by Claire Gabriel
The last few times that Sarek had made his twice daily visit to his wife's room in the Science Academy's medical complex, she had asked him to hold her hand.
As always, he could not clearly understand the salutary effect this relatively innocuous physical contact seemed to have on Amanda's human emotions. But he knew that it made the mind-touch stronger, and was gratified that he was thereby enabled to ascertain at increasingly frequent intervals that her protracted confinement had not as yet depressed her unduly.
That holding her hand in his was somehow comforting to him was a thought that he did not care to dwell on.
"I've been here two months today," she said now, her faint smile belying her pallor and the great fatigue that so often of late made her eyes heavy. "That means I've broken T'Risl's record by fifty percent."
"Approximately"--he calculated rapidly-- "5l.05%. Your physician's 'record' for in utero gestation of a Vulcan/human fetus before transfer to the Artificial Gestation Unit was, up to this time, 42.5% of the mean of the normal gestation period for Vulcan and human fetuses. But you have, to date, carried the child for a time equal to 64.3% of the mean--."
"Sarek." She sighed a little, tapping her finger lightly on his wrist. "Don't. Please."
"As you wish," he said with resignation.
"I've carried this baby for six Earth months when T'Risl and all her tapes said I couldn't do it for more than four." He felt her pride, and his own pride in her rose to touch it, momentarily beyond his control. "I love you for that," she responded softly, and then went on quickly--before he could regret that she had once again perceived his emotions regarding her achievement. "We're sixty four"--she glanced at him briefly-- "point three percent of the way home, he and I, and I know we're going to make it now. I know it." But the effort of speech had taken its toll, and he could feel the weakness overtaking her now. "Sarek, don't let them take him until it's time. Whatever happens, promise you won't--."
"Sleep now, my wife." He rose from his chair at the side of the bed, trying to keep his eyes from the steady blue light on the newly installed Synthesizer monitor just across the bed from him. The monitor was electronically tuned to the Genetic Synthesizer implanted in the brachial artery in her left arm. "The Artificial Gestation Unit is in readiness should you--should anything unforeseen occur."
"But I don't want him in one of those things! The mortality rate is still fifty percent--."
"Fifty four point--."
"Amanda." He leaned over and touched her forehead lightly with his free hand, and immediately she quieted, although her eyes were still wide and frightened. "I shall not repeat the figure if that distresses you. But it applies only to occupants of the Units whose gestation in utero was between"--he hesitated, translating, resigned-- "approximately six 'weeks' and four 'months' in Earth measures. This--our child is much larger and stronger than that now, thanks to your determination and T'Risl's skill. All will be well." He glanced again at the monitor light, now looking larger and more eerily silver-blue as dusk filled the room. It had been there only half a day, and yet if he could have allowed himself to feel hate, he would have hated that light. "Sleep now. I wish to speak with T'Risl before she leaves for the day."
Slowly her fingers released his. "You haven't promised," she said quietly.
"Amanda, I cannot 'promise' to act in a given manner under circumstances which none of us can predict with certainty. It is--you are aware that it is--my wish--."
"I know you care about the baby as much as I do," she finished softly. "That should be enough for me, I suppose. But it isn't." She turned her head toward the darkening window, and for a moment he thought she would not continue and began to raise his hand, two fingers extended, in parting. Then she went on, her voice even softer than it had been. "I used to think that the only thing I really wanted was for me to mean as much to you as you do to me. But if my being that important to you means that you'd choose my life over his--."
He laid his already extended fingers on her lips, and she was silent, her eyes closed.
"Sleep now." He straightened, waiting, knowing that her overpowering fatigue would soon bring her the rest she so needed. Finally, satisfied that she was asleep, he turned away, firmly controlling the need to look once more at the steady, unwinking blue-silver of the Synthesizer monitor light.
