Children of Mars

Keeva had always lived in the Garden with her companion Rey. As far as she knew, they were the only creatures that looked like one another, besides the Creator. Like them, he walked on two legs and wore robes instead of fur or feathers. But he was much larger than they and heavier boned. And their air was too thin for him to breathe: whenever he walked with them in the evenings, he wore a strange apparatus over his nose and mouth.

"Rey, what do you think lies beyond the Gate?" Keeva asked one afternoon as they plucked golden, heart-shaped fruits from the silkleaf trees.

"You shouldn't ask such questions," Rey said, stopping momentarily to watch tiny prismbirds drink nectar from the nearby hornblossoms with their sinuous beaks. Their feathers were crystalline, a shade that made the sun sparkle against them in blinding bursts of color. "You know the Creator says that we must just remain in this Garden. It is our world. We can't survive anywhere else."

"How do we know we can't?"

"Because the Creator said so. He should know. He created us after all. Don't you remember him saying, after he brought us into consciousness, that we are too fragile to survive in his environment?" He pointed toward the square, red edifices that stood beyond the ferns and saplings at the edge of the Garden. A large transparent dome surrounded them. "And beyond the Garden is nothing but a vast desert wasteland that hasn't been cultivated yet. Whatever that means."

Keeva turned back to her gathering. Curiosity continued to gnaw at her, something that grew stronger each day.

"Are there others like Rey and me?" Keeva asked the Creator one evening as they walked with him around the Garden. His footing was stilted and awkward since he still wasn't physically used to the faint gravity. The sun was setting, transforming sky from pale pink to a soft, incandescent blue. Duskstar birds with long tail feathers and crested heads began to appear; their trilling songs filled the air like spring rain.

The Creator settled onto one knee to be eye-level with her. She struggled not to focus on the breathing tubes inserted into his mouth and nose. "So far you two are the first. At least that I've been responsible for." He took her hand. Her fingers couldn't even reach around one of his. She suddenly felt so tiny, so insignificant. We owe everything to him, she thought. Even our lives. "If you continue to obey me and tend your Garden, I may make more of your kind." His brow furrowed. "Are you not happy here?" He swept his great arm outward, motioning toward the plush flora that filled it; the babbling river that fed into a crystalline pool; the scuttling animals, fluffy with soft down; and the beautiful birds. "What more could you want? Everything you'd ever need is here."

"Yes. We are grateful for all of this and we thank you," Rey said, beaming.

"I'm sorry," Keeva said, still unable to quench her stubborn longing. "I really do appreciate all that you've given us."

The Creator's eyes softened. He smiled and patted her head. "I'm glad to hear that, little one. Just remember what you told me."

They continued their walk until the sun vanished to be replaced by a mass of stars and the two misshapen moons that lit everything with a soft glow. The damp evening air was filled with the blending scents of countless flowers and colorful fireflies flashed everywhere.

"Good night you two," the Creator said as he started toward his domed abode. His awkward footfalls padded softly over the thick grass.

Something small and rectangular fell from his pocket. Keeva was about to retrieve it when she felt Rey pulling on her arm. "It's time to play in the pond."

They swam in the sun-warmed waters, a nightly ritual, and made love on the grassy shore before falling asleep. But Keeva couldn't sleep. She had to find out what the Creator had dropped.

She pulled on her seedsilk robe and searched the ground. The moonlight wove sinuous, double shadows that made the task difficult. Maybe I should just look for it in the morning when I can see better, she thought. But I'll never be able to sleep wondering about it.

Her bare foot brushed against something smooth and cold. She bent down and retrieved a flat object that was roughly the size of the Creator's hand.

What was it? Glowing symbols flickered across its surface. She touched them but felt only cold metal.

Some of the symbols seemed to represent items she recognized from the Garden: trees, flowers, and birds. By touching that surface, she could make these images scroll up and down. She stayed up most of the night trying to decipher the runes next to them.

The next day, instead of helping Rey with the weeding and pruning, she studied the queer text, teaching herself the written words that connected each object.

