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EP297: Amaryllis

By Carrie Vaughn
Read by: Gabrielle De Cuir
Originally appearing in Lightspeed
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All stories by Carrie Vaughn
All stories read by Gabrielle De Cuir
Nominated for the Hugo Award for Short Story, 2011

Rated appropriate for all young teens and up for reproductive concerns.

Amaryllis
By Carrie Vaughn

I never knew my mother, and I never understood why she did what she did. I ought to be grateful that she was crazy enough to cut out her implant so she could get pregnant. But it also meant she was crazy enough to hide the pregnancy until termination wasn’t an option, knowing the whole time that she’d never get to keep the baby. That she’d lose everything. That her household would lose everything because of her.

I never understood how she couldn’t care. I wondered what her family thought when they learned what she’d done, when their committee split up the household, scattered them—broke them, because of her.

Did she think I was worth it?
#

It was all about quotas.

“They’re using cages up north, I heard. Off shore, anchored,” Nina said. “Fifty feet across—twice as much protein grown with half the resources, and we’d never have to touch the wild population again. We could double our quota.”

I hadn’t really been listening to her. We were resting, just for a moment; she sat with me on the railing at the prow of Amaryllis and talked about her big plans.

Wind pulled the sails taut and the fiberglass hull cut through waves without a sound, we sailed so smooth. Garrett and Sun hauled up the nets behind us, dragging in the catch. Amaryllis was elegant, a 30-foot sleek vessel with just enough cabin and cargo space—an antique but more than seaworthy. She was a good boat, with a good crew. The best.

“Marie—” Nina said, pleading.

I sighed and woke up. “We’ve been over this. We can’t just double our quota.”

“But if we got authorization—”

“Don’t you think we’re doing all right as it is?” We had a good crew—we were well fed and not exceeding our quotas; I thought we’d be best off not screwing all that up. Not making waves, so to speak.

Nina’s big brown eyes filled with tears—I’d said the wrong thing, because I knew what she was really after, and the status quo wasn’t it.

“That’s just it,” she said. “We’ve met our quotas and kept everyone healthy for years now. I really think we should try. We can at least ask, can’t we?”

The truth was: No, I wasn’t sure we deserved it. I wasn’t sure that kind of responsibility would be worth it. I didn’t want the prestige. Nina didn’t even want the prestige—she just wanted the baby.

“It’s out of our hands at any rate,” I said, looking away because I couldn’t bear the intensity of her expression.

Pushing herself off the rail, Nina stomped down Amaryllis’ port side to join the rest of the crew hauling in the catch. She wasn’t old enough to want a baby. She was lithe, fit, and golden, running barefoot on the deck, sun-bleached streaks gleaming in her brown hair. Actually, no, she was old enough. She’d been with the house for seven years—she was twenty, now. It hadn’t seemed so long.

“Whoa!” Sun called. There was a splash and a thud as something in the net kicked against the hull. He leaned over the side, the muscles along his broad, coppery back flexing as he clung to a net that was about to slide back into the water. Nina, petite next to his strong frame, reached with him. I ran down and grabbed them by the waistbands of their trousers to hold them steady. The fourth of our crew, Garrett, latched a boat hook into the net. Together we hauled the catch onto the deck. We’d caught something big, heavy, and full of powerful muscles.

We had a couple of aggregators—large buoys made of scrap steel and wood—anchored fifty miles or so off the coast. Schooling fish were attracted to the aggregators, and we found the fish—mainly mackerel, sardines, sablefish, and whiting. An occasional shark or marlin found its way into the nets, but those we let go; they were rare and outside our quotas. That was what I expected to see—something unusually large thrashing among the slick silvery mass of smaller fish. This thing was large, yes, as big as Nina—no wonder it had almost pulled them over—but it wasn’t the right shape. Sleek and streamlined, a powerful swimmer. Silvery like the rest of the catch.

“What is it?” Nina asked.

“Tuna,” I said, by process of elimination. I had never seen one in my life. “Bluefin, I think.”

“No one’s caught a bluefin in thirty years,” Garrett said. Sweat was dripping onto his face despite the bandanna tying back his shaggy dark hair.

I was entranced, looking at all that protein. I pressed my hand to the fish’s flank, feeling its muscles twitch. “Maybe they’re back.”

We’d been catching the tuna’s food all along, after all. In the old days the aggregators attracted as many tuna as mackerel. But no one had seen one in so long, everyone assumed they were gone.

