The world was soft and blurred. There was pain, but it wasn’t screaming pain. It was, somehow, a comfortable pain, as if it was supposed to be there and it was good and right that it was. It was pain, though and it tugged at his consciousness, dragging him slowly back from the warmth and fuzziness into which he had sunk, towards the much brighter and clearer world, outside. Not that he didn’t want to, because there was something good out there; something that he wanted, that he…
The next thing that happened was that he heard the voice. It was close and it was swearing.
“Fucking alien piece of shit. What the fuck am I supposed to do now? Why’d you have to pass out, you son of a bitch? Why’d you have to leave me when I needed you? Why won’t you wake up for fuck’s sake? Why won’t you just… just wake up? I need you, Sys. I’m scared. Please. Please wake up.” The voice faded from angry to scared and it felt important that he stopped it, because he didn’t want him to be scared anymore.
“Fuck. Shit. Are you awake, Sys? Are you okay?”
“Mmm. What… what happened?”
With some difficult, Sys forced his eyes open and Dee’s tear streaked face swam into view.
“What happened? You… laid an egg, that’s what happened. You fucking gave birth, that’s all. Nothing important, you know. I thought you were going to die; shit, I thought you had died… but it wasn’t anything much; nothing to worry about.”
Sys smiled. Dee was angry again but it was a caring kind of anger and…
“Fuck.” He sat up so fast he almost knocked Dee off the bed. “Ow.” Clasping his abdomen, he fell back again. “Ssshit, ssshit. Ow. It hurtss, Dee.”
“Of course it hurts. You squeezed an egg the size of my head out of… well, I don’t even want to think about that. Of course it hurts. I’m just surprised that you’re not screaming your head off, because if it were me, trust me, I would be.”
Sys smiled and relaxed against the pillows. “It’ss not that bad. If I don’t try to ssit up it’ss jusst kind of an ache. It’ss not pleasant, but it’ss bearable.” Then the smile disappeared and he looked anxious. “What happened? Where’ss the egg? Wass it hard, Dee? Pleasse, pleasse tell me, wass it hard?”
“Yes, Sys, it’s hard. It was soft when it came out, kind of rubbery and long. Then it sort of got shorter and fatter and harder. It’s not as hard as a chicken egg, but it is hard, and… and I can feel… something moving inside.”
Sys closed his eyes and almost passed out again, relief washing through him. Then something like wonder and something like terror. “I’m a father,” he said, opening his eyes to stare at Dee. “Oh sshit, I’m a father.”
“Yeah,” Dee said with a soft smile. “Yeah, you are.”
“Where… where iss it?”
“I wrapped it in a blanket and put it in a basket on the hearth, next to the fire. I figured it should be warm.”
“Yess. Can I…? Will you help me get up?”
“Not a chance. You’re going to rest right there in bed, for a while, until I’m sure your insides aren’t going to fall out when you stand up.”
Sys smiled widely. “Don’t be ssilly. That’ss not going to happen.”
“I’ll bring it to you.”
When Dee came back, carrying, very carefully, a small wicker basket, Sys was sitting up, watching the door expectantly. As soon as Sys laid eyes on the basket, a look came over his face that made Dee forget all about the horror of the last few hours, and smile. He felt warm inside. Sitting down on the bed, he set the basket between them.
With trembling fingers, Sys lifted aside the blanket and brushed the surface of the egg that lay, snug, in the basket.
“It’ss warm,” he said eventually.
“Yes,” Dee said, not being able to think of a single other thing to say.
Laying his hand flat on the surface of the egg, Sys laughed shortly and looked up, his eyes luminous. “It’ss moving. My young iss moving.”
Dee smiled and nodded. Then Sys frowned. “Dee… at the end, when… when th…the egg wass coming out. I’m not sshure but… but ssomething… ssomething happened. I ththink I wass dying. I ththink the egg wass sstuck and it wass killing me. Ssomething…opened me. It wass…”
“It was me,” Dee said, lowering his head.
Dee nodded, biting his lip.
Still biting his lip, Dee slowly stood up and pulled up his shirt, slipping the waistband of his trousers down, exposing his abdomen. As Sys watched, fascinated, it seemed as if his belly split and, for a horrifying moment, Sys thought his guts were falling out. But they weren’t guts, they were tentacles, that all seemed to move independently, with lives of their own.
For a moment, Sys couldn’t take his eyes off the seething mass of pale green and yellow tentacles, then he raised his eyes to Dee’s face, to find that his hair, loose around his head and shoulders was writhing with the same kind of independent life. He was glorious.
“I thought… I thought you were… I thought…”
“I never said I was human, Sys,” Dee said softly. “You assumed and I didn’t…”
“You’re beautiful, Dee.”
“What? You… you think I’m beautiful? You don’t care about… about…?”
