"Here," came the conspiratorial whisper of Naomi from the top bunk. "The girls and me made this over in shop this week." With a slight crackling sound, a package was passed down and into Brenda's hands. "There's a minute match on the ribbon," she added helpfully.

Brenda felt the gift in the pitch dark of the Australian night and found the small disk. Removing it, she slipped under the blankets and squeezed it between her finger and thumb. The disk began glowing softly, then increased in intensity until Brenda was forced to slide it partly under her pillow to keep the light from betraying her.

With hands trembling from excitement and exhaustion, she opened the package. Inside was a magnificently woven blanket. A deep red - much like the sand and rock of her native Mars - it was a receiving blanket. She felt tears well up as she inspected the blanket. The disk gave a warning blink and she hurriedly folded up the blanket and placed it in her personal belongings drawer under her bed. Given in secret like this, no one would know she hadn't brought it to the relocation camp when the Terrans had taken her from Mars three months earlier.

The light blinked out, but the blanket was safely put away and Brenda was back under the covers, even the brief movement in Earth's crushing gravity having tired her out. How Terran women even managed to carry their babies for nine months was beyond Brenda. Their hostile nature probably gave them an extra brute strength, she concluded.

"Thank you, Naomi!" Brenda whispered, her voice cracking with emotion. It's beautiful! How did you get the material and time?"

"Hey, don't worry about it," Naomi scolded gently. "With Judith not due for a couple more weeks, we knew you were next, so it was pretty easy setting aside a few pieces here and there. And Donna's got a friend in the coloring room, so we were able to get it all red. Glad you liked it."

"I do. Please thank everyone for me." Brenda yawned. "I'm beat. G'night."

"G'night."

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As it had every morning for the past three months, the alarm sounded at dawn. It was a pleasant enough alarm; a gentle playing of classical music with the volume perhaps a little high. But it was still an alarm, and Brenda's Terran captors expected all forty-three women remaining to get up and get to work.

Of the eleven hundred and eighty-six Martians to survive their societies obliteration by the Terrans, all had been "reoriented" to Terran life, identified with permanent tags and sent into society. All save the pregnant women. Such was the fear Terrans had about Martians that they wanted to know where every Martian was located on Earth. Even the unborn gave them fear, so all the pregnant women were detained until delivery, when their children could be properly identified and not somehow slip by unmarked.

Showering was a comical experience, there were so many large bellies getting in the way. Every woman there had conceived on Mars, so all were at least four months along. Some, like Brenda, were in their last trimester and really jammed up traffic in the group showers. All took it good-naturedly, however, so what was intended to be an embarrassing situation to control the women turned instead into a moment of levity, a chance to talk quietly and cheerfully to each other and prepare for the day.

Brenda dressed into her plain white cotton uniform and walked with Naomi and several others to the meal hall. Located southeast of Port Augusta on the southern coast of Australia, the remote detention camp was nonetheless not without its charm. There were lovely trees scattered about the compound, with rich green grass carpeting the area except for the well maintained pathways. Even the buildings, while very Spartan - were brightly painted and almost pleasant to look at. All that kept this from being a quiet vacation spot were the guards and the high electric fence surrounding the twenty acre camp.

"Morning, ladies," Dr. Henshaw said cheerfully as he opened the door to the meal hall for them. One of only three Martian doctors to survive the eradication, he was a comfort to have around. Not only would Terran doctors balk at treating Martians, the Martian women would sooner midwife for each other and take their chances than have a Terran doctor aide them in childbirth. Dr. Henshaw tried to get them used to the idea of being treated by a Terran doctor. After all, he pointed out frequently, the only difference between a Martian human and a Terran human was place of birth. And once they did give birth, they and their children would be reoriented and sent into society and he'd be unable to treat them; having earned his medical degree at Martian Colonies University, he was forbidden to practice medicine anywhere on Earth except in the detainment camp, which would close after the final birth.

They passed inside and got in line. It was a hearty breakfast, and seconds were encouraged. They were allowed to linger afterward, their captors being very gracious hosts, but eventually made their way to the exercise area. Simple equipment waited for them there, all designed to build their stamina and give them "Earth legs". Brenda hated it - already she had bulked up in her legs and her once pleasant figure had been Terranized by the unnatural gravity. But the reality that she would never again walk on Mars but instead have to deal with her greater weight was incentive enough to work out.

The exercise period was nearly over when Brenda had a sudden pang. She put down the five kilo weight she was lifting - which felt more like fifteen kilos - and rubbed her midriff, not quite stifling a moan. Naomi was at her side instantly.

"You okay, Brenda?" she whispered, taking the weight from Brenda's hand and leading her to a weight bench. She began adjusting the weights, making it look to two guards as though she were helping Brenda's routine.

"Yeah," Brenda replied in a low voice. "Just a small contraction. I've been getting them the past couple days."

Brenda started lifting, but felt another pull, which Naomi noticed.

"Try not to give it away," she hissed said, leaning closer. "If you can make it until lunch, we'll be able to get you to the bunkhouse to deliver." Though they'd obviously be unable to hide a birth, all the women preferred delivering among their own instead of under the humiliating conditions of the Terran delivery room.

"I'll try," Brenda whispered, lifting the bar just as another contraction hit.

But it wasn't to be. Unlike Terran labors - which could last many hours - the typical Martian birth took less than two hours; even less now that they were on Earth. She doubted she could make it to the end of the exercise period let along until lunch. Her fear became reality when the quickly advancing labor finally forced her to double over in pain, causing the guards to leap into action.