“Let’s put him back,” I said, and the others helped me lift the net to the side. It took all of us, and when we finally got the tuna to slide overboard, we lost half the net’s catch with it, a wave of silvery scales glittering as they hit the water. But that was okay: Better to be under quota than over.

The tuna splashed its tail and raced away. We packed up the rest of the catch and set sails for home.
#

The Californian crew got their banner last season, and flew its red and green—power and fertility—from the top of the boat’s mast for all to see. Elsie of the Californian was due to give birth in a matter of weeks. As soon as her pregnancy was confirmed, she stopped sailing and stayed in the household, sheltered and treasured. Loose hands resting atop mountainous belly, she would sometimes come out to greet her household’s boat as it arrived. Nina would stare at her. Elsie might have been the first pregnant woman Nina had seen, as least since surviving puberty and developing thoughts of carrying a mountainous belly of her own.

Elsie was there now, an icon cast in bronze before the setting sun, her body canted slightly against the weight in her belly, like a ship leaning away from the wind.

We furled the sails and rowed to the pier beside the scale house. Nina hung over the prow, looking at Elsie, who was waving at Californian’s captain, on the deck of the boat. Solid and dashing, everything a captain ought to be, he waved back at her. Their boat was already secured in its home slip, their catch weighed, everything tidy. Nina sighed at the image of a perfect life, and nobody yelled at her for not helping. Best thing to do in a case like this was let her dream until she grew out of it. Might take decades, but still. . .

My Amaryllis crew handed crates off to the dockhand, who shifted our catch to the scale house. Beyond that were the processing houses, where onshore crews smoked, canned, and shipped the fish inland. The New Oceanside community provided sixty percent of the protein for the whole region, which was our mark of pride, our reason for existing. Within the community itself, the ten sailing crews were proudest of all. A fishing crew that did its job well and met its quotas kept the whole system running smoothly. I was lucky to even have the Amaryllis and be a part of it.

I climbed up to the dock with my folk after securing the boat, and saw that Anders was the scalemaster on duty. The week’s trip might as well have been for nothing, then.

Thirty-five years ago, my mother ripped out her implant and broke up her household. Might as well have been yesterday to a man like Anders.

The old man took a nail-biting forty minutes to weigh our catch and add up our numbers, at which point he announced, “You’re fifty pounds over quota.”

Quotas were the only way to keep the stock healthy, to prevent overfishing, shortages, and ultimately starvation. The committee based quotas on how much you needed, not how much you could catch. To exceed that—to pretend you needed more than other people—showed so much disrespect to the committee, the community, to the fishing stock.

My knees weak, I almost sat down. I’d gotten it exactly right, I knew I had. I glared at him. Garrett and Sun, a pair of brawny sailors helpless before the scalemaster in his dull gray tunic of authority, glared at him. Some days felt like nothing I did would ever be enough. I’d always be too far one way or the other over the line of “just right.” Most days, I’d accept the scalemaster’s judgment and walk away, but today, after setting loose the tuna and a dozen pounds of legitimate catch with it, it was too much.

“You’re joking,” I said. “Fifty pounds?”

“Really,” Anders said, marking the penalty on the chalkboard behind him where all the crews could see it. “You ought to know better, an experienced captain like you.”

He wouldn’t even look at me. Couldn’t look me in the eye while telling me I was trash.

“What do you want me to do, throw the surplus overboard? We can eat those fifty pounds. The livestock can eat those fifty pounds.”

“It’ll get eaten, don’t worry. But it’s on your record.” Then he marked it on his clipboard, as if he thought we’d come along and alter the public record.

“Might as well not sail out at all next week, eh?” I said.

The scalemaster frowned and turned away. A fifty pound surplus—if it even existed—would go to make up another crew’s shortfall, and next week our catch would be needed just as much as it had been this week, however little some folk wanted to admit it. We could get our quota raised like Nina wanted, and we wouldn’t have to worry about surpluses at all. No, then we’d worry about shortfalls, and not earning credits to feed the mouths we had, much less the extra one Nina wanted.

Surpluses must be penalized, or everyone would go fishing for surpluses and having spare babies, and then where would we be? Too many mouths, not enough food, no resiliency to survive disaster, and all the disease and starvation that followed. I’d seen the pictures in the archives, of what happened after the big fall.

Just enough and no more. Moderation. But so help me I wasn’t going to dump fifty pounds just to keep my record clean.

