The baby’s veins were pounding against Emma’s heart, against her eyes. It was breathless, the way her tiny body moved with each tiny muscle in a way that was almost beautiful. Past her child’s curled hands Emma could see her heart, actually see it. Arteries and everything. It was beating frantically in her tiny chest. To see her daughter this way made Emma feel she held that heart, squeezed it, forced it to pump and live.
Emma couldn’t touch her, though. A glass crib separated her daughter’s tiny body from her warm arms. Watching her baby wriggle from inside out, through paper thin, nigh-invisible skin, begged Emma to cradle her and love her and protect her from an uneasy world. The electronic buzzing around her head tried to drown her thoughts, to drown her love for her baby, but it was useless against the power of a mother’s adoration. This little one wasn’t just a child, she was hers.
She coughed and Emma trembled, she smiled and she cooed. The young mother wanted more than anything to touch her skin and know, for certain, that she was real. Yet she was too fantastical to touch, even for her mother.
“Miss?” The metallic voice came from the glass crib her baby lay within, the voice that asked the question Emma was too afraid to answer. “What is your decision on your child?”
Emma cleared her throat, eyes burning as she muttered, “Tell me about her again.” She paused. “Tell me her statistics.”
“Female, Caucasian, six pounds, three ounces.” Waiting, Emma touched a finger to the glass, her heart in her throat, the baby’s blood in her veins, her bright blue eyes on Emma’s soul. She closed her own eyes as the words she hated crashed down on her. “Mutation: Thin, translucent skin. Likelihood of proper physical health: 7.3% chance. Likelihood of proper mental health: 32.7%. Predicted maximum age: Seventeen.”
The stars danced behind her eyes, sharing the possibilities of her child’s life and the detriments. Her daughter would likely be crippled, in pain, barely living the short life she had. Yet Emma couldn’t shake the feeling that her bright blue eyes could also change the world.
Agony enveloped the blinking darkness, holding her, covering her eyes and screaming at how this was a mistake, she was a mistake. The baby’s skin wouldn’t be strong, she would be weak, she would hate her mother for letting her live. She would suffer.
But if she made the other choice… Nothing. Her daughter would be nothing.
A vision of a small, brown haired, blue eyed girl with pulsing veins and exposed muscle came to mind. She looked like a ghoul, a monster from a dream. But the smile on her face, the whispers of Mommy on her lips, the curve of her ears, they caught Emma by the hand and by the heart. All she could feel was the warmth of her love, and the purity of her soul, and the blueness of her gaze. It was her favorite shade of blue.
“Miss?” It came for her again, the voice, and Emma opened her eyes. “What is your decision on the child?” Emma stayed silent for a good moment, staring at her daughter’s little skull, clear and pure, unobscured by pigment and hair and hate. The machine piped up again. “We as hospital staff recommend termination.”
The words seemed to hit Emma like a bolt of lightning and, as if on instinct, she replied, “No.” A smile grew on her lips and Emma touched the glass once more. “I want to keep her.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” If Emma didn’t know better, she would have sworn her baby smiled too.
The glass opened and Emma’s arms finally reached for her baby, her clarity, her hope. Her little girl. Her skin felt soft to the touch, and she instinctively curled into Emma’s embrace, as if she had been waiting a lifetime for this moment. Emma certainly had.
“What do you wish to name her?”
“Clare.” Tears came to her eyes as Emma looked at her. She was her everything. Mutant, beautiful skin and all. “Clare Heather Moshkawitz.”
And in that moment, Emma knew every hardship they would have to face together was worth it. All for Clare, her daughter.
“Computer, end program.” Clare disappeared from Emma’s arms and the happy tears quickly dissolved into pain. Her husband’s arms wound around her, but she only felt hollow. “Emma, please…”
Emma leaned back into him, closing her eyes, feeling the weight of Clare’s body shoved against her chest. Her little bubble of joy deflated, and she was back to reality. A dreadful, awful, guilty reality. Emma sometimes felt she could barely breathe here. It used to feel so logical, clear, and right, yet now everything was blurry.
Late stage termination had been a controversial procedure during the early half of the 22nd century. That is, until the mutations began. But since the war… Well, a lot of things had changed. It was almost funny to Emma how six tiny pounds were the ones that knocked her down, after all this time. She used to be a highly decorated war doctor, focused and fearless. But that felt like a long time ago.
Her husband broke her thoughts, distressed. “You can’t keep running this simulation.”
