Starborn by Robin Kirman – FREE STORY

Two of the crew of four are honeymooning and travelling in space. How well do you know the other two crew members? How well do you know your partner? What will he do do make sure the mission is a success, and all wonder, just how far will he go? Always be careful with the rest of your crew…

April 1, 2097

Rory brought me breakfast in bed this morning. He managed to arrange the package on a makeshift tray and even drew a little rose on a piece of paper.

“It’s our one-month anniversary,” he reminded me.

My arms hung around his neck. He looked so handsome and happy.

“Sorry I couldn’t do more,” he said and lifted me from my bunk, though I was only in my sleepwear and other crew could be watching, and carried me to the hull to gaze out the porthole at the arrangement of stars, earth receding far in the distance.

I squeezed his hand. “What could be more than this?”


We are, as Rory likes to repeat, the first couple in history to honeymoon in space. When an idea appeals to Rory, he can enjoy it infinitely, like a child grinning over and over again at the same joke. He was like that when I first told him I loved him. “Say it again, please,” he asked me, so bashful, and still does ask me to repeat it from time to time, in that same boyish voice. It’s a side of him only I’ve seen. No one else, not even the crew we’ve spent months training beside, could ever imagine Commander Samson could be this way.


That crew includes two others, besides Rory and me: Frane is Joint Operations Commander, second in rank after Rory. I’m the flight engineer, and Dr. Bowden is mission specialist, overseeing the medical research that’s the purpose of this flight. Twice a day, he administers our medication and, on rotating days, he puts each of us through an eight-hour battery of tests.

The rest of the time, when we’re not busy with the ship, we spend exercising or doing what I’m doing now: we keep journals. Clavier — he’s the mission’s sponsor — doesn’t want these to be official logs either. He wants us to speak about our lives on board, our conflicts, our emotions, our private thoughts. The idea is to get as clear a view as possible into the effects of space on our bodies and minds. After all, this is the first space exploration where what we’re really here to explore is ourselves.


Today, I’ll end with an account of humanity’s first one-month wedding anniversary in orbit. The breakfast couldn’t compare to one on earth, but my love for my husband is still going strong.


April 2, 2097



I wanted to write more yesterday, but Rory and I spent a rare indulgent morning in his bunk, and then Frane called me off to the gym. To offset the loss to our muscles and bones here in zero gravity, we’re required to exercise for three hours a day. It’s an awful lot of time, and Frane, Bowden and I make it pass more quickly by doing it together, taking turns on the treadmill and weights. We play music. We chatter. In a short time, we’ve come to know a lot about each other.

Bowden, the eldest on the flight, has a family. His wife is a journalist. His daughter is a piano prodigy, and his son’s an anti-war advocate. Bowden speaks of them all with great pride, and of himself, floating up in space, as the family slacker.

Frane has no family, but what he’s got is stories. I’m assuming at least some are true. According to him, he’s been everywhere and met everyone, usually between the sheets. I think it helps him to recall the expansiveness of his former life, while running in place inside a ship that’s just thirty feet wide.


I’ve come to like them both, even Frane, though I recognize he’s precisely the kind of guy to get under Rory’s skin. Easy with people, a charmer, Frane quickly comes up with nicknames and private jokes, establishes intimacies, disregards boundaries.

From the first day, he started in with the personal questions.

“How’d you end up with the name Drew?” he asked me.

I told him and Bowden the story then, one I don’t think I’d even told Rory: how my parents were hoping for a son since young men are always wanted in the army and they couldn’t conceive of a brighter future than being fodder for an endless war.

“When I was born a girl, they were too lazy to change it. So Drew it is.”

“You’re Dream to me,” Frane said, with his rakish grin, and so I’ve been to him since — at least when Rory isn’t around to hear it.

Bowden, Frane calls “Degrees,” because the man has four: in optometry, psychiatry, aeronautics medicine and microbiology.

Rory doesn’t get a nickname. He keeps his distance from Bowden and Frane, and remains Samson to them.


I’ve told Rory I wish he’d open up more and join us in the banter, show his crewmates the warmer qualities I know in him. How supportive and generous he can be. How hopeful and excitable. It frustrates me to be the one to insist on his goodness, as I’ve had to do often, including back home with family and friends. Around others, Rory comes off as aloof and imperious. I’ve seen him frowning at Frane’s jokes and his winks, though I’ve tried to explain how we all need to be silly sometimes — at least all of us except Rory — in order to distract ourselves from thinking the worst.

The worst is that we’re going to get sick. We just don’t know how sick. Or when.


April 3, 2097



“Morning, sweet Dream, tired of the old guy yet?”

Frane was first at the table this morning, unwrapping breakfast already when I came to join him. “Not tired of Rory,” I say, “or of Bowden either.”

Frane just smiled. Doesn’t matter if I put him down. He’s the kind of guy who takes everything as proof I like him.

“You know, space travel adds years,” he kept at me.

“Maybe it will mature you.”

“Physics won’t allow it,” said Bowden.

“Anyway, Rory will outlast us all,” I said, feeling protective of him just then. Age can be a sore topic with Rory.

“I’ll bet he will,” Bowden agreed, taking a seat with food of his own.

Bowden isn’t supposed to share the results of our medical tests, but it’s hard to keep secrets when we’re living on top of each other, and sometimes I wonder if Bowden knows what I know. Rory wouldn’t have told him, of course, and he’d be furious if I did, but soon enough Bowden’s bound to figure it out. Rory’s medical reports will speak for themselves.

I tried to catch Bowden’s eye then, but he looked away, worked at the wrapper on his package of eggs.


