by Alexis A. Hunter
Alexis A. Hunter revels in the endless possibilities of speculative fiction. Over fifty of her short stories have appeared in magazines such as Shimmer, Apex Magazine, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, and more. To learn more, visit www.alexisahunter.com.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
I wasn’t supposed to be alone.
I look to the stars, where I left your body. And somehow I manage to feel abandoned. As if you had a choice. As if you chose to die when they boarded us. As if you should have known — somehow, impossibly — that this would happen.
That’s the grief talking
under the stars that mark your grave.
I cradle my swollen stomach. You used to sleep with your hand there. She kicks that abandoned patch of skin, searching for your touch. I try to tell her you’re gone, but the words lodge in the dry crevices of my throat.
Though I don’t like to think it, she is one of a growing number of problems here alone, on this alien planet. I add to the list in my head:
*Low food supplies
*Low water supply
*Baby, with no way out
I touch the place you used to touch, and she doesn’t kick. She always knew. You’re as trapped as I am, I think to her, unable to make words. I look to the walls of the escape pod around me. At least I have a window. What does she have?
Darkness. Warmth. Trust.
The tears come again.
We lay together in the soft warmth of our oval-shaped bed. White sheets clung to our entangled limbs. A soft spray of light, emanating from the bed’s edges, played with the sharp lines of your collar bone, the curves of your body.
You caught me staring and laughed. Trailed your long, graceful fingers down your throat, resting the tip of an index finger in the notch between bones. Staring at me, eyes lit with amusement.
I pulled you to me and you laughed again, a giggle smothered against my skin.
“No, no,” you said, pushing my hungry fingers away. “You have to decide first.”
“Why do I have to decide? It’s…”
Your smile grew more gentle. “What?”
Scary. Too much. More than I am able. I struggled to find words, and yet the longing for it was so sharp. Your body would need no modification to carry a child; mine would. It didn’t make sense to change so much just for…
You touched my face, ran your hand over my shoulders, down a flat chest incapable of nursing life, circling a nipple. “What is it?”
I found myself suddenly near tears and your hand stopped. Found my face again. Cupped it gently.
I struggled for words. Recalled the serenity on my father’s face when he carried my younger brother those nine months. How that time softened him, smoothed his edges, brought him pain, but brought him unspeakable joy.
“I want it so badly,” I said, in half a gasp, “but I’m… I’m terrified.”
“I’ll be with you,” you said
at every raised doubt, at every midnight fear, that day in the hospital when they rearranged my insides and made a space for her within me.
I’ll be with you.
And you were. The biggest, conscious step of my life — our lives — and you were there.
And now you’re not.
And I’m alone.
She rolls inside me, sliding a foot along the wall of my stomach; I can see her distorting my belly. Not alone. Part of you and part of me there, inside.
I keep a count of the days, the weeks as I ration out the food and pray to the stars for aid. You managed to flick on the distress signal before they blew their way in. Maybe someone will come. Maybe they will follow the trail of my escape pod and…
But not in time.
The amniotic fluid is degrading.
And I am so scared. And you are so far away, floating in the stars. I try not to remember the last time I saw you. I cannot recall those beloved features, crushed and—
I think instead of the ultrasound before we left. Seeing our child’s tiny, squished face. I said she had your nose and you wrinkled it. “I hate my nose.”
“Don’t ever let her hear you say that!”
You unwrinkled it and stuck your tongue out. “Fine, fine.”
Now she won’t ever hear you say it, will she?
Maybe she won’t hear me either.
I don’t think I have the strength to do what has to be done.
It should have been so simple. It was supposed to be so simple.
A brief flight between stations — lightyears of distance, covered quickly — to the place where we would finally meet our little one, face to face. It was what you wanted: for her to be born in the place we both grew up. They were going to anesthetize me, let me remain awake. They were going to cut a precise incision with their precise lasers, and then pull her, squirming and crying, out into our world.
You were going to laugh.
You were going to be the first to hold her.
You were going to nestle her against your breasts and lean down low for me to touch her.
I’m not strong enough. I don’t… I can’t do this.
But I have to.
Her kicking is becoming weaker, even as she sucks out what little nutrients are left in my body. The amniotic fluid won’t last much longer. She needs out.
I look to the stars, imagine I see a light, a ship, but no that is only my deranged hope. Isn’t it?
I imagine you’re looking down at me, huddled in this pod. I imagine your gentle smile, I imagine your hands cupping my chin.
I imagine it is you.
Your hand holding the scalpel from the kit. Your fingers carefully applying light pressure, slicing across the stretchmarked skin of my belly. Your hands don’t tremble. There is no fear there.
I’ll be with you.
And in this way, you are.
There are no tears in my eyes. There is no uncertainty, only careful caution, as my hands pull apart my skin; as I once again apply the blade. A gush of fluid, blood, I drop the blade.
I pull her out.
Carefully suction the fluid from her nose, her mouth, her ears.
And she gives a cry, a howl, a shout.
Only then do my hands tremble. Only then do my eyes fill. I press her to the bare skin of my chest and cry against her sticky hair.
Outside, there is a boom like thunder.
I am crying
when they knock at the capsule’s door.