If I were to transcribe the screams, there’d be at least eighteen pages worth before we get to the action. I’d say it was the fun stuff, but y’all will soon learn otherwise. I went to the hospital shortly after my water broke. I was ready to embrace the fact that I don’t know everything and go to a hospital. The Darkness had been trapped by a circle of mages, including Captain Lightning, so my acknowledgment of that wasn’t more of the depression caused by that thing.
Sam called everyone: Holly, Maia, and Isabella. I think she even called Max, just to spread the news even further. But it helped, because Maia and Isabella definitely needed to know. They had to head back to the house after dropping me off at the hospital, though. They’d brought the wrong bag with them, and the hospital really didn’t like me having a suit of power armor, a grenade belt, and a sharpened machete.
In an ideal scenario, I’d have been looking into the people who took the Darkness or find out more about why it came after Earth now. It’s really inconvenient timing for me. So inconvenient that I was focusing on the contractions and breathing and stuff. This was made worse when the doctor examining me looked up from my cooch to tell me, “Looks like you’ve got awhile. The contractions are six minutes apart and thirty seconds long. I’d let you out, but I know you’ll run off and-”
“No, I’m staying,” I assured him. “Fuck the world, I’m about to unpreg!”
“I don’t know if I’d call that a good attitude, but I like your enthusiasm,” the doctor said.
I waited, annoyed, and focused on playing something to take my mind off of everything. I was on the second level of Power Wash Simulator when Sam and Qiang came rushing in with multiple bags. “I couldn’t remember which was which for the hospital!” she said.
She set down a bright pink one. “This should have your clothes.” She pulled out a dildo. “Nevermind.”
“Yeah, not helpful right now,” I said. She put it back and pulled out a bluetooth speaker. “Much better.”
Not sarcasm. I could at least put on some soothing music, starting with “Hip to be Scared” by Ice Nine Kills. There was even a laptop. With my powers on the fritz due to pregnancy, I needed some way to stay connected to the wider world. I couldn’t access my usual tools, which really just left me with public speculation and remote access to VillaiNet. Someone had reached out to VillaiNet. They were putting a lot of blame on me due to my rampant use of dimensional tech, but the main thread had someone liasing from the Consortium of Grau.
The Darkness, they said, was one of a number of timeless, eternal beings. They could be timeless because they weren’t alive or dead. They’re physical and metaphorical entities who had been locked out of all universes despite contributing to the first one. For various reasons related to their own aspects, they want to re-enter, kill everyone, destroy the universe, and feast on the remains.
Sounds bad. I’m still busy pushing out my offspring. Heh. That got a rare smile on my face in between contractions. I mean, I love Qiang and went to some weird lengths to make us biological family even though she was already my daughter. There’s just something a little different about combining my DNA with Isabella’s. Even better since she approved of the kid!
This whole situation was weird and I hadn’t even been given drugs yet. I still had to laugh at the situation. Everything about my life has been the most abnormal shit. Of course I’d be giving birth in the middle of an attack by hostile concepts from beyond time and space. At least they took their time. I stayed in that room, letting the contractions come closer and closer, looking at stuff and playing games. I even caught up on some podcasts I’d forgotten about. I barely noticed when the doctor had to rush out to look at something else.
I got impatient a bit. Not over the kid; I wanted to be done with this but I wasn’t eager to get split open like a melon just yet. I texted my wife, Isabella, and her older self, Maia, in a group text. “Where y’all at?”
“We’re on our way, but something’s happening. These Grau want us focused on the Ancient Terrors.” Isabella responded.
Maia added, “I’m sending Isabella on. I wish I could be there, but I think one of us has to help deal with this. They’re assembling teams to try and fight what’s going on. Wish you could help.”
“Maybe don’t knock me up so much next time,” I responded with a smiley winky emoji.
“Get a room, you two,” Isabella joked.
“Sure is lonely in this birthing suite,” I sent back, to eyeroll emojis. Sam had taken Qiang out to get some food and keep her occupied. My daughter didn’t need to spend her whole day watching after me.
Between contractions, it occurred to me that I’d seen and heard an awful lot of folks running around in this hospital. “Hey!” I called out to a nurse. She ignored me. I spotted my OB-GYN, though. “Pussy doc!”
He skidded to a stop, nearly falling over, and poked his head in. “What? What’s wrong? Have you noticed any strange growths?”
“I mean, I have a baby inside me.” I motioned to my belly. “What’s going on? Why would I have growths? What’s happened?”
“It’s like an outbreak of cancers and other growths,” he said. Well, that didn’t chill my blood. I pulled open the nanite command prompt, double-checked the exceptions for Alexander, and ordered a full-body scan. They flowed into me from one of the bags Sam and Qiang dropped off.
