When Garth made it home, he passed Lucy off to the first thing with two hands and collapsed into his side of the bed, where Sandi was lying with the three babies. Oh, he must have given her to Sandi.
“Are you all right?” Jim asked, bending over to look at his face.
“The hell are you doing in here?” Garth demanded, closing his eyes.
“You handed me a baby and told me to, and I quote, ‘Take them off your hands, and ride them hard for two weeks or so.”
“Army.” Garth said, pointing out the window, eyes closed. “You’re an ‘postle, Y’can do it.”
“Ah, that makes more sense.” He said. Garth could feel Jim standing away as he spoke. “I’m on it.”
“Well,” Garth muttered into the covers. “This is where I die.” Shortly afterward, unconsciousness claimed him.
The next morning the wailing of babies had gone from a constant nails-on chalkboard jaw-clenching drone to intermittent spikes of crying. People were starting to get their shit together, at least a little bit.
Garth pushed himself up out of bed with a groan, his body creaking and snapping, being still so long it had gotten accustomed to inactivity. He turned his head to look at the other side of the bed, but saw no sign of Sandi.
“Ugh.” No wetting the magical bed, thankfully. Then again, if he had, how would he tell? By all the shouting and screams of babies? Already had plenty of that.
Garth got to his feet, working the stiffness out of his joints as he walked into the main room of his tree-house. In the living room, he was greeted by the sight of Benta with two Succu-babies on her knees. The mercenary was positively beaming as she bounced the purple infants up and down on her lap.
Garth stood there, taking in the sight for a full minute before Benta caught him out of the corner of her eye, her face returning to its typical stony expression.
“you…want a job?”
“Damnit.” Garth cursed and stumbled further into the house, where Sandi was nursing the third one. Garth couldn’t be exactly sure which of his hellspawn it was, since she was swaddled up and her head was covered, looking like little more than a grub.
To be clear, Sandi’s attractive human Lure wasn’t nursing the infant. That was sitting at the kitchen table with her head on the wood, a puppet with its strings cut.
Sandi’s real body was was holding the baby girl against her stomach, lying on the cork bed he’d made for her mother. For all intents and purposes, to everyone else, the baby was hovering two feet off the ground in a corner of the room. Garth could make out her mother better than anyone else in the room, most likely, and the giant man-eating creature looked beat.
Garth walked up to where Sandi was lying with her eyes half closed. “Wanna catch a nap?” he whispered.
Sandi silently nodded her head, and Garth spotted a bottle of formula on the counter, preforming a switch as seamlessly as he was capable of.
Garth felt like Indiana Jones, carefully comparing the heat of the bottle to the heat of the boob before smoothly prying his daughters mouth off and replacing it with a rubber nipple before she could notice the swap.
If the baby noticed anything she didn’t say, instead continuing to nurse on the bottle at an alarming rate. Garth heaved a sigh of relief when his stomach started to grumble. Might as well fix something I guess.
Garth headed for the kitchen where he was halted by an appalling sight.
Shirtless and barefoot in the kitchen, his brother was stirring an enormous pot of broccoli and beef, big enough to feed a hundred people…or Sandi and the four other people inside the house. Beside him Wilson was begging for scraps, and Jim’s girlfriend was chatting him up.
Do the babies count as people yet? Garth wondered idly as he stumbled forward and sat on the stool beside the stove. Also was Jim gay? If they had actually done any of the ground-and-pound they should be in their own personal baby-hell right now, instead of cooking for them.
“Food.” Garth demanded, fixing a new bottle using the can of dried formula on the counter and conjured hot water, spinning the ball of hot water midair into a ball of hot milk, pinholing the liquid into the bottle then closing it up with a little well placed rearranging of the glass.
Jim’s girlfriend watched the magical gymnastics apprehensively, but Jim just grabbed a bowl and scooped out a big serving of broccoli and beef.
“Om, om, om,” Garth floated one piece of food after another into his mouth, both hands occupied with baby and bottle.
“So did you head out to the city?”
“Yeah, I got them started on it two days ago.”
“I’ve been out two days?” Garth demanded, keeping his voice quiet.
“Yeah, Cass says you owe him two training sessions,” Jim started counting on his fingers, well defined muscles sparkling in the light of the lamp-buds. Did he put baby oil on or something? “Clark says our output has dropped so low we might not be able to make our current business obligations, Paul’s kid is an entrepreneur, making bank babysitting, she’s got like, a literal ton of coke in exchange for running a daycare with the other kids. Reclaiming L.A. is going slower than we thought because hauling the Kipling corpses out is more labor intensive than we planned for,
“Why aren’t my kids in daycare?”
