I started writing my birthpunk novella in 2010 as part of Fourth Fiction. It was a story that suckered everyone in and when Fourth Fiction ended, I promised to write another 12 installments to finish the story off. I wrote a few more after the official contest closed but found it impossible to regain the original momentum of the story.
And every year since then I have promised my good friend Chris Chartrand I would finish the bloody story. It’s embarrassing how many years I have been promising him this. If the idea of birthpunk and the world I’ve created to explore the ideas, hadn’t struck a chord in everyone I accidentally (or purposely) spoke about it to (including three guys who work with my partner, at the Christmas party last year!), the idea, the characters and the story would have been long ago abandoned.
IT DOESN’T SOUND LIKE THIS, OR THIS, OR FUCKING THIS EITHER
Last year I had a crack at finishing the novella, but I knew deep down the voice was all wrong. The more I worked on it the more I knew just how wrong the voice was, yet felt powerless to change it. What made it worse, I could not bridge what I was writing with what I had previously written. And yet again the novella went to ground, as a dormant idea. The idea of trying to fix it when I picked it up at the end of last year was daunting. I knew it needed a new opening.
COMING FULL CIRCLES TO START AGAIN
Nik said to me the other day: nothing is ever wasted. And that’s very true. All the crap words I wrote last year (that appeared to go no where) gave me an opportunity to understand the world better (especially the world ‘above’ the Deme and their activities) and I have a far better grasp on Sylvie’s motivations: how she came to feel and behave as she does, how she came to be where she starts and ultimately ends.
But still, there was something missing!
“So it’s like a Matthew Reilly novel with births.”
Stacey said that to me on New Years Eve and it was like a light bulb went on in my head. She’s known about this project for as long as we’ve been friends, almost as long as I’ve been writing it, but it was something in what I was saying about the frustration of the narrative pace and how it was keeping me from writing that spawned her insight.
It’s funny how a single throw away comment can bring your entire project into focus.
I’m not entirely sure I originally set out to write a dystopic-action-birth-rebellion story but it appears this is what it has evolved into over the years. Welcome to birthpunk!
NEW WORDS PENDING
With a general stylistic framework in place, I’ve spent the last nine days brainstorming a new opening. I knew the stakes had to be high for Sylvie from the beginning. So I found somewhere stupidly dangerous for a birth, in a society that has already outlawed natural birth and made everywhere outside of a hospital and scheduled Caesarean section a dangerous way and place to birth if you are caught.
With a building in mind and an idea of who might be in it birthing, I set to unravel the Amalia strata of society as I walked the puppy and stumbled onto something far more disturbing than I could ever have imagined (and my imagination is a pretty twisted place).
So where is the most dangerous place for Sylvie to be called to attend a birth? Who is the birthing woman she considers a risk to them all? I’ll leave you with this opening section (of first draft goodness!) to whet your appetite.
* * *
ENCURSION: Sylvie’s Story
A Byrthed Novella
Sylvie had never been called to this safe house. Standing on the broken curb, several feet outside the ring lock fence, she took in the building: long, low with a roof that pitched from one side, rather than the middle and appeared to be a former warehouse. It looked nothing like a safe house, but wasn’t that what made them all complicit and the perfect places to hide birthing women? Sylvie looked a block down, taking in the neighbourhood. The full moon brought definition to broken buildings, echoes of anti-Government graffiti fading on the walls. Auto corpses rotted in the centre of the street. They were deep in the heart of the city she realised, and shivered. Close to the Dead Zone. That’s what made a building this size safe for them, she told herself, but knew it was a lie. Nowhere was safe.
The Driver, a man she’d never travelled with, took one last 360-degree surveillance turn of the street and bent to pick the padlock on the gate. Sylvie noted the rolls of barbed wire at the top.
Where the hell were they breaking into?
“Security’s been taken care of inside,” Daniel whispered into her ear. He knew her thoughts well.
“Security,” she hissed. “This isn’t how we do things.”
“Things are changing,” Daniel replied and there was a hard edge to his voice Sylvie didn’t remember.
But neither of them were novices now. And Daniel was riding shotgun. She pushed from her head that of the three of them he was the expendable one if they were raided.
The gate clattered free and the three of them slipped through. The gate was left pushed to but unlocked. There wouldn’t be time on an emergency retreat to unlock it. And they always planned for the worst-case scenario.
Sylvie turned to look over her shoulder as her boots bit into the well-maintained driveway. They’d left the stolen car roughly parked over the disintegrating concrete path. From a casual glance it looked abandoned. She hesitated, looking down again toward the Dead Zone.
“C’mon,” Daniel urged. “This one has to run on the clock.”
“On the clock?”
He gave her a gentle push between her shoulders and she bit down an acid retort.
