Chapter 18: Growth
It took us a few minutes to locate Max, and put the twins in charge of the still ongoing sharing tutorials. I could tell by the look on Max’s face that he and Jeremy had taken advantage to demonstrate the pleasurable aspects of the process. I couldn’t begrudge them a few moments of feeling good. It wasn’t like we had had a lot of that in the last few days.
My hotel room had sort of become headquarters, and despite all the dire warnings, it wasn’t used a lot. Jessie’s was always crowded, but for some reason people didn’t feel as free to use mine. I had a feeling it was probably something to do with an unintentional suggestion on my part, but there was still the occasional knock on the door to use the shower or the bathroom, so I didn’t feel too selfish.
Luckily there was a small lounging area, with a couch and coffee table, and a couple lamps. Nothing terribly interesting, but functional, though I chose a simple chair, as it was much easier to get in and out of at this point.
“So, here’s what I was thinking – you can let me know if you think I’ve completely lost my mind or if you think it could be workable.” I was pleased to see I had the attention of both men. I went on to tell them about my farm idea. With as many people as there were in our group that had strong plant and animal affinities, we could have a functioning farm easily. It would be a great hiding place as well, as farmers tend not to be too close to their neighbors, it would be good camouflage for any other activities we might want to engage in. We could legitimately sell the crops. Or not so legitimately if we decided to go off the legal spectrum a bit. I mentioned my idea of sending one or two of our group to med school, and possibly some to vet school. We could “home-school” the kids, since it was likely to be a bad idea to have them in mainstream education. With the hacking talents we had available to us, it wouldn’t be difficult to create identities for all of us over time, and just sort of hide in plain sight. I was thinking the more remote the area the better, since we could grow stuff just about anywhere, the location’s isolation was more important than the fertility of the soil…and I talked about an hour, just laying out the whole idea, and when I finally finished I found myself letting out a breath, almost as if I’d been holding it all this time.
I had no idea what they were thinking. Max was usually easier to read Eric, but in this case, they both looked just slightly shell-shocked. I know it wasn’t from surprise about me talking so much.
“Well? What do you think?” OK, yes, I was seeking a bit of validation, at least to know they didn’t think I’d completely gone off my rocker. I don’t think I really expected the response I got though.
“Lala, honestly, we had already been talking about something similar to that, a sort of a commune. We want to make sure to avoid anything even remotely religious so we don’t get any attention for having any militant potential. I think we’d make a great group of hippies, don’t you? We have been researching here in Oz, and also potentially South America. We hadn’t really thought about the med/vet school thing, but you’re right, it’s a good idea. We were also thinking that we needed to ‘re-brand’ Jessie and the other scientists – create new identities for them and get them out there in research facilities and such so that we can keep an eye on the outside world and the scientific community specifically.” I was relieved to know that they’d already thought of it.
We talked about the options. Land in South America was a bit cheaper, but here we had the ability to speak English and there was less concern that our products would come under the scrutiny of a government already waging a war on illicit substances. Granted, we weren’t planning any coca fields, but pot was a big cash crop, and had made us a ton of it in the past, and we could do it with less land. We agreed that it couldn’t be our only crop, but that we could focus on growing bigger, better everything. In fact, there wasn’t really anything to stop us from using our abilities to develop new, stronger hybrids that could be grown more easily in arid climates, or on rockier soil. We could benefit mankind if we chose to, even if they didn’t really want us. Something about that felt right to me.
We eventually agreed that we’d focus here in Queensland, and get started on creating and backstopping ID’s for all of us as soon as possible. No one could buy anything requiring identification at this point, even a car or equipment. We were ghosts even now, but we needed to focus on rectifying that as soon as possible, at least for a few of us so that we could get started on our plans. Eric grabbed my laptop and started to work finding out what sort of identification was needed to exist in Oz. We knew what the US needed, but we didn’t want to be US citizens, we needed to exist as Australians so we didn’t need to go so far as faking VISA’s and work permits, etc.
