Myka didn’t like the baby.
She knew it wasn’t fair. It was probably a perfectly nice baby. Pete certainly seemed to think so. In the absence of any appearance by Myka’s maternal instincts, he’d taken instantly and naturally to being the baby’s primary carer. He’d named it, when it became apparent that Myka wasn’t going to. Emily. Emmie for short.
They all seemed besotted with her. It didn’t matter that she just lay there and didn’t do anything interesting. Artie sang to her and held her in the crook of his arm while he worked. Claudia bought her little outfits with nerdy sayings on them. Helena had long, solemn, one-sided conversations with her. Even Mrs Frederic occasionally appeared from nowhere with some sort of cuddly animal for her.
Myka just tried to go about her life as normal, or at least as normal as life got in the Warehouse, apocalypses and all.
It was difficult. Every morning when Myka came down for breakfast, the others were tired and pale from waking up in the night. They took turns getting up when the baby cried, even though she slept in Pete’s room, so he usually got there quickest. Myka had invested in some earplugs early on.
It took twice as long as usual for Artie to give out the assignments. Everyone wanted to say good morning to the baby, make sure she was ok, get their chance to hold her before the working day began, sometimes argue whose turn it was to look after her, whether she was going to the Warehouse or staying at Leena’s.
Myka hadn’t worked with Pete in a while. Ever since the day she’d yelled at him for using the Farnsworth to check in on the baby every five minutes.
‘Don’t you even care?’ he’d asked her.
‘Care?’ she’d said. ‘She’s with Leena, she’s fine! There’s nothing to care about!’’
‘But you’re her mother!’ Pete had said, and Myka had looked at him in silence for a long moment, and then climbed out of the car and walked away, ignoring his protests falling further behind her as she walked faster and faster and faster and broke into a run.
She’d come back almost a day later. She paired up with Steve or Claudia, now. Or Helena, when she was around, which was more often lately.
‘Darling,’ said Helena gently one night, as they sat together on Myka’s bed, Helena with her e-reader and Myka with an old, leather-bound novel, ‘when are you going to talk to Pete?’
Myka peered over the book at her. ‘I talk to Pete. I talk to Pete all the time. I asked him to pass the salt at dinner.’
‘That’s not what I meant,’ said Helena.
Myka struggled for something to say that would make the problem go away, but Helena didn’t push any further. She just stroked Myka’s hair thoughtfully for a moment, then turned back to her reading.
* * *
Two days later, Myka found herself on a plane with Pete, chasing an artifact. Steve and Claudia had already been gone at breakfast, and Helena had taken a day off. She suspected them of deliberate interference, but she didn’t care. She had a job to do and she was going to do it. Even if she had to sit on a plane with Pete for three hours to get to it.
She watched his fingers twitch, once every few minutes, as he tried not to reach for the Farnsworth. She didn’t say anything. If he wanted to check on the baby, that was his own damn business.
Once he got as far as picking it up and opening it, only to close it and put it down again. She couldn’t stop a groan of annoyance from escaping.
He looked hard at her, and her eyes flickered down to the unread in-flight magazine on her lap.
‘Mykes,’ he said, ‘how long are you going to stay mad at me?’
‘I’m not mad at you,’ she said.
It was clear he didn’t believe her.
‘I miss you,’ he said.
She swallowed. ‘I didn’t think you’d have time to miss me, with the baby to worry about.’
‘That’s ridiculous and you know it,’ he said. ‘You’ve barely said two words to me since she was born, this isn’t coming from me. Are you jealous of the baby?’
‘Now you’re being ridiculous,’ said Myka, turning to look out of the window. It was getting difficult to control her expression. ‘Why should I be jealous of it? It’s just a stupid baby.’
‘She is called Emily Bering and she’s...’ Pete began.
‘Her name’s not Emily Bering!’ Myka hissed, conscious of the other passengers starting to notice them.
