This is NOT the beginning section of the novel, but I've decided to make this section (starting roughly 3.5K into the story) my first excerpt for posting here, because it's one of the first that stands fairly coherently on its own.
Here we meet Sahara just after she's learned of her pregnancy, and as she's trying to decide if she will comply with the law and submit herself at the Brighton Pregnancy Center, the closest facility to where she lives, or if there's a better choice to be made.
- Clinton is Sahara's loyal canine companion.
- Roland is Sahara's sporadic lover (and as-of-yet-unaware father to her child) who lives a nomadic life as an "energy broker" flying and driving around on his "Vesp-Air" (a vehicle I imagine similar to a Vespa designed for both road and air travel).
Up to this point in the narrative, Roland has established himself as an irreverent but genuinely caring lover. He's flawed, but devoted, not particularly law-abiding, but loyal to those he cares about and committed to their best interest... which is what makes his initial reaction to learning about Sahara's situation and the choice she must make so unexpected and jarring.
We open with Sahara alone in her home with Clinton at her side.
“It’s alright, Clinton,” Sahara said, but her voice didn’t sound alright even to her and Clinton simply whined and put a paw up softly on her thigh. The sweetness of the gesture and his clear genuine concern plundered Sahara’s carefully guarded demeanor, and she sat down to hug her shaggy dog as a sob broke through her lips and shook her ribs. Exceedingly human as he had always been, Clinton lobbed one of his big legs over her shoulder and hugged her back. It was nice to be able to weep with someone who didn’t demand an explanation and with whom Sahara knew unquestionably, her secret was safe.
Blubbering to Clinton, Sahara began to realize so many things. She’d been alone in the world for what seemed so long. Even being with Roland was like being alone, which was part of what she’d loved about it, but she’d never dug deep enough within herself to realize that, side-by-side with her strong independent streak and fierce self-sufficiency, subsisted a corner of her heart where emptiness had crept in and a thirst for companionship now prevailed.
She wanted to dismiss it. She wanted to chalk it up to the pregnancy hormones she’d read about the day before, but looking honestly into her heart she knew it.
And now, now...! Now something, someone, was growing inside her. Someone! The thought nearly robbed Sahara of her breath. Clinton didn’t move and Sahara inched closer to him, holding him tighter than was fair, but he made no objection.
When Sahara finally drew away from him minutes later, she knew one thing. She had to let Roland know. To think, in the past, such things so often took place without the father ever finding out he’d helped create a child…. The thought seemed obscene to Sahara in this moment, as all thoughts of keeping him in the dark drained instantly from her.
“He’s gotta know,” she said out loud. Clinton’s even stare didn’t change at all as he nosed toward her and licked the tears from her cheeks. Sweet Clinton. What would all this mean for him? And guilt stabbed through Sahara before she even had a moment to really ponder the ramifications. She needed to research. She needed to really read up on the centers that were located around the world, where all pregnant women were required to go, by law. The only hope for the human race! Their slogan played in her brain. That may be, she thought, but I’m going to go with the best hope for me, and, she paused in thought, for the little person inside.
It still didn’t seem true, not even silently inside her mind, but she knew it now, and finally after days of waffling, she also knew her next step. She brought up Roland’s contact on her comphone and sent him a message asking him to come, including the code words they’d agreed upon years ago to let him know it was an emergency. With that, she knew she’d see him within the next 24 hours.
“You have to go,” Roland said. He was holding the brochure for the Brighton Pregnancy Center that she’d handed to him just a few minutes after breaking the news.
“What?” Sahara blinked, completely taken aback.
“Well it’s the law,” Roland said.
“Okay, time out,” Sahara said. “First of all, since when have you ever paid attention to the law?”
“The ways I break the law don’t matter,” Roland replied, but this….” He gestured at Sahara’s stomach. “This is too important.”
“It is important,” Sahara agreed. “That’s why we have to stop and think and really decide what’s the best decision.”
“How could this not be the best decision?” Roland asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything about any of this, pregnancy, babies.... No one does anymore.”
“Except these people,” Roland said holding up the brochure again.
Sahara fell silent. Something about Brighton didn’t seem right to her. She couldn’t put her finger on it. For fuckssake…she had never in her wildest dreams imagined she’d have to be making a decision like this. It didn’t feel right to her either that legislation dictated she had to go somewhere like Brighton. There were only 10 of these facilities in the world and obscene amounts of tax money went into their maintenance, staffing and even advertising.
Sahara had seen the commercials. Every now and then, their webnode would take over her comphone just like the government agencies did, broadcasting public service announcements. If you see anyone you think might be pregnant, please send their signal to this node. Scans are harmless, painless and save lives! You will be rewarded.
For the first time, Sahara realized the full gravity of her situation. In a few months, everyone around her would be a potential snitch. She could be remotely scanned without even knowing it, her signal transmitted without her knowledge. and then what? Would she get a call on her comphone from the facility itself? Would a pregnancy scout show up at her doorstep? Or, more likely, would the police VSA’s simply descend on her escorting her to her home and then to Brighton, or even straight to Brighton without even letting her collect her belongings?
She didn’t realize she was crying until Roland brushed a tear away from her cheek. “It looks really nice,” he said. “Look at the picture of this living suite. It’s got all that antique furniture that you like so much and a padded bathtub. Come on, darlin’. Who could say no?”
“Who are you?” Sahara asked, feeling only more forlorn listening to Roland. How could he be so clueless? Didn’t he realize how terrifying it was to know that you were no longer in control of your own body, that something growing inside of you would now dictate the rest of your future? And in a flash, Sahara suddenly understood why there used to be abortion clinics.
“It just seems like you don’t know what to do,” Roland continued. “ I sure as hell don’t know anything about this stuff, and these people do. They can help you?”
