The conversation started like this:
“No,” she said. “Never.”
And he said, “Okay.”
The second time it came up, it was much the same, as well as the third time.
When he brought that conversation up a few centuries later, she told him, “If you mention that one more time, I will never speak to you again.”
And he said, “Okay.”
He didn’t bring it up again. He loved her enough for that.
The idea of it never left her, though. The conversation unfolded in her mind in the millennia to come. She looped around the subject, at first offended that he’d had the nerve to bring it up so often in the first place, and then angry that she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Eventually, her internal conversation changed. She stopped wondering why. Instead, she caught herself looking at him sometimes and wondering, “Why not?”
After all, she loved him enough for that.
“Okay,” she finally said after some indeterminate length of time. They were watching stars whirl around a black hole and idly kicking their feet in a puddle of tepid water. The void smelled like rotting apples. “We can do it.”
“Are you certain?” he asked. If he’d had a face, he probably would have been smiling.
“Yes. I’m sure.”
She wasn’t, but he knew better than to push.
That was how it ended.
That was how everything ended, eventually.
She knew that the fallout was going to be bad, but she figured that they were owed one selfish decision after all that time, no matter how many people died for it.
The assassin turned off the power to the hospital before slipping in through the back door. The backup generator kicked on, but it only addressed essential life support systems. Lights were not essential. It was dark in the depths of night. There was thunder and rain outside and a sort of low-level panic inside.
The nurses wouldn’t show that they were afraid, but they were. It would take a long time for the electricians to arrive on such a stormy night. They muttered to each other about the last time the generator had been serviced and whether it could last long enough to keep their patients alive.
Nobody was worried about the maternity ward in such a small, remote hospital.
There was only one patient in labor that night. She was young and healthy, and she had been pushing for an hour. It wouldn’t be long before she was done. There was no reason to expect an obstetric emergency.
They also wouldn’t have expected the assassin to make a beeline for the lone laboring mother-to-be.
But why would there have been an assassin at a rural hospital in the middle of a stormy night anyway?
“What if it’s an angel?” muttered one nurse to another, unaware that an assassin was slipping past them in the shadows.
“None of the equipment would work if it were an angel,” the other nurse replied. “Their aura doesn’t turn off power. They disable all electronics just by standing nearby. I saw a piece about it on the Vince and Kelly show.”
“What do Vince and Kelly know? Their bit on child beauty pageants was unresearched crap.”
“They had an interview with an actual angel. I think the angel knows how his stuff works.”
“I think you need to watch fewer morning TV talk shows…”
Their conversation faded as the assassin turned a corner, ducked into a staff room, grabbed scrubs sitting on the table. He removed his leather armor. There were weapons strapped to his shriveled limbs: a knife on each of his hips, one iron and one silver; an enchanted handgun at his ankle; a sword as long as his calf on the opposite leg.
He crumpled the scrubs in his fist, shut his eyes, and absorbed their essence.
When he opened his eyes, he was dressed. He looked like a surgeon. His name badge said that he was Dr. Driscoll. All of his weapons were hidden.
The new Dr. Driscoll kicked his armor behind a trash can and returned to the hallway.
Now he didn’t need to hide as he sought out his target. It was too dark for any nurses to realize they had never seen a doctor like him in the hospital before. He was a short man-like creature with a stocky body and arms like twigs. The scrubs made him look human. His confidence made sure that nobody looked at him twice.
Leather straps creaked softly under his scrubs as he entered the maternity ward. The secured double doors didn’t function on generator power. A male at the nurses station glanced at Dr. Driscoll, then returned to trying to sort through his files.
A woman was screaming elsewhere in the ward.
He followed that sound as it rattled off of the linoleum, bounced off of the walls, slithered through his brain.
She was here. She was really here.
This was the end.
The assassin checked the chart on her door. He was unsurprised to find that the patient was registered under a pseudonym: Danaë McCollum. She would never have used her real name. She was far too notorious, even in this time and place.
Using her real name would have triggered flags in the government’s databases. It would have led to the deployment of agents from the Office of Preternatural Affairs, who were specially trained to handle inhuman threats. They wouldn’t have known what to do with her. They wouldn’t have been capable of doing anything but die. But it might have slowed Dr. Driscoll’s approach, and he was grateful to have his entrance unobstructed.
Through the window in the door, he studied the laboring mother. A nurse was trying to talk to her. Trying to calm her down. But the mother was crouching beside the bed, gripping the railing in both hands, naked except for a pair of surgical gloves. Amniotic fluid was puddled between her feet.
Dr. Driscoll studied the severe lines of muscle in her straining back and thighs. Her jaw was clenched, shoulders taut as she shrieked her fury through a contraction. Auburn curls were plastered to her sweaty forehead. She had burst a vessel in her eye.
The nurse was trying to tell her to get into bed.
“Don’t fucking touch me,” the mother said. “Don’t fucking touch a fucking thing!”
“Deep breaths,” the nurse said.
The mother-to-be would never be more distracted than in this moment.
Dr. Driscoll entered.
He remained in the shadows near the wall, holding the chart to conceal his motions as he drew the iron knife from within his scrubs. It was not merely iron, but stamped with runes for a quick death. The importance of a quick death had been impressed upon Dr. Driscoll. He wasn’t to enjoy her suffering. He was to make sure that she was dead as quickly as possible and then slaughter the fetus as well.
Once the mother was dead, he could murder the others in the hospital at his leisure.
“Thank God you’re here, doctor,” the nurse said. She must have thought he was the obstetrician. “I was sure you wouldn’t be able to make it through the storm.”
