I sat sprawled on the living room floor, my back against the couch, my pregnant belly jutting out in front of me. The baby was content, and introspection replaced my hunger as I wiped the blood off my face with the sleeve of my nightgown. I never imagined the cravings could lead to this, nor did I imagine not caring as I looked at the leftovers of our assailants with disdain.
“How are you feeling?” he asked as he sat on the floor across from me.
I turned to the man I thought was my husband, not sure how to respond. “This would be a good time to explain yourself
He lowered the thawed ice pack he'd been pressing against his cheek and turned his eyes away, struggling with the words he probably never imagined he’d have to say.
“Are you a demon?” I asked.
“No. At least, not in the biblical sense.”
“What does that mean? Are you possessing Doyle?”
“Where is he?”
He hesitated before he said, “He’s dead.”
I sat up, tense. “Did...did you kill him?”
“No, he was already dead when I found him.”
“You better start explaining more than that.”
"I have no idea how without coming right out and saying it...so I will.” He took a deep breath, bracing himself. “I’m a member of a species that has lived in Earth’s water for as long as humans have lived on land.”
I stared at him, incredulous. “You’re seriously telling me you're a fish?”
“No, perhaps…more like a frog? We’re like large, strong, intelligent, mammalian frogs.”
"Then why do you look like Doyle?"
"Because I adopted him. We can transform physically into other creatures by pressing part of them to a nodule on our palate to adopt their DNA. We do it to hunt as well as to blend in.”
“So, you can look like anyone?”
“Yes, but we can’t change our mass. If I transformed into a crab, I'd stay this size. Same if I transformed into a whale.”
“Why are you pretending to be Doyle if you live in water?”
“Because I’m on the run from my territory's government."
I tensed up again. "You're a wanted criminal?"
"No...yes..." He closed his eyes and turned his head down with a forlorn sigh. "I just thought I was doing the right thing."
"What’d you do?"
"I uncovered a lot of ugly truths the government didn't want uncovered, including plans for a 'cleansing genocide'.”
“Genocide against humans?” I asked, my skin prickling with fear.
“We do consider humans an enemy because of what they do to the environment, but no, the plans detailed a genocide against our own kind. We're not free from superiority and prejudice either, the powerful and privileged will do anything to remain powerful and privileged.
“My territory is the strongest and largest, taking up most of what you call the Atlantic Ocean, and its government thinks it's untouchable. I just wanted to prove it wrong, to show it can't get away with its crimes against the weak anymore.
“What I exposed led to an eruption of global unrest and the government listed me as enemy number one. I swam because I knew the penalty was death, and they ended up cornering me near the coast. I had nowhere to swim. If I wanted to hide, my only option was land.”
“Why couldn't you just turn into a shark or something?”
“We have a sense humans don’t have. Perhaps…it’s closest to smell? We each have a unique ‘smell’ that doesn’t disappear when we transform.” He gave me a hesitant smile. “Our baby has it too, a faint one. It'll grow stronger when he or she is born.”
He sighed, sobering up. “This sense helps me know when they’re nearby, but it doesn’t help me hide. So when I found the carcass of a drowned female human, I thought I’d be safer among the enemy than my own kind. I adopted her and tried to put as much distance as I could between myself and the Atlantic Ocean.
“We’re amphibious and have exceptional temperature and pressure tolerance, but it still took me a while to adjust. I stayed in the wilderness at first so I could be myself and hunt and live in peace, but after a few months I began to get lonely. We’re a social and intellectual species, we live in communal houses and value company and conversation. I missed being around friends and family."
"No, we don't really do that, but groups of us do bond to create trust units. Having children is only done to stabilize the population and it's regulated by the government, but we do love each other as a community and care for the young together." He sighed. "I thought maybe I could go back, find refuge in another territory, but I knew the information I leaked would lead to oceanic instability, if not an outright war, and I was afraid I'd end up captured.
"The other option was to try and live among humans. I knew they were our enemy, and I wasn't looking forward to staying in a stifling transformed state for long periods of time, but I thought it might be worth it as long as I got mental and emotional stimulation.
"I transformed into the female human and tried to live in one of your towns. Back home we're taught human history, biology, and language, but it still took me a while to get the hang of everything. Communication was the hardest, you rely on vocal tone, facial expressions, and body language a lot more than we do.
