"...go! I'm tellin' Mommy!"

Helen's favorite phrase sounded through the house for the ten thousandth time in her short six years. She rarely told me what had ended her world; for all her threats, Helen was a sweet girl who quickly ironed out differences with her older brother by herself.

Aaron rolled over with an I-wish-I-could sleep-longer moan and wrapped his huge arm around my middle.

"Like clockwork," he mumbled, using an ancient phrase I'd taught him. "Our little angel never misses the 4:00 AM wake-up call." He yawned and snuggled me closer. "Any way you can program her to hold off another thirty minutes, Abigail?"

"Hey," I said, also with a yawn, "Getting up on time wouldn't hurt you. Besides, if she didn't wake you, you'd sleep every morning until high nine." On our planet of Coda, the day lasted eighteen hours, so the tenth, eleventh and twelfth hours of day and night didn't exist as they did on Earth, the planet we'd emigrated from ten years ago.

"You besmirch my character, wife," he accused. He tightened his hold on my midriff and began to tickle me.

"Stop!" I laughed, twisting and turning as best I could. With a tummy the size of small moon, there wasn't a whole lot of movement. "You wake the twins, Aaron, and I swear I'll give birth right now, right here!"

"A reckless threat!" he said, continuing to tickle for a moment longer before stopping. "But one I'll take seriously, since you're just crazy enough to... deliver on it."

I groaned at his pun and regretfully slipped out of his cuddle. I turned over and not without some difficulty plopped myself on his chest, giving him the kiss we'd shared every morning since our marriage eleven years earlier.

"Mmmmm." I broke the kiss and slid out of bed. "No more than that, husband, or I'll be in bed another hour." He gave me his slow smile, the one that sent a tingle through me from head to toe and relaxed against the pillow, his eyes following me with love.

"Today, you think?" he asked, his voice already getting sleep again.

. "Dunno," I shrugged and turned off the ceiling over our sitting area and bathroom, flooding the room with light except on our bed. "I'd have guessed two weeks ago, and preferred a month. What time did you get back last night?"

"About 9:30 or so." Aaron was Hinman's chief construction engineer and oversaw the building of our little town's main projects. "The seawall's building fast enough, but the new gravity movers we just got from Earth had to be calibrated for Coda." He yawned again and closed his eyes. "It took most of the night."

"Why didn't you call me?" I asked as I turned on the shower. Our bedroom was set above the rest of the house, so our bath had only half high walls to increase the sense of space. "You know I can calibrate faster than anyone on the planet."

"Anyone in the galaxy you mean," Aaron corrected. "Call me old-fashioned, Abby, but I believe your walking around looking like a ball chaser is a full time job. You'd have saved us a few hours, but it's just not worth it. You'd be crabby all the next day."

I stuck my tongue out at him and got into the shower.

 

"Now you're going to get it for real, Johnny!" Helen yelled. "This time I'm really, really, really telling Mommy!"

"Tell Mommy what, Helen?" I asked, stepping from the eledisc and into the living room, cleaned and dressed. It was only a minor disaster this morning. Even on this frontier planet a lot of homes had automated house organizers, including me. But I avoided using it unless necessary. I already had two house organizers named John and Helen.

She came running up to me, trying her best to look the hapless victim. "Johnny keeps tellin' me that the Skipper's gonna get a brain tumor and die!"

"I'm right aren't I, Mom?" Johnny asked, giving me a sly wink and wanting me to play along. "I mean, he keeps getting hit with all those coconuts."

"Hmm," I said, thinking about it, then shaking my head, much to Helen's delight. "I don't think so, Johnny. I'm sure the Professor would think of something."

"Yeah, right," he snorted. "He can't even get them off that island."

"Good thing, too," I said, "Otherwise the series would end. Where in the episode are you?"

"In the cave!" Helen said in a voice filled with awe, all crimes against her forgotten. "Skipper's trying to find out if there's a rodeo transmitter buried there by bad guys. Johnny and I are helping him dig."

"Then you'd better get back," I laughed. "If you wait too long, Mary Ann gets captured by the gangster when he comes back on the small boat. And it's radio, not rodeo, sweetheart."

"What's a radio, Mom?" John asked. They didn't know anything about my real past, but did know I was the expert on things ancient.

"It's a device like a subspace comlink, honey, only it uses low, normal space frequencies and has a very limited range. Now, hurry along, you two. I've an appointment with Doctor Barrett this morning, so I'll need access in an hour or so."

