much of a hot potato
what I want." Mascha sighed breathlessly, her lank hair curling
slightly at her pale neck.
The small, fussy man in the gray disposable suit
wrung his hands where he sat at her bedside in a metal folding
chair. Beads of sweat guttered down his egg-shaped forehead, and
Mascha fancied she could see the shine of their fall behind the
thick lenses of his round-rimmed glasses like raindrops from behind
a windowpane. It was just the light from her EEG, she knew, and
the biofeedback monitor below it, but it was still and perfect
through the haze of meds, and her eyes tracked it like cameras.
His throat clicked as he spoke. "My dear, this
is ... not procedure."
"Listen." The tiny oval face glowed. "You're
under contract. And you know who my father is. This is exactly
what I want."
There was none of the spoiled brat in her tone,
however, which was even more vexing. She could have been reciting
a shopping list, but for the adamant column of steel down the
middle of her words, between the lines of the simple, flatly declarative
Her face glowed in the dark, all right. Glowed gray,
Morty Stein amended. He wished he had never taken this job. This
damn little slip of a convalescent with her red leopard-print
teddy bear was about to drag him tooth by tooth across and down
the jaws of every global media megalith between here and the ice
mines out past Pluto.
"I have a year and a half to live." Mascha
fiddled with the oxygen plug where it was clipped to the
septum of her nose, doing something to the tube to make it stop
occluding. "Ballpark. I don't care how you do it. I read
the brochure. You ..."
Morty nodded, hating life. He knew he should have
stayed in the Caymans one more week, let Bud or Dru have this
round, but how was he supposed to know?
"Your father paid us up front," he said.
"That's our policy. Anything that costs over one bill-over
cost, we eat the difference. Looks good when the United Way comes
by for our yearly write-up. But. Jesus, kid. Do you have any idea
what you're asking?"
"Yes." Her head gleamed dully in the stagnant
fluorescent light as she turned to look directly into
his eyes with those huge, piercing China blues.
She'd be hell on wheels if she lived to 18,
Morty thought, as he bit the inside of his cheek in self-flagellation.
"You guys will do the last-wish thing for any
minor child, you said in your happy little flyer. I'm 12."
Her jaw set. "I have a year and a half to live.
And I want to have a baby. "
Morty hoped his buddy Sam, the tard-bender down
at the Starlight Lounge on the ground floor, was happy, because
Morty knew one Jewish kid from the Bronx who was going to be throwing
Sam some heavy beer money in about two-point-six hours and counting
She cocked her head, and Morty saw her shark CEO
daddy staring out.
"Now you just show me where I sign."
her." Suzanne Boot glared down at him. "Splice her now,
splice her right, get Monsanto to handle the press, and do it
double-quick." She sighed wearily, brushing a long brown
ringlet out of her baby face. "The Catholics are going to
raise hell, but if we ram it through fast enough there's nothing
they can do."
Morty thought for sure that he was running a fever.
His ears were ringing in the still, circulated air of
her little office, and he had never been more uncomfortable in
his own skin. He fidgeted around in the chair that hung several
inches above the floor on its little magstrip, rocking back and
forth under his bony ass. He'd nearly sweated through the armpits
of that day's suit.
"Are you sure a splice would be the best thing?"
he asked. "Less margin for error if we just get a nice, anonymous
sperm donor from NIB, keep it on the down-low, ya know, and then
maybe." Her eyes were somewhere else, and she was chewing
on her lip. An airskiff went by the window, a big lorry job hauling
scrap tin for some private archaeologist who advertised in the
Yellow Pages. "Is it possible to buy full confidentiality?
'Cause, I mean, we really only need one night, then it'll be too
much of a hot potato."
Morty wiped the sweat out of his eyes and looked
"I've never heard you sound so cold-blooded,"
he heard himself say. "This isn't like you."
Suzanne shrugged. "Welcome to the non-profit
She hit the silent alarm on her desk, the one that
went off in the public relations department of the Make-a-Wish
Foundation. The button was so old it was hard to push. All 36
channels of the switchboard on her desk lit up right away, Morty
noticed. Kind of looked like a goyischer Christmas tree.
"I'll just be a minute." Morty speed-rapped,
bolting for the bathroom and holding his throat closed like a
freshman reaching critical mass at a fraternity kegger. Suzanne
shook her head.
The weekly papers of every major city worldwide
ran it as front-page news for six months. Mascha Llewellyn's hospital
ward, indeed, all of Reubens Memorial Children's Hospital, became
an armed camp by act of Congress. The Dalai Lama addressed the
UN and told the world to shut the fuck up and mind its own business.
The World President patted the kundun's bald head and told him
he was 86ed for life.
... holy night ...
Mascha had known the pain that would come, the theory
that looked so good on paper now made one more complication. She
was constantly monitored. Make-a-Wish nearly blew its grant every
quarter to insure that.
But she was somewhere else, drifting out toward
a full moon seen from her treehouse at age nine, curled up in
an army sleeping bag and watching Khalite interstel craft dancing
like fireflies at the
... all is calm ...
Her eyes were webbed with serene ice, and she took
to the vitamin IVs quite nicely.