"I did odd jobs, learned a few skills, hung out in communal areas, researched, absorbed your media...and my experiences made me hate humans even more than ever. They were selfish, unsympathetic, violent, and corrupt, and the last straw came when a group of men tried to corner me. I transformed into myself and they ran away screaming and tripping over their pants.
"It wasn't worth it, all that ugliness for company that wasn't genuine and conversation that wasn't fulfilling. I went back to living in the wilderness, and I dreamed of starting my own community in secluded, landlocked waters where no one could find us and we'd be free to be ourselves. I was the only one of my kind out here and our governments prohibit bringing hybrids into the world, but I was already a fugitive. I had nothing to lose.
"I searched for my paradise, and I found it a year later. A perfect cave with the purest water near abundant woods. It was like I imagined it into reality. Now, all I needed were children. I had to choose a species to mate with where there'd be a high probability of conception and low probability of genetic defects, and humans were the closest in size, structure, and intelligence. I began searching for a handsome male human to adopt and a healthy female human I could manipulate into carrying my child.”
His words stung. “Is that why you picked me?”
He gave me a rueful half-smile as he twisted Doyle’s wedding ring around his finger. “I didn’t pick you. I was in the woods, hunting, when I heard a group of idiots laughing and scaring away the animals with their wild shots. I waited for them to leave, but after they started calling out for Doyle, I gave up and decided to hunt somewhere else…and that’s when I stumbled upon your husband.
“He was dead. He must’ve tripped and cracked his head against a tree. He was around my age and size but he wasn't good-looking, but then I noticed his wedding ring. It got me thinking, I wouldn’t have to convince a wife to carry her husband’s child.
“His brothers were still looking for him, I didn’t really have time to deliberate. He had a shaved head and no obvious scars, and that was good enough for me. I transformed, took his belongings, buried him, and grabbed his rifle before I met up with Wyatt, Owen, and Randy.
"They were too drunk to suspect anything, but they did give me a good idea of who Doyle was. I began thinking I made a terrible mistake, I should've adopted an anonymous human, there was no way I could convincingly take over Doyle's life...but then they drove me here and I met you.
"You seemed healthy, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to try. I didn't know how Doyle would interact with his wife and I couldn't bring myself to mimic his brothers, so I tried a basic approach and hoped he was like that with you. Apparently I was way off, but then you came up with your own explanation for my behavior and I thought, maybe I could actually pull this off.”
“So, you’re using me,” I whispered, my voice shaking in hurt and offense.
“I won't deny it was like that at first,” he quietly confessed, looking down. “Humans meant nothing to me and you were a just means to an end...but I didn’t expect to feel a connection with you.” He turned his candid eyes towards me. “I began caring about you. I liked talking to you, I liked being with you, I liked you
. I felt at home with you.
"I started making an effort. I learned how to do Doyle's job even better than he did so I could provide for you. I researched supplements so I could care for you. I got the hang of shopping, cleaning, and ironing so I could help you. With you, I felt stimulated again...physically, emotionally, mentally.
“You also made me realize how unfair I’d been clumping humans together. There are ones like Doyle and his brothers, but there are also ones like you. Like Gary at the shop. Like Timmy and Leanne at the bakery. Humans may be our enemy, but they’re just as diverse as we are and you showed me that.
“I began feeling guilty for what I was doing to you. I toyed with the idea of letting you know the truth for months…but tonight Doyle’s brothers made the choice for me.” His eyes glistened with deep remorse. "You were amazing tonight, but you never should've been in a position like that. I'm so sorry I lied to you. I'm so sorry I put you in danger. I'm so sorry you had to kill your brothers-in-law to save our lives."
I stared at him, no single emotion dominant as they rode the turbulent waves in my mind. “What’s going to happen to me now?”
“Anything you want,” he said, straightening up. “Just tell me and I’ll do it.”
His earnestness reassured me, but it didn’t settle my confused thoughts. “I need time to process everything. I’m tired. I want to go to bed.”
“Should I help you?”
I gave him an emotionless nod. “Help me to the bathroom first.”
He did before he guided me to bed, switched off the lights, and left. I sighed as I clutched the sheets and listened to him clean up the aftermath of our feast. Despite my agitation, fatigue pushed my thoughts aside and I drifted off into a dense sleep.
The next morning, I woke up early and alone. I stayed in bed, analyzing last night's events until the baby’s hungry kicks became impossible to ignore. I groaned as I sat up, and I jumped at a trio of knocks before the door opened.
