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Ardath Mayhar is a Texas writer whose stories have appeared in many, many publications. This story first appeared in Midnight Zoo and was later reprinted in the Polish magazi ne Fantastyka.


Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder . If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@cyberus.ca.

All materials copyright 1996-1998 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

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 unfamiliar."
     "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!

    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 alive.
         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!

     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.
     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 mind.

     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 might begin.
     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 the top.
     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 enough time?"
     "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 consent."
     "We have the consent forms that you signed. Perhaps the thing wasn't done quite legally, but the situation was urgent ...."
     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 pregnant."
     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 late."
     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 out.
     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 was deposited.
     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 weight.
     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 normal state.
     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 pains.
     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 the chopper."
     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 have been.
     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 warily.
     "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 at her.
     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 with bushes.
     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 long.
     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 humanity.
     "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 stared down.
     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 dangers."
     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 alive.
     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.

THE END