Mary Reed had completed her first day of work, and was on her way home. The transport from Berlin to Phnom Penh had been uneventful, and she had made her connection to the local maglev train that would pass through several Southeast Asian cities until it eventually let her off at Kota Bharu.
She was dozing off a little. It had been a long day, as she had been hired on the spot that very morning. Her job was technically a bit of the Romulan War effort, although in a somewhat roundabout fashion, for she was answering fan mail for a pop star she had never heard of – Kurt Fong.
Because there was a need to entertain the troops, and Fong was often busy with charitable and benefit engagements such as that, her new job was to keep his fan mail from becoming overwhelming. She was also instructed to set aside any requests for entertainment or autographs from the troops. So far, she was enjoying herself.
But she was tired. She had never worked outside her home before, and she was in her mid-seventies. It was all feeling a bit much, and she fought to stay awake, a bit concerned that she’d miss her stop and end up in Jakarta.
She barely registered a young woman boarding the train in Ho Chi Minh City. The woman was hugely pregnant, and looked rather uncomfortable. A young Tellarite gave her his seat, which was across from Mary. The woman cringed every now and then, but stayed quiet.
The train continued on, and entered a tunnel under the South China Sea. And that’s when it stopped, and the lights went out. Mary inadvertently called out, “Oh, my!”
The public address system came on. “We seem to have a small problem. Sit tight, folks, we won’t be going anywhere for a while.”
An impatient male voice called out in the darkness, “What about the damned lights?”
Others turned on their PADDs, and there was an eerie greenish glow in the train car. People grumbled that there was no external grid reception, so there was no way to tell anyone that they were stuck and were going to be late. Then Mary noticed the young pregnant woman really grimacing. Mary got up and sat down beside the woman. “Are you ill?”
“No, I, uh, dammit, why aren’t we moving?”
“I, I don’t know, my dear,” Mary replied.
The auxiliary power finally kicked on, and the car was at least better illuminated. “Hey, Lady,” said the Tellarite, “I think you sprung a leak.”
The pregnant woman was mortified. “I, oh God! This is not how this was supposed to go.”
“You’re in labor, if I’m not mistaken. And I imagine that was your water breaking,” Mary stated. The woman nodded, scared, and lay down on her back on the bench seat.
The Tellarite flipped open a communicator. “Yeah, we got an emergency, uh, it’s car number, uh, 42753. There’s a human lady who’s gonna have a kid.”
The PA system came back on. “If there is a doctor on this train, please go to car number 42753. Thank you.”
Except for the young Tellarite, all of the other men in the car fled to the other cars. “I guess they’re scared of a little blood,” said the Tellarite, shrugging.
“Perhaps,” Mary allowed. “Now, we should be timing the contractions, and the intervals between them.”
Two Vulcan women came forward and set their PADDs to timer mode. One of them said, “Tell us when the next contraction begins.”
“Yeah,” said the pregnant woman, “uh, now.”
Another woman came forward – she had knitting. Wordlessly, she took the unfinished piece off the needles and placed it under the pregnant woman’s head as a kind of pillow.
Another woman stepped forward and took off her coat and put it over the woman as a makeshift blanket. Another had a water bottle, and brought it over. And another had a sweater, which was added to be even more of a blanket.
The Vulcans timed the contractions. Mary leaned over. “What’s your name, dear?”
“My name is Mary. Tell me, Penda, have you any other children?”
“I’ve got two. And so I know how you feel.”
“Did you have them on a maglev?” asked Penda, cringing. “There’s another labor pain.”
“Heavens, no. Penda, is there someone we can call for you once we get grid reception again?”
“My mother is on Triton.”
“Oh, dear, that’s a few hours away. How about the baby’s father?”
“My husband is on the front line, on the Columbia.”
“Oh, my son Malcolm is on the Enterprise. I’m afraid he’s on the front line as well. Is there anyone else we could ring for you?”
“No one,” Penda said. She was near tears. “This is all wrong. I, I went to work and felt poorly, and was almost home. If the damned train wasn’t stuck, I’d be on my way to the Bangkok Hospital by now. This is; it’s all unnatural.”
Mary thought for a second. “Long ago, when humans were barely even human, the birth of a child was an occasion. The men would leave on a hunt, or some such.”
“Hey!” exclaimed the Tellarite.
“Perhaps there were a few exceptions,” Mary allowed. “And the women, they all gathered ‘round. It was the entire tribe. They came together, in order to celebrate such a grand occasion and welcome the new tribe member.”
“You’re not a doctor, though. No one here is a doctor.” Penda’s voice was tinged with a bit of panic.
“But we are all together,” said one of the Vulcans. “This can be your tribe.”
There was a lurch, and the train started to move again. The doors opened at the next stop, a town in Thailand called Bang Lamung, where there was a waiting ambulance. “Do you want anyone to go with you?” Mary inquired.
“No, I’m all right,” Penda said as she was lifted up on a stretcher. The maglev’s doors closed and the train continued on its way.
The Vulcan women returned to their seats and switched their PADDs from timer mode. The knitter picked up her unfinished piece and began to loop it back onto her needles. The coat, the water bottle and the sweater were all returned to their rightful owners.
One by one, the women – and the Tellarite – got off at their stops, until only Mary remained. She got off at Kota Bharu, where her husband, Stuart, was anxiously waiting and glancing at his wrist chronometer and frowning. And with Mary’s departure, the last vestige of the maglev car number 42753 tribe was dispersed.