As Doctor had promised, the medication and eating of numerous small snacks during the days had helped her out greatly with the dreaded episodes of morning sickness. Now into her second trimester she had encountered her second surprise.
"So it's suppose to be all bulgy like that?" She prodded at her middle that had gone from a small curious swell to a prominent bump on her middle that rose beneath her navel.
"Yes Natalie, for the 127th time. And it will get larger." Peter commented as he measured the dimensions of her growing uterus using a sonic probe. "The two fetuses will continue to grow, along with increases with placental mass, amniotic fluid and other assorted mechanism."
Natalie reached over to the nearby attending robot that was carrying a tray of assorted fruits and some bread. Her finger danced over the selection before plucking strawberry up. She smelled the sweet fruit and savored the scent before taking a slow bite out of the strawberry. That was another side effect that she hadn't been informed about, cravings. "Mmph." she crooned with pleasure closing her eyes.
"Heightened nutritional needs often manifest themselves in intense subconscious demands for certain minerals and vitamins." Peter informed noting her her pleasure.
"Yeah, whatever, it's delicious." She corralled the juicy runoff of fruit that had dribbled from the corner of her mouth back in and licked her finger with satisfaction.
"Everything is progressing nicely, your offspring are in excellent health."
Natalie nodded and hopped down from the table, wobbling a bit at her still unaccustomed changes in physiology. She lowered her shirt over her middle and smoothed the fabric of the shirt over the surface of her belly frowning a bit. "So bigger huh?"
"How much bigger?"
"Larger." Peter said transmitting his evaluation back to the doctor and his hive of attendant digital assistants.
"Yeah, how much so? Twice as big?" Natalie eyeballed Peter who gathered up his instruments.
"More so." Peter placed his tools into a waiting delivery robot who was assigned to return the medical instruments back to storage till their next use.
"More, what, three times?" Natalie followed after Peter who had started to walk out after sending the smaller cargobot away.
Not looking back Peter tried to deflect the question as protocol dictated: don't upset the patient. "It's hard to estimate." He increased his pace but to his frustration Natalie kept up. Much faster and she'd become suspicious that he was evading, if she wasn't already.
"What four times? Hey, stop!" Natalie huffed behind him and grabbed him by the arm.
His programing failed him, she had issued a direct command and was of legal age to be obeyed. "Yes."
"Yes what? Four times bigger?" She looked down and held her hand out to where she estimated that would be. "That big?"
"I reasonable estimate." Peter answered as simply as he could.
"You're hiding something." Natalie eyed him suspiciously. When the quick thinking robot didn't immediately respond she knew her instinct was right. "How big am I going to get?"
Again, phrased as it was, he couldn't not answer or otherwise circumvent the order. "As I said, it's hard to estimate."
"Fine then," she searched for a phrase Barney had introduced her to. "Ballpark it."
Peter would have sighed had he had the lungs to do so. "Dependent on a number of factors, the mother's body fat index, bodily dimensions, muscle tone..."
"Stopstopstop!" Natalie stammered in frustration. She held her hand before her belly and started pulling it away slowly. "Tell me when to stop by your best estimation."
Peter featureless face blankly looked at her as her hand pulled away. Her face starting from mild annoyance started to slide to surprise and then amazement.
"You...you did hear what I said right?" She said, still inching her hand away which was now about a foot from where her belly currently was.
Her hand still drifted ahead and she felt a cold sweat on her forehead. "Y-y-ou're going to tell me to stop when I get there right?"
Natalie looked down to where her hand was and gulped, she was having to lean forward to go further
Natalie looked down in horror. "That's impossible."
"The human body is an amazingly adaptive construct." Peter helpfully offered.
"How?! You have got to be kidding me! Tell me you’re joking!"
"Oh thank goodness...." she felt a wave or relief that suddenly went into a cold chill. "Wait, are you just saying that because I told you to?"
Natalie's mouth dropped and she let Peter go who took the opportunity to extradite himself from the situation. She covered her mouth in horror as she looked down in disbelief and Peter almost made it out before she recovered. "How am I going to walk like that!"
"We'll build you a conveyance." Peter called back as he mentally planned the schematics to reengineer the door to cycle faster.
"YOU'RE NOT HELPING!!!"
As promised, her body did adapt as her belly swelled with the two unborn occupants. "It's not so bad." She remarked to no one in particular as she sat in the park warming herself in the sun as some music Otis called techno played softly from the digital player beside her lounger. She pulled the color selection from her palette and shifted the blues to better match the sky and applied. Her enlarged belly did have the nice benefit as acting as a nice brace to prop the device against as she painted the landscape outside the compound. "They could have warned me though, those sneaks." she only grumbled with half sincerity. She started feeling a pang of hunger and thought it out. "Banana? No...apple...no...not strawberry." It had become amusing her to figure out what exactly she wanted. It was getting strange, she often herself wanting some strange amalgamation of her usual treats and on one occasion had out of curiosity licked Puppy’s head to her pet’s confusion.
Not feeling greatly hungry she ignored the impulse for the time being till it became more clear. She turned her attention back to her painting trying to decide how to portray the drifting rays passing through the ancient buildings that in the distance. "Abstract? Realism? Perhaps a bit of neo impressionism?" she had settled on a look and lay the strokes down when a jiggle caused her to put a squiggle in the otherwise straight line. She furrowed her brow with some mild annoyance and undid the line, starting over. She was almost complete when there was a more pronounced bounce that skewed her mark. She looked curiously then looked around. "Is one of the big haulers moving something?" She looked over to the glass of fruit juice beside her but there were no ripples in the cup. She then felt something curious and looked back to the board to see it wiggle on it's own accord where it leaned against her belly.