“We’re done here. Thank you, Captain Marie,” Anders said, his back to me, like he couldn’t stand the sight of me.

When we left, I found Nina at the doorway, staring. I pushed her in front of me, back to the boat, so we could put Amaryllis to bed for the night.

“The Amaryllis’ scales aren’t that far off,” Garrett grumbled as we rowed to her slip. “Ten pounds, maybe. Not fifty.”

“Anders had his foot on the pad, throwing it off. I’d bet on it,” Sun said. “Ever notice how we’re only ever off when Anders is running the scales?”

We’d all noticed.

“Is that true? But why would he do that?” said Nina, innocent Nina.

Everyone looked at me. A weight seemed to settle on us.

“What?” Nina said. “What is it?”

It was the kind of thing no one talked about, and Nina was too young to have grown up knowing. The others had all known what they were getting into, signing on with me. But not Nina.

I shook my head at them. “We’ll never prove that Anders has it in for us so there’s no good arguing. We’ll take our licks and that’s the end of it.”

Sun said, “Too many black marks like that they’ll break up the house.”

That was the worry, wasn’t it?

“How many black marks?” Nina said. “He can’t do that. Can he?”

Garrett smiled and tried to take the weight off. He was the first to sign on with me when I inherited the boat. We’d been through a lot together. “We’ll just have to find out Anders’ schedule and make sure we come in when someone else is on duty.”

But most of the time there were no schedules—just whoever was on duty when a boat came in. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Anders kept a watch for us, just to be here to rig our weigh-in.

Amaryllis glided into her slip, and I let Garrett and Sun secure the lines. I leaned back against the side, stretching my arms, staring up along the mast. Nina sat nearby, clenching her hands, her lips. Elsie and Californian’s captain had gone.

I gave her a pained smile. “You might have a better chance of getting your extra mouth if you went to a different crew. The Californian, maybe.”

“Are you trying to get rid of me?” Nina said.

Sitting up, I put my arms across her shoulders and pulled her close. Nina came to me a clumsy thirteen-year old from Bernardino, up the coast. My household had a space for her, and I was happy to get her. She’d grown up smart and eager. She could take my place when I retired, inherit Amaryllis in her turn. Not that I’d told her that yet.

“Never. Never ever.” She only hesitated a moment before wrapping her arms around me and squeezing back.
#

Our household was an oasis. We’d worked hard to make it so. I’d inherited the boat, attracted the crew one by one—Garrett and Sun to run the boat, round and bustling Dakota to run the house, and she brought the talented J.J., and we fostered Nina. We’d been assigned fishing rights, and then we earned the land allocation. Ten years of growing, working, sweating, nurturing, living, and the place was gorgeous.

We’d dug into the side of a hill above the docks and built with adobe. In the afternoon sun, the walls gleamed golden. The part of the house projecting out from the hill served as a wall protecting the garden and well. Our path led around the house and into the courtyard. We’d found flat shale to use as flagstones around the cultivated plots, and to line the well, turning it into a spring. A tiny spring, but any open fresh water seemed like a luxury. On the hill above were the windmill and solar panels.

Everyone who wanted their own room had one, but only Sun did—the detached room dug into the hill across the yard. Dakota, J.J., and Nina had pallets in the largest room. Garret and I shared a bed in the smaller room. What wasn’t house was garden. We had producing fruit trees, an orange and a lemon, that also shaded the kitchen space. Corn, tomatoes, sunflowers, green beans, peas, carrots, radishes, two kinds of peppers, and anything else we could make grow on a few square feet. A pot full of mint and one of basil. For the most part we fed ourselves and so could use our credits on improving Amaryllis and bringing in specialties like rice and honey, or fabric and rope that we couldn’t make in quantity. Dakota wanted to start chickens next season, if we could trade for the chicks.

I kept wanting to throw that in the face of people like Anders. It wasn’t like I didn’t pay attention. I wasn’t a burden.

The crew arrived home; J.J. had supper ready. Dakota and J.J. had started out splitting household work evenly, but pretty quickly they were trading chores—turning compost versus hanging laundry, mending the windmill versus cleaning the kitchen—until J.J. did most everything involving the kitchen and living spaces and Dakota did everything with the garden and mechanics.

By J.J.’s sympathetic expression when he gave me my serving—smoked mackerel and vegetables tonight—someone had already told him about the run-in with the scalemaster. Probably to keep him or Dakota from asking how my day went.

