In a windowless bedroom built for one, three people—or more specifically, two humans and one avian-human hybrid—were crowded together waiting for new life to take place. Doctor Mercy Perching, not a day over six months pregnant, lay huffing and puffing in her bed, anxious to bring her daughter into the world, even though she worried it would be a difficult life in the Sanctuary of Europe for the only human-canine.
“Breathe!” Basil urged Mercy, standing by her side, trying to sound confident.
“What do you think I am doing?” Mercy snapped back.
“Too much shout?” Basil said apologetically, his head cocked slightly to the left.
“Oh lord,” Mercy moaned, panting hard and rolling her eyes. “Jillet, can you sing me through this please?”
The half-bird girl, wings for arms and a stubby yellow beak for a nose, stood next to Mercy on the right side of the bed. On cue, she began to whistle a soft, rhythmic tune. Breathing in and out in tempo with the melody, Mercy walked herself through to the end of her contraction. Relieved, exhausted, and already waiting for the next round of clenching pain, she collapsed against the wall at the top of her bed. Her knees raised and legs wide open, she was prepared to give birth any minute.
Agent Basil, a trained diplomat, seasoned in military manoeuvres, was suddenly rendered a helpless man in the face of childbearing.
“I am not sure about this anymore.” Basil tossed the words out in a near panic. “You should be in the medical ward having a caesarean like all the other surrogates.”
“You know why I’m not. If the Five Leaders find out my child is a hybrid, I won’t even have ten minutes with her,” Mercy answered, reminding him of the importance of their secret. “Gia, can you please give me a little more notice before the next contraction starts?” Mercy ordered her personal virtual assistant.
“Are you certain? Ten minutes ago, you asked me to not warn you in advance,” the assistant’s voice answered from the ether of the room.
“Alright, alright. Just tell me the stats then.”
“Your foetus’s heart rate is elevated, but still within an acceptable range. All other readings are normal. However—you sound agitated.”
Basil and Mercy shot each other a look, and their lips spontaneously curled up into a burst of laughter. Their friendship had deepened over the six months of her pregnancy. At first, this newfound arrangement was out of necessity. Mercy needed someone she could trust. Someone close to the Five Leaders of the Sanctuary of Europe who could help her hide her unusual pregnancy.
“Oh…” Mercy screamed as her belly squeezed.
“Another contraction?” Basil asked nervously.
Mercy nodded her head fiercely, unable to speak. Her perspiration-soaked hair lay pressed against her plump cheeks and her eyes squeezed shut.
“Breathe, just breathe,” Basil coached, much more gently this time around.
“Ahhh!” Mercy screeched in pain. Something wasn’t right.
“The foetus’s heart rate is dropping,” alerted Gia. “Agent Basil, we must call the doctor now.”
“No!” Mercy cried as her white bedsheets turned red.
“Make the call, Gia,” Basil ordered and started placing towels between Mercy’s legs. “You’re going to be okay, Mercy.”
These were the last words she heard before the world around her went black.