She gulped nervously and withdrew her hand to let the board stay unsupported and felt a twinge inside her belly that corresponded to the boards movement. She frowned with worry and moved the board aside looking at the fabric of the form fitting one piece general utility body suit she wore and stared at the surface of her round belly. She held her breath in anticipation then fidgeted nervously as she saw a small portion of the surface briefly bulge out and return to normal. She dropped her board and chewed on a nail nervously as she stared. What new terror was going to be unleashed today?
With the morning sickness incident and her more recent episode with her discovery of how large she would potentially be getting, she had come to realize that not everything constituted a medical emergency. But when she felt another series of ticklish sensations in other parts of her belly she swallowed her pride and activated the communicator on her collar. "Um...Otis?"
"Yes Natalie, how is your outing?"
Natalie repressed a shriek as she felt a small pinch beneath her ribs. "Oh fine, fine."
"You sound distressed, is there something wrong?"
"I, uh, I'm not sure." Natalie squirmed as she saw a portion on the left side of her belly briefly rise and fall on its own accord a tiny bit. "I'm just, um...how do I put this..."
"Natalie, is there something wrong?"
"Well, I don't know if this is normal. I think something is loose." She prodded the portion that had risen and withdrew her finger when something pushed back barely perceptible. She closed her eyes shut tight and stammer. "In my belly, something is tumbling around in there."
"Remain calm, I've already vectored help to your location. Please describe what you're feeling."
Natalie visibly relaxed knowing there was help on the way. "I feel this funny fluttering sensation, sometimes a little bump will press out on my midsection where I feel that." She lay her hand flat atop an area that seemed to be the focus of activity. She eeked and jumped her hand away when she felt something move beneath it.
"Does it hurt?"
"A little, well, not really. Feels like a little pinch."
"Otis, Natalie, pardon the interruption, this is Doctor. Natalie, do not be alarmed, what you're experience is harmless and completely expected."
"What is it?" Natalie tried to recoil from herself as she felt a flutter of activity.
"The fetus are moving, it is normal behavior referred to as 'kicking' though it isn't always movement of a lower extremity. It's an instinctual reaction to stimulus and widely held a part of the gestation process in which the unborn child, or children in this case, exercise motor function and a reaction to the building of the neural pathways. It is a sign of good health."
"So everything is fine?" She put her hand back and didn't pull away this time when she felt the kick beneath her palm. "How long does this last?" she sighed, knowing what the answer was going to be.
"If the fetuses maintain good health, it will continue sporadically through pregnancy and even intensify in frequency and strength through birth."
Natalie rolled her eyes and drummed her fingers atop her middle. "Well of course it will. Thanks Doctor, thanks Otis, sorry to bother you."
"It's no trouble Natalie."
"Yes, this why we are here." Otis added. "No matter how trivial you think the matter is, please do not hesitate for a moment with any concern or question."
"Thanks guys." She didn't know why but she suddenly felt a mixture of sadness and happiness at the same time. She'd had a number of strange swings in moods do to fluctuation in hormonal levels but this was different. Cutting the connection she let the tear roll down her eye even as she smiled. What was it? She looked to her belly and lay her hand atop it, running them over the surface as she felt the fetuses inside kick and push feebly.
She felt her babies, not fetuses. She let out a soft laughed and cried with a happy tears. It was such a strange feeling but it felt good. A strange feeling of connection and possessiveness. She pressed her hands against her belly firmly till she felt something denser that fluttered.
"Hi guys." she sniffed up a tear and smiled. "I'm your mother..."
Time passed and Natalie was constantly astonished every time she saw herself in a reflective surface. Every day she was shocked on how big her belly had grown and that it couldn't get bigger then the next day she was again shocked to feel that it was even bigger. Today she was setting off on a day of work, stripping down a section of ruined city that was salvaged for parts a few weeks before and returning it to wilderness. The robots had spent most of the time they've had in the time before they had found Natalie only occasionally going into the ancient ruined cities for useful components but it was Natalie that suggested that if they served no purpose they should be torn down. In their place, carefully managed forest and gardens would be laid out with most of the facilities of the robots largely laid underground with the occasional spire or bunker that showed here or there as exit points. The robots seemed somewhat shocked at the suggestion, as much as they got shocked about anything, but agreed with Natalie when the point was made that they served no purpose and would just become a bigger hazard over time as they further deteriorated.
Natalie sat in the bubble topped control post of one of the larger automated transports that served as the hub for the salvage work where she could get a good first hand view of the work. Ahead of her in a large fan, hundreds of drones swarmed through the buildings searching for materials that would be useful and marking them for the second wave of laborers who stripped and cataloged the materials. They would ferry everything back to the building sized robot she rode in and behind her for several miles another small army of robots would tear the structures down and move the materials back to the main base for reprocessing or disposal. She enjoyed these expeditions as it allowed her to explore the life of the humans that lived back in that time. She did know and understand that she lived in a city much like this one during that time but she had very little in the way of memories. Occasionally she'd get blurry images of hundreds of indistinct shapes that she knew were human but nothing concrete. She felt a kick within her belly and patted it, giving the spot a gentle rub as she thought outloud.
"Yeah, I know you're there." She smiled down to her middle. "You two are going to be the first people I'm going to have seen, well at least in anything other than a dream." She wondered on that. What would they be like? She had been told that they would depend on her for everything, not that the robots wouldn't help, but they insisted that she was their primary caretaker. Humans raising humans was a great objective in their plans. While they did, in her opinion, do a great job in raising her they seemed to not think so. From what they told her she understood that human babies learn everything from their parents. It was only because she had gone through the first couple of years with her actual parents that she had learned expressions, gestures and proper speaking.