I stayed out later than usual making a round of the holding. Not that I expected to find anything wrong. It was for my own peace of mind, looking at what we’d built with my own eyes, putting my hand on the trunk of the windmill, running the leaves of the lemon tree across my palms, ensuring that none of it had vanished, that it wasn’t going to. It had become a ritual.

In bed I held tight to Garrett, to give and get comfort, skin against skin, under the sheet, under the warm air coming in through the open skylight above our bed.

“Bad day?” he said.

“Can never be a bad day when the ship and crew come home safe,” I said. But my voice was flat.

Garrett shifted, running a hand down my back, arranging his arms to pull me tight against him. Our legs twined together. My nerves settled.

He said, “Nina’s right, we can do more. We can support an extra mouth. If we appealed—”

“You really think that’ll do any good?” I said. “I think you’d all be better off with a different captain.”

He tilted his face toward mine, touched my lips with his, pressed until I responded. A minute of that and we were both smiling.

“You know we all ended up here because we don’t get along with anyone else. But you make the rest of us look good.”

I squirmed against him in mock outrage, giggling.

“Plenty of crews—plenty of households—don’t ever get babies,” he said. “It doesn’t mean anything.”

“I don’t care about a baby so much,” I said. “I’m just tired of fighting all the time.”

It was normal for children to fight with their parents, their households, and even their committees as they grew. But it wasn’t fair, for me to feel like I was still fighting with a mother I’d never known.
#

The next day, when Nina and I went down to do some cleaning on Amaryllis, I tried to convince myself it was my imagination that she was avoiding me. Not looking at me. Or pretending not to look, when in fact she was stealing glances. The way she avoided meeting my gaze made my skin crawl a little. She’d decided something. She had a secret.

We caught sight of Elsie again, walking up from the docks, a hundred yards away but her silhouette was unmistakable. That distracted Nina, who stopped to stare.

“Is she really that interesting?” I said, smiling, trying to make it a joke.

Nina looked at me sideways, as if deciding whether she should talk to me. Then she sighed. “I wonder what it’s like. Don’t you wonder what it’s like?”

I thought about it a moment and mostly felt fear rather than interest. All the things that could go wrong, even with a banner of approval flying above you. Nina wouldn’t understand that. “Not really.”

“Marie, how can you be so. . .so indifferent?”

“Because I’m not going to spend the effort worrying about something I can’t change. Besides, I’d much rather be captain of a boat than stuck on shore, watching.”

I marched past her to the boat, and she followed, head bowed.

We washed the deck, checked the lines, cleaned out the cabin, took inventory, and made a stack of gear that needed to be repaired. We’d take it home and spend the next few days working on it before we went to sea again. Nina was quiet most of the morning, and I kept glancing at her, head bent to her work, biting her lip, wondering what she was thinking on so intently. What she was hiding.

Turned out she was working up the courage.

I handed the last bundle of net to her, then went back to double check that the hatches were closed and the cabin was shut up. When I went to climb off the boat myself, she was sitting at the edge of the dock, her legs hanging over the edge, swinging a little. She looked ten years younger, like she was a kid again, like she had when I first saw her.

I regarded her, brows raised, questioning, until finally she said, “I asked Sun why Anders doesn’t like you. Why none of the captains talk to you much.”

So that was what had happened. Sun—matter-of-fact and sensible—would have told her without any circumspection. And Nina had been horrified.

Smiling, I sat on the gunwale in front of her. “I’d have thought you’d been here long enough to figure it out on your own.”

“I knew something had happened, but I couldn’t imagine what. Certainly not—I mean, no one ever talks about it. But. . .what happened to your mother? Her household?”

I shrugged, because it wasn’t like I remembered any of it. I’d pieced the story together, made some assumptions. Was told what happened by people who made their own assumptions. Who wanted me to understand exactly what my place in the world was.

“They were scattered over the whole region, I think. Ten of them—it was a big household, successful, until I came along. I don’t know where all they ended up. I was brought to New Oceanside, raised up by the first Amaryllis crew. Then Zeke and Ann retired, took up pottery, went down the coast, and gave me the ship to start my own household. Happy ending.”

“And your mother—they sterilized her? After you were born, I mean.”

“I assume so. Like I said, I don’t really know.”

“Do you suppose she thought it was worth it?”

