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Fish Phillips

The Cohort remains blessed beyond the desolation. Risk

shall not prevail, and no mark shall tarnish them. They shall

quench the bearer as the Agan wills.

-The Chronicles of Majjen

General Nado sat on a stool in the waiting room of the Cohort birthing center.

Other expectant fathers lingered nearby. As he cleaned the pointy tip of his scorpion-like tail with a metal file, small flakes of dried exoskeleton fell to the floor. He glanced at the wall clock, a reminder that his viewing time had passed. Fidgeting more with his tail, he peered over the deadly tip with reptilian eyes at the hospital security guards. They stood nearby armed with percussion weapons, their own snake-like eyes staring back at the

General. All who entered or exited the area fell under their watchful gaze. Doctor Bena entered wearing a purple lab coat.

"Nado, Mr. Nado?" Bena called out.

He rose while correcting her.

"It's General Nado. I am here."

"Yes, sorry, General. Please follow me," she said calmly.

Nado followed her down the spartan hallway of metal and painted white walls as

the security detail trailed behind him.

"Is my wife ready?" Nado asked.

"Yes, exceptionally so. This child is your first. Have you ever attended a birth?"

"Do not question me doctor, I'm only here for my wife," Nado snapped.

After marching through the corridor, they stopped at a door as Bena keyed in her

code. Nado glanced up at the door label.

Birthing Control

As he entered the control room, he looked out the transparent glass wall to see

the birthing chamber. A translucent tank adorned with hoses and controls seemed the

obvious vessel for the entry of his baby into the universe. His eyes landed on a metal chair, bolted down, and clad with thick silicon infused straps. As he marveled at the

construction, he recalled the training he and his wife had received. They had kept any specific concerns with the process a secret. Even a leader of his stature dared not offend the Cohort.

Dr. Bena began pointing at display monitors along the wall as she reminded him

of the process.

"They will enter the chamber, your spouse and her midwife. You can check the

progress on the screens there and here. There is more prep left to do, but the birth

occurs quickly. I expect it will surprise you."

"I expect it to be over soon," Nado said.

He was looking at the guards when he pointed his long, bony index finger.

"Do they need to be here?"

Dr. Bena smiled.

"They ensure the integrity of the chamber. Please do not view their presence as a personal slight. Even highly decorated veterans go through the same precautions as

prisoners. With birth rates so low, you understand why we prize each one."

Nado nodded, though his grimacing face did not match the gesture. The main

door to the birthing chamber opened, drawing his attention. His wife, Cata, stepped

through the opening adorned in a black birthing robe. Close behind her, another

followed wearing a green wetsuit. The General could only assume it was the midwife.

"Microphones are hot, you may speak," Bena said.

"Cata? Can you hear me?"

"Yes, I am here, thank you for making time for me," she responded over the



Next to her in the birthing chamber, the midwife's next instructions dulled the

impact of Cata's cool reply.

"The time has come. Please remove your garments and enter the tank."

Cata hesitated as she stared at the control room window where the security

guards, doctor, and her husband gawked. Cata looked down at her chest distention and

rounded belly. Her bony hands, thickened from fluid retention, caressed the softened

abdominal exoskeleton through the dark velvet robe. Deep in thought, as if blocking

their stares with her mind, she removed her garment. Her scorpion-like body exposed a

bulbous abdomen glowing yellow. A single translucent bulge distended from her breast,

holding white liquid concentrated with nutrients for the child's arrival. It sloshed inside her with each step toward her eventual seat inside the birthing tank. The midwife

ignored her awkward squat on the metal chair.

"It's not comfortable at all, I see," Cata said.

"No, but the procedure is short. Spread out your legs," the midwife instructed.

The expectant mother pushed her legs apart, shivering cold and exposed, to

match the spread of the chair. She scowled as the midwife wrapped the silicon infused

straps around her chitin thighs, securing them with a quick jerk. Cata's scorpion tail curled, pointing toward her. Cata apologized.

"I'm sorry, I realize you told me about this part, but—"

The midwife interrupted her, "It's ok, you can't control it. I will secure your tail last."


Meanwhile, inside the birthing control room, Nado leaned over to Bena.

"Is all this really necessary?" He asked in an emphatic whisper.

"It is the way we have done it for millennia."

"All this prep—Is she safe?"

"The restraints are for the midwife and Cata's safety."

Dr. Bena paused. Her snake eyes darted to his as she whispered. "The pain may,

how do I say it? It may incite the mother."

"To what?"

Bena paused, covering the microphone before elaborating, "To kill the baby, as

we have warned you. Any other problems are beyond rare."

"Problems? What problems? I wasn't told about problems," Nado pressed.

"Unquantifiable ones. For those, we have a single solution. Simple and elegant."

Dr. Bena was pointing to a control panel button as Nado's eyes landed on the



"That button solves every problem," Bena said.

Nado crowded Bena's personal space as it became his.

"Why? What reason would you use it?"

The guards moved toward them, but she raised her bony hand to them.

"Not to worry, General. In centuries of service, I have never used it."

"Zero risk then? As is our way? As the Agan wills?"

"Virtually zero," Bena said.

Nado grew quiet and nodded. Satisfied for the moment, he glanced back to the

birthing room where the midwife was securing his spouse's arms—one, then the other.


Cata watched the midwife's activities closely, too. She was closer than her

husband. The process leading up to birth was visceral for her. It felt more real than it did for him. She was certain of that while on display.

"How awful does it hurt?" She asked, turning toward the midwife who slinked

behind the metal chair. The question stayed unanswered

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