The story was written for AdAstra Challenge "Cures and their diseases."
My great thanks for Thor Damar
for editing and improving the story to look like real English.
Three or Four
I felt panic rising in my throat. “What are you saying, Medic?” I asked quietly, hoping that I misunderstood.
“We checked the scans three times,” he said. “And I’m afraid that there is very little we can do about it, except what I have already suggested.”
I looked at Amrita. My beautiful wife was staring at the medic with disbelief. I turned my attention to back him. “How urgent is it?”
“The sooner, the better,” he said taking a padd from his desk and activating it. “I could schedule the surgery for the day after tomorrow.”
That soon, was it that threatening to them? “Medic Borin, have you made a mistake?” I asked before I realised what I was doing.
His eye ridges shot up. “Excuse me?”
“After the first time you told us that the next time wouldn’t be as dangerous. But from what you’re telling me—this is much worse. Have you made a mistake?”
The medic shifted and his discomfort activated a red alert in my mind. My panic started to change its colours, turning into anger. “Well...yes and no.”
I leaned forward and looked him in the eyes. “You either make a mistake, or you don’t. There’s no in between and no half- measures.” My voice sounded more threatening than I intended, but it didn’t matter. If he had made a mistake, he would pay a high price for it.
His nervousness grew. No one liked to be threatened by a military man on Cardassia—such things meant trouble. I despised abusing my armour that way, I despised people who did that, but this was different...this was about my wife and my child! If the cost of their health and safety was despising myself, then I considered it a low price to pay. “Glinn Karama, I did not make any mistakes the last time. I did all in my power to help your wife and both she and your daughter are healthy.”
His answer was confusing. “So why do you say ‘yes’?”
“Because we hadn’t detected the tiny fractures in your wife’s uterus. Had we detected them, I’d advised against another pregnancy. However, it was impossible to notice them without knowing what we were looking for,” he added quickly.
I looked at Amrita. She sat motionlessly, with her hands placed protectively around her rounded, protruding stomach. I could tell she was scared. When she had had Chumi six years ago, it had been hell for her—an exhausting and difficult time, filled with pain and worry. She never complained about it, though, and never talked about it. She believed it was worth it and our daughter was the best prize she could get for her sacrifice: the healthy, happy girl brightened our every day.
But today was not a bright day. I looked back at the medic. “The day after tomorrow?” I asked, returning to the main subject of the conversation.
The medic opened his mouth to answer, but Amrita was faster.
She said the world quietly, but with such a force that both Borin and I were silent for a long moment.
“Kara Karama, did you not understand what I said?” the medic asked, addressing her by her military rank. “Do you not understand the risks?”
“I understood that you want to take him out and put into an incubator. I understood that it is dangerous and that while there is a small risk of his dying, there is also a huge possibility of complications in his development, resulting in physical or mental disability—or both—because the baby is not yet strong enough and grown enough for such a transfer to be completely safe. Believe me, Medic, I understood perfectly. And there’s no way I’d allow you to do anything that would harm my boy.”
“Amrita...” I whispered. “He said you would die if we don’t do this.”
She looked at me and I saw hot fury in her eyes. “Then I’ll die! But before that Tarin will keep growing where the nature designed him to: in the safest and best place—right here, under my heart!” Tears shone in her eyes. “And I’ll fight everyone who will try to change that.”
I looked at the medic. “Isn’t there a way to prolong her pregnancy until it’s safe to transfer the baby to an incubator?” I asked.
“Glinn Karama, the failure can happen any moment, either tomorrow or in two months. I cannot say. But I am sure that it will happen.”
“I want a second opinion,” Amrita growled.
“I have consulted many—”
“No. I want to ask someone who isn’t your colleague,” she barked, interrupting him. “I want someone who thinks differently.” I almost heard ‘someone who cares’ in her voice.
Borin looked at me. “Glinn, the longer she postpones the surgery, the more dangerous it is for her.”
“But the better for the baby,” she insisted. Reluctantly, the medic nodded. She looked at me again. “I want a second opinion,” she repeated.