The security system was offline and they entered through an unlocked rear door moving through an industrial kitchen, deeper into the building through a hall of trestle tables set up as a dining room and then a side door into a long corridor. Doors punctuated the wall every few feet. The soft glow of the illumi-ball in the Driver’s hand cast a ghostly, green pall on the doors, and Sylvie saw every one had a number handwritten on a small white board. Further down the corridor she noticed the black, lace-up shoes left neatly to the side of each door.
“Where are we?” Sylvie asked in as loud a whisper as she dared, refusing to continue on until she got a straight answer. This birth felt wrong, pit of her stomach wrong.
“It’s not your concern,” The Driver said.
“It’s too dangerous. I want out.”
“Everything about what we do is dangerous.”
And it hit her where they were: the numbers, the sensible black shoes, the dining hall.
“We’re in an Amalia enclave.” She tightened her grip on the oxygen canister she carried and spun on her heel. “I won’t do it.”
She tried to barge past Daniel, back out the way they’d come, but he caught hold of her. His fingers and eyes bored into her. Where was the boy she’d trained with, who taught her self defence and read her snippets from a tattered book of Neruda, who she imagined herself in love with for so many years?
He sensed the shift in tension in her body and said, “Don’t. Don’t fight me.”
“You do your duty,” the Driver hissed, hauling her away from Daniel. “And once you’ve done it, you’ll understand.”
He shoved her ahead of him hard enough to assert his authority but not to hurt her. The jab of her midwife’s kit in her back kept her moving.
Under his breath, he was counting off doors. She looked ahead and knew there was no point in running. She would have to fight off him and Daniel, and while she had the oxygen bottle, they were both trained fighters. She had enough skill to use in the chaos of a raid, not in a situation like this.
And the old defeatist attitude crept in…where would she run?
“Here,” grunted The Driver. He opened the door and held it for her.
She’d run to Joseph. Find somewhere safe for him to collect her and they could go to ground early. Or he could hide her in his penthouse.
But Joseph had said he needed time. Two more weeks to ensure they could all disappear forever. It was too soon. And their Amalia…there was no way they could hide her from the wet nurse.
The fucking Amalias.
How could Maia have sent her into a nest of Government spies? Did Maia sense it was more than the anger over her mother’s death at the heart of her disenfranchisement. With her quiet rebellion against the life she was told she would live.
None of that mattered now. She was here and on the other side there was a birthing woman.
Sylvie took a deep breath and forced the stale air, the angst and anger out of her and stepped into the tiny room.
The Driver passed her the illumi-ball and Sylvie waited for her eyes to adjust
In the long, thing room a heavily pregnant woman lay on her back in the centre of a narrow iron bed, arms pulled back over her head, fingers curled through the bars of bed head. A twisted piece of material, jammed between her jaw, muffled her cries of distress.
“You came.” The ragged voice belonged to an equally ragged woman, hidden by the bulk of the birthing woman until she stood. “I think she’s close, but it’s hard to tell. None of us ever see a birth. They take the girls down into a room in the basement.”
Sylvie turned to the Driver. “I don’t understand?”
“This isn’t a halfway house,” the woman said. “This is an education centre.”
“But she’s pregnant.”
“Of course she’s pregnant,” the woman snapped. “That’s part of the schedule of education and modification. You’re a midwife. You know how lactation works.”
“Mara,” the birthing woman moaned, coming out of her trance and pulling the rag from her mouth. “Mara,” she cried.
“Shhhhh,” Mara soothed. “The midwife is here now.”
“I can’t Mara. You have to stop it. Call matron. Take me down like all the other girls. If they catch me….”
“No one’s going to catch you, my darling,” she stroked the woman’s damp hair. “Matron is asleep. Everyone’s asleep. And they won’t be waking up until you’re safely out of here.”
“This isn’t just a birth,” the Driver said, stepping back toward the door. “It’s an extraction and Maia swore you had the guts to handle it.”
The mention of her mother’s best friend and the Deme’s guiding force came as a slap in the face. Now they trusted her to go above and beyond what she had been trained to do. Now they had given her what she wanted for years to do, a chance to actually do something. Now, when she’d already made the decision to do something for herself.
Extraction. That’s what the Driver had said. And she knew this was her last birth with the Deme. This was the precursor to her extraction. A test run for Joseph and his wife and baby.
“How long do we have?” the Driver asked.
“I can’t say.” Mara’s voice trembled then steadied. “It wasn’t an exact dosage. Six hours perhaps, eight for others. Four at the very least.” She pulled a small watch face on a chain from inside her dress. “That was two hours ago.”
“Mara, it’s coming again,” the birthing woman moaned. Mara put the rag back in the woman’s mouth, muting the scream that tore from her throat.
When the contraction passed Mara looked up at Sylvie. “Please, help my sister. You can’t let them take her baby away.”