“I imagine she didn’t,” I said. “If she wanted a baby, she didn’t get one, did she? But maybe she just wanted to be pregnant for a little while.”

Nina looked so thoughtful, swinging her feet, staring at the rippling water where it lapped against the hull, she made me nervous. I had to say something.

“You’d better not be thinking of pulling something like that,” I said. “They’d split us up, take the house, take Amaryllis—”

“Oh no,” Nina said, shaking her head quickly, her denial vehement. “I would never do that, I’d never do anything like that.”

“Good,” I said, relieved. I trusted her and didn’t think she would. Then again, my mother’s household probably thought that about her too. I hopped over to the dock. We collected up the gear, slinging bags and buckets over our shoulders and starting the hike up to the house.

Halfway there Nina said, “You don’t think we’ll ever get a banner, because of your mother. That’s what you were trying to tell me.”

“Yeah.” I kept my breathing steady, concentrating on the work at hand.

“But it doesn’t change who you are. What you do.”

“The old folk still take it out on me.”

“It’s not fair,” she said. She was too old to be saying things like that. But at least now she’d know, and she could better decide if she wanted to find another household.

“If you want to leave, I’ll understand,” I said. “Any house would be happy to take you.”

“No,” she said. “No, I’ll stay. None of it—it doesn’t change who you are.”

I could have dropped everything and hugged her for that. We walked awhile longer, until we came in sight of the house. Then I asked, “You have someone in mind to be the father? Hypothetically.”

She blushed berry red and looked away. I had to grin—so that was how it stood.

When Garrett greeted us in the courtyard, Nina was still blushing. She avoided him and rushed along to dump her load in the workshop.

Garrett blinked after her. “What’s up with her?”

“Nina being Nina.”
#

The next trip on Amaryllis went well. We made quota in less time than I expected, which gave us half a day’s vacation. We anchored off a deserted bit of shore and went swimming, lay on deck and took in the sun, ate the last of the oranges and dried mackerel that J.J. had sent along with us. It was a good day.

But we had to head back some time and face the scales. I weighed our haul three times with Amaryllis’ scale, got a different number each time, but all within ten pounds of each other, and more importantly twenty pounds under quota. Not that it would matter. We rowed into the slip at the scale house, and Anders was the scalemaster on duty again. I almost hauled up our sails and turned us around, never to return. I couldn’t face him, not after the perfect trip. Nina was right—it wasn’t fair that this one man could ruin us with false surpluses and black marks.

Silently, we secured Amaryllis to the dock and began handing up our cargo. I managed to keep from even looking at Anders, which probably made me look guilty in his eyes. But we’d already established I could be queen of perfection and he would consider me guilty.

Anders’ frown was smug, his gaze judgmental. I could already hear him tell me I was fifty pounds over quota. Another haul like that, he’d say, we’ll have to see about yanking your fishing rights. I’d have to punch him. I almost told Garrett to hold me back if I looked like I was going to punch him. But he was already keeping himself between the two of us, as if he thought I might really do it.

If the old scalemaster managed to break up Amaryllis, I’d murder him. And wouldn’t that be a worse crime than any I might represent?

Anders drew out the moment, looking us all up and down before finally announcing, “Sixty over this time. And you think you’re good at this.”

My hands tightened into fists. I imagined myself lunging at him. At this point, what could I lose?

“We’d like an audit,” Nina said, slipping past Sun, Garrett, and me to stand before the stationmaster, frowning, hands on her hips.

“Excuse me?” Anders said.

“An audit. I think your scale is wrong, and we’d like an audit. Right?” She looked at me.

It was probably better than punching him. “Yes,” I said, after a flabbergasted moment. “Yes, we would like an audit.”

That set off two hours of chaos in the scale house. Anders protested, hollered at us, threatened us. I sent Sun to the committee house to summon official oversight—he wouldn’t try to play nice, and they couldn’t brush him off. June and Abe, two senior committee members, arrived, austere in gray and annoyed.

“What’s the complaint?” June said.

Everyone looked at me to answer. I almost denied it—that was my first impulse. Don’t fight, don’t make waves. Because maybe I deserved the trash I got. Or my mother did, but she wasn’t here, was she?

But Nina was looking at me with her innocent brown eyes, and this was for her.

I wore a perfectly neutral, business-like expression when I spoke to June and Abe. This wasn’t about me, it was about business, quotas, and being fair.

“Scalemaster Anders adjusts the scale’s calibration when he sees us coming.”

