Chapter Thirty Nine
"Kirby, why on Earth didn’t you tell us you might be pregnant?" the doctor frowned down at her.
Kirby quickly discovered that a strong body did not preclude shock effects. Her vision grayed in and out as her hearing faded then kicked back in. "Are you sure? I only had sex with a human. I didn’t think that worked."
"What?" Dr. Huang stared at her in surprise, "Let’s see if we can isolate some fetal cells from your bloodstream."
They were head down in the cell sorting equipment when Ivan entered the clinic. Kirby frowned at him, her visceral reaction raising the hair on her back.
"This has incredibly important ramifications about how we define ‘human’. This could be a breakthrough in how we define species." Getting no response, Doctor Huang took her eyes off the screen and blinked at the big ichimp, then her gaze sharpened and she studied him. "You must be Ivan D. Terrible."
"That’s right. Our two doctors are working with a genengineer from Beringar’s group on ichimp genetics and thought we should include all the bioscientists we can find. Interested?"
"Very much so."
Kirby caught her glance and nodded permission.
"Especially in view of the fact that human ichimp hybridization is apparently possible."
"Yes, our first look at the problem has exploded the Davis Foundation’s claims to hell and gone. Far from being what they claimed, we, well, they," he nodded apologetically to Kirby, "spliced in a lot of human genes. They got us so close to human they broke the species barrier."
Cherry looked shocked, "Surely not! They published gene scans of the original…"
Ivan was shaking his head, "They published gene scans of a few creations that apparently they couldn’t reproduce. So for production, they started over by adding in human genes."
"And I thought the Chinese Government was bad!" Her brow furrowed, "Though why we should expect anything more from an old US capitalistic corporation looking for a profit, I don’t know." Her glance flicked back to Kirby, "In any case that clears up a lot of the questions I was starting to form."
"I need to contact the father." Kirby felt her stomach sink. It’s not my fault! Well, yes it is, I was the one who seduced . . . well it was all the fault of the ichimp hormones. Otherwise I would never have given the time of day to that foulmouthed, rude, insensitive . . .Oh it had been great, sex was fantastic. No wonder people obsessed about it all the time. Wow! But, but . . . a baby? I’m not ready for this! Feeling stunned, and very much in need of solitude, she nodded to the Doctor and Ivan and left.
Back in her room, she was for once glad it hadn’t yet been enlarged. It felt cozy and safe. Shivering, she wrapped up in a blanket, then curled up in bed. "What am I going to do?" she asked herself out loud. "I don’t know anything about babies, I don’t much like Spider, and he hasn’t even tried to speak to me for months." She calculated internally, "Almost three months, I’m a third of the way toward being a mommy." She rolled that thought over in her head. It didn’t fit well. "This," she firmly told herself, "Is pathetic. Get up and call Spider. No doubt his response will settle any doubts you have about him quite thoroughly." But even sitting down in front of the comm she balked and cued up her messages instead…and there it was, a call from Spider. With a gulp, she played it.
He was as ugly as always, and scowling, and looking like he was not happy to be calling. "I wondered if you would like to have dinner with me?" he started out gruffly, "I can’t come down to the el, but I’m actually a passable cook." He hesitated visibly, "This isn’t an invitation to anything else but dinner, and maybe talk. I understand about that." The screen when dark without farewell fripperies.
Kirby gulped nervously. Was he trying to be friendly? Spider? "I guess I should try," she muttered, "A peaceful relationship would make some things . . . peaceful."
She hit the reply button and got half of what was working toward a seriously rude autoresponse, when it cut out suddenly.
"Sorry, Geeze," he was actually blushing, "I guess I need to redo all my autos. So, how about dinner? In," he frowned over his shoulder, "half an hour?"
Not a single cussword? "Sounds good. See you in half an hour." She clicked off and stared at the wall in frozen panic. What should I wear? Her eyes turned to the mirror. What does it matter? I’m an ichimp, there’s no way I can look good to a human. Then straightening her shoulders she headed for the closet. "Nice slacks and that gold tone blouse that goes with your hair, Kirby. Now shut up and stop talking to yourself."
"An’ this will eventually be the chemistry lab."
Kirby blinked at the storeroom with its wall-to-wall crates. "Do we actually have any chemists?" she asked.
"Geeze! You are a cop," Spider grinned down at her, "put your finger right on the f…, umm, problem! Nope, three groups of colonists and not a single f…, umm, chemist among ‘em."
Much to her surprise, Kirby was enjoying her tour. Spider and Monkenstein had pretty well co-opted any and all available space in the docking bay and all the storerooms adjacent to it. "So, you’re not doing a whole lot until the funnel is done? I thought that was exclusively an ichimp project?"
"Yep. But they’re moving a bunch of stuff through here all the time, so we’ve got to stay out of their way. Plus the funnel sections are still taking up a lot of the storage up here." He shrugged his normal shoulders, "We’re trying to lay claim to as much territory as we can, but there’s jurisdiction problems and more than a few ownership conflicts."