Thinking on parents and babies brought a frown to her own face. Not for the first time she thought about her own parents. She couldn't remember what they looked like. She could only remember some vague feelings. Mommy and Daddy meant security, love, happiness...but they were just a disjointed set of emotions tied to those words. She figured that her mother probably looked like her, but what about her father? She became curious on that. She had seen only diagrams and computer generated representation of male and female humans but very little in the way of actual people.
"Thomas," she addressed the transport, "Have the drones brought back any media? Pictures, movies, anything that's a visual record?" She thought for a moment and added, "Specifically personal effects?"
"There's been a number of things that have been sorted already Natalie. We've been passing through what was a residential district."
Natalie nodded and started the process of rocking up to her feet. "Okay, can you set those things aside? I heading down to the storage bay, I want to look at some of that."
"Of course. Anything in particular you want to examine?" There was a touch of curiosity in the large transports synthesized voice.
Natalie waddled to the lift and it started to lower down a couple of levels to where everything was stored. "No..well yes. Pictures of people, ordinary people." Real people was unspoken in her mind. The robots had surprisingly little data on actual images and video of typical human beings. Most of what they gathered was technical, and since Natalie's discovery years ago; medical. Very little was saved that was considered trivial information. To their thinking there was never really any purpose since it was of little practical use. It was only now with her pregnancy and faced with the reality that she would not be the only human that she had even thought on the subject.
Arriving at the cargo levels she waddled over to where a group of drones flitted back and forth laying a random assortment of items on the table. They were mostly small flat rectangular boxes that looked alot like her own digital slate. She thanked the insect like drones who chirped and continued to lay things out on other tables. Looking over the spread she reached down and picked up a random slate. The power had long ran out on all the devices so she started the tedious process of plugging each in turn to a console to see if the data contained was readable. Most of the images were too badly corrupted from time but eventually she gasped silently as she saw a group of humans standing together, looking towards the long dead cameraman. She looked at each carefully, following the curves of their faces as she felt on her own. There was a bewildering assortment of variations in their faces, heights and body shapes. She was able to identify which were male and female easily enough, and judged the younger ones to be the smaller. They stood and smiled in this frozen slice of time, packed closely together. She could see where there was a casual hand on another's shoulder, where one man had his arm around her shoulder. "A family?"
"I would suspect so." Answered Thomas.
Natalie's question was more rhetorical than anything else and she ignored the interruption. She downloaded the image to her own slate and continued. Each person she saw was a new curiosity. She had grown up among nothing but robots. While there were a vast assortment of body shapes amongst them, within a particular model there was no variation. Any one of a model looked exactly identical to the next. The only way that Natalie could tell them apart was by the adoption of any robot she met to a unique voice and the addition of an identification mark on their body where it would be visible to her. Some like her primary guardians, Otis, Peter and Barney, also had unique body language that they had co-opted but others like Thomas...while she knew that entire vehicle was essentially one being, it was like talking to thin air when she rode inside. A strange disembodied voice that simply was everywhere. But humans? She flicked through the pictures as she found them. Each was a being like herself. It was a strange sensation. A bizarre contrast to what she was used to. What would her own children look like?
She had lost time flicking through the pictures, finding some video files that were not too horribly corrupted. She was going through those when something gave her a nervous cold feeling. She stopped the video and started it again, staring.
He was a male. His hair was a sandy blond and his eyes were blue. He had a casual smile. She couldn't tell what he was saying as the audio portion had become unreadable but he seemed to be speaking to the operator of the camera. He gave a crooked smile and nodded, his eyes twinkling.
Natalie felt her knees weaken and realized she was holding her breath. Her hand went to her heart which was pounding. A flash of heat and cold went up her spine and she realize suddenly she was blushing. She stopped the video and caught her breath. What was happening? She fanned herself with her slate. "Thomas, can you turn the temperature down a couple degrees in here, I'm getting kind of hot."
"Of course." There was a whir of air as he complied.
Natalie turned towards the vent letting the cold air flow across her face. She held the side of her belly where she felt a stirring then eyed the screen out of the corner of her eye. She didn't know why but she couldn't stop thinking about it. She turned back and let the video start playing again, watching the man on the screen speak silently. Her mouth had parted slightly and she took small shallow breaths. It was then when she noticed that the man wasn't wearing a shirt, in fact, it seemed that he wasn't wearing anything at all. She felt a sudden wave of embarrassment that almost made her stop the video altogether but she hesitated before the control. The man leaned forward towards the camera and she saw that the operator had turned it aside. What was happening? It returned back after a moment and tilted down, revealing...
Natalie slapped the stop button repeatedly, stopping and turning off the video feed as she panted. She wanted to hide but there wasn't anywhere to go. She had seen the anatomy of both male and female humans, she was familiar with all the pieces, but something about seeing it on the video. "What's wrong with me?"
"I'm sorry, what was that Natalie?" Thomas asked helpfully.
"NOTHING!!!" She had forgotten that the robot's presence was everywhere riding around inside its structure like she was. "I just...hormonal...pregnancy stuff." She stammered, moving the file off the original device and onto the pad.
"Do you require assistance? Should I summon help?"
"NO! I mean, no thank you." She clutched her pad to her chest, her heart still pounding in her ears. She wiped the original record, though she didn't know why, and removed it from Thomas' temporary memory cache also, leaving the one on her pad the only copy.
"Your heart rate is elevated and I've noticed changes in your blood flow in th~"
"I SAID IT WAS NOTHING!!!" Natalie yelled mortified. She'd notice 'changes in blood flow' also. "Just forget this all happened. I mean it, forget it!"
"Compliance." Thomas simply said as Natalie returned back to the observation dome with her pad pressed to her chest.
"Alright, yeah." Natalie settled back into her seat. "So status on this sector?"
