Hummer introduces his new, unexpected son to the rest of his “family”.
The city rushed beneath his feet, but after only a moment, Hummer reappeared in his home, in his kitchen to be precise. One of his house mates sat on the kitchen bench, her legs folded beneath her, her head nearly in the bowl of his leftover cookie-mix-and-popcorn concoction.
‘Hey Asryn,’ he said to her.
The silver-haired woman grunted a greeted, made a pig-like noise, then slowly rose her head from the large bowl, sniffing the air. Her head twisted from side to side, then snapped back to him, her eyes focused on what was in his arms.
Her face remained calm for a moment, then twisted into a manic mix of rage and panic. ‘Did you kidnap that child?!’
‘Ow,’ he muttered, ‘too loud dudette, I got like, super-hearing yanno.’
‘Oh shut up, Hummer, where did you get the baby?’ she asked as he turned to walk from the kitchen and into the large lounge room.
He lifted the baby away from his shoulder, and gently laid it on the couch, barricading its small body in with pillows to keep it safe – it was only a temporary solution, but at least his hands were free if Asryn had a fit – it wasn’t easy to juggle a screaming woman and a sleeping baby, it was in fact easier to juggle two stars and an errant moon.
‘So you’re…babysitting it right? Right?! Or…Monkey Burger fired you and it’s your severance package – please tell me that it’s your severance package!’
‘No dudette, now shhhhh, he’s asleep. Night he’s had, let the little dude sleep.’ He smiled. ‘And no one knows what the severance package is cause nobody leaves.’
She stared down at the baby, then reached a single finger down and experimentally poked it. ‘So where did it come from?’
‘Him. Not it. Him, dudette.’
‘It’s the pupal stage, the only thing that separates it from the female equivalent is the arbitrary application of blue instead of pink, or green and yellow if the parents are- Where are the parents anyway? Blue…pink, aside from that cosmetic detail, they are for all intent and purposes the same thing.’ She crouched down and stared at the baby. ‘It’s still…How old is he Hum? It looks like it just hatched.’
On the couch, the baby stirred. He muttered a few words, and the baby fell asleep again – it needed sleep, and more than that, he needed a moment to process that he was now a father.
‘He was just born,’ he said, ‘in my arms, a couple of minutes ago.’
‘Where are his progenitors?’
‘His parents are dead. His father for sure. His mother…if she’s not dead, then she’s not in a position to help.’
‘Solstice? Agency? You should have left it at the safe house of the other.’
He shook his head. ‘No, dudette, he’s not safe with either one, not if they look too closely.’
‘Fey? You’re not supposed to steal changeling babies, they do come to you if you wait!’
‘Starchild,’ he said quietly.
‘You left a starchild woman who had just given birth out of your sight?’
He shook his head. ‘No, I never saw her.’
She took a calculator out of a deep pocket and expertly typed in some numbers before looking back up at him. ‘Ohh…’ she said. ‘M-Preg?’
‘His race,’ he shook his head, remembering his race, ‘the race he was born anyway, their males carried the baby for most of the pregnancy, it was a society in which women were seen as superior as they could begin new life, and the men’s strength was a clear sign that they were to protect their future. It was a beautiful planet. I can’t believe it’s gone.’
‘Is this your weird Doctor-Who-I-know-everything power, or are you speaking from experience?’
He smiled at the memory. ‘I went steady with a lake nymph there for a few decades. They have…they had cities made of crystal, it’s all gone now, but at least I’ll have some stories to tell him when he grows up.’
Asryn turned away from him, walked over to her chair and picked up a small piece of red wire. She put it in her mouth and began to chew on it as though it were licorice. ‘You can’t do this, Hum.’
He looked down at her. ‘You aren’t going to keep doing that are you? The little dude’s going to learn bad habits from you.’
She let the wire hang limply from the corner of her mouth. ‘Seriously, you can’t keep it here.’
He shook his head. ‘What else would I do with him?’
She held up a hand and ticked off her fingers. ‘Safe house, orphanage, hospital, angel central itself…church?’
‘He’s a baby starchild, and I’m the only one who knows that. I can’t abandon him.’ He took off his jacket and placed it over the baby. ‘It’s ok, little dude, we’re not gonna throw you to the wolves. Man…should buy a copy of Balto, he’d like that. In a few years.’
‘Do you even know how to take care of it?’
‘Not “it”, dudette, his name is Nathaniel.’
‘You named it?!’ she screeched. ‘That’s first of the list of things not to do when you bring a stray home!’
‘As…calm down please, he’s had a rough night. His dad’s dead, and so is his world, when was the last time you lost so much?’
‘I lost my favourite set of gears last week…’
‘I don’t think that compares…’
Asryn pouted then went back to chewing on the wire. ‘You really sure you want a small, plump tomato-like thing around with…well, Birdy around? Doesn’t that sound a little risky?’
He lifted his head and looked toward the garage. ‘She’s house-trained, and this is her home, she’s not a pet that we can throw away just cause we had a baby.’
‘No, we get rid of the baby! That was my point, Hum!’
He lifted Nathaniel. ‘I always kinda wanted one of these.’
‘You’re a Chaos-blasted god, Hum! Couldn’t you have magicked one up?’
