Ardath Mayhar is a
writer whose stories have appeared in many, many publications. This story first appeared in Midnight Zoo and was later reprinted in the Polish magazi
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From What Alien Womb?
by Ardath Mayhar
The craft bounced in turbulence, straining for altitude.
Pewter colored cloud roiled about it as it moved up through
the murk, battered by lightning and wind. Then something
caught it in an irresistible grasp. It whirled madly, its
gyroscopes whining, its silent engines working furiously to
overcome the terrible force that flung it about this alien
sky. When the tornado slammed it to the ground, neither of
its crew members was conscious of the fact.
The young captain looked a bit green, General Tellure
thought. He ignored that, however, and questioned the man
closely. "It was a flying saucer, then. What can we learn
from the remnants?"
The captain steadied. "The lab boys have it. They
think it will tell them a lot, though whatever moved it isn't
anything we know how to assess. The materials are completely
"The ... aliens ... inside? Both dead?"
The captain swallowed hard. "One dead. The other is
still alive. Barely. They're not pretty, General. And torn
up as they were by the crash, it's hard to say what they
ought to look like. There'll be an autopsy, when the second
one dies; that won't be long, Colonel Evenrade thinks."
"I want everything, you understand?" Tellure barked.
"Even guesses ... wild ones, sane ones, everything. If that
little craft was in our atmosphere, it means an interstellar
or at least interplanetary ship is someplace nearby. So you
see that I get every scrap of information!"
The captain snapped a salute. "Yessir!" The General
stared after his retreating form, his expression speculative.
CLASSIFIED! TOP SECRET! EYES ONLY!
General Tellure read the memo three times. He glanced
through the attached report. Then he held the paper in the
coal of his cigar and reduced it to ash, put aside his
ashtray and stubbed the cigar thoroughly to reduce the light
ash to powder.
From: Colonel Evenrade
To: General Tellure
Re: Unidentified survivors of crash
Tom: This is unofficial and off the record. I am
putting my career into your hands. NASA wants this kept in
the family, but I think the military needs to know. The
report I am giving to those who should get all the
information is going to be edited ... carefully. Only you
and I will know the material I set forth here.
FYI: The beings in the crashed shuttle were nonhuman,
humanoid, measuring an average of a meter and a half in
height and five to seven kilograms in weight, one being
slightly larger than the other. They were identifiably male
and female, reproductively analogous to our species. DNA is
identical. The female was pregnant, early in her term if the
analogy holds. I have saved the foetus in vitro. It is
We need a surrogate mother to bring it to term. The
thing is implantable, I am reasonably sure, if a substitute
can be found with physical characteristics within the
parameters set forth in the attached report. If a cow can be
implanted with the fertilized egg of a bison and bring it to
birth, as has proven feasible, this can be done.
I propose to bring this alien creature to term, rear it
according to our own specifications, and learn from it
whatever we can of the species to which it belongs. This
must be known only by us and the very few technicians and
doctors necessary to do the work. This will be an
intelligent being. Outside pressures would try to regulate
our treatment of it, if word got out. Needless to say, this
could finish us both, career-wise, if something should go
wrong or get out to the public.
Tom, GET ME A SURROGATE!
He swiveled to pull out a drawer of the file cabinet at
his elbow. Flicking through folders, he found a thick one,
which he studied carefully before going into the computer
room to sit before a terminal, feeding into it a set of
specifications. After a short wait, he got a printout.
Captain Jellicoe read the orders she'd been given. The
puzzled frown between her brows deepened. Special duty was
nothing out of the ordinary for her skilled group, but this
was strange. No explanation was given for the transfer of
her best computer teacher.
She straightened her shoulders and touched a button on
her intercom. "Shelley, send Private Slack after Lieutenant
Ash. Special duty. On the double."
She read the orders yet again. Something told her that
she might never know the answers to the questions in her
Lucilla Ash managed to conceal the gratified excitement
she was feeling. Though she liked her work well enough, it
was not the adventure she hoped to find when she entered the
Service. Drilling Basic into thick-headed youngsters lacked
excitement, but now it looked as if her real military career
She packed quickly. When she met the car outside, she
managed to conceal her interior butterflies from the driver,
though once they were under way she allowed herself to grin.
