“Gavin, wait, you forgot your mask.” Lissa waddled over to the front door, holding the filter out in front of her as if it were one of the icky, four-inch roaches that prowled their apartment at night. God, how she hated those awful things, but nothing you could do but learn to live with them; they weren’t going anywhere.
“Thanks, babe.” Gavin took the black mask and slipped it on, settling it atop his blond curls instead of over his face. “But I would’ve remembered it as soon as I’d stepped outside and come back after it.” He looked down into her eyes, a gentle smile curving his lips. “You’re supposed to stay off your feet as much as possible, you know.” He laid a gloved hand upon her swollen belly. “Doctor’s orders.”
For all the good it’ll do, Lissa thought. Had staying off her feet saved her sister’s baby? Or Beverly’s? Or anyone else’s she knew? She wanted to walk, to run, to go outside, even if it meant suiting up and breathing through that hideous filter. “I want to…I’m so tired…”
“I know.” Gavin enfolded her cumbersome body in his arms, laid his cheek on top of her head. “But soon the baby’ll be here and you can go back to work—if that’s what you want.”
If that’s what I want? Lissa almost laughed. Go back to the daily struggle with the jungle that was trying to claim the city? Go back to suiting up in protective gear so the sun wouldn’t fry her to a crisp? Go back to wearing that hot, rubbery mask so she could breathe the air without it destroying her lungs and her body? Of course she did. Anything was preferable to staying cooped up all the time in their tiny apartment. And it wasn’t such a bad job as far as jobs went; after all, that’s where she’d met Gavin.
“I’d better go.” Gavin dropped a quick kiss on her cheek, then hit the gray pad on the wall beside the door. “I’ll see you this evening.”
The door slid open, and as he stepped into the metal tube—every apartment had their own—that’d take him to the street below, he pulled the mask down over his face and pulled up the hood of his insulated jumper. The door closed behind him. Lissa heard the faint swoosh of the tube’s descent.
Listlessly, she crossed the small room to the window. At least she had this: an eye to the world outside. Most of the building’s five-hundred apartments didn’t have that luxury. She supposed there was something to be said for being the daughter of the Mayor of Neo Boston.
Lissa placed her fists on the glass. How she’d love to break it, to sail out into the sky, and fly away, fly away over the sea into the pinking dawn. Maybe the air would be clean there, the winds cool and soothing, not hot and humid and blistering.
But no…she knew better. The great Atlantic had changed, just as the land had changed. It was beautiful to look at, its giant, pink-foamed waves crashing onto the thin strip of beach. But it was devoid of life. Dead. Nothing lived there anymore except the algae that long ago had swiped its ruddy brush over the immense expanse of blue.
And how much longer before the human race died out? Hardly any infants survived past their first year, most born sickly and weak. Some died after taking their first breath. Some died in the womb. Some were born who were not right at all, missing parts, having extra parts. And some babies were just…well… born wrong in some indefinable way. Those died too—eventually.
Lissa often wondered about the why of it. Why did the babies die? Like her, all expectant mothers were locked away inside the air-tight buildings, forbidden to venture outside even with protective gear. Had the poisoned earth somehow poisoned its people?
She looked down at the streets below, to the steady stream of ant-sized people going about their business, some walking, some on bicycles; the relentless sun reflecting off their silver suits. Only big businesses and the very rich owned actual vehicles.
A convoy of huge, green trucks entered her line of vision on the left. Lissa recognized them. Filled with produce and grain from the domed farms of Canada, they came to exchange their goods for the fruits and berries cultivated in the domes just to the south of Neo Boston. It was laughable if you stopped to think about it; everywhere you cared to look within the snarl of trees, vines and creepers that besieged the city, food grew in abundance—but no one could eat it without getting sick. Some poor souls had even died.
Lissa’s gaze drifted to the line of demarcation where concrete met jungle, to the cluster of tiny people hacking away at the invasive greenery. She used to do that, side by side with Gavin and the rest of the crew. Day in and day out. Dawn to dusk. She’d hated it then; now she actually missed it.
