As a treat for all of you today, I’m going to publish the last part of Chapter Seventeen right here.
Aubrey is still staying with Gardash while Rahzahn is gone. He’s taken her back to Rahzahn’s farm so she can work, but Aubrey’s still ill. The doctor Fryebye is sent for and he discovers that Aubrey is about to change the fate of all Yardanians.
Throughout the days and evenings, Gardash continued to explain their simple lives on Yardania; how they had been bred to work and that it was in their blood to keep busy. Even their children worked from young ages.
“Palain never seemed to want to do anything,” I said one night.
“Rahzahn’s daughter was a difficult child indeed. There have been other children like her. Eventually they conform, but I think because we came here, she didn’t receive the social pressure to join any work force. Rahzahn was mourning the loss of his wife and son, and didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with that girl. You stumbled into his life at the exact moment he needed you.”
“What do you mean?”
“She kept disappearing every day. Of course, now we know she was with Zake. The day you showed up, Rahzahn was headed to Zake’s to confront him. He didn’t know for sure that’s where she was, but he was going to find out. Then he saw you crawling across his land towards Zake’s land. Zake isn’t a nice person. He’s violent and dangerous. Those of us coming here voted on whether he should be allowed in our community, but no other community wanted him and he had defended the queen when she ran for Rahzahn’s ship. When Rahzahn saw you going towards Zake, he grabbed you. If you would have touched his land, you would have belonged to him. We won’t allow Zake to own drudges here, so you probably would have been sold at auction.”
“I’m glad Rahzahn found me too.”
“You filled a deep loneliness that he had. Suddenly, he had to take care of someone again, watch over someone. We all saw the difference in him. He was content. You’re pretty and gentle, different from what we gather from many worlds. They’re usually the criminals and we…rehabilitate them, so you were refreshing for him. You’re certainly different from what your country gives us.”
“He’s good to me and patient.”
“You should have seen him when you ran away. He was in a panic. You hurt him badly. He didn’t want to punish you, but he had no choice. How would he look if he didn’t? Naerian would have been required to appoint a punisher. Hanging you in the barn really wasn’t as bad as what we usually do to runaways.”
“It was mean,” I whispered.
“He spoils you, so you think you didn’t deserve it. I came by in the afternoon and he was drinking heavily already, hiding in the house, trying to block out your screams. I got him outside and we worked his fields. He didn’t think I saw, but he kept glancing over at the barn, and he flinched with each of your cries, so I spent the night with him. We drank and talked most of the night and he admitted he cares for you. I told him he needed to be stricter, but he had lost his family, and he lost his daughter to Zake. Perhaps if I’d found you, I’d feel the same way he does, but I couldn’t understand his weakness towards you at first. I do now. You’re indeed tantalizing and an adorable female alien, soft and pretty and gentle with a lovely voice.”
My first week with Gardash was coming to an end. We’d been at the farm three days now, and he learned to trust that I wouldn’t leave the property. As long as I did my work, he left me pretty much alone.
At the end of that first week, Gardash had gone in the barn in the afternoon. I figured he was reporting to Rahzahn. I was upstairs cleaning the bathroom when I heard a strange high pitched squeal that was coming from the road to the house. I rushed to my room and looked out the window to see Rahzahn’s daughter running for our home, covering her stomach, and her husband Zake on her heels striking her with a hoe. Her arms, back, and legs were bleeding.
I hurried out to the stoop in the hopes of pulling her inside. I held my hand out for her and screamed for Gardash. She was reaching for me when Zake struck her hard on the side of her head, creating a huge gash where blood gushed out. I heard her skull crack and I screamed. She fell on her knees in front of me.
“Take care of him,” she begged, pulling a small fuzzy thing out of a furry pouch from inside her bibbed shorts. She held it shakily to me. I reached down and accepted the object, and Rahzahn’s daughter fell dead at my feet. I cried out again for Gardash.
Zake swung the hoe at me, but suddenly he flew backwards. Gardash had grabbed him and thrown him and now stood between the two of us. Taking the hoe from Zake, he slashed at Zake over and over until Zake dropped to the ground and quaked.
“Why didn’t you kill him?” I asked.
“He must go before the queen.”
“He killed Rahzahn’s daughter. He killed Palain.”
“Zake was never a good person.”
“What’s this tiny fuzzy thing she handed me?” It moved sluggishly in my hands and resembled a black hamster. It had a tiny pink nose with small beaded eyes and pink stubs where hands and feet should be.
Gardash looked at the bundle and closed his eyes in sorrow. “Her baby son.”
I stared at him, shocked.
“This isn’t good.” He explained. “The infant isn’t ready to live outside of her pouch. He’s too young.”
“Can we put him back in?”
“Palain’s dead. The pouch is wilting with her body.”