"Salvage teams are 82.3% complete, deconstruction proceeds at pace." Thomas answered
"Great. Good." She couldn't stop thinking about the video on her pad and more importantly the reaction she had. "Thomas, I'd like you to turn off any sensors going into this room."
"I'm sorry Natalie, but I can't do that." There was even a touch of regret in his voice. "Safety protocols require that I not lose contact with you for any amount of time."
"Well, can you turn off the visual sensors?" She remembered the physiological reactions and amended. "Actually, can you turn off everything but audio?"
"It doesn't not violate protocol but~"
"Good, do it."
Natalie waited a hesitant moment then started the video again, settling into her seat. "Oh, and, ummm...could you make sure to transfer any other video or still image to a partitioned section of memory?"
"Can you just do it please?" Natalie said staring wide eyed at her slate while chewing a fingernail.
Natalie hummed happily and swung her feet where they dangled from the edge of the examination table. Her tunic was zipped open, exposing her tremendous belly which Peter studied dutifully. She was nearing the end of her pregnancy, so she'd been told, and the examinations were more frequent. She found it ironic as she had actually enjoyed the last couple of months immensely, talking to her babies frequently and playing games of 'kick me, poke you' with them. Sure, the kicking at times was a bit painful when they struck something delicate but it was a fair tradeoff for the knowledge that they were healthy. And where they healthy. The expert care, diet and balance of rest and exercise had equated with her future babies being, as Barney put it, 'bruisers.' She wasn't quite sure what that meant but it sounded ominous.
"In perfect health, of course." Peter declared in a happy tone.
"Yay." Natalie cheered with some measure of sarcasm.
"Yes, 'yay'. You may close your shirt."
Natalie smiled and did so, patting her middle before sliding down off the table with Peter's assistance. "So how much longer?"
"A few days. Maybe two weeks. It's hard to tell with multiple births and with this being your first. You've exceeded what would be normal for an average twin pregnancy."
Natalie looked down and back to Peter. "That's good right?"
"Yes. To a point, the longer they have to grow in your womb the better off they'll be. With no medical reason to induce labor early, we'd prefer to let the pregnancy run its course. Unless you have an objection."
Natalie shrugged, cradling her belly. "Nah, if they want to hang in there longer, let them. It has been hard getting around though." It had been increasingly difficult to perform everyday tasks. Not only were her babies in the size range that would be expected for a singleton, she was also small for her young woman her age and rather petite. Her belly was absurdly out of proportion to her, though she had no real way of knowing that, figuring this was normal. "So what's next?" She asked Peter.
"Well, given the impending birth, I'd like to have you view a presentation I've prepared with Doctor's help." He turned and led her through the door to the auditorium down the hall. "We found some archival footage that is relevant including a documented birth."
"Really?" Natalie was surprised. "That must have been recent. I've found nothing involving actual people."
"Yes, we scoured through some newly acquired data. We felt that getting a first hand accounting by actual people would be helpful in preparing you for the event." He opened the door to the auditorium, allowing her to enter first. "It took us some time to recover the material and clean up the sections which had become corrupted but we're pleased by the overall presentation."
Natalie nodded and took a seat near the front. She was delighted as a drone buzzed in carrying an assorted tray of snacks. She clapped her hands excitedly and took some cut cheese and crackers. It seemed she was always hungry nowadays.
"Ready?" Peter asked from the podium behind her.
"Hyup!" Natalie said around a mouthful of crackers.
The lights went dim and the wall before her glowed slightly. There was a jump of lights and a video began.
"Pregnancy and you!" Peter's voice narrated making Natalie giggle.
The image spooled up showing a man sitting beside a bed with a woman resting on it. Another woman came in wearing what Natalie recognized as a medical uniform carrying a small bundle with a small face in it. Natalie sat up and pointed. "Is that a baby!?" she asked.
Peter nodded behind her, "Yes, this is their baby, just after delivery."
The couple took the offered bundle and the camera zoomed in. The parents cooed and stroke the small squinched face in the blue wrappings. Natalie's eyes watered and she put her hands to her cheek. "AAwwww!" She crooned with a dreamy tone.
"Yes, 'aw', a very good reaction." He was pleased, there was some worry that Natalie would not respond as they expected when actually seeing a baby for the first time.
"It's so tiny! Look at its little hands!" She bubbled happily as she watched the man put his finger in the baby's hand, who gripped it.
"He. This particular child is a boy."
"How can you tell?" Natalie cocked her head to one side.
"The color of the blanket. Okay, here's some parts we've gone over before." The picture transitioned and she saw the woman standing. Starting from a state of appearing non-pregnant she slowly morphed bigger as information and a computer generated image of the developing baby showed up on a side panel.
"As if it were that fast." Natalie said drumming her fingers atop of her middle.
The image then jumped to a scene in a hospital. The woman was in the bed with sweat on her forehead with the man beside her holding her hand.
"Ah, this is the important bits. This is the actual birth starting with the woman having gone through the beginning stages of labor and has began the actual birthing process.
Natalie was fascinated and paid close attention. "Peter...she seems to be...in pain?"
"Well yes. The constriction of the muscles lining the uterus can be quite painful."
Natalie gulped, not liking where this was going. "I thought there were medications to alleviate the pain?" She flinched as she saw the woman grit her teeth and fold in the middle, the veins of her neck bulging out as her face turned red."
"Yes...well...they've been administered at this point."
Natalie turned in her seat and looked up at Peter. "That's with pain killers?!?"
"Oh look, here's the actual birth." Peter deflected.
