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.

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What on Earth

Prompt: Unseen

fantasy-planet-space-art

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

anne_geddes_baby-3

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

Promiscuity

Prompt: Earth

starchild

Please don’t think we were a bunch of animals rutting recklessly in outer space. Honestly, we were not.

The fact that Sara did not know who the father of her child was indicated a certain carelessness, but during those last months before we reached Beta Omega we were, I think partially insane. All of us. How would you feel, careening to a new planet you only hoped would be habitable, never to see your loved ones or your home, or a forest, flower, bird, or bacon ever, ever again? And you had the responsibility of ethically, intelligently, peacefully and safely populating a new world?

I could have been more careful, too. After all, my child would need to have a different father from his or her future partner, if they wanted to ensure they produced healthy children. There were eight of us, enough for a safe pool of DNA to mix and match, if we were careful.

As first medical officer, Rosa was tasked to oversee the health of all the unborn children. She spent weeks deconstructing the Sparwood project data, and various other biological  studies, and in the end came up with a startlingly simple solution.

“We will be monogamous,” she said at the meeting.

“Interesting,” said Haven. I could see the wheels turning in Haven’s mind, as she tried to catch Will’s eye, but he was leaning back in his chair motionless, as if he was dozing.

“Bloody hell,” said Ed.

“Of course,” said John. “Human culture is traditionally monogamous.”

“It’s an artificial construct,” said Sara. “A result of the patriarchy.” She tapped on her laptop. John frowned at her. I guessed that he was not one of the potential fathers of the child in her belly. Which got me to wondering, because the only one of the male crew I hadn’t, um, done the dirty with was Ed, whose character I found strangely obnoxious and off-putting, and was pretty sure I wouldn’t even be able to hate F him. But Sara could? I thought I knew her better than that.

“I believe monogamy evolved to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases,” I said. I knew I was right. I had read Bauch-McElreath before sleeping last night, not from any scientific curiosity, but because I’d had a bout of insomnia lately.

“We start now,” Rosa said, closing the moleskin notebook in front of her. “When Sara’s child is born, we’ll do all the usual tests to determine paternity.”

“Haven, will you marry me?” Ed said, and everyone laughed.

Chris said, “I don’t actually see the need, Rosa. I think we have enough Solos to prevent any unwanted births.”

“It’s not 100% effective,” Rosa said. “We don’t take chances.”

“No,” said Chris.

And that, my friends, is why I seduced Christopher that very night.

 


  • Image: 2001, A Space Odyssey

Thumbs Up

Prompt: Conceal

baby-bird-feathers-little-nest-birds

She was summoned to UNASA and so she dressed well, in case Christopher could see her. Sometimes they could, but other times, they told her, she was just a fuzzy blur. Well, she wore a red cardigan sweater over her dress, so that she would at least stand out: a bright red blur.

Katherine, her liason officer, picked her up at 9 pm for the 9:55 meeting. She was a lovely young woman; a scientist, like Christopher, like she, Angela, would have died to become, had she the opportunity.

A young woman in her day had a clear duty, which was to marry and bear a boatload of kids, which she did. She had loved her husband, and loved most of her six children, but their lives had become her life. There was little time for reading, or watching nature documentaries (Tim, Nicholas, and Helen loved the animal programs, but Angela felt there was too much mating and killing for the little ones), or thinking anything at all. It was all about making the budget work until the next paycheque, keeping the house clean and not smelling of dirty diapers, feeding and clothing the children, keeping them from setting themselves on fire, preparing enough food to keep her family healthy and alert, mediating the endless arguments and feuds, and pretending that she found sex with Joe as wonderful as she had when they were twenty-two.

Then suddenly she was a grandmother, and her brain as fuzzy as her image on the monitor would be for Christopher. She told no one, but once the kids were grown she did consider enrolling in college, maybe even work towards a degree. But who was she kidding? She could barely remember the day of the week, except that she watched two of the grandchildren on Tuesdays and the two others on Saturday. Her life revolved about Tuesdays and Saturdays, and in between she tended to her garden, baked bread and cupcakes for church, tried very hard to fend off the pain in her legs, and watched The National Geographic channel. She was hardly ready for college.

And now she would be, if all had gone well, a great-grandmother. To her dear Christopher’s child.

There would be no privacy when she saw Christopher, not like earlier in the mission. They were so distant that the broadcasts were short and out of sync; and the nature of the mission so significant that she and Christopher had no illusions of a cosy chat, ever again. She missed him more than she had ever revealed, even to him. He was the one who understood her, who talked to her like she had a brain, who asked her for advice and guidance, respected who she was and even what she had become. She didn’t begrudge his decision to leave her. She had the other grandchildren, and, to be honest, she might have left them all for an adventure like the one Christopher had embarked upon.

