To The Dust excerpt
The Admiral stood hunched over the surgery counter, staring sadly at Phaedra’s placenta. She knew she had to preserve it intact and was resisting an urge to eat it raw. It was a gnawing hunger centered in her mouth, not her stomach. And surely, she thought, a mere slice would do the trick. Just a nibble. She sliced off a piece with a scalpel and Yrmela came in just as she was slipping it in her mouth. A drop of blood dripped off her lower lip.
“What are you looking at? Prepare the samples for analysis and storage. I managed to swab her cervix and collect fluid and tissue samples but not nearly what I could have gotten if she’d been twilight.” The Admiral shook her head. “I had no idea Panic was so perverse. Do you think she goes in for nipple clamps and fisting? Not really my thing. I think you’ll agree that a little bondage now and again is like a splash of pink or yellow in a grey room, but physical pain is overrated, a vulgar synecdoche of emotional pain.”
Cane could not help looking down at the placenta. She wondered if Yrmela could see where she had taken the slice. It was obvious, a different color as the outer tissue had dried under the lights of the lab. Protocol was that Yrmela would take the placenta to the cryovac, but Cane wanted a little more time with it. Why, she wondered, did she care what Yrmela thought? Yrmela was her slave. Her vent order was on file. She could get rid of her before she squealed. But what would she do without Yrmela? Sometimes Cane even thought that she’d leave Yrmela alive for her replacement to dispose of. It gave her a chance, a roll of the dice that her successor will have the same love the Admiral did for her. Because her successor would eventually discover the order. They’d discover all the dead the Admiral had kept alive over the years.
Elma came in. “Ah, Elma, that was a first rate birth. You did great. I haven’t given one so much attention in—well—I have never given a birth so much attention. Usually it’s just pain meds and twilight. Push down on the belly and out comes the baby, like those little novelty pigs you squeeze the shit out of? How is our patient doing?”
“Resting. I hope she’ll sleep, Boss.”
“Has the baby nursed?”
What wouldn’t Sybil Cane do for a few teaspoons of colostrum to drink and a drop or two to sequence and amplify. That’s all she needed. A few draws of the breast pump.
“Yrmela, see if you can get her to give up a few drops of colostrum.” Yrmela’s nostrils flared and she quietly stomped out of the room.
Elma said, “The baby needs that. Panic is worried about immunities. Hers developed late, she says, and so did her brother’s and sister’s. It runs in the family.”
“Elma, you’re taking your responsibilities to heart! I’m so proud. But I’m sure you will agree that medical decisions ought to remain in the hands of Boss? Hmm? Since you’re here, and the others are out of earshot, tell me, what more have you learned? Making you her birth partner was a stroke of genius. I could not have done better.”
“She hasn’t told me the names of her family, if that’s what you mean.”
“But she grew up in America?”
“She doesn’t say. It’s just the Summer Cottage, a mansion where they went sailing and swimming, and the Winter Palace, where it snows sometimes. How would I know where that is? She can’t name the moons of Neptune. She’s never seen diamonds rain down on Uranus. I’ve never seen America. I don’t even know where New York is.”
It’s where she’s from, Sybil Cane thought. “What about Budapest or Vienna?”
“I can’t keep the names straight. She talked about being a teenager on the streets of a city and working as a prostitute. She did not like it. She talks a lot about a librarian they had as kids named Babylon Sippar.”
“That rings a bell.” Cane thought about it but could not place the name. “Learn what you can and take good care of her. I expect her back, front and center, in eight weeks.”
When Elma left, Cane checked that no one else was around and sliced off a larger piece of placenta, which she chewed slowly and washed down with cold coffee.