As I was saying, age can be a sore topic with Rory, since he’s a good bit older than me. Twenty-five years to be exact, though all that bothers me about it is the assumptions people make: that he groomed me, or that I used him to get where I am. Well, I won’t deny that I’m here because of Rory. If not for him, I might have been shot down in the war by now. I was training to be an air force pilot when we met, that being the one army position where women can do all right.

Turns out, Rory had grown up not far from the school where I was enrolled, and he made a guest appearance in lecture one day. I almost couldn’t look at him, he was so imposing: six-foot four and with that booming eloquent voice full of such grand aspirations. Rory’s father was a legend, the first man to land on Mars, and Rory had by then made the journey, too. I was sure that in class I’d come off like the hick I was, but about a month before I was due to graduate, I had an invitation to join an astronautics training program. Rory had arranged it for me.

Two years in, Rory returned from his third space mission and became a kind of mentor to me, boasting to everyone of my potential, making me believe in it, too. There was a connection between us from the start, even before it became romantic. Rory let me know he felt a distance from most people but a strangely immediate closeness with me. I didn’t judge him. I understood him, maybe because, as different as our upbringings were, neither of us had ever felt at home in our homes, both of us had ached for more.

It didn’t seem to bother Rory, like it did me, what a plain background I had compared to him. Rory’s father flew spaceships. My father carted used furniture on the back of a truck. The first time he met my family, after an hour in the shotgun house I’d grown up in, listening to my father, half-drunk, grumbling insults, and my mother stupidly extoling our imaginary progress in the war, I was afraid Rory would see me differed. Feel repelled. Instead, as soon as we’d walked out, he lifted me off of my feet, and called me nothing short of an evolutionary miracle. The chance creature that rises from the muck to peer up at the stars.

And now, here I am: stars out my window day and night, flung far beyond the moon already. And yes, the truth is, I’d never have gotten here without him.


April 4, 2097


It’s not easy finding quiet time to write, and I notice that, so far, I can’t seem to get these reports much past the morning routine. I haven’t even described the flight’s mission.


For context, keep in mind how we’ve known for decades that the real limits of space colonization aren’t technological but physiological. Simply put, our bodies aren’t built to survive in space. In anti-gravity conditions, muscle and bone start to deteriorate. Our immune systems malfunction, too. Over time, these changes can lead to fractures, loss of vision, heart attacks, susceptibility to disease. Then, the radiation in space can cause cancers and changes to the genome that will permanently affect our DNA. Neurological changes caused by poor oxygen flow and other atmospheric effects can also wreak havoc with our minds — we can have visual hallucinations or imagine smells and sounds. This, on top of the typical psychological effects of confinement, stress and isolation. Flight crews have been known to grow paranoid and, in some cases, outright delusional.

The medication we’re on is meant to prevent all that.

It’s a cocktail Clavier’s team has been developing for years, a mix of mood stabilizers, chelators to excrete radiation from the body, and factors to increase the production of fresh blood, bone and muscle cells.

From personal experience, I can tell you it causes awful headaches, and I’m lucky if I can keep breakfast down. That it also works is something I need to take on faith.



Bowden usually calls me in for the injection before the rest. He’s a gentleman, so I guess it’s ladies first.

Even on this tiny ship, Bowden has his own airtight laboratory. The drugs need to be kept under specific conditions, and then he needs to carefully secure the microbes he studies, too. When Bowden isn’t experimenting on us, he’s working with fast-reproducing bacteria to see how they evolve under zero gravity. It’s one of the sub-missions on this flight: Clavier’s efforts to create new life forms that will fare well in space. The primary mission is seeing what can be done with such a sad, earth-bound species as us.


Today, I tell Bowden that I’ve begun seeing things. “Streaks of light. They move. Sort of jump.”

“The dancing fairies.”

Such a fantastical name, I think, for scientists to choose. “Are they something to worry about, or normal?”

“Normal for out here. Those are sub-atomic particles passing through the eye.”

He smiles at me, sensing my worry. His face is gentle, brows starting to gray. He’s got the kind of fatherly face that makes me lament the sour, angry one I had to grow up with as a girl. “You’re doing well,” he says. “Your results this week all look very strong.”

“Will you ever tell me if they’re not?”

“I’m sure I won’t ever have to.”

I’m grateful for Bowden and his reassurances. Of course, Rory reassures me too, but it’s different. Bowden grasps what’s at stake: he has a whole life back home that he can’t bear to lose. Meanwhile, Rory seems entirely at ease in the unknown, and makes clear the only thing he really fears losing is me.


April 5, 2097



We had a call from Clavier yesterday, but he only cared to talk to Rory, which didn’t do much to help camaraderie. Frane doesn’t like being ignored, and he tried to provoke the same indignation in me.

“You’re flight engineer. Communication should go through you.”

“This is Clavier,” I said, and tried to convince Frane it wasn’t personal, that any man who’s amassed a trillion dollars is bound to choose his company carefully.

Clavier was drawn to Rory long before the rest of us were in the picture, and their connection has deep roots. The man grew up worshipping Rory’s father, and when Clavier set up his first Mars station, he named it after him.  Then, there’s no denying that Rory and Clavier share something in common: both strongly believe that the planet won’t be habitable by the next century — whatever earth isn’t scorched by the sun will be torched by bombs — and both have turned their hopes skyward, choosing to view what most of us think of as disaster as an evolutionary challenge. It’s time for humanity to leave the nest.

That the move hasn’t gone smoothly has been a huge disappointment for Clavier. Transport to Mars has slowed to almost nothing since the full medical report was released in 2089. Three out of twenty passengers were dying on the trip, and 15 out of twenty were getting gravely sick within 5 years, results far worse than anyone predicted.

Lots of research was done on this of course — most of it led and financed by Clavier. That was when scientists discovered what they called the “Hot Band”, a three-mile-wide strip of space where, thanks to a confluence of rays from our sun and suns outside the solar system, radiation is five times the ordinary level. Courses to Mars can be adjusted to avoid the band, but that adds another 2 years to the journey, which brings close to the same level of risk.

