Mercur Omega maintained a balmy, tropical climate by natural means. The oceans that dominated the planet’s surface radiated gentle heat and a slightly sugary aroma that, combined with the shoreline plants, made the air smell like a day old fruit salad.
Even well past her nauseated phase, the planet made her want to vomit.
Murray flagged a hover cab that carried them from the hangar to the health district. Mercur didn’t have a downtown. The government radicals limited the buildings in both size and proximity so that not only was the cab ride longer than she’d have preferred, the building they arrived at looked like a small lump of architecture stuck onto the native rock like an afterthought. It had one story, one door, and way too many windows. They liked a good view as much as they liked their planet, the Mercurians.
“Even the bloody clinic looks like a resort.” Zora popped out of the cab. She flipped her hair back, but it just bounced and stayed where it was. The humidity had turned her normally full locks into a nightmare of antigravity curls. “And the air is choking me.”
“Feeling a little irritable, Zor?”
“This, coming from the queen of the Space Slugs?”
“I changed my mind. Let’s just go back…” The hover cab lifted and spun around to face the spaceport. “Crap.”
Murray already marched up the winding, flora infested walkway. “Come on, wimp.” She didn’t look back, just kept straight on right up to the clinic’s front doors.
Zora growled and stomped after her sister. She should have ignored the taunt and fled into the wretched jungle, but the idea of the damp and the stench of over-ripe fruit rated just a shade or two less pleasant than a trip to the doctor. How bad could an exam really be?
At least inside they had atmospheric stabilizers. The cool air smelled sterile, mechanized and deliciously artificial. She flopped onto one of the padded benches and let Murray handle the official stuff. Murray excelled at official, not that the office had a crowd. They sat on the bench less than three minutes before the nurse called her to the exam room.
She gave Mur an evil glare and then followed the lithe Pescine nurse through a sliding metal door. The woman led her past room after room until, picking one apparently at random, she stopped and gestured for Zora to step inside. She picked up a scan wand and ran it from Zora’s curls to her heels, made a quick note on her data pad and then waved for her to sit.
“It’ll just be a moment.” She walked out, left Zora staring at a bank of instruments and controls. The on-ship med-bots never left you alone with their stuff. They never even left the medical bay.There were so many buttons too. A few even flashed or flickered. She eyed the door, squinted, sat on her hands and eyed the door again. One toggle blinked neon green. It made a sizzling noise when she touched it.
“Did it get you?”
She squeaked and twisted to face the doorway. Her hand dropped like a stone away from the instruments. A man stood just inside the room. He looked like a male version of her sister.
“I’m Doctor Faddle.”
“Fa---Hi. I’m sorry.”
“They are pretty tempting.” He wandered past the bench where she perched, hands in her lap and eyes forward. “It looks like you’re in your sixth month of pregnancy, Miss Livingston. How are you feeling?”
“I’m not used to a humanoid doctor.”
“Understood. We are a dying breed. Mercur has an abundance of scientists, you’ll find.” He leaned forward and faked a conspiratorial tone. “My parents were so disappointed. They hoped I’d find a career in planetary science or microbiotics.”
“My sister’s a xenobiologist.” It was the only big word she knew off hand. “She’s married.”
“I meant what do you do?” He smiled, and picked up a scanner. “Are you in the sciences?”
“Do we know who the father is?”
She blinked at him.
“A best guess?”
“There’s only one person the timing works with.”
“We live in an intergalactic society, Miss Livingston. It usually is complicated.” He set the scanner down and picked up a long, twisty piece of plastic. The end boasted a knob the size of a marble that blinked very slowly from pink to green. “Open.”
“Excuse me?” She crossed her legs and gave him the evil glare she usually reserved for Mur.
“Your mouth, please.”
He stuck the bulb against the back of her throat, and she felt a little tickle. It radiated from the spot long after he removed the thing, tingling down her spine and out across her middle. Zora closed her mouth and watched him put the little wand away. It had its very own sleek, leather bag.
“I have to pee.”
“Yes. Just let me get you the collection instructions.”
He turned around and grinned. She’d always thought she cornered the market on evil looks, but this Faddle fellow had her beat hands down. His expression sent wicked shivers of terror right down her already tingling spine. He spoke again, very slowly and without losing the glint in his eye. “Collection. Instructions.”
She waited in the lobby with Murray while they processed the DNA. She didn’t speak, and Mur didn’t ask. They just sat there following the lines on the carpet with their eyes and not talking.
By the time the doctor called her into his office, her legs were trembling. He had a desk bigger than her cot on the Slug One, too many pictures on the walls, and almost as many plants in pots as you could see through the giant ass window behind his chair. She sat opposite him and fiddled with the extra fabric on her new dress. At least Mercur had shopping. They said they didn’t do tourism, but the mall had instantly refuted that claim.
“Well, Miss Livingston,” Faddle began and Zora went stiff as a board. Somehow, he made his voice sound exactly like her secondary school biology teacher. “I have your DNA results.”
“Did I pass?”
He lifted one eyebrow at her and then checked the data pad.
“Well, that depends.”
“I think we can safely say the father was a human.”
“Oh thank god.” She leaned forward and dropped her face into her palms. Thank god. She felt a rush as the tension swept aside. The baby was Iggy’s. Life could go on.
“But there is a small complication.”
“What?” Her heart stopped. The good feeling wafted away and a sense of impending horror replaced it. She knew it. The baby was all messed up. “Is it okay? Is it healthy? Is something wrong with it?”
“No. No, Miss Livingston. The baby is fine. Healthy and growing appropriately.”
She wanted to say thank god again, but he still looked like someone was pinching his special places. “So what is it?”
“It’s nothing life threatening. The baby appears to be a normal, healthy humanoid. I can even tell you the gender if you like.”
“Later. What’s wrong with it?”
Doctor Faddle ran a hand through his thinning hair. He made a different kind of face, one she’d only ever seen on landlords or bill collectors. It told her she was about to get what was coming to her, and she didn’t like it one bit.
“You said the father was human.”
“Yes. The DNA sample was 99.97 percent human which insists on both parents having human DNA.”
“But .03 percent of the DNA classified as other.”
“Other?” She had a feeling she knew exactly what other he meant. Crantok’s horribly overdeveloped spawning ability had won over .03 percent of her baby. “But, it’s only .03 percent, right?” How much of a difference could that possibly make?
“Right.” He blinked at her, and she had a feeling she’d missed something important. Something vital had slid just past her radar. “Of course.” He slipped his data pad across the desk. The smile didn’t falter. “Perhaps you’d like to have a look at the images?”