For as long as he'd been aware of his existence, he'd been curled up in this cozy space. His knees up to his chin, his arms wrapped around his legs, his body curled into itself. In general, he was comfortable. The little space seemed to grow just as he needed the extra room for his growing body. He would occasionally get numb in a hand or foot, and would shift around to ease things up a little.
He could not, of course, see out, as he was completely enclosed. But the material of which his container was made let in some light, giving his not yet fully formed eyes some use in examining his surroundings. He first noticed his hands, as they were the closest things. Long, delicate fingers, still un furred, moved reflexively in preparation for their lifetime of activity. the thin skin barely covering the well-formed structures. Slowly, he grew to know the rest of his body.
He also, when his ears formed sufficiently, was able to distinguish a number of sounds, both within and outside of his confinement. the beating of his heart, a faint crackle, a slow and rhythmic tic-tocing sound, a distant buzzing. all of this became familiar and comforting to him.
He also, on occasion, heard other noises. He would hear, approaching from a distance, a high, rapid-fire stream of sound. It seemed to move around outside the walls of his confinement, stay a little while, and move away. He would also hear a low rumbling sound, as tho the very air itself shook. It would sometimes be with the high-pitched sound, which got more agitated with it's approach. Occasionally, a sudden, loud report could be heard, which was almost always followed by a high-pitched exclamation.
Em studied these sounds carefully, trying his best to repeat them. He did not know why he did this, it seemed to be something he needed to do. The high-pitched sounds, and the low rumbling sounds, seemed to elicit a response from a deeper part of his being. Each time he heard one of those sounds, he repeated it, at the urging of some primitive reflex beyond his control.
Thus was the world of Em, snugly wrapped in his gestational cucoon, as the world went on with it's activities all around him.
Jason was incredibly excited!
He had purchased this new program a week ago, at the recommendation of several of his friends. Seems it's the latest rage in simulations. "Artificial Life!!", screamed the magazine advertisement, "on YOUR computer".
But, all his friends in school had gone out and bought a copy, or had convinced their parents to get them a copy. It was all the rage ever since it was released in the U.S, back in late June. Or was it July?? He hadn't paid attention at first, but it steadily became the biggest craze to hit the states in quite some time. the web became full of sites dedicated to this program. there was even a Newsgroup where people could trade - what were they.... Norns!! that's it. He STILL could not keep these new words straight in his head, tho he'd played with this program for several hours a day since he'd first installed it.
Jason had gone thru about 4 of his hatchery eggs, learning the ins and outs of what a Norn was. How to teach it, how to get it to eat (lord!!! was THAT a tough one!!). What to do when it got sick (which was a lot!!!!).
But worst of all, was the Grendel.
He'd gone through 1 Norn before coming across the Grendel. She was the victim of a new breeder's ignorance. He couldn't keep the categories straight in his mind, and so taught her that the shower was a mover, and that the Call Button and the Lift had the same name. He also could not get her to distinguish between a plant, and a weed, which led to her demise.by weed poisoning. Grendel came along as he was working on his second Norn - A Male this time, thinking them the hardier of the 2 sexes. Grendel first action upon seeing the Norn was to give it a resounding slap, which almost knocked Jason off his chair in surprise at the force of the blow.
By the time Jason figured out how to get Grendel away from the Male Norn, it was too late. The poor male's life force was down to 60%, and dropping. He'd forgotten how to eat, he ran from everything - including the hand - and he was badly poisoned by Glycotoxin. He died a slow painful death, which Jason, in his ignorance, was powerless to prevent. All he could do was give tickles to the Norn with the Hand, whose very presence caused the Norn to go into a paroxysm of fear.
With Jason's 3rd and 4th Norns, he'd done better. He hatched a male, and a female, keeping them separated while training them. He taught them that the hand was safety and love by giving them frequent tickles. When Hand first appears near one of them, they come to the hand, calling 'push hand', and hand rewards them with tickles. When hand moves away, they follow, for which hand rewards them with tickles. When they 'push' food, hand rewards them with tickles, When hand gives them an instruction, and they follow it, hand rewards them with tickles. Jason was hesitant, at first, to use the slap for corrective action, since he didn't want to have his Norns associate the hand with pain. He was assured that if he made it just one slap, One! ONCE!!, and followed it immediately with a tickle, and a repetition of the command, he would usually have success. He found this to be so, and in this way taught his Norns that weeds were bad, and Grendel was to be feared.
At last, his pair were old enough to mate. He was still confounded by the graphs in the health and science kit, so had no way of knowing for sure if the female was ready for pregnancy. He decided it would be best to just bring them together, and let them do the rest.
When first they set eyes on each other, they stopped about a Norn-width apart, alternating between reaching out to each other, and standing there and staring. Using the Norn's eye view, he saw them concentrating hard on each other. Jason took this opportunity to teach them 'Norn', and tried to get them to interact. They met. they danced around each other, they crouched and stood, they back pedaled and came toward each other again. All the time looking at each other and saying 'Norn', 'look Norn', and 'get Norn'.
Finally, the Male said 'push Norn', and slapped the female!! She stood up on her toes, letting out an 'owwww' of shock and pain. The male stood at attention, one leg lifted high in the air, and bent at the knee, in what Jason would come to know as the typical posture for the aggressor in any conflict. Quickly, Jason used hand to slap the male Norn, then quickly moved up to alternating tickles to both of them before either one had run too far, and repeated the 'push norn' command.
They approached each other again, more cautiously than before. they first rubbed noses, looking to Jason like a couple of those bobbing-head dolls you see in the back windows of cars. They advanced to dancing around each other, kissing and crouching down in front of each other. Eventually, Jason heard the KiiiiiissssssPOP sound that's supposed to signal the act of mating. A quick check of the pregnancy page showed him his female was pregnant.
YES!!!!!! His first mating!!!
Separating the 2 Norns again, he cared for the female throughout her pregnancy. He was fortunate that she was healthy, generally obedient, and a good eater. She came to term in about 6 hours, and laid her egg by the incubator, where the instruction manual recommended it be laid. He had had a bit of a time keeping her happy and distracted during her pregnancy, and the area between the incubator and the stove was littered with toys and food. Now that the egg had been laid, he focused his attention on waiting for it to hatch, leaving the male and female to pretty much fend for themselves.
It was torture, waiting for that egg to grow. He would rather have put it in the incubator right away, to speed up the process. This was, however, a natural egg, which had to grow some before Jason could do anything with it. He decided to just let it mature on its own, to find out what would happen. He'd already 'hatched' 4 eggs in the incubator, and wanted to see the difference.
Em was confused. He'd felt for some time now, that his space was getting too small for him. He felt it get snug before, and then expand to fit him better, but now things were getting very cramped in there. His body was becoming more and more bent, he had less and less space to move in, and needed to move more frequently. He could not get comfortable no matter how he moved and so moved around almost constantly. As he continued to grow, he seemed to notice that the light shining into his egg was getting brighter. He had no clue why this was happening, but he wished it would stop, since it hurt his eyes.
Finally, during one particular change of position, Em's body had just plain gotten too big for his egg. As he pushed, he heard a new sound, as of something delicate breaking. He shifted again for a little comfort, and found that his eyes were flooded with light.
Em's egg had hatched, thrusting him into a new world.