And day two is here. Again, I’m sticking to the current work-in-progress. Today I wrote about events that happened years before the story opens.
Yesterday, I was listening to interviews with a couple of authors whose work I enjoy–Theodora Goss and Catherynne M. Valente. I read several of Valente’s books last year and fell for her rich, complex imagination and narrative daring. And even though I’ve subscribed to Goss’s blog for a while now, I’ve only just read one of her books, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. I loved that so much, I took a B&N gift card I had and went to buy the followup, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman.
But listening to an old interview with Valente (which I now can’t find because I listened to too many things yesterday), I was struck by something she said. She talked about wanting more stories in which the planets weren’t at all like they really are. I wish I could find the quote…so, I’m paraphrasing from memory, and hopefully I don’t botch it up too much. But in the past, before we knew what the planets were really like, sci-fi authors imagined civilizations on places like Venus and Mars. Modern sci-fi may be more accurate in keeping with the reality of the surface of Mars, etc. Now, I have not read nearly enough sci-fi to know how many authors out there are writing alternative realities for the planets. If you can recommend some, please do. Some writers must be doing that, I’m just ignorant about them.
I am reminded of one of my favorite Ray Bradbury short stories in which humans have settled on Venus, and school children are waiting for the rain to stop. (A pdf of All Summer in a Day is here.)
In any case, that is what I’m doing. In my sci-fi fairytale, the planets are habitable. There are ocean piers on Jupiter and coffee shops on Neptune. Because I said so! And one government rules them all (and in the darkness binds them–ha!).
Okay. So, after all that, here’s the story for today. Thanks for reading!
Bless Far nudged her two-year-old daughter in front of the government official. “Yes, she’s healthy. You can see for yourself.”
The official didn’t look up from the file. “We’ve read the doctor’s report. She’s the first healthy child born in this district in 8 months.”
“The God has listened to our prayers,” she replied. Bless Far wished her husband had accompanied them to the review, but he’d refused to miss prayer. She understood, and while her heart swelled with pride for his dedication, her nerves wished him by her side. These officials unsettled her even though her record was as clean as could be.
Rarity Vaine, the toddler, had done little more than stare up at the official. She was quiet and serious even at two. Bless Far patted her daughter on the head and gave another prayer of thanks under her breath.
“You’re a devout family.” The official held up the device to show Bless Far the screen. There were pages and pages of text. “It took me hours to read all your prayers and services. I have to admit your temple is meticulous in its record keeping.” Everything was recorded, every prayer, every communication, every walk down the street, was written down or filmed, reviewed and evaluated, and filed in the Archive. Information, the government reminded the citizenry daily, keep the universe safe. Most of the citizenry agreed.
“Of course,” Bless Far replied.
“This is why we requested this meeting. I am sorry you’re husband was unable to join us, but we’ll go ahead with our proposal.”
Proposal? Bless Far pulled her daughter close. This was just what she feared. A proposal! And they’d been so good!
“First, let me tell you why you’ve been selected, you along with a few other couples from this district.”
Other couples? A herd of questions trampled through her thoughts. What other proposals had she’d heard about involving couples? There’d been the one a few years back about new settlements on…blast, she couldn’t remember. Venus, maybe? And then did she know these couples? Were they friends? Did they already know? Surely she’d have caught a rumor somewhere if they did.
“You’ve been chosen, first and foremost, because you’ve proven capable of carrying a healthy child to term.”
Magnificent Bright Jones and Spring Kavanaugh. The names sprung immediately to Bless Far’s mind. They, like Bless Far, were minor celebrities. Everyone knew who’d had a successful pregnancy and a healthy baby. They were miracles these days as fertility rates plummeted and infant and maternal mortality soared. Even Spring was lauded in spite of not being part of the Pleiades temple. Rarity Vaine tugged at Bless Far’s skirt. “Ma. Ma.”
Rarity Vaine wrapped her arms around her mother’s legs. Strong arms. She really was stunningly healthy.
“We’ve visited with your temple leadership. We want you to feel that this is in keeping with your beliefs.” The official finally smiled. Or something close to a smile. “It’s all part of several new initiatives.”
If there’d been a chair, Bless Far would’ve dropped back into it. This review was much more than the usual. She was already overwhelmed.
“The administration doesn’t wish to leave the next healthy generation to chance, not when we have newly developed technologies and brilliant minds to utilize. And I’m here to assure that your templed leadership applauds our proposal. They have just as much of an interest in healthy children as the administration. And of course, we know parents certainly do.”
Bless Far nodded. How many prayer vigils had she attended for women announcing a pregnancy? And how many funerals a few months later? So far the many programs the government had put into place had little effect. But increasing vegetable rations didn’t mean much when the soil they came from was toxic. “I’m willing to do my part,” she said. Rarity Vaine hugged her mother more tightly.
“We have been very careful in who we selected,” the official continued. “We need cooperative and loyal spirits as well as healthy bodies.”
“There is an element of risk, I must tell you.” The official stared back at her device. “The advancement of science can exact a price, but the rewards could save the Earth. It could change humanity. We are aiming high, Ms Delphine. We are taking this window of opportunity to achieve not just healthy babies but improved humans. If this works, we can use this on a multitude of planets. Imagine that! And you and your chosen fellow mothers will be remembered. Your children will change life as we know it!”
Children! She could have more than one! Her heart raced. How she’d felt blessed with one child. She hadn’t allowed herself to think such good fortune could happen twice. How many families did she know with two healthy children? Not a one. Charity Rose had two children, but no one acknowledged them. It was too tragic to think about. Bless Far lifted Rarity Vaine and cradled her. “You,” she whispered in her daughter’s ear, “are going to have a sister. What a miracle she will be.”