All of which led Clavier to the inevitable conclusion: if we can’t change the habitat, we have to become fitter for it.


“What do you think they’re on about?” Frane asked me as Rory and Clavier talked. Rory had walked off the flight deck with his screen so the call would be private.

“I’m sure I don’t know.”

“Doesn’t he tell you everything?”

“What he’s allowed to, I think.”

“And what part of that would you share with me, Dream?”

Frane was close to me then, more than he needed to be. He seemed to like these moments, to seek out any chance to test my loyalty to Rory.

Feelings for me aside, if Frane does have any, he’s not totally to blame for feeling edged out and nervous. There was a fair amount of private business between Clavier and Rory during training. Rory had let me in on some of it, but not more I think, than he thought safe for me to know. He didn’t want me having to keep secrets from the crew, and what I do know, honestly, weighs on me as it is.

“I can promise you this,” I told Frane. “Rory’s absolutely committed to our safety. He wouldn’t have brought me on board otherwise.”

“If you were my wife,” said Frane, “the woman I loved, the mother of my future kids, I wouldn’t let you near a mission like this.”

“Guess that’s why I’m not your wife,” I replied.

Tough talk, but, truth is, I wasn’t feeling so tough inside. Frane couldn’t have known he’d hit a nerve, but back when I was first invited on this mission, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. Rory and I had talked about our future together, we’d talked about children, and I didn’t want to risk being a sick mother or, worse, bearing children who were sick themselves. Rory, not surprisingly, had strong feelings on the subject.

“My father got sick and died young, but I wouldn’t change anything. What good would twice the time have done with a father half as great?”

“Not all kids will feel that way.”

“Ours will. He’ll know his parents were special.”

“So, it’s a son we’re having in this fantasy.” I was teasing him. He got the message.

“Only if we’re unlucky.”

He was smiling, trying to keep matters light. But they weren’t light, especially given what went on in Rory’s past, and I think both of us knew that. When Rory’s mother realized her situation — that Rory’s father had been exposed to radiation that affected his chromosomes and that those chromosomes were passed on to her son — she’d lived in terror of what defects or illnesses the boy would develop. She was paralyzed with fear over Rory, and with rage for the husband who had put her son at such risk.

“Your mother,” I began, but Rory cut me off.

“They were a bad match,” he said, eager to skip over the subject. But I held my ground.

“It’s natural for any mother to worry about her child. I can’t say I’d be different.”

“Our baby will be fine,” he said, soothingly. “The medication will protect us. And there are other precautions we can take. Other fail-safes we can leave behind, too.”

Those fail-safes number 8, and I think of them often, whenever I feel scared or lonely out here. Eight perfect frozen embryos, waiting for us to return and bring our healthy little family to life.


April 6, 2097


Later on yesterday, I asked Rory what the call with Clavier was about.

“A few issues with the data. At the speed we’re going with this, results are pretty ambiguous. We were thinking of ways to accelerate the process.”

“How do you speed up an experiment that’s centered around time spent in space?”

“I didn’t say we found a solution.” He smiled and bent down to kiss me. “Wouldn’t it be nice though, if you and I could be home sooner? Start a family, do all that we talked about?”

“All the ordinary things?” Did he really want that? Sometimes, I wondered if he only said so to humor me.

“But they wouldn’t be ordinary, not with you.” And then, he looked at me in the way he does. No other man has ever looked at me that way. Like I’m the key to all happiness. The center of this vast universe we’re floating through. I spent my childhood seen as nothing or not seen at all. The first time Rory looked at me that way, it was like I sprang into being.

Rory kissed me then. I kissed him back. And after that, well, I don’t know what Bowden and Frane might have heard through the walls, but Frane was in a foul mood when I left Rory’s quarters.

I could hear him and Bowden talking in the gym, and after I’d caught a few words, I chose not to come in and just listened from outside.

“Samson must have convinced Clavier she’s a necessary part. After all, it takes more than food and air to keep a man healthy. A man needs love, right?”

I could hear Bowden hesitate, keeping his cool, wanting to be fair. “She’s qualified at her job.”

“But not the most qualified, except at pleasing him.”

I was hurt to hear this from Frane, though I sensed he was worked up over something and looking to lash out.

“We’re all part of this mission,” he went on, “but it’s like Samson’s the one who truly matters to Clavier.”

“There might be something to that,” said Bowden, who is typically so restrained, but his thoughts must have been moving in the same direction.

“I mean you’re the scientist, Degrees, but sometimes I think he’s the true experiment here and we’re just the controls.”

Bowden didn’t answer. He’s bound to respect patient privilege, but his silence said enough.

“You don’t have to speak,” Frane said finally. “We both know he’s not like the rest of us.”


No, Rory isn’t like the rest of us. That’s the secret I’ve been holding onto all this time, and a part of me is relieved to know the others have figured it out, too. Clavier and Rory should have told the crew, in my view, but they chose long ago to keep this between them. I only learned the truth a few weeks before we were scheduled to leave.

“There are really two aims of this mission,” Rory admitted. “One, as you know, is to test the effect of the medicine on a healthy but typical subject. The other experiment is on me, and it has nothing to do with the drug really, though I’ll take it so as not to raise questions.”

The experiment had to do with Rory’s unique history, the same history that caused his mother to hate his father so: because the years Rory’s father spent in space had affected his DNA and, whatever changes were made, whatever mutations, had been passed down to his son. At the time, the technology was far too primitive to predict how those changes would manifest, and Rory’s mother had leapt to what seemed like the most plausible conclusion: that her son would be unwell.