"Isn't that the Creator's?" Rey said at last, flinging down his basket. His face was flushed and his eyes flashed with anger. "We are not allowed to look at such things, remember?"

"I don't see what's wrong with it. I think this object tells us where the Creator came from." She pointed to the image of a blue sphere. "There may be others like him, but I can't make most of it out. Not yet, anyway. We— "

"The Creator is the only one, don't you understand?" Rey shouted, grabbing it out of her hand. "And he didn't come from anywhere. He's always been and there are no others like him. You'd be lucky if he doesn't destroy you for saying such nonsense."

"It isn't nonsense!" She tried to snatch the object from him, but he pushed her away. "There is much that we don't know about our Creator."

Rey ran in the direction of the Creator's abode.

The anger within Keeva turned into a burst of excitement. Perhaps there were other information objects in the Creator's quarters. She quickly caught up with Rey.

He stopped before the thick glass that separated the Creator's environment from theirs.

"I'll just leave it here," Rey said, placing the object onto the ground. "Now we should get back to work. There's a lot to do before the Creator emerges."

Keeva's eyes strayed to the glass. She could barely make out what lay beyond since the sun created dizzying reflections against the surface. She stood on tiptoe and pressed her palms against it.

A portion drew aside. She fell forward, feeling suddenly heavy. "Keeva, no!" She felt Rey grab her legs and pull.

The air Keeva tried to draw into her lungs felt as if it had suddenly turned solid. It pressed against her chest with a crushing weight. Her consciousness faded.

When she awoke, she found that she could breathe again, but her lungs still ached. She opened her eyes slowly. They felt dry and itchy, reminding her of the red dust that occasionally blew over the wall on windy days. She blinked hard until her gaze settled on the Creator. His wizened face was set into stern lines.

"Didn't I warn you never to enter my environment?" His voice rasped with anger. "Look what you've done."

Rey lay beside her. His lips looked blue and he didn't draw breath. Horror filled her. What was wrong?

"Rey managed to pull you out, but the door closed on him before he could escape," the Creator said. His face was somber and his eyes shimmered with moisture. "I . . . I tried to save him but it was too late."

Something warm and damp tickled her cheek. She brushed it away, but more water-trickles followed. The Creator looked blurred and watery. What was happening to her eyes? Had his environment affected them?

"Those are tears you shed," he said, his voice as heavy as his atmosphere. "I'm certain you will shed plenty more. You disobeyed my rules and now you must leave my Garden."

He gave her a cloth sack filled with a variety of Garden nuts and fruits before he unlocked the gate. "I suggest you save the seeds. Perhaps you will eventually create your own garden. I must warn you that it is a harsh environment out there."

Keeva peered through the gate, at this place beyond the walls that she had always wished to explore. Red, powdery sands, sprinkled with the same-colored rocks, stretched in all directions. The two tiny moons hovered like desolate mottled stones against the dusty pink sky. She glanced back at the Creator before he shut the gate behind her. A tear glinted upon his cheek.

"Rey, I'm so sorry," she whispered, feeling the tears emerge once again. Inside she felt emptiness, as if the soul that the Creator had claimed to have given her had been ripped away. She barely noticed the sun's oppressive heat as she trudged away from the Garden, heading in no direction in particular.

She continued this for days, living off the rations. She didn't have an appetite. A sluggish sickness filled her. During the biting-cold nights, she slept beneath the sun-warmed powder-sands. The Garden never had such extremes in temperature. At least none that she had noticed. Perhaps the plush foliage had kept it moderate. Or maybe it had been the Creator's magic.

Tears came to her again whenever she gazed at the night sky, thickly iced with stars, as she remembered looking up at that same sky as she lay next to Rey. Perhaps I should just remain here and let death take me, she thought. I was the one who disobeyed, yet it was he who had died . . . just to save me. Why? The thought made her weep and filled her with a pain similar to the Creator's crushing environment.

