کتاب 01 - فصل 02

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: پسر / فصل 2

کتاب 01 - فصل 02

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  • زمان مطالعه 10 دقیقه
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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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Two

They clustered around her. She could hear them, when her mind was able to focus through the surging intermittent pain. They were talking urgently to each other. Something was wrong.

Again and again they checked her with their instruments, metallic and cold. A cuff on her arm was inflated, and someone pressed a metal disk there, at her elbow. Then a different device against her stretched and shaking belly. She gasped as another convulsive pain ripped through her. Her hands were tied on either side of the bed. She was unable to move.

Was it supposed to be like this? She tried to ask but her voice was too weak—mumbly and scared—and no one heard.

“Help me,” she whimpered. But their attention, she sensed, was not on her, not really. They were worried about the Product. Their hands and tools were on her taut middle. It had been hours, now, since all this began, the first twinge, then the rhythmic, hardening pain, and later, the buckling on of the mask.

“Put her out. We’ll have to go in for it.” It was a commanding voice, clearly someone in charge. “Quickly.” There was a startling urgency to it.

“Breathe deeply,” they ordered her, shoving something rubbery up under the mask, holding it to her mouth and nose. She did. She had no choice. She would have suffocated otherwise. She inhaled something with an unpleasantly sweet scent, and immediately the pain subsided, her thoughts subsided, her being drifted away. Her last sensation was the awareness, pain-free, of something cutting into her belly. Carving her.

She emerged to a new, different pain, no longer the throbbing agony but now a broad, deep ache. She felt freed, and realized that her wrists were unshackled. She was still on the bed, covered with a warm blanket. Metal rails had been lifted with a clanking sound, so she was protected on either side. The room was empty now. No attendants or technicians, no equipment. Only Claire, alone. She turned tentatively, assessing the emptiness of the room with her eyes, and then tried to lift her head but was forced back by the pain the attempt caused. She couldn’t look down at her own body but carefully moved her hands to rest there on what had been her own taut, swollen belly. It was flat now, bandaged, and very sore. The Product was what they had carved out of her.

And she missed it. She was suffused with a desperate feeling of loss.

“You’ve been decertified.”

Three weeks had passed. She had recuperated in the Birthing Unit for the first week, tended and checked—pampered a bit, actually, she realized. But there was an awkwardness to everything. There with her were other young women, recovering, so there was pleasant conversation, a few jokes about being slender again. Their bodies, hers as well, were massaged each morning, and their gentle exercise was supervised by the staff. Her recuperation was slower, though, than the others’, for she had been left with a wound and they had not.

After the first week they were moved to an interim place, where they amused themselves with talk and games before returning two weeks later to the large, familiar group of Vessels. Back they went, to the Dormitory, greeting old friends—many of them larger in size now, their bellies growing as they waited—and taking their places again in the group. They all looked alike, in their shapeless, smocklike dresses, with their identical haircuts; but personalities distinguished them. Nadia was funny, making a joke of everything; Miriam very solemn and shy; Suzanne was organized and efficient.

As Vessels returned following Production, there was surprisingly little talk of the Task. “How did it go?” someone would ask, and the reply would be a nonchalant shrug, and “All right. Fairly easy.” Or a wry “Not too bad,” with a face indicating that it had not been pleasant.

“Good to have you back.”

“Thanks. How were things here while I was gone?”

“The same. Two new Vessels, just arrived. And Nancy’s gone.”

“What did she get?”

“Farm.”

“Good. She wanted that.”

It was casual talk, inconsequential. Nancy had delivered her third Product not long before. After the third, the Vessels were reassigned. Farm. Clothing Factory. Food Delivery.

Claire remembered that Nancy had hoped for Farm. She liked the outdoors, and a particular friend of hers had been assigned Farm some months before; she hoped to spend the next part of her working life in the company of someone she enjoyed. Claire felt happy for her.