Sys reached out his hand and hesitantly touched the nearest tentacle, it squirmed under his touch and gently wrapped around his wrist. He stroked it and it quivered. Others joined it, snaking up his arm. Sys laughed, delightedly.
“They like me.”
“They don’t have a life of their own, Sys. They’re part of me, like my hair or my eyes or my hands. They like you because I like you.”
“Are you… are you doing this?” he asked stroking the warm, questing tube, whose sensitive, tip was exploring his arm.
“Of course I am,” he said, grinning at the wonder in Sys’ voice. Sys lowered his head and the tentacles stroked his face.
Sys turned his head, to kiss the tip of one tentacle. It stroked his lips and he let them part for it to slip inside. Closing his eyes, he sighed and opened his mouth, allowing the tentacle to explore.
Suddenly, the tentacles withdrew and, when Sys opened his eyes, Dee was tucking his shirt back into his trousers.
“What? Why? Where did they go?”
“Where they belong.”
“No, no. They belong here… I want to feel them… I want…” Sys closed his eyes, his voice becoming dreamy.
“The only thing you want is sleep. You look exhausted.”
Sys opened his eyes and smiled. “Yess, yess, I am. But… You ssaved me, didn’t you? I wassn’t opening and you… you opened me. Your tentacless… they went in and… and rescued the egg and…” His voice faded out, not only because he didn’t have any more words, but because he was fading fast, his eyes getting heavy and his words slurred.
“Yes, yes I did. But we can talk about that later. Right now, you need to sleep. Lie down and get comfortable. Do you want me to put the egg back by the fire?”
“No. No… ssstay. Sstay with me.”
“The egg? You want the egg to stay with you?”
“Yesss. With me… me…” Almost asleep, he slid down while Dee rearranged the pillows and pulled the covers up over him, as he curled around the egg and drifted off to sleep.
Dee stood, for a while, looking down at him as he slept, feeling… strange.
Over the next few days, Sys slept much of the time, curled around the egg, keeping it warm with his body. When he was awake, he and Dee talked about many, many things. They spoke of their homes and their families, their experiences in the laboratory, and their hopes and dreams. Neither mentioned what had happened, or the way they felt about it.
Things fell into a comfortable routine and both of them sank into it with a feeling of ‘rightness’ and comfort with each other, as if things had been that way forever.
On the third day, Sys was asleep when, even deep in dreams, he felt something was wrong and he needed to wake up. When he opened his eyes, Dee was standing over him, calling his name softly.
“Sys, Sys wake up, something’s happening.”
“What? What’ss happening?”
“I don’t know, but your egg… it… it’s glowing.”
Blinking sleep from his eyes, Sys uncurled from around the egg and sat up. Dee was right. The egg was, indeed glowing from within, with a soft blue light.
“It’ss beautiful,” Sys breathed, stroking the rubbery surface with trembling fingers. He lifted his face to Dee, eyes wide. “It’ss vibrating. Do you… do you ththink… do you ththink it’ss hatching?”
“I don’t know.” Dee sat down on the bed and laid his hand next to Sys’. The egg was throbbing, vibrating with a deep pulse, like a heartbeat. Their eyes met and there was a distinct tinge of fear in Sys’ now.
“What if… what if ssomething goess wrong? What if…?”
“Nothing is going to go wrong. We’ve come too far for something to go wrong now.”
“We?” Sys asked, half joking.
“I kind of feel… close to this little guy.”
“Yeah,” Sys said, covering Dee’s hand with his own. “You feel closse to bothth of uss.”
Their eyes met and Dee felt a shock, like electricity, shoot through him. Tearing his eyes away, he blushed.
Sys would have said more, except that strange things were happened to the egg. It… heaved, at least what was inside it did. It was as if something was throwing itself around, hitting against the sides and, within the brightness of the strange blue light, they could see the shadow of a… something.
Sys wrapped his arms protectively around the egg and it vibrated madly. The heaving got so bad that Sys could barely hold it and then, with a sound like tearing cloth, the shell split and something, someone, started to hiss.
Dropping the egg into his lap, a startled Sys reached into the shell and lifted out a tiny, perfect version of himself. The turquoise blue hair was wet and clung to the tiny head, and shoulders, ending between his shoulder blades, with nothing but a shadow to show where it would later extend, like a mane, to the bottom of his back.
The little mouth was open, showing the sharp fangs and forked tongue, and tiny hands and feet waved in the air. He was perfect in every way.
Lost in wonder, Sys touched one of the tiny hands with one finger and gasped with pleasure when the fingers curled around it. He raised his eyes to Dee’s and saw wonder reflected there, too.
“He’s beautiful, Sys,” he breathed. “Really beautiful. He looks just like you.”
“I’m glad,” Sys said dryly. “I wouldn’t want him to look like hiss father.”