Keeva eventually came upon a chain of low, reddish hills that were pocked here and there with small caves. A thin river flowed around them. It was not as large as the Garden's river, or as clear: she could see the red silt at the bottom. Still, it was water. She knelt beside it and drank for some time. It was sun-warmed and tasted of minerals.

Feeling more refreshed than she had in days, she entered one of the caves. It was so small that she could barely stand up, but it was comfortably cool.

Keeva planted the seeds she had saved in the soil near the river. As the days passed, they sprouted fruiting plants, smaller replicas of those from the Garden. Keeva experienced a spurt of joy. Did the Creator give me a piece of his gift when he banished me? I didn't know that I, too, possessed such magic.

She continued to wonder about the Creator. He wasn't from our world, even if he created us. Not if he couldn't walk properly in gravity that was too faint and needed help to breathe. Why didn't he ever tell us? What was he hiding from us? Was he simply protecting us or was there something he didn't want us to know?

Her questions were eventually crowded out by a gripping fear. Her belly seemed to be swelling, getting bigger each day, and she was frequently sick. On some days she couldn't hold anything down.

Is this my punishment for what had happened to Rey? she wondered. Am I dying? What should I do? If only I had never disobeyed the Creator! I would still be in the Garden with Rey, not here alone with an illness I don't understand.

Anger quickly replaced her fear. Anger at the Creator for not allowing her to learn more about him and their world and for punishing her for simply expressing curiosity. Of course, it was my curiosity that killed Rey. I hope this illness takes me as it did him. I deserve to die.

One morning, as she was pruning the thistle-berry plants, a sleek, silvery animal that she had never seen in the Garden darted past her. Where did that come from? Was there life in this desert after all? Life that the Creator didn't make?

Keeva followed it up a winding trail. She stopped when she reached the top. The red-rock slope continued down into a tiny valley. Several creatures that resembled her and Rey were throwing sharp, pointed objects at creatures just like the one she had followed, killing them. The people were naked except for pale cloths tied around the lower portions of their bodies.

Is this a dream or a hallucination? Keeva wondered as she stared at them. They didn't see her. She blinked. The sun poured its blazing light over her with an oppressive heat. Perhaps it's just the sun playing tricks on my vision.

She turned away, too afraid to approach. But each day she climbed the path over the hill to peer at these strange people in their valley. There were males and females and they had their own gardens like her, complete with rivers and dwelling-caves. They skinned the animals that they killed and placed them over something that burned like the sun and created a strange-scented smoke.

Should I reveal myself to them? I'm curious about them, but that's why the Creator banished me. What if they pierced me with those sharp instruments? But wouldn't they see I was one of them? I wonder if the Creator made them as well. She tried to shout down to them but fear clenched her throat.

Keeva's stomach continued to swell, as did her breasts and ankles. She knew she was terribly ill; she had to do something.

She awoke one morning with wrenching pain that ripped through her. She sat up. The soft sands beneath her were drenched. Her robe was damp and blood-soaked. She lay still for several moments, wishing that the Creator were here with her. He'd know what to do. Or Rey, just to hold her. She wept hard until she was jolted by another pain-spasm.

I must go to the strangers. Even if they kill me, it would be better than this agony. She ignored the pain and the liquid dripping down her legs as she climbed. It felt as if something were inside her, struggling to get out. Her entire body seemed to throb.

The strangers were in their usual places, tending their gardens. She screamed and waved her arms. All stopped and stared. A male rushed up the hill and swept her into his strong arms. He carried her into one of the caves and gingerly set her down.

"Erial! Get Erial!" His shout echoed through the hills and caves.

While the pain had momentarily subsided, Keeva opened her eyes and looked around. She was lying upon a rush-woven pallet in a small round room. Sunlight spilled in through a gap in the wall, but the room itself was comfortably cool. A female entered. Her long, dark hair was pulled back from her fine-boned face. Keeva stared. Except for her brief glimpse at the creatures-like-herself, she had never seen another female before.