Kirby tried to picture the interior layout of the section. "Beringar controls the AI and the tram run that’s, what right about through there?" she pointed at the back wall of the chemistry lab.
"Just a bit to the right. He won’t let us put in a door and use the rooms across the ring corridor." He growled a bit under his breath, "Can’t have abominations running around the Piggies territory."
"Piggies!" Kirby yelped, and started laughing, "Oh that’s perfect!"
"Descriptive, too." Spider beamed at her, "They think they own all this equipment. A lot of it wasn’t approved by the UE purchasing board, May just slipped it in and somehow paid for it on the side. Beringar figures that makes it his."
Kirby snorted. "More likely it either was paid for by the government or wasn’t paid for at all."
"Nah, she always pays the little guys. Although," he admitted, "it might be best not to ask where she got the money. Here, c’mon and see this." He practically dragged her out and into the next room, the first one she’d seen with an extra lock. "Voila! The Chamberlain Mint."
Kirby pulled a coin out of a bin full of the bright golden disks. "I can’t believe we’re using gold coins."
"Ha, if you want to call it that! Six carat, one forth gold." He sniffed superciliously at the bin, "At least it ought to wear well."
"That was Ivan’s idea, I guess." Kirby flicked the coin back watching it spin in the low gravity.
"Everybody’s accepted it as a medium of exchange, which is the whole point of money anyway. Stamping out the coins is the mainstay of my income, just now, plus cooking up some special alloys and making replacement parts one off." He shrugged, "Monkenstein’s stuff is more fun. Have you seen it?" He eyed her worriedly.
"I thought he was just helping you, when he wasn’t down trying to organize the University?" Kirby smothered a smile, Spider couldn’t be jealous, could he? Didn’t he realize that ichimps raised by humans imprinted on humans? Maybe not, after all she hadn’t realized it herself until several months ago. Speaking of which, she wasn’t getting any closer to telling him.
"There’s not much to see yet," Spider told her, leading her out and locking the door, "but he’s just about done with the model."
He led her to yet another storeroom; this one had a worktable in the center holding two rings about half a meter in diameter. They were made of some sort of ceramic-like material that brought up vague associations from her college days. "Is this superconducting stuff?" She kept her hands off. The rings were held in an adjustable frame that looked…precise.
"Yep." He bounced on his heels, grinning, "Wanna try and guess?"
"Nope," she hope she didn’t look stupid, but she really hadn’t a clue what it might be for. Hopefully it wasn’t something she ought to recognize.
"This," he straightened up to his entire spindly two meters, "is a working test model of a faster than light space drive." He smiled smugly at her, obviously waiting for her reaction.
She glanced from the model to Spider and back. Then back at Spider.
"No fuckin’ joke." He answered her look. "It’s something to do with gravity waves and such.
"Faster than light." Kirby chewed that over. "So why is he on the Chamberlain? He could have stayed at home and beat us to Alpha."
Spider cleared his throat, "Something about being the last ichimp on Earth, and father of a whole race of slaves there if he went back. Nothing to do with Ivan threatening to kill him, I’m sure."
"Oh. Ivan." Kirby twitched, "He’s . . . he sort of sets off all my alarms."
"Yeah, and Woods is like that too. Predator pheromones or something, I figure." He glanced at her, "So, you brave enough to try my cooking?"
She grinned, "It can’t be worse than my own. Mom, my foster mom, always said I’d make somebody a lousy wife someday."
He jolted to a stop and eyed her, "Umm, Kirby, umm."
"Sorry, I wasn’t saying anything." She babbled in panic "I mean, I don’t hardly know you. Really. I didn’t mean to talk about you and me yet. This is a bad time?" she suggested in a small voice.
"Shit." He looked down at her, his face vulnerable, "Is there going to be a good time? Ever?" He reached out and touched her cheek delicately.
She swallowed dry mouthed. Was it the hormones of pregnancy that made her feel like this? "I hope so. I, umm." She gulped and started over. "We’re finding out all sorts of interesting things about ichimps, now that we’ve tossed all the restrictions on research."
The larvae had grown arms and were starting on their hind legs. They were breathing air part time. At the moment they were perched on the rims of their respective tanks, eyeing each other hungrily. He could just hear the faint hissing of their territorial threat display. They raised their heads as he entered their range of vision, the hissing died away and they became very still. He was careful not to cross into their attack distance, even though they didn’t appear to be land mobile yet. He tossed the meat chunks into the tanks behind them, and they slipped out of sight into the murky water.