"Come with me, Brenda," Private Ulan barked, her voice sounding harsher than she intended. Julianne liked Brenda a lot, but the thought of yet another Martian polluting the planet was difficult to get past. She took Brenda firmly by the arm and turned to the other guard. "Eric, notify Henshaw that Brenda's gone into labor. Notify the identification squad to prepare their equipment.

The next twenty minutes were a whirlwind for Brenda. Between the painful contractions; tripled in severity by the gravity, and the activity of twenty Terrans as they prepared the delivery room, she was mounted on the table, stripped naked and put in the most vulnerable position possible before she could even think of protesting.

"Hang in there, Brenda," came Dr. Henshaw's comforting voice. "We'll get this over with as quickly as possible." He paused a moment, then said in a softer voice. "Did you have a name picked out, just in case?" Seven of the twenty-two women who had delivered had died during childbirth, their bodies not able to cope with the rigors of both labor and gravity. Odds were improving as they continued their conditioning, but...

"Yes, OH!" Brenda gave out a loud scream and all attention swung to her. She felt an IV needle inserted into her arm and she flinched as the lights - operating and recording - flashed on brightly. "Yes. If it's a boy, his name is Andrew. Andrew Ares Hurst." She panted several times, then continued. "If it's a girl, name her Marsha Heinlein Hurst. Heinlein is my home town. I want her to..." she broke off with a scream.

Thirty minutes later - far too soon and yet not soon enough - Brenda felt an overwhelming urge to push. She tried, but was approaching exhaustion even after so short a labor. She wondered if she would survive the delivery. Wondered but didn't worry. This was her child! Her baby! Her chance to show all of Earth that she was a human, too.

Her body went suddenly numb and she watched in detached fascination as her legs lowered slowly of their own volition. Everyone watching and recording the event paid her no mind, instead focusing on the doctor's efforts. She heard, dimly, the camp priest praying aloud for forgiveness for bringing another red bastard of Mars into the world. She stared dully at the priest, not believing any god would hear such a prayer. The room fell suddenly quiet and Brenda heard the scream of a baby. Her eyes looked down and she saw Dr. Henshaw rising slowly.

"Congratulations, Brenda," he said, his eyes soft with tears. "It's a boy."

"Red bastard delivery time," a staccato voice broke in, "is oh nine forty-six hours, Tuesday, May first, 2390. Bastard's delivery weight is 3.40 kilos, length of 53.76 centimeters. Martian bitch survived delivery and will be sterilized and marked according to regulations."

Watching helplessly, Brenda saw her son taken from the doctor's arms and placed on a table. A small patch on his right ankle was cleaned and dried. The technician inspected the tiny foot momentarily, then placed the leg into a clamp. The baby squirmed and then squealed as he felt a brief, sharp pain. The clamp came free and even from her poor position, Brenda could see a bright red mark on her son's ankle. The technician swabbed and cleaned the ankle again.

"Red bastard has been marked," he called over his shoulder. "Martian identification number is RB90121A." He picked up the baby and handed it over to another technician, who placed him in a small cart. Brenda felt a stab of fear go through her.

"Don't I get to hold him?" she asked.

"Hush, Brenda," Doctor Henshaw said. "You're too weak right now. Besides..."

"Why bother?" the technician interrupted. He was now leaning over Brenda's left leg, inspecting her ankle. Others had begun taking down the equipment and were cleaning up. "You'll get to spend plenty of time with him later, in the ghettos where we keep your kind." There was a quick flicker of pain and Brenda had her son's identification number added to hers. "Besides, we need to sterilize him immediately and finish recording his existence. Can't be too careful about these things."

Holding back her anger and disgust at the typically Terran attitude. She'd always thought there was at least a little Martian in Earth humans, but realized now she'd only deluded herself.

"When can I see my Andrew?" she asked quietly. Sensation was returning slowly to her body and she felt a tugging inside as Doctor Henshaw finished sterilizing her. Terrans had allowed her to complete her pregnancy, but saw it as pure foolishness to risk her giving birth to any more Martians.

"Coupla' days," the technician said with a shrug. "And his name's not Andrew. You don't have the right to name a red bastard. We do. His name's Fallon Adam Hurst."

"Fallon!" Brenda spat out in rage despite her weakness. Fallon had been the admiral whose orbital fleet had bombarded Enla - Mars' primary city - into rubble, killing hundreds of thousands. "No! Please!" She sagged back, her body's exhaustion finally forcing her to show her weakness. "I'm begging you. Please. Not Fallon."

"It's already done" he replied. "Besides, Fallon's a good name. We're giving him a chance in life. Better than you could." He looked at her with a slight contempt, as he might an animal that was both pathetic and defenseless. "Not that it really matters, though. A name won't hide the fact that he's still a red bastard. A disgusting Martian."

"But we're all on Earth now. So what exactly is the difference between a human from Mars and a human from Earth?" Doctor Henshaw asked. He'd finished with Brenda and was pulling off his surgical gloves. "I mean, other than a name?"

The technician stared at him, shocked. Then he shook his head.

"If you don't get it by now, doc, then you never will." He jerked a thumb at the sleeping Brenda. "Get her back to her bunk. I gotta finish up with the brat. I'm gonna make sure he never forgets he's a Martian." He turned and left the room.

Henshaw looked after him.

"I'm sure you'll do a good job."

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Red Bastard

Copyright ©1999 by Peter Prellwitz All Rights Reserved.