But we were under care of the best medic on Cardassia! How could someone less experienced help? “All right,” I agreed. Maybe hearing the diagnoses from another mouth would help her and we could proceed with the operation.
“I will be ready for you,” Borin said, rising from his chair.
I helped Amrita up and we headed for the door. She left without a word, but I turned and said, “I’m sorry, Medic Borin. I didn’t mean to come off as...such a threat. I just...”
He gave me a sad smile. “I understand, Glinn Karama. This is very difficult and stressful for you, for both of you. Your reaction is completely natural.” He paused. “I hope you can convince your wife that this is the right thing to do.”
After I left the medic’s office, I saw Amrita sitting on a chair in the waiting room. She looked exhausted and I wondered if it was the bad news, or the baby was causing another case of waves of pain.
The chairs on both her sides were occupied, so I approached her and lowered myself to my knees in front of her. A woman to her left started to rise to let me sit in her place, but I shook my head. Glinn or no glinn, there was no reason why a visibly pregnant woman should give way to a healthy, strong man. Comfort of her and her baby were more important than heaviness of my armour...or my rank.
I took my wife’s hand. “Dayita
, are you in pain? Do you want me to arrange a direct beam out?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m fine.” She lied. She was all but fine. “I’ll manage,” she added, knowing that I wouldn’t buy the first reply. “Let’s go home.” She rose and leaned on my arm.
The next days were filled with my attempts of convincing my wife to agree to the surgery, interwoven with conversations with various medics. Neither had brought any positive results. Amrita was ready to sacrifice her life to deliver a healthy child and the medics...Their reactions varied from ‘if Borin says that’s how it should be, then that’s how it should be’ to ‘who even allowed a human to get pregnant with a Cardassian!’ That was not helpful, considering that my wife was struggling with an edging-on-pain discomfort at the same time.
Amrita even accused me
of not caring for the baby.
Of course I cared! I’d kill to protect them! But if I had a choice between having a wife and a disabled son, and a healthy son and no wife, I’d take the first option any time. What kind of choice was that anyway! Of course one always chooses to have his family whole, whatever it might be like!
I thought I understood her way of thinking—she didn’t want to come off as an egoist, who risked her child’s health for her own comfort. As a human, she would be harshly judged by the Cardassian society; her ability for the great, sacred sacrifice
would be judged. Oh, I do respect our deepest need of putting the good of others before our own, but sometimes we overuse that notion. Sacrifice this, sacrifice that. Well, I don’t want my wife to sacrifice her life for my son, for our son. I wanted to have them both and I knew I’d love him even if he weren’t perfect. Amrita’s gods were the witnesses that I
was not perfect myself, so how could I expect that from anyone else? For me, though, my children were
Of course I wanted my son to be healthy and not suffer from any problems. Which parents wouldn’t?! But the price was too high; not only for me, but also for him. Chumi would barely remember her mother and Tarin wouldn’t even know her. No. No. No, no, no, no!
Was I selfish? Had it been a mistake to have another baby after the problems Amrita had experienced with Chumi? I always wanted a big family with at least five kids but now...now I knew Tarin was the last one. No more. No way. Hours spent in various clinics to finally hear the long-awaited news: you’re going to be parents. And then our happiness had been dimmed by what a human-Cardassian pregnancy involved: the size of the baby in comparison with the diminutive mother, the rough ridges and the scales in her delicate womb, the fast metabolism of a Cardassian pregnancy that was significantly shorter than a human childbearing...Amrita had refused any invasive actions and bravely spent most of the time in bed. When we had decided to have another child I’d asked her many times if she had been sure she wanted to go through all that all over again and her answer had been always the same: absolutely.
But now...Now the problems occurred to be much more serious, because the previous pregnancy left marks on her body and...and...it threatened her life
The thought of losing her was sending shivers down my spine. I couldn’t allow that. I wouldn’t
My gul’s office was always cluttered. This day was no different. I stood in the door and waited for him to invite me in. He raised his head and looked at me. “Aren’t you going off duty?” he asked.
