"Where is Mekhi?" the elder man asks me, obviously annoyed to see a young assistant coming to answer his request for special assistance instead of a fully trained, experienced doctor. He doesn't even hand me the patient clipboard.

"He's with another patient, got crushed under some building equipment, so he sent me to get her vitals and do an initial exam. I think I can handle that, don't you?" I say in my most pleasant voice, one I had learned from my younger sister that always gets you your way, and hold out my hand for the clipboard. The older man eyes me critically, but eventually hands it to me, a bit reluctantly.

"Yes, I guess a medical assistant of your talent could handle that." He grumbles, still somewhat upset. I smile cheerily at him.

"Won't be a medical assistant for to much longer" I tell him "Now what's the situation? All they told us was that this was a special circumstance birth that has suddenly gone high risk."

The man points at the clipboard "It's all written right there." He says, and then goes on to explain anyway "It's a birthmother. We've never had a problem with her before; both of her previous productions went as smoothly as possible. We have had our eyes on her for this special insemination for a while now, we wanted to make sure that we were putting our eggs in the right basket, if you know what I mean."

"Uh-huh." I say, looking down at the clipboard. The top reads: Birthmother 24763/ Chloe.

I know this girl. She was in my age group, Number 19 Chloe. Small but athletic Chloe, the shy girl who spent all of her free time at the Nurturing Center. I had forgotten her, after all she and I had never been particular friends, and once our assignments had been given our classes had changed, I had taken harder more demanding classes and she…. had kind of dropped out of school altogether. But I do remember her, vaguely. It's been nearly six years since I last saw her. I wonder if she's as pretty as she was when we were younger…. not that it really matters; I just remember that she had been the prettiest girl in our age group. She had been the girl to give me my first stirrings.

I shake away those thoughts and continue reading. The first part is her basic information, her age (seventeen, same as me), her height (five foot three), her weight and IQ and that sort of thing. Underneath all of that was some information about her previous two products, both female, both with perfectly normal vitals, they had both developed normally and were assigned to family units and given names. Her previous physicians had scribbled a few notes under all of that, mostly regarding her physical health during and after each pregnancy (apparently she done fine both times around and had recently been deemed strong enough for another insemination.)

"So what happened this time around?" I ask the man, flipping the page.

"Well at first nothing. We had her double checked, just to make sure, you know we can't loose any special insemination products, can't afford too."

"Yes, I'm aware of that" I say, nodding. The man continues.

"Well anyway, she checked out fine both times we examined her, so we gave them the go-ahead and they inseminated her. It took just fine, and in a month she was declared a vessel. But then when she got her first sonogram, well…. she's got twins."

"Fraternal or…."

"Identical" the man is saying, "The tests show that they are identical."

I sigh "One for here and one for elsewhere then?"

The man nods "That's not really the emergency though, we've handled identical twins before, even special circumstance identical twins. The problem is that she's nearly miscarried twice already and she's only in her second trimester."

"When was the first time?"

"Last month, it gave us all a scare, though she didn't seem all that phased by it. She's a typical birthmother, doesn't seem to care much about the well being of her products. Technicians tell us she doesn't even try to peek at the sonograms. Anyway, the second time was just this morning, and it was pretty serious, she was bleeding and everything, we very nearly lost them." He stops suddenly; I look up and see he's giving me a very earnest look.

"We can't loose those products, do you understand? We can loose her, she's dispensable, just another laborer when she's done with this, but we can NOT loose those products. You and Doctor Mekhi have to do everything in your power to make sure we have at least one of those products alive."

I nod "I understand" I say and give him one of my most charming smiles. He relaxes a little, and points to a door. "She's in there. We have her on strict bed rest until the time comes for her to go into labor."

I nod again; thank him for the information and head on inside to visit the young woman.

Like the man had said Chloe was lying in the bed, a typical hospital bed propped up a little. She's hooked up to a hear monitor and has a blood pressure band wrapped around her arm, and an IV in her other arm with medicine dripping in slowly. She's wearing the typical birthmother frock, shapeless so as to make room for the ever-growing belly. Her hair is tied back, but several strands have come loose and are stuck to the nape of her neck or to her cheeks. She's breathing heavily, and I can tell she's been sweating. She's got a very concerned face, and her hand is on her swollen stomach. She jumps a little when I open the door, and quickly pulls her hand away. She looks up at me and smiles. Just as I thought, she is as pretty as she had been during our school days.