Only Rory hadn’t been. Instead, it seemed that any mutations he’d inherited had no effect at all.

But that wasn’t true either.

“They’ve been testing me,” Rory told me that cloudy day back on earth. “Clavier and his people. Testing me for a decade. They’ve run countless tests on DNA samples, making predictions about gene expression under various conditions, including outer space. This year, they ran simulated experiments on me in a lab.”

“Have you been exposing yourself to radiation?”

I thought of those frozen embryos, imagined them defective, and felt the urge to cry.

Rory placed his hands on my shoulders to calm me. “There’s nothing to worry about. The effects on me are astoundingly small. Do you know what that means? Clavier thinks I may be the first man immune — or at least partly — to the destructive elements in space. And that’s where his real interest lies. Not just in helping ordinary humans survive space travel, but in engineering the perfect human for life beyond earth.”


April 7, 2097


“There’s something wrong with the course setting,” Frane announced this afternoon. Rory was in the gym at the time, and I’d just come back from getting my injection. I’d joined Frane inside of the flight deck.

“What did you notice?” I asked him.

“Your husband reset our direction about seven degrees.”

“Maybe that was Clavier’s suggestion on the phone the other day.”

“In that case, we should all have been apprised.”

“I’m sure there was a reason…” I left off. I could see Frane getting annoyed by my excuses. “I’ll talk to him,” I said, flatly. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”


It was wrong of him, not explaining himself to the crew — I needed to convey this to Rory, to get him to change his behavior before the others lost trust in him completely. He needed to share his thinking, become more accessible. Instead, he was spending more and more time in his cabin alone.

That was where he was when I went looking for him. I could hear him inside, speaking animatedly in a voice that he meant to keep quiet, but which, in his excitement, he failed to control.


“I heard it last night,” he was saying. “A soothing harmony. It was your presence letting me know to keep on.”

“Rory?” I asked, and knocked gently.

Immediately, he opened the door, all smiles. But seeing my expression, he knew something was wrong.

“What is it?”

I wanted to talk about what I’d just heard through the door, but there was a bigger issue at hand. “Frane says the ship was rerouted.”

“A routine adjustment. I’d gotten warning of a meteor shower.”

“When? Why didn’t you say?”

“My mistake. I’m sorry. I need to be more open, like you say.” Despite whatever arrogance, Rory’s not one to deny his faults. He tapped at his skull, playfully. “It can be a lonely place in here.”

I kissed his cheek, feeling sympathy for this sad man I’d come to love. A man who felt so estranged from others, he could only take counsel with himself.


It was always that way, Rory admitted to me, back when we were first getting to know each other. As a child, he’d felt different from the kids his age and he strained to connect with a mother so freighted with worry and resentment toward his father, whom Rory clung to in his mind as his great hero and hope. I’ve sometimes pictured him as a boy, staring up at the sky, dreaming up the perfect father he needed, talking to him sometimes, like an imaginary friend. I’ve felt his longing and loneliness. How deep it runs.

I felt it again after take off. Once we were beyond the atmosphere and floating and quiet, with time to look back at the planet we’d left behind, Rory stood beside me at the porthole. We stared at the earth and I felt my breath catch — a shock of separation at the life, past and future, that I might never again touch. Tears welled in my eyes. I squeezed Rory’s arm. But he stood inside a sadness that was of another nature.

“I never liked it there,” he said, and abruptly turned his back.



April 8, 2097



“You’re a psychiatrist too, aren’t you, Degrees? What do you make of it?”

Frane and Bowden were speaking quietly just outside of Frane’s quarters. I’d gone inside mine to lie down after my morning injection. I don’t know if they knew I was in there, or if they meant me to overhear them or not.

“Psychiatry on earth is one thing,” said Bowden. “Frankly, no one has a firm grasp on mental disorders in space. Still, hallucinations have been reported, and I’m guessing Samson is dealing with that.”

Ever since I heard Rory talking in his room, I’ve worried that Bowden or Frane might notice this too, and begin to question his mental fitness. The discovery has taken them less than a day.

“Does it mean he’s crazy?” Frane asked.

“I wouldn’t say that. Though it would be nice to know if he thinks the voices are real or not.”


I rose from my bed then and opened the door. Both Frane and Bowden looked at me, and I could see they weren’t sure they wished to include me, or could trust I wouldn’t repeat to Rory what they’d said.

I started in first then: “He grew up talking to his father — or an imaginary father, since that’s pretty much all he had with his dad away most of the time. I think it’s something he’ll still do now and then, under stress.”

There was a moment of silence, and I imagined the men must be taking this in, maybe even feeling some of the sympathy I had. Instead, Frane seemed to ignore me.

“Ask him about it,” he said to Bowden. “At your next examination. Ask him what the voice says, and what he takes it to be.”

“I just told you.” My tone with Frane was insistent.

“No offense,” he replied, “but your views on Samson don’t mean much to me. Seems to me he’s not the only one dreaming up a fantasy Daddy.”

Frane’s remark pissed me off, I’ll admit it. And maybe it was to prove I wasn’t the dreamy girl he saw me as, and that I did see Rory clearly, that I went to speak with him later that day.

“If you keep talking this way, people will hear you and have doubts.”

“Are you having doubts about me?” Rory asked.

I hesitated, but Rory was feeling too good to be bothered by this.

“Let me put you at ease, then. What’s happening, what you’re hearing, it isn’t something to worry over, it’s something to celebrate.”

He took my hands in his, and I could see how much he wished for me to catch his excitement.

“All those times I spoke to my dad, missing him when he went away, or after he died, he never talked back.”

“And is he now?”

“Yep, that’s what I’m saying.”

Rory’s complete lack of concern felt odd to me then. There were times in the past when his calmed had inspired me, but the effect was quite the opposite now.

