Nexus 3, Chapter 7

I was anxious on the walk to Medical. The next volley of pods were going to start arriving today. If just one of them included a viable world this might be the last time I saw Sam and Elle before their flight- might have been the last time I saw they could be even a little happy to see me.

But I’d taken my clone’s advice. I had Haley play me back everything Maggie ever said to me on ship; it was hard to listen to. I didn’t realize how much I’d changed since we started on this voyage, and I cringed even more than I expected. More cringe-worthy? My cocky clone was right.

Even when I thought we were flirting… she was a good friend, and a better doctor, leaving more than enough breadcrumbs for even a half-competent patient to follow them.

One other little nugget she’d told me, a few times, was how I’d been sabotaging myself by procrastinating, trying to hide from the things I dread rather than facing them head on.

I was waiting inside when Sam and Elle arrived, chatting personably with the MedOff overseeing our Lamaze class; that was how I learned that she preferred to be called “Reese” instead of Teresa. I got a nonurgent message on my eyescreen; I’d put anything less than critical on hold while we were here.

“You’re early,” Elle said suspiciously.

I hated that Sam and Elle were spending so much time together, because it meant Sam was telepathically stewing in Elle’s juices; you saw it in her eyes, as they went from excited to see me to leery about what I was up to.

“Just trying to respect everyone’s time,” I said. “And I’m sure it’s just bias,” I said, trying to wrap up the prior conversation with Reese, “but I was born-through c-section, Elle was.”

“C-sections are of course sometimes medically necessary, but their overuse at various points amounts, essentially, to a medical fad.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe it’s that every description I’ve read of live birth makes it sound like battlefield medicine gone awry. The whole thing just feels… barbaric.”

“Moreso than cutting an entirely new hole in a woman rather than use the one designed for the purpose?” Reese asked indulgently, but she had already switched on her bedside manner, and smiled at Elle. “Periodically, with advances in surgical methods, tools or tech, doctors start to think we’ve reinvented the wheel and start overusing the method- really any method. And eventually… that path usually does lead to results. Evolution is a fairly crude tool, pure trial and error, and once a species gets enough tech, they can mitigate its mechanisms entirely, so we have to supplant them. But there’s also a lot of false starts; at least to this point, vaginal birth is still the preferred method, because that’s how the body is supposed to work. Even with newly blended coagulant agents, even with increasingly more impressive surgical techniques, we still haven’t cracked that nut. Regardless, at no other point in human history have either a Caesarean or vaginal birth been safer. You’re in the best possible hands on board this ship.”

If you hadn’t been talking alone to Reese you might not have caught the pivot, but it was in her manner, and just as importantly, in her body language, the way she repositioned so that she was squared to all of us in equal measure. “Now, I want this to be a safe space,” she began. “I want everyone here to feel they can be honest, because honesty is the better policy. I’m not going to finger-wag, or lecture. But I do need to make sure we’ve all been over the instructional materials.”

“We have,” Elle said, and I realized in that moment both the way she said we and the way she looked at Sam had changed; there was a warmth to both I hadn’t noticed developing. “I’m sure Drew has some excuse-”

“I have, too,” I said; I wanted to be more smug about it, but despite Maggie never having physically wagged her finger at me, that’s what I pictured, and it helped to slow me down. Because it wasn’t Elle’s fault; I’d given her and everyone else on the ship plenty of reason not to expect me to be on the ball. And maybe it made sense for me to want that distance, to want them to decide to abandon me because I didn’t have it in me to abandon them. But I didn’t like the trajectory I’d been on, and it didn’t matter how I tried to excuse it to myself.

Reese picked up on Elle’s mistrust. “I meant what I said. The important thing isn’t that anyone came prepared, but that you leave prepared. And the second most important thing is that we all leave feeling like this is a place we can be honest, fair, and trusting.”

“It took me a few tries to get through- it’s a little dry,” I said, “but I read them, from A for anal prolapse to the Z mysteriously missing from the word Caesarean.”

Reese looked to Elle, who didn’t seem to know how to react. “It’s okay,” Reese assured her, “if we need to go over anything again. It’s still pretty early days for me, so I don’t have a lot of pregnancies to oversee. We have the time to do this right.”

“In the spirit of doing things right,” I said, taking a breathe to slow myself down; this would have been delicate in the best of circumstances, and this was certainly far from that. “I’d really like to ask a question, a medical one. It’s related, but at the same time, I don’t want it to get in the way of the class. We’re fielding a new type of two-person pod. Would it be advisable for a pregnant woman to take out the first prototype?”

That depends entirely on the scans that come back,” Reese said, prickling. She could tell I was dragging her into something, even if she couldn’t quite figure what.

“Of course,” I said. “What I’m looking for is, in your medical opinion, do you think it’s wise to take the risks inherent in that kind of test flight with a baby on-board.”

