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Welcome back to 350 Fridays, Panel’s experiment into flash fiction. Each story is 350 words or less. It’s a chance to stretch our writing muscles … without asking you to stretch your reading muscles too much.

On the Frontier

Back on Earth, a woman labored in a bed, with a nice sheet over her. Autocontractors did the work, which the neuroblockers took care of the pain. When the time was right, a nurse-practitioner came in and helped the child slide right out.

But here on the frontier, a woman had to push. She labored on her hands and knees, an ancient pose from the first days in the grasslands, letting the station’s artificial gravity pull the baby out naturally. She moaned the low cry of antiquity. It had been a long labor, but with a final push and a spurt of blood, managed to wrench the baby free.

The woman looked on anxiously as they cleaned the baby up. “Can I see him?” she asked.

The doula bit her lip. Attachment at this stage, before the tests came back, was dangerous. There was no denying the pleading in the woman’s eyes, so she laid the mewling bundle on the woman’s chest. Half-blind, the infant pushed feebly toward warmth, instinctively following the smell of sweat and milk.

The multi-test chimed softly. The ultrasound had indicated irregularities, but the DNA test confirmed it. They couldn’t keep the child.

The doula took a long breath, then moved to take the infant. “It’s better this way,” she told the woman. “It’s better to be quick.”

The woman stifled a cry, turned her head to the pillow. But she did not resist.

The doula took the infant, wrapped in a blanket, out into the corridor. Outside was the station commander — the only one qualified to make the decision. Another nurse held a syringe of sedative. A slight prick, and the infant fell into a deep slumber.

The doula watched as the took the child to the airlock, fed it through. The airlock cycled, pushing through the gel layer that protected the station, out into the vacuum. Lungs that had barely tasted air shut down instinctively. One convulsion, and it was done.

Back on Earth, the practice of exposure had died out thousands of years ago. It was considered barbaric — but back on Earth, they had special schools, genetic therapy — and even the air was free. They had no such luxuries on the frontier.

Water vapor drifted off the tiny corpse, then — a glimmer of light, like if you squeezed your eyes together tightly, then opened them quickly. The light grew stronger, then danced around the floating corpse.

All life comes from the sun, and when a spirit departs the body in a vacuum, it becomes super-charged. The tiny spirit would play on the edges of the station for a while — years, maybe — then depart to wherever it was going.

On the frontier, sometimes that’s the happiest ending you can get.

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2 Responses to “Panel 350: On the Frontier”

  • Dara says:

    Tony, this was really powerful. Great writing.

  • Tony says:

    It’s funny, because we just had a baby, and this is the happiest time in my life so far. But man, I am going to some dark places in my writing sometimes. I think the baby’s showing me how much there is to lose in life.

    These are probably issues I should talk to with a licensed therapist.

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