“Not enough manpower, and they’re disruptive, apparently. All the other babies within fifteen feet or so are calm as you please, but once they get moved outside that…they lose their little minds for up to half an hour.”
“Who’s got magic addictive psychic properties,” Garth said, poking the baby’s belly as she gorged herself. “you do!”
“That’s not all. We’re running low on food and formula, stemming from not having enough people to make decent sized scavenging trips into L.A. Literally everyone has someone who needs them to help with a baby.” Jim looked him up and down. “Case in point.”
“Clark’s given most of the phytomancers and druids a free pass from babysitting, in exchange for producing food. But they’re barely managing.
“I’m starting to think some of these problems stem from the wave of unexpected births.” Garth said, rubbing his chin.”
“No, really?” Wilson asked, giving him a flat stare.
Can’t slow down L.A. or take men away from it. First of all, the guys were drug dealers and nobody would trust their kid to them.
Wilson gave him a look.
He was literally the only human nearby, okay. And if I’d given her to you, chances are he’d have tried to take her violently. You know either of us could have killed him at any time. That and I’m pretty sure the guy isn’t capable of killing babies. He always folds.
And second of all, if he slowed the reclamation down, then had another ‘accident’ they’d be stuck with twice the kids and still no city. Might as well get that entirely out of the way and settled, then it was done and gone.
“So the biggest sticking point here is we’re stretched on labor and supplies.” Garth said.
“A’ight.” Garth said, rearranging his burden to grab the formula tub. Were babies supposed to eat this much? Unfortunately Garth wasn’t able to just Google it. Not anymore.
I wonder what the Google database looks like, magically speaking. That and Wikipedia. If magic worked the way Garth thought, there might be something special there, some kind of spirit or code. They were, after all essentially the gateways to the accumulated knowledge of humanity before the apocalypse.
“Gonna hafta put a pin in that.” Garth said, walking outside and glancing around. The desert sun was just starting to pull overhead, the cool wind of night beginning to give way to the heat of the day.
Clarkstown was created around a central ring of trees that Garth didn’t have the good fortune of claiming a spot on, but he was close. In about thirty seconds, Garth was standing at the center of town, where Cass had so graciously made him eat dirt so many weeks ago.
Hmmm… He could attack this problem from two directions. Labor and supplies. Freeing up either would free up more labor. If less people had to scrounge for supplies, that meant more people working. Same if less people had to take care of babies.
Garth decided he would try for both. Garth stood in the center of town and looked at the distance between the houses It was just big enough for what he was thinking.
Garth went to his workshop, walked past Cass, who stared at him, mouthing ‘twelve million’. He found his seed drawer, filled with all the interesting specimens mailed to him over the last few months. It had cost him more than a little money from his burgeoning business, but it had been worth it.
Garth snatched a common acorn and a banyan seed, heading back to his work bench, fixed with a magnifying glass on a stand.
Garth formed a scoop-like depression in his table with an act of will and set Betty down there. Betty was the raven-haired one. You couldn’t have black hair and not be named Betty. That’s just how it worked.
“Okay,” Garth said setting aside the oak seed. The Banyan was what he was interested in.
Garth took the tin of formula and sprinkled it in front of him, then scooped out a handful and stared at it, before spreading it out on the table and zooming in on it with his magnifying glass.
“No use. Wilson, fetch me the microscope!” The microscope, in low demand and looted from a nearby community college, had been easily acquired when Garth was considering doing microscopic alterations to Mythic cores. He hadn’t gotten around to it yet, but it came in handy here.
At its highest setting, the white dust was a lot less homogenous than it looked.
Garth looked at it for a few minutes, lighting it up with a bright light summoned just behind the slide, then closing his eyes and deconstructing the memory to isolate what was mana and what wasn’t.
The ingredients didn’t exactly list themselves out, but in Garth’s memory, he could see the different chunks of material, going ‘hey, I’m vegetable oil! I have fat!” Chunks of dried cow’s-milk for protein, along with a bunch of other shit that didn’t exactly scream natural. It wasn’t bad for babies, it was just hard to replicate any kind of inorganic chemistry
“Hmm…” Garth drummed his fingers on the table. “I need another sample.”
“I like where this is going.” Wilson said with a grin.