But she was apprehensive about her own future. Although her memory was hazy, she knew that something had gone wrong at her own Production. It was clear that no one else had ended up with a wound. She had tried, somewhat shyly, to ask the others, those who had produced more than once. But they seemed shocked and confused by her questions.

“Is your belly still sore?” Claire whispered to Miriam, who had been in the recuperation place with her.

“Sore? No,” Miriam had replied. They were sitting beside each other at breakfast.

“Mine is, just where the scar is. When I press on it,” Claire explained, touching her hand gently to the place.

“Scar?” Miriam made a face. “I don’t have a scar.” She turned away and joined another conversation.

Claire tried again, carefully asking a few other Vessels. But no one had a scar. No one had a wound. After a while, her own ache subsided, and she tried to ignore the uneasy awareness that something had gone very wrong.

Then she was called in. “Claire,” the voice from the speaker announced at midday while the Vessels were eating, “please report to the office immediately after lunch.”

Flustered, Claire looked around. Across the table was Elissa, a special friend. They had been selected the same year, both Twelves at the same time, and so she had known Elissa through her school years. But Elissa was newer here; she had not been inseminated as soon as Claire. Now she was in the early stages of her first Production.

“What’s that about?” Elissa asked her when they heard the directive.

“I don’t know.”

“Did you do something wrong?”

Claire frowned. “I don’t think so. Maybe I forgot to fold my laundry.”

“They wouldn’t call you in for that, would they?”

“I don’t think so. It’s so minor.”

“Well,” Elissa said, beginning to stack her empty dishes, “you’ll find out soon enough. It’s probably nothing. See you later!” She left Claire still sitting at the table.

But it was not nothing. Claire stood facing them in dismay as the committee told her of their decision. She had been decertified.

“Gather your things,” they told her. “You’ll be moved this afternoon.”

“Why?” she asked. “Was it because . . . well, I could tell that something went wrong, but I . . .”

They were kind, solicitous. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“What wasn’t my fault?” she asked, aware that she shouldn’t press them but unable to stop herself. “If you could just explain . . . ?”

The committee head shrugged. “These things happen. A physical problem. It should have been detected sooner. You should not have been inseminated. Who was your first Examiner?” he asked.

“I don’t remember her name.”

“Well, we’ll find out. Let’s hope it was her first error, so that she will have another chance.”

They dismissed her then, but she turned at the door because she could not leave without asking.

“My Product?”

He looked at her dismissively, then relented. He turned to another committee member near him at the table and nodded to the papers in front of her, directing her to look up the information.

“What number was it?” the woman asked him, but he ignored the question. “Well,” she said, “I’ll check by name. You’re—Claire?”

As if they didn’t know. They had summoned her here by name. But she nodded.

She moved her finger down a page. “Yes. Here you are. Claire: Product number Thirty-six. Oh yes, I see the notations about the difficulties.”

She looked up. Claire touched her own belly, remembering.

The woman returned the paper to the pile and tapped the edges of the stack to make it tidy. “He’s fine,” she said.

The committee head glared at her.

“It.” She corrected herself. “I meant that it’s fine. The medical difficulties didn’t affect it.

“You’ll be fine too, Claire,” she added, affably.

“Where am I going?” Claire asked. Suddenly she was frightened. They hadn’t yet said she was being reassigned. Just decertified. So she would no longer be a Birthmother. That made sense. Her body had not performed that function well. But what if—? What if decertified people were simply released? The way failures often were?

But their reply was reassuring. “Fish Hatchery,” the committee head told her. “You’re being moved there. They need help; they’re short of workers. Your training will start in the morning. You’ll have to catch up. Luckily you have a quick mind.” He dismissed her now with a wave of his hand, and Claire went back to the Dormitory to gather her few things. It was rest time. The other Vessels were all napping, the doors to their cubicle-like rooms closed.

He, she thought as she packed the few personal items that she had. It was a he. I produced a baby boy. I had a son. The feeling of loss overwhelmed her again.

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