"Hello Chloe" I say, placing the clipboard on the desk by the door. I reach out and pump some soap on my hands and place them under the sink. Immediately the water begins to flow. "How are you feeling today?" I ask her.

"Alright" she says, she still has the same high but soft voice I remember. "Bored."

"I can gather," I say, trying to keep my voice as light as possible. Perhaps the man had been right, maybe she was unconcerned with her children. Or maybe she just wasn't very smart. She had never gotten very good marks in school. But I had always assumed she was just lazy. "What do they let you do in here all day?"

"Nothing" is Chloe's response "I sleep most of the time, but they are always interrupting me to check on me, they let Anna come visit me a while ago."

"Is Anna a friend or something?" I ask, drying my hands.

"Yes. Hey don't I know you from somewhere?"

I grab a pair of latex gloves and slip them on "We were in the same age group" I say.

"That's right. Your name was…Cael right? Number One in our group."

"Mhm"

"Are you finished with your training yet? I thought Doctors' training took longer…but what do I know? I'm just a birthmother." I think I hear a bit of bitterness in her voice as she says this. But maybe I imagined it.

"I'm still in training, but my mentor decided I could handle this by myself for a while" I turn to face her. She's touching her stomach again, but takes it away when she sees I'm looking. "They're kicking again" she explains, "I guess that's a good sign huh?"

I smile and nod "It means they are alive, which is a terrific sign, considering what happened this morning."

She nods slowly, looking at her stomach, as I watch she smiles a little, a wistful smile.

"Well Chloe, do you mind if I take a look?" I ask her.

"Go ahead" she says "Do want me to put my legs in the stirrups?" she nods to the two clamp like figures on either side of the bed.

"Not just yet" I tell her "But in a moment, yes." I pick the clipboard back up and check the heart monitor.

"Well, heartbeat and blood pressure are normal" I tell her, recording them down on the clipboard. "That's good."

She doesn't say anything, though she's watching me. "Are they still kicking?" I ask her. She nods. "Can I feel?"

She nods again. Touching is generally considered very rude outside of family units, so is glimpsing another's nakedness, so though my assignment calls me to do such things on a day to day basis, I'm still required to ask permission first every time. I reach my hand out and lay it across the area I know product's feet tend to be. Indeed I begin to feel the rapid, almost fluttering motion of two pairs of feet flailing against my hand.

"Good, so they're both alive still." I take my hand away and write down "Both kicking strongly" on the notes section.

Again Chloe doesn't respond. "Do you know how far along you are?" I ask her.

"Six months"

"Alright. Now put your legs in the stirrups will you?"

She does so, silently. She even pushes the stirrups so that her legs are splayed the correct distance.

"You're a bit of an expert at this aren't you?" I say with a chuckle. Pulling up a stool. Chloe shrugs.

"I've been doing this since I was fourteen, I know the drill."

"May I have a look?" I ask her.

"Have fun"

I push the smock up over her knees so that I can get a better view. I begin to feel around a little "Everything looks fine from the outside." I say to her. "You're dilated a little though."

"Yeah, well they apparently decided they wanted to come out this morning, so that would make sense."

"What happened this morning exactly?"

Chloe shrugged "How should I know?" she asks "Didn't the doctors tell you what happened?"

"Yes they did" I say "But I want to hear it from your point of view. After all you were the one who experienced it weren't you?"

I can tell that no one has asked her this before. She's clearly surprised. In fact I think she's at a loss of words. She just stares at me.

"Well?" I ask her.

"Well….I…umm….It started with stomach cramps, kind of like I get when I'm menstruating…do you know what that is?"

