From Divine Play, pp. 386-389
Then she saw the baby.
Several meters away, a tiny writhing thing, a little yudu (child) with dark curly hair and tawny skin, shirtless beneath the transparent cowl. “How can they do this?” A feverishly icy dread overtook her. “It’s a baby! A baby, drowning!”
“I can’t maneuver this thing,” Gnash whined. “Preprogrammed, in case the inmates get ahold of it. It’ll only go straight and won’t stop.”
“No, no!” she cried out. “Save it, save it!”
“The poles can’t reach that far. I’ll ’VAK Cerone.” He punched another button on the console.
“This can’t wait!” she shouted. She snagged a folded shroud from the crate and stood on it, nudging with her right foot the button in the center, guessing at the procedure. The cowl arose, engulfing her and deftly tightening. She gasped, desperately drawing in air, realized she could breathe, though she was afraid it was insufficient. For an instant she gagged, thinking this plastic is on my face in my mouth with dead man’s spit and dead man’s blood.
She dove into the water and felt its scalding, startling malice. Her throat constricted. She bounded toward the child, whose exertions were already diminishing as it lapsed, with outstretched arms, immobilized, into the torrid liquid.
Nearing it, she discerned through the taut plastic of its cowl the small brown-eyed likeness of her brother. She gently grasped the baby under his arms and bottom, sensing the plasticized diaper against her left arm. There were miniscule nodes at the neck, and she acceded to temptation and removed the hood. He coughed, inhaling quaveringly, like a shudder aroused by a sudden chilly breeze or the relieved inspiration after weeping.
She sighted Gnash in his craft at the two o’clock position. There was an air bladder attached to the skin of her back. Inflated, it kept her upper body at a forty-five-degree angle to the “lake,” allowing her to carry the snorker on her belly without immersing him, nevertheless going twenty to the dozen along the surface by means of rapid, potent, backstroke kicks. She’d trained by arranging herself at awkward angles and relying on control and fortitude to propel her. What is the most difficult exercise? Val Bolest [her trainer] would say. That is the weakness to be remedied. In every position, strength. All ways are strength.
But this wasn’t water. She thought of it as water, but it was reddish, semiglutinous, and so bloody hot.
Over and again, she dangled him at arm’s length, inspecting him, and then guiltily settled him on her middle. So warm and light―but still there was weight, human mass. His tiny face seemed to crumple as he stared at her. And once he released a stringy bit of saliva. That small, dark, fragile face seemed to reconcile with a recollected image. But had she ever seen baby pictures of [her deceased brother] Bryan?
Abruptly he would swat at her (not knowing yet to flatten his hand) or try to wriggle off her stomach, and she would hold him fast and admonish him, “No, no.” He wasn’t whining or working himself up to a yammer. Could it be—? But she didn’t believe in reincarnation, not truly. Yet, what had the Oldfathers said? Time could overlap, bend ’round. Time was malleable, perpetually unformed—past, present,future. Time could be overcome—for atonement.
He relaxed, finally, the left side of his face resting just below her breasts. He was sucking his thumb, and his breathing was shallow and discontinuous, intimating that he was succumbing to sleep. She was certain now. It was Bryan. “It’s all right.” The tears welled up in her. She would protect him― this time. He’d be snug in love, forever, ever. She pondered the distance to the yellow boat among the doomed strugglers. “It’s all right.”
She very nearly missed the slight metallic click.
She slowed, searching for the source of the sound. He lifted his head and looked upon her, his obovate eyes glazed with drowsiness. She scanned the semiviscid fluid round about, but her gaze returned inevitably to him. One incongruous event—that she was determined to ignore, but dal (magic power) intruded again―a telegraph from munga (spirit world), and no mistake. She heard a sound not yet emitted―a whirring, demonic warbling, ascending in pitch and volume. The baby’s brown eyes were blearing, the face becoming pallid, elongated, as slick as a test tube.
She tried to sink, but her hands adhered to the baby’s plasticized sides. Rooting shit! She dragged it under with her, thrashing like a cut snake. Bryan reborn? Too right! They’d sized her up proper, a dilly little boong (Aborigine). Jets of air from its middle burned through the plastic and drew it toward the surface.
It’s resisting the “water.” It’s not prepared for that. With thrusting legs, she propelled herself out of the “water” like a cetacean, raising up…the rigid, malevolent doll she had taken for her brother.
It’s not possible for humans to breach the water in this way, the advisors to SPORT would say, but an unreckoned bit of buggery was her “extremely only” defense, as her Dad used to say. For such tricks as these, you were chosen, my dark darling, over all the pretty blond sheilas that likewise swim and run, fight and fall. She arched downward, gasping, and plunged the infant machine and herself into boiling baptism. Perhaps this unruly movement had disrupted the homeostatic relays sufficiently to forestall its detonation. The baby bomb squirted its air jets, forcing the “water” from its innards, like a tiny submarine blowing ballast. She placed her feet on its back, between her hands, and moved her boots from side to side until she tripped a switch and the polymorphous alloy seeped from her soles. Some bright soul had foreseen gluey traps, for the treacle made flexuous paths, penetrating the plastic shroud, attenuating through millimetric intervals between her hands and the ring-in, between her feet and the imposter, dissolving their union.
The snork drifted barely a meter from her before it exploded.
A great bubbling expansion like a whale’s flatulence shoved against the rapidly solidifying mine shield under her feet, but it heaved her away from the air. She could diminish heartbeat and blood flow to all but heart and brain, but the lake seemed to be fathomless and the accelerating pressure made her weak, comatose. Does seem a bit cooler here, though. The anger had dissipated (as would the air in her lungs in a tick). She heard the high-pitched steady squeal one did in a breath-hold dive amid a dingy, buoyant descent.