“Goddamn, I’m tired,” Jamal said, taking a deep breath.
“Mmm,” Jess said, her eyes closed.
Jamal was nodding off in their little one room treehouse, his head resting against Jess’s. They’d paid Kristen her fee to watch their babies for the next four hours while they got some sleep, and they were falling asleep at the table after eating lunch.
Jess’s head leaned against his shoulder and he propped his head against hers, enjoying the smell of her hair as they got some much needed rest.
A shout from the door startled them both awake as Garth kicked open their front door.
“I need your breast milk!”
“What the hell?” Jamal shouted, jumping to his feet.
“I’ll trade yoouuu.” Garth said, waggling the half-full can of formula at them.
“That was fun,” Wilson said.
“I agree.” Garth said, wiggling his sore nose as he waited for the liquids to boil off of the sample they’d provided him after he’d explained himself.
“Didn’t expect him to get through the Force shield. Kid’s got a good arm.”
Getting punched by someone with thirty-five strength was like a child getting punched by The Rock.
Needless to say, Garth had done more damage to the wall of their house with the back of his head than Jamal had done to Garth’s face. It had been a bit like riding a roller-coaster, except at the end they gave you some breast milk to study.
Once Garth had it down to a thick paste, he spent the afternoon studying its mana signature in his memories. The mana signature of non-magical things, like boob milk, was a lot fainter, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there, and with the help of the microscope, he was able to get a much better look at the minutia when the thing he was looking at was already zoomed in.
So is mana-sight vision based or not? Garth thought before shaking his head. Don’t think about it, we got other fish to fry.
Once Garth had a general idea of what human milk looked like on a mana level, he set about designing his banyan tree. What he needed were shelves, diaper disposal, and milk production.
Yesss…this tree’s gonna have nipples. Garth suppressed a maniacal cackle.
Essentially what he was designing was a work aid that would reduce the labor necessary to care for babies drastically while also providing food for the milk-vomiting devilspawn.
A banyan tree had the curious ability to have roots drop from the upper branches to become entirely separate trunks.
With the right care and direction of its growth, a single Banyan could fill an entire park, it’s root-trunks supporting it.
Each root-trunk was going to be grow into a separate Baby-station, with a crib and a bottlefeeder, so a single human watcher could care and feed for dozens of them at once. Of course there were hundreds of them, so Garth was going to have to make the entire thing into a huge grove, but once he was done, it would only take maybe thirty people to feed seven hundred and the rest could get back to work producing his drugs.
Come to think of it, there was a lot Garth could do on that front to streamline production, too. Problems were starting to look solvable. And in one day too. Huzzah for magic.
“All you gotta do is stare at breastmilk for a couple hours, amiright?” Garth asked Betty, who stared at him uncomprehendingly.
“This girl knows what I’m talking about.”
Once Garth was finishing up his Plant Design spell, he gave his customary pep-talk. Garth wasn’t sure if it was necessary, but he got a critical success the first time he did it, something that had never happened since, and somehow Garth was the best at Plant Design that he’d ever seen. Maybe there was something to it.
Okay, Ms Banyan, we’re in a little bit of trouble here, and I kinda made too many babies for my own good. I need some infrastructure for us to more efficiently care for them. That’s where you come in. I need you to have nipples. Like, a lot of fully functional mammaries, because each hand making bottles or holding a kid to their chest is one less worker. Sad, but true. At least help us get back to a normal balance.
And some baby-proof cribs would be appreciated near the base of your trunks, if you wouldn’t mind.
“What about human contact?” Wilson said. “You know human babies need tons of direct attention or else they die or turn out fucked up somehow. At a certain point your streamlining idea doesn’t really hold water. We might be able to get it down to one adult per five or six, but dozens is too much.
Damn, he’s right. Garth thought, before adding a hopeful plea.
And if you could hold them and keep them company while their parents are away that would be appreciated.
Without warning a surge of light bloomed in Garth’s chest, shining behind his eyelids. It was a bright, warm light, travelling down his arm, pounding his blood with it’s own heartbeat as it went. It felt like…Beladia’s present?
“Gah!” Garth couldn’t help but shout as it leapt out of his fingertips and into the Banyan seed like a shock of static electricity, along with a swirl of brown and green mana from the surroundings, flooding into the tiny bean-shaped seed.
The Vagaries of mana have caused a Critical Success! The spell has outperformed your expectations!
Design Plants proficiency has reached 85%!