Her smugness faded a bit when the driver turned into the
grounds of the military hospital. They, too, were
computerized, she reassured herself. But what a comedown it
would be to devise a system for running a hospital when she
had hoped for so much more! There wasn't much chance of
adventure in such a place, she thought, as she followed the
driver and her suitcase into the building.
To her surprise, she was met by an MP, who escorted her
to a waiting room and stood guard outside while she waited
and waited. After a long while, a woman bustled in with a
clipboard and a harried expression.
"Lieutenant Ash? Good. Sign here ... and here ... and
here. No, don't read the forms. Orders. We're in a hurry.
There, too. Yes. Thank you. Fine. Someone will come at
once. good luck!" And she was gone.
Lucilla stared at the closed door blankly. What was
going on? Medical releases weren't needed for working with
computers! And that last form had said SURGICAL RELEASE at
A skinny intern thrust his head into the room, with the
MP keeping watch over his shoulder. "Ash? Get in." He
whisked her into a wheelchair. "There we are. Hold out your
arm. There!" And he injected her with something before she
had a chance to object.
WHAT IN HELL WAS GOING ON?
Sleep overtook her. A troubled sleep, with motion and
clinking and rustles and mutters beneath it. Bright lights
overhead ... and then deep unconsciousness.
Lucilla swam up from the depths of an interior ocean.
Floating on its surface, she tried to open her eyes. They
seemed stuck. "Uhhh." she said, for her tongue and lips were
too dry and stiff for articulation.
A hand touched her. "...coming around. Has there been
"Three days. No sign of bleeding. The medication seems
to be keeping things together. It's safe to let her come out
of it now. I hope she has her share of guts."
Lucilla's mind was now fully awake, though her body was
still numb. She strained toward consciousness, tried to
check herself over. Something had been done to her ...
something weird. Something terrible.
Her eyes opened at last. She stared up into a hazy face
that resolved itself into a round pink countenance atop a
plump little man in whites.
"WHAT, BY GOD, IS HAPPENING HERE?" She tried to yell
that, but it came out as a whisper.
The face smiled nervously. "Doctor Evenrade is coming.
You'll be told at once ... ah, here he is. Doctor, the
patient is awake. And curious, of course."
The pink face was replaced by a gaunt gray one.
Familiar wrinkles framed a jutting chin. Lucilla narrowed
her eyes and recited, "Grant Catherwood Evenrade, Colonel, U.S. Air Force. Attached to Classified Hospital Installation H. Top clearance. Married Evelyn Underhill Evenrade, alcoholic, possible security risk. Four children, three boys, one girl."
The head snapped backward. As her peripheral vision
seemed to be returning, that gave her no problem. She
grinned fiercely. "I remember everything I program into the
computers, Doctor. Colonel. Few do, or can. I sometimes
think I am part computer myself."
He looked as shocked as if one of his lab animals had
dared to address him.
"I want to know what has been done to me, without my
"We have the consent forms that you signed. Perhaps the
thing wasn't done quite legally, but the situation was
Lucilla strained to sit up. The colonel leaped to ease
her back down, holding her flat.
"No strain or stress for a week or so! You might
abort --" he stopped short.
"I ... might ... abort? I am not pregnant. The only
child of my marriage died at four months of age of
meningitis. As did my husband. I do not dally. I cannot be
He looked uncomfortable. "Actually ... we have
implanted a foetus. You were the only match we had,
physically. We tested you extensively, after you went under,
for allergic reactions, chemical incompatibilities,
everything. There was no major impediment that a tailor-made
chemical supplement couldn't handle. The foetus would have
died without a host mother."
He didn't look at her, gazing out the window, instead.
"This could not be done with a civilian. It had to be
someone under orders, who wouldn't question until it was too
Fury built inside her. "With what did you implant me?"
She felt a cold suspicion growing inside her.
He shifted uneasily,. "There was a crash. An alien
aircraft that seems to have collided with a tornado. Weather
radar spotted it, and rescuers got there at once. There were
two crew members. One was dead, the other dying. Neither
was ... was entirely human. Do you follow me?"
Lucilla nodded more coolly than she felt.
"The female was pregnant. We saved the embryo. That's
why we needed you."
