This is the bonus short story from Arabella’s point of view. Huge thanks to Michelle and Shannon for their medical expertise. All errors are ours alone.
DO NOT READ UNTIL AFTER EMERALD BLAZE
I leaned toward the mirror and traced my lips with Les Beiges Healthy Glow Balm from Chanel. When you had big eyes and plump lips, you had to pick which one you drew attention to. My eyes were a light blue, the color most people achieved with contact lenses, and once I was done with eyeshadow and mascara, they popped. Any bright shade of lipstick took my face from pretty straight to clown. There were no stops in between. But the medium shade of the Chanel’s balm turned out to be my perfect pink. Not too much, not too little, just enough.
Somebody was running down the hall like a small rhino. That was neither new nor unusual in our house. I ignored it and concentrated on contouring my top lip.
Catalina burst into the bathroom. “Nevada’s in labor!”
I dropped my balm into the sink. My oldest sister was due any day. Today was a really bad day. Catalina had found some sort of monster construct in the Pit, a flooded area of Houston. I was reasonably sure that she and Mr. Dreamboat, otherwise known as Alessandro Sagredo, her handsome Italian assassin/not-boyfriend, would go there today to kill it. I planned to help. What’s better than a monster? A bigger monster.
I was also reasonably sure that Stephen Jiang would be there. Which was why I was taking my time putting on my face.
“The thing in the Pit grabbed one of the Primes and is attacking the work site,” Catalina barked. “I have to go. Yesterday, Victoria threatened Nevada and the baby. Go with her and don’t let her out of your sight. If it all goes to shit, I don’t care if you are in the middle of that damn building, you transform, and you get them out of there.”
Change of plans.
This was the first baby for Nevada and for Connor. If I knew anything about my brother-in-law, he would overreact. That meant they wouldn’t take a car. They would take a helicopter. If I didn’t get a move on, he would stuff her into that helicopter and take off without me.
I pushed past Catalina and sprinted to my room to get my shoes and my purse.
In five seconds, I located four shoes. None of them matched. The only matching pair was the hideous pink crocs, which I wore when my feet hurt from high heels and nobody important could see me. Well, if I did transform, none of my good shoes would be ruined. I stuck my feet into the crocs, swiped the tiny purse with my wallet off the door handle, ran back to the bathroom to get my phone, which I had forgotten, because my sister had come in shrieking like a banshee, and dashed outside.
I got there just as Connor half-helped, half-lifted my oldest sister into the Bell AH-3 Cobra. Some people owned luxury cars. Mad Rogan owned the latest model twin engine attack helicopters. Paranoid rich primes had the best toys.
Connor saw me running toward them and waved to me to hurry up. I made it to the helicopter and climbed inside. Mom was already there, next to Nevada. I wedged into the seat between them. Connor hopped in, made sure we were all strapped in, and then we were off.
The inside of the helicopter was loud. Connor passed out headsets with mics. I had one just like it for Battlefield Glory, so I could hear the people on my squad as we murdered the Alien Crimson Armada. Cool.
My brother-in-law leaned forward toward Nevada. “Does it hurt?”
She shook her head.
It hurt. I could tell it did by the stony expression on her face. It was the patented Baylor family look that meant yes, it fucking hurts, there is nothing to be done, stop asking me about it. Connor recognized it too because his face went flat. He reached out and took her hand.
“Why are we going to the hospital?” I asked. “What happened to the give-birth-at-your-house plan? I liked that plan.”
I didn’t like hospitals. Nothing good ever happened there.
“It’s a High Risk Prime/Prime pregnancy,” Nevada said.
“What does that mean?”
“It means the baby is using his magic. He’s aware,” Mom said. “Being born is scary. We don’t know how he will react.”
“But you gave birth to us and we were fine.” We were all Primes.
“You almost killed Mom,” Nevada told me. “You wedged yourself in and refused to be born.”
“And the doctor. They pulled you out and you choked him. It took three people to pry you free.”
“You’re making this up!” I turned to Mom.
She had this weird expression on her face.
It was true. “Mom! You never told me!”
“You never asked. We were very lucky you didn’t transform in-utero.”
How would anyone know to ask about something like that?
“The difference is, none of us were empathic,” Nevada said. “And none of us were using our magic in the womb.”
“There is a good chance that our son is empathic,” Connor said. “He’s linked to Nevada’s feelings. Sedation is out of the question. So is the Caesarean.”
“Even if they counter the pain with a spinal block and I remain completely calm,” Nevada said, “Empathic babies are almost always severely traumatized by a C-section. We don’t understand why, but we’re not going to risk it.”