“Good morning." He stood in the doorway with a hesitant smile and a mouthwatering plate of raw meat. “I got you breakfast.”
Hope glinted behind his eyes as he walked over and adjusted the tray over my legs, and he remained standing as he watched me polish off the pile within minutes. I leaned back in satisfaction and ran my hand over my soothed baby bump, and he cleaned up before he got me my supplements. I didn't take them as I studied him, and he stood to the side with anxious eyes, studying me back.
“Did you have time to process everything?” he asked.
“What you did was disgusting,” I said, making him wince. “But I’d be a lot angrier with you if I didn’t sense something was off already. You weren’t acting like Doyle at all, but I wanted to believe he'd turned a new leaf.” I looked down. “I was enjoying the fantasy of having a loving husband who finally saw me as more than just an object.
“You treated me better in the past few months than Doyle had our entire marriage. You showed me what it was like to be loved, respected, and cared for. You boosted me and opened my eyes to what a relationship could be. Should
be. It wasn’t you or me, it was you and
me. You and me and the baby.”
I looked up at him. “What were you going to do if this never happened?”
He shifted in place. "The original plan was to convince you to do a home birth blindfolded, and then I'd take the baby to my cave and leave you. I was—"
You were going to take
my baby and abandon
me right after I gave birth?" I asked, glaring at him as I placed a protective arm over my stomach. "All while pretending to be my husband?"
He looked away, regret weighing down his features. "I didn't want to do anything violent to you like kidnapping or murder. I thought it'd be the least horrible option...but that was all before I felt a connection with you. I've been struggling with what to do since."
He turned to me. “Penny, I'm so sorry. I really am. I owe you so much after everything you've done for me. After everything I've put you through. I want to make it up to you. Just tell me how and I'll do it.”
I studied him, running my hand over my baby bump as my riled emotions settled into anxious curiosity. After a tentative moment, I said, "I want to see what you look like. The real you.”
He blinked in surprise. “Are you sure?
“I’m sure.” I pulled myself up on the pillows, preparing myself. “I should know the true father of my baby.”
"I don’t want to scare you.”
"Why would a giant frog scare me?"
"We also have teeth...and claws...and horns," he said, hesitant. "We're sometimes mistaken for demons by humans if they glimpse us."
I hugged myself, fighting my resurfacing anxiety. "I still want to see you."
He nodded. “Okay.”
He stripped and took a deep breath, and my eyes widened as I watched his frame narrow and stretch. His skin darkened to a shade of mottled green so deep it almost looked black, its glossy texture gleaming under the light. His legs bent at three distinct joints, and his flattened feet split into five elongated, tapered toes, an elastic web of skin connecting them and black claws capping them.
His hands grew larger and gained claws and webbing as well, and flexible tissue connected his upper arms to his body, almost like the wings of a bat. His hair disappeared and his jaw became sharper, his nose regressing into two slits and his lips curving into a pout that hid small, piranha-like teeth.
His eyes grew rounder and darker, the space between them increasing and their whites disappearing. From where his ears should be, a pair of thick, black horns grew, their rough surface without shine as they curved up until they surpassed the top of his head before curling back down half-way.
His chest and stomach were completely smooth save for a small belly button, and his genitals had retracted inside his body. With a half-smile that looked out of place on his foreign face, he turned around, giving me a full view. His streamlined shape had no curves, creases, or protrusions other than the thin, translucent fins lining his spine.
He turned back to face me and lifted his arms, presenting himself, a thin film gliding vertically over his glossy eyes as he waited for me to say something. He really played it down when he compared his species to frogs, and it took me a while to find my voice.
“C-can I touch you?”
He blinked vertically again, and a small smile twitched his mouth as he walked over and sat beside me. A balmy scent accompanied him, unusual but not unpleasant. My hand trembled as I reached out and touched him, and I realized he was trembling too.
I felt my way down his sleek, firm arm, his skin warm but surprisingly not slimy. When I got to his palm, I spread open his fingers, tracing the taut webbing and onyx claws. My hand left his and traveled up his chest, over his shoulder, and down his back, and he shuddered as I grazed the fine fins along his spine.
I met his eyes as I reached for his face, and he blinked when I touched his cheek. The injuries from Doyle's brothers were healing at an unnatural rate. My gaze drifted towards his formidable horns, and he lowered his head so I could touch them. It was my turn to shudder as they felt like sandpaper.
“You can wear your clothes,” I said, drawing back.
He looked up. “Do I make you uncomfortable?”