Natalie stared at the impassive reflective white of Peter's face. She narrowed her eyes at him and turned back around at her seat folding her hands. Looking back up at the screen the angry look in her face started to change to a confused one. "What am I looking at?" She peered at it, trying to interpret. She was looking at the woman from to the right of the doctor who was attending. Her legs were spread and there was something there. Suddenly Natalie made a disgusted face as she realized what she was looking at then became curious as she saw something was happening. Something started to appear that the medical personnel became very excited about. It started getting larger and the woman looked to be in higher distress. There were fluid and a face emerged. A tiny, shriveled, goo covered face...
"OH NO!" Natalie screamed.
"Natalie?" Peter asked
"OH NO!!" Natalie writhed in her chair unable to take her eyes off the screen.
"I'd like to take this moment to assure you that this is a perfect normal biological process..."
"NONONONONO!!!!" Natalie was now standing on the chair with her legs crossed.
"...that has been performed since the beginning of humankind, in fact by all placental animals."
"No! Forget it!" Natalie waved her hands at Peter. "I'm not doing this, no way!" She hopped off her seat and waddle briskly away.
"Now Natalie, it's a little late for that now." He explained turning to follow Natalie as she moved as quickly as she could out the door. "There really isn't any alternatives."
Natalie raced in her uneven gait out into the hallway and just started walking in any direction. She gripped her belly and looked around in a panic like there was an exit to the nightmare she found herself in.
"Natalie please." Peter calmly said following. "There's no need to be alarmed."
Natalie spun on her heels and pointed back to the auditorium. "Where you not watching what I was watching?!?"
"Well of course, as I said, I had a large part in the-"
"HOW IS THAT GOING TO FIT THROUGH THERE!?!" she yelled in his face interrupting him.
"The human body-"
"-is a remarkably adaptive mechanism" she finished for him, "Yeah, you mentioned that." She gripped Peter by his shoulders and shook. "You've got to do something! You got to...to..."
"To what? I've told you there's no turning back." Peter explained calmly while being shaken.
She let him go abruptly and looked around for help that wasn't coming. "There's got to be another way!"
"I assure you, no harm will come to you or your babies."
"Is that what her doctor told her?!?!? Did you see the look on her face!?! I've got to do that TWICE!" She pleaded desperately, "There's got to be another way, how can they possibly fit..." she gulped unable to finish the sentence.
She jumped back to Peter, gripping his shoulders again. "Well? What!? There's another way! You know another way!"
"Well yes, but..."
"Let's do that, what is it?!?" Natalie was ecstatic, at last there seemed some way around the assured torture that was awaiting her.
"It's a procedure called a 'Cesarean Section.'"
"Alright, now we're talking, Cesarean Section, sounds great. What is it?"
"An incision is made along the abdominal cavity through the subcutaneous fat layers, abdominal muscle wall and the uterine muscles. Then the baby, or in this case babies, are extracted through the opening.”
Natalie thought for a second translating the terms in her head. "Wait, you cut my stomach open and yank them out?!?!"
"Well no, not the stomach, the uter-" Peter began to correct
"You cut me open and yank them out?!?!" She held her head. "How is that better!?!"
Peter shrugged, "You asked me for alternatives, I gave you an alternative."
Natalie went quiet then started sniffing as a tear rolled down her cheek.
"Oh now Natalie, everything is going to be fine."
She shook her head sadly, her eyes watering.
"Of course it will. Countless of generations of humans all over the world have done this for thousands and thousands of years." He put his arm around her shoulder and walked her back to the auditorium. "Please, let's finish the video."
Natalie nodded numbly and complied, taking her seat. She twisted and winced in her seat, watching between spread fingers as she covered her eyes, unwanting to witness more of the catastrophe unfolding on the viewscreen and unable to look away. She felt ready to vomit when the child came out then noticed something odd. "She's smiling...."
"Yes, please keep watching." Peter hoped that perhaps his charge was starting to see the point.
"She's smiling?" Natalie watched as the baby was extracted with wet gush of wrongly colored liquids. The mother started crying with happiness and her and the father shared a kiss. The doctors cleaned the baby and wrapped him up, giving the child to the parents. They both wept and cradled their baby. Natalie felt herself wrapped up in the moment, holding her belly as she also started crying at the birth of a new family.
"Are you alright Natalie?" Peter asked gently.
"Yeah..." Natalie wiped her eyes, watching the parents dote on their newborn son. "I guess."
"I don't know what pain is, I know that it is an intensely uncomfortable experience." Peter walked around to the front of the auditorium, standing backlit by the screen. He pointed up at the parents. "I can recognize that this is not a pleasant ordeal, but as you can plainly see, it has left them filled with joy." He came to Natalie, kneeling before her and placing one plastic and steel hand atop of hers which were wrapped around her middle. "It is going to be the most difficult event in your life, but I think that the reward of the effort will exceed that pain and nullify it. You will have two children of your own to raise, to mold, to show the joys of living. You will find bliss in this that will overcome the temporary pain of this act of creation."
Natalie sniffed and wiped her eyes. She smiled at Peter and leaned forward, hugging her lifelong companion. "Thank you Peter."
"We exist to do nothing more than to see to your happiness. We will do all we can to help you in this."
"I know, thank you, all of you." Natalie felt grateful as she never had. They were not human, they didn't feel emotions like she did but they did care to her and held her to be the most important thing existed in the entire world. They would not fail her. She hugged him for a moment then opened her eyes, looking at the screen behind Peter. "Wait, what's happening now?" The woman was still on the bed, her offspring being attended to by some other medical personnel. She was again grunting and her face, still showing exhaustion was twisting again with new effort.
"Ah. This would be the afterbirth." Peter said looking behind him. "We'll see here the placenta being expelled from the uterus."
"Expelled, what do....EEEWWWW!!!!!" Natalie screamed covering her eyes.
