Ellen rubbed her belly and smiled. The twins were terribly active this morning. She was in the early stages of her second trimester and she already felt like a penguin waddling everywhere she went. Based on the gynaecologist’s count she had another 24 weeks of this to look forward to.
“Ow,” she yelped as something connected with her ribs. “Guys, take it easy in there.”
There was another kick. “Sorry, it's just a figure of speech,” Ellen winced.
“Scott.” She called, there was a small wriggle of motion on the opposite side of the sore spot.
“Sara.” She called and there was a gentle fluttering over the sore spot. “So it’s you, Sara.”
The first trimester was rough but things were looking up now that she could keep her meals down. This was her first week back at the labs after two weeks of doctor mandated bed rest. Carrying twins was not entirely uncommon but it was still a tough burden on the mother’s body.
The lab she was working in was a spark-proof room. Purified eezo was terribly volatile and flammable. It explodes if they come into contact with any spark. Ellen knew the risks well since she was the one who created the safety procedures. She stared at the holo-screen, her hands flicked the images left and right as she compared her samples of purified eezo with an eezo node of organic origins. Her hand scribbled furiously as she took quick notes on a paper pad on her right.
She glanced at her omni-tool, expecting her lab assistants to be back from their lunch break soon. The constant chatter of her assistants preceded them as they entered. Ellen continued working, intending to have her lunch now that they’re back. She just had to finish up with this particular sample.
The shout of warning rang out, as the door behind her hissed open. Ellen didn’t have any time to react. All she did was lift her head in surprise. The last thought was what the hell before she heard the telltale pop of static discharging. The purified eezo in the petri dish in front of her took flame. White flames licked across the dish and exploded. Glass shards scattered. Ellen twisted and curled over her belly protectively.
An alarm rang loudly overhead. White purified eezo dust coated the air. Ellen coughed, the dust was choking her lungs as she fought for breath. She stood on shaky legs as her assistants rushed to help her.
“Ellen?” Alec called as soon as he got home.
He was on the way back to the Citadel after a mission on Earth when he got the news. By then, he was already en route with no way to make the commercial shuttle go any faster. Alec had spent two days mired in commercial spaceflight delays before he used his N7 status to hitch a ride to the Citadel on one of the Alliance frigates.
Outwardly during the ten-hour flight between Luna station and the Citadel, Alec Ryder was the face of calm but inside he was sick with worry. Ellen’s pregnancy was anything but smooth. Her morning sickness was horrible, she could barely keep any food down. She lost so much weight, making Alec wonder if it was even safe for her to carry the babies to term. Thankfully, things had turned around. Ellen was feeling better the past couple of weeks, enough so he accepted the mission and left the Citadel.
An explosion in her lab thanks to a negligent lab assistant. If only, he could get his hands on that person. How dare they endanger Ellen’s safety? And the twins, were they safe?
Alec regretted taking on the mission. He should have stayed behind. He should have extended his leave and made Ellen take more time resting at home. Alec Ryder was hardly a religious man, he prided himself in logical and tactical thinking, but he couldn’t help but pray for his family’s safety.
Alec entered their bedroom, the scent of medi-gel strong. His heart thudded. Was Ellen badly hurt? And, if so, how badly?
“Ellen?” he called gently, just in case she was sleeping.
The bed wasn’t made but it was empty. “Ellen?” he called louder, his worry rapidly turning into alarm.
Did she fall in the bathroom? He approached the en-suite bathroom with haste, his omni-tool ready to hack into the bathroom.
“I’m here,” a voice called from inside.
Alec let the breath he was holding go. There was a flush of the toilet and the door slid open. “Ellen,” he cried, taking in her cheeks and nose all slathered with medi-gel.
His hands cupped her face gingerly as he examined her. “These don’t look like they are healing properly. Did they give you the higher grade medi-gel? And painkillers, did they give you those?” he asked as he frowned. “I should call our doctor.”
“Silly man,” she laughed, pulling his hands down, taking them in her own. “These will heal. The medi-gel is taking care of things and it doesn’t hurt much anymore.”
She walked over and pressed her back against his chest. Alec wrapped his arms around her. A new hug they learned after her belly kept getting in the way of a proper hug. He leaned his head over her neck and he stroked her belly with his hand. “Are you really all right? Are the twins all right?”
“I’m fine,” Ellen said before hesitating.
“What? Is there something wrong with the twins? Are they ok?” he asked anxiously. “I am going to kill your lab assistant!”
Ellen shook her head, her hair tickling his face. “I’m afraid my eyebrows might never grow back,” she replied, taking in the look on his face. She laughed. “I thought I might get you with that.”
“Scott and Sara are fine,” she said.
Alec cocked his head and raised an eyebrow. “Scott and Sara?” he asked. “You’ve named them?”
Ellen nodded. “You like the names?” she whispered as if afraid he might not like it.
How could he not love the names Ellen had picked? “They’re perfect,” he whispered as he pulled her back into his arms. “But you’ve got to get checked by the gynaecologist tomorrow.”
