Hello, Internet! Kelly Jensen drops by today for Flash Fiction Friday with a real doozy of a piece. If you’ve read Kelly’s pieces before (which if you haven’t you should seriously get on that) this is no exception!
Pro Choice by Kelly Jensen
I am moving too fast. I’m going to land hard. I don’t hear the sound of my fingers breaking over the gasp of breath inside my helmet, but the pain screams along my nerve endings, heedless of the pressure seals of my suit. I imagine the snap of bone, the crack of tendons. I wonder, briefly, if I’ve simply dislocated the fingers—put them somewhere else, somewhere they can’t help me.
I do feel a rush of air across my cheeks as the train lurches beneath me, but it’s just my breath—again. Gasping and moaning. I could be a coupling between smooth, alloy cars, whining as I flex. Scrabbling proves the futility of using my left hand. I catch a handhold with the right, hooking my gloved fingers through the square loop. The train jerks again and the motion travels through my body, pausing at my gut to play with the problem there, turning it upside down. Playing with it.
Toying with the meaning of my life.
My stomach pitches. Puking in a helmet is not recommended. It happens. My suit will eat what I eject and feed it back to me if I have to stay inside long enough. I’m a self-sustaining unit in this thing. Doubly so with the problem swirling around my middle, sending a hot splash of regret up the back of my throat.
Swallowing rapidly, I haul myself close to the car and look for the next handhold. There, half a meter vertical. I thrust my broken hand toward it, screaming even as I push the glove through the loop far enough for my wrist cuff to lock into place.
If I fall off this train, I will die.
I have approximately ninety seconds to get inside one of the cars, or I might die. Probably will die.
If none of the cars are pressurized, I could still die. I have a projected itinerary on my PD—based on how often the train docks at the loading bay below BXT23. My asteroid. My home.
My entire world, as it turns out.
The train is collecting speed. There is virtually no atmosphere inside the loading bay. The mining robots don’t need it, and operate more efficiently without it. The train will continue to gather speed until it reaches the apex of its arc between stations. My training doesn’t include such things as the theory of whether I can cling to a vehicle speeding through near vacuum. My suit might continue to nourish me, and I know I have enough oxygen reserves to reach BXT24. But what about radiation? Inertia?
I need to get inside.
A hiss of static pokes at my ears. It’s the AI trying to reestablish communications with me. She thinks I’m repairing a broken door seal to Section A… unless she’s managed to unfudge the code to my locator beacon? The bitch managed to impregnate me, so I wouldn’t put it past her. Though fiddling with code and jamming a tool between my legs—under the guise of checking to see if my reproductive organs were functioning—are two very distinct actions.
I’m distracted, but why shouldn’t I be? This isn’t how I was supposed to retire. To the home I’ve never actually seen. Was never actually born to. I’m not from Earth at all. I wasn’t transported here, cocooned in sleep training over the course of eighteen months.
I’ve reached the next handhold. Thank the stars. Whimpering, I tug my broken hand out of the loop and flail at the door seal above me. Below me? Beside me? It’s hard to tell horizontal from vertical out here. And I do mean out here. The train has left the station. I am exposed; I am in space, out in the real universe. I resist the urge to glance over my shoulder, to watch my home dwindle to a spec among the stars.
Elation may not beat within my breast, yet. I have to get inside the car. Inside the train. Even then…
Not going to think about then. Now is all that matters.
Flailing at the door won’t open it. Drawing a deep and bitter breath, I eschew counting in favor of simply doing. I activate my PD, I deliver the code. The door remains sealed. My next breath is a sob and I’m starting to feel dizzy. My stomach hurts and the problem, my baby, is upset. She’s a collection of cells, but I know she feels what I am feeling. That my anger is hers, my outrage her poison.
Of course by baby is female. Men do not have wombs, yet. And why use a tank to grow a baby when you have a natural, biological alternative? I am more efficient. More cost effective. When her time comes, she will be too.
I trigger the emergency override and the door whispers open. I don’t hear it of course. The whisper is my breath—again. I’m so tired. My hand hurts. My whole arm hurts. I haul myself inside the car and smack the panel to reclose the door. Then I simply allow myself to fall and the lack of gravity catches me, floats me gently.
I made it. My journey is just beginning, but my escape is…done.
What will the AI do now that I’m gone? Use the maturation chamber to grow another me? The mining robots can take care of themselves for a limited time, but their programming degrades so quickly. Even a maintenance bot requires maintenance, and the AI design is limited. We’re close, as a species, to replacing ourselves—with minds rather than clones. But we’re not quite there yet. We still need us.
A niggle of worry pokes at my brain. By stealing myself and my child—my clone, myself—have I jeopardized that future? Have I denied us, us? Have I broken a chain?
Surely I cannot be the only outpost operator to object to being the incubator of her own replacement?
I close my eyes. By my calculation, I have thirty-seven hours until this train reaches its final destination. Or should I say intermediary, as once these crates of ore are unloaded, the train will circle the belt again. In two months, it will dock once more at BXT23.
But not me. Not my child. Even if we expire before we make the end of the line, we’ll have broken this cycle. Made our protest.
We might even find a way to truly be free.