He made a slight detour on his way to T'Risl's office--down an isolated, tiled, antiseptic corridor and past the small, carefully monitored laboratory where the three AGUs now in use were kept under constant surveillance. The wall of the laboratory that faced the corridor was completely transparent, for the entire staff of the Academy's medical department was vitally interested in the project. Times were changing, and with the speed and efficiency of interplanetary travel increasing geometrically, interplanetary marriages and their results were the sociological and scientific phenomenon of the day. And so the logical minds of the hospital staff accommodated, analyzing and studying the swiftly accumulating data on the hybrid products of Vulcan marriages to off-worlders. Vulcan/human hybrids were T'Risl's particular speciality, and there were three emerald green fetuses now in vitro in her laboratory--floating like malformed dream images of things to come in their three large transparent cylinders.
Sarek contemplated them dispassionately, his precise scientific mind noting details of development that had occurred since his last inspection several days before. At the same time, a highly unscientific though acutely retentive part of his Vulcan mind worried a puzzling bit of knowledge provided by his mind-link with his wife.
Amanda, he knew, thought of the three green fetuses as The Frogs--this only in a very deep portion of her mind that he was not sure she knew he had penetrated. He also knew that this apparently insulting nomenclature was perceived by her to be anything but derogatory. On the contrary, The Frogs appeared to him to be a term of endearment, carrying with it profound emotions of tenderness, even of love.
Interesting. But totally incomprehensible.
He sighed, turned away, and headed for T'Risl's office. But as he crossed the domed central waiting room, his wife's physician was just entering it, closing the door to her office as though she were in the process of leaving for the day.
"Ah, Sarek." T'Risl's beautiful but stoic countenance revealed no emotion as they exchanged greetings, but Sarek's strong perception that she had been awaiting him was corroborated when she motioned for him to sit down and then did so herself. "There is a probability of 36.8% that an almost unprecedented event will occur within the next few hours. I wish to make known to you the nature of this occurrence, since it may be necessary for you to come to a decision in a time period of relatively brief duration."
She continued impassively, and Sarek listened equally impassively as the sky continued to darken above the transparent dome. But his expressionless countenance effectively masked a growing sensation that a human male in similar circumstances would have readily identified as panic.
As a hybrid fetus in utero grew stronger and larger, T'Risl explained, the Genetic Synthesizer, now functioning as a highly-sophisticated blood filter, was gradually forced to work harder to maintain the necessary symbiosis between the iron-laden blood of the mother and the copper-based blood of a fetus whose genetic inheritance was predominantly Vulcan--as was the case with the male fetus Amanda now carried. However, all Synthesizers now extant had been designed for conditions prevailing during the first half of pregnancy--a small embryo, recently implanted and relatively weak. These conditions, T'Risl continued, no longer prevailed in Amanda's case, where the fetus had already developed in utero far beyond the usual time of transfer to the Artificial Gestation Unit. There was, therefore, a probability of 36.8%--and higher with each passing day--that Amanda's Synthesizer would overload and simply cease to function.
Sarek kept his mind clear, but with some difficulty. "It would seem, then, that the time is most propitious for transferring the child to an Artificial Gestation Unit." And slowly his panic began to dissolve into relief.
But T'Risl avoided his eyes. "There has been a new development," she said expressionlessly. And Sarek's short- lived relief died away to a mocking echo as she went on to explain.
She had received word only that morning that during the past several days, in two other hybrid obstetric centers on the planet, Synthesizer overloads had occurred in cases quite similar to Amanda's. In each case, an attempt had been made to transfer the fetus to an AGU, only to have it die a few hours later. "The available data are not conclusive," T'Risl finished. "But it would now appear that there is a probability of 94.6% that a viable fetus is unable to adapt successfully to an AGU."
"I--see." How often, he wondered, had he considered insisting that the child be transferred at the usual time--and failed to insist because he could not find a logical reason to do so. And now, because neither he nor T'Risl nor Amanda had been aware of all the variables in the situation, his son might die. "I should like you to specify," he said quietly, "what will occur should the Synthesizer cease to function."