“I don’t like that it’s a law,” Sahara said. “I mean does that seem right to you? You get pregnant, and bam, suddenly you’re not in control of your own life anymore?”
“From what my grandma told me, it’s kind of always been like that,” Roland said softly.
“She said you never listened to her when she would talk about being a doula.”
“I listened to more than she knew,” Roland said. When he spoke again, after a few moments of heavy silence, he seemed to choose his words carefully. “I can’t try to hide you, flying around on the company VSA for the next seven months. They can track my location whenever they want. You wouldn’t be safe…. Who knows if it’s even healthy for a pregnant woman to fly?”
An ugly shudder passed through Sahara, hearing Roland describe her as a “pregnant woman.”
“I’ll be there for you though,” Roland said. If you get there and the place is shady or the people are mean or you just don’t like it, you can call me. I promised you I’d always be your escape plan, and I always will be.”
“So what then?” Sahara said. “If I go and don’t like it, you promise to come bail me out, take me up on the VespAir regardless of whether that’s okay for pregnant women?”
“I’m most concerned about what’s best for you,” Roland said. Sahara flushed, feeling reassurance flowing back into her heart. This was the Roland she knew, the devil-may-care, lawless nomad without reverence for anything except Sahara herself.
“You promise,” she whispered.
“You have my word,” Roland said laying his head in her lap as he had only done twice before. Sahara stroked his messy longish hair absent mindedly.
“Okay,” she said, still whispering. “Let’s go. Let’s go now.”
They flew low just in case Sahara wasn’t supposed to be above a certain altitude. It made the trip windier and Sahara pulled her sweater more tightly around herself despite the warm summer night. She kept her face buried in Roland’s back for most of the trip. It was easier than feeling the harsh wind which under other circumstance she would have loved to take head on. Right now, she felt enough challenges going on just inside her own mind; she didn’t need to try to channel or dominate the elements tonight.
The little thud of landing woke Sahara from a light doze, and she flinched, squeezing Roland’s chest, unable to believe that she’d actually dozed off. They were on the highway now. Roland engaged the noisy street mode, and Sahara felt tears streaming down her cheeks. She was so tired, and she just couldn’t believe she’d agreed to this. It felt like giving up, like signing her life away, and a little sob shook her, despite her efforts to swallow it. Roland took one hand off the front of the VSA steering and placed it warmly on top of hers. How did his hands stay so warm, no matter how high or far they traveled? It was something Sahara had noticed every time they’d flown together, and the thought evoked another little sob. Would this be the last time she ever flew with him?
Roland maneuvered the VSA as expertly on the road as he did in the air, and they were soon pulling onto the dedicated exit for Brighton. Despite the wind whipping in her ears, Sahara heard something behind them and glanced over her shoulder to see a guard rail lowering down across the exit and lights beginning to blink. Her eyes widened in fear, and she knew she looked just as she felt, like an ensnared animal. This was a terrible idea. Why had she agreed?
But now, Roland slowed the VSA as they approached the guarded entrance, and two uniformed officers approached them. Sahara could’ve fainted with fear, but Roland tightened his grip on her hand as they came to a steady stop. He pulled it away gently only when it became evident from the advancing guards that he needed to put both his hands in the air. Sahara realized what a risk he’d taken bringing her here. The security detail might well report him to his superiors for being off his route. The two guards gave Roland no signal that he could change his stance, so he kept his hands in the air as they approached. Sahara wondered if she should put her hands up too, but then one of the two men broke the silence.
“Sir, I need you to keep your hands in the air and get off the vehicle.”
“I’m not leaving my friend here alone, until I know she’s safe,” Roland replied evenly.
“She’s 100% safe here,” the guard returned. “We’ve already scanned her. She has guaranteed amnesty here. You however, do not. I need you to exit the vehicle so we can search you.”
Roland kept his hands at shoulder level and stood up, easing the VSA to its slightly-leaning parked position so as not to unseat Sahara , who felt completely numb watching him swing his leg over the seat and step away. Somehow, despite the words from the uniformed man, she’d never felt so in danger in her life.
“Are you okay, Sahara?” The question came from the direction of the guard station, and Sahara turned toward a woman’s voice. “I’m Nurse Hanley. We got your name and information from your comphone. Let me help you off of that thing,” and the woman turned a glare toward Roland. “Honestly, you could’ve called us. We would’ve sent a car.”
“I wouldn’t have come here with anyone else,” Sahara replied sharply, causing the woman to whip her head back around, though her expression softened.
“Okay, then. Can I help you off of there?” Sahara took the arm the woman offered. It felt so weird to be touching someone other than Roland. It had been so very long, but here she was. She was actually doing this, and she guessed this would be the first touch of many. She grimaced a bit and took only a few steps away from the VSA before stopping dead in her tracks and looking over at Roland.
She jerked her arm away and ran to him impulsively, wrapping herself around him and crying. It was the first time she’d cried openly in front of anyone but him in so very long. But now she couldn’t stop, could feel the nurse’s hand on her back, because it still felt so out of place, but ignored it. Roland held her with one arm, his other pinioned behind his back by one of the guards.
“Let him go!” she cried hoarsely. “He’s coming in with me!”
“Sahara, I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Nurse Hanley began. “This is a secure facility. He’s not even allowed past the guard station. I have a car waiting for you on the other side. I’m so sorry, but you’ll have to say your goodbyes here.”
Sahara pulled Roland closer to her and choked back her sobs. She squeezed his hand and he squeezed back hard. They didn’t say the words.
“Then I’m not going with you until I see that you’ve let him go,” Sahara said fiercely, pulling away from Roland finally.
One of the guards rolled his eyes, but the severe look at him from Nurse Hanley was not lost on Sahara, and she let the weakest smile lighten her face.