“NAX TO ANTRIA—YOUR CREW manifest shows that you are not in compliance with current Kipos Reproduction Law,” were the most terrifying words Captain Cole Alekos believed he had ever heard until the night he awoke with someone pounding on his hatchway, the emergency lights flashing, and his youngest screaming through the adjoining door. He fought his way from the blankets. Tapping out his security code upon the embedded com screen next to his rack, he saw the unauthorized use of the shuttle bay airlock.
The inner airlock would automatically shut when the outer one was opened, so the Antria still had a viable atmosphere and functioning life support, but it was an emergency situation. Ignoring his six-year-old’s screams, he locked the hatchway to Mark’s quarters and slipped on a pair of coveralls. Cole’s mind raced towards his adult offspring. Helen would always go to her station in an emergency. He trusted her. Harden would...
The thought of his daughter-in-law, Lucy, committing suicide foisted itself onto his brain. He considered his eldest, Harden, might also be dead. The cool recycled air felt heavy in his lungs. He wished he had time to figure this out before he left his quarters, but his crew needed him.
Whether or not Harden was dead, Cole was the captain.
He opened the hatchway and climbed out of his billet. Like a well-run hive, the ship’s officers were at work. The XO and navigator were still at the helm and running ship diagnostics. Cole went in to the join them. “Airlock malfunction,” the XO said.
The cook was in the galley, starting pots of coffee and tea. The ship’s doctor was helping him by putting chocolate biscuits on a tray. After all, most of the crew would not fall sleep again on this night. Glancing over, he saw Harden, alive at his emergency station!
However, as his son looked over the assembled crowd, Cole grew more worried. The engineering team was in disarray and Harden himself was only half-dressed. His curls were bent in random cowlicks and his face was cold, vehement. He looked like he might hit someone or possibly decompress the whole ship. One of the mechanics tried to speak to him, but Harden said something softly and took a step away.
Someone asked if there was a note. No, there wasn’t a note, but the crew didn’t need one to know why she had done it. No one was even surprised that it finally happened. Lucy had been getting up early since the forced abortion and following hysterectomy. She often felt ill lying down in the darkness. She had been whispering things Harden didn’t like to hear. Harden had once tried to tell her he didn’t care if they were sterilized. It was she that he loved. She screeched back loud enough for the entire ship to hear: “You never loved our son!”
No one ever knew what to say to her after that.
Cole would never forget the day the customs agents said in an icy tone: “Come into compliance with Kipos reproduction law or leave Kiposi space.” He didn’t care about himself. The fact they sterilized his kids and murdered his unborn grandchild disturbed and infuriated him, but there was little he could do. The fetus had been checked for defects and, according to Kipos Reproduction law, terminated. However, Lucy had been regularly seeing the ship’s doctor. His tests concluded the only defect was it would have been born a Khlôrosan.
“We all loved her and we will all mourn her,” Cole said in his captain’s tone, more to the crew than to Harden.
Harden hissed at him, “Shut the fuck up.”
“Son,” Cole tried to reach out and pull Harden into a hug, but Harden pushed back.
“Don’t. Touch. Me.” He panted out. “I can’t breathe!”
“We will have a memorial service at 09:00,” Cole said.
“There are too many people here! Not one of you cared enough to stop her!” Harden punched at the nearest wall until the ship’s inner hull groaned. He screamed at the crew until they backed away. “I have an IQ of 168, and they still murdered my son! You let them murder my son for a fucking contract!”
Cole did not justify himself. While there was not much truth in the statement, there was enough to make it sting.
Helen slipped in front of her brother. She drew him into a hug and rested her forehead against his. “No one could ever love Lucy like you did, but I lost my sister-in-law tonight and Mark did too... and we did love her,” Helen whispered.
Harden asked, “Mark knows?”
“With all the noise you’re making, everyone knows,” Helen whispered. “No one blames you. It was her choice.”
“Will you make the same choice?” Harden whispered back, but he was visibly calmer.
“Fuck no, and neither will you.”
“Someday you might wake up to the alarm sounding and discover you are wrong.”
“No, I won’t.”
Cole realized they were alone as anyone could be on a starship. He could hear the constant murmur of the engines, the cook still in the galley banging around, and muffled speaking and weeping in the galley or the lounge. Above it all was a higher voice wailing: Mark was still locked in his billet.
Tears left red blotchy trails down Helen’s cheeks, but Harden’s eyes were still dry. He looked exhausted. It was cruel to leave them, but knowing that Helen could deal with her elder brother better than he could, Cole hurried back down to his quarters and unlocked Mark’s hatchway.
A bundle of terrified six-year old threw himself at Cole.
He scooped up Mark, along with his ratty quilt and an even rattier stuffed kitten, and carried him back to his berth. Not able to figure out a better way to break the news to him, Cole said, “Lucy is dead.”
Mark wiped away tears and choked out a bit of snot, then asked, “Really dead? Worse than Mommy? Not even a radio transmission?”
Was six old enough to understand that death was permanent? Cole couldn’t remember what he knew at six and he wasn’t around when his adult children were Mark’s age.
“I want Mommy.”
Fuck the black and all her stars, Cole hated talking to his wife. It wasn’t that they argued. Since the separation they were incredibly civil to each other. However, though he was only thirty-five, every day he spent in the black seemed as if Rosemary had aged another year. He hated seeing her dry hands, the lines on her face that grew deeper. However, what he said was, “Sure, buddy. I’m sure Harden needs to talk to Mommy, too.”
He carried Mark into his billet and hit the com. He told his XO to place a call to the Endeavor and then opened the hatchway. “Hel,” he said. “Bring your brother to my billet. I’m calling your mom.”
He could split the call, but figured Mark would want to be with his elder siblings. Depending on the boy’s immediate need, either Harden or Helen was his favorite person.
Helen guided Harden inside and to sit on Cole’s berth. His elder son looked as broken and old as anyone could possibly be at twenty-two. Cole lit two cigarettes. He handed one to Harden then took a deep drag on his own. Out of habit, Harden nodded in thanks.
Mark, who had always hated the smell of tobacco, made a face, but stood on the berth between them. He wrapped his left arm about his big brother’s shoulders. With his right hand, he stroked the top of Harden’s head as if he were the ship’s cat. “It’s okay. It’s okay. We’ll call Mommy for you.”
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