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I made myself start writing something that had nothing to do with the sheeping Th’nashi. Here’s the first chapter of . . . sumthin. . .:

Squirrel was afraid of the baby. Her baby. Oh, Duncan’s baby too, of course—well, not really. His sperm had activated her gene plasm, but that had been it. She had dutifully gone to doctors in the Community, who had supplied her with the necessary ultrasound photos and very particular prenatal vitamins, but in truth she was about to give birth to a crudely humanoid lump of green Play-doh.

“But at least it’s healthy Play-Doh,” she said to the air freshener hanging from her rear-view mirror. Plum Blossom, it was. Little Camber Stichson had adored fruity, floral scents, so Squirrel did too, even though she had matured (wearing Camber’s print) past the age when she should have changed over to liking muskier odors.

But that was how it went. Sometimes prints were like snapshots. Despite the age on her driver’s license (26), Squirrel still wanted to play hopscotch, yearned for every new doll on TV, and regularly made herself sick from too much candy and ice cream. Too much sugar was very bad for Printers—Squirrel was considered to have a Problem, and was at risk of becoming Mushy, parts dissolving into a disgusting mass of green Play-doh streaked with blood.

She had been careful about what she ate during her marriage, and more so during the pregnancy. Squirrel was pretending she was going to have an ordinary human baby, because the green Play-doh gave her nightmares, as she carried within her the undeniable proof that the alien existed. She would cling to Duncan in the sweaty sheets, always grateful that Camber had been a sneeze past an early puberty when she’d been printed, so Squirrel was able to get horny and have a satisfying relationship with Duncan. For days and weeks on end, Squirrel was the Camber-print: human in almost every detail.

Now, she started the car, hoping she’d make it through the freeway traffic before the frozen veggies in her grocery bags thawed and refroze into an unforgiving lump. She had shopped hastily and would have to make a sketchy dinner for Duncan, because she had spent the afternoon touring Bryson Cryogenics, which was run by the Community as a source for emergency prints. Like babies.

Squirrel blinked and froze. A strange man had gotten into the front seat with her; an equally strange woman had barreled into the back seat, pushing the grocery bags over to make room with a savage swear.

“What . . . the?” Squirrel managed to croak before the muzzle of a gun was jammed into her ribs.

“Drive, lady, if you and the baby wanna live,” the man snarled.

“Oh shit, Jude, she’s pregnant?” the woman in the back wailed.

“Shut up, Suzanne!” he barked. Squirrel flinched as a reflex. That happened to be the name on her driver’s license. Nobody called her that except her boss and her father-in-law. The muzzle of the gun slid down an inch, making her wince with pain. It was now digging into the area of her liver, which the baby was fond of pounding from the other side, exercising its protolimbs with a vigor Squirrel found dismaying. It added to the nightmares.

But right now it had penetrated that strangers and gun meant carjacking, and Squirrel, going on 13, was terrified.

“Drive!” he urged her, and Squirrel did, not knowing how this adventure would end.

For about twenty minutes, Jude directed and Squirrel obeyed, while from the back seat Suzanne would interject an occasional comment: “C’mon, Jude, she’s pregnant.” “I told you this was fucking stupid.” And at last, “Shit! Is she almost out of gas, or what?”

Jude half-turned to backhand her then, as being the bearer of bad tidings, and Squirrel thought of going for the gun, but she was even more unsure of how that adventure would end. But Suzanne was right; in fact Squirrel was cursing herself for this just on general principles. She had no idea what Jude would do—and she plain hated running out of gas. She did it a lot—it was one of the reasons her nickname still stuck.

Jude made her ask the GPS where the nearest station was, and Squirrel’s heart leapt. She knew it—it was off the beaten trail, run by a nice old widower who was a shade-tree mechanic with a single rusty pump. He had been a Marine in ‘Nam, and the staties had once had a hard time explaining to him why he couldn’t keep a junkie’s head as a trophy, after the kid had played a 9mm, and discovered that old Mr. Bubba had double barrels in the hole.

Squirrel pulled into the gravel driveway under the huge live oak without a word, her heart pounding.

“Go on, get out and pump the gas,” Jude said, gesturing at the placard reading “Self-Serve.” Squirrel got out of the car, her knees a little wobbly, but as she turned to the ancient pump, a ribbon of agony tore through her, and she cried out, clutching at the car for support. It was time. The one thing Printer and human births had in common was that they couldn’t be argued with.

Suzanne yelled through the window, “Your water break? Jude, I think her water just broke. We gotta get outta here!”

“Not without gas,” he gritted, and leapt out of the car, gun waving in all directions like a malicious iron wasp.

Squirrel sank down to the ground, tugging her gauzy maternity top out of the way so she could burrow a thumb inside her body. It hurt, but not like the spasms now racking her entire circulatory system. She felt resistance; then the bubble of amniotic fluid cascaded over her lap in verisimilitude of a human’s water breaking. She kept her hand clutched to her belly, while the other tried and failed to pin her long honey-blonde hair behind her ears so it wouldn’t blend with the sweat pouring into her eyes.

Suzanne also had gotten out of the car, ignoring Jude’s barking. As he pumped the gas, swearing at the rusty contraption while still holding the gun on Squirrel as best he could, Suzanne knelt beside her and took her hand. This unexpected kindness in the middle of the surreality of the last hour undid Squirrel, and she burst into tears.

Jude’s head exploded, raining blood and brains over the two women. Mr. Bubba, thought Squirrel in vindication as Suzanne screamed and flattened herself on the ground. Squirrel felt that everything was happening in slow motion as she tugged at the hole she had made, keening like an animal hit by a car. She pulled forth the squirming green mass and, pushing up Suzanne’s jean leg, applied it to her bare unbloodied skin.

The carjacker was in too much terror to notice, and Mr. Bubba had lost a leg in the jungle, so by the time he and his M-16 peeked around the hood of the car, the print took hold, and pink replaced green with a rapidity that made even Squirrel blink with surprise.

Mr. Bubba limped over, and, forcing Jude’s body out of the way with his cane, peered down at them. Squirrel had turned away, and was sheltering the baby as best she could as it busily thrust forth fingers and toes. She heard Suzanne babble for her life; heard Mr. Bubba tell her to stay just as she was.

“Squirrel?” The old man put a gentle hand on her head. She looked up, and only then realized she was still sobbing. Thank God I’m wearing Aunt Dorothy’s hideous maternity skirt today, she thought somewhere in the back. I never could have pulled this off in jeans.

Then they all looked up, as a huge greyish wedge hurtled over their heads, followed by another, and then another. There was a massive rush of air, but no sound.

I’m dreaming, sighed Squirrel. The Community had records. The ships which had dropped them off in 1642 looked much like this. Dreaming. She relaxed into Mr. Bubba’s arms in a drowsy relief. Dreaming. None of it real.