“You’re having auditory hallucinations?” I pressed.

“What do you think? I haven’t started believing in ghosts.”

He smiled, a down-to-earth smile that I admit did reassure me some.

“Most people in space experience intense loneliness. The separation from earth becomes too much, induces depression, often suicidal wishes. But I think the voice is there to prevent that. To maintain a connection to loved ones. I think it’s adaptive. Part of what makes my genetic make-up so suited to life in space.”

Rory looked so happy, and I wanted to find the beauty he did in what was happening. But the truth was, whereas Rory’s uniqueness had typically thrilled me and made me feel special with him; this time, all I felt was further apart.

“Why did you redirect the ship?” I asked him, surprised by my own question. Some instinct in me feared this might have to do with the voice.

“I already told you,” he said and then frowned. “So you do doubt me?”

“No, of course not.” But the truth was I’d had another thought then — I don’t want to write it here in case it isn’t true — but the mere idea gave me a shudder.


April 9, 2097



Frane confirmed my suspicion an hour later, and this time he came to me, he and Bowden both, entering my bedroom and shutting the door behind us.

“Your husband is leading us straight to the hot band.”

I felt my stomach drop. He couldn’t be right. “It’s a mistake.”

“The calculation’s simple,” said Frane. “You could have figured out the trajectory, too. If you didn’t already know where we were headed.”

“I didn’t. Of course, I didn’t.”

I was insisting on my innocence because I feared, in a way, I was guilty. I hadn’t wanted to believe Rory could do such a thing or I would have shared my suspicion with the others right away.

“What did you know? Is Clavier in on this?” Frane demanded. “Was this always their plan?”

“It couldn’t be. I can’t believe…” I had to stop and catch my breath. “All I know is Rory made a comment after their talk. I thought it was nothing, a wishful thought — about speeding up the experiment.”

“You should have warned us,” said Frane roughly. “Now it’s too late.”

I looked to Bowden who stood by, silent and grim. I realized how much I value his opinion, and the look on his face made me feel worse than Frane’s accusations.

“We can turn the ship around,” I said.

“Damn right we will,” said Frane. “But I doubt even then we’ll evade it completely.” He turned to Bowden then, pleased to be done with me. “I’ll need your help. We need to subdue him.”

I might have suggested they speak to Rory first, understand why he’d done this, whether, perhaps, he had a good reason. Only, try as I might, I couldn’t think of one good reason, and so I said nothing at all.

Instead, I sat, shaking like a leaf by now, hearing the shouting only feet from me as Bowden and Frane came to confront Rory. There was a tussle. I heard grunts and cries, some from Frane, some from Rory, sending shivers down my spine. Then a door slammed, and there was silence.

A moment later, Frane returned with blood on his lip. I felt deeply ashamed to think Rory had done that, and frightened of what Frane might have done to him. I’d have liked to see Rory, to comfort him and hear him tell me that Frane was just paranoid, but I already knew it wouldn’t be possible. Rory was locked in his room. If I said the wrong thing, I might be locked in mine, too.

“Don’t try to talk to him. Not till I say you can.”

Frane studied me. I looked down at my hands. So many terrible thoughts had hold of me then: how Rory might have put all of us at risk, how our bodies might soon be affected. Bowden might be robbed of ten years with his children – I might be robbed of years with mine. If I ever had any. After the radiation, my body would be too damaged to conceive a baby and it was only those little embryos that could offer me hope now.

“You stay here,” Frane told me, and quite forcefully shoved me into my room.

I stayed put, knowing Frane was already headed for the controls. Every moment he wasted was an hour we’d spend inside of a nightmare, being burned by an army of suns.


April 11, 2097


I haven’t written for 2 days. Not because Frane and Bowden have restricted me, but because I meant to abandon this record, destroy it completely. I’m horrified to think that someone will read this some day and know what Rory has done. I’m even more horrified to imagine his shame once he’s back to himself and this spell he’s under has broken. But finally, it’s too much to hold in, so I’ll be writing now just to prevent what’s happened to Rory from happening to me. I’m writing to maintain my own sanity.


I left my room later on the same day that Rory was locked up. Frane let me out to exercise and get my shot, double the usual dose of our cocktail in preparation for our entrance into the band. I saw the door to Rory’s room was bolted. I suppose they’d tossed him inside with enough food and water to last the trip, and I imagined they wouldn’t be budging that door before then.

Still, when I passed by Rory’s quarters on the way to my own, I could hear him through the door, talking to his father, or to whatever voices are present to him now, leading him into a discussion that is seeming less and less in touch with the reality we once shared.


“I grasp now we’re not meant to be a part of our time, this time, this meaningless fraction, but to exist for future eons and for beings whose love we will never feel. All greatness involves suffering, and ours is being hated, hated by those who should thank us.” Rory was silent a moment, hearing the voice maybe. “Of course it was a gift you gave mom, but she couldn’t see it. Drew’s different. I believe she’ll come to know this blessing for what it is.”


Frane spotted me listening then, and I saw his eyes narrow. I’ve learned to make my loyalty clear, so I rushed over to tell him all I’d heard.

“He seems caught up in this fantasy that he’s carrying out some grand plan. That this will be a gift to humanity.”

“Our lives aren’t his to give.”

I wanted to insist Rory couldn’t want that, but this fact is, I’m no longer sure. “What did Clavier say?” I asked instead.

“Denies any knowledge of a change in trajectory.”

“He could be lying.”

“Or your husband is,” growled Frane.

“If he is, it’s the voices,” I stammered. “However he’s wired differently from us, this trip is affecting his mind.”

Frane was without pity. “Sure, he gets to dream up he’s some kind of god. He’s having a ball in there. And what galls me most is that he’s the only one that’s not hurting.”