"You have put some inhuman monster into my womb?" She
felt her stomach quease.
"Humanoid," he said. "Similar in most ways. Compatible.
Quite compatible. You, being Army, know what an advantage
this will give us. We can learn all about its people. It
will know no better than to reveal what it is and can do.
This is a scientific breakthrough and a possible military
advantage of the most incredible sort."
She stared into his face. He really believed that he
could commandeer her body as an incubator for some
extraterrene horror as casually as he would order a
subordinate to stand guard or carry a message. Her fury
built silently inside her, but she had great emotional
control. She let none of her anger show. There would be
time for that later.
There turned out to be plenty of time. This took far
longer than a human baby to develop. In the remote
intelligence installation where they concealed her, she
endured for month after month.
There was nothing to distract her. They had put her in
a farmhouse on a slope in eastern Colorado, surrounded by
mile after mile of arid countryside. As she was flown in,
she'd memorized peaks and valleys, hoping to use that
information in case she found a chance to escape from her
keepers, but the chance didn't arrive.
No real farm had ever occupied that spot, she felt
certain. The mountains were too distant to reach on foot, in
her present condition, though she had been reared in country
much like this part of Colorado. There was no road leading
A helicopter, the only link with the rest of the world,
had taken her in, along with a nurse to attend her. The fact
that her husband had taught her to fly a chopper kept coming
to mind, but the aircraft was flown out again, once its load
The two men who pretended to be cook and handyman were
obviously Security. Even with the three of them, she found
herself isolated. They seemed wary of her, nervous in her
company. They had probably been told she was a spy or a
murderer, she thought.
Normally, she would have incapacitated the night guard,
using the karate the Army had obligingly taught her, and
walked into the mountains. But edema and nausea racked her,
and she knew she was not fit for such stress. The medication
that kept her body from rejecting the foetus also disrupted
her system so much that she couldn't even walk around the
dusty yard of the farmhouse without stopping to vomit.
Books palled, after a time, and TV was too spotty and
unreliable to help. Her dreams, however, kept her company.
They were sharper, more fascinating than any she could ever
recall before. Because of that, she went to bed earlier and
earlier, pleading her increasing awkwardness, illness, and
She lived in those dreams, though she seldom remembered
anything when she woke except for a sense of warmth and ease.
And, of course, the strange language that sometimes came out
of the dream to intrigue her waking hours. That language was
a real one, she knew, though totally unfamiliar.
Nine months passed. Ten. She was weary past belief.
Her kidneys became a problem, and exhaustion became her
It was the kidney problem that revealed to her another
matter even more acute. On a trip to the bathroom, she found
her private bath awash from a stopped drain. She fumbled her
way down the hall to the other bath, and outside Nurse
Kelley's door she stopped at the sound of low voices.
"...taking too long. Nobody carries a kid for a damn
year! She doesn't seem to be any kind of a danger, either.
I don't like it, Ferguson!" That was Garner's voice.
"It's orders, Corporal. Don't worry ... just do as
you're told." That was Ferguson, the 'cook.'
"Those orders bother me a lot." That was Kelley. She
sounded worried. "Why should we ... do that ... if she
miscarries? I've never harmed a patient in my life. Orders
don't make that right. Not from God Himself!"
A chair scraped. Lucilla dashed back to her flooded
bath, her heart pounding. They had been ordered to kill her,
if something went amiss, so that she couldn't bear witness to
the thing that had been done to her. And when the child was
born, what then? If it were born prematurely, here in the
farmhouse, she had a grim feeling that the nurse and the
guards would not survive to take any description of the
infant out again.
She got into bed and curled onto her side. Security,
she knew all too well, covered a multitude of sins. She had
seen too many items go under her fingers into the computer
systems. They would kill her, of course, as quickly after the
birth as they would if she miscarried. It wasn't terribly
hard to kill someone in a hospital.
One thing balanced her side of the equation. She had
grown up in country much like that to the west of the house.
She had taken to combat training with natural talent and an
impulse to go for the jugular. That might get her out of
this, if things came out with any luck at all.
Early on a Tuesday morning, at the end of her twelfth
month, Lucilla woke to a June morning and a feeling that she
had been called. Before an hour had passed, she was timing
She rose and listened to the silent house before padding
to the kitchen, where she took a sharp knife and a ball of
twine from a drawer, Packets of crackers, cheese, jerky.