"Don't be afraid," she said in a gentle tone, kneeling beside Keeva. "I'm Erial, the medicine woman of our clan. Lie back. Close your eyes. Your contractions are still far apart. It will be some time. Rest for now."

Contractions? What was she talking about? Was she to be left alone? Keeva grasped the woman's arm. "Stay. . .," she urged in a shaking voice.

"I will remain here beside you." Erial smoothed Keeva's hair. Her dark eyes glinted against the sunlight.

"What-what's happening to me?" She felt Erial's warm, moist hand grasp hers. She groaned as another contraction jolted her.

"This is something I learned and observed from our Creators. But I've never seen it among our people. You are the first."

"The first?" Keeva's mind whirled with questions but a fresh jolt of pain tore through her body.

Erial stroked her face with a damp, fragrant cloth. "The first to give birth. Where did you come from?"

"The Garden." It was the only place that she had ever known. "My creator banished me when . . . when . . .." Her voice choked on a sob as she thought of Rey. "When I became too curious."

Erial placed a hand on her shoulder. "That happened to all of us."

"Did he create you as well?"

Erial shook her head. "My creator was female."

"What? There is more than one? How is that possible?"

"We were all genetically engineered experiments of those who came from Earth, a faraway world." Keeva struggled to understand this. "They wanted to make this world into a paradise, something that their world never was. Each colony had its own pleasure garden. We are all the banished rejects and have been creating our own colony. Your child will be the first one born here."

The intervals between the contractions grew shorter and shorter, seemingly only moments apart. Keeva could only focus on the pain, not her questions.

"The baby is ready," said Erial, removing Keeva's robe and helping her to a squatting position.

Keeva's body rebelled. No. I am so tired already! her thoughts screamed; she had no choice but to oblige. Erial held her up in a firm embrace. A sharp, burning sensation ripped at her.

"I can see the baby's head. Push. Push hard."

I can't, Keeva longed to say but found that she could only moan and gasp. Perspiration tickled her face, blurred her eyes. She pushed.

She felt a harsh stretching, then more searing pain. She found the breath to scream, a shrill piercing sound that sliced at the walls in echoes.

"Focus on something else," Erial whispered in a soothing tone.

"I . . . I can't," Keeva snapped. She continued to push despite the tearing agony. Her thoughts dashed over the Garden's beautiful flora and colorful birds, but she could not focus. Her thoughts turned to Rey. If this kills me, would I join him?

She glanced down and could see a tiny head and torso. What is that? Fear and panic replaced the pain.

"Keep pushing," Erial urged. "You are almost there."

Even though Keeva was trembling with exhaustion, she found the strength to heave hard. . . harder.

The agony was dizzying, followed by a bursting sensation of release. She collapsed completely into Erial's arms and felt a warmth splatter down her legs.

She was eased back, shaking, onto the rushes. Her breath was heavy, her skin soaked with perspiration. Gradually the pain abated. She was bathed with warm, wet cloths then wrapped securely in furs.

"The child is a boy," said Erial. Keeva opened her eyes, struggled to sit up. She felt limp.

Erial handed him to her. He had been sponged clean and was neatly swaddled in fine strips of down.

Keeva, still trembling from her ordeal, cautiously took him into her arms. "He . . . he looks like a tiny person," she whispered, studying him. His eyes were blue like Rey's, but he had thick, black hair, just like her. He cooed. His tiny pink hands curled around locks of her sweat-slick hair.

Keeva blinked, felt the sunlight-hot trickle of tears upon her face. Warmth flooded her chest. She looked up at Erial. "How did this happen? I thought only our Creators were able to form life."

"You have as well. You and the male you coupled with."

Rey. More tears filled her eyes. But her grief was replaced by a sudden, unexpected joy. "Then this . . . this child is a combination of him and me?"

The woman smiled. "That is right, dear. He is the first of our kind to be born. The others will be eager meet both of you. Think of a good name for him."

"I already have," said Keeva, looking down her creation. "It is Rey."

The End