“We don’t know that,” I said, though, given what Rory had told me about his reaction to radiation, it was possibly true. Possibly, he’d be the only one to make it back to the home he didn’t even miss.

We’d entered the band six hours ago and, though I hadn’t said anything yet, not even to Bowden, ever since that morning I hadn’t felt well.

From the look of Frane’s face, sweating and pale, I figured he must not be feeling well, too. I noticed then how chapped his lips were, how watery his eyes.

“You alright?” I asked him.

“In no way am I alright,” he said, and walked away.


April 13, 2097


We steered out of the band after 22 hours inside. Already, the damage is palpable. We’re sick. There’s no doubt of that now. Bowden has been leaning over the toilet all day. Frane keeps coughing a terrible, rattling cough. Even I woke this morning light-heated and nauseous.

Radiation poisoning, we all assume, but still Bowden is running tests on us all. All of us but Rory. No one seems to want to face him, whether out of fear or contempt. Either they don’t care if he gets sick, or they’re already convinced that he won’t.


Bowden took my blood an hour ago and had only a few questions for me. He seemed to be surprised by some of the results, but he clammed up when I asked him about it.

I miss our quiet friendship; he’s stiffer and more reserved around me now. Understandably, he’s upset and I suppose he also doesn’t want to say much until he knows better what we’re all facing. It’s a small lab he has here, and a portion of it is devoted to his other research, crowded with Petri dishes. I don’t know what medicines he has on board, or how much is in his power to do.


Meanwhile, we wait. The ship is silent and, in the silence, we can all hear Rory speaking, his voice animated, robust, as clear a sign as any that he isn’t languishing like us.

For once, I not only feel the crew’s anger at him, I’m starting feel my own.


April 16, 2097


It was my anger that prompted me to do it – to confront Rory and demand answers. To try to locate in this distortion the man that I’d once known.

So, I sat down outside of his door and knocked.

“Who is it?” his voice was belligerent, until he heard my voice. Then it was like honey. “Drew. Oh, Drew. I was afraid you’d given up on me.”

I couldn’t help but be moved by the pain in his voice. I’d heard him sound that way in the past, when I’d been gone for a time, or when we argued and he feared I’d leave. Then I’d reassure him I wasn’t going anywhere and rest my head against his chest. But I didn’t reassure him this time.

“You’ve exposed us all to radiation. Do you know what you’ve caused?”

I was hoping he’d collapse into apology or confusion, but instead his voice was oddly cheerful.

“It’s all for a reason, Drew. Soon, you’ll understand too, and you’ll forgive me.”

“I can’t forgive this,” I said, feeling heartbroken. “Not ever. You’ve made the crew horribly sick.”

“The world is sick,” he went on in that strangely easy tone. “Death is inescapable now, back home. If Frane and Bowden had stayed on earth, they’d be dying anyway. Maybe more slowly, but with less purpose.”

“Are we dying?” I asked. I’d only used the word sick, though I supposed dying was the word we’d all struggled to keep from thinking. I was scared to hear Rory use it, and more frightened by what he might know.

“Not you, Drew. You can’t think I’d do that to you.”

“But I’m just like them. I was exposed to the same radiation.”

“The medication should take care of most of that.”

“But it isn’t taking care of it. I’m telling you, we’re all sick.”

“They are,” said Rory. “You’re about to start on a remarkable adventure.”


Frane and Bowden were inside Bowden’s office when I returned, still confused over Rory’s strange pronouncement. They were speaking heatedly. I could hear the conversation fall off when I knocked.

“What’s happening?” I asked them, after they’d let me in.

“Don’t you already know?” Frane’s voice was icy but weak. His skin was ashen and his eyes were red. I felt a wave of pity, despite his obvious hatred for me then.

“I don’t know anything more than you. All Rory could tell me was a bunch of grand talk. He said the medicine should protect us. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.”

“He knows,” Bowden spoke up now. “He knows because he engineered it all, while he was still free to go around as he wanted. I found the dish he opened.”

Dish? My mind raced. I was piecing together what all this must mean. Petri dish? One of those holding the microorganisms whose evolution Bowden had been charting.

“Are you saying it’s not radiation? It’s a germ.”

“A particular bacteria,” said Bowden, “that releases a toxin.”

“And you think he deliberately infected us?”

“Not all of us,” said Frane, gruffly.

Bowden continued to explain. “Your blood shows evidence of vaccination, probably injected before we even took flight. Rory must have been planning all this for months.”

I reached for a chair so as not to collapse. I was already light-headed, but now I felt like I was falling into a deep and inescapable doom. The news destroyed the one comfort I’ve been clinging to these last days — the thought that Rory has only lost his mind on this flight, that the man I’d loved could never have done any of this.

I finally mustered enough energy to speak. “Whatever you think you’ve found in my blood, there’s no denying I’ve been sick, too. I’m nauseous, light-headed. I haven’t been lying, I swear.”

“You weren’t lying,” Bowden agreed, and I saw the first sliver of sympathy in his expression, the first sign he might believe me and pity me, even, as a dupe like him. “You’re not sick,” said Bowden, and Frane chimed in for the last bit, with a look of disgust.

“You’re pregnant.”


April 22, 2097


It’s been hard for me to write now, hard for me to even think. For the first time since we took off, I’m floating in a way that makes me scared and sick. Rory isn’t who I thought he was, and it’s like the whole universe has changed. Space has become this empty thing, and I’m nothing in it, lost.

How can it be that I never understood Rory’s heart at all? It seems impossible, but when I look back, I find these awful clues into what’s happening now. An evolutionary leap, he once called me. Is that what Rory thinks that we’re making?

I’ve come to believe this was the true mission of our flight all along — not Clavier’s, but Rory’s own. To continue his father’s mutated line. To create a new breed. An intergalactic messiah.