The skin of her belly was constantly exfoliated,
rubbed down with cocoa butter by an old Polynesian nurse from
Co-Op City who sang to the slowly manifesting child within the
dying child on the bed. She sang an old song that sounded like
a skipping-rope chant, a thing of waves and laughter, "Ipo
a-ti ti-ya. Ipo a-TI ti-yaaa."
... all is bright ...
Mascha came back into herself less and less each
time. Her treehouse was a warm, safe womb to hide in while her
body expelled every jot of its fading life into the one it was
gestating. The sun and moon went round, the light changed in the
room, the people came and went talking not of Michaelangelo but
Malthus, Merton, Marcus Aurelius and every other dusty ethic in
Their voices were a radial blur of wind to Mascha
in the eye of that long newspaper tornado. She had her last wish,
and the strange region between Death and Waking was expelling
her out through its warm walls. They could not touch her now.
Mascha had made her peace after the first blackouts
and tests. She was surprisingly tough that way. Her mother said
she had been touched by the domovoy, the wee folk that bless houses
and charm lives. Her father could not be reached for comment.
... round yon virgin, mother and child ...
Even when she was awake, the white light kept blurring
the edges of her vision, white heat at her temples, voices quantum
levels beyond human harmonizing with the hoot of the wind in the
eaves of the maternity tower, the air promising snow. Dry lightning
licked the mountains beyond the smog.
... Holy Infant so tender and mild ...
The fluttering kicks seemed to have always been
there, as much a part of her as the reflexive gurgling of her
stomach a few moments before the old Hawaiian wise-woman re-hung
her IV, the cool feel of her mouth when they cleaned her teeth
and moistened her gums.
Once in a while, even outside herself, she could
feel Virginia, the old physical therapist, sitting her up, running
electrostim wands over the muscles, walking her around on a suspensor.
The midwives with their scans massaged her belly. The mechanoid
orderlies took care of the rest, and they were the gentlest of
... sleep in heavenly peace ...
The night of the first big blizzard, Mascha was
conscious of a break, a turning away, a timeless haze making the
light stay longer. It seemed to come and go in waves, like a thundercloud,
always there but gaining in intensity and then dropping off. She
counted between the booms, and her breathing synched up with the
In the streets outside the border of the hospital
campus, paparazzi waged bloody war with riot battalions. The shady
residential streets had become a battleground of CS and gasmasks,
flaming dumpsters and human chains. The Zenger Coalition was the
first to storm the barricades, waving a giant flag with the Constitution
silk-screened across its face.
One of them lived, minus a jaw, and became a U.S.
Senator thanks to a local direct-action policy of making neighborhoods
vote for the policemen that patrol them. The weeklies made that
one a deformed mascot, even after they found him with a hermaphro
hooker and two lungs full of amy-poppers.
Inside the hospital that night, though, everyone
from the kitchen to the rent-a-pigs were on full alert.
People on gurneys were strip-searched on the way into the ER.
But no one saw the male night nurse who had been
on call for four days prior, or knew what his girlfriend had gone
through at the hands of her father. His baby doll had killed herself
from post-partum following the abortion. The nurse was on work
release, having served several terms in jail on and off as a fall
guy for various activist groups, whoever was paying the most.
The nurse had a dissasociative personality disorder
and thought that he was Uriel, the Destroyer from the Old Testament.
The nurse had eaten more peyote in his day than Carlos Castaneda.
By age 30 the nurse should have been, by all rights, an object
lesson from Charles Darwin saying "Never fear ... this one
will die on its own."
But when the nurse ventilated Mascha's pale forehead,
he had gotten there just in time to see the cord cut. His pen
with the plastic bullet in the tip only had one blasting-cap on
it, and he was tragically clubbed to death by the police as he
protested his innocence out the back of his head. They had the
decency to take him out into the hall, though. They were still
on the clock.
Mascha's eyes were still, and closed. A peaceful
smile of relief relaxed her facial muscles that had tensed her
physiognomy into a full-head goblin mask in the last trimester.
The mechanoid orderly nearest the baby cleaned off the bloody,
bawling little boy whose head had only just begun to mold to a
round shape when it hit the air. The android knew its business,
and placed the infant to the breast of its still-warm mother just
long enough to digitize and record Mascha's heartbeat.
But the bullet wound had not spouted blood. Mascha
had been brain-dead for 10 minutes before the nurse burst in the
Training its index-finger mike down from the electrostim
that had kept her heart beating, the android copied the heartbeat.
The pale, shaking gyno behind it took a picture in the frame of
eyeglasses, a picture that wound up on the front of the American
Journal of Medicine.
In the cover picture (overlain by sender-address
stickers and ads for the new prescription drug of the week), on
the wall of the maternity suite behind Mascha's bed, a warm-colored
painting can be seen.
a magnifying glass, the picture is shown to be a Russian ikon
of the Madonna and Child.
The Vatican wrote angry editorials, the Southern
Baptists burned copies of the magazine and the American Pagan
Conclave just shrugged and gave out with the blinding flash of
the obvious: That the resemblance between the photograph and the
painting shown within that photograph was nothing short of indistinguishable.
... sleep in heavenly peace.