Sample Chapter

Times Nine

A Science Fiction Short Story


LINDON STEPPED OFF THE FIVE o’clock shuttle with that look in his eyes, as he had every so often since their marriage nine years ago, but Maddy wasn’t putting up with it. “No,” she said before he could speak. “The answer is no. I won’t do it.”

His gray eyes glinted like fluid steel, and his beard-shadowed face hardened. He shrugged off the long white jacket he wore to work at the lab each day, tossed it into the cleaning unit embedded in the wall inside the front closet, and put his arms around her rigid body. Maddy watched over his shoulder as the shuttle flew away into the warm California night air and the automatic door on their private port slid shut.

“You know I can’t,” her voice was softer this time but still resolute. “Why bring it up again?” It had been a year since his last plea, and she’d hoped he had resigned himself to her decision. Each request stole another slice of her determination.

“Hear me out. It’s different this time.”

The suppressed excitement in his voice made her stare. He seriously expected her to change her mind. “We’ve been through this,” she said. “You knew about it before we married. How many times are we going to revisit the issue? Besides, you always accepted Stewart as your son. Why do you need another child?”

Lindon sighed as he released her, a hand running through his longish brown hair. His unruly, casual look was one of the things that had most attract her to him when they’d met at an earth preservation rally over a decade ago. “I guess I thought you’d change your mind, or that your so-called biological clock would convince you to try again.”

“Well, I’m thirty-eight and it hasn’t ticked once.” The words were a lie. She wanted Lindon’s child, had dreamed about it for years. But always looming in opposition was the terrifying memory of how her body had reacted when she was carrying Stewart.

She’d been a young twenty-two and in her first marriage, an ill-fated one to Phil Jacobs, Stewart’s father. After a brief week of happiness following conception, she learned the rare genetic deviation that caused her to be allergic to almost everything was also rebelling at the baby’s presence. She spent the next six months in bed—in violent, agonizing pain. Fearing for her life and having little hope for the baby, the doctors urged abortion from the third month, but Phil cajoled, begged, and even threatened her with a court order to make her continue the pregnancy. In the end, after seeing her son on the ultrasound, Maddy knew that ending the pregnancy would break her heart far more than Phil ever had, but she also knew that choosing not to abort would cost her life.

So she prepared to die. In her darkest moments, she cursed Phil for wanting a child more than he wanted her.

When her body went into cardiac arrest almost three months before term, no one was more surprised than she was when a team of physicians were able to save both her and her son.

There was no saving her marriage. She couldn’t forgive Phil for his indifference and lack of support, and he couldn’t forgive the fact that she loved Stewart more than she had ever loved him. They were divorced within the year.

Her nose twitched. I must look at the air filter, she thought with a remote part of her brain. Something must be caught in it. I don’t want to have a reaction.

“Let’s adopt,” she said to Lindon. “What about the orphans from the Moon colony? I saw them on the vidscreen yesterday. We could petition to—” She broke off at Lindon’s impatient grunt.

“I don’t want to adopt,” Lindon said. “Not yet anyway. I love you, and I want a child who looks like you—like us.”

“You want to pass along your genes you mean.” The words would hurt him, but she was feeling too wounded herself to care. Maybe if Lindon hadn’t been one of the most renowned research gynecologists in the world, he wouldn’t be so obsessed with making her body do what he wanted. “Well, he’d have my genes too—do you want to condemn him to that?” She turned from his stare and gazed through the transparent wall that looked out over the ocean behind their house. She loved the location, and she walked on the beach at least once a week, even if it meant wearing a film of Protect-a-Skin. The Skin was thin enough that she could feel the sand between her toes.

“You know we can make sure our child doesn’t get that gene. Besides, Stewart doesn’t have allergies.”

She whirled on him. “Leave Stewart out of it! The real issue is me, and you know it. This time I could die. The doctors said there was a ninety-nine percent chance of recurrence—your own testing confirmed that. And don’t give me another spiel about medical advancements. You and I both know they won’t make a difference. Not enough of one anyway.” She turned away again, walking toward her office with long, angry strides.

“Maddy, just listen!”