‘Of course it is!’ Pete said, lowering his voice a little. ‘You’re her mother, you’re her only relative...’
‘I didn’t ask to be!’ Myka croaked. ‘Why don’t you call her Emily Lattimer? It was you that put her in me!’
A tear escaped. She watched as his eyes welled up to match.
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Oh, Mykes...’
She saw the dawning understanding in his expression and the dam burst.
* * *
The birth - painful and exhausting and horrible - had been a relief. When the first really strong contraction came and she gripped a shelf in the medieval aisle for support, what she felt more than anything was gladness that all of this was finally going to be over, that the invader in her body would be taken out, that everything would be back to normal soon. As the hours passed and she grew tireder and Helena mopped her brow and said she was doing great and Vanessa issued calm instructions, all that kept her breathing and pushing like she was told to was the thought that, once she had done it, her body would be her own again.
But it wasn’t, still, the shape of it had changed, she couldn’t rely on it to do what she expected, and it seemed to expect things of her that she had never wanted to give.
But there didn’t seem to be any space in the excitement and hugging and cooing for the hard knot of resentment in her stomach, for the sense of violation that rose like bile every time she looked at the baby. And when she opened her mouth to talk about it, all that came out was silence, or sarcasm. And when everyone walked on eggshells around her, even their gentleness made her want to scream.
* * *
There had been a lot of crying, during which Myka had tried to explain to the concerned flight attendant and the curious passengers across the aisle that she never usually cried in public and that they should ignore her - but through the hiccuping and gasping she wasn’t sure they’d grasped her meaning. Anyway, Pete convinced them to quit looking at her, and even though part of her still hated him for what had happened, most of her was relieved to let him put his arms around her again and pull her close.
* * *
When they landed, it turned out the artifact was a false alarm. That seemed suspicious to Myka, but she couldn’t muster the energy to care.
‘It’s so many things,’ she said, as they drank coffee and watched the planes, waiting for their flight home. She counted on her fingers. ‘One - you got me pregnant, and I didn’t want to be. Two - as soon as she was born, it was like you were so excited about it that you forgot that it was never meant to happen. Three - just because I gave birth to her doesn’t mean I have to be her mother, even if you think I should.’
‘I know, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything,’ Pete said, and for the first time in the hundred times he had apologised since it happened, she felt like he really understood what he was sorry for. ‘And you’re right. I just... I don’t know, I loved her so much the moment she was born, and it’s hard for me to understand that you don’t feel that way. But I do understand it - or at least, I’m trying to.’
‘I know,’ said Myka.
‘So... are we ok?’ Pete asked. ‘It’s ok if we’re not. I’d just like to know.’
Myka looked at him. Anger and disgust and hurt bubbled, and then receded again.
‘I think we’re close,’ she said. ‘We’re getting there.’
* * *
Pete was sitting with Emmie in the conservatory, reading Baby Shakespeare to her, when Myka came in a few evenings later.
‘Hey,’ she said, leaning uncertainly in the doorway.
‘Hey,’ he replied, with the sort of smile he’d used to smile at her, before all of this had happened.
‘Look...’ Myka said, and the words came out smoothly the way she’d practised them a dozen times in her head, ‘I can’t be her mother. And I don’t want to. That’s never going to change.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘It’s ok. You don’t have to.’
Myka took a deep breath, and unclenched her fists. ‘But... that doesn’t mean I can’t be in her life. As, like... an aunt. Or a friend. Or something.’
‘That’s ok too,’ said Pete. ‘You can be whatever you want.’
Myka nodded. She sat down beside them. ‘So... what are you guys doing?’
‘Oh, I’m just telling Emmie about A Midsummer Night’s Dream... we’ve got to the part where Theseus...’
‘It’s pronounced THEE-seus,’ Myka corrected. ‘Not The-SE-us. Here... it’s great that you’re starting her on Shakespeare so early but maybe I should give you a hand...’
And she took the baby and the book from Pete, and started to read.