The baby kicked. Hard. Lissa sucked in a pained breath. Another blow jabbed a rib. Her baby boy was a fighter. Maybe he’d be one of the survivors…
Mustn’t get her hopes up. Mustn’t even think about it, because if she did, she’d cry, and what good would that do?
She swiped at her eyes. She wished Gavin were here. He’d know what to say, what to do to make everything all right. He’d find a way to make her laugh. That’s why she’d fallen in love with him: his ability to make her laugh in any situation. And his kisses, she’d fallen in love with them too.
A smile touched her lips—then quickly disappeared when pain exploded in her abdomen, bringing her to her knees. She hugged her belly, gasped for air. Under her clutching hands, her abdomen hardened, the pain intensified. And just when she thought she might faint, it let up.
Lissa drew a shaky breath. She reached up and grasped the windowsill, then pulled herself to her feet. She lay her sweaty forehead against the warm glass—warm yes, but cooler than her. “The baby’s coming…” she whispered. “But…but…” It wasn’t time. She had four more weeks to go.
Another pain ripped through her belly. Lissa gritted her teeth and gripped the windowsill. Gray spots danced in front of her eyes, but she didn’t give in, didn’t allow the gray to turn into black. She couldn’t pass out. She had to…tell…Gavin…the baby…
The spots of gray turned into a sea of red.
Oh God, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts! Lissa’s fingernails dug into the windowsill.
At last the contraction passed, allowing her mind to function. And for the first time since she’d found out she was pregnant, Lissa felt fear. Something was wrong; this was no ordinary birth.
She punched two numbers on the telecommunicator circling her wrist. In seconds, Gavin’s masked face appeared on the miniature screen. “Lissa, is—”
Another crash of agonizing pain. “The baby…he’s coming.” Lissa felt a wet gushing, looked down to see blood puddling on the floor around her bare feet. “Now!”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” Doctor Littlefield said, moving the palm-held heart monitor over Zackary’s thin chest. “He seemed just fine when he was born—except for the skin color, of course. But that’s beginning to fade, and still…”
The baby was breathing almost normally now, but earlier Lissa had wondered if he was going to pull through this time. The coughing and wheezing and sucking for air, it’d tied her stomach up in knots. Just a week old and she was already madly in love with the tiny life she and Gavin had created. She’d tried to distance herself, knowing from the moment the doctor had placed him in her arms and she’d seen the green tint of his skin that she’d probably lose him. He was one of those who were “not quite right”. But how could she not love him? She’d changed his diapers, sang to him, held him as he’d suckled at her bosom. My God, she’d even named him—against everyone’s advice.
Doctor Littlefield smiled down at the infant she held cradled in her arms. Lissa saw the sadness in the doctor’s eyes. How many babies had she helped into the world? How many babies had she seen depart it?
But not my baby! Lissa held out her arms.
After dropping a kiss on Zackary’s head, the doctor eased him into Lissa’s arms. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” she said. “I even searched the archives, anything relating to his symptoms. The closest match I got was asthma, but—”
Gavin stopped pacing back and forth in front of the window. He turned to Doctor Littlefield. “What’s asthma?”
“An ancient disease…a chronic lung disorder,” she answered. “But your son’s lungs are fine. I just don’t know…”
“You’re a doctor, you’re supposed to know.” Gavin stalked across the room, his accusing eyes on the short woman. “You should know what’s wrong with my son.”
Lissa grabbed his arm. “It’s not her fault. No one knows.”
Tears sparkled in Dr. Littlefield’s eyes. “This world we live in, it’s a harsh world. Only the strongest survive.”
“But he was strong,” Gavin said. “When you delivered him, he was kicking and squirming and bawling his head off. He was fine!”
Gavin raked his hand through his hair. “But what?”
The doctor sighed. “His skin was…is…green, Gavin. I’ve seen it before and…and…”
“And?” Gavin practically snarled.
“Babies like your son…they don’t…” She swallowed. “Make it.”