I have asked Bowden to put an end to it. This child growing inside me, if it can even be called a child, given the overwhelming likelihood that these poor radiation- blasted cells inside my own blasted body won’t be viable as any sort of creature at all. At times, I feel like ending myself too, but I know I can’t. What’s keeping me going is knowing I’m needed to look after Frane and Bowden, who, despite Bowden’s medical efforts, are clearly only getting worse.


“I can help them,” Rory tells me today, from behind the door. He must have been listening for the sound of me passing. I’m the only one on the ship who can move at a decent pace now.

I don’t want to answer. I’m mindful that this is likely a trick, but Frane and Bowden are in such bad shape, and I owe it to them to find out what Rory could mean.

“How can you help them?”

“The microbe lets out a toxin. I have the antitoxin.”

To hear him admit this is both a relief and also a fresh stab of pain. “You brought an antitoxin? You knew all this would happen? How could you? How the hell could you?” I’m almost crying. It’s the first time I’ve confronted Rory about what he’s done.

“I had no choice,” he answers. “If they were strong, they’d have interfered. You know that. And we’ll need the extra rations. For you. For the baby.”

“I won’t eat their food. I won’t go along with this.”

“Drew. My sweet Drew. You need to go along. And if you do, and if you help me protect you, I can at least see to it they won’t die.”

I’m trying to stay calm, to focus on what I need to do to help my friends. “Tell me where you’re keeping the antitoxin. If you love me, you’ll just tell me.”

“I need you to open the door first. I need to have you on my side. On our family’s side. Open the door and come in.”


I don’t dare touch that door.


May 1, 2097


Frane is dying. I sat with him all night in bed and he lay with his head in my lap.

“Do you sing, Dream?”

“For the sake of others, no.”

“Not even for a man on his deathbed?”

“Why? So death will feel like mercy?”

He laughs. A laugh that soon turns to that awful rattling cough.

“Anyway, you’re not going to die,” I say. “If I come in, Rory will give me the antitoxin.”

“He’s lying.”

“I don’t think he’d hurt me. I’m carrying his child.”

Frane looks at me. Almost annoyed, but he can’t be. We need to be gentle to one another right now. “Promise, for me, you’ll keep him in there and keep the ship headed home. You’ll arrive safe at least.”

“I can’t just let the two of you die.” I start to cry then. “Please let me try.”

“No point,” Frane says bluntly. “He’s going to kill me. One way or the other. If he gives me the antidote, then he’ll just take me out some other way. I’m too weak to defend myself. I can’t survive. But there’s a chance you still can. Be smart. You’ve got a child to think of.”

The last thing I want to think of is that child.


May 25, 2097


Today, Rory finally untied me. I don’t know how long I’ve been in his room for, but long enough, I’m sure, that Frane is gone. Rory hasn’t let me out to see. As much as I’ve been telling him what he wants to hear, he still doesn’t trust me. Well, that’s to be expected. He may be crazy, but he’s not a fool.

Myself, I’ve felt like a fool a hundred times over but still, even tied up as I was, I didn’t feel like a fool for coming in. I couldn’t just let Frane and Bowden die like that. And there was an antitoxin on board. That part was true. Because of it, Bowden is improving. Rory needs Bowden, even if he prefers to keep him tied up. He needs Bowden to deliver the baby.


Rory is in extremely high spirits. He’s got the run of the place, a plan in motion, and a son — he seems convinced it’s a son — whose birth to look forward to. He whistles and chats with me as he moves about the ship – which is now hovering in space, killing time before we return. Rory aims to have us in space as long as our rations will last us – and we have more now without Frane to share them. The longer we’re in space, he believes, the longer our baby develops in anti-gravity — the more space adaptive Rory believes he will be. He has ideas that the boy will hear voices like he has, and perhaps on some more extraordinary plane. He’s fond of telling me about the astral harmonies.

“There are sounds that space produces which human ears can’t detect, but our child’s will. Just imagine what sort of wisdom those sounds could contain: from other species and millennia. He’ll be the first human — almost human — to join the universe in conversation.”

I play along with these fantasies whenever I can muster the will to do it. Whenever I can swallow my sadness and rage.

In the beginning, I yelled. I couldn’t help it. I told him that what he’d done to me wasn’t love but hate, that he’d taken over my body my without my consent, that he’d colonized me. I told him he was deluded to think our child would be anything more than a helpless monstrosity. The probability of so many mutations being viable, let alone advantageous, had to equal the distance to wherever in all this blackness the universe ends.

I yelled and I yelled and, at moments, I could catch the hurt in his expression. But when I was finished, he just shook his head as if I were a toddler on a rampage, and my words made as little sense.

“But you can’t think I’d expose you to such risks. The woman I love.”

“You’ve already exposed me to more risk — and more pain — than I could have imagined.”

“Pain couldn’t be avoided,” he said, softly. “Pain is part of birth. But I’m sorry for that. I’ve hated to hurt you. Believe me, that hurt will end. You’re going to be happy, the happiest woman on earth. You’re going to be the woman to move the species forward. To raise it toward the heavens and out of the mud.”

“I would do anything to be back in that mud.”

“Oh, but you wouldn’t.” He smiled. “Be honest now, Drew, ordinariness has always depressed you. You could have picked a man who was younger and kinder, but you loved me for rescuing you from ordinariness, for nothing other than this.”

He sat down beside me then and stroked my hair. My hands were still tied then, and I couldn’t escape his touch. I simply froze. He took this, in his wishful state, for willingness.


Later, when Rory untied me, he seemed especially upbeat, like he’d found a solution to our disagreement. “I have something to share with you that will change your mind about all this. About me. Our child. Everything.”

