They were right, it all passes too quickly. Demetria both regretted and cherished every extra minute it took to get little Anton into the bath. She wanted to get him into bed early, but he was so happy playing with his new satellite that she couldn’t bear to pull it away from him. After all, he’d never play with it again.
The only thing in Demetria’s control was this final evening. Again, she checked the bathwater. In these “nursery” apartments, the faucets adjusted temperature in real-time using underwater sensors but Demetria had grown up with rotten plumbing so she kept sticking her fingers in by force of habit. The bath was ready for Anton.
He won’t remember any of this when he gets older, she told herself, he won’t remember me. He’ll be one of the thousands aboard that colony ship — the first generation of spacefarers, practically born on ships!
But she knew better. He was born on Earth. She was his mother. Though he wouldn’t have any memory of her, how could she forget his sweet face?
“Mama, blue soap!” Anton squealed, soap sounding more like soup. Demetria washed his little body, saving the head for last. He might protest when she put the shampoo on and she wasn’t sure she could take his tears at that moment, no matter how trivial the reason. He’d only started learning colors a few days ago. Whatever else he learns, she won’t be there.
Demetria let the baby splash around in the bath for a few minutes while she got his towel. Gripping that fabric she watched Anton play, willing every moment of it, every sound he made, into her memory. She wanted to save every second of that evening somewhere inside her. Knowing that it was impossible hurt.
The other “Voyage” moms warned her during the orientation. Try not to get too attached, they said, among other things, and she wrote it down — all pointless! Parenthood is incomprehensible until it’s experienced. And loss, too.
Expertly, Demetria wiped her son dry until he wiggled out from the towel and ran to his room. She noted the push and pull of his arms and legs; he was strong for his age. Most of the time, Demetria loathed wrestling Anton into his pajamas, but tonight she marvelled at his joyful opposition. Everything was a game to him.
Probably he’d do fine. He was clever and adaptable. Her own well-being hadn’t occurred to her yet — the months she’d startle awake imagining a baby crying, and then herself weeping to fill the silence. The program had teams of psychologists to help the Voyage moms cope, of course. To fulfill their duty, the women had to remain healthy mentally and physically.
While putting Anton to bed for the final time, she gave him a last hug and kiss. Then she pulled him out of bed and quickly gave him another one. Back in her bedroom, the tears came. She foresaw the terror he might feel when he woke up tomorrow in an unfamiliar place. She imagined him screaming for his mama and felt powerless. Sometime on, she fell asleep.
The front door woke her. It was time. They had arrived to take Anton away. Unthinking, Demetria threw off her sheets and rushed at her bedroom door to find that they had locked it from the outside; they couldn’t risk any second thoughts at such a crucial moment. She beat at the door with her fists and threw her body at it in a panic before realizing it was pointless.
Demetria crumpled up next to the door, trembling, numb to the world. On the other side of that piece of metal, they were taking her firstborn away and flinging him into the stars; a noble sacrifice for all of humanity. According to the contract she had willingly signed, Demetria Theodora Johnson was to give them four more. She was a “Heroine of the Nation” along with the other Voyage mothers, set for life, wanting for nothing.
None of that took the heartache away.
Aleks Kyiv is a writer of speculative stories that land somewhere around social science fiction and neuro-punk. Born in the former Soviet Union, he now resides in Los Angeles, CA. More information can be found at alekskyiv.carrd.co.