His natural vocal chords weren’t made for English as they rasped, but I understood him. “No, but you’re trembling.”
“I’m nervous. I’ve never done this before.”
“You shouldn’t be nervous to be yourself in front of the mother of your child.”
His eyes glinted in hesitant relief as he tried to read me.
What’s your real name?”
“It isn’t easy for humans to pronounce,” he said before he emitted a strange sound.
I frowned. “That sounds like you’re saying Raphael while gargling whistles.”
He gave me a small smile. “It's different underwater, but you can call me Raphael if you want.”
"I’m going to have to get used to your expressions with this face, but I think I can pick up your emotions from your eyes.” I looked at his horns. “I can see why humans would think you’re demons. Did Wyatt, Owen, and Randy see you like this? Is that why they tried to exorcise you?”
“No, that was just a coincidence. They've been suspicious for months, but when they wanted to—…you don’t need to know the details, but I refused and, apparently, Doyle wouldn’t have. That was all the proof they needed that a demon was controlling their brother."
"So, Doyle started acting decent and they immediately thought 'demon'. Tells you all you need to know. No wonder they couldn't find anyone willing to marry them. Doyle just got lucky I was too stupid to know better."
"You're not stupid, you're just too kind, patient, and selfless. You're wasted on humans like them. They didn't have a brain cell between them. If Doyle really was possessed, their techniques wouldn’t have exorcised a louse off his scalp.”
I surprised myself as I laughed. "They kept splashing water on you. I bet that did the exact opposite of what they wanted."
His chuckle sounded like a bubbling kettle. "If our lives weren't on the line, yea, I would've found it quite refreshing."
I studied his eyes, and my smile faded. “Is it still hard for you, living on land?”
“Yes, but after I met you it became worth it.”
"You said you used to hunt in the woods. You guys eat land animals?"
"We're natural hunters and we eat anything. I also ate in greasy restaurants when I was the female human. I thought I hated human food, but then I met you and had my first ever home-cooked meal. It was a welcome change."
"That was the first time 'Doyle' thanked me." I frowned at a thought. “If you were Doyle when I got pregnant, wouldn’t this baby be his?”
“The DNA we adopt is added to all our cells except the reproductive ones, or else each generation will end up with a mishmash of all the adopted DNA of the previous generations.”
“Oh. How many DNAs can you have?”
“There isn’t really a limit, but the more you adopt, the higher the probability of transformation errors. Twenty’s our average."
"Do you have twenty?"
"No. I have six aquatic species, the female human, a coyote in case anyone saw me in the woods, and Doyle.”
I sat up, curious. “Can I see them? The land ones?”
He smiled. “Sure.”
He stood up, and fur sprouted from his skin as he bent over and transformed into a large coyote. I’d never seen one before, and I couldn’t help but shy away at its size despite its unthreatening posture. He then transformed into the woman, and I felt a twinge of sorrow knowing he found her dead in the ocean.
“Why’s she bald?" I asked.
“Because hairstyles, scars, amputations...those aren't coded in DNA. But her hair did grow when I lived as her for a while. So did Doyle's.”
“I was glad, I didn’t like it when he shaved his head." I paused. "If you
had a scar or amputation, does your transformed self have that too?"
"Yes, but we have regenerative abilities, so disfigurements aren’t permanent.”
“Can you turn into a giant baby?”
“No, but I’ll be what the baby will look like when it’s my age.”
"Can you turn into a giant bug?"
He gave me an eager smile as he waited for further questions, but although I had many, I remained silent in thought.
“Should I transform into Doyle?” he asked, hesitant.
“No. I don’t want to see him ever again. You can go back to your own self.”
He did and sat beside me. “Do you have anything else you’d like to ask?”
I held his hand and turned it around in mine, running my fingers over his as I tried to come to terms with my new reality.
I could understand why he was afraid to tell me what he was, but he shouldn't have pretended to be my husband to get me to carry his child. He had multiple options to fulfill his goal, and although he chose to remain transformed to live with me, and although he was respectful and appreciated my company, he shouldn't have tricked me.
Then again, I made questionable choices too. I sensed something was off, yet I chose to live the fantasy instead of confronting my suspicions.
My belly shifted beneath our hands, settling my confused emotions. My old life didn't exist anymore, and I didn't miss it. The baby was what mattered now, and that evoked a surge of forgiveness and serenity. I believed Raphael's remorse, I admired his stance against his government, I sympathized with his struggles, I felt his vulnerability, I understood his loneliness, and I appreciated his previous treatment and his current transparency and absolute trust.
