CHAPTER FIVE

The labor was difficult and many hours long. Marina had learned of delivery from human medicine, taught in the Glasshouse. She often wondered if she was as skilled as the midwives or the doctor healers of the human world. She had performed well in simulations, but during the real thing, her fretfulness took over. The mother bled a lot due to what she assumed was a uterine rupture. Most of that blood lost Marina was unable to save. Her hands shook uncomfortably, holding vials, breaking many, and only filling one with a few milliliters with that red fluid. With the increasing hemorrhage and her lack of experience, it was likely that a blood draw post-partum would be necessary to attain a sufficient sample for herself.

For the moment, Marina only focused on the baby's descent, and wished for a normal crowning. As it slowly came into being, she felt for the cord, feeling the slickness of the Wharton's Jelly. It wrapped itself a bit too tightly around its head. She had no other option but to cut it early, spilling even more blood, blood that mother could not spare and baby had not even begun to oxygenate on its own. It was wasteful, an inefficient delivery, and in a brief instance of egotism, Marina thought it was fortunate that it took place here, and not at home, where her novice skills would shame her in front of Aren. This was only the beginning, she hoped, and her clumsiness and anxiety would be, with practice, fortified into a remarkable adeptness. A piece of twine crudely replaced a medical clamp, and a simple knife cut through the thick gristle-like cord that softly pulsated in her grasp.

The night hours seemed to go on forever, until it ended with the baby in her arms, bathed in its own and mother's blood and off-white of vernix. In the seconds of silence that followed, Marina held her own breath, until the smallest and weak gasp reached her ears, and they together, took in the air.

She slumped against the wall, and with a free hand wiped the cold sweat from her forehead. She cursed silently as she realized she had just marred the last clean part of herself with the intense red that painted the room.

The baby cried, filling its tiny lungs with breaths that filled its blood vessels enough to commence the closing of the ductus arteriosus in its heart. With each breath, it learned to live on its own.

Marina looked down at it, finally noticing its features as she cleaned it with a cloth. She felt warm, but her white skin was hard like Marina's but likely fragile as glass. Those eyes were not of her mother, a maroon flecked with light brown. Her hair was sparse but curly pale brown.

The little boy came closer, at the sound of that cry. She had forgotten she had untied him at some point during the night, to help with fetching items, providing the emotional support to his mother as Marina could only bark demands with her short temper. His presence had been quick flashes, feeling his fingers tremble in hers as they exchanged tools, even passing the very same twine he snipped and formed from the rope that bound him earlier. This victory had not been hers alone.

"Ita is here!" he exclaimed, then he saw his mother, on the bed and stopped. She slept now from all the sedatives Marina has given her. She had been overloading her with them in the midst of her panic.

Marina was more concerned with the creature she cradled in her arms than the humans. What do I do with you? she asked herself.

The day came back again, and with the baby in her right arm, she reached for the periwinkles the mother keeps next to flame-flowers and aloe vera: a poison, a food, and a medicine. They would have to be thrown out. Such a stupid woman, for keeping a pretty but toxic flower in a house with children, but it may had been her only weapon if used right, Marina deduced.

She shut her eyes, waiting for that light to take Ita and her, but it did not.

She remembered the vial of the mother's blood in her pocket, some of it on her hands and on the baby.

The day felt good, and she knew the many days after could be better.

"Are you going to take my little sister to Father's home?" the little boy asked. Marina turned to where his voice came.

"What is your name?"

"Johnny."

"Johnny, I'm going to need your help." Her vision was difficult. She was not accustomed to this kind of brightness, and it would only get brighter. Her left eye winced as it tried to fend off the excess light. There was a sudden flash of her right one, a sight there, of Aren's face. There was something cruel there in his face, but she could not decide why.

He brought down his silver hammer, diamond-tipped on her, and she could not see him anymore.

There was no going back to the Glasshouse. That choice was no longer hers to make.

"Ita?" Marina said with her eye closed.

"Reinita, 'little queen,' Father had said to name her." Johnny sniffled. She would have to adjust to this human melancholy, as it made her uncomfortable to see or hear the distortion of human faces by unattractive emotions. "I call her 'Ita.'"

"Ten years, Johnny. Ten years, before he can come through."

"Who?"

"My partner. He's not going to be in a good mood. He has a bad temper and no common sense. And he's coming to kill your little sister and me - and maybe even you."

"Why?"

"Does it matter why? Come with me, give me your hand. I can't see in your day."

Johnny grabbed her left hand, as she held onto Ita with her right arm, with a care that came from nowhere and everywhere inside of her at once. She had never felt so weak, as she cradled a baby, and let a child lead her into safety.

Aren could break her even from a distance, turn her confidence into fine debris, and Marina could only find a certain comfort in both's present lack of sight. Could she bear to see herself now, if she could? How different would she be years from now, when a few days had left her feeling like somebody else.

"What will we do?" the child spoke again.

"We're going to wait for him, here, Johnny."