Prompt: Inscrutable


As Angel began to breathe on her own, Rosa developed a cough. It was a dry, rasping, deep-lung cough, that startled Radical out of his deep sleep on the cot beside Angel’s bed.

It was only day two of the induced coma, and Rosa was pleased that Angel’s temperature had come down a little, and that her breathing was less laboured. But I was concerned for Rosa.

She shrugged off my concerns, which was very like Rosa. She was the member of the crew least interested in intimacy, and would help populate the planet out of duty, not lust. She dismissed my worry not out of courage, but from disdain for my weakness and lack of focus. Of course she cared about her health; she cared nothing, however, about my frivolous opinions.

Radical’s routine had been disrupted and he was sleeping more than he ever did before we were quarantined. This alarmed me too. Yes, we three were stuck in a small space with a sick child, but I seemed to be the only one completely unscathed. I slept well, considering. I had a good appetite. I walked the treadmill. I kept my spirits up. I tended to Angel, keeping her clean and fresh. I distracted Radical, who should have been much more restless than he was. Perhaps boredom caused his sleep cycle change?

I just wanted Angel to get well, and for us all to get out and back with the rest of the crew, back to our regular activities and duties, get the children back in school and back to their active daily life.

“How is she?” Radical asked me, climbing, uncharacteristically, into my lap as I sat by Angel’s bed. Rosa was preparing to bring the child out of the coma. Angel’s parents observed from the monitor, tense and agitated.

Radical asked me because Rosa would have ignored his question. “She is doing well, Raddy,” I said, trying to hug him. His sharp elbows and ribbed spine impeded my attempts. “Look! She is breathing just fine on her own.”

And Rosa crumpled to the floor.

Radical tumbled unceremoniously to the floor as I stood and rushed to Rosa’s side. She wasn’t breathing. I threw protocol to the wind then, for which I could have been severely reprimanded. Rightly so.

I broke quarantine and let the others into the hospital unit. Ed was second medical officer. Rosa needed him.

Christopher and Sara gave Ed a wide berth and went directly to the other side of the bed, leaning over Angel. Christopher then threw protocol to the stars, and picked their daughter up, cradling her in his arms.

Protocol didn’t matter any more.

Angel opened her eyes.

Rosa died.

I went to get a blanket for Rosa, and saw my son, Radical. He was in the shadows behind Angel’s bed, watching everything, alone and unmoving.

The Crisis

Prompt: Better

hospital monitor

The silence and darkness of this planet are almost unbearable. I’m sure I’m not the only one strangely homesick for the often intrusive 24-hour a day noises and lights of Earth. When I lived at Home some of my most memorable vacations were hikes in the deep woods, where the only sound was nature, and even nature turned the volume down overnight, and the only light was from a persistent moon. There was blackness and the silence of trees. Yet I longed for activity, lights, sounds.

Here on Beta Omega (no, we still haven’t agreed on a new name; we are so taken up with other duties of, well, colonizing a new planet) the 20-hour sun cycle grants us eight hours of sunlight and twelve hours of darkness. Ten in the evening is our midnight. The children are asleep well before midnight, and that accounts for a lot of the dark tranquility.

This imbalance, small as it may seem, has had a profound influence on me. And after the Crisis, the silence was as loud as an old SLS.

When she slept in for a few mornings, none of us were surprised. She has always been an active child, and trying to keep pace with her young half-brother (my son Radical) assured she was even more wildly busy during play times. And she is a growing child. Growing can be exhausting; we’ve all transversed growth spurts and strain on our organs and muscles. Angel, as perfect as she was, was no different.

When she collapsed, drained of color, it was not while playing Twistrun with Radical but while reading a book called The Blue Rabbit. Panicked and confused, I scooped her into my arms. Radical was using his quiet time to play a game on his tablet. I roughly grabbed his hand and rushed out of the library, stabbing the emergency button with my forehead on the way out.

Everyone, all of us, appeared in the corridors except for Rosa, who as first medical officer, made her way so swiftly to the lab that she awaited me as I carried Angel through the door, trailed by Radical and then the six others.

Rosa slammed on the quarantine doors. Only Radical and I were allowed to remain, since we’d already been exposed to whatever had felled our darling Angel.

Radical was strangely obedient, not moving from his chair when told to stay put. I helped Rosa as best I could— gently got Angel out of her play clothes and into the bed, held her while she was given the injection, and lifted limbs and hair while Rosa hooked the child up to a web of beeping and blinking monitors.