The spare flashlight from the pantry. They searched her room
every day, otherwise she would have done this much earlier.
In her room again, she repacked her suitcase, removing
the toilet items and nightgowns to be replaced with pants and
shirts she had worn when she first arrived, along with the
hiking boots they provided for 'exercise.' She covered
everything with the fancy robe Evenrade had given her.
With the knife hidden under her tent-like dress, she
tapped at Kelley's door, at last. "I think it's time. Call
Feet thudded onto the floor. A tousled Kelley peered
out. "You sure?" she yawned.
"Pains are down to fifteen minutes apart. This isn't my
first child. By the time the chopper gets here and back to
Denver, things will be happening."
The craft arrived in thirty minutes. Instead of the big
machine that had brought them in, it was a fast, two-
passenger craft, piloted by a skinny kid. Though he was
armed and in uniform, he was not as forbidding as he might
She would have hated to have to handle a tough old Army
regular. This scrawny specimen had trouble handling her
suitcase. When it was loaded, he stared down at her bulk
"You sure we'll make it before the kid comes?" he asked,
his tone nervous. "We can't take the nurse to help. Orders
came down it was to be just you and me."
"It's not my first. I know what's happening. But we'd
better go right now." She turned and waved toward Kelley and
the two men. They didn't wave back.
She had picked, on her journey in, a long ridge between
two fair-sized mountains as a place to make for, if she were
able to run. At one end, a river spilled down a slope.
Behind that was a good stand of conifers, extending out of
sight into rough country to the west. Good country for
hiding. She would make it, if she could get down there.
When the chopper skimmed over the ridge, she turned in
her seat as if easing a contraction. The seat belt was
hooked very loosely because of her discomfort, and she had
room to maneuver. When her fist crashed into the pilot's
temple, he never knew what hit him.
She eased back the throttle, blessing Mark. In return
for being taught to fly she had taught him to use computers.
A twinge of pain touched her, but she pushed it aside. She
was busy picking out a spot near cover and easing the machine
down in a storm of dust. When it was down, the pilot was
still out. She would have hated killing him while he looked
Even then it wasn't easy. Afterward, she pulled her
case from the compartment behind the seats and set it out of
harm's way. A good long wick of twine from her stolen ball
went into the fuel tank. She lit the end and took cover
beside her suitcase in the shelter of a ledge of scree topped
The chopper went up with a WUMP! followed by a blast of
fire. Bits and pieces rained about her, and she had a moment
of cold remorse, until she reminded herself that the pilot
undoubtedly had orders to kill her, if the child was born en
route to the hospital.
Then she was too busy to feel guilty. The baby was
coming. She was more than glad she and Mark had taken the
LaMaze training before their son was born. She knew what to
do, and she did it without too much trouble. It didn't take
It was hard to make herself look at the wet, bloody
infant. It might be a monster that she must strangle, and
that would be entirely too much for one day. He was shaped
like a human baby, and that helped. She wiped him clean with
a towel from her suitcase, rubbing well with hand cream. The
skin was fine, mahogany colored, and the hands had three
fingers with an opposable thumb. The feet were solid and had
no toes at all, though they were flexible, with a good arch.
The body was that of a normal male infant.
The head was not. Spiky black tendrils were drying on
the small skull in eccentric patterns. The head was domed,
the chin small and pointed. The nose grew from the cheeks
without the dividing crease at each side, and it was only a
narrow ridge between brow and cheekbones, nostrils flaring
above a round, suckerlike mouth.
He was not, strangely enough, unattractive, just
different. His eyes opened and studied her, focused and
aware in a way that should be impossible in one so young.
There were no irises, the entire eyeball being the shade of
polished pewter, with a tiny pupil.
Lucilla had a sudden recollection of her dreams ...
there had been a green ocean, vast sweeps of desert, and a
small yellow sun as well as several moons. Had she dreamed
an ancestral memory of the racial home of the child inside
her? Had he communicated with her through those long months,
understanding that he was to be born of an alien womb to one
not of his own kind?
What nonsense! He wasn't yet thirty minutes old. She
was letting her imagination play games, and now she must run,
not worry, whether or not she was physically able.