Dee’s smile slipped for a moment. “I can’t imagine anyone doing something like that to you. You don’t deserve it. If you were mine I’d never let you go. I’d take care of you and always be there for you. I’d…” He stopped, blushing at the way Sys was looking at him.
For a long, long moment they stared at each other. Time stilled, hearts fluttered, and Dee’s face burned. Then a strange sound permeated their consciousness, at roughly the same time. It was a mewling hiss. They both looked down, as the sweet little face looking back at them twisted, and tears began to fall, as the little creature gained momentum and bawled.
“What’s wrong? What does he want?” Dee asked, desperately.
“I think he’ss hungry.” Sys said, much more calmly.
“What are we going to give him? I have milk, but I don’t have a bottle. Do you…? Can you…?”
Sys was watching him, with his head slightly tilted to one side and a frown on his face. “Milk? Why would I want to give him milk?”
“Well… Well… he’s a baby, and… and… Oh shit, you’re not a mammal are you?”
“I’m not a what?”
“You don’t feed your… And you don’t have… And I’m making a complete fool of myself aren’t I?”
“So, what can we give the baby to eat?”
“Meat, of course. Bring some small pieces of the rabbit.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. Why would you ask that? Do you still think we should give him milk? It would make him very sick.”
“I…er… right… right. I’ll get the rabbit then shall I?”
Both of them watched in total fascination as the baby snapped chunks of meat from their fingers, not caring if he took a chunk of flesh out of them too.
After a few mouthfuls, the baby yawned and, smacked his lips. Licking away globules of flesh and blood, he nestled into Sys’ arms, and fell asleep.
“Wow,” Dee breathed, watching the baby sleep. “This is just… I mean, I have NO idea what to think; what to say.”
“Don’t ssay anyththing.” Sys smiled and leaned forwards to place a soft kiss on Dee’s lips. The smile that Dee gave him was just as soft.
“What are you going to call him?” Dee asked, leaning his head against Sys’ shoulder and gently ruffling the baby’s hair which, now dry, had fluffed up around his head. It was softer than Sys’ - baby hair.
“Oh. I don’t know. I haven’t ththought.”
Idly, Sys stroked the baby’s round tummy which, Dee realised with a shock had, like his father, no belly button. They had no nipples either. Why would they? He shouldn’t have assumed they would. Dee mentally shook his head. He was more human than he’d thought, after all.
Sys said something that sounded like a long hiss, mixing ‘ss’ and ‘th’ sounds randomly. Dee blinked. “I’m never going to call him that,” he said.
Sys smiled. “That wassn’t hiss name. I wass jusst ssaying ssomething to him in our language.” Sys looked up, his eyes shining with unshed tears. “Iss there any point? I mean, teaching him. There’ss no one elsse he will ever be able to sspeak to.”
“Of course there’s a point. It’s something you and he share; something that’s special, just for you.” Sys smiled.
“Yess, I ssuposse.” He looked at the baby for a few moments, and then up at Dee. “Iss your name really Dee?”
“No. Dee is the easy version.”
“Okay. Dee, it iss then. And ththe baby will be… different. I don’t want anyththing that linkss him to hiss fathther, or the people who ssent uss here. I want ssomething different. I want a new sstart for him, for uss.”
“Did he know?” Dee asked suddenly. “Did he know you were pregnant?”
Sys didn’t need to ask ‘who’? “Yess. That’ss why. He didn’t want to be… He ssaid he wassn’t ready and I would have let him go but he… he wass afraid. He didn’t want there to be any chansse that I would come to him ssome day and make him be a father to… to our child. Sso he… Sso he…” Sys had to stop, tears pouring down his face. Instinctively, Dee reached out to put his arm around him and pull him close, but Sys shrugged him off and drew himself up, fighting back the tears.
“There wass a man – at ththe… ththe plasse.”
“At the laboratory?”
“Yess. He wass kind to me. He… When he knew I wass pregnant – what ththey were going to do with the baby, he helped me. He… sshowed me how to get out. He ssaved me. Hiss name wass Luke. I think… I ththink Luke would be a good name.”
Dee was staring at him, a look of horror on his face and he drew back a little. “What? Don’t you ththink…”
“What were they going to do, Sys? What were they going to do to the baby?”
Sys dropped his head and stroked Luke’s soft hair. The baby gurgled, snuggling closer into his father’s arms.
“Ththey were going to take him from me.”
“After he was born?”
Sys looked up and, after a moment, shook his head. “No.”
Dee felt weak and sick. He ground his teeth, as he looked down at the tiny person who’d already affected him so greatly. Not for the first time, he wanted to torch the research centre with all who worked there. Unfortunately, some of them were good people, like Luke.
“It’ss alright Dee. It didn’t happen. We’re okay. We’re all okay.”
Dee smiled, gently, and put his arm around Sys. This time Sys laid his head on Dee’s shoulder and they both watched the sleeping baby.