Emma’s heels rocked back forward, stepping out of his arms. “This room’s for recreational purposes, Robert. If I want to remember her, I can do that all I want. It’s my choice.”
His heartbroken eyes gave away the wear on him. Emma couldn’t remember the last time he held her, before now. She also couldn’t remember the last time she cared if he did. The face that was once her home was now a solar system away, marred by dark under-eye craters and sad, bright blue lagoons.
Robert, however, was haunted by the exact moment when his beloved wife stopped loving him.
She turned towards him, but only felt further away, her brown eyes cold. Robert reached his right arm out, hoping she might grab his hand, just this once. “I’m sorry I said yes, Em. I don’t know how to say it to make you forgive me.” He dropped his hand and his eyes fell, gutted, towards Emma’s empty arms. “I just couldn’t bear the thought of her miserable.”
“And I can’t bear the thought of her dead.”
The silence prickled between them. They thought they knew everything about one another. It was even a part of their wedding vows, a cheesy joke how they could finish each other’s… and then Emma said “sentences” and everybody laughed and they felt so right, side by side. But they had been wrong. Terribly, horribly wrong.
“I thought I lost you, Em. I was alone and I couldn’t bear the thought of making her hold on just because I wanted a piece of you. I thought you would have wanted that, too.” Robert crossed his arms now, as if trying to hold himself together. Tears trickled down, no matter how hard he tried to keep them in. “You and I both know she wouldn’t have lived long. And if she did, it would have been a lot to ask a child to be happy like that.”
“If I was like her, would you have let me die?” Her eyes flamed, strands of hair fell from her immaculate bun, and an uncontrollable fury rippled throughout her body. But she was still crying. “Nevermind, I don’t want the answer.” Emma stormed past him. “You’d kill anyone if you thought it was best for them. Leaders do that, right?” The door shut tight behind her.
Robert was alone in the simulation room, crumpled, a shell of the man he once was. During the war, he advocated for peace and led hundreds. He had become a member of the government, had helped rebuild a nation. Helped pass laws that assisted those who suffered the aftereffects of such an insidious, deadly war. He even signed the bill that allowed late stage termination for irradiated, mutated children.
Now he was alone and only wished that his wife wasn’t trapped in this self-built hell with him. She used to be the light of his life. Now she just wanted to burn him to death.
With a heavy hand, he waved towards the wall. “Computer, start program Rob1.”
Before him appeared the same glass crib, holding the withering body of his infant daughter. Only born hours before, Clare had staggered breathing and only opened her eyes every so often to crush his broken heart. She had his eyes. Robert wanted nothing but to scoop her tiny body in his arms and tell her it would be alright. But he knew with her condition, with her slow breathing and thin skin, it never would be.
“Sir? What is your decision on your child?”
He nearly choked on his words. “What are her statistics?”
“Female, Caucasian, six pounds, three ounces. Mutation: Thin, translucent skin. Likelihood of proper physical health: 7.3% chance. Likelihood of proper mental health: 32.7%. Predicted maximum age: Seventeen.”
All over again he was crushed. It was like he never left that hospital, where his wife was fighting for her life on a different floor and his daughter never even had a chance. His hands fell on the crib, lost in his shattered world.
Quietly, he whispered, “Let me hold her first.”
“Sir, I would like to remind that once the baby is removed from the glass mechanism that legal termination is impossible.”
“Just let me touch my daughter, dammit!”
The side of the glass crib opened and Robert instinctively went to hold Clare. Maybe this time it would be different. Maybe he could, just this once-
And the moment his finger touched her arm, Clare erupted in an unholy scream and her skin began to turn a deep purple. Her veins rippled as if clusters of them were exploding, suffering from simple human contact. Robert burst into tears and fell onto his knees, pulling his hands away. Again. “Do it. Do the goddamn procedure. Just stop her from hurting. Please.”
The crib closed and his daughter was suffocated. Swiftly, silently, right before his eyes. Robert stared at the still glass long after the program ended. It remained frozen, like a relic in a museum. Except this relic was his beautiful, broken baby daughter. The image burned into his mind like a horrifying, terrible brand. It was an image he never could live with Emma seeing.
Quietly, Robert muttered, “Computer, end program.”
In the bright, empty simulation room Robert stayed, quietly weeping, until he fell asleep on the floor. Emma stepped in hours later, covered him in a blanket, and went to their bedroom. He hadn’t seen it in months. Sometimes, they both wondered when they stopped being themselves, headstrong and in love. Neither wanted to remember.
Now, all they remembered was Clare.