"Okay, bye!" Helen shouted.

"Uncle Mike's in the kitchen, Mom. Bye!" John said, chasing after Helen.

They dashed off, running into the living room wall. The wall let them pass through and they disappeared into the puterverse with a subdued flash and a soft pop. I walked into the kitchen.

"Full view, please," I said aloud. The seaward facing wall went transparent, giving a stunning overlook of the Halivonian Sea to the west. Hinman was the first town on the planet of Coda, which had been settled only fifteen years previous. The air was so clear as to be unreal, and the small, white sun it circled gave a brilliant light that nonetheless allowed for stars to shine well after sunrise and long before sunset. This morning, looking away from the rising sun, I could see several hundred pinpoints. We had no moon, but Kelly, the only other planet in our little system, hung just above the horizon, its green disc twice the size of our sun.

"'Morning, Abby!" Mike said, his solid form as green as Kelly, sitting in a chair, his feet up on the kitchen table. His eyes flashed bright, and his entire form glimmered. A being of pure energy, Mike was my creation of years ago and managed the puterverse for all mankind. He looked me over carefully. "I'd say point three four one times ten to the negative eighty-ninth."

"What?" I asked, picking out the milk and eggs from the cooling field. Again, I could have breakfast prepared for me, but I preferred to do it myself. "What's that? Your IQ?"

"Nope," he shot back. "That's the pull your mass has on the tides."

I whirled - sort of - and threw an egg at his smiling puss. It passed through, then reappeared, direction reversed, coming at me. I snatched it and sighed before cracking it onto the heating surface.

"What's wrong, kid?" Mike asked, rising to his feet. He picked up the bread and let it pass through his hand, toasting it perfectly on both sides.

"Nothing," I said, getting a sudden case of the crybabies, and wiping my eyes. "Mood swing." I groaned and bent my back. "I am positive that one of the curses sin brought to the world was adding an extra two months to a pregnancy."

"So why do you keep getting knocked up?" he asked innocently.

"Watch that mouth!" I cautioned.

"Look who's talking," he said, knowing my bad habit of swearing. "So answer the question."

"Are you kidding? I love being pregnant! Sure, woofing my cookies every day for a month and having to walk around wondering if I'm big enough to declare myself a sovereign nation isn't all that fun. But the rest! Having a baby growing inside you... going through all the changes, bad and good... and that wonderful moment after delivery when you hold your baby for the first time. Mike! I just can't tell you what a sense of joy it is, the feeling of being so intimate with the working of life and..."

You're gushing," Mike interrupted rudely. He picked up three apples and a Codan pear from the fruit basket and juggled them deftly. "So, when's the big day?"

"Soon, I hope," I admitted. "I really do enjoy it, but it is getting to be too much of a good thing." As if to tease me, I felt a small contraction, but I knew better. "In fact, I'm seeing Dr. Barrett in the puterverse today. Maybe he'll have an idea."

"Better him than me," Mike laughed. "I've got every bit of medical know-how humans ever had instantly accessible to me, but the last thing I want to do is look at your private..." he broke off and frowned. "Hey, you okay, Abby?"

"Mmmm," I moaned. That one was a lot harder. I waited a moment and it faded. "Just a contraction. I don't think it's started yet."

But it had. Another one, stronger still, hit only three minutes later. Mike, for all his protestations of not wanting to witness a birth, was his normal friendly, efficient self.

"I'll get Aaron from upstairs and contact the midwife," he said. "You get into the puterverse and call Barrett and get the kids. I'll watch 'em for you." He smiled and gave me a wink. "Don't forget to boil some water and get the salad spoons, in case they gotta pull the twins out!" He laughed and gave me a quick squeeze, blinked out of sight to run his errands.

I walked into the living room and passed through the puterverse wall, stopping once to wince and wait out another contraction. This was going very fast, and not according to schedule.

I stepped onto rocky ground. There were palm trees all around and a salty breeze from behind me. In front of me was a cave, from which a portly man with a blue shirt and befuddled look on his face was coming.

"Have you seen my little buddy?" He asked. A hundred voices from all around us laughed. I looked around but we were alone.

"Sorry, but he's not here right now and it's time for you to take a break too, Skipper." The laughter came again, sounding identical to the previous outburst. "Suspend episode!" I called out and the puterverse flashed back to its normal multihued vastness with a pitch black sky overhead. Two glowing forms, one bright orange and the other an even brighter pink, got up from the crouches they'd been in and ran over to me.

