by Rachel Ann Dryden
The wagon rumbled and crunched over the scupp shells in the sand. Each time
Ann and Edward felt one of them crack under the wheels they shuddered. The
hatching could begin at any time.
The two of them sat silent and tense on the hard wagon bench, their simple black
and white clothing a sharp contrast to the dun of the beach dunes and the purple
shells thrusting up through the sand all around them. Ann clutched her swollen
belly protectively, though she knew she would not be able to save the babe within
if the scupps hatched before the wagon reached the shelter of the cliff caves.
"We left too late," Edward said. It had become a litany of sorts.
"We'll make it," Ann replied, because they had to try.
Edward whipped the scaled backs of the placid undru pulling the wagon. Ann
could have told him it would do no good; the beasts were doing the best they
could already. He glared at Ann's belly before quickly looking away. His look
cut Ann to the core. He's wishing I wasn't here with him, slowing him down. He
wishes we had never tried to have this child.
"And if the babe comes early?" He was taking out his helplessness on her.
"I'm still glad we're having a child, Edward."
"I don't think you will be after we've been eaten alive by thousands of flying crab-things, shooting out of all of these scupp shells. Especially if we might not have
been eaten if you hadn't slowed us down with a premature labor."
"I'm not going to go into labor. Edward, why are you being so hateful?" If I'd
known you were like this when I met you, you wouldn't be the father of my baby.
"That should be obvious to the whole world, Ann. We're doomed out here, and
we're alone, and if you weren't pregnant none of this would be happening." His
arms gestured to include the horizon. Ann thought that he was pushing things a
bit. The hatching would happen whether she was pregnant or not.
"May I remind you that I didn't get pregnant all by myself?" She was getting
angry at his selfishness. "And that the main reason we came to Respite was so that
we could have freedoms denied to us on Earth - such as having children? That
used to matter to you, Edward."
"Freedom is no use if you're dead."
"I'd rather die free than live in the kind of bondage we were under on Earth. I'm
still glad I came."
"The scupps are glad too. You'll be a nice meal for them, I'm sure." His lips
tightened into a thin line. He didn't look at her. She stared at him, in shock that
he could be so uncaring. This place was changing him. And not for the better.
"That was completely uncalled for. You don't have to take your fear out on me."
"So now I'm a coward? I'd like to see the man who wouldn't be afraid in my
"That wasn't my point, Edward. I'm frightened as well. But tearing each other up
is not going to solve anything, or help us survive this. I haven't given up yet. But
I need you to not give up either."
Edward said nothing more, but his lips were still tight and he began to whip the
undru again. Normally Ann would defend the animals, but in this case it was
either her or them, and she was tired of Edward taking it out on her. Let the undru
have their turn. They had thick scales after all. And whatever Edward might do to
their bodies, their hearts could not be touched by him. If only humans could
protect themselves so well.