But she couldn’t. Would he finally dissolve their marriage now that she couldn’t give him what he wanted? The thought distressed her, yet there was also relief. The sword that had hung constantly above her head would fall and pierce her heart, but she would live on. And there was always Stewart.

He caught up to her and put his hands on her shoulders. Strong, warm hands that were usually comforting. Today they felt cold.

“Maddy, honey, I know how pregnancy was for you. I also know you want another child as much as I do. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been working so much overtime the past couple of years.”

Maddy turned slowly, drawing her brows together tightly as she studied her husband. What did his work have to do with their having a baby?

His hands dropped to his side. “A month. Only a month,” he said into the silence. “It won’t take nine.”

She smirked. “Only a month? To have a baby? Well then by all means, let’s have two. Or maybe six.”

He ignored her flippancy. “I’ve done it, Maddy. It’s taken me a decade of hard work and a hundred false starts, but I’ve done it! Dan and I have tested it over and over and it works. We can have a baby in one month.”

The laughter died in Maddy’s throat. “That’s what you’ve been working on?” She felt a level of betrayal that she couldn’t even name. Before their marriage, Lindon and his team of talented specialists had been given a government grant to study the issues of aging and metabolism. But neither subject was related to pregnancy—or so she had thought. Lately he had been more involved in his work, and it bothered her that he’d stopped talking about new discoveries that he’d once been so eager to share.

“Well, it wasn’t the idea we started with,” Lindon said, “but about eight years ago, we realized that our research into metabolism could have other implications.” He paused, his face flushing a dark red that told her more than words how much this meant to him. “At first I didn’t want to hope. But I’m sure now.”

Maddy’s sense of betrayal was fading, but she couldn’t find her voice. Stewart had been her miracle; she had never expected another.

Lindon’s smile was hesitant. “One month is different than nine. For one month we’ll be able to control your symptoms.”

She hated the way his heart seemed to be in his eyes. Or was that her heart? “Only one month? How is that possible?”

He dared to touch her again, his hand closing around hers. “We’ve come up with a drug that increases the metabolism. During the early twenty-first century similar drugs were used for weight loss. They achieved quite a bit of success, despite the side effects.”

“Side effects?” Maddy stiffened. “I have a deadline. I don’t have time for nonsense.” Pulling from him, she stalked down the corridor to her study where her computer waited blankly.

“Maddy!” Lindon called, but she didn’t falter.

She sat on her high-backed chair made of the finest black synthetic leather, the kind that cost ten times more than the real thing and that wore even better. Seven years old now and it still looked new.

One month? Side effects? She knew Lindon wanted a son, but that he might ask her to risk her health with an experimental drug was beyond belief. He wasn’t like Phil—or so she had thought.

“On, computer,” she said tersely. The oversized screen on the wall sprang to life exactly where she had left off a short time before, but she didn’t begin speaking the code that would eventually become part of a new architectural program she was designing. Her expression reflected from the dark glass, pursed lips and narrowed eyes full of—fear?

Lindon drew up another chair and sat close, resting a hand on her knee. “Don’t be angry, honey. Listen to what I’m saying. There are no serious side effects with Nonomine—that’s what we call the drug. Absolutely none. We’ve done the tests on animals, and we’ve had no lung failure, brain hemorrhaging, or any of the other problems that marked our experiments with other drugs. Nonomine has mild side effects, to be sure, but nothing we can’t easily handle. And this isn’t the only application. We believe low dosages will extend quality of life, if not add years to life expectancy. It’s really two sides of the same coin. Enough helps the body remain stronger for longer. More speeds it up, spending the years faster. It’s a matter of dosage for the purpose we intend.”

A compartment in the wall opened, triggered by her sitting in the chair, and a tray with her favorite foamleaf tea, one of the prime exports of the Zeppay Moon Colony, came within reach. From habit she took the steaming mug and set it on the side table next to her chair, the aroma of rich earth filling her nose. Her mouth watered, but the action did nothing for the sudden dryness in her throat.