I looked at him. “I want to see your cave.”
“Yes. If we’re going to raise a family together, I want you and the kids to be comfortable. I can live anywhere.”
His voice became gravelly and tight. “Can I hug you?”
I nodded, and he held me close as he whispered, “Thank you.”
My head rested under his chin as I hooked my arms around his neck, and I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Why do you have two heartbeats?”
“Because I have two hearts, two circulatory systems.” He softly pressed my head against his chest. “This is the bigger heart, for the blood.” He reached back and guided my hand to the base of his skull. “The smaller heart is here, beneath the brainstem. It's for the transference fluid.”
"Did you have two hearts as Doyle?"
"Yes, I always do. But they're in sync when we're in a transformed state."
"That's two hearts more than he had." I sighed, listening to their polyrhythmic beat. "What are we going to do about his brothers?"
"I piled their remains in Wyatt's truck and drove them to his house before I set it on fire. I don't think anyone will suspect anything other than three drunk idiots got careless smoking. Randy's car is under Doyle's name, so I left it here in case you and I went our separate ways."
He was ready to let me go despite what I knew, and absolute contentment washed over me as I snuggled in his safe embrace. "A second car can come in handy, just wish it wasn't Randy's clunky tin can."
After a day of indigestion, hormonal mood swings, relentless baby kicks, and funeral preparations for Doyle’s brothers, we woke up the next morning ready to go on our road trip. Raphael transformed into the woman, and we got in Doyle’s truck and made the two-hour journey to the cave.
After parking in the woods, he carried me up jagged rocks and through narrow tunnels until we reached an unexpected space that seemed to stretch on forever. My mouth dropped open as my eyes darted around, trying to take in the incredible view.
The walls of the cave dipped and protruded, their natural pattern continuing towards the high ceiling where haphazard openings allowed sunlight to stream through. The beams illuminated the crystal-clear waters of a vast lake, the gentle ripples sending mesmeric reflections across the slate-grey rock surrounding us.
Raphael lowered me down on a ledge. “Do you like it?”
“It’s breathtaking, Raph. I love it.”
He smiled. “I’ve set it up for myself underwater, but I’ll set it up for you up here. It won’t take long, maybe a few days, and we can move in. And you don’t have to stay here. You can go anywhere you like and even have your own house and job out there. Whatever you want, I’ll support you.”
The lake seemed to be calling me. “I want you to teach me how to swim.”
We took off our clothes, and he transformed into his original self before he carried me into the cool, silky water. I held on to him tight, my heart thudding in excitement. I wasn’t the only one excited as the baby began stirring, her movements rhythmic and gentle as opposed to her hungry, unruly kicks.
“She’s happy,” I said, smiling. “She’s in her element."
"Yes. I don’t know how, but I can sense her. Is this what your women feel when they're pregnant?”
His eyes glinted and he leaned his head against mine. “Yes.”
“What should we name her?”
“Whatever you like.”
I thought for a few seconds. “Do you like the name Tiana?”
“It’s beautiful, what does it mean?”
“I don’t know, but it’s the name of the princess in The Princess and the Frog
He paused, blinking, then he laughed. “I love it.”
He set me down, and I gripped the coarse rock with my toes as he taught me the basics of floating, treading, and not panicking. He was a lot more graceful than he was on land, and it was enchanting to watch. He then held my hands and pulled me into deeper waters, and I smiled as I kicked my legs to stay afloat.
“You’re a natural!” he said.
“It’s amazing feeling so light! My back really needed this.”
“We can come here as often as you like. And, if you want, I think we should prepare for a water birth since you're due any day now.”
“What's that?” I asked as we swam to a shallow area.
He sat on a ledge in the water and pulled me onto his lap, holding me close. “It’s like a regular birth, but in water. Our young are more developed than yours, but we never give birth on land. Humans have done water births, so it should be alright."
“I’m ready to do anything to make sure Tiana’s safe and healthy. Is there anything else I should know? What’ll she look like?"
"I don't know. Our genes are dominant in adoptions, but I have no idea reproductively. Our young look like me but more compact with no horns, claws, or teeth. They're also covered in fine hair...perhaps like peach fuzz? But they shed that layer within the first week." He put a gentle hand on my stomach. "Your baby bump is bigger than our kind's, though, so I don't know how different she'll be."