A grim silence settled over the room, broken only by Zackary’s labored breathing.
Holding her baby close to her heart, Lissa moved to the window. Behind her, she heard Gavin and Doctor Littlefield talking—softly now—but she tuned them out as she stared out at the eternal ocean, letting its ceaseless movement take her to a place of calm, a place of peace, a place where babies didn’t die in their mother’s arms.
She heard the front door slide open, the whoosh of the tube. Then Gavin was behind her, slipping his arms around her and their baby.
And it started up again.
Zackary started wheezing, then coughing. His little lungs gasped for air as if he were suffocating. Lissa felt helpless; there was nothing she could do to ease her child’s suffering.
She felt tremors running through Gavin’s body, felt the wetness of his tears falling upon her cheek. He saw it too—the bluish tinge spreading outward from Zackary’s lips, leaching the green from his skin, turning it a milky blue. He was dying. His tiny chest rose and fell, rose and felt, each breath an enormous effort.
Lissa wanted to cry, wanted to scream, wanted to die. She wanted to give her life to Zackary and take his death.
Gavin’s arms clutched her tighter. “He’ll be resting in God’s arms soon.”
Resting in God’s arms? It didn’t make sense? Why would God create a life only to snatch it right back? Time after time after time?
There was no God! There couldn’t be a god! All this made no sense! Dead babies, dying babies, green babies.
Lissa’s heart tripped in her chest.
She jerked out of Gavin’s arms. “Suit up. We’re going outside.”
“No buts. Just do what I say. We’re taking Zackary outside.” Gavin looked at her as if she were crazy. And maybe I am.
Clutching her limp son in one arm, she rushed into the bedroom and came out with her and Gavin’s suits and face masks. “Hurry!” She slung Gavin’s suit and mask in his general direction, then gently placed Zackary on the sofa and tugged on her suit. On with the face mask, then she picked up her son and ran for the door. She hit the pad, the door slid open and she stepped into the tube. She looked back. Gavin stood in the middle of the room, his mouth hanging open, his silver suit and black mask on the floor near his feet.
Lissa didn’t hesitate. She hit the pad inside the tube, the door slid shut and she and Zackary plummeted downward.
In seconds, the opaque tube glided to a gentle stop. Here was where Lissa hesitated. She looked out upon the city through the cloudy walls of the cylinder, gray concrete surrounded by the green beast of the jungle. Was she doing the right thing, taking her son outside into the poisoned world? What if she were wrong?
She looked down at the still face of her son, his glazed eyes, the almost indiscernible movement of his chest. He was moments away from death.
With a cry of primitive rage, she slammed her fist onto the pad. Better he die free out in the open than inside the confines of the prisons humanity had built for itself. At least she could give her son that.
She stepped out onto the mid-day street. Behind her, the tube slid closed. Clutching Zackary, she moved out of the shade of the building into the ferocious sunshine. She looked up at the fiery orb, its blinding rays muted by her face mask. She smiled. “I give you my son…”
She held out Zackary’s still body.
And the sun took him.
His chest hitched. He gasped. He coughed. And then he breathed. He gulped in air that was death and it brought him life.
As Lissa watched in wonder, the green of his skin grew more pronounced. He waved his arms. His little legs kicked. But the most wondrous thing of all was that he began breathing normally.
She laughed in delight.
“How did you know?” Gavin asked.
Lissa had been so wrapped up in Zackary’s transformation, she hadn’t heard Gavin’s approach. Through the visor on his face mask she saw the wonderment she felt echoed in his eyes as he stared at their son. “It was the green,” she answered.
His gaze moved to her. “The green?”
Lissa cuddled their squirming infant. “Remember in school…photosynthesis?”
Gavin nodded. “Chlorophyll…carbon dioxide…he needs that, not oxygen.”
“Yes.” Lissa looked up from her living breathing child, up to the blazing, scorching sun.
Tomorrow, a new dawn would break over the city by the sea, a new dawn in the history of mankind. And her son would be a part of it.