Then blood and tissue samples were taken. All the while Angel lay as if dead— pale, absolutely still, not even a fluttering of delicate eyelids. Naturally she looked tiny in the full-sized bed, dwarfed by billowing white pillows and sheets.

“What is it, Rosa?”

“I don’t know,” she said, starring at the station monitor. Results of tests cascaded down the screen. “Diagnosis is unclear, there is something like a measles virus apparent.”

“Which is impossible,” I said.

“Correct,” said Rosa. She conferred with Ed regarding the test results, sent him the data. He was a stymied as Rosa and the computer. She looked up from the computer. “You broke protocol. You shouldn’t have moved her.”

“I’m sorry, I panicked,” I said. Rosa turned to the monitor and frowned.

Radical was up and moving about the room. I went to him and led him back to the chairs. I gave him a pair of thin vinyl gloves to play with. He looked at them and then at me as if to say, “Really?”

What he did say was, “What about Angel?”

“Don’t know yet, honey,” I said. I crouched and gave him a hug. He smelled, inexplicably, like sage. He was as stiff and bony as ever— not the most huggable child I’d ever encountered, but he was mine. And Christopher’s. Christopher and Sara must be frantic. They would, I suspected, sacrifice anything to be here in this room with Angel, instead of me.

Rosa gave Radical and I both an injection; Radical didn’t cry. She jabbed herself, despite my offer.

Because of Angel’s high temperature, after a few hours Rosa and Ed decided to induce a coma, and so the child now had a precautionary oxygen mask over her nose and mouth as she lay there. I longed to hold her, console her, somehow send her a message of courage and hope, but she wouldn’t have heard me. She was in a personal battle that was as far from me and those who loved her as Earth was.

Radical went to her bedside, and kissed her upper arm near her elbow, since he couldn’t reach her forehead. “Don’t die, Angel,” he said. “I need you.”

It was a strange thing for a child to say, and I thought about it. I couldn’t sleep, anyway. I sat up with Angel overnight. The room was dimly lit, and the lights and graphs on the monitors streamed and blinked. There were humming noises, and separate, constant beeps. Radical was asleep on the cot, softly snoring as he often did.

I longed for the unbearable silence of an ordinary alien night.

Dear Dairy

Prompt: Aware


Dear Dairy,

Mommy asked me to start writing about my days. She said everyone here does that except Radical because he is too young. She says pay attention and write what I see. She says no one will read it it is private. I think Mommy might read it. Mommy stop reading it!

Radical doesn’t live with me and my Mommy and daddy. He lives with his Mommy. Radical is my brother and I need to take care of him, Mommy says. Also daddy. Radical likes drawing and building with Metalz and mind reading. I like drawing and wind-belling and numbers. We both like running and colours.

Radical has a penist, and I do too but mine is inside. That’s what science says.

So today Radical started write school and letters. I already did that but didn’t do gravity, so I started gravity and we both started earth. Earth is where we were born, even me and Radical because of our jeans and sperm.

After this dairy I am writing a letter to my granny who lives on earth. I heard daddy say she might die before she reads it. Dying is like floating in space by yourself. That’s what Radical says.

Earth has trees and plants that grow outside, some of them make fruit and potatoes. It has one moon which is far away and they hardly ever visit it because it’s dead.

Gravity is what earth has like a magnet so people don’t fall off. That is the basic.

Daddy said I should count the stars for him. It is a project. I will start tonight. Sometimes I wonder if the stars are dead people floating.

Your friend,

What on Earth

Prompt: Unseen


The two children were playing tag in the playground enclosure. One would chase the other, shout “You’re it!” and then would become the pursued rather than the pursuer. I don’t remember actually teaching them the game, especially as there were only two of them, but there they were, engaged in the most universal of childhood games. Chasing, catching, and switching roles.

Radical’s scant, black infant hair had evolved into a spiky, coarse russet-coloured mat (similar to my father’s), which was an odd complement to his darker, almost olive skin tone. What a contrast from his older sister, Angel, that beautiful child so pale in hair and flesh as to almost seem transparent. She was transparent, in fact, in word and deed. I suppose we had spoiled her terribly, this first child of this planet, but she somehow absorbed all the tsunamis of love and attention and transformed it into a sense of security, confidence, and a belief that no one would lie to her or do her harm, while never thinking herself the centre of the universe. Which was a misunderstanding, since all of us considered her to be exactly that.