She settled into the sofa, which was still too soft, in a room with the other crew members’ families. They were a varied bunch, as one could expect, sharing nothing but having had a spouse, parent, or child flung into space. There was a large flat screen monitor on the wall. It crackled to life.

There they were. It had been almost a year since their last communication. The images were quite clear. Christopher looked well-fed, which was a relief, though extremely pale, as they all did. They rushed through their hellos, and updates about their lives and health, so they could present the baby.

Christopher held it. He was the first father of the first child ever born on Buck Owens, as the folks at UNASA jokingly called it. The mother stood beside them. Christopher held the child up to the camera, and it waved its arms and made spit bubbles.

Even in this isolated room, the family members could hear the roar that came out of the main communications pod. A cheer, a roar of joy and amazement, that a baby had been born so very far away, the beginning of a new colony, a new civilization. A fresh start, a miracle, a first citizen of a new world.

The mother said a few words, which were a little indistinct, and then Christopher announced the baby’s name.

Angela.

Katherine, who had been leaning against the wall, came over to the sofa and put her hand on Nona’s shoulder.

Christopher smiled into the camera lens. That goofy smile that had so disarmed her when he was a child himself. He said something, but there was suddenly no sound. Angela knew there was nothing wrong with the monitor, or the broadcast. He was mouthing his childhood phrase, the one he said to her when he burst into the house after exploring the riverbed, or overturned rocks in the tall grass.

“Look what I got for you, Nona!”

She held out two red arms in a gesture of thumbs-up, and hoped Christopher could see her.

Nona

Prompt: Longing for Gravity
You are on a mission to Mars. Because of the length of of the journey, you will never be able to return to Earth. What about our blue planet will you miss the most?

Catesby-Redheaded-Woodpecker

Well, it is confirmed. We overshot Mars. Someone miscalculated. Opposition was off and now we have a new destination. Oops.

First medical officer Rosa was crying about it. I felt little sympathy for her, because her tears demonstrated that all her chatter about Jonathan Livingston Seagull and her place in the universe and her oneness with the being that some call God, etc. was bullshit.

Since he was the first navigator, John had no time to ponder and went to work right away with course changes and trajectories. He didn’t like to ponder much, at the best of times.

First engineer Will was close to tears, because he probably knew better than anyone if this old bucket could make it to Beta Omega. Will had legendary eyelashes. As second engineer I had a good idea whether or not the craft could withstand the extra distance, too. Slim chance, I believed, but slim was better than none. I saw the cup half full, in other words, while Will saw it half empty.

As first communications officer, I had the charming task of telling the other four, whom I hadn’t seen in six weeks. Two of them, Chris and Haven, were scheduled to be rotated back to us, while Sara and Ed were going to welcome Rosa and Will. We did this rotation, ostensibly, to prevent the contempt of familiarity.

I went through the tunnel and rang the doorbell. We observed little courtesies like that on this journey. Chris opened the hatch, then reflexively checked his watch. “Hi,” I said. “Rotation is not until another three days.”

“Too bad,” said Chris. “I’m about to murder Ed.”

“I’m about to murder Rosa,” I told him.

Chris got everyone together in the dining room, and I explained the change in plans, relying on technical terms and euphemisms to mask the nuclear-strength emotional bombshell. I was met with a stunned silence. Ed spoke first.

“Beta Omega?” he said. “That’s B-O, not very auspicious.”

“Shut up, Ed,” said Chris. “What is the estimated time frame on this?”

“Two years til landing,” I said.

“Fuck,” said Sara.

“No return,” Haven, mistress of the obvious, said.

Ed, supply and distribution officer, told us fuel, food, water, and oxygen would get us there. We already knew that. We thought about it constantly and checked on it compulsively, no matter what the destination.

Sara, first science officer, looking up from her laptop, told us that Beta Omega was a friendly, and the only one. It would be possible. Just. Good old Sara. Glass half full.

Haven said, “I would like to convene a meeting at 1900 hours to discuss how to handle this.” Haven liked porn. I knew this because I knew what everyone watched, and what everyone read, and what everyone wrote.

“What’s for dinner?” I asked.

“Spaghetti,” said Chris. “My Nona’s recipe.”

We all thought a moment about Nona, and how Chris would never set eyes on her again, nor his father or sisters. Nor Alice, his niece, or Chief, his chocolate lab.

We thought a moment about our families. I thought about the woodpecker, the stupid one that woke me early on weekends by hammering on the metal chimney spout.

Some of us thought about sex. I glanced at Chris. My choice for daddy of the millennia, for the first born on the first world, the inauspiciously named B-O. He had a soft spot for Sara. I might have to do something about that.