I had no doubts Eric could accomplish it. Max set to work on his tablet trying to locate potential sites. It turns out there’s a lot of land in the Outback that is protected, and not available, but there was also a substantial amount of aboriginal land that we could potentially lease, rather than buy, so that might be even better – less of a real footprint.
I left them to it and decided to lay down for a while. OK, it may not have been typical, but this baby thing was getting a bit more challenging now that my center of gravity had shifted and there was an extra 20 lbs or so that I was hauling around. I am no doctor, but I kind of thought that Hope’s accelerated growth rate wiped me out.
I crashed until the next morning. I didn’t even dream, which was pretty unusual for me. The first thing I noticed when I woke was that the blackout curtains had once again been drawn, and that my first conscious thought that morning came from Hope. Two words formed in my head. “I’m ready”. No matter how ready I thought I’d be for this, I admit, I wasn’t. Not at all. It had been such a short time, I’d never really gotten accustomed to the idea of motherhood. Hell, I was fairly certain I’d suck at it. I wouldn’t exactly call it panic, but yeah, freaked out a little was definitely a good descriptor. There weren’t any medical personnel or hospitals anywhere near us, not that we could have used one.
Luckily for me my freak-out was followed be a sense of calm that I knew damn good and well had nothing to do with me. “It’s OK, this is going to be easy, let me take care of it.” I could feel my body start the process to fade, which surprised me a little since I hadn’t been able to fade since the day we figured out that Hope was on the way. It felt a little different, in that it didn’t seem to be a full fade in the sense I had experienced it before, it felt a little like someone was pulling my stomach out through my belly button, but not in a painful way. There is really no explanation that will do it justice if you haven’t experienced it. It didn’t have the erotic underpinnings that the sharing did, but there was a connection in some way.
“OK, I think we’re set. Sit up and move to the other side of the bed.” Seriously, not what I expected her to say. But then again, I was talking to my unborn daughter, so I guess I should have expected the unexpected, right? So I did as instructed. And as I did I felt a disconnect. It was a little like you imagine it might feel when you watch a lava lamp, when those blobs form, separate then re-form. Yeah, a little esoteric, but that’s the image that came to mind.
As I look to where I had been laying I saw her. This beautiful, ephemeral little girl. This sure beat the shit of what you see on TV with all the gore and afterbirth and icky stuff. I’m willing to bet there are millions of women who would give a lot to be able to do that! I know it certainly made me feel much better about the whole thing. She was still partially in fade, so she looked angelic, almost not real. I reached over to touch as I watched the fade dissipate and my little Hope began to look a little more like what I would have expected. She had an extremely strong resemblance to her father, which brought tears to my eyes.
“I thought this might be what you would want, mama.” Luckily our conversations were still completely in my head. I think I would have fallen over if that little tiny body just started talking! “You’re beautiful, baby. And yes, it’s exactly what I wanted. Your daddy would have been so proud.” I realized at that moment that I had no diapers, no clothes, or even blankets to put her in. I went into the bathroom, grabbed one of the bath towels. “I’m sorry sweetheart, I will admit to an unfortunate lack of preparedness for your arrival! You should have reminded me of all the stuff I needed!” I laughed at myself and hope smiled. Even after only that few moments she had filled out and it looked like she was already growing. I had learned by now to accept that anything was possible, so I didn’t dismiss it, but hoped that it was really only the final release of the fade.
I knew we didn’t have any formula or anything - a very ill-prepared group to say the least, so I decided to try it the old-fashioned way. Hope seemed to be OK with the concept and latched on. I was a little worried since my chest size hadn’t really increased, either due to the fact that this was not a normal situation, or that it was so short a time period or hell, any number of other inexplicable reasons, so I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to provide for her, but luckily she seemed to be happy. I knew that we needed less food than the Normals did in general, but since Hope was a first for all of us, I didn’t think it was terribly wise to start making assumptions, so I just let her do her thing til she was done, which was only a few minutes. I think I probably would have won the crappy mother of the century award because I assumed that Hope was going to be pretty self-sufficient, even as a baby. I was right.