He thought he knew the answer, and steeled himself to face the 38.6% and increasing probability of his son's death, and perhaps Amanda's as well. But instead, T'Risl's reply capitulated him into the worst dilemma he had ever been forced to solve alone.
In the two recent incidences of Synthesizer overload, the immediate effect on the fetus had been surprisingly minimal. In both cases, the attending physician had speculated on the basis of the meager data available, and the two had come independently to startlingly similar conclusions: the blood of even a predominantly Vulcan hybrid contained human elements, which elements appeared to sharply minimize the initial trauma due to the influx of human blood following upon the Synthesizer overload. The two mothers, on the other hand, had sustained considerable immediate trauma, and the ultimately unsuccessful attempts to transfer the fetuses had been made chiefly on that basis.
"It is my belief," T'Risl continued, "that these measures were premature."
"It is a fact, Sarek, that neither of my colleagues are as experienced in these matters as I am. Had I been attending their patients, I should have removed the malfunctioning Synthesizer and inserted another."
"The trauma to the child would be minimal. I would estimate your son's chances of surviving this procedure and the subsequent transfusion at 8.34 in 10--approximately the same as his chances of surviving the initial malfunction if the procedure I propose were accomplished within the hour."
"Could he survive without--Amanda?"
T'Risl frowned. "I do not--."
"If his mother dies," Sarek said quietly, "he would die, too, would he not?"
"The attending physicians in the other two cases have estimated that the two females would have had less than a 50% chance of survival by the end of the first hour after the malfunction, had the fetuses not been removed. However, this estimate was made without considering the alternative that I am presenting for your consideration." T'Risl frowned again, and for a moment Sarek thought he detected the first sign of personal concern that she had ever shown for a human patient. But that moment was very short indeed. "I calculate," she continued, calculating, "that there is a probability of only 42.6% that the female would survive the child's birth if the procedure I propose were to be accomplished successfully. However, I think it highly unlikely that she would die before the child ceases to have need of her. In any case, each day that we can preserve the status quo brings us one day closer to our goal--."
But Sarek had held up his hand for silence. For the first time in his life, he felt an overwhelming desire to strike another sentient in the face.
"The decision would be yours, since it is not likely that your wife would be conscious, should the Synthesizer malfunction. But it should not be made in haste. The female's chances, and the child's, would only remain as I have specified for a period of approximately one hour. However, since you now have the facts--."
Variables, he thought. Alternatives. "T'Risl, what are the alternatives to inserting another Synthesizer?"
T'Risl stared. "Surely you realize that there are no alternatives. If I did not insert another Synthesizer, both the female and the child would die within hours. The only 'alternative' would be to destroy the child in order to save your wife."
He knew that he was not thinking clearly. Somewhere, far back in the conversation, there had been an alternative. But he could not find it now, try as he would.
"How--." He cleared his throat. "How will it be made known to us--." He stopped again. The light. The silver-blue light, that he had wanted to hate. "How will the monitor register the malfunction, should it occur?"
"The light will immediately begin to flash--two point five seconds on, two point five seconds off. This warning will, of course, appear at Central Control and Section Control, in addition to the signal on the monitor itself. Your son's welfare is being carefully attended to, Sarek. You need have no concern."
"Indeed. I--am aware of your professional concern, T'Risl. It is most gratifying." Again he tried to force his thoughts into an orderly pattern, although the blue-silver light seemed to be flashing somewhere inside his skull. "To recapitulate, then: should the Synthesizer malfunction occur, and should you accomplish the procedure you contemplate attempting, there is a probability of 83.4% that the child would be born alive if no other unforeseen circumstances intervene. However, the chances of his mother's surviving his birth would only be 4.26 in 10." The memory of Amanda's pale face and her weary eyes came back to haunt him, and he silently revised T'Risl's estimate downwards. "The AGU," he continued woodenly, "is no longer an alternative, since the probability that a viable fetus could be transferred--." And he stopped once more, this time feeling something akin to an electric shock run along his nerves. And suddenly his mind was quite clear again.