Connor was a Prime Telekinetic with slight empathic powers, which I didn’t ask too much about, because when I looked him up on Herald, the social network for Prime groupies and gossips, the consensus said it was some kind of sexual thing. I didn’t want to know sexual things my sister’s husband did. There were boundaries.
Most of the time Primes married within their type of magic. Pyrokinetics married other pyrokinetics, oneiromancers married other oneiromancers and so on. Nevada’s and Connor’s talents were wildly different. Nobody could predict what their baby would be like. The speculation on Herald ran rampant. I’ve found over seventy threads discussing it.
We knew the baby was telekinetic, because some of his powers leaked to Nevada, giving her temporary telekinetic abilities. According to Connor, that also meant that the baby was a Prime, and with the caliber of his parents’ magic, he wouldn’t just be a Prime. His power would be off the charts.
It was perfectly possible that Connor’s empathic talent made it over to their baby and got a boost from my sister’s mental abilities. Which meant a Prime telekinetic with no control over his magic and possibly capable of leveling a building with a flick of his finger was about to be squeezed, grabbed, and ejected out of his warm shelter while bathing in psychic pain and anxiety from his mother. If she went into full blown labor in the helicopter…
Oh my God.
“Can this thing go any faster? Make it fly faster.”
Mom’s wrapped her arm around my shoulders. “Calm down.”
“You don’t understand. I don’t have enough hands to catch everyone.”
“If the helicopter goes down,” Connor said, “Catch Nevada first.”
Nevada turned to me. She was wearing that older sister expression that said, “stop freaking out, the adults got this.” It used to drive me nuts, but right now it was like a soothing cold shower on my raw nerves.
“The contractions aren’t that strong yet. Wait. We will be there in a minute.”
I shut up and willed the Cobra to fly as fast as it could.
We landed on the hospital’s rooftop helipad. A dozen people waited for us, six in tactical gear armed with automatic weapons and the others in identical baby blue scrubs. Did they coordinate this? If Nevada was giving birth to a girl, would they have showed up in pink scrubs? Somehow, I had a problem with it, but I couldn’t quite put it into words, and I had bigger issues to worry about.
They loaded Nevada into a wheelchair, and we all rushed in a herd into a big freight elevator. It went down and almost immediately stopped. The doors slid open, revealing a hospital hallway with walls painted in pale cream. An announcement echoed, a pre-recorded artificially calm female voice pronouncing the words with crisp precision.
“Code PPB. All non-essential personnel clear the 17th floor.”
We made a left out of the elevator and sped down the hallway toward metal doors that looked like they’d come out of a space station and had been used to contain violent space monsters.
“Code PPB. All non-essential personnel clear the 17th floor.”
“Contractions?” Connor asked.
The doors slid open, we passed through, and they sealed shut behind us. Two of the security people peeled off from our group and stayed behind. I glanced over my shoulder. One of them keyed a code into the door lock. The lights on the door turned red. A metal bar pointing toward the ceiling I thought was just a weird part of the door rotated forty-five degrees and the other guard locked it in place. If someone tried to force the door apart, they would have to rip through the bar to do it.
Could they have made this more dramatic?
A second set of doors slid open. We passed through them, shedding another pair of guards, and the speaker’s robotic voice vanished, cut off in mid-word.
We came to T-section, where a hallway crossed ours. The way ahead was blocked by a third door. You’ve got to be kidding me.
Nevada looked at Connor. “Are we expecting an assault? Is there something you forgot to tell me?”
“Standard procedure,” he said.
Most of the medical personnel with us split up, moving into the side hallways. Only two female nurses remained.
The doors in front of us whispered open. We went through, and this time the two security dudes stayed on the other side.
We entered a large round room. The walls were a smooth pale concrete, the floor also concrete in warm tones of brown and beige. It looked like the inside of a bunker. The air smelled of lemon and lavender.
In the middle of the round bunker-room was another room, positioned perfectly in the center, no doors, only two doorways. We rolled through one of the doorways into what looked like an ordinary hospital room. Soothing blue walls, weird medical equipment, most of it bolted to the floor or the walls, a space-age hospital bed, a big screen embedded in the wall near the ceiling opposite the bed, everything seemed almost normal for a high-tech hospital.
In the wall to the right, another doorway offered access to the bathroom. No door again, only a curtain hanging from a rod embedded in the doorway.
Nevada looked at Connor. “Why aren’t there any doors?”
“Less things to fly around,” he said.
Yeah, also if the doctor and nurses had to run out in a hurry, not having a door helped.
The nurses moved Nevada from the chair onto the bed and started saying calm things and checking things between her legs.