Christopher was at the bank making a deposit, and would be along in a few minutes to take the children to lunch. Yes, of course the sperm bank. We were stocking up all manner of swimmers and eggs. We had a world to populate. Christopher was already father of two. Angel, by Sara, and Radical, my son.

Radical ran to where I was seated, almost out of breath. He closed my laptop and grinned at me, and I roughly tousled his already unruly hair. I felt a surge of affection because he was smiling at me, eye to eye. Does that seem strange? This was my first go at being a mother and I truly didn’t know what to expect, but I was surprised at little Radical’s apparent detachment, his ability to calm himself without my intervention, his serene, strange condescension; yes, even as a baby.

“I won,” said Radical.

“Superb effort!” I said in the pompous language that seemed to amuse him. I tried, I really did.

Angel appeared, wanting a drink of juice, just as Christopher came through the double doors. Angel dropped her juice, spilling it all over the floor, which we ignored, and then Christopher scooped her up in his arms, her long pale legs dangling. “How is my special Angel?” he asked.

“Raddy won,” Angel said, and seemed proud. Sometimes I found her impossibly perfect.

Radical held back, not from shyness, but to await his turn. Christopher set Angel down gently and then hauled Radical off his feet and threw him over his shoulder. “How’s my little alien?” he said, laughing, and Radical laughed too. Christopher winked at me, and then carried Radical as Angel trailed behind, out through the double doors.

I opened my laptop again. I had taken a photo of the children playing, and added it to my daily journal. The image was of Angel at the moment Radical tagged her, her face alight with joy, while Radical stretched impossibly and touched her with a lone finger.

My little alien. How on earth could Christopher think that was funny or appropriate?

But then, we weren’t on earth.

Space Oddity

Prompt: Radical


June 27.

I don’t really want to write this, but as first communications officer I instructed everyone to keep a journal, as detailed as possible. I promised everyone complete privacy, and may uphold that promise. I certainly do not want this made “public” among my comrades here on this god-forsaken planet, nor anyone at home. It is all too strange. And utterly impossible.

Christopher all but abandoned me as soon as we found out that Sara’s child was his. Little Angela (we call her Angel) is a beacon for all of us, reminding us of our humanity as well as our professional “intergallactic” mission. She has luminous pale skin, Christopher’s blue eyes, but Sara’s unruly dark curls. She is the first citizen of this place, and if we survive, every tiny aspect of her life will be recorded and studied by future (depending on survival, as I said) generations, here and at home. We are all debating how to incorporate Angel’s name into the name for this planet, which so far only has a letter and number designation. We decided to name it ourselves, no matter what they want back home.

So, starting a colony on a distant, strange, and barely habitable planet does sound impossible, right? No, that is not the impossible part. That is not even the strange part. I am the impossible, strange thing on this planet. I have been pregnant for eighteen months.

The elephant is the mammal with the allegedly longest gestation period, at about 21 months. I’m not part elephant, nor was there anything particularly strange about my baby’s conception. Christopher and I, still together, had our last sexual encounter eighteen months ago, shortly before Angel was born. I learned I was pregnant six weeks later. And here I am, as big as a house, under constant watch, with a live baby— we lack a lot of sophisticated scanning devices but we know the baby is alive— and it kicks— in my belly. I am no bigger than any other soon-to-be-mother at nine months. So what is this child doing in there?

Was it the journey, the atmosphere, the food, a virus, the stress?— no one has an answer. We aren’t scheduled to contact UNASA for another six months.

I’ve not been a mother before, so can’t say whether or not the way I feel is “normal”. But I feel like shit most of the time, my back needs massaging daily or the pain is too much, and I’m the size of the Titanic with an astonishingly high level of horniness which I am unable to satisfy. And oh so confused about who or what is—

July 6.

Feeling 36 kilograms lighter (about eight pounds). It is a boy. The elephant still holds the record for longest gestation.

Christopher and I already had names picked out for our child. Constance if a girl, and Radical if it was a boy. That was my father’s name.

Radical doesn’t have the rolls of chubbiness that most babies have. He is not skinny, just well proportioned. I think he has Christopher’s mouth. His eyes are a little different; a very pale grey with a halo of black. He is quiet and serene. He was able to make eye contact right from birth and all vital signs were normal. Angel loves him, her little half-brother, so we are all trying very hard to love him too.


  • Image: Anne Geddes