When she had detached herself, sighed and burped to rival a college freshman, I wrapped her in the towel and carried her outside. There were a few people walking around, all of whom stopped to stare. I walked toward the tent figuring that would be the best, fastest way to reach the most people. A hush came over everyone who was there. If I hadn’t know better I would have assumed that the twins were Olympic runners, and I think Jessie, who was not a popper, actually popped over to where we stood.
I can’t claim any of the faces showed awe…it wasn’t like that. Curiosity, definitely. Maybe a little disbelief, with a hint of confusion. I thought those were all perfectly reasonable reactions, the only one that surprised me a little was Eric. There were tears streaming down his face. His was the only face I could honestly say succeeded at truly emotional. He approached tentatively, reached out his hand like he wasn’t sure he should touch. When Hope giggled he literally jumped back a good 6 inches, which, of course, led me to laugh my ass off. Jessie reached out to stroke her face and Hope didn’t disappoint, cooing and giggling and reaching out for her. This was clearly not your usual newborn, and I think that was clear to everyone. The crowd had gathered up as close as they could.
Ellie was the first to speak up. “Lala, what the hell is she wrapped in? Motel towels? Did no one think of picking up baby shit? Do we not have another one on the way here soon? Aren’t we planning on a shitload more of them, with no idea how fast the little buggers will get here?” Her eyes scanned the crowd, scowling at the best poppers on the crowd. “C’mon people – get on it!” She snapped her fingers, and sure enough at least 3 people popped out of the room. It was pretty funny when you thought about it.
Eric was still standing hesitantly next to me. I held out Hope to him as his eyebrows went up in question. “It’s OK, she’s not glass, man, she’s probably the strongest baby in history, and she’s going to give you a run for your money as Uncle Eric, so you better get used to it.” I watched the twins evil grins as he opened his arms. The look on his face went from abject fear to unmitigated adoration within about 15 seconds. Looking back at it I believe that this was the moment that Eric changed. His edges definitely smoothed out whenever Hope was around. He bent his head to gently place a kiss on her forehead and she blew a spit bubble at him. It was perfection.
Within a few minutes I hear Ellie at the other end of the tent reading the riot act to whomever had managed to bring back baby items. I couldn’t hear it all, but apparently she was now insisting that someone who had a “fucking clue” make a list and send people out. In spite of the apparent lack of baby savvy of our shoppers, we did manage to get a few little outfits, some diapers in varying sizes and some receiving blankets. We didn’t need anything heavy, the weather was being very reasonable. It was a definite improvement over scratchy hotel towel!
Over the next several hours Hope was passed around. It was clear to me that this little girl was everyone’s child. She had a smile and some sort of baby noise for just about everyone. It was also pretty clear that she was indeed growing like lightning. In the few hours since she had arrived she had increased in size substantially. I wasn’t the only one noticing. Jessie and the Twins both looked at me like I had answers for them. I didn’t. I was apparently becoming a master of the shoulder shrug. It was honestly the only response that was honest.
After a long few hours of bonding with…well, everybody, I reached out for my daughter and was a little shocked to feel her size and weight. I have no idea if I hid my shock appropriately, but it didn’t really matter. “Naptime, kiddo. Let’s go get some rest.” I was convinced it was more for my benefit than hers as she seemed fresh as a little daisy. The diaper that had been put on her 2 hours ago was definitely too small now. Part of me was a little afraid to go to sleep for fear that I’d wake to an amazon woman who could kick my ass.
As it turns out, that’s not quite what happened, but if we’d slept more than 4 hours or so, it might have! I had kind of gotten accustomed to the black-out blinds, and was seriously considering getting them for wherever we ended up. I had fallen asleep with a small baby in my arms and woke to a toddler. I would have guessed her age at about 2 years old. Her face had filled out to resemble Shane’s so profoundly that I was a little disturbed. It took a lot of control to not simply burst into tears. It was the first time it had really gone through my head all that happened in the last 3 weeks.
In that span of time I had discovered that one of few people I considered a friend was actually a government spy planted to trick us into revealing things about ourselves. Fell in lifetime love with someone I never expected, discovered I was going to have his baby when no one knew that was even possible, watched as my one-time friend cold-bloodedly murdered the love of my life, held a significant hand in ending dozens of lives without a second’s hesitation, found myself and what I now considered my new family relocated to the other side of the fucking planet with no plan but bent on revenge. I had taken a leadership role in the fate of that family with no idea how to execute anything, given birth to a wonder-child who even now was surpassing all expectations. Shit!