It was late at night. Natalie fidgeted in her sleep. Despite being very tired in her advanced stage of pregnancy she could not find rest. She turned from her side to her back then grumbled as she lost her breath with the weight of her middle pressing down into her rib cage. Twisting to her opposite side she breathed easier only to find her left arm that was crooked below her had fallen asleep. She twisted in bed with legs scissored and half twisted, the weight of her belly laying on on the bed and was finally starting to drift off when she felt something odd. She peeked her eye open and explored the sensation then scrambled out of the bed.
"Aw, gross." she frowned throwing the covers back and flipping the lights. There was a large damp spot on the bed and she felt something wet running down her leg. "Eeeewwww!" She reached in the bathroom and started dabbing the water off. There was a certain level of embarrassment she felt atop the frustration of being jarringly woken up out of what was finally restful sleep. She muttered, chastising herself for having urinated in her bed but it was no big surprise with all the unexpected annoyances she'd had during her pregnancy. She was a bit surprised at the amount then noticed that there wasn't any smell. Well, at least it didn't smell right. She brought the towel up to her nose then felt revolted as she realized what she was doing. She did examine it close enough to know it wasn't urine.
She shrugged and pulled the bed sheets off with difficulty and tried to put new ones on but she was having too much trouble trying to get the corners down in her state. Though the robots would be glad and not complain to do the work she didn't want to involve them in doing this as she already felt ashamed enough by whatever weirdness was happening now. She finally gave up and just spread the covers as well as she could on the bed and slid in between the covers, deciding to have another go of doing it correctly in the morning.
Laying her head down she found sleep came quickly, she quickly drifted off to slumber. She dreamed of the video she had seen a few weeks before showing the woman giving birth and frowned in her sleep. She was in pain, she observed through her mind's eye and found herself empathizing with the woman, feeling the stress and agony that showed in the woman's face. She soon felt herself as that woman, sharing in her pain till she became her. A great tightness around her middle then radiating bands of pain show through and along her sides. She grimaced and moaned in her sleep, face twisted in worry and pain at the experience. It passed momentarily to only come again, intense enough that she woke back up. She flicked her eyes open and pounded the pillow beside her head unhappily, complaining to herself at the lack of peace. Pouting she closed her eyes again, determined to force herself back to sleep. Her eyes pinched shut for a moment she concentrated on relaxing when her eyes shot open. Her eyes diverted down then she shot up in bed gripping her middle.
"OWOWOWOWOWOWOW!!" She stammered closing her eyes shut and holding her belly with both hands. The pain was profound and she could barely get her breath. Puppy looked up at her and cocked her head to one side from her bed, eyes lighting up to provide soft illumination in the room. Natalie breathed quickly and shallowly, hissing out between breath. She looked nervously around. This wasn't simple kicking which while sometimes uncomfortable she generally liked. After a few moments it passed and she was able to relax.
"What was that?" She asked to no one in particular though Puppy stood from her bed and wagged her tail hopefully. Natalie massaged her middle and took a deep breath, waiting to see if the pain returned. Nothing happened so she carefully lowered herself back down. Perhaps she had pulled a muscle in her sleep or turned the wrong way. She was starting to drift off again, Puppy deciding that nothing was going on involving her, when sometime later she felt the same stinging pain again.
"YEOW!" She called out, her hands again on her middle. She gritted her teeth and sat through it and again after a few minutes it went away. After all the false alarms she has had during her pregnancy, the morning sickness and the like, she was hesitant to call Doctor on what was assuredly going to be just some other random event that the robots had so carelessly neglected to tell her but she was tired and wanted sleep. "Place Call, Doctor." she said aloud and was greeted with a chime as her command processed.
"Yes Natalie, is there something wrong?"
She rubbed her middle where the pain was subsiding, "Sorry to bother you like this, I've been getting a pain and can't sleep." She yawned, sliding up against the headboard and leaning back, fatigue wearing down on her as she started to fall asleep again.
"Oh? What sort of pain?"
She looked down, resting her hands atop her middle. "Pain in my stomach. Well guess womb area really. Hurts a lot. Feels like I got a 'charlie horse'." That phrase always confused her. Who was Charlie and what did muscle pain have to do with equistrian animals?
"I see. How many times?"
Natalie thought for a moment. "Twice for sure, but I think maybe a third one when I was still sleeping. That might have been a dream."
"Frequency and duration?"
She puzzled at the unseen voice, somewhat aggravated. "I don't know, 5 minutes long? I think 15 minutes apart. I don't know." She grumbled and frowned. "I just want to get some sleep, can you give me something for it?"
"I'm afraid not Natalie."
"Of course not." she muttered under her breath
"Have you noticed anything else unusual? Any discharge of fluids."
She reclined up and looked towards the ceiling which were generally where the acoustics made Doctor's voice come from. "Yeah actually, how'd you know?"
"Natalie, please remain calm. It's time."
Confused she scrunched her brow and looked over to the digital display on the time. "4:23?"
"No, no, I mean it's time for your babies to arrive."
She blew out a derisive snort, clapping her hands against her huge belly. "You're telling me? I haven't seen my feet in months, I'm hungry all the time and can't get around at all." She sighed, continuing to complain, "Everything aches, they keep kicking around when I'm trying to sleep, my breast hurt..."
"No Natalie, I mean the babies are ready to be born right now." He emphasised the 'now'. "You're in labor."
"...my shoes don't fit, not that I can get them on without fifteen minutes of effort, I lose my breath trying to get across...the......room?" It suddenly hit her and a cold chill swept through her. "What?" she asked dumbly.
"You are in the beginning stages of labor. I apologize but I just ran a scan and confirmed it. The babies will be born very soon. The watery discharge you experienced was the amniotic fluid escaping from your uterus. The pain is contractions. It is time."