I put my hand over his. "How do I care for her? Will she nurse?"
"Yes, but you don't have to do it. I've got a stockpile of substitute milk here and we can take turns feeding her."
"Why can't I nurse her?"
"You can, but if she's anything like our young, she'll be even more demanding than she is now. They're always hungry and will grow to twice their size in the first two weeks before they wean."
"Oh." I licked my lips as Tiana’s kicks began getting impatient. “Speaking of, we’re craving something.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never tasted it. I just know Tiana and I want it.” I turned to him. “If you live in water, why have we been craving raw meat instead of fish?”
“I’m not sure. Cravings are dictated by the baby’s needs for protein, iron, fat, and so on. They can be overwhelming and our pregnant women just go wild hunting seals, sea lions, and walruses. But our baby is half-human. Also, you’ve never tried seal, sea lion, or walrus before so you wouldn’t really know to crave it.”
“Maybe that’s what I’m craving now, that taste I don’t know. Maybe the water made Tiana get in touch with her father’s side and she’s craving seal or walrus.”
“Then I’ll try to find one for you.”
“Don’t break into a zoo, Raph.”
He chuckled. “I’ll find us an alternative.”
Two days after our visit to Raphael’s cave, he called me while on a grocery run. “Penelope, they’re in town,” he said in a rushed whisper.
I sat up at the panic in his voice. “The government guys after you?”
“Yes, five of them. I didn’t think they’d come this far inland.”
“Did they track your unique smell thing?”
“No. It’s not really like a scent that lingers and can be traced. It’s perhaps more like…an aura? I don’t know how to explain it. I don't think they know I'm here yet. They must’ve been infiltrating the continent over the past three years, looking for me and hoping I'd seek out human interaction.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m not coming home, I don’t want them finding you if they end up sensing me and follow. I’m going to dodge them and go to the cave. Do you remember where it is? Can you meet me there?”
“Yes. I’ll drive Randy’s car right over.”
“Please be careful. I’m going to get rid of my phone in case they catch me, so they don’t find out about you. Oh, shit!”
My pulse raced. “What is it? Raph?”
“I’m okay,” he whispered. “I’m looking for a venomous creature with an exoskeleton to adopt for protection.”
“Why can’t you use the coyote? It was scary.”
“It’s also easy to kill. I need armor. Some of the weapons we have can liquefy you.”
"Liquefy! Raph, get a gun!"
"We have repellent suits for exploration and battle, and I'm certain they'd be wearing them under the army uniforms they've got on."
“Be careful, Raph, please. It’s one thing to die fighting, but another to die from a spider bite because you were stupid.”
He managed a tight, sad chuckle. “I love you so much. I'm so sorry."
“I love you too, and I’ll see you in two hours, okay? Stay safe!”
I hung up and hobbled to the closet, where I struggled to put on a pair of shoes suitable for navigating the cave. After a detour to the bathroom, I shuffled to the kitchen to get provisions for the two-hour drive, and a scream ripped from my throat when the front door crashed open and a net was thrown over me, sending me tumbling to the ground.
I looked up in horror to see a group of five men in army fatigues, one of them dragging me to the side while the others began searching the house. These must be the five after Raphael, and my heart sank as I wondered how they found me.
Their raid had to mean they thought Raphael was here and I was glad he managed to dodge them, but my relief was short-lived. Raphael said Tiana had an "aurascent" he could sense, which meant they could too. According to Raphael, her existence was wrong in their eyes and I was an enemy, and my only thought right now was ensuring her and my survival.
After tearing the house apart, they surrounded me, and I curled up to shield my agitated baby bump as I scanned their identical faces with dread. They must have adopted the same man. None of them appeared to have learned facial expressions or body language, though, and I shuddered as I felt like I was surrounded by robots.
One of them crouched next to me and reached for my belly, and my defenses kicked in as I tried to knee him and push his hand away. Two other men squatted down, one grabbing my arms and pinning them against my chest while the other held my legs, and I twisted and strained as the first man reached for my exposed stomach again.
“No, please don’t hurt my baby!”
He lay his hand on top, pressing the netting against my flesh. “Where's the father?”
I wasn't giving Raphael up, but I didn't know how to reply. Afraid of saying the wrong thing and putting Tiana and myself in jeopardy, I remained silent as I continued to struggle.
He pressed down harder, his fingertips digging in. “Where's the father?”