I was amazed when they turned accusing gazes at him and not at me. Anders’ mouth worked, trying to stutter a defense, but he had nothing to say.
#

The committee confirmed that Anders was rigging his scale. They offered us reparations, out of Anders’ own rations. I considered—it would mean extra credits, extra food and supplies for the household. We’d been discussing getting another windmill, petitioning for another well. Instead, I recommended that any penalties they wanted to levy should go to community funds. I just wanted Amaryllis treated fairly.

And I wanted a meeting, to make one more petition before the committee.

Garrett walked with me to the committee office the next morning.

“I should have been the one to think of requesting an audit,” I said.

“Nina isn’t as scared of the committee as you are. As you were,” he said.

“I’m not—” But I stopped, because he was right.

He squeezed my hand. His smile was amused, his gaze warm. He seemed to find the whole thing entertaining. Me—I was relieved, exhausted, giddy, ashamed. Mostly relieved.

We, Amaryllis, had done nothing wrong. I had done nothing wrong.

Garrett gave me a long kiss, then waited outside while I went to sit before the committee.

June was in her chair, along with five other committee members, behind their long table with their slate boards, tally sheets, and lists of quotas. I sat across from them, alone, hands clenched in my lap, trying not to tap my feet. Trying to appear as proud and assured as they did. A stray breeze slipped through the open windows and cooled the cinderblock room.

After polite greetings, June said, “You wanted to make a petition?”

“We—the Amaryllis crew—would like to request an increase in our quota. Just a small one.”

June nodded. “We’ve already discussed it and we’re of a mind to allow an increase. Would that be suitable?”

Suitable as what? As reparation? As an apology? My mouth was dry, my tongue frozen. My eyes stung, wanting to weep, but that would have damaged our chances, as much as just being me did.

“There’s one more thing,” I managed. “With an increased quota, we can feed another mouth.”

It was an arrogant thing to say, but I had no reason to be polite.

They could chastise me, send me away without a word, lecture me on wanting too much when there wasn’t enough to go around. Tell me that it was more important to maintain what we had rather than try to expand—expansion was arrogance. We simply had to maintain. But they didn’t. They didn’t even look shocked at what I had said.

June, so elegant, I thought, with her long gray hair braided and resting over her shoulder, a knitted shawl draped around her, as much for decoration as for warmth, reached into the bag at her feet and retrieved a folded piece of cloth, which she pushed across the table toward me. I didn’t want to touch it. I was still afraid, as if I’d reach for it and June would snatch it away at the last moment. I didn’t want to unfold it to see the red and green pattern in full, in case it was some other color instead.

But I did, even though my hand shook. And there it was. I clenched the banner in my fist; no one would be able to pry it out.

“Is there anything else you’d like to speak of?” June asked.

“No,” I said, my voice a whisper. I stood, nodded at each of them. Held the banner to my chest, and left the room.
#

Garrett and I discussed it on the way back to the house. The rest of the crew was waiting in the courtyard for us: Dakota in her skirt and tunic, hair in a tangled bun; J.J. with his arms crossed, looking worried; Sun, shirtless, hands on hips, inquiring. And Nina, right there in front, bouncing almost.

I regarded them, trying to be inscrutable, gritting my teeth to keep from bursting into laughter. I held our banner behind my back to hide it. Garrett held my other hand.

“Well?” Nina finally said. “How did it go? What did they say?”

The surprise wasn’t going to get any better than this. I shook out the banner and held it up for them to see. And oh, I’d never seen all of them wide-eyed and wondering, mouths gaping like fish, at once.

Nina broke the spell, laughing and running at me, throwing herself into my arms. We nearly fell over.

Then we were all hugging, and Dakota started worrying right off, talking about what we needed to build a crib, all the fabric we’d need for diapers, and how we only had nine months to save up the credits for it.

I recovered enough to hold Nina at arm’s length, so I could look her in the eyes when I pressed the banner into her hands. She nearly dropped it at first, skittering from it as if it were fire. So I closed her fingers around the fabric and held them there.

“It’s yours,” I said. “I want you to have it.” I glanced at Garrett to be sure. And yes, he was still smiling.

Staring at me, Nina held it to her chest, much like I had. “But. . .you. It’s yours. . .” She started crying. Then so did I, gathering her close and holding her tight while she spoke through tears, “Don’t you want to be a mother?”

In fact, I rather thought I already was.

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