"T'Risl, you have not specified the child's chances should he be delivered surgically."
"I do not understand you. Surgical delivery is mandatory. Under no circumstances would I permit such a pregnancy to terminate in a normal delivery."
"Not at term, T'Risl. Soon. Tonight, if necessary."
A stone cold pause. Then: "Are you suggesting--."
"I suggest nothing. I merely wish to consider all variables." This time.
"Very well." Tight-lipped, making a valiant attempt to control her disapproval: "Surgical delivery rather than the insertion of a new Synthesizer would reduce your son's chances of survival by"--a brief pause-- "22.94%. Under these conditions, such a premature infant would have approximately 6.25 chances 10 of survival."
"Half again as good as hers," Sarek said softly.
"Wh--I did not hear what you--."
"No matter." Sarek rose. "I am indeed gratified by your interest in this case, T'Risl. Should the necessity arise, I shall endeavor to cooperate by rendering my decision as quickly as possible."
He could not explain to himself why he did not return to his work in another part of the Academy, for he often worked late at night when Amanda was not at home. And he was intensely gratified that he was not at the moment required to explain it to anyone else.
It was now completely dark in his wife's room except for the steady, silver-blue light on the Synthesizer monitor. Amanda slept deeply, curled on her side, one arm stretched toward the monitor as though in supplication. Others too were watching the light--others more skilled than he. There was absolutely no logical reason for him to be sitting here in the dark with his eyes fixed on it.
And yet he remained, half meditating, but unwilling to permit his mind and his senses to turn completely inwards....
The light flickered, and Amanda stirred in her sleep.
He stared, uncomprehending. Two point five seconds on, two point five seconds off, T'Risl had said. But there had been no flashing--nothing noticeable enough to alert even the most conscientious attendant in Central or Sectional Control unless he or she had happened to be staring directly at the light when it flickered.
His eyes burned, but he dared not even blink.
Twenty seconds passed. Thirty. Forty. And then the silver-blue light flickered again. But this time Amanda did not stir.
All in one movement Sarek rose, activated the ceiling light above the bed and bent over his wife. She still lay on her side, but the movement he had heard at the initial flicker of the monitor had been the sound of her head turning on the pillow until her face was directly exposed to his intent gaze. Fast asleep. Exhausted. And so pale....
He stared, trying to control the panic.
Be sure. Examine. Think. Control. Be sure....
But he was sure, and had been the instant he looked down at her. It was more than palor now. Her skin seemed almost transparent, and what fleshtone she had was the finest, faintest shade of green.
He was unaware that his lips moved--unaware of whom it might have been who whispered "Enough" so softly that only he could hear it, and he barely. He was aware only that he pushed the call button twice, and quite firmly, before he turned again to look at the silver-blue monitor light that was still not flashing at all.
"The monitor," T'Risl said firmly, "has not been activated."
"Look at her."
"But the monitor--."
"Examine your patient, T'Risl."
She did so, tight lipped, and then turned to face patient's husband. "Sarek, your son has only a 65.2% chance of survival in an Oxygen Support Unit if we take him now."
"Amanda's chances," Sarek said carefully, "Approach 50% as we stand here discussing the matter."
"That is speculation only. Until the monitor is activated, we may assume that there is a probability of--."
"I do not wish," Sarek said even more carefully, "to discuss the capabilities of the Synthesizer monitor. Nor do I wish, at the moment, to calculate the probabilities that it too has malfunctioned. My wife--."
"But she is only a--," T'Risl began, and then stopped.
And because he was making a great effort to control any visible reaction to what his wife's physician had almost said, Sarek sincerely wondered why, for just an instant, he saw fear in T'Risl's eyes.
"Very well," she said stiffly, turning away. "But I do not follow your logic."
"It is not necessary that you follow my logic, T'Risl. It is necessary only that you follow my orders."
