Bonds of Duty and Love

I’m very excited to share this snippet from my upcoming Ravages of Honor short story which will be released on April 7th (you can pre-order here) as part of Fantastic Hope, an anthology by Laurell K. Hamilton. I am thrilled to be part of this anthology because it brings you thirteen positive, uplifting stories (and don’t we all need those?).

Calyce Dobromil leaned forward, her hands planted solidly on her workstation lest her knees give out. The gleaming pearl-white walls of the gestation lab seemed to spin around her like a veil, or more fittingly, a shroud. It spun and spun, tightening, as she gasped for air. Her mind grabbed at the possibility that she might be asleep and would wake at any moment. But, the universe showed her no such mercy. It was perfectly clear in its ruthlessness, in the fact that she was indeed awake.

A message floated above her workstation like a cloud, all bright and golden and deceptive. It should have been a thunderhead, dark and malevolent.

Destruction and termination orders shouldn’t be so antiseptic, so mundane, so much like every other communique that came down once a day from the Ryhman Council. She closed her eyes and took three deep breaths. When she opened them, the order was still there: destroy everything related to creating the donai.  And floating underneath it, a scrolling list of the designations of each child under her care.

The oldest such child was twelve, a genetically engineered soldier whose nanites had just started turning him into his final donai form. Designated NT527, he was from one of their slow-growing—but most successful— batches and only two days shy of being sent off for formal military training.

The youngest were fertilized ova. Two-hundred-and-forty of them—among them, twenty females. And then there were the five gestation tanks in her lab, the youngest still a blastocyst, the oldest, just a few days past twelve-months gestation.

Calyce had given the last fifty years of her life to creating and raising the donai. And now the Council expected her to “terminate” them as if they were condemned prisoners. Even lab animals were “sacrificed.” 

She pushed away from the workstation and dragged her hand across each gestation tank, blinking back against the pressure building up between her eyes. There had been a few unfortunate donai that hadn’t developed properly. She’d mourned every one of them but taken solace in the ones that had survived and thrived, the ones she’d nurtured. And then she’d proudly sent them off to defend humankind, her duty done, her desire to nurture serving a higher purpose. 

The twelve-month-old floated in the amniotic fluid, sucking on his thumb. Dark, curly hair covered his scalp, framing the nubs at the tops of his ears, the vestigial points that would become more prominent as he reached adulthood. 

The tank had reported a case of the hiccups that had lasted twelve minutes, and a surge in heart-rate from a dream that had lasted twenty. No anomalies. His nanites were keeping pace with his growth. Six more months and she’d decant a healthy boy and they would bond as if they were mother and child. Bonding the donai to humans was essential. It made them want to defend their creators. It was as necessary as air, water, and food. It made donai loyal. It kept them sane. 

Calyce blinked back tears as she returned to her workstation, waved the termination order out of existence, and stuck her hands in her lab coat’s pockets.

Every morning, whether on duty or not, she was always the first in the lab, checking on her children. But soon the others would trickle in, and once they did, her moment of opportunity would be lost. She’d been here the longest and had seniority, but she didn’t dare count on the others. If she was wrong about any one of them, that one could stop her.

She tucked a fallen strand of gray hair behind her ear, took a deep breath, and passed her hand over the console controlling the tanks. The biometric scanner underneath her hand confirmed her identity. She programmed the workstation to flood the pods with a lethal dose of sedative in order to buy time. And walked away.

In the adjoining lab she opened up the safe with the fertilized ova, setting the tubes marked “female” into a specimen container. Twenty tubes marked “male” went into a second container. Small enough for her to carry easily, the containers would keep the ova from deteriorating for years if necessary. All she had to do was get them away from this place, far beyond the reaches of the Council.

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