The incubator lights flashed and went out. Zora held her breath and watched Murray flick the switch. The latch slid to the right, and the domed lid lifted, exposing the uppermost trays of sticky, round eggs. They glowed, lit by the small heating units that lined the tray interior.
“Temperatures are optimum,” Murray said. “They look fine, Zor.”
“Don’t you think the colors a little bit off? They look cloudier.”
Murray pulled a thoughtful face and leaned closer. She examined the orbs. She squinted and checked the unit’s readout again. “I think they’re fine.”
“What if they’re not, though? What if moving them so much hurt the babies?” Zora bit her lower lip and pulled her legs up under her. She sat on the edge of her bunk, surrounded by machines and slug eggs that may or may not look a bit cloudier than they had the day before. “Are you sure they’re all fine?”
“Okay.” Murray turned and faced her. She put her hands on her hips and peered at Zora through narrow eyes. Her scientist face, the one she always used when looking into whatever Petri dish held her attention at a given moment. “What is really going on?”
Murray closed up the machine. According to their escort, Mercur Omega would welcome them and their sticky cargo with open arms. They’d reach the planet in less than four days, and with Planetary Security riding them like well armed book ends, the odds of any pirate encounters had dropped to highly unlikely. Still, Zora couldn’t shake the twitchy feeling that something was about to go horribly wrong. She’d hid in her room for the last twenty four hours, and now, this morning, she’d found a new disaster to panic over—but she didn’t fancy showing it to Murray.
“It’s probably nothing.” She heard her voice quiver and chewed her lip. One hand was on her middle before she realized what she’d done. The gesture, the protective instinct, gave her away.
“Is something wrong with the baby baby?”
“I don’t know!” She choked the sob back down and held herself together, but only barely. The tension stretched across her face and threatened to spill. “I’m not sure.”
Murray sighed and sat on the bed. She raised one, condescending eyebrow and wobbled her head from side to side. “Well? What’s going on?”
“You know, your bedside manner could be a little less obnoxious.”
“Fine.” She’d have to show someone eventually, in particular if it didn’t go away. “But you can’t freak out or anything, Mur.”
“Cuase It’s really creepy.” She reached for the front of her smock and paused. If Murray freaked out, she’d totally lose it.
“I get it, Zora. Come on.”
She watched Murray’s face as she lifted her shirt. If she had some terrible disease, if the baby was in danger, Murray would never say it outright. She’d try to put some gentle spin on it, but she’d never been good at hiding her initial reactions. Her face would give her away. Zora peeled back the frumpy fabric and tucked it up under her bra. Her whole belly was exposed, horrific and marked with whatever strange disorder she suffered from.
Murray’s cheek twitched. Her lips tightened, but a tiny giggle escaped.
“What? What is it?” Zora’s face warmed. Her stupid sister thought it was funny.
“It is nothing, Zora. You’re fine.”
“Then why are you laughing?”
“I’m not. I’m not, it’s perfectly normal.”
“THIS is normal?” She pointed one finger at the dark line that now divided her stomach into two halves. It stretched from her breast all the way down, a dark gash of pigment that hadn’t been there the day before. “This?”
“You’re laughing again.”
“Sorry, Zor. It’s fine. A lot of women get that.”
“Oh.” She knew she was blushing, that she’d overacted, but it her nerves still buzzed with concern. “Well, what about this?” She poked her belly button and gave Murray a look. “You gotta admit this is pretty creepy.”
“Your belly button?”
“It’s poking out!”
“Zora.” Murray didn’t bother to hide the chuckle anymore. “It’s barely even peeking. By the time you’re finished it’ll probably be way out.”
“What?” She clamped a hand over the offending navel and tried not to vomit. Her belly button. Her perfect, cute little innie navel--Murray had to be wrong.
“Haven’t you read anything about pregnancy?”
“Of course I did.” She sniffed and pulled her shirt back down. “I read all about it. I know about birth defects and breeches and what the signs of placenta problems are and what to do if you go into labor in zero G and how to tell if you have Septarian complex, and I can tell you at least a hundred different types of neural stem disorders and which drugs put you at the most risk.”
“Sure. Sure, Zora, but what about all the good stuff?”
“Didn’t you study anything about normal pregnancies?”
“Why the hell would I need to study if everything goes right, Mur?” Her voice screeched a bit, but at this point, she figured she’d earned a little explosion. “You want me to waste time reading about what happens if nothing goes wrong? Do you know how many things can screw up a baby, Mur? DO you?”
“Have you ever SEEN a baby with Altarian measles, Mur?”
“I imagine you have.”
“Yes! And it’s not a pretty sight, let me tell you.”
Murray just stared at her. It was her best trick, but Zora could take it. This was important. No way could her sister get what this was like. She didn’t know everything. She stared back and felt her lower lip tremble. Damn it. “Stop that.”
“You know what. Cut it out.”
“It’s going to be fine, Zor.” Murray slid up farther on the bed and crossed her legs. “It really is.”
Tears spilled down her cheeks. She wiped at them and laid across Murray’s lap just like she’d done in school when her first boyfriend had dumped her for a polydactyl. Mur’s hand stroked her hair, and Zora let herself cry.
“You really should tell him,” Murray said.
“I know.” She almost had before the pirates interrupted them. After that she’d been too freaked out about the baby—and too chicken. “It just would be a lot easier if I was 100 percent sure it was his.”
“Well, Zor, there are ways to find out, you know.”
“I know.” But that would mean finding out, and she didn’t want to think about the other possibility.
“We could find an obstetrician on Mercur and get a scan done.”
“It’s probably a good idea.” She sniffed, and Murray patted her on the head.
“Will you go with me?”
“Of course I will.”
“And not tell anybody?”
“Okay.” She felt the tension leave in a rush. She’d find out, one way or the other, when they got to Mercur.
“It’s going to be fine, Zora.”
“Yeah. Sure it is.” She closed her eyes and let Murray play with her hair. It would be fine. Sure. Except she’d done a little research on DNA too. By her human standards, the only father possible was Ignatius. She’d almost told him, once she figured that out. But her stupid studying had pushed it a little farther. She’d read about reptilian DNA, and Crantok was about as reptilian as it got.
Fine, didn’t even begin to cover this.