Natalie eeped and struggled out of bed. She felt a panic ensue as she looked around the room desperately. "WhatdoIdowhatdoIdo!?!" she begged. Puppy shot up from her bed and started barking and jumping around Natalie thinking it was dancing time.
"Firstly, I repeat, REMAIN CALM." The forcefulness of the voice sat Natalie down on the edge of the bed. "Transport has already been dispatched and is arriving. Medical robots are already with me in the operating theater and Otis, Barney and Peter have been alerted and are on their way. Everything is going to be okay."
"Okay." a frightened Natalie echoed, chewing on her nails. "Nanny?"
"I'm here Natalie. I am on my way to your quarters. I'll be there shortly."
"K..." Natalie sat quietly in the dark, waiting for help. Puppy sat at her feet whining. She patted the bed beside her and scooped up Puppy when she hopped up, squeezing her tightly enough to elicit a whine. "Hurry please?" she asked simply.
On the automated gurney Natalie whizzed down the hallway, a host of medical robots scanning and relaying information back to Doctor buzzed around her like an angry swarm of bees. Nanny coptered alongside her, dabbing the sweat on her forehead as Natalie felt another wave of pain begin. "OWOWOWOWOW!" she yelped.
"I'll take that as the beginning of another contraction." Nanny declared sardonically. "Remember your breathing exercises. Deep breath, exhale in short rhythmic pants....short rhythmic pants Natalie. That's' neither short nor rhythmic."
Natalie gasped for air and curled up on the bed, making random noises in pain.
"You have not been practicing your breathing." Nanny chastised her, tutting in displeasure.
"Breathing....stupid!" she hissed between gasp.
"You were always a rebellious child. If you would simply have followed the courses I laid out-"
"STOP LECTURING ME!!!" She screamed at Nanny who paused in midair letting the gurney and attending robots get ahead of her. She sped up her rotors and caught back up.
"Natalie! We mustn't be so rude. Manners are the-SQUAk!" Nanny buzzed angrily, dodging in the thrown pillow. "Well, I never..." Nanny held her manipulators in fist to her mid section, elbows jutting to the side and tsked, picking the pillow from the floor. She dusted it off and sped along after the gurney. "Pain is no excuse for ill-manners young lady!"
Arriving in the operating theater Natalie felt relief at the giant boom arm that was Doctor. Her savior, able to make the pain go away, would surely end this horrible event quickly. "Doctor!" she called out in joy.
"Hello Natalie. I've received your medical updates. Everything is going perfectly."
Natalie felt a wave of relief and slid over to the operating bed with the assistance of the gurneys manipulators. "Good, good." She laid back and waited as Doctor remained motionless besides the buzzing of optic clusters and other sensor uncomfortably focused on her nether regions. "Um...well?"
She grasped for words. "You know...do it?"
"Do your thing. Get this done." She sputtered. "You know, get the babies...out or whatever."
"Yes." Doctor remained motionless.
"What?" Natalie said sitting up. One of the manipulators eased her back down. "Why not?" she whined.
"This is only the onset of labor. It may be hours before the actual delivery."
"HOURS?!?" The manipulator arm strained to get her back into a laying condition
"yes, upwards of 48 was not terribly uncommon for first time mothers."
"TWO DAYS!?!" Natalie spit with rage. She shoved the manipulator away and stood up on the gurney, waggling her finger at the enormous collection of medical devices before her. "You know, I've had it up to here with you guys’ little surprises! You never told me this!" she started listing things off on her fingers, occasionally swatting away the manipulator away as it tried to get her back down. "You never told me about morning sickness, you never told me I'd start crying for no reason, you never told me that my butt was going to get big." She pointed down to her middle. "You never told me I'd be bigger laying down than standing up!"
"That's a patent exaggeration. Your girth in circumference is under your height...barely." Doctor corrected.
"WHATEVER!" She yelled, turning a second to swat the manipulator arm away repeatedly till it retreated into its bay. "You didn't tell me that I'd have to squeeze something as big as my head out of...there...TWICE!" she held up two fingers to punctuate her statement. "And all that gooey mess!!! And now you're telling me this might take up to..." She was interrupted as her robot trio of primary caretakers came in.
Otis, Barney and Peter came into the theater, Peter carrying a fabric representation of a young ursine in his hands. They paused upon seeing Natalie in mid rant against the medical robot ten times her size. "Is there a problem?" Otis asked nonchalantly.
Natalie spun and pointed at the three with hate in her eyes. "YOU DID THIS TO ME!!!!"
The three each took an identical step back and each in turn looked at the other.
"She is angry." Otis remarked.
"Quite so. I believe she holds us responsible for her discomfort personally." Barney postulated.
"I concur." Peter agreed. "Best course of action?"
"Withdrawal?" Otis offered.
And the three spun on their heels and left the room.
A few minutes later Doctor's voice spoke to the trio plus Nanny who were waiting outside. "You can return inside, she's calmed down and wishes to see you all."
The three looked at each other and then to Nanny.
"Oh very well." Nanny said with annoyance, taking the lead back inside.
They cautiously reentered the chamber.
"HEY GUYS!" Natalie called out happily waving as she leaned up on her elbows. "Come'on in."
The three had a quick wireless round of debate deciding this was some sort of trick than continued in. Nanny came over to her side first.
"Oh Nanny, I love you!" Natalie reached out and drew the bewildered robot into a hug. "Peterotisbarney, c'mere guys! I love you too!"
The three complied and accepted her group hug.
"Her eyes are dilated and she's slurring her words." Peter observed.
"Her behavior is radically different from just moments earlier." Otis puzzled.
"Ah. She's ‘high as a kite’." Barney realized.