I reached for my magic. It swirled in my mind, a riot of colors. I plucked at the blue one and let it settle over me. The cobalt image of the Beast, huge and shaggy, crouched in my mind, waiting, staring out through my eyes. I inhaled. The world blossomed into a kaleidoscope of scents. Gun oil, metal, disinfectant, medicinal alcohol, skin cells, deodorant, perfume, soap…
“There are eighteen people in the hallway around this room.” Were there cameras in this room? Because if there were, my sister deserved to know she would be on display.
Nevada looked at Connor again. “You said a medical team and a few security people. You didn’t say South by Southwest.”
A doctor walked into the room. She was about Mom’s age, curvy, with large kind eyes, dark brown skin, and a pair of red-framed glasses on her nose. “Hello. I’m Dr. Maier. I’m here to help you.”
There was something so reassuring about the way she spoke.
“I’m a Prime laborist, which means I specialize in High Risk Prime Parturition. I’ve been doing this for twenty years.”
“Has anyone ever died?” I asked.
Mom gave me her scary stare. Well, nobody else was going to ask and it was kind of important.
“Yes,” Dr. Maier said. “Out of sixty-seven P/P births I’ve lost two babies and three mothers.”
I typed average mortality Prime/Prime Birth into my phone. “It says here the national death rate of P/P births is twenty-eight percent.”
“Stop,” Mom snapped. “Or I’ll take you out of here.”
“They should know.”
“And trauma to the newborn occurs thirty-two percent of the time,” Nevada said. “I do know. Connor and I looked it up.”
Nevada turned to the doctor. “Thank you for helping me.”
“I know it’s scary and this is an odd place to give birth, but this is the safest way for you and the baby. This is not our first time. We’ve done this before. Trust us. We’ll take good care of you.”
“Why are there so many people?” Connor asked.
“We have an emergency telekinetic team standing by.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Connor said. “I’ll contain it.”
“The father isn’t always the best person,” Dr. Maier said.
“In this case, I am the best person,” the Scourge of Mexico informed her.
“Very well.” Dr. Maier picked up a remote and clicked it. Several people appeared on the screen across from the bed. “These are our halcyons. They’re here to keep you and the baby calm. They can’t see you; they can only feel your mind. And they’re telling me that you’re not letting them in.”
Halcyons were psionics in reverse. While psionics incited survival emotions, like fear and anger, halcyons soothed and calmed.
“If you let them alter your mood, it might make things easier.”
“I don’t think I can,” Nevada said.
She had protected her mind for years now. The shields on it were just too thick.
“Okay,” Dr. Maier said. “Then we’ll proceed without them or the telekinetics. The only people who can see you are in this room. Nothing is being recorded. And if at any point you want someone to leave, tell me and they’re gone.”
Ten minutes later we knew two things. First, Nevada was almost fully dilated, which was some sort of hell term I didn’t want to contemplate. Second, there would be no pain killers. Apparently, my sister had nerves of steel, because the contractions had been coming and she’d kept it to herself and now it was too late for an epidural.
They inserted an IV into Nevada, put a blood pressure cuff on her arm, and put a thing on her belly to monitor the baby’s fetal heartbeat. My sister looked slightly lost. Nevada never looked lost. She always had everything under control, even when she didn’t.
I came over and hugged her. “If you push too hard, and the baby shoots out like a cannon ball, I promise I’ll catch him.”
She smiled at me, but her eyes stayed haunted.
The nurses adjusted things. The doctor checked her again. And then Nevada started pushing. Mom held her hand. There were three pushes per contraction. She would push to a count of ten and then relax. Push and relax.
This went on and on. At some point I decided to play on my phone.
We were about two hours into it when Nevada gripped Connor’s hand and screamed, and the tv screen shattered. The shards shot out, froze in mid-air, and neatly deposited themselves in the plastic bin.
“I’ve got you,” Connor promised her. “I’ve got you.”
Doctor Maier checked Nevada. “And we have crowning. Break the bed for delivery.”
The nurse helped position Nevada’s legs into the stirrups and then the bottom half of the bed slid down. Dr. Maier put on a gown and gloves and parked herself between Nevada’s legs. I didn’t want to look.
The bed jerked to the side and gently slid back.
“Perhaps the halcyons…” one of the nurses said.
“Fuck the halcyons,” my sister snarled.
“You’re doing great,” Dr. Maier assured her. “And push.”
Nevada strained and relaxed. The fetal monitor made a small noise.
“Why is the baby’s heart rate rising?” my sister’s voice spiked.
“This is normal,” Dr. Maier told her. “Accelerated heartbeat means a happy baby. The heart rate decelerates and accelerates during labor, but everything I’m seeing is within normal levels. Stay calm.”
