Chapter 11 - Entry 1

June 1st, 2021

The pain was more than I could bear. It radiated outwards from the core of my being, ripping along nerve endings while bones flexed and flesh ripped. The midwife said something urgently but her words were lost to my screams. I pushed. Flexed. Pleaded to God for mercy.

“It’s a boy!” Someone shouted. A baby’s cry joined my own moments later.

“Oh god. He’s….he’s…”

Somehow I lifted my head enough to see the bloody little body as it wiggled and bleated out its own misery. Between parted knees stood the doctor, holding the infant away from his body as if it were contagious. Through the haze of pain I could see his white hair, matted and covered in embryonic fluid. He blinked at the harsh light overhead and wailed louder, body shuddering in the sudden cold.

Jaeger’s eyes, stark white, fought against the blinding world. Jaeger’s eyes.

My son had Jaeger’s eyes.

White finger and toe nails. White hair. White eyes. Beyond that he seemed a normal baby, nursing restlessly at my breast in our darkened room later that night. Visitors came by under pretense of seeing how I was doing. I knew they came to stare at the baby. My son.

“Marley?” A voice whispered from the doorway. Mary stood there, a silhouette of shadows leaking concern and love. A pair of infants lay cradled in her arms. Twin daughters born the month before.

“Come on in,” I called back softly. “He’s awake. Nursing. Hungry little man.”

Of all those who lived within the Cross Tribe, none were closer to me than Mary. A sister survivor from the beginning. Another person saved by Jaeger’s inhuman hand.

She stood there in silence for a moment, watching my son feed while her own children slept peacefully. In the weak light I could see emotions warring across her face as she struggled to find words. I smiled and let her off the hook.

“He’s my son.”

Mary nodded and sat down beside me on the bed. “What will you name him?”

“Mal. After Maliqe. He’s got her eyes, after all.” I grinned and kissed his wrinkled little forehead.

“The others are…talking. They’re worried. Scared.” Mary whispered, gaze turned away so I saw her face in profile. A tear glinted in the flickering candlelight as it rolled down one cheek.

“I know. Karl won’t acknowledge the child as his.” Tears of my own began to flow as I watched Mal feeding contently. He was both a tragedy and blessing.

“What will you do?”

“Raise him as my son. To hell with the others.”

Somehow Mary managed to move one of the sleeping twins onto her lap before a hand reached out to take my own. That hand squeezed with a fierce strength, matching words hissed through clenched teeth. “Fuck Karl if he won’t claim his son and fuck the others if they try to make Mal an issue. I’m with you Marley. No matter what.”

“I know you are Mary. I know.”

It took nearly a week for me to recover enough to leave my bed. The sun shone brightly through my room’s window, metal bars casting long shadows in lines across the floor. Men and women worked the large, open space in front of the main building by hand as they laid in a new crop. Backbreaking labor from which I was excused. It made me feel guilty.

I swaddled Mal tightly and strolled down the hallway. Conversations stopped when I stepped into the cafeteria for a bite to eat. My chin raised. Back straightened. Shoulders leveled. Still, shame burned on my face. I’d given birth to a monster. That’s what they believed. A little Jaeger. None of them had known my aunt Maliqe.

Slowly, the conversations began once more as I sat alone and ate. Sideways glances were cast my way but none would meet my gaze. At that moment I considered taking the meal back to my room. I wanted to hide. I wanted to be forgotten.

And then Karl stepped inside.

Again conversations died on whispering lips as eyes moved from his tall, muscular form to where I sat with little Mal. He spared a glance in my direction before heading to the chow line. Some part of me broke inside when he chose to sit at a different table.

Karl, six and a half feet tall with a linebacker’s build, was, in my opinion, the most attractive man in the group. Unlike most of the men, he kept his face cleanly shaven. Blonde hair cut short. Clothes tidy and clean. At forty, he was a decade my senior, but the weight of leadership had aged him considerably through the long volcanic winter. No one had run against him when Glen died. No one had run against him since.

I’d given him a monster for a son.

My stomach recoiled at the thought of further food but I struggled to finish. For Mal. The pair of goats we managed to keep alive had yet to bear offspring so the only milk for babies came from their mothers. I had to eat so Mal could feed.

Others joined Karl at his table for whispered conversations. He kept quiet through most of it until some nerve was struck and his fist slammed down on the table. Silence echoed in the room as his gaze locked onto me. Slowly he rose and moved to stand across from my seat, eyes burning holes through Mal’s blanket.

“What are your plans Marley?”

I expected anger and hatred in his tone. Instead there was little but weary sorrow.

“I’m going to finish my meal and lay down for awhile. Still pretty tired from…”

“That’s not what I mean and you know it.”

I looked up into his face, grown red with embarrassment and anger, and sighed. “He’s our son, Karl. What do you expect me to do? Kill him because he’s different?”

“The others are concerned he may be a threat. Dangerous. Maybe even contagious.”

My head shook and I felt my arms grip Mal more tightly. He stirred, white eyes blinking open to look around. “Then I’ll leave when he’s old enough. Put me in one of the cottages until then.”

Karl’s hands clenched and unclenched into fists while muscles along his jawline and neck stood out from strain. “How long will that be? A year? Two?”

“Until he’s old enough to eat solid food.”

“I don’t think the others will agree to that.”

“Then think about this. Would it be better to have someone with Jaeger’s abilities on our side, or set as an outcast because he was born different through no fault of his own? If he’s even like Jaeger. Right now he’s just an infant. The same as any other newborn.”

“No. He’s not Marley.” A pause as Karl sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

With that he turned and walked away, footfalls echoing in the silent cafeteria.

“Yeah. Me too.”