“What do we do?”
“We kill him.”
“No! This is Rahzahn’s grandson. I’ll save it.”
“He won’t live. He’s suffering already.” Gardash gently stroked the tiny infant.
I watched the little boy struggle for a breath, his tiny mouth working like a fish out of water. “Don’t die. Please don’t die. How do I take care of it?” I held the infant out to Gardash, but before he could answer, the baby wheezed and quit moving, its tiny mouth hanging open. And I cried.
“He’s gone.” Gardash shook his head sadly. “How unfortunate is this moment.” He took the little body gently from me. I could see the pain in Gardash’s eyes at the needless loss of the infant’s life.
I ran upstairs to the bathroom and retched. When I pulled myself together, I could smell fire and a horrible stench. I looked out the window and guards were in our yard. Two were dragging Zake away. The others stood around the fire with Gardash and watched what was left of Rahzahn’s daughter Palain with her baby on her chest burn to ashes. I hurled repeatedly.
Gardash had come upstairs into the bathroom. “Why are you doing that?”
“Are you better after throwing out your food?”
I laughed weakly. “Nowhere near. Why did you burn the bodies?”
“It’s our custom to honor the dead and allow them safe travel to the Other Side. Don’t you do the same?”
“Some prefer cremation, but they’re put in containers. Most are buried in the ground.”
“It’s disrespectful and confining. How can they travel to our perfect world if they’re trapped in something? Go back to work.”
“I can’t work today.” I got up, but fainted.
I woke in my bed, quite ill.
“Are you better now?”
I turned towards my doorway. Gardash was watching me, worried. I shook my head no.
“Do you need food?”
“That’s the last thing I need.”
“What do you need?”
“To stay in bed today.” I rubbed my stomach and grimaced. “Tell me about how you have babies.”
“Our women grow a pouch on the outside of their bodies, about here.” He pointed to his abdomen. “It’s like our skin, short hairs inside and out. It keeps the fetus warm and they feel comforted in it. A tube connects to the fetus from inside the mother’s stomach and some of the food she consumes is processed in a certain way and follows the tube to the fetus’ stomach. After four months, the tube disconnects and the top of the pouch opens. We call it the birth, but the baby must stay in the pouch for up to six months because they’re small and weak and unable to survive without it. We take them out for brief periods to feed and love them, slowly getting them used to life on their own.”
“Palain’s baby was teeny. Was there something wrong with him?”
Gardash smiled. “We’re born that small. Remember, the mother has to carry them. They grow fast once they can live outside of the pouch.”
“We grow ours in here.” I pointed to my uterus. “Our babies are nurtured inside of us for about nine months.”
“What a long time for your babies to develop. How do they breathe?”
“The fetus gets what he needs from the mother. We have a tube-like thing that takes care of feeding and such, probably not much different than yours. Our stomachs stretch out to accommodate the fetus. I was about this big with my son before I delivered.” I indicated with my hands.
“What a huge baby.”
“In a normal delivery, the baby weighs around seven pounds, but they can weigh more.”
“And your women carry such heavy things inside them for almost a year?”
“I carried two, my son and my daughter. Jaden weighed just over eight pounds while my daughter Violet, when she was born, weighed just over six pounds. She came a little early.”
“How do they get out?”
Okay. A little embarrassing to explain. “Same place where you’d, you know, when you’re having sex.” I pointed.
This surprised Gardash. “Human females are that big there?”
“It stretches as the baby pushes out.”
“Then you put them in a pouch?”
“They don’t need one. We swaddle them with blankets and feed and love them.”
Gardash thought about this then nodded and went back downstairs.
I wasn’t any better the next day or the next. I couldn’t even keep water down. By evening I asked Gardash to phone Fryebye.
When Fryebye arrived, he examined me. “Did the stomach pill or anti-anxiety pills help with your stomach?”
“No. Maybe I have food poison,” I mumbled. But when he touched my stomach, Fryebye stiffened.
Gardash was watching from my doorway. When he saw Fryebye’s reaction, he leaned in.
“Fryebye?” I felt around my stomach and abdomen and found a small lump almost centered. I looked at him in fear. “What is it? What’s wrong with me? It’s a cancerous tumor, isn’t it? Am I going to die?”
Gardash looked at Fryebye, concerned. “Is she going to die?”
He turned to Gardash. “This is a serious human problem. I must examine her in detail to be sure, and I don’t think Rahzahn will want you to observe this part. Go downstairs and give us some privacy. This should take maybe twenty minutes.” The doctor shut my door and waited until he heard Gardash clomp down the stairs. “You’re not going to die. It’s something unexpected.” He waited for me to understand.
And then I realized what was wrong. “It can’t be. That’s impossible,” I muttered as I carefully rubbed the lump.