I watched as her little chest rose and fell, slight snores making me smile as I manage this one small moment of peace. I had a feeling there wouldn’t be many of those in the near future, so I savored it while I could.
As she snuffled and stirred, I knew we were going to once again have a bit of an issue with regard to what she was going to wear. This could certainly get ridiculous if she grew 2 sizes every 4 hours! We’d need a lifetime of wardrobe in the next few days! I didn’t want to leave her alone, but I needed to get this sorted out. I sent a message to Jessie. I had never really tried directing it to one individual before, but I thought it was worth it to give it a shot. It apparently worked because within a couple of moments there was a soft knock at the door, and Jessie stood there smiling.
“I didn’t know you could do that, Lala?” Her smile was broad. She had gotten bigger over the last week, but it was clear her progression was going to be nothing like mine. She noticed me noticing her. “Looks like the Enchanted are going to do just about everything differently. There’ve been quite a few confirmed successes from the other day. And they all seem to be responding differently. For some the only signs are the inability to fade, for others they are already experiencing morning sickness, and while no one seemed to progress as quickly as I did, there did seem to be some correlation between the strength of the abilities of the parents and how fast things were moving along
Here eyes moved to the other side of the bed and the sleeping toddler sized human being. Her mouth formed the perfect, comical “O” and here eyes stretched open way beyond their normal capacity. It was a little like looking at a bug-eyed sex doll (and no, I won’t tell you how I know what a sex doll looks like).
“Seems like our rapid growth progression continues. Can you stay with her for a few minutes while I pop out and pick up some clothes for her for the next few days?” She just nodded. Her mouth had closed but her eyes were still wide. “if she wakes up, just talk to her. We’ve been having very adult conversations in my head for weeks, so I see no reason she wouldn’t understand you. Heck, who knows, she may just talk back. I won’t be gone long, I promise.” I popped myself to the Target in Modesto, which I was very familiar with and was able to pop into a bathroom stall, hoping to get lucky and end up in an empty one.
The shopping trip was pretty uneventful. It actually made me a little sad that I had to be so cautious just to go to the store. It didn’t seem fair, then or now, that anyone else could just walk in and buy what they wanted without fear of being arrested, or worse, for crimes that they didn’t commit. Hell, not even for crimes, just because someone wanted them to. They did have some cute outfits, and I got 2 in every size up to a size 10 in adults. I figured even if Hope couldn’t wear them, someone could.
I was gone maybe ½ an hour, and by the time I returned, Hope was not only awake and talking, she was reading the newspaper. Fuck. Well, I guess at least I didn’t have to worry about potty training. This whole parenting thing was going to be easier than I thought.
Jessie was sitting in the chair looking at my laptop. I’m glad I cleared the browser history. There was still a shitload of crap floating around about what happened that day – it seemed like so much more than a mere week before – but it was less than it was the second day. Humanity in general was not a race known for it’s attention span. There would be a few die-hard conspiracy theorists, a few raging weirdos, and, well, us, that would keep it in the limelight for a little while, but eventually it would go the way of Iran-Contra. Yes, I read, OK.
She looked up at me, then over at Hope and shook her head and rubbed her stomach. I know she was wondering if that’s what would happen to her. “She’s different, Jess, I doubt anyone will ever experience anything like her again.” I smiled, and was happy to see Hope turn her way and smile as well. I was a bit surprised to hear her pipe up, though. “She’s right. I promise, your little boy isn’t like me. He’s going to be a sweetheart, and he’s going to be an amazing healer!”
Jessie’s face looked a little like someone had just slapped her. I didn’t know if it was from the fact that Hope was talking to her, and in such an adult way, or because of the information, but I suspected it was a combination of the two. Luckily, it only took her a few seconds to recover and put on a bright smile. She walked over and gave Hope a kiss on the forehead and thanked her. As she turned to walk out the door she looked at me and mouthed “Holy Shit!” I could only nod. It was an accurate and timely sentiment, and one with which I whole heartedly agreed.