He didn’t reply. His growling voice would have betrayed his identity.
Another contraction struck the mother. She reached between her legs with one hand, feeling her vagina, her bulging perineum, her swollen labia.
Words spilled from her, angry and harsh, almost as guttural as the assassin’s voice would have been. “It’s coming,” she said, “it’s coming, get away from me, don’t fucking touch me—”
“What do I do? She won’t get in the bed and this baby is coming fast,” the nurse said to Dr. Driscoll. Her name tag identified her as Nurse Caraway. Today was going to be a bad day for Nurse Caraway.
He lunged for the laboring mother.
It would be a swift death. Dr. Driscoll’s knife was sharp. His aim was flawless. It was easy to pick out the woman’s shoulder blades, the ridges of her spine under her peach skin, and know where the heart would be waiting within the cage of her ribs.
But he only made it two steps before she twisted.
Her eyes fell on him.
“For fuck’s sake,” she said.
His hand snapped forward, driving the knife toward her heart.
The bitch dodged. He had no idea how it was possible—she was contracting, bleeding, forcing a baby through her cunt—but she dodged and seized his arm. Her grip was incredible. Even more incredible was how easily her teeth sank into his wrist, drawing blood that sizzled like magma and severing the tendons in his fragile fingers.
He released the knife. He couldn’t help it. She had mangled his hand swiftly, just like that.
With his knife in hand, the laboring mother hurled herself away from him. The contraction made her slower. She struck the slick linoleum on her side, mouth wide in an endless scream. She clutched his knife in one fist. The other hand dropped between her legs to check the position of the bloody head emerging from her vagina.
“Oh my God!” Nurse Caraway was shrill. She would attract attention.
Dr. Driscoll flung his second knife. It sliced through the air and embedded into her throat, instantly drowning her in bubbling blood, silencing those screams.
“Rise,” he said, and she did. The nurse got to her feet almost as quickly as she had fallen, eyes rolled into the back of her skull, head lolling on her neck.
She was dead. She was animated.
She attacked the mother.
Nurse Caraway’s body flung itself over Dr. Driscoll’s intended victim, who lifted both of her knees in defense, kicking hard enough to send the nurse flying. She smashed into the wall. But she was dead and nothing hurt. She quickly righted herself, arm hanging from her shoulder at a strange angle, and seized an IV pole with her remaining hand.
She brought the pole swinging down on the mother, who kicked it away before it could land. Even now, she was fast. Every blow the zombie brought upon her was deflected. Her abs clenched, her spine arched, she screamed in pain, and she directed all that fury into seizing Nurse Caraway by the head.
The mother wrenched her to the floor. She climbed onto Nurse Caraway, punched her in the face with the hilt of the iron knife. Blood sprayed.
Dr. Driscoll fumbled for his gun.
“Fuck,” the mother said, reaching down to turn the baby’s shoulders, allowing it to emerge fully.
A wet slap. A cry.
The fetus had emerged from the woman’s vagina, slipping to the floor while tangled in its cord. It was a hideous thing: swollen and white, pale like death, smeared all over in jelly. Little more than larvae.
For an instant, the mother was limp on the floor beside Nurse Caraway, shivering. Her face was screwed with pain. Her vagina gaped. There was a minor tear on her perineum and Dr. Driscoll smelled fresh blood.
Then she was on her knees.
He lunged again, knowing it would be too late. Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to kill her now that she had warning that he’d come for her life.
The mother scooped the infant into one arm, tucking it against her ribcage like a football. She shifted her grip on the knife. Brought it down on Dr. Driscoll’s arm when he tried to lift the gun, hacking through the joint cleanly. She was so strong. She knew just how to angle the cutting edge so that it would go between the bones and amputate him.
And then the knife was under his chin, through his brain.
He clawed at the hilt of the knife sticking out of his jaw, even as his vision faded. Even as his acid blood spilled across the floor.
The naked mother stood over him, frowning in a way that made her look more annoyed than fearful. In fact, there was no hint of fear in her eyes. He hadn’t even surprised her.
“Give me a name,” she said, breasts swaying as she panted, knife dangling loosely between forefinger and thumb. “Tell me who sent you.”
He would have given it to her. Oblivion was coming, and he didn’t want to deal with her anger on the other side.
Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to speak.
She probably shouldn’t have killed him so quickly.
Oh well. Hindsight was twenty-twenty and she’d been distracted.
The mother checked Nurse Caraway for signs of life, but she, too, was dead, and unable to provide any form of assistance.
“Fuck me,” the mother said.
She looked down at the squirming infant draped over her arm, slicked with blood and amniotic fluid, connected by a long umbilical cord that still led into her body. Another contraction rolled through her abdomen. The placenta would be delivered shortly.
The baby was coughing wetly, cheek pressed to her forearm, fists flailing.
The woman tilted her head to look between the baby’s legs. Even in the darkness of the emergency lights, she could make out the shape of a vulva swollen by hormones, caked with that sticky white stuff that had come from the womb.
“A girl,” she said aloud, because it seemed like the kind of thing she should do. “It’s a girl.”
Her uterus contracted. She grunted.
The placenta oozed from her vagina and splattered to the floor beside the assassin. She severed the umbilical cord with a knife. It was tougher than she expected, more like tendon than mere flesh, but it was no more difficult than killing someone.
And just like that, the baby was forever separated from her body, no longer merely carried within her womb and easily forgotten.
Now she had to do something with it.
She shifted her grip. The baby nuzzled her breasts, making angry wheezing sounds. The mother’s upper lip curled in distaste.
“What the hell am I going to do now?”