He remained in the room as his wife was prepared for surgery, noting with scientific detachment that T'Risl, whatever her attitude, was at peak efficiency and obviously in her element. As the sterile field with its attached Oxygen Support Unit was moved into place, Amanda finally opened her eyes, and T'Risl's crisp order for an air hypo was immediate. But the hypo was not produced quite quickly enough.
Amanda's eyes widened in terror. "No!" It was not quite a scream, for she was now far too weak. "Sarek--don't let them!" The hypo hissed against her shoulder. "If he dies, you--." And then silence.
Abruptly, Sarek decided that he did not wish to observe his son's untimely entry into life. But again he could not find a logical explanation for his reluctance.
He did not know how long he sat in the empty waiting room under the dome of stars, for he was still deep in meditation when he sensed T'Risl's approach. She waited patiently--as only a Vulcan would wait--silently, without moving a muscle, almost without breathing--until he had roused himself. Then she said with faint distain: "You may see your son now, Sarek--if you care to. He is--quite healthy, considering the circumstances."
"She is young and strong. Her condition is satisfactory, and improving." T'Risl went on to give the medical details of the total transfusion that Amanda had needed as soon as the child had been taken from her body, while Sarek wondered vaguely why he couldn't quite understand anything she said after the words 'satisfactory and improving.'
"Has she seen--the child?"
"Indeed. She was conscious for a time during the post-operative period."
As had been the case in Amanda's room, there was no humanoid attendant visibly on duty in the Oxygen Support Center. The dimly lit, electronically maintained incubator-like enclosures inlaid in the walls of the OSC were quite similar to--if a bit smaller than--those in the Center for Newborns just down the hall. But this room was much smaller than the newborn nursery, and the equipment considerably more sophisticated--particularly the individual temperature controls for each unit and the devices for handling and feeding the premature infants.
As Sarek was about to insert his identity card into the slot just below the observation window, he felt a sudden surge of an emotion that he instantly identified as fear. Controlling it, he dispassionately attempted to pinpoint its source, only to experience yet another onslaught even more difficult to control than the first.
He had seen few human newborns, but the image had nevertheless been indelibly imprinted on his emotions as well as on his memory. They were like bleating, helpless animals -- unable to focus their eyes or lift their heads, often hairless, and of varying hues of pinkish white that he found distressing to contemplate, even in retrospect. Vulcan newborns invariably came with a shock of matted black hair, and their skin, although not as lushly green as that of Amanda's Frogs, was pleasantly verdant. Their clear dark eyes were well able to focus on a parent's face, a light, or even a moving object at some little distance; they raised their heads steadily while supporting themselves on their arms, and often were able to voluntarily turn themselves from prone to supine a few hours after birth.
But his son--and Amanda's--was half human, and premature at that.
The worst of it was that there were not enough data available on premature hybrid newborns for him to be able to calculate what he might see when he inserted his card and the light in one of the Units grew brighter to identify and reveal his son.
But there was no logical reason to refuse the undertaking. And if he went in to see Amanda without first observing their son....
He partially inserted his card, frowning, his logical mind troubled because he could not remember the appropriate human idiom....
Hell to pay.
He shoved the card firmly into the slot and just as firmly turned his eyes to the Unit nearly on the right wall that immediately lit up. Hell to pay indeed....
He had only a fleeting impression that the dark head had been resting on the air mattress before the infant pushed himself up on his elbows, his eyes focusing on the panel of light that now illuminated his temporary haven. His pale green features were well formed and his expression alert, and Sarek was able to see one tiny, perfectly formed Vulcan ear as the baby struggled to keep his head up. It was quite unsteady, bobbing irregularly as might be expected of even a full Vulcan infant who was nearly three months premature. But the suddenly augmented light was obviously far too fascinating for the son of Sarek to permit himself to observe it with his chin on the mattress.
And so the bobbing little head with its untidy covering of straight dark hair continued to remain well up, even though its tiny owner was obviously hard put to keep it there. Finally, gripped with a very strong emotion that he could not have defined logically to save his life, Sarek removed his card and permitted the interior of his son's OSU to darken abruptly to a soft glow.