“But the doctors at Huerta have already cleared me,” she protested, turning around to face him.
“For me?” he asked, with his best impression of puppy dog eyes.
Ellen laughed, her laughter the gentle tinkling of bells. It was so light and bright. No matter what mood Alec was in, it never failed to make him feel better. “Fine,” she relented, rolling her eyes as his overreaction.
“And I’ve put in a transfer order,” Alec said as he pulled his written orders from his pocket. “They are transferring me to be a security lead for the human ambassador.”
Ellen cupped his face, fingers gently dragging over his three-day-old stubble. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”
He nodded, placing a hand gently on her belly, feeling the heat she was giving off. “Yes, for me, for you and for them,” he said.
“Alec!” Ellen shouted, “Can you get me more wet wipes?”
Scott was screaming his head off, his nether regions exposed to the world because his mother had forgotten to get more wet wipes for the infant room. “Alec!” she shouted.
Her husband walked in slowly, afraid to jostle something he was cradling. In his left arm, Sara was dozing, his right held the fresh pack of wet wipes. Ellen grabbed the pack from him. Sara stirred when she heard her brother crying. “Shhh, baby girl,” he cooed as he gently rocked her, retreating from the room.
Ellen smiled. Seeing how much Alec bonded with the twins made her so happy. He had been so worried when they were due to arrive. All flustered and busy with reading all manner of parenting books he could get his hands on.
“One must get as much intel from the enemy before engaging,” he told her.
“So your children are the enemy?” Ellen asked with her eyebrow raised.
“Only in the manner that babies seem to suck the life out of their parents,” Alec replied with a cheeky smile.
“No plan survives contact with the enemy,” she reminded him. “Enemies in this case.”
Alec was convinced he would be of no help whatsoever. In the end, he turned out to be a wizard in getting Sara to sleep, allowing her to handle Scott in peace.
Alec yawned as he heard the tiny mewing sounds from the twins’ room through the baby-comm. He trudged into the room, his mouth wide open in a yawn. He paused at the threshold, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dark. Peeking over at one crib, he found Scott sleeping soundly. Alec smoothed Scott’s wispy hair from his face and tucked his tiny fists back into his swaddle. The mewing sounds grew more insistent as Alec fussed over Scott, breaking into louder whimpers and gaining in volume. Alec’s sleepiness quickly fled. His senses were on high alert. He looked over at the second crib to find Sara’s face scrunched up, ready to let loose her piercing cry. On a whim, Alec placed a hand on her tummy, it helped to calm her down. Alec did the usual checks, diapers clean, feeding time was still an hour away. Sara kicked her tiny legs and wriggled in her crib, clearly unhappy about something.
“What’s wrong, baby girl?” he whispered as he picked her up.
Sara made cooing noises of contentment as soon as she was in his arms. Alec frowned. “I need to sleep too, you know?” he whispered. “See your brother is sleeping. Learn from your big brother’s example?”
Sara’s eyes were getting more alert by the second. Her large brown eyes stared at his father, seemingly hanging onto his every word. “Sara?” he said.
Sara gurgled, happy. He glanced over and saw his son stirring. “Oh no, you don’t,” he said as he whisked the wide-awake Sara out of the twins’ room into the living room.
He purchased this apartment in the months leading up to the twins’ arrival. “Room for the family to grow into,” he said when Ellen baulked at the price.
He had already earmarked two rooms for when the twins were older. The room that’s being used as the babies’ room would eventually be his weapons bunker while the other would be converted into a home lab to allow Ellen to continue her research at home while the twins were still too young for school. Alec knew his paternity leave would end eventually so he had begun the process to get help for the twins while he was away at work.
“Now, if only you will fall asleep so that your Pa can get some sleep, how about that baby girl?” he asked Sara who was making grabbing gestures at his finger. Her left hand clung to his pinkie and squeezed. “You got a strong grip there, Sara,” he remarked. “Are you a lefty, huh?”
Sara cooed back at him.
The next morning, Ellen found father and daughter on the sofa asleep. She smiled at the sight. She frowned and wondered why didn’t she wake up when Sara fussed. “I must be too tired,” she muttered under her breath and left to check on Scott.
Ellen cleared her stuffy nose with a piece of tissue. “Argh,” she groaned, as she realised there was blood on the tissue again. “I hate being sick.”
She tapped on her omni-tool to check on the twins. They were playing happily in their playpen together. Their part-time helper was in that day to help her. Ellen didn’t want to risk the twins getting sick. It was bad enough that she was sick, it would be hell if either or both of the twins caught her bug. Her omni-tool beeped, reminding her it was time to take her medication. Ellen stood to head to the kitchen but the world spun as soon as she stood. She kept a white-knuckled grip on her desk as she squeezed her eyes shut. “Damn this flu,” she cursed. “I should have taken the flu shot.”
