hot and humid and blistering.
But no, she knew better. The great Atlantic had changed, just as the land had changed. It was beautiful to look at, its giant, pink-foamed waves crashing onto the thin strip of beach. But it was devoid of life. Dead. Nothing lived there except the algae that long ago had swiped its ruddy brush over the immense expanse of blue.
And how much longer before the human race died out? Hardly any infants survived past their first year, most born sickly and weak. Some died after taking their first breath. Some died in the womb. Some were born who were not right at all, missing parts, having extra parts. And some babies were just…well…born wrong in some indefinable way. Those died too—eventually.
Lissa often wondered about the why of it. Why did the babies die? Like her, all expectant mothers were confined inside the air-tight buildings, forbidden to venture outside even with protective gear. Had the poisoned earth poisoned all its people?
She looked down on the streets below, to the steady stream of ant-sized people going about their daily lives, some walking, some on bicycles. The relentless sun bounced off their silver suits. Only big businesses and the very rich owned motorized vehicles, and those were solar powered; gasoline engines had been outlawed almost a century ago.
A convoy of huge, green trucks entered her line of vision on the left. Filled with produce and grain from the domed farms of Canada, they came to exchange their goods for the various fruits cultivated inside the domes just to the south of Neo Boston. It was ironically laughable if you stopped to think about it; within the snarl of trees, vines, and creepers that besieged the city, food grew in abundance, but no one could eat any of it without getting sick. And some poor souls had even died from taking only a single bite of the colorful, exotic fruits.
Her gaze drifted to the line of demarcation where concrete met jungle, to the cluster of tiny people hacking away at the invasive greenery. She used to do that, side by side with Gavin and the rest of the crew. Day in and day out. Dawn to dusk. She had hated the mandatory work then; now she actually missed it.
The baby kicked. Hard. Lissa sucked in a pained breath. Another jab caught a rib. Her baby boy was a fighter. Maybe he would be one of the rare survivors.
Mustn’t get her hopes up. Mustn’t even think about it, because if she did, she might cry, and what good would that do?
Lissa swiped her eyes. She wished Gavin was here. He would know what to say, what to do to make everything all right. He would find a way to make her laugh. That was why she had fallen in love with him: his ability to make her laugh in any situation. And his kisses, she had fallen in love with them too.
A hint of a smile touched her lips—then swiftly disappeared when pain exploded in her abdomen. She dropped to her knees, hugging her belly, gasping for air. Under her clutching hands, her stomach hardened, the pain intensified. And just when she thought she might faint, it let up.
After drawing a shaky breath, she grasped the windowsill and pulled herself up. She lay her sweaty forehead against the warm glass—warm yes, but cooler than her. “The baby’s coming,” she whispered. “But…but…” It wasn’t time. She had four weeks to go.
Another pain ripped through her belly. Lissa gritted her teeth and gripped the window facing. Gray spots danced in front of her eyes, but she didn’t give in, didn’t allow the gray to turn black. She couldn’t pass out. She had to…tell…Gavin…the baby…
The spots of gray turned into a sea of red.
Oh God, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts! Her fingernails dug into the windowsill.
At last the contraction passed, allowing her mind to function. And for the first time since she had found out she was pregnant, Lissa felt real fear. Something was wrong; this was no ordinary birth.
She punched two numbers on the telecommunicator circling her wrist. Gavin’s masked face appeared on the miniature screen. “Lissa, is—”
Another crash of agonizing pain. “The baby…he’s coming.” Lissa felt a wet gushing, looked down to see blood puddling on the floor around her bare feet. “Now!”
part two here
Photo from Morguefile