|Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
Dream Baby by John Moralee
My unborn child moves inside the membrane between our ship and the hard vacuum of space, squirming in delight as she downloads memories of Earth from the archives. She floats in the zero-gee tank as though that was how she was meant to be gestated – without the comforting warmth of my body and womb. It makes me ache to see her that way – but it can’t be done another way here on the Orbital, where everyone must fulfil their duties to the ship. The regs don’t permit pregnancy.
I feel my flat stomach and sigh, regretting my decision to leave Earth for the Orbital, where life is hard and short. I press my hand against the glass and connect to my baby’s neural link. I feel her emotions. She’s content. Blissfully happy. She doesn’t need me, her mother, not with the ship giving her everything she needs to grow. In a few months she will be ready to come out of the incubation pod – but for now she is still forming, an embryo swirling in a tank of nutrients against a background of stars. She’s lovely, and she’s mine. I feel a wave of love for her, but also apprehension.
The Orbital is not a place for a child.
An orange jumpsuit reflects in the glass. It’s Stefan floating down the tunnel from the hub. He grabs me when he reaches the birthing chamber. He grins.
“Are you going to stare at her all day, Lu?”
“I’m off-duty for another three hours,” I say. “This is how I relax. Watching our daughter.”
“I can think of another way we can relax.”
“I know you can. That’s how we ended up with a baby in space. Shouldn’t you be guarding the executives on omega deck?”
“They’re in a meeting in the bubble, interfacing with the AI. They let me have an hour. I’m bored, Lu. Let’s go to our cabin.” Stefan kisses me – but I pull away.
“Did you feel that?”
He frowns. “What?”
“Something is wrong with the Orbital.”
“You can’t possibly know -”
But I do. The stars are moving behind our baby – which means the ship has altered course. Our nameless child reacts by curling up into a ball, a defensive gesture against whatever unknown thing is affecting the ship. My skin tingles like it has been brushed with cold feathers.
The view outside has changed. Now the purple gas giant is visible. Stellar data confirms my suspicions. We’re no longer in a stable orbit. We’re heading towards the upper atmosphere at greater and greater velocity, where the Orbital will break apart like a popped balloon … unless … unless …
“What’s happening?” Stefan says.
Our baby turns in the tank. Her tiny mouth forms a smile.
I know what is happening. The neural link to the ship works two ways. Our child has hacked the ship’s network. She’s taken control.
She doesn’t want to live here.
We’re going back home.