The dizziness went away as quickly as it came. After popping her flu meds, Ellen began to feel better. “Maybe I really should go see the doctor.”
Two weeks later, she was clearing her nose for the umpteenth time that day. “Is your flu still not going away?” Alec asked with a frown. “It’s been weeks.”
“Two, just two,” she corrected, as she blew her nose again. “Shit!”
Blood poured from her nose, down her shirt like she just got punched. The tissue was rapidly soaked through. Alec handed her a towel which she quickly pressed to her nose as she made her way awkwardly to the bathroom.
“Argh,” Ellen groaned in frustration standing over the sink as blood dribbling down. “This has got to be the third time this has occurred.”
“Are you sure you don’t need to see the doctor?” Alec asked.
Ellen shook her head carefully so that blood didn’t go everywhere. “I’m fine, I guess I blew my nose too hard and ruptured a blood vessel. I’ll be careful.”
Alec frowned, but left her to clean up while he checked on the twins. The bleeding stopped quickly. She cleaned up and changed her clothes, opting to recycle her ruined ones. Ellen walked to the twins’ room to find Alec watching them, totally relaxed. Scott and Sara were cackling at each other through the bars of their cribs, speaking in their strange twin speak, unaware that their parents were watching. Ellen wrapped her arms around her husband’s rock hard abs as she leaned her head against his arm. “Can you believe they are one now?” she asked.
Alec laughed. “I never thought we would make it through that first month. I barely remember any of it,” he admitted.
The twins noticed their parents watching them and the cackling got intense. Sara got up to her feet and started clapping her hand against her crib. “Pa, pa, pa!” she yelled.
Scott joined his younger sister on his less steady stubby feet. His arms waving about for attention. “Ma! Ma!” he screamed.
“Your daughter is calling for you,” Ellen said, making no move to unwrap herself from his back.
“Your son’s demanding for you too,” Alec pointed out.
The adults didn’t move for a beat while the twins got more agitated with their hands and voices. With a synchronised sigh, Ellen unwrapped herself from Alec and picked Scott up while he picked Sara up.
“Mama!” Scott yelled, running towards Ellen. “Sara! Mama is here!”
Sara looked up from her toys and ran towards her, quickly overtaking her brother. She jumped and launched herself towards Ellen, fully trusting her to catch her. Ellen braced herself and caught the five-year-old deftly in her hands. “Wow, Sara, you jumped so high!” she said with mock marvel.
Her daughter giggled, brown hair whirling around as Ellen put her down and picked Scott up. “Mama, you’re funny,” Sara concluded.
“What’s for dinner, Mama?” Scott asked.
Ellen took Sara’s smaller hand into her own. “Guess?”
“Pasta?” Scott guessed.
“That’s what you always guess!” Sara complained. “Grilled cheese toasties?”
Ellen shook her head. “Chicken,” she said.
Sara’s face brightened at that point. Ellen smiled at her daughter’s grin. “Pa’s coming home today!” she cheered.
Scott began to whoop in joy too. Ellen let him down. It was the go-to dish whenever Alec was due home. She had checked her omni-tool and by his last check in, he was due to be home that day. “Who’s excited to see Papa?” she asked.
Scott and Sara cheered, “Me, me!” The three of them walked hand in hand home.
The kids ran inside as soon as the door slid open. They screamed and shouted for Alec but he wasn’t home quite yet. “Your father isn’t due home for at least another hour,” she shouted after them. “Go put your stuff in your rooms and wash your hands. We can start with some snacks.”
“Yes Ma,” they said in unison.
Ellen shook her head. The twins were a handful but at the same time, they were a joy to watch grow and become their own little people. Sara was more adventurous and daring. Scott usually took his cue from his sister. Where Sara rushed in, Scott was a lot more careful and observant. The twins complemented each other well. Ellen could see sparks of both her and Alec’s personalities in them. She could see Alec’s tenacity in Sara while Scott had her analytical side.
At five, the twins started attending the Alliance preschool for all children of the enlisted. They were more than capable of sending the twins to a private school but they decided to keep them within the Alliance’s system since it provided a well-rounded education and a head start in physical education.
Ellen started to lay out the plates and the utensils. A wave of dizziness hit her. She grimaced and held still to ride it out. “Damn, these are getting more and more frequent,” she groused.
“Ma, Sara didn’t wash her hands!” Scott called from the bathroom.
Ellen sighed as she squeezed her eyes shut. The room spun alarmingly around her. “Show your baby sister how to do it,” she replied as evenly as she could manage.
“Damn it,” Ellen cursed as she reached out to find something solid to hold onto.
The sound of the twins arguing echoed disconcertingly in her ears. Even with her eyes closed, Ellen could feel the room spinning. She remembered the kitchen island was vaguely ahead of her. With her hand held out groping for it, she started walking forward. That was a mistake, Ellen realised the moment she moved. The spinning got worse and she lost her balance. She was falling. She could feel it. White hot pain flashed across her head and she knew nothing more.