When I looked over at Hope she sat on the edge of the bed. The gaudy comforter with the enormous orange flowers clashed with her simple little blue dress. Her little legs dangled over the edge, but you got the impression that she was a 400 year old woman in a small body. Here eyes were way wiser than was realistic, but hell, there was nothing normal about what was happening here, so hell, maybe she was 4,000 years old, who knows. She patted the bed beside where she sat, and there was no way I could refuse. When I plopped down on the edge of the bed he little body bounced a couple of times as she waved her hands in the air to right herself, and laughed. It wasn’t a little girl’s giggle, but a full-grown laugh.
She reached out but couldn’t quite reach my face, so I squished down a little so she could rub a thumb across my cheek. Her tiny little fingers were soft, and her touch was comforting. Talk about role reversals. It was pretty clear to me that I was the child in this scenario. Not that she was my mother, but more that she was the mother. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I had a feeling I was about to get my first lesson in Hope.
“The first thing I want to do is apologize,” she said. I couldn’t imagine what for, so I just kept listening. “We had no idea that what happened to your parents and the other adults was going to happen. It wasn’t our intention, and we don’t think it was yours either. Something glitched, and for that we are so very sorry.” OK, so talking in plurals was odd, but expressing some level of planning for everything that had happened, that was boggling.
“I know, the ‘we’ thing is weird, and I don’t know if it really qualifies as a true plurality, but it’s not a true singularity either. I’ll just go with ‘I’ if it will make you feel better.” I nodded, knowing darn good and well I didn’t need to, that she’d know what I was thinking, but I couldn’t help myself.
“I waited a long time for you, Lala. Your father’s work had opened a way to communicate that I had never had before, and it allowed me an opportunity to better see and feel what was going on in my world. It was pretty appalling, actually. Not the war, disease, etc. Those things are not only normal, they are necessary for any civilization to exist and naturally regulate itself. What I didn’t understand was the growing lack of compassion, the diminution of love & family, and all it’s supposed to mean, the selfishness, the crudeness and materialism.” Her face took on a sad cast. “When humanity appeared on the scene it was hoped that this was a species that could value love, beauty, joy, all the things the consortium was hoping for. And mankind was given an amazing gift in a world that was designed to provide for everything they could ever need…”
She continued to speak as I sat there with my mouth hanging open. She laid out the history of a consortium of dieties who created a group of planets in an effort to determine the best configuration. The inhabitants of Earth were given free will, with a bit of predetermination thrown in where necessary to aim them in the right direction. They were granted high intelligence and the ability to improve their circumstances based on hard-work and judicious use of resources. The consortium had had high hopes for this new species. The ones tried previously, while not total failures, were not what they were seeking. Humanity was the last ditch effort for this planet. If this species doesn’t work, then this planet will be abandoned as a study subject.
The planet was designed to be changeable enough to would allow for continual evolution based on the strength of species characteristics. Each planet was given a presence. The essence of one of the consortium members to look over it, to observe, and when possible, to guide. That the experience I had in the chamber when I saw everything, everyone, that it was her, or Earth’s guiding essence that had taken advantage of my father’s work to step forward into the actual physical plane. To take a more active role in how the human race and the planet would move forward because she was unhappy with the direction it had taken. If it continued like this, this race, and this planet, would cause its own extinction.
I was thinking as she was speaking, and the picture that came to mind was that of an old margarine commercial “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”. Of course Hope picked up on it and giggled. “Yeah, I guess you could sort of describe it that way, kind of in conjunction with that connecting thread your father talked about. That’s one of the reasons I waited for you. I could feel you out there, but you never got close enough for me to grasp. I knew you would not only understand, but that your mind was strong enough to handle it, and your heart was open enough to be willing to help in any way you could. Unfortunately, I underestimated the power that would be created when I took that step.