I gasped, crying out, "I don't know! I don't know!"
"When will he come home?"
"I don't know!"
He pulled out my phone, and I now wished I had a passcode. "Tell us an alternate method of contacting him that doesn't lead to voicemail."
"There isn't one!"
"He knew we were close," one of the standing men said to the rest. "He abandoned everything and ran. She's useless."
"Wait," the second standing man said.
He stripped before transforming into his original self, looking almost identical to Raphael except for the larger horns and thinner lips. I kept my eyes glued to him, trembling as I wondered what he was going to do next.
The man gripping my baby bump studied me. "She has no shock. He told her the truth about himself. About us. She's not only a bearer."
"He bonded with a human?" the man pinning my arms asked.
Their monotone voices and blank expressions left me lost. I couldn't tell if they were disgusted or impressed, nor could I figure out what this meant for Tiana and me.
"This is good," the man holding my legs said. "He won't abandon his unit. He'll come."
"He won't come, he knows we're here," the standing man who was still human said. "She's aware of our existence and the unborn is a crime. He knows their fate at our hands. He won't risk his freedom defending a condemned, second-rate unit."
“Why are you certain he knows we're here?”
“Because he's not in town and he's abandoned all methods of communication despite having a female carrying his child.”
"Perhaps he set an evacuation plan." The man released my stomach to check my phone. "His last call was nine minutes before we arrived at this house." He looked at me. "What did he tell you?"
"N-nothing," I replied.
"He's a fugitive, he must be apprehended. What did he tell you?"
"P-please...leave us alone. We aren't hurting anyone."
The standing man who was still human lifted his foot to stomp on my stomach, and I strained against those holding me as I screamed, “No! No, please!”
The man who had transformed into his original self grabbed the aggressor and pushed him back, but I didn’t feel relief as Tiana thrashed beneath my racing heart. I writhed, gasping, as pain seared through my abdomen and warmth trickled between my legs, and my pleading eyes darted between the men's emotionless faces as I felt helpless and alone.
"What did the father tell you?" one asked, taking advantage of my desperate state.
I couldn't speak, my breaths hitching in broken sobs at the amplifying spasms and hopelessness.
The man who had transformed into his original self said something in his language before he clawed through the net and carried me. I gasped, but I was in too much pain to protest as he took me to the bathroom, lay me down in the tub, and plugged it up before turning on the faucet.
The other men filed in after us like uncanny reflections of each other, but he shoved them out before locking the door. I eyed him with apprehension as he kneeled next to me, and I pushed his hand away with a strained cry when he reached for my clothes.
“You're going into labor. I've given birth before, I can help you.”
I frowned at her unexpected revelation, but a vicious pang stole my breath and I groaned and leaned back, nodding. She removed my clothes, folded a towel behind my head, and turned off the faucet once the water level surpassed my stomach. She held my hands and gave me advice as my body seized with every jolt of pain, and tears streamed down my face as I wished Raphael was with me instead.
After an agonizing half-hour of straining, puffing, and screaming, Tiana came into the world.
I stared in awe through my sweat and tears as she wiggled in the turbid water between my legs. I reached my trembling hands towards her, but I jerked back in surprise when she swam up to me and breached the surface. High-pitched cries squeaked out of her searching mouth as she climbed towards my chest with aggressive nuzzles, and my instincts took over as I cradled her and tried to help her nurse.
She didn’t know how to latch, and the woman studied us for a few seconds before she spoke over Tiana's hungry cries. "We have different mammary glands. Lie back and position her like this. It’ll be easier.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, adjusting Tiana while the woman cut the umbilical cord with her claws.
I caressed my beautiful baby's head as she looked at me with her dark, glossy eyes, her tiny fists kneading me as she nursed, her two heartbeats drumming out of step. Raphael was right about his genes being dominant, she looked just like him. Yet, along with the soft peach fuzz covering her body, there were longer strands of actual hair on her head. She also had a little protruding nose and a faint brow ridge.
The woman broke my reverie as she asked, "What did the father tell you when he called?"
I looked up at her. "What are you going to do to Tiana and me?"
"If you cooperate, you and your daughter won't suffer. What did the father tell you?"
Fear merged with my determination as I hugged Tiana tight. “Why can’t you just banish him with us out here?”
“The sentence should match the crime, and what you're suggesting won't be punishment.”
“He didn’t commit a crime, he uncovered one.”
