They were both pregnant at the same time.
One was in her sixth month of nine – and she had been ordered to remain, mostly, off her feet and avoid stress. But that was nigh well impossible for the Empress Hoshi Sato, who had to handle all manner of issues on the Defiant. It seemed as if everyone in the Terran Empire was gunning for her ship.
She had been wary, and had played her cards well, doling out favors to the male members – ha – of her senior staff. The plan was to have lots of children, all by different fathers, to assure the succession, but also to ensure optimal genetic diversity. Plus, they would undoubtedly fight over the Empire after her death. It made sense, to her, to give them no common blood ties except to her.
Plus it could keep her senior staff loyal, and in line. This was her second such pregnancy. The first had resulted in her son Jun, by a guy who’d ended up just passing through. And then, before she’d even had Jun, the guy’d gotten himself killed in a shuttle crash on Daranaea. Those fox-faced aliens had not been able to save him.
But this, the second one, was by her former secondary Tactical Officer, Aidan MacKenzie. Aidan was a coward and a pain, so she’d busted him to babysitter. Oh, the humiliation, to be a male subject of the Terran Empire in charge of wiping a soiled butt! She knew she was having a boy again, and would name him Kira, but Doctor Morgan’s findings had been clear. Her cervix had shortened too much, and it threatened Kira with premature birth. She had to get off her feet and leave most of the business of running things to her main lover, her First Officer, Pilot Travis Mayweather.
She was also supposed to be avoiding stress, but with Travis in charge, that was proving to be impossible.
The other expectant mother was different.
It was not her first pregnancy. It wasn’t even her second. It was her tenth.
And she wasn’t having just one at a time – she was averaging five. She didn’t have a name. Or, at least, nothing that she called herself, or would answer to. Doctor Morgan had kept her for snake food, but she had been let out of her cage in order for Jun to get some knife practice in.
But she had proven too fast and elusive for the toddler, so she had escaped. She had not known, at the time, that she was pregnant. She had run into the Transporter room, and even survived when it was bombed in November of 2157.
The burned-out Transporter room had proven to be the perfect nursery. The destroyed carpet made good bedding and there was even enough food, as there had been some human remains in there until it had really been cleaned out. And then, as the room was cleaned up, and what was left of MACO Deborah Haddon’s body was taken out, and an investigation was conducted, the door was opened, again and again. She and her first children could rush in and out with no one seeing.
Certainly Chip Masterson, Deborah’s ex, wasn’t looking. He was too busy trying to determine who had set the charges, and deciding whether he wanted to be the Empress’s next conquest. He thought, a bit, too, about Deb’s untimely demise. He wasn’t looking down at his feet.
Her pregnancies only took about twenty days or so. About fifty days after he was born, she and her eldest son mated. The instinct was too strong, and they definitely didn’t understand anything like incest.
The first generation was all grey or white or black, as were all of the others that had, so far, followed. Only she was of a different color, and it was not an uncommon color but, for some reason, it was rare in their burgeoning population. The generations split off after a while, colonizing the kitchen and the gym, and the various conference rooms. When the Transporter room was completely cleaned up and repaired, they had left that place, a mass exodus as they migrated to what had once been a Botany lab and now was being used to store old uniforms.
There were how many of them? How many generations? She did not know, did not even know that she had, at best, perhaps four more years of life. All she knew was breeding, caring for her children, keeping safe and finding food.
Their presence was not unnoticed. They had, at first, been timid, and had stuck to nighttime excursions. But sometimes the children were hungry, or the door was open, and the opportunity just presented itself. And so they became bolder, and had started to travel more during the day.
Their biggest mistake was when they had dared to make a move during the day when the Empress was nearby. She had seen about two dozen of the grandchildren as they skittered along the hallway wall, near the doors to the Mess Hall.
The Empress had screamed. Loud.
And so Chip and Aidan had been charged with ridding the Defiant of mice.
“You looking forward to fatherhood?” Chip asked as he hopped out of a Jeffries tube.
“Well, I kinda already act like Jun’s dad most of the time,” Aidan said, “I’m the only one, it seems, who ever tells that kid no. So, you find anything in there?”
“Yep, there are droppings. We could lay traps in there, but I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Probably,” Aidan allowed, “Uh, Chip?” he asked, changing the subject abruptly, “you think you’ll be her next?”
“I dunno. Ramirez and Torres are also sniffing around. Uh, how’s it all working out for you?”
“Less than wonderful,” Aidan admitted, “but there’s an upside. No one’s trying to knife me, ‘cause nobody wants my job.”
A half a dozen little packets of grey fur rushed by. “Over there!” Chip yelled, pointing out a small hole near a conduit.
“You know where that junction goes?” Aidan asked.
Chip clicked around on a PADD. “This is what we get for just grabbing a ship – no schematics worth a damn!” He clicked some more. “Looks like it’s environmental controls for this floor, assuming this thing is at all accurate.”
There was the sound of voices – the Empress and her entourage. She waddled along, attended by Travis and the two men who seemed to be next in line for her favors – Chief Engineer Frank Ramirez and Security Specialist José Torres. Chip and Aidan ducked into an unused lab and eavesdropped.
“And I am telling you,” Hoshi was laughing, “Aidan is less than useless! He’s like a woman half the time! He’s too, huh, soft on Jun. Who knows how his kid’s gonna turn out?” She patted her huge belly. “And Chip’s no better, still pining for that dead MACO.”
She paused. “Querido,” she said to José, “I would love for you to rub my … feet.” Torres dutifully laughed and the parade went by.
When they were gone, Chip and Aidan had made up their minds. “I don’t care if we ever catch a mouse,” Chip said, “she can end up knee-deep in mice for all I care.”
Days later, the Empress experienced a few Braxton-Hicks contractions, so Doctor Morgan insisted that she confine herself to her bed for the duration. Aidan was stuck attending to her, and she was mighty demanding.
“And you and Chip laid the mousetraps like I asked?”
“Uh, yes, Empress,” he lied.
“Good,” she said, “I want those rodents gone.”
Aidan smiled to himself when he saw a little bundle – this time of brown fur – rush out into the open, at a corner of the Empress’s sumptuous quarters. He and the mouse looked at each other, and he could swear the rodent almost nodded at him, a passing shared understanding. Then the Queen of the mice sniffed a little at the huge female in the big bed, and decided to settle in the wall, near the bathroom, where there were plush towels that could be ripped by strong teeth and made into bedding, and there was a reliable water source. There was a replicator nearby, too, so food was never far away. It was perfect for her next brood and however many more she would have afterwards.
And the Empress Hoshi Sato never knew who was really in charge.