You are correct that many of the things you experience as abilities now were part of your memories or imagination. It wasn’t my intention for you to even know what was happening. Unfortunately you were still a bit young and there were so much potential locked in your mind that I was unprepared. I had planned to settle as a seed, and when you married, had children, I’d take advantage and come forward. Well, that obviously didn’t work out as planned. I guess that goes to show that even deities aren’t perfect. I wasn’t sure if you and Shane would ever get it figured out. I couldn’t believe that a couple of hormone driven teenagers wouldn’t attempt every version of sex they could possibly think of, and I had no idea that the best that the human race could come up with to deal with something they didn’t understand was the WSGF, and I certainly never imagined they would fuck it up as badly as they did.”
I chuckled this time. I think she realized that while she was telling a pretty far-fetched fantastical story that any average person would scoff at, that based on what we had experienced as “The Enchanted” that yeah, totally plausible. Fucking insane, but totally plausible. I had a fuck-ton of questions, but none of them would form actual thoughts, or better yet, sentences. It felt like there was a perfect storm in my head. So many things converging at once that it was all a giant cluster-fuck.
I took a moment to look back at Hope. My daughter. Holy Shit! We had been talking for about an hour and I’d swear she’d grown 3 inches in just that time. “Yes, it’ all moving really fast, because, oddly enough, I don’t have a lot of patience. I was a watcher for millennia, but now that I’m here I want to get a start on my mission. I am hoping that the mistakes I made getting here can be overcome, but Lala, I need you to know that I can’t guarantee it. I may have inadvertently hosed this up beyond repair, and I may not be able to fix it. Whatever happens, know that none of this has been your fault! If anything blame me. In my haste to step out of the shadows I didn’t do my due diligence. I am so sorry for everything you have experienced. If I had any idea that you would suffer in the way that you have, I would have waited another 100 years!”
Anyone, including me, could see the pain in the little girl face that currently housed this amazing presence. “Hope, there’s no real blame to be laid. Honestly, nothing could make you more a part of the human race than the ability to make mistakes. It has been hard, and will continue to suck for a while, but that, too, is part of the human condition. We are, as a race, far from perfect, but any assistance you can give us to help us get it right, will be worth any sacrifices I have had to make to get us there. I can’t speak for the rest of them, but I have a feeling they would agree.”
I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alive than when I reached out to her and was enveloped in those little arms, with a strength that should not have been, but was still, quite unexpected.I melted into her embrace. This could turn me into a hugger.
Though neither one of us said anything, we knew that we had an understanding. While she understood my desire for retribution, she wasn’t going to allow me to actually hurt anyone. She was here to bring back love, and faith, and joy, and since getting rid of the WSGF would probably benefit her goals, she wasn’t going to forbid me – even though she knew she could – but there was a line she wasn’t going to be comfortable with me crossing, and I could accept that. I couldn’t speak for Eric, and I was pretty clear on the fact that self-determination was going to play a big part in what happened, but I hoped I’d be able to get him to understand. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but I also wouldn’t walk away from him.
We released each other and I looked over at this little girl, who had technically only come into the world the previous day, and realized that a stranger looking at her would see a 5 or 6 year old child, with a face that could melt every heart in existence on that day.
I know I shouldn’t have been sad, but I was. I wasn’t ever going to get the chance to be mommy. Shane was gone, and I knew somehow that no one else was ever going to work for me, and the one chance I had was standing in front of me, never really ever going to need mothering in the traditional sense, hell, we didn’t even go through a whole pack of diapers.
A sniffle pulled me from my thoughts. One small tear ran down Hope’s face. “Oh, Lala, I’ve taken so much from you.” I kissed her on the forehead and shook my head.
“And you gave me a great deal as well. I know you won’t be with us long, and that’s OK, but do me a favor, and let me know where you are and what you are doing. I have a feeling we may not cross paths again, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still want to be a part of your life.” As short as our time had been together, she was still a part of me and always would be. I didn’t have the opportunity to build a maternal bond with her on the level I expected, but I understood why – she hadn’t permitted it, knowing what would happen, but that didn’t mean I didn’t care very much, and she knew that. We didn’t say anything more to each other. I walked out of the hotel room knowing that she’d be gone when I got back, and strangely enough, I was at peace with that.