“Three years ago we got permission to start limited testing on humans,” Lindon continue. “We now have thirty-four babies whose gestation period was slightly less than one month. In each of the test cases, the mother’s metabolism returned to normal after the births. Four of the mothers had twins, born three to five days early, and in five cases, the mothers actually went through the drug program twice and had two pregnancies within an eight-month period. There is no abnormality in any of the children, and according to Dan, they are developing as well as or better than children who are gestated normally. I’m not on that end of it, but Dan assures me it’s true. The point is we now have thirty-four children, each born in one month with next to no complications during or after pregnancy.”

The dryness in Maddy’s mouth deepened. Her heart pounded in her ears. Hope was sometimes a deadly thing. “Isn’t the speeded up rate of growth dangerous for the baby? And the mother?”

“Actually, our data indicates that it’s less risky for both fetus and the mother. You see, the mother actually is nine months older. She has aged just as she would have in any other nine months, but with less danger of falling, of being exposed to diseases, stress, etc. And the baby is less likely to be strangled by the cord or be damaged by a host of other internal accidents simply because he’s in the womb a shorter time. In the end, it’s actually safer to have your baby with Nonomine.”

“Yet the woman is still nine months older. She’s lost eight months of her life. Most women I know don’t want to lose a day, much less months.”

“But her body hasn’t been through all of the stress it would have in those extra eight months. She feels the entire strain of pregnancy, of course, but not all of the outside influences she would normally endure during those nine months—heat, tension, gravity, even cosmetics use—that add to the aging process. With these things out of the picture, we figure that it won’t really shorten a woman’s life all that much, and when it’s over she’ll have her baby.” Lindon fell silent, his eyes holding hers, compelling, pleading.

She sighed. “Why didn’t you tell me about this before? Why today? Why not three years ago?”

“Next week Stewart is going to stay with his father for the summer. And we have an opening for a potential mother. I’ve wanted to tell you, even at the risk of losing my grant, but not until I was absolutely sure it was right for us. I didn’t want to get your hopes up, and every time we talked about it before, I really didn’t have all the answers. I feel I do now. Please, just think about it.”

She looked away. He had been preoccupied of late, but she hadn’t questioned him, fearing that he would bring up the possibility of having a baby and that she would have to say no.

“You said there were mild side effects,” she said, staring not at him but at the foamleaf tea. How did it get in her hand? She couldn’t remember picking it up. “What kind?”

Lindon leaned back in his chair, slipping into what Maddy recognized as his teaching mode. “Swelling mostly, and some leakage of amniotic fluid because of the rapid increase in volume, but we’ve found a way to counter both problems. For safety, the women have to live at the clinic during the month so they can be monitored. That’s why I thought it’d be good to do it when Stewart is with his dad, though he can certainly visit. I—I’ve even had special air filters installed, like those we have here, and the women aren’t allowed to use any sprays or perfume that might cause allergic reactions.”

Because of me, Maddy thought. Lindon might not be aware of it himself, but she understood that the direction his research had taken was entirely because of her. “What about people with my condition?” She saw the hot flare of hope in his eyes and the look seared her.

“Ten of the women have had previous difficult pregnancies similar to yours, though only two cases were as severe. It was hard to find even that many, but I insisted on including them. There was no use in discovering something that wouldn’t also help those who really need it.”


His smile grew large. “Each came through well. One of the mothers with allergies like yours gave birth last week and the other one today. It was incredible!”

So that was why he’d approached her now. Two women like her were new mothers because of his work. He wants it to be us. “But the sickness—”

He leaned forward again, his eyes bright. “It seems Nonomine has the good side effect of stifling the normal sickness in pregnancy, and it works for cases like yours that are normally resistant to medicines. In fact, those two particular mothers only had difficulties with sickness during the last week of the pregnancy.” He shook a finger. “One week!”

One week of agony. Would it be worth it? In her mind Maddy saw Stewart as he had been when they had finally placed him in her arms, so tiny, helpless, and all hers. An unexpected rush of warmth overwhelmed her.

There were tears in her eyes as she looked up at Lindon. “What’s a week?” she said softly.

He smiled in triumph and held her face between his hands. His touch was gentle. “You won’t regret it, you’ll see,” he said.

But Maddy already knew. Heaven help her, it had been worth it before. Almost dying had been worth Stewart. She couldn’t explain it, not even to herself, but it was true.