“I am,” I confirmed nodding. “There is something...A private matter.”
He put the padd that he held on his desk and leaned back in his chair. “Come in.” He gestured to the other chair, inviting me to sit down.
I sat and shifted uncomfortably. I felt awful, coming to him with this request. I had never tried to use my position or my rank for any personal matters and certainly not my acquaintance with powerful people—Gul Brenok included—for any personal gains. But I was so desperate...
“Sir, I wondered if you haven’t heard about some really good medic, who is a specialist in...difficult pregnancies.”
His face was unreadable for a moment, but I could tell that it was forced, like he tried very hard to hide his true feelings. Did I cross the line? Was it inappropriate? Or did I anger him, because I had chosen to ask him and not someone else? He was under constant care of various medics due to his chronic health problems and perhaps he thought that I believed he knew all medics on Cardassia because of his mild disability. Did I draw attention to something that a subordinate should not think about—his gul’s less than perfect physical condition? All I wanted was to ask a man who knew a lot of people and had access to a lot of things; it had nothing to do with his own problems.
But maybe that was the issue—that I had just attempted to abuse our relationship and sought some kind of nepotism. He disliked such things and such acts belong to the group of ‘unforgivable’ in his book.
“I’m sorry, sir,” I said, rising. “That was a mistake. I’m sorry.” I hoped it wouldn’t end with a transfer. I didn’t want to lose my position and I didn’t want to leave his warship. Being the gul’s aide aboard the Cardassian flagship was one of my greatest career achievements and—
“Is Kapoor all right?” he asked quietly, interrupting my panicked thoughts. As most of people who knew her for a long time, he used my wife’s maiden name, not mine. “Is something wrong with her or the baby?”
I sat back—slumped into the chair, actually—and looked at him. Now I understood that his neutral facial expression had hidden worry about her, not anger with me—the worry that was now quite obvious in his voice. I said, “The situation is very serious. Delivering Chumi six years ago was difficult and it left lasting effects, which now affect her current pregnancy.”
“Cannot Medic Borin help?”
“He suggests transferring the baby to an incubator, but my wife doesn’t want to agree and we are seeking another option.”
“I am in contact with various neurologists,” he said thoughtfully, “but they are not what you’re looking for.” Gul Brenok suffered from nerves pains in his shoulder. “I will ask them if they know a specialist you need. I’ll get back to you as soon as I know something.”
The relief I felt was enormous. “Thank you, sir.” I rose. “I’m very sorry if I overstepped...”
“Karama, I understand that you’re trying to protect your family and take care of them. This is really not a problem. I hope I’ll be able to help.”
I left his office and headed for the transporter room to beam down to Cardassia and return home.
Medic Borin had been kind enough to lend the office to Medic Juval, who had come to Cardassia from Toppon colony just to talk to us. He had had only one condition: he wanted to be present during our conversation. I didn’t know if he wanted to control the other medic, or if he wanted to offer professional explanations to questions she might have about Amrita’s medical record. I was grateful, however, that in spite of everything he was still willing to help, even if it meant lending his office to ‘competition.’
Medic Juval was reading the padd that contained Amrita’s full medical record.
She rubbed her nose and looked at us. “I could try to stitch the fractures,” she said. Seeing our confused looks, she added, “Kara Karama is a very small person even for a human and the baby is of an average Cardassian size, which means it’s much too big to fit in her. I can see that it was a problem during the first pregnancy, too.” She glanced at the padd and then back at us. “That’s what caused those fractures. Normally a woman’s womb stretches as the baby grows, but in this case it reached its...‘capacity’ and the damage occurred. Now, the growing baby is very likely to cause further damage. This means that the womb, instead of stretching, would start tearing. This would cause internal bleeding and by the time we realised that, it could be too late to help.” In other words: Amrita would die. “What we would have to do is not let the fractures tear any further.” She looked at Borin. “I have not performed such an operation on a womb, but I did on other organs and with some success. They weren’t subjected to constant stretching, though.” Her eyes returned to our faces. “This would be a temporary solution, but it might
prolong the safety of the mother until the baby is ready to be transferred to an incubator without complications to his development.”