All I remember feeling as he said this was dread.

“I know precisely the odds that our child will be what I envision. I’ve performed tests.”

“What tests could possibly prove something like that?”

“They built simulators, you know, for what conditions would be like on this ship. And I raised the controls to just the right level to accomplish the results that I wanted. A day in the raw band was calculated on the basis of that.”

“You might know how you’d be alright, but you couldn’t possibly predict the course for a developing fetus.” And then, I stopped short. And my heart sank even lower than I thought it could. Those embryos. Those eight potential lives we’d left behind. “How many of them did you experiment on?”

“All of them,” Rory said, without a whiff of remorse, gleefully even. “And six out of the eight were better than viable. They showed signs of all my advantages, but heightened. Dramatically heightened.”

“All of them?” I repeated, and my voice choked on the words. I thought I’d lost all hope, but forgot that some still resided in them.

“What did you do?” I asked, clinging to the wish that he might have allowed one or two to grow. Perhaps there were babies on earth that were viable still. But no, he informed me, excitedly, he’d only developed them far enough to test his hypothesis, to predict the course of genetic expression.

“The baby inside you, that’s our child,” he said, his hand on my belly. “Everything else that’s been sacrificed is in preparation for him.”

Everything. Everyone. Including me. He’d taken more than my body. He’d taken my soul from me then.

“Tell me you love me,” he said in that sweet voice like he used to.

And I had no choice but to tell him.


June 20, 2097


I stopped writing for a while. It had to be done. I couldn’t risk Rory coming upon what I’d written and honestly, as well as I’d managed to hide this journal before, it was never really safe to expose my thinking this way. I only have to imagine that the quality of Rory’s love — the absolutism of it, which before I found so innocent and charming — wouldn’t allow him to conceive of my having a mind fully separate from his. He couldn’t imagine me having thoughts he couldn’t guess.

I should be insulted. But after everything, I’ve managed to find some pity for him, too. It made it worse, what he went through at the end, that belief that I was just a part of him. I still remember the look of shock and sorrow in his eyes. I don’t know if I’ve seen such agony ever before, or if I ever will again.


One night, I cried out from my bed. Rory ran to me and woke Bowden immediately. He was afraid I was going into premature labor, and ordered Bowden to act. Bowden quickly loaded up the syringe with a drug to stop the contractions.

Rory was holding me and reassuring me, when Bowden jammed the syringe into Rory’s neck.

It wasn’t a drug to stop contractions. I wasn’t having contractions. The drug inside that syringe was a liquefied cyanide pill we’d been given in case of emergencies.

We’d planned it all, Bowden and I. During the occasional examinations Rory allowed, while he stood by listening, I’d spelled out the letters on Bowden’s palm.

After the shot, Rory lasted no more than ten seconds before his heart simply stopped. Just long enough to register what had happened, to turn to Bowden and then to me, to realize what I’d done.

If he’d died a moment earlier, he might never have grasped the betrayal. That would have been a great mercy. But mercy seems not to grace us on this ship.


July 2, 2097


We’ve got four months to go before we reach earth’s atmosphere. We’ve been flying for 3 weeks now, Bowden and I, and it’s the first time I’ve felt calm and strong enough to write. Rory’s body has been launched into space. It seems he must have released Frane through the airlock earlier, without our knowing, so we collected whatever items of Frane’s were left and released those in his honor. Then, we conducted a funeral ceremony of sorts for them both. Bowden and I said a few words about Frane, whom I’m surprised to find I truly miss.

He was a friend. Possibly, I even loved him in a way very different from the grand, fantastical way I loved Rory. With Frane, it was a more modest, playful affection, but if I’m lucky enough to survive and ever encounter one like it again, the next time I’ll treasure it better.

There were things I wanted to say too about Rory, but I couldn’t say them aloud. Not in front of Bowden, maybe not even aloud to myself.

Looking back, I think I’d have liked to say this: There are those loves that lift you off the ground. Those loves that transform existence into something grander, that separate you from who you were and where you stood before. Our love proved terrible in many ways. But it was also that.


Anyway, there are moments where language fails us and the work of mourning takes place in our dreams. I’ve been having visions: the dancing fairies that visited me earlier, and that Bowden told me are sub-atomic particles moving through the eye. But these are different than the flashes that used to dart across my sphere of vision.

Now I see Rory and I dancing, as we did at our wedding. I see flashes of a couple dancing across the sky.



October 5, 2097


We can glimpse earth now, very small, through the main porthole. In a day or so, Bowden and I will be home. I never quite believed we’d make it, but we’ve kept each other going, I think, by talking about what’s waiting on earth for us. I’ve asked Bowden to tell me about those kids of his. The piano prodigy. The anti-war activist. One day, I want to hear your daughter play, I tell him. One day, I want to shake your son’s hand.

As for me, I’m less certain what awaits.

The baby has grown. I’m showing now, and I can feel the kick of little feet.

Sometimes, I think of that child and feel fear. Sometimes, tenderness.

My poor baby, I think. Poor creature that must start life this way. I wonder how it feels to grow inside a mother so broken with grief.

And so sometimes, feeling sorry for the creature, I allow myself to imagine the stars singing to it in my stead. Those astral harmonies only its tiny developing ears might hear. A lullaby of unknown worlds better than what his father or I ever knew. I imagine my child hears a song that I’m deaf to, the heavens singing of wondrous things to come.







Please take a moment to support Amazing Stories with a one-time or recurring donation via Patreon. We rely on donations to keep the site going, and we need your financial support to continue quality coverage of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres as well as supply free stories weekly for your reading pleasure.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous Article

CLUBHOUSE: Review: “The Downloaded” by Robert J. Sawyer

Next Article

The Big Idea: Grace Curtis

You might be interested in …