"Mhm"

"Yeah, it started like that. It startled me a little, I never had that happen with my other pregnancies, so I thought maybe it was a twin thing, so I asked Bianca if she knew what was going on, she's had twins twice now, but she said that is not at all typical. So we reported it to the matron. She took me to the exam room and that's when they discovered the blood. After that they knocked me out and when I came to they told me that I had almost miscarried again and that they were keeping me on bed rest to make sure it didn't happen again."

"So it was…cramps you said?"

"Yeah"

"Lucky for you these guys weren't dead already."

She makes a face, like I just frightened her. "Don't say that" she whispers to me "Don't talk about them dieing."

"I apologize" I say "I didn't know that it made you uncomfortable"

"I accept your apology" she mumbles "I know they think I don't really care about my products, we're not supposed to-

"But you do" I finish for her. She nods.

"We all do, to a degree."

I nod "That makes sense" I say "After all you're growing a living being for nine months inside of you, your going to want to make sure it's alright."

She sighs a little but doesn't say anything.

"I'm going inside now, is that okay?"

She nods.

Technically I've never really done this before, I'm not a gynecologist student, I specialize more in pediatrician, but doctors are required to know how to do just about everything short of major surgery (that was for specialists), so I had been trained on how to do it, practiced it even. I knew exactly what to do, but it's still a little awkward to actually do it.

She makes a little noise at first, but quickly restrains herself and instead concentrates on her stomach. I feel around, taking note of everything, but try to get it done as quickly as possible and pull out at the first chance.

"Feels good. Dilated, but I think your safe as long as you stay in bed."

"Ugg" she says. I chuckle.

"My mentor, Doctor Mekhi will be here in a little to double check my work."

"Is he as nice as you?" she asks, looking up.

That was not exactly the response I had been expecting. Normally patients just say "Okay" or "Thank-you". It really didn't matter what Mekhi's disposition was like, he was a doctor, he did a good job, he made people productive members of society again, that was all that mattered.

I wonder.

"He'll make sure that the babies arrive safely, on time."

She looks disappointed. "I see" she says.

"But I'll be coming to check on you regularly, so we'll see each other again."

She brightens a little "Good."

I smile at her "See you in a little bit Chloe"

"Alright" she says, "Bye Cael, it was good seeing you again."

When I leave her, she's feeling her stomach again, rubbing it actually, and she seems a little soothed…for the time being.

"How is the Birthmother situation?" Mekhi asks me over the phone a short while later.

"It's a Special Insemination case, so they are desperate to save the products. We can afford to loose the birthmother though, if necessary."

"We can always afford to loose Birthmothers" Mekhi says "They're just vessels. The products always take precedence over the birthmothers."

"Right" I say, watching as two young women, both of them clearly pregnant, enter into the lobby, giggling, and make their way to Chloe's room. Her friends. I think to myself. One of them seems to be a little older than myself, eighteen maybe. She's tall and despite the huge baby bump she's sporting, she's very slender. The other is much shorter, and a bit stockier too, and has curly hair, a rarity in the Community. Both glance at me as they pass but say nothing. I gather I should stop them, tell them that Chloe needs her rest and send them away, but I decide to let them go in. Chloe had seemed so lonely in that room. She deserved some company.

"Did she look alright to you?" Mekhi asks.

"She's dilated"

"By how much?"

"I didn't get exact measurements. Mekhi you know I'm not specialized for this. I take care of their health after they're born. Not while they are in the womb."

"Cael, you trained for this" Mekhi snaps "You're the top medical assistant we have, you've saved countless people before, you can handle a birthmother with a high risk pregnancy."

I sigh, "If you say so," I say. "Anyway she's dilated but not by much, two inches maybe? No signs that she'll go back into labor any time soon. They have her on strict bed rest till her due date. So I think that as long as we keep an eye on her, she'll be fine."

"Good" Mekhi replies "I don't think I'll be able to get down to the Birthing Unit for a while, this Braxton has it worse than I thought. We're going to have to go in again and put another metal plate in. So I'm trusting her to you. Take care of her till I can find the time to get over."

"Alright"

"I'll check in again when I have the time." He says and before I can say good-bye he hangs up. Typical.

With a sigh I dial another number and wait till I hear the familiar elderly voice say "Hello this Alethea how may I help you?"