“That should check me. I wonder if this is like that Darkness thing,” I said.
Laughter came from the laptop, where the pixels on the screen weren’t changed, but moved like a laughing face. “You’re right, Gecko. I think we’re simpatico. You’ve got a lot of me in you,” the thing said. The copy of my latest anti-virus pulled up but crashed. “Don’t touch that dial,” said the computer.
The doctor joined me. “What is that?”
“You met my sibling, the Darkness. I’m the Unwelcome. Everything you didn’t want to see where it shouldn’t be. I’m the roach infestation in the wall. I’m the raccoons nibbling on wires in the attack. I’m the virus that snuck past your immunse system. I’m the tumor growing in your brain.”
“Sounds like you get around,” I said.
“I’m a natural part of all life,” he declared.
“You’re a parasite!” the doctor yelled at the screen.
I nodded, having grabbed a bag of popcorn. “You tell ’em.”
“How do we beat this thing?” the doctor asked me.
“Hell if I know,” I said. I gestured to my belly. “I’m in the middle of giving birth here.”
That said, I had an idea. The rampant viruses reminded me of my time inside the now-broken Madstone. I called up Sam. “Hey, babe, you still panicKKKKKKKKIIIIIIIAAAAAAAAAGHing? Yeah, contractions are still happening. Ok, I know you’re really upset and there’s probably a lot of shit going on out there.”
“I just saw someone growing a conjoined twin!” she answered.
“Yeah, kinda glad I’m stuck in here. Listen, I need you to go to my house, to the basement, and to the safe. Ignore it, and open the wall behind the safe. There’ll be a number pad. Hold down the number 0 and it’ll connect you to a call center in India. Tell them your name and they’ll open it for you.”
“Is it something that can stop all this?” she asked.
“Yeah, I…. whoa… yeah. Bring me the box. It might be a little heavy, but it’s got wheels on the bottom. Should be a broken rock and a pair of gold-plated gauntlets inside.”
“Is it an Infinity Stone?” my girlfriend asked.
“No, but do hurry up before we’re all wiped out.” I looked down. The reason for my odd “whoa” had come when I realized my fingertips changing color. I leaned over to look at my feet and saw the same thing happening to my toes. I looked from them to the doctor and told him, “You better go prioritize other people right now. I’ve got this covered, I think.”
For the next half hour until Sam arrived, I got to watch as my skin slowly turned a pale, shiny grey. The Unwelcome showed me the nanite prompt on-screen, changing my body to suit him. I waved the doctor off when I first realized what it was, since there was nothing he could do about it anyway. By the time Sam ran into my room with the box, there wasn’t anything I could do either. “I got it!”
“Well, I’m going to need some more from you,” I told her. My hands were typing away at my laptop, but I couldn’t feel anything or do anything. They were moving of their own accord, to the Unwelcome’s will. It had taken my arms and my legs, but it would never take my spirit! It also wasn’t as far as as my womb. That was good. The Unwelcome had repeatedly taunted me by flashing that part of the diagnostic diagram on-screen, letting me know he was aiming to get to my baby and do things. I don’t know what things, but it wouldn’t have been good.
“Oh my god!” Sam said, looking at me. My arms reached out for her. I twisted my torso to keep them away.
“Stay away from my arms and legs.” It’s a good thing my legs had been strapped in. “Open the case, power on the gloves, take the pieces of the Madstone, and press them together.”
“Got it!” Sam fumbled over herself while she popped the case open. She flicked a switch on each gauntlet, then shoved her hands inside. The gauntlets were large on purpose, but air was suctioned out and the padding inside inflated to fit her hands. Electricity arced over the fingertips. And in the middle of the case was the Madstone.
The Madstone had once been sought after as a magical means of removing illness after it had captured a super with godlike power over germs. I freed her and got trapped in her place as a goddess, but was able to escape and break the Madstone, freeing myself. I kept it in case it was useful. I had pieced some of it together, but a gel kept the remaining parts separate.
My arms tried to pull me up out of bed. The nanites flowed out of my body and toward her, the command prompt on my laptop changing to show her twisted into a mass of extra arms and a body of obscene growths.
The palms of the gauntlets glowed crimson while Sam forced the Madstone together, backing away from the shimmery ribbon snaking through the air toward her. It shot at her suddenly, and she raised her hands to block. That would be the hands smashing the Madstone back together right when the nanomachines.
A flash of light. When it cleared, my laptop was normal. The anti-virus popped up and quickly scanned it, declaring it virus-free. The clammy grey skin began to drain away, being replaced by normalcy. Well, that’s nice.
“Is that it?” Sam asked.
I nodded. “Yeah, better put the Madstone back in that case and lock it up. We don’t want that thing breaking again.”
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