He gave her a serious look. ‘Do we need to have that talk, dudette? I got a book with pictures, and a couple of instructional videos…’ She threw a pair of pliers at him. ‘Careful!’ he chastised. ‘You could have hit him. He didn’t come with a warranty or anything…’
She collapsed back down into her chair. ‘Hum…you work at…Monkey Burger…you keep your underwear in the freezer and don’t use forks. Your idea of breakfast is three-day-old pizza, specifically three-day-old pizza. You can’t raise a child. Had the father had any other choice, do you think he-’
‘Well he didn’t,’ he said as he cut her off and scooped up the baby. ‘I brought him into this world, I’m responsible for him. Now, if you’ll excuse us, I have to build a cot and some bottles.’
‘Ok, wait, what?’
‘I’m going to build him a cot. I’ll have to destroy my own bed to do it, but he’s more important right? That’s what being a dad is all about?’
‘But, but, but-’
He grinned. ‘Or I can wait until morning and send you out shopping.’
He kissed her on the nose. ‘Thanks dudette, you’re a sweetheart. The only thing I need tonight is a bottle, I’m sure I can improvise something…and I need to find out if he can handle milk or not.’
For the first time, concern crossed into her eyes. ‘What are you going to do if he can’t?’
He gave the only answer he could. ‘Pray.’ He smiled, then went into his room. He flicked the light on and stared around. ‘I meant to clean in nineteen-seventy-three didn’t I? What was I doing? Oh right…surfing.’ He pulled some tie-dyed shirts from the soft bed and placed Nathaniel in the centre.
Satisfied that the child would be unable to crawl across the bed and drop to the floor, he began to pick up the dirty clothes – tossing towards the cupboard those that smelt clean enough to wear on the weekend. He opened his dirty clothes basket and found a pair of jeans he’d been missing for five years, sighed, then threw the rest of the laundry on top of it.
He dragged the basket through the house to the laundry, left the basket there, then walked through to the garage. The occupant stared back at him as he opened the door. ‘Do my washing, please, I know it’s not morning yet, but you’re up, aren’t you?’ The occupant nodded and shambled toward the door.
The kitchen was tidier – after all, Asryn took care of it. He opened the pantry to make sure he had enough work uniforms for the rest of the week, then opened the fridge and dug around for the milk. He poured some into a bowl, then gently placed it in the temperamental microwave while searching for his sippy cup.
The sippy cup was all the way at the back of the cupboard, covered in dust of a decade’s disuse. It had been bought for him by a friend who’d made the chicken soup to go along with it – being completely unused to cooking, she had made chicken soup using lukewarm water and a stock cube. He kissed the grinning face on the cup, then washed away the dust under hot water.
The microwave beep and he poured the warmed milk into the cup. Carefully placing the lid, he upturned it and shook a little onto his forearm.
‘Arcane mother of Chaos!’ he screamed as the hot milk burnt his arm. He dropped the cup to the counter and sucked at the burns until his skin regrew and the pain stopped. He let the milk cool a little before taking it back into his bedroom.
‘Did you win him in a poker game?’
‘When did you get back, Tegs?’ he asked the young woman sitting on the edge of his bed, stroking the baby’s face.
She shrugged. ‘Just now. You were supposed to meet me at the airport, remember?’
He grimaced. ‘Sorry, told you I might not be able to make it. It’s not my fault you decided to come back during a mirrorfall.’
‘And my tickets were non-refundable.’ She rose and gave a shrug. ‘So who got it? Do you know?’
‘Buncha different people – someone broke it.’
She gave him an incredulous look. ‘Why would someone do that?’
‘It was a mirrorfall, people don’t usually do a lot of thinking. It’s just all sorts of reactions and rash decisions.’
‘Lot of bodies?’
‘Lots of dead Solstice as always, poor deluded sods. Saw some halfbreeds dead, looked like they’d been worked over well by the jocks and ninjas from the Angelcy.’
‘You really shouldn’t go and watch it, if they make you so upset.’
‘I like to, just for that one in ten when new life springs up because of it. That, and so I can keep a little miracle in my pocket. It’s not like I’ve got a lot of power left or anything.’
‘So now you’ve got a baby…’
He looked at the trophy Monkey Burger had given him for ten year’s service. ‘Reckon I can get maternity leave?’
‘I…don’t think so,’ Tegs said. ‘You seriously going to keep him?’
‘So long as As doesn’t give him to a pound…yeah, I am.’
‘I’ll give Purgatory-blazer a call, get him to courier up some of my baby stuff, I’m not going to use it for a while.’
‘Thanks Tegsy,’ he said with a grin. ‘I’m sending As to the shop tomorrow, but old baby stuff is better than new baby stuff, ‘cause it’s got stories in it.’
‘You sound like Birdy.’
To this, he grinned.
‘Have you told her yet, or…?’ she pointed at the ceiling. ‘Or you-know-who?’
‘I’m going tell Birdy in the morning, she’s doing my laundry at the moment, and I think explaining it to her will take a while. And…how would you suggest we tell EXiT about babies? She can barely handle “outside” so I’m not so sure about “tiny pink thing that one day grows into a person”…she’ll probably try and anti-virus on him…’
She ruffled his hair. ‘These, Hum, are the people you surround yourself with.’
‘Family is family. Can’t change that. You’re not exactly normal yourself, Tegsy.’ Behind her, the shadows shifted, grew larger, slid up the walls and loomed over him. ‘Tell your ghosts to settle down.’
She raised an eyebrow. ‘They don’t like it when people insult me.’ He glared at the shadows and they disappeared. ‘You should just be glad they like you.’
‘Oh yeah,’ he mumbled. ‘Really feeling the love.’