You have learned Create Life! Proficiency 0.001%
“Ooooo…” Garth studied the seed that was now packed with so much information it made his eyes hurt to look at it.
Without wasting a second, Garth put the seed under the microscope, hoping he could learn something about what he’d just done. Because I honestly don’t have a clue Garth thought as he scrunched one eye closed and looked through the microscope.
Create Life sounded pretty handy, even if it was hard to master.
Garth marveled at the interweaving threads of mana in a beautiful and brilliant web. He looked all up and down it, trying to figure out what made the new creation tick. What made it so brilliantly complex. Scanning the seed’s aura, Garth realized that it seemed to be fraying at the edges.
“Crap, we’re on a time limit!” Garth shouted. No time to study it when it was degrading as he spoke. Garth ran, snatching up the seeds and bolting out of his garage, stopping long enough to run back, scoop up Betty and run back out.
Here goes nothing, he thought, filling the oak with Beladia’s mana, then planting the Banyan on a branch of the mighty tree.
In a matter of minutes, Garth guided the growth of the strangler fig, Ms. Banyan, along the branches of the oak, sending guiding roots down the main trunk and along the branches until a massive network was established, crowding out the sky above and creating an airy grove with Banyan trunks every twenty feet or so.
Once the tree was big enough, Garth allowed the oak tree frame to die, retracting Beladia’s mana and leaving only Ms. Banyan.
Garth stood back and admired his work.
It was…less than impressive. The Banyan grove looked like a normal tropical banyan grove. No nipples, no cradles, no nothing.
It was as Garth was walking through his failure of a grove, bemoaning the lack of nipples, when a woman stepped out of the Banyan trunk, the bark of the tree flowing around her like she’d stepped through a stargate.
Ms. Banyan looked like a cross between Beladia and Jess: wide hips, full breasts, long green hair, coloration was Beladia's, while her face reminded him of Jess. Totally naked.
I think Jamal might punch me again.
Ms. Banyan looked like she was seeing the world for the first time, looking around in wide-eyed wonder at every rock and twig on the ground. She saw Garth standing there, but her eyes passed over him as he was only as interesting as everything else in the grove. She nudged a rock with her foot, tried to put it in her mouth, spat it out, then tried the same with a stick.
“Please tell me we don’t have another baby to take care of.” Wilson said, rolling his eyes.
That caught her attention, and Ms. Banyan stared at Wilson for a moment, but when Wilson didn’t do anything else, she returned to crunching dry leaves from the dead oak between her fingers, smiling at the strange sound and sensation.
It was about this time Betty started fussing. Ms Banyan’s eyes widened, and she stood, gaze unnaturally focused on the wiggling bundle in Garth’s hands. She stepped forward, poking at the lump of wiggling cloth curiously.
“You sure we should be letting her do this?” Wilson whispered.
“I’m just trying not to startle the newly born…whatever she is.” Garth whispered back.
Betty gave a small cry and threw off the cloth hiding her face.
Ms. Banyan gave an audible gasp, and began peeling away more of the cloth to reveal the wiggling, kicking baby underneath. She tried to scoop Betty out of Garth’s hands.
“hold on there, slugger.” Garth said, drawing away.
She looked up, startled, as if realizing Garth was there for the first time, then silently held out her hands in front of him, demanding the infant.
“Well, looks like she’s got the instinct for it, I guess.” Garth said, casting all the protection spells he knew of on Betty before handing her over.
Once the baby was in her hand, Ms. Banyan shuddered in ecstasy, gently holding her close, rocking and wordlessly cooing to her.
“Hmm..” Garth said, watching Betty like a hawk to make sure Ms. Banyan didn’t slip up and try to feed his daughter a rock. Betty was older, after all, and she hadn’t figured that out either. Maybe Kristen, Paul’s kid, could teach Banyan the more technical aspects of taking care of babies.
She seemed like a quick learner.
“Um, Garth?” Wilson asked.
“Yeah?” Garth glanced away from his daughter for a moment to look at Wilson. Standing right behind the lizard was a brown pair of legs.
Behind Wilson was another Ms. Banyan, watching the baby in the dryad’s arms with a focus usually reserved for stalking cats. Beside her on either side was another, and another. The two of them were surrounded by a hundred Ms. Banyans, silently, longingly, staring at Betty.
“I think we should get these Banyans some babies.” Wilson said
“Pretty sure they won’t get violent.” Garth said, glancing around. “But we shouldn’t risk it.”