Cassie bathed the squalling infant in a basin, trying not to think about the blood and strangely colored waxy bits she washed off him. She tried not to get the tied-off stump of cord wet, but didn’t succeed. Well, unless someone had a secret stash of milk or formula, or could forage some in a hurry, it didn’t matter if the stump got infected. Still, it might be wise to cauterize it, if only so no one could accuse them later of not having made every effort.

She wrapped the baby in a towel and held him close, wondering how to make him stop crying. “Should I take him to Mundo?”

Doc had been staring at the body, but now he looked up, devastation etched in the contours of his face. “I did the best I could.”

Cassie suppressed a sigh. They had been over this several times already. “No one in their right mind would think you should’ve been able to save her. You didn’t have the right meds and equipment to deal with seizures, not to mention you’ve never been to medical school.”

Doc bowed his head again. “It won’t matter to Mundo.”

Cassie bounced the baby, hoping the motion would soothe him. The poor thing was hungry, but what could she do about it? “He has to find out sometime. And you were able to save the baby.”

“So he can die without a mother to feed him.”

“Stop it. Go hide in one of the upstairs rooms for a day or two if you think it will be that bad.”

As she made to leave the clinic, Rochelle came up to her, still pale and wobbly. She begged to see the baby and smiled at his pudgy face. “He’s sweet. I wonder what Mundo will name him?”

“I sort of hope he doesn’t.” Cassie nestled the baby against her chest. “He’s going to die, so it’s best not to get attached.”

Rochelle frowned in consternation. “There has to be a way to get food for him. Your boyfriend can do it, can’t he?”

The look in her eyes was so earnest that Cassie didn’t have the heart to remind her that while Galahad might be a good forager, he couldn’t conjure infant formula out of the air. “I’m sure he’ll do everything he can. Now lie down and rest. You need to be well in case we find a way to feed him. You said you wanted to be his nurse, remember?”

Galahad was waiting for Cassie outside the clinic door, but Mundo was not. “He’s already celebrating with his buddies in the conference suite.” Galahad leaned in to get a better look at the baby. “Boy or girl?”

“Boy. He seems okay. I mean, he’s got the right number of toes and all that, but—” she adjusted the baby’s towel. “We lost Nisha.”

Galahad’s silence lasted so long that Cassie thought he had nothing to say and started walking toward the stairs. After a moment he caught up. “It doesn’t look good for the kid, does it?”

Cassie shook her head, glad he didn’t need an explanation of what was required to feed an infant and why they weren’t likely to find it in the devastated city.

They went down the spiral staircase in thoughtful silence. A group of children waited below and rushed forward, curious to see the new arrival, but Galahad took Cassie by the elbow and steered her clear. “I’ll make sure no one gives you a hard time.”

“He better not blame Doc, is all I have to say. He did everything he could. We both did.”

“No one will doubt that.” His gaze returned to the baby. “So what kind of milk can babies drink?” At her puzzled expression, he added, “I was thinking of the Zoo Tribe. We’re not real friendly with them, but they’re tight with the Thespians and maybe they still have those petting zoo goats.”

“I suppose goat milk would be better than nothing. But do you think we can get some every day?”

“I was thinking of getting a whole goat, not just the milk.”

“That would be expensive.”

“Mundo has an emergency stash of trade goods.” By now the guards outside Conference Suite A had spotted them and Galahad slipped an arm around Cassie’s waist. “Just stick to the facts. I’ll bring up the goats, first chance I get. Then we’ll see how much Mundo really cares about his kid.”

Cassie tightened her grip on the child and barely had time to nod in reply before they were surrounded and the questions began.

* * *

The emergency barter cost them dearly, but by nightfall they had their goat, and they made a home for it in the concierge office. Starting the next morning there would be new chores on the rotation chart—mucking the office and pulling weeds from vacant lots to feed the goat. But for now, a more urgent question loomed. How to milk it?

“You didn’t ask?” Alaina said, resting a hand on her hip and staring at the udders.

Galahad had the decency to look embarrassed, but David snapped, “You don’t like the deals we make, go make some yourself.”

“We did it third-party,” Galahad explained. “We had the Thespians do the negotiations without telling the Zoo Tribe it was for us. The deal almost didn’t go through. By the time it was over, we weren’t even thinking about how to milk it. We just wanted to get it back here before anyone reconsidered or stole it.”

Cassie sighed. “Looks like a visit to the Librarians is in order.”

“And in the meantime,” Alaina said, “Someone’s got to figure out how to get the milk out of this animal so we can stop that baby from screaming.”

“I’m game,” Cassie said. “How hard can it be?”

With Galahad holding the halter so the goat wouldn’t bolt, Cassie knelt beside the little animal and reached for a teat. They were strange-looking and furry, not at all like she had imagined they would be, and as soon as she touched one, the goat skittered away.

“Looks like someone needs to hold her tail, too,” Galahad said.

No one stepped forward to carry out this suggestion and Cassie tried again. This time she managed to get a teat, but when she squeezed it, nothing happened. She tried pulling, but the nanny brayed and made a nervous motion with her feet.

“Maybe we should bring the baby down here and have it suck the milk directly from the goat,” someone suggested.

“That would be gross,” someone else said.

A boy pushed his way through the group. “Let me try. I saw them do it on Lifestyle Swap once.

“You can’t learn to milk a goat by watching reality television,” Cassie said. Nevertheless, she stepped aside so he could take a stab at it. Unfortunately, he did no better.

Two girls tried after that, then a boy, and then Galahad, much to David’s amusement. Finally Sid came around a corner, having abandoned his radio to see what all the fuss was about. He approached the goat, rubbed its muzzle and examined its eyes. Then, with a grim set to his mouth, he set the plastic bucket in place and went to work. Soon he had almost a liter of fresh, foaming milk.

When he was done, he stood and wiped his hands on his pants. “We were poor back home in India.” His eyes scanned the group, defying comment. “I’ll do this for you three more times. Decide among yourselves who’s going meet me here to learn, because after that, you’re on your own.”


1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

Sid is from Inida? How'd I miss that? So totally in character to limit them to three times.