I smile, I've always been fond of Alethea, she's been my father's attendant since I was a small child, she's getting a little old now, it won't be long until she joins the house of the old I think. They must be looking for a replacement now, probably among the current group of elevens. I'm going to miss hearing her voice though.

"Hi Alethea it's Cael" I say. There is a short pause on the other end. I gather she's probably confused. Rarely do children keep in touch with their parental units after they move out of the dwelling.

But my family unit has never been a typical family unit. Alethea should know that by now.

"Cael! It's been a while. What can I do for you?"

"Is Father in?"

"Yes he is"

"Can you put me through?"

Another pause "He's busy at the moment" she says at last "Can I leave a message?"

"Tell him his son wanted to know if he would want to have lunch with him"

"Right" Alethea responds "Just give me a moment Cael, I'll ask him right now."

I smile, good old Alethea. "Thank you"

There is a silence on the other end. I've been put on hold. The door to Chloe's room opens and the two girls slip out. I can hear the older one saying

"Don't worry, we'll come back first chance we get. And you're right, he is extremely cute."

They both smile at me as they pass. The curly haired girl mouths "Thank you" to me, obviously for not stopping them or turning them in. I cover the speaker with my hand "Can one of you stay here for a moment, I want to ask you question." I ask.

They both exchange nervous looks.

"Don't worry, you're not in trouble."

"I'll stay" the older one says, "You go on ahead Doreen"

"Are you sure?" the curly haired one, I guess her name was Doreen, asks. She looks at me quickly.

"I'm sure." The older one says "Tell Grace that Chloe's doing fine. You know how Grace worries."

Doreen gives me one last look, but does as the older tells her and slinks off. Or waddles is more accurate. The girl is extremely pregnant.

"Hello Cael?" Alethea is back on the line.

"Yes, I'm here" I say.

"He says that he can't today, but he'd more than glad to do so tomorrow."

"Alright then, tomorrow it is. Thank you Alethea."

"Your Welcome Cael, good-bye"

"Bye" I say and then hang up. The birthmother was standing there waiting for me. I turn toward her and give her a smile. She nods, but doesn't smile back.

"My name's Cael. I'm a doctor."

"I can see that" she says, pointing at my identification badge "I'm not that stupid."

"Didn't say you were" I reply "And your name is?"

"Anna. Not that it should really matter, after all I'm just a birthmother."

I frown; obviously this girl wasn't going to be friendly. Not that I blame her, birthmothers may get taken really good care of physically, but they also kind of get treated a little less than human by a lot of their caretakers. They are just human incubators for products as far as we are supposed to be concerned.

"Well to me it does matter Anna. I've been put in charge of your friend Chloe for a while, and it's my job to make sure that both she and her products make it through alive."

She snorts, "Please, your job is to make sure those babies get out alright. Chloe could die for all you care."

"That's not true." I say, "Chloe means just as much to me as those babies do. Get it?"

Anna shrugs "Whatever. What did you want to ask me? I'm almost late for my vitamins."

"Right. I just wanted to know. Does Chloe take the pills?"

"Which pill?" Anna asks, "We take lots of them."

"I know that" I grumble, "I meant THE pill, you know the stirrings pill."

"Oh" for the first time she smiles "No. None of us do. We're not allowed to. They put us on it in-between productions, but as soon as they want us for insemination they take us off it again."

"I thought so"

"Why does it matter to you?" Anna asks, looking at me curiously.

I smile "Just wondering" I say "Thank-you for your time Anna, you can go take your vitamins now."

She doesn't move though, she's still looking at me oddly, like I'm a puzzle to her. "You know they don't care about us" she says to me "To them we are just a means for getting a product."

"To me you are Birthmothers" I say "and that makes you humans. So I treat you as such."

She nods "Well…thank you"

"Your welcome"

She starts to leave, but stops and looks back at me

"Do you take the pills?" she asks me.

Our eyes meet. I see something click with her, her dark eyes widen slightly.

I smile pleasantly at her "I'd be breaking the rules, if I didn't, wouldn't I?"

She smiles back, and even gives a giggle "Right" she says, turns on her heel, and with a flounce of her hair, she's gone.