The other two and Nanny turned to him for an explanation. Doctor explained.
"I stimulated the endorphin producing centers of her brain to reduce pain and stress. She was quite agitated as you witnessed."
The gathered robots turned and watched as Natalie blew a raspberry tracing a line around the curves of her belly.
"I may have overstimulated them a bit."
"Otis! Otis!" Natalie whispered loudly. She pointed to his face plate. "You look just like me but all stretched funny."
"That would be your reflection Natalie." he turned back to Doctor as Natalie giggled inanely to herself. "Is she damaged?"
"No, her levels of endorphins will level out in a moment. I miscalculated her tolerance levels. She'll be fine."
Natalie reached out towards doctor. "It's like a tree full of blinky lights!" She opened and closed her hands to illustrate. "Blinkblink, blinkblink."
"There was a possibility that she would injure herself or her babies with her as angry as she was. I scanned the medical files and decided on doses of medication that were used to alleviate the pain of childbirth." They paused watching Natalie lick the back of her hand then make a face of displeasure at the taste. "She seems much more relaxed. Besides, her constant bickering was...I believe the term was 'getting on my nerves'. Is that correct Barney?"
As Doctor had said, Natalie's false sense of euphoria did taper off and was leveled to a point where she could better cope with the contractions that manifested every so often. Surrounded by her friends she relaxed and spent the time between contractions finding ways to entertain herself. After tearing up the playing cards in a fit of anger they had turned to another game.
"Okay, ask." Natalie declared laying back down after surveying the room.
"Inorganic or organic?" Peter asked.
"Inorganic." She said rolling her eyes being the only organic thing in the room.
"Is it a primary color?" Otis inquired.
"Um...yes. Mostly yes." Natalie answered
"Is it larger than one cubic meter in volume."
"Um...going to say no."
"Is it symmetrical?" Barney asked on his turn
Peter looked up at doctor. "Is it a medical instrument which captures light in the visible light spectrum primarily as a secondary reference for avoidance of collision with objects around what it is attached to?"
"Yes." Natalie started to smile as she realized Peter probably had a guess.
"Ah, it's Doctor's tertiary multi-optic unit between the primary and secondary actuators." Peter declared triumphantly crossing his arms.
Natalie clapped, "Not bad. Kind of a leap getting there. How'd you get it?"
"Deductive reasoning. There's not a lot of things in your field of vision while on the table and we've covered just about everything else in the room. Plus Doctor was primarily designed by me. I decided that all the optics were going to be blue and that would be the only primary color on his chassis. And the tertiary unit is the only round one." He paused as he saw Natalie grimace. "Contraction?"
Natalie nodded, biting her lip. She panted and hissed out breath at Nanny's direction then relaxed again after a few minutes when the contraction subsided. "Dooooccctttooorrrr...." She whined.
"Yes Natalie, very soon now. Everyone, I'd like you to leave the room, we're going into the final phases."
The robots started leaving but Natalie grabbed Nanny by an manipulator arm. "Doctor can she stay please?"
"Of course. Everyone else, please leave."
The trio nodded and turned to leave. As they left, Barney turned. "Good luck Natalie."
She smiled nervously and waved.
"Do not be afraid Natalie. We will take care of you."
It was still over an hour before Doctor announced the birth of the second and third human in existence. All over the complex robots paused for a few seconds, an immeasurably long time for their processors to reflect on the moment and wirelessly transmit their best wishes before returning to their assignments.
Natalie, exhausted and worn, but with a joyful smile lay in the bed of the recovery room. Scooped into each arm she had a small bundle, one wrapped in pink, one in blue. Each had a tiny sleepy face, eyes shut against the lights of room. Peter, Otis, Barney and Nanny were clustered around the bed observing along with the omnipresent Doctor through his sensor links.
"Amazing." Peter said.
"Quite fruitious." Barney agreed.
"And more or less according to plan." Otis finished.
"Plan?" Nanny tsked. "A child is not a plan. Don't disagree with me before you even start." She waggled a finger as Otis began to move to talk. "We set the wheels in motion but these are Natalie's children and we won't forget that. No treating them like a project."
Natalie agreed silently, giving Nanny a warm look. She leaned her head down and sniffed deeply at the baby girl sleeping peacefully in the crook of her left arm. "Mmm, they smell so good."
"A positive response." Peter felt accomplishment buzz through his circuits.
"Have you considered names?" Nanny asked taking one of the babies so Natalie could sit up to feed the other.
"Yes." She stroked the cheek of the little girl at her bosom. "It wasn't easy coming up with names. I wanted their names to mean something special. This one..." she looked down to her daughter. "I thought I'd name Hope, since she, I'm guessing, is going to be one day having to take the same responsibility as I am and become a mother herself." She shrugged, "I thought it was pretty too."
The robots all nodded in agreement. "A fine choice Natalie. Hope." Otis said for the group.
"And what about your son?" Peter asked.
Natalie grinned looking up to her son being held by Nanny. "For him...well. I thought long and hard, and I thought it was fitting to name him after the robot that had found me in that hibernation tube. If it wasn't for him, the human race would have been gone forever and we wouldn't be discussing this."
The three robots looked at each other and stood more straight.
"Natalie, that's quite an honor." Otis said
Peter nodded in agreement, "Yes, I concur fully."
"It would be a tremendous privilege." Barney declared hopefully.
Natalie's eyes twinkled and she suppressed a smile. "Yes, so in honor of my rescuer and the one that made their very existence possible, I'm naming him..."
The three leaned forward in anticipation.
"...Observation Drone 1449533."
"I'm honored that you-"
"I hope that I can uphold-"
"I accept this weighty-"
"What?" all three chorused at once.
Natalie giggled and covered her mouth. "Seriously guys, kidding."