Medicially,” Reese said the word icily, because at least some part of her felt our prior conversation had been part of some subterfuge; to her credit by the next word her bedside manner had completely returned: “babies are going to be more vulnerable to literally everything. Radiation, disease, you name it. Realistically, though, we’re all at risk on-board the Nexus. We voted to take the ship off-mission, and away from the company. That makes us pirates, at least as far as our home world is concerned. That remains the riskiest thing we’ve done, including to the babies on board. And that’s ignoring the species of refugees we’ve taken on, including whatever gut bacteria they brought with them we’d have absolutely no immunity to. But… he is right, in that I’d suggest a wait and see approach. We’ll shield whoever takes the maiden voyage of the new pods against anything we can think of. But, personally, I’d give you a lower go/no-go threshold, because it isn’t just the baby that’s at higher risk; in the event of problems she becomes a vector for you to be hurt, too, which becomes a threat to the pod, and by extension, our entire mission. Put another way, even a clock stopped in the stone age is going to be right twice a day.”

“I didn’t ask…” Elle said, glaring at me for a moment, “but I’ll consider it.” Then her eyes flicked pensively to Reese. “Can we… have a moment?”

“I’ll take a quick 5. But nobody bleeds until the birthing.”

“I don’t think you can bleed from emotional lacerations, so he should be fine,” Elle said. She waited until the doors closed behind Reese. “Let me clarify a point I think you’ve struggled to grasp. Every time you lie to me, every time you lie to anyone, even when you do something like this for selfless reasons, it’s still selfish when you do it to get your way.”

“I’m not. I never expected to go first this time.”

“And your clone would back you up?”

“I think he expected it, too- because he expects very little from me. Most do, and,” I swallowed, “I’m responsible for giving people that impression. But I’m not the same man I used to be. And I don’t just mean in the way that none of us are because life changes us minute to minute.”

I closed me eyes for a moment, because I knew it was crucial that I not screw this part up. “I’ve been doing some introspecting, and I realized I’ve been trying to live down the mistakes I made that brought us here. I don’t think I ever considered myself religious, but clearly I’m religious enough that I’ve spent a lot of time nailing myself to a cross for my sins- hoping I could make things right- and not just for myself or my sense of personal well-being. I was willing to die for this ship, to burn for it. But now… now I just want to live. I’m going to have a daughter. And I have more love in my life than I ever thought possible.”

I saw a flash in Elle’s eyes, and realized too late I said something I shouldn’t have.

“Don’t,” Sam said reflexively; she always got me, even when I didn’t explain myself well. Some of that was her being a literal mind-reader, but I’d seen deeply enough into her head, too, to know that a lot of it, most of it, really, was a deep well of empathy.

“It’s okay,” Elle said. “You don’t know this jackass as long as I have without learning to speak jackass, if not entirely fluently. And I think…” she paused a beat, “he’s right. Which I suspect means Maggie or whatever PsychOff finally managed to crowbar his cranium open enough to slip some common sense inside was right- but credit where due, he let it take. And,” I tried, and failed, not to enjoy how hard these next words were for her to get out, “he really is right. We’ve been trying to hold, waiting for a chance to exhale when the world went back to being sane. But it isn’t, and maybe it never will be; maybe ‘sane’ was always too much to ask for. So for right now, I just want us to focus on what we do have, what does work between us, and not pollute it with what might be, or what could be, or what we wish existed instead of what does. Because the two of you are more family than any flesh and blood I ever had, and I suspect I’m going to love this wiggling little ball of morning sickness and bladder distress more than they two of you combined- and that you will, too. So until we get those pods back… I say we just try to live and let live for a while, even if it only lasts for a few hours.”

Sam grabbed my hand and squeezed. “About that,” she said. “You should check your messages.

It took me a moment to catch her meeting. The one that had arrived at nearly the same moment they did was from SciDiv. The new volley of pods were back, and they already had preliminary data analyzed. My breath caught as I opened the message, not wanting to hope too much that the swift turn-around meant what I wanted it to. “No life,” I said, when I found the words. “There’s no call for a launch with this volley.”

“Don’t sound too relieved at your reprieve,” Elle said.

“I’m not,” I said. “I’d hoped you’d change your mind; the idea of launching the three people on this ship I care about the most in a single pod… it’s all my eggs, in an untested basket. There’s plenty of crewmembers I’m not fond of we could use as guinea pigs instead… but failing that, I’ll settle for a little extra time for testing.”

Reese ducked her head back inside. “Everybody okay?” she asked. “Anyone need me to put in a psych consult to help any emotional wounds scab over?”

“I think we’re good,” I said, looking at Elle.

“We might be,” Elle said cautiously. “And thanks for giving us a moment.”

“My role is to facilitate, and I’m thankful for the psych rotation that gave me enough insight to at least sometimes know the best way to do that.” Reese responded. “So who’s ready to get started?”

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