She tended herself as best she could with supplies
brought from the house. Having no grogginess from sedation,
she felt clear-headed and detached. Sore, of course, and
tired, but she thought she could manage.
Hiding the case beneath a cascade of loose rock, she
took the child and headed for the cut where the river ran,
hoping that whoever came searching for the chopper would
think her dead in the crash. She had painfully swept away
the tracks left behind her, and all trace of the birth was
buried beneath rock behind a ledge.
The familiar weight and warmth of the infant on her arm
reminded her of her own small Mark. Such a short life to
leave so huge a space behind him! This small creature was
new and untouched, as her own had been. He deserved a chance
to become whatever he was capable of being. She would not
sacrifice him to those men whose ambitions outran their
"We'll make it, Mark," she said, shifting the baby
against her shoulder and cuddling it close. She wondered if
human milk would be suitable ... that could be a real
problem. There might be radical differences in nourishment
between her kind and his.
She ached all over, her feet feeling like lead as she
crossed the ridge and looked into the cut at the river below.
A deer track angled down the steep, and she followed it until
the overhang hid her. There she dropped onto a rock and
A craft waited below, sitting on a flat rock at the edge
of the water. It was unlike any she had encountered,
standing on three long slender legs, its round body
spiderlike. A porthole stared at her from the visible side.
Someone stood in its shadow, human-shaped, medium sized,
subtly alien. She stood and went down to him, the baby
squirming against her as if it knew what was happening. When
the creature stepped out of the shade, Lucilla stared at it
for a long moment. Rich brown skin, spiky hair -- this was,
indeed, of the baby's species.
"You may come with us," he said.
The words were not English, she knew as she heard and
understood them. This was the language she heard in her
dreams. "Did he teach me from the womb?" she asked. To her
amazement, she used the same tongue.
"Not he. We. Where one is, all are. We are one, not
like your kind, all separate, all afraid and alone. We felt
this one's people die, and we felt him go on living. We
waited to see, and through him we felt you. Although like
all your kind you contain anger, you are also loving. Now we
will take him, for he is of us. We are of him. Thank you
for saving him for us."
She hugged the infant, feeling him cling, damp now and
warm against her. For the last time. She transferred his
weight to the arms of the other.
`"Thank you for lending him to me. He made me remember
a time when I was not always angry." She stared into the big
pewter eyes. "Don't make contact with anyone here. We don't
know we are wicked. Most are not deliberately so, though we
are often callous, stupid, unloving. You can't trust us. If
they did to me, one of their own, what was done, you can
imagine what they might do to someone as different as you."
The eyes seemed sad. "We know. We do not approach, we
only observe. Many worlds are like this, and we have
explored other systems, over the ages. We record and return
to our own worlds to show our kind the wonders and the
She felt a surge of amusement. "Horrible examples?"
She spoke in English, and he did not understand.
She touched one of the baby's hands. "Take care of him.
I can't go with you, for I am not that angry with my own
kind." She thought of all the secrets in her memory, the date
that had gone beneath her hands into the computer. These
might be trustworthy people, but she would not risk betraying
her kind to them.
The long head nodded. "A craft comes. I must go."
"I will hide," Lucilla said. She knew she could survive
here for a long time, for she had the mountains' wealth and
the contents of her suitcase. She would return to her own
kind when she felt strong again.
There was a soft sound from the vehicle as the being
climbed aboard. The craft gleamed suddenly bright, as if
gathering energy, and shot off up the gorge and out of sight.
In the distance she heard the chirring of a chopper and hid
herself beneath the overhang. Had the general come to
inspect the downfall of his dream?
She settled against the rock, easing her painful body.
Let them look. Let them send lies to her next of kin. In
time, she would make it known to all who cared that she was
When she was healed, body and soul, she would return for
an accounting with those who seized her for their own
purposes. She knew how to go about doing that, and she knew
whom to approach for help in doing it.
She smiled grimly as she listened to the chopper landing
near the ruined helicopter on the ridge. If the general
thought he was unhappy now, it was nothing to what was
coming. When the time was right, she would bring him to
account, along with Colonel Evenrade.
For now she would rest and listen. For now she would
gather her resources ... and wait.