“The other problem is the antibodies.” She sighed. “There are several treatments we could try, but it’s all temporary, too. Cardassian and human blood cells are not compatible and while a hybrid’s genetic pattern implements elements of both, Cardassian DNA prevails and dominates. This pregnancy causes the mother’s blood to produce more antibodies to fight the ‘parasite’ in her womb, as most of the body doesn’t recognise this baby as its foetus.”
“What are the risks for the baby?” Amrita asked.
“The risks are yours, Kara Karama,” Juval answered. “You can bleed to death and your blood can get cluttered with antibodies you don’t need. That can lead even to some dangerous blood cell mutations.”
“The baby?” Amrita reiterated impatiently.
“The baby’s risks are significantly lower.”
“What are the chances of it working until it’s safe to transfer the baby?” I asked.
Juval shook her head. “This is all theory, so it would be more of an experiment. I know Medic Borin is very reluctant to follow this, but he has promised to help, should you decide to go with it.”
I looked at the other medic and he smiled at me. I wouldn’t be able to find the words to thank him for his help and unconditional support.
“We’ll go with it,” Amrita said.
I looked at her. “Shouldn’t we discuss it first?” I asked a bit surprised.
She put her small hand on mine. “Tavor, there’s nothing to discuss.”
“I would like to point out one more time that this solution would leave lasting results for your future,” Juval said slowly. “The damage done to your organs would mean that this is your last baby.”
I turned to the medic. “This is our last baby, no matter what. I’m not a medic, but my guess is that the next pregnancy would kill her.”
She nodded. “That is a good point.” She looked at Amrita. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.” She said with firm dignity. “Do everything you can to protect my boy.”
Juval turned to Borin. He consulted his padd and then looked up at us. “Don’t leave the clinic. We will start tonight.”
I felt a drop on my hand. Surprised, I glanced down to look at my palm, wondering where such a drop of water could come from—and the tears that had pooled in my eye ridges flew freely down, wetting my sleeve...
Since the transfer of Tarin into the incubator, Amrita had practically lived in the clinic. At first she had stayed because she needed to recuperate after the operation. After that she had refused to return home and spent days and nights by the incubator. The only thing that could draw her away was Chumi. Each time the girl had demanded to hold her baby brother, which made Amrita very happy, although I think that Chumi had thought Tarin was a big, moving doll and the girl wanted to play with him.
Those had been difficult months, but today...today was a special day. Today was the first day that Tarin was strong enough to leave the incubator and be...held
. Gul Brenok let me off duty a bit earlier, so I rushed to the clinic. I knew my bother would take Chumi to witness this big moment, too, so I didn’t have to make a stop at home.
I literally stormed into the room where Tarin and Amrita had spent the last two months. My eyes went directly to the incubator—the empty
incubator—and then I looked at others in the room.
“I’m sorry, Tavor, I just couldn’t wait,” Amrita said, cradling the tiny boy in her arms. Chumi sat next to her on the bed and counted the boy’s toes, while Tasar stood next to the window with his arms crossed on his chest.
He smiled at me. “I didn’t touch him; not before you. But I want to be next after you.”
I laughed. Not at my older brother’s words. It was a nervous laugh of relief—the stress, the fear, the worry; they all left my heart with that laugh.
I went to sit next to my wife.
“Hi, Daddy,” Chumi grinned. “He has ten toes, like me,” she announced.
“Hello, Sweetheart. I hope you’ll help him learn to count his toes.”
Amrita didn’t say anything. She looked at me and her face was like the sun—it beamed with light, warmth and life. I didn’t dare to ask her to surrender the boy to let me hold him; I couldn’t ask her that. She waited for such a long time to be able to touch him, to wrap her arms around his fragile body and feel his tiny scales rubbing her delicate skin.
She stretched her arms, handing me the bundle. “Be gentle,” she said. “He’s still very small.”
I took him; I took my son in my arms for the first time and it reminded me a very similar moment six years ago—with my sweet little girl.