Christmas in Space
You could argue that that whole Christmas thing doesn’t make much sense out here, among the stars. Myriad suns and worlds, as many equinoxes as you care to calculate, all the special alignments you can imagine.
But it’s all still there, right? Earth and Sun, still absolute reference points for each other. Still coming right up to that longest night and shortest day, that ancient dark before the dawn, seeds buried deep and little sun god/son of god curled fetal-style ready for rebirth. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t make it less real.
“Kind of arbitrary though, don’t you think?” Lana says.
And she’s right, of course.
Anyway, all that winter solstice mysticism, that’s all just so much Northern Hemisphere cultural hegemony. Not that Lana would put it that way. She curls a strand of dirty blonde hair around a finger.
“Where I’m from, right now? It’s, like, summer.”
The baby kicks again, and Lana jumps with a little squeal of surprise and ends up doing a back flip. Then she lets herself drift, cradling the rounded curve of her belly as she floats.
“My little miracle,” she says with a soft smile.
It shouldn’t be happening. She had her tubes lasered, the same as all of us, sent sterilized into our barren exile. But that doesn’t work so well if you’re already pregnant when they do it. Of course she wasn’t supposed to be pregnant. Three years in a women’s prison, they wouldn’t even have bothered to test. Lana doesn’t talk about it much, but some of the guards were men, and there are some things more likely than miracles. Still though, you might think with a procedure like that, invasive, you’d miscarry anyway. And most likely you would. But sometimes it’s the less likely you’ve got to worry about.
Most days now are drifting, like this. Drifting in the confined space of the zero-g cabin, which is drifting in turn in the empty vastness outside. There is no one else.
Most days now are waiting. It can’t be long now, looking at her.
She hums little songs to the baby, talks to it in a dreamy sing-song voice. “We’ll sail away, far away, find a lovely world. Apple trees and honey bees and—”
“Fuck’s sake, just stop, all right? There are no other worlds.”
She looks startled, hurt. Does she actually believe this stuff?
“The colony’s another world,” she says sullenly.
“Well, yes. But isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid? A penal colony’s no place for a baby. And they’d never let you keep him anyway. Isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t that why we did it?”
Probably it was the pregnancy symptoms, weird fluctuations in temperature or blood electrolytes or something, that made Lana’s stasis pod start acting up and alerted the guard.
He wouldn’t have been expecting her to know how to flip open the other pod. She’s not as blonde baby-doll dumb as she looks. He sure wasn’t expecting to have to deal with two women, one of them with nothing to lose and the other with everything to fight for. Though which one was which, now there’s a riddle.
“We shouldn’t have killed him,” Lana says sometimes, blue eyes troubled like a cloudy sky.
“But we did, didn’t we? Or you did.”
She pops another Valium, and that makes the clouds go away, or mostly. She frowns at the half-empty pill bottle. “You don’t think this is bad for the baby, do you?”
“Doubt it. Can’t be worse than the stasis drugs, right?”
She’s stayed off the harder stuff, to be fair to her. She’s taking this motherhood thing more seriously than you might have thought. Not that Lana’s the kind of mother you’d wish on any child. Just ask her last baby.
Oh wait, you can’t. Born crack-addicted and dead within the hour, hence why we’re right here right now, he doesn’t have a lot to say for himself. She didn’t mean it, of course she didn’t. She had the start of a good education, and a well-off family, back home before the running away overseas and the drugs, but she should have picked a better place to run away to if she was going to do what she did because none of that counted for anything in our glorious homeland. As she’d say, they’re kind of, like, draconian about some things.
And for trying to help her cover it up, hide the remains? The same sentence. An experienced nurse with a flawless record of dedication? Just trying to help, it wasn’t like anything could be done for the poor thing by then anyway? No matter. Accessory to murder, infanticide.
“I didn’t mean to do it,” she insists. It’s like she’s not sure herself which one she means.
At least now the punishment fits the crime, retrospectively. It’s funny how things work out.
No one dies in childbirth any more.
“There’s so much blood,” Lana says. “There’s not supposed to be so much.”
“You’re not going to die. It’s not, like, Victorian times.”
No. But that’s because we’ve got surgical procedures, injections to contract the uterus and slow the bleeding, we’ve got transfusions. Except when we haven’t.
She’s strapped in the stasis pod, stuck full of diamorphine from the med kit. It dulled the pain, maybe, or at least it made her drowsy enough that she didn’t care or couldn’t say if she did. But there’s so much blood. And there’s nothing to stop it.
There’s methicillin, old school or what, and there’s silver-bullet vancomycin, but it’s not infection that’s killing her. There’s heparin, would you believe it, the anti-coagulant, vials of it winking in the flickering light like a bad joke. There’s a bit more diamorphine, and that’ll help in its own way, but there’s nothing to stop the life bleeding out of her. Nothing at all.
That’s one thing there’s no shortage of. There’s an infinity of nothing out here.
“More,” Lana says. She’s slurring her words. She’s had enough already, more than enough, but what does it matter now?
The baby wails again.
The needle slides into her arm, and her eyes look slowly heavenward, her pale lips curl into a smile.
The baby’s little mouth closes on her breast, momentarily contented, sucking the last of her milk. It’s what she’d want. Shame to let it go to waste.
Salty tears, the sharp pain of them. Wasting precious water. Nothing but waste, nothing but nothing. All of it. What a fucking waste.
Look at that.
Maybe it’s the hormones they injected us with after the tubal ligations, or some weird side effect of stasis. Or maybe it’s long-buried maternal instincts, that biological clock ticking into life far too late. Maybe it’s a little miracle after all.
It’s milk. Oozing from a barren woman’s nipples. Well, it looks like milk, doesn’t it, but how can it be? Taste it, then. Hmm. Warm, strangely sweet, but it is milk.
The baby agrees. And he should know, shouldn’t he?
The milk doesn’t last long. But it’s enough, it buys him time. Until his cradle is ready.
The stasis pods are silver-shiny chrysalis cocoons. Except that two of them are coffins now. Lana, and the guard whose name we never even knew, no butterfly awakening for them, never ever. But they’re escape pods too, their own back-up energy source built-in, as well as the solar panels on the outside.
The third one, then. It wasn’t difficult to modify the inputs to match an infant’s different nutritional and circulatory needs.
Hush, hush, go to sleep now. Here, a kiss. The last of the miracle milk. Sing you a lullaby if I could remember how. Sail you home.
I want to keep you. Hmm. That’s unexpected. Maybe it could work. Try Lana’s plan after all, go looking for those happy shiny worlds. It’s what your mama would have wanted. I could be your mama now. I want it. So much I ache deep inside like it was me gave you birth those few short days ago. No one need ever know different and oh I want.
No matter. Wants are irrelevant. You can’t follow where I’m going. Have to let you go.
We’re not that far out yet from Earth. Once you get closer, you’ll show up on surveillance systems and they’ll intercept you. They’ll find you, keep you safe. Give you a name. All the things I can’t.
You won’t remember me. But I will.
Two stasis pods left, then. It’s not like the inhabitants need them. Could drag one of them out, take their place, sleep until the journey’s end. Could fix it so as to never wake up, always a possibility. The destination is kind of unappealing.
But no need to choose yet. No. Stay awake a little longer, watching. See my baby on his way, on your way. Dormant in the darkness with all the possibilities of a universe coiled helical inside.
I wonder will they see you coming like a star shining bright in the east?