"Mooooom!" Johnny, the orange form, complained. "We were just about to start the radio up and call for help!"

"Sorry, Johnny, but unless you can radio for Dr. Barrett, I need access. It's time for Mommy to have the babies!"

"Cool!" Johnny exclaimed. "Can I watch this time? Will there be lots of blood? Are you going to scream bloody murder? Are you going to call Dad lots of names like he said you did the last time? Does the..."

"Come on, you two," Aaron's voice spoke from behind me. "Your mother's got enough to think about right now. Head down to the beach room and stay there, all right? Uncle Mike's waiting for you. We'll let you know as soon as Mommy's had the babies."

I kissed Johnny and he raced out of the puterverse and back into reality. Helen walked up and put her hand on me, rubbing my tummy gently.

"Does it hurt lots, Mommy?" she asked in an awed voice.

"Yes, it does, honey," I had another contraction and groaned. Helen kept rubbing my tummy, trying to help me.

"Will it hurt lots when I have babies, too?"

"That's up to you, Helen. There are special drugs and procedures to take away almost all the pain."

Then how come you don't do that stuff, Mommy?" she asked. "Wouldn't it be better to not get hurt?"

"Not for me," I answered. "It's hard to explain, but I'm sort of old fashioned and like having this kind of pain. And after a little while, all the pain goes away and all that's left is a brand new baby to love and take care of."

"Oh," she said, not entirely convinced. She looked up at me, her blank puterverse eyes nonetheless echoing the doubt in her voice. "Were you happy when me an' Johnny were born?"

I laughed and winced at the same time. Aaron had already contacted Dr. Barrett, who would oversee via the puterverse the midwife's help in the delivery.

"Helen, I can think of no better pain I've had than when I had you and John. Now run along."

It went fast, which was fine with me. By the time Maria, the midwife, showed up, I was in "the position" and ready to deliver. Doctor Barrett arrived on line and gave me a big smile, his brown form laced with gold a comforting sight.

"She's crowning already, Doctor," Maria said from her catcher's crouch. Barrett gave my free hand a reassuring squeeze - Aaron had a firm hold on the other one - then went around and inspected the progress. From his position - behind Maria and leaning over her - I half expected him to start calling balls and strikes.

"Excellent!" he decreed in his deep, gravel voice. We'd fought together in the Resistance and he'd been my doctor since I was fourteen years old, so though there were a couple hundred light years separating us, his puterverse presence was still a great comfort. "Abigail, are you sure you don't want to take..."

"No!" I yelled, more from agony than vehemence. "This way! It's worth it!"

He shrugged. "Just like the man hitting himself with the hammer. 'Because it feels so good when I stop.' Have it your way. Ready to push?"

A contraction hit just as I was about to answer. I screamed and contorted my face in pain until it passed, then told him very specifically and colorfully how ready I was to push. Doctor Barrett smiled understandingly. I know he meant well, but I still wanted to hit him with something since there's no way he could understand.

"Then it's time we had couple of kids," he said.

I didn't know where he got this "we" crap, but I let it go. I had far too much on my mind, trying to give birth to something the size of a small starship, Aaron's constant yammering about breathing right, and the midwife - still looking like she needed a mask and mitt - staring at my private parts and constantly saying 'Push!'. Like I'd forget. I told them all very succinctly what I thought of their "help", then went ahead and had the kids anyway. I decided right then I was going to name them Jupiter and Saturn.

 

"How are you doing, Abby?" Aaron's soft voice asked in the darkness. We were in bed. The newborn twins - Philip and Sarah - were sleeping quietly in the downstairs nursery, Maria keeping an eye on them.

"Exhausted and sore, but very happy," I pulled the blankets up over my shoulders and stared up through our transparent ceiling at the millions of stars in the sky.

"Why do you do it?" he asked, "Going through all that labor pain when you don't have to? I just don't understand it."

Of course he didn't understand. No man ever could. But that was the very reason why I did it; because he couldn't understand. The painful joy of bringing new life into the world was a blessing reserved only for mothers, and I had long ago made up my mind I was going to experience it to the fullest. I was going to be a part of my children's lives - good and bad - from the very moment they began.

He asked again, but when I still didn't answer him, he just laid a strong, comforting arm over my chest, snuggled me ever so gently, and quietly went to sleep.