Three months out there was very little to do on the bridge. They were much further out than Pluto, traveling at multiples of the Solar escape velocity. There would be no maneuvers until they braked to match velocities with the Iceberg. May Huang benignly watched the four trainees for this shift sweating through an exercise set by Commander Freeman. The former marine sergeant was a very thorough teacher. The experienced flight crew had helped with the early stages, the basics of piloting and navigation, now the Commander was making sure they could handle anything that came their way. They had complained bitterly about having to train for so many different kinds of ships that they didn’t have, and situations unlikely to occur on a twenty year trip between stars. May leaned over toward Fred in the pilot’s seat, "Ten bucks says a maximum of one year before we are so bored that the entire crew is begging for training exercises."
Fred eyed the trainees, "Sure, I’ll take your money. They," he nodded at the trainees, "won’t last six month’s, but I’ll bet it takes a minimum of two years before Mike gives into boredom."
"Ouch, I forgot about Mike, yeah he’s perfected idleness into an artform. There goes my money."
Commander Freeman was, de facto, captain of the ship. For this little while it would be an important job. Docking and refueling at the Iceberg would be challenge, then the switch from stored fuel to ram operation. Then it would get very routine for the flight crew. Interesting on the other end though, with an entire three star system to explore.
Freeman’s goal for this year was to have enough warm bodies to cut back to half shifts. Most people already had a job on the side. Except the ones that partied full time. May herself had pretty well rearranged el one’s walls and was finding herself with a lot of free time. Maybe she should talk to Prissy. Maybe it was time.
The training session broke up with sighs of relief from the students and brief praise from Freeman. "Now, Driver and Coltrane, take the controls and stand the rest of this watch."
May stretched, and gave a bright smile to the stiff young man that formally relieved her and assumed the navigator’s position. Fred likewise yielded his seat to a new pilot.
"Hurry up you idiot," snapped the trainee, shoving past the ichimp.
"Youngster," Fred drawled, "I suggest you show some respect for superior officers, experienced crew and moral superiors."
"Moral superiors!" the woman sneered, "You abomination, you appalling artificial freak. You genengineered moron."
"Enough, Coltrane. You’re relieved. Get off the bridge and return to your quarters." The Commander’s voice cut off the diatribe.
"You can’t punish me," she snapped, "I’m a free citizen, not one of your Marines."
"I can shoot you dead, if you give any trouble on the bridge, hijacker." Freeman was not amused.
"It was one of the hijackers," Coltrane jerked her chin at Fred, "I’m a colonist."
"You’re all part of the plot and I will shoot and kill any of you that try any shit on my ship." She stared at the trainee. "Do I need to repeat my order?" she purred.
Coltrane’s lips thinned, but she turned and stalked out, or as close to stalking as was possible in 1/10th G.
Freeman swept her gaze over the rest of them, then glared at the other pilot trainee. "Mr. Massey, if you have any grasp of military courtesy, you may stand the remainder of this watch, as pilot."
"Yes, sir." He mumbled through the formulae and Fred gave him the pilot’s seat.
Freeman glared at him. "Moral superior was going a bit far, Flintstone." She switched her gaze back and forth between Fred and May Huang, "Don’t ever let me hear you starting shit like that, though. She’s a bigoted little brat, but you two are criminals. I will treat you as serious threats, if you ever act like any sort of threat."
May sorted through several possible answers then opted for peace, "Yes, Commander." Fred echoed her.
Freeman stalked, she could do it well, over to stand behind the trainees, as they tried to look nonchalant doing a quick position and course check and diagnostics on the controls.
May retreated to the far side of the bridge; Fred followed her, then sighed, "I am getting seriously tired of taking crap from the piggies. You got any fittingly evil ideas?" he kept his voice low.
"I’ve had a few ideas," she breathed, " which I’ve shared with the Colonel. I think he’s sharing data with Ivan, they meet regularly. Damn, I wish I had a time machine . . . well, it’s too late now to ditch them. We’re stuck with the nasty creatures and we’ll have to put up with them."
"I’m surprised you didn’t eat Freeman, just now." Fred said.
She smiled a bit at his prodding. "No, a clear cut chain of command is very necessary after the chaos at the start of this voyage. Freeman is doing a good job. I hadn’t expected that, and I’m sure as hell not going to undermine it." She fingered the collar of the Chamberlain Project overalls that had become the official uniform of the flight crew. "It’s a bad time for me to get touchy or arrogant, and frankly my ego is tough enough to handle a bit of, umm, obedience."
"What would it take for you to turn against them?"
"Against the government?" May shrugged, "Turning the ship around, attacking the ichimps, or trying something underhanded with me. Now get your curiosity under control. And don’t provoke the piggies. They’ll start something sooner or later; make it clear that it wasn’t provoked, so the ichimps don’t reap a part of their harvest."
"I don’t trust them." Fred grumped, a little too loudly, Freeman’s head twitched in his direction.
"Nor should you." She quieted her voice even further, "But don’t force the trouble. The longer until the break, the better the ichimps position will be. Let it ride."