"His actions have led to destabilization and disorder.” She pointed to me. "And he revealed our existence to the enemy and had a child outside of his species."
"None of this would’ve happened if your government wasn’t evil. And what’s done is done, killing him won't change anything.”
“Emulation must be discouraged.”
“We aren't hurting anyone, we just want to live in peace. Please.”
“His own choices destroyed that possibility for himself and for you. What did he—"
She sat up and turned towards the door, and within a second she'd left the bathroom and locked me in. Confused but not letting this chance go to waste, I stumbled out of the tub, wrapped Tiana in a towel, got dressed, and climbed on the toilet to pry open the small window above it. Tiana’s wails echoed against the tiles as I huffed and strained, the stubborn frame grinding with every desperate one of my heaves as I fought through my pain and fatigue.
The bathroom door crashed open, and I abandoned the hopeless mission as I jumped down and scrambled for Tiana. Pressing her to my chest, I flung myself into a corner and brandished a hairbrush like a weapon, ready to fight tooth and nail for my daughter.
Shock replaced my resolve when I saw the enormous scorpion that had collided backwards into the sink, inky liquid spraying from where its left claw would be. The scorpion was terrifying, its remaining claw snapping and its stinger striking as it fought the woman and her long, radiating weapon, but she was determined as she searched for a weakness on its body and deflected its attacks with speed and skill.
Recalling Raphael's phone call, I hurled the hairbrush at her, afraid she'd end up liquefying him. It struck her in the eye, and that distraction was all Raphael needed to trip her and bury his giant stinger in her chest, coating the tiles with a spray of black as its tip protruded from her back. She collapsed lifeless to the floor, and his legs slipped on the blood as he whipped around to face us.
I stared at him in gratitude and concern as his exoskeleton dissolved and the claw, tail, and excess legs withdrew into his body. He stumbled against the wall and slid to the ground, panting as he gripped his wound tight and looked up at us with relief.
“Oh no, Raph!” I ran over in horror and skidded beside him on my knees. “Your hand…your eye…”
“Don't worry, they'll grow back," he said, his voice weak. "Are you and Tiana okay?”
“Yes, but you aren't. We need to do something, you’re bleeding out.”
I placed our daughter in his intact arm and got to work cleaning and wrapping his wrist stump, and he looked at her with warmth and a soft smile as she nuzzled his chest with hungry squeaks.
“She’s beautiful,” he whispered before he turned to me, regret flashing across his eye. "I’m so sorry this happened. I’m so sorry I wasn’t with you for her birth. I'm so sorry you had to see me do...that.” He nodded towards the dead woman.
“Raph, you just saved our lives. You were amazing, how’d you even know?”
“I overheard the boys at the gas station talking about how they ratted Doyle out to a soldier looking for people whose behavior changed. When I rushed over and saw Randy's car still here, I was ready to fight with everything I had. If they killed you, I'd have nothing to live for.”
“What are we going to do now?” I asked, tending to his damaged eye.
“We have to get rid of the bodies and move to the cave before they send others after us. Whatever’s missing we can get later. Are you okay with that?”
“More than okay.” I rolled up my sleeves and nodded. “Let’s go.”
Ensure that the trading strategy you adopt at the beginning of your scalping or spread betting career has a high probability and positive expectancy. Even if at the beginning this means more sitting on the side lines, well being more patient and taking fewer trades. If you trade in the evening you might end up trading only 3 to 4 times. Spread betting and day trading using spread bets, is a high-risk high-reward, and tax-efficient way of speculating on the markets. From trading platform, to how to trade and trading strategy, this page will break down everything you need to get started intraday spread betting and online trading. Scalping, which is a viable very short-term trading strategy relies on tight spreads. Because of this reason, scalping is somewhat unsuitable for a spread betting account due to the wider spreads seen versus a zero spread or ECN forex trading account, so finding a spread betting broker for scalping can be challenging. Margin Trade Requirements The firms will use terms like 'scalper' but that term is generally subjective. In the company's terms any client who makes money from them in such a manner which cannot be hedged would represent 'scalping'. A good friend of mine works at one of the larger spread betting firms and for obvious reasons I'm not going to name him or his company. Scalping is a controversial trading strategy that only certain brokers allow. It involves holding a trading position for just a few seconds to trade on tiny movements in price. Compare the top scalping brokers regulated in Europe including XTB, City Index, LCG, AvaTrade, IG, XM and more head-to-head in this 2020 scalping broker comparison.
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