Another contraction gripped Nevada. The fetal contraption beeped. A medical monitor tore from the wall and hurtled towards me, freezing three feet from my head. It hovered there for a second then streaked into the waste bin.
The room turned into a horror movie set. Nevada screaming, fetal monitor going haywire, things flying around, equipment exploding, and my brother-in-law standing in the middle of the chaos, catching things with his mind and holding Nevada’s right hand, while Mom held her left, and the doctor kept assuring my sister that everything was going as planned.
I hid by the side of the bed, next to Mom. It seemed like the safest spot.
It kept going and going.
I snuck a peek. Sweat drenched Nevada. She was breathing like she had run a marathon. Connor’s face turned bloodless, and I couldn’t tell if he was exhausted or worried.
Nevada’s gaze met mine.
“You’re doing great,” I squeaked.
Above us, the ceiling cracked.
Just let it be over. Please let it be over. Please let everyone be okay.
“Almost there,” the doctor crooned. “One big push. One more.”
Nevada whimpered. The wall behind her shattered. The pieces hung in mid-air caught by Connor’s magic.
“One more,” Dr. Maier prompted.
“You keep saying one more…”
Nevada’s voice was so weak. I’d never heard her sound like that. What if she was dying? She couldn’t be dying.
A nurse blotted her forehead. “Almost done, sweetie.”
Nevada strained, moaning.
“There you go,” Dr. Maier said. “And the head is out. One more time. This is the last one, I promise.”
My sister screamed. A huge crack split the wall and the floor. The room shook. I shut my eyes.
A baby cried. I looked up and saw him, red and wrinkled, smeared with some sort of goo. He had dark hair and he sounded just like a sad kitten who needed to be rescued.
Suddenly things stopped moving. Nevada slumped on the bed.
Connor kissed her. “You did it.”
“Is he okay?” she asked.
“He’s fine,” Dr. Maier told her. “A perfectly healthy boy.”
I sagged against the wall. I was never, ever getting pregnant.
The room was shrouded in comforting gloom. A table lamp in the corner glowed with a soft yellow light. Nevada was asleep on the bed. I saw how much blood came out of her. I still couldn’t believe she was breathing. The first time she dozed off, I had poked her to make sure she hadn’t died.
Connor slept in a chair. I had a feeling he also thought Nevada was going to die. As soon as she fell asleep, he passed out.
Mom had gone home. After the baby was born, Catalina came in all bloody and glassy eyed. Mom talked to Alessandro and something bad must have happened to my other sister, because Mom decided to take her home. Poor Mom. First, Nevada gave the apocalypse birth, and then Catalina shuffled in like a zombie. This was one of the rare moments when I was the good kid.
My nephew napped in the crib next to his mom. He was all cleaned up, and now he sort of resembled a baby. On a scale of angel to hellspawn, yeah, I had seen cuter babies. Obviously, I didn’t say anything, but I did sort of ask Mom if he would look a little less alien later. She told me to give it a week.
A nurse came in and reached for the baby. Connor awoke. He didn’t say anything, he just opened his eyes.
“I’ll bring him right back,” the nurse said and carried him off.
They had been taking the baby out for different medical things, and Connor always went with them. He looked so tired.
I got up and told him quietly, “I’ve got this one. Rest.”
He looked about to argue, but I was already moving.
The nurse hurried down the hallway, two of Connor’s security guys trailing her. She ducked into a room on the left, and the guards turned to follow her and stopped at the doorway, with identical blank looks on their faces.
Oh no you don’t.
I sped up, pulling on the blue aspect again. Three people besides the baby and the nurse… Wait a minute.
I moved silently, sliding behind the catatonic guards. An older man, an older woman, a scary guy in a suit.
My evil grandmother cradled her great grandchild. The older man next to her practically glowed with pride.
Well, imagine that. That certainly cleared some things up.
“What a beautiful boy,” Victoria Tremaine purred. “What a lovely, lovely boy.”
The older man smiled.
My evil grandmother rocked the baby. “Look, Trevor, isn’t he the most beautiful child you’ve ever seen?”
“Yes, ma’am. He is,” the man in the suit said.
I let them have a few more minutes and walked into the room.
“Grandmother, Grandfather, scary guy I don’t know, I’ll take the baby now.”
Victoria narrowed her eyes at me. I held out my arms. She sighed and passed the baby to me. He squirmed and made a cat noise.
“Support the head,” Grandmother said.
“We will not speak of this,” my grandfather said.
I gave him a big smile. “That will depend entirely on you.”
I walked back to the room, cradling my nephew. He was so tiny. And kind of cute.
“Don’t worry,” I told him softly, snuggling him closer. “I’m the cool aunt. I won’t let anything bad happen to you.
The baby looked back at me with big round eyes and farted.