Author: Maura Yzmore

I tossed and turned late into the night, being kept awake by a soft wail coming from the woods. Was it an animal in distress? A mating call?

I remembered a saying from centuries ago, that cats in heat sounded like human babies crying. Only the closest thing to a cat was the hypard, a sturdy mix of hyena and leopard that had emerged during the Great Wars. It was around the time when babies stopped crying.

No, this wasn’t the call of an amorous hypard, I was certain of it. Whatever the source was, if I wanted to sleep, I had to make it stop.

I got out of bed, grabbed a tranq gun and a solar-battery-powered lamp from my nightstand, and tiptoed into the covenant’s dark hallway. None of the Brothers appeared to be awake, so I decided to proceed alone.

I hesitated when I reached the front door. Nobody left the building at night and few did during the day. The monastery was on a cliff, with sharp drops all around. The only way in or out led through a forest filled with hypard, and I swallowed hard at the thought of their sapphire eyes and bone-crushing jaws. I steeled myself, gripping the tranq gun tight, and scanned my wristlet to exit. The heavy door creaked open.

I stepped into the heavy, moist air filled with toxins from the Great Wars. My heart raced at the thought of being without the air-filtration system, my breaths rapid and shallow.

I reached for a calming memory, as I was trained to do in times of inner turmoil. It was one of Father Catullus reading aloud from his arcane books of love poetry. Ancient words, full of emotion, reverberated through the air, surrounding me, soothing me. My breathing slowed down.

I turned on the lamp, charged the tranq gun, and set off into the forest.
The wail came from a woven sack hanging from a tree branch. I took it and slowly unwrapped it. The squirming creature within was warm, with soft brown skin.

Was this…a baby?

I was taken aback by what I saw—or didn’t see—between its legs.

Was this…a female child?

Sometimes I thought that the women in Father Catullus’s love poems never existed. That females were figments of imagination.

Everyone in the monastery was male, had come from Ancient Fathers by replicating their flesh. I was incarnation 247 of the same genetic stock as Father Catullus.

After the Great Wars, the young and healthy left for the stars, to try their luck in the worlds that weren’t poisoned. Ancient Fathers were forbidden from leaving the sacred grounds, so the monastery remained as a beacon, should the offspring of those from the stars ever wish to return.

There was no one left in the world who could bear a child.

I admired the baby’s small, fluid movements when two sapphires flashed in the corner of my eye. A hypard!

I backtracked slowly, leaving the lamp behind. Under my feet, a branch cracked—

The baby wailed, the hypard groaned, and I fired the tranq gun, again and again and again. I dropped the gun, turned around, and I ran and ran and ran, as fast as I could, certain I heard panting behind me, just ran and ran and ran, not daring to look back…

Out of breath, holding the bundle tight, I reached the monastery door. As we slid into safety, I looked at the little face grimacing in the bright light of the entryway, and my gut twisted with a new kind of fervor.