Obviously startled, the baby raised his tiny eyebrows and continued to stare for a moment at the dim panel before him. The head wobbled and then came to rest with the infant's face turned toward Sarek, who glimpsed the other ear just before it was hidden against the pad.
Hardly realizing what he was doing, Sarek raised his hand and moved it slowly back and forth before him. Immediately the infant's dark eyes focused on the moving hand, and then--when it was lowered--on Sarek himself. The eyelids were heavy now, but still the son of Sarek continued to observe his father, fighting sleep, almost as though he did not want to stop seeing what he saw, no matter what the reward.
Abruptly, Sarek experienced intense relief that he was alone. He was, he realized, in danger of giving an emotional display of disturbing proportions.
At first he thought that Amanda was asleep, for her eyes were closed and her breathing regular. The glaring ceiling light had been turned off, but another, in the wall above her bed, shed enough diffused luminosity for him to see as he bent over her that the faint tinge of green was completely gone from her skin.
Before he could altogether control the resulting flood of relief, she spoke, her voice cold and hard, as he had never heard it.
"We could have lost him, Sarek. He's still not completely out of danger."
"Indeed." Resigned, he pulled a chair close to the bed and sat down. It appeared, he reflected, that there would be hell to pay under any of the prevailing circumstances. "I should like you to listen--."
"No, I will not--."
"You," he said, barely raising his voice, "will listen, Amanda."
Silence. Eyes closed. But apparently quite herself.
He explained--precisely, clearly, in his best Vulcan manner--the logical, mathematically irrefutable grounds for his decision. After he had finished, she remained silent.
"Do you not understand?" he asked, genuinely taken aback.
"I understand," she replied, opening her eyes, "that you did what humans call 'playing the odds.' Except that you played the odds with life and death as the stakes. That I cannot understand. Our child--."
"My wife, were it possible that our positions had been reversed, would you have done otherwise?"
Horrified, he realized that for the first time in their life together he had deliberately used her emotions to obtain a desired result--to 'make a point,' as she would have said. But the damage was done.
"Oh, that's not fair!" Tears sprang to her eyes, and he realized that she was still very weak, much too weak to have any control at all, or for him to expect that of her. "What kind of logical argument is that? If I ever did anything like that to you--."
"No. No, don't look like that. Please." She seemed about to reach out to touch him, but forced herself to refrain. "It's all right. See--I'm not going to cry." Trying desperately to smile, she brushed the tears from her cheeks. "Please--don't you see, was a perfectly logical"--and then a real smile, and heartbreakingly relieved-- "analogy!"
"An analogy," he said with great difficulty, "is not always logical. An analogy is so structured as to permit dissimilar terms to appear to be--."
"But this--this was a perfect analogy." Her voice broke, but still her eyes clung to his. "And you knew that. That's why you--you just pointed that out to me, that's all."
"No, my wife," he said sadly. "That is not all."
"But that's all I remember--happening." Suddenly spent, she closed her eyes once more. "Oh, Sarek, I'm so tired."
Alarmed, he rose and bent over her.
"No, I'm all right. It's--please hold my hand until I go to sleep?"
It seemed to his watching eyes that she drifted off in seconds. But the contact of their hands permitted him to perceive that she was still conscious, if only barely so. So he was not too surprised when she spoke softly, almost dreamily.
"Did you see those ears?"
"Indeed," he answered, and then found that he was unable to go on.
He perceived that she was again thinking of The Frogs, and again with inexpressable tenderness. But almost asleep, she was unable to conceal her allusion, and did not seem to be trying. And so he well understood her last words before healing oblivion, barely audible though they were.
"And nobody's...even...kissed him."
He did not withdraw his hand until he was sure she was asleep. Then he rose silently and reached up to extinguish the dim light that shone above her bed.
And if, as his hand fell to his side in the darkness, his fingers gently brushed her cheek in passing, there were no watching eyes to observe it.