by Lisa Shapter
“You can wait on the ship.” I said to the boy, who
was only 11. “Nothing is expected of you here or on any
world I travel to. You are a Corpsman Prospect, Strath
Gestae, not a Corpsman. You don’t have any grown
siblings on this world; there’s no one you need to
The young face that was half mine studied me with
dark eyes. Unlike the other children stolen from me,
this boy had never been taught to lie or hide what he
was feeling: he loved me; even though he had only known
me a few months. He was afraid for me; he could see
that I was frightened and worried. He was learning a
hard truth about the Corps very young: Earth’s last
military seldom gives distasteful orders (or not ones
that are immediately awful). We have no combat, Earth
is one world and her galaxy of colonies is carefully
designed to prevent armed conflict. Farspace ships have
no weapons; they are expected to fly their way out of
My orders were terrible: leave my husband and the
colony world we were assigned to, travel among 74 colony
worlds alone, and meet with the 220-some men who raped
me and paid for the children we conceived. They have
been punished: I am going to meet all of my children and
seek enough reconciliation so we can raise those
Eleven is old enough to understand those are terrible
orders. But I raised my right hand when I enlisted as a
grunt, I vowed to obey any orders given by my CO, I
volunteered to let base doctors build a womb on my body
(no women from Earth may serve in farspace). My plight
would be only slightly worse if I were a natural woman:
I have fewer mature pseudoeggs at any one time than a
real woman but my changed biology is capable of
conceiving more children than any new colony could
support. The sarxomorphologists who changed my body
could have put limits on my fertility; those base
doctors could have had my fertility stop after 7
children, or 10 children, or 12 children--or whatever
might seem sensible as the first generation for a newly
colonized world. Instead, my system is fertile until
the sarxomorphologists turn it off: I am fertile for my
entire adulthood in order to account for colonial
disasters, miscarriages, and abnormally low fertility
rates with my assigned ship’s stock of genetic samples.
I have 50 children. Who needs 50 children? Who can
raise 50 children? How can I raise them with men who
looked at me, shackled to a table, naked, made mute, and
thought there was absolutely nothing wrong with that
“Mom, are my siblings dead?” Strath asked.
“No Honey, they’re in storage. They’re only hours
old, unborn, in medical storage cubes. Tiny. I’ll just
go out and meet their fathers, and I’ll come back after
“Will you take a gun?” My son twisted in his
child-sized field boots. He looked at the gun locker
next to the ship’s atmospheric door.
“No, Sweetie, I can’t take a gun. I killed the man
who brought me here.” I began to smile at Strath and
said, “the Corps doesn’t like me to handle guns. It’s
been a long time.” I added. “It might not be awful.”
My son was sharp enough not to believe me.
The healthy thing, the wise thing, would be to take
him back to my world and leave him with people who would
help him settle in to a new life. I could not go home,
not for any reason. I had gone AWOL once before, the
Corps did not trust me to set my own flight plan.
“I’m sorry to leave you here alone. You can do
anything you like; I don’t expect you to do schoolwork
or prepare for your next scout badge today.” I took a
breath. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
Some mother I am: Strath had been raised by four
loving, attentive parents. The only adults this little
boy knew were my perpetrators’ team on his world, men
who had truly wanted children and were the good parents
base shrinks select for. I had the same psychological
predictors, but what does good parenting look like in
this situation? My son was transparently afraid I would
never come back.
We were here, the landing ramp was down, and this
world’s perpetrators were waiting for me. I had wanted
this to be a short ‘be back soon’, but of course it
could not be. I hugged Strath and went out to follow
There were three men and five children at the base of
the landing ramp. There was a light snow on the wind
and the last of autumn in every clump of brown grass and
caught patch of dry leaves. I had visited climates like
this on Earth: I had not grown up in one. I fastened my
uniform jacket tighter, felt nervously that the patches
for ‘First Lieutenant’ and ‘Gestae’ were straight, then
pulled the watchcap out of my jacket pocket.
Every eye was fixed on me. Even the children looked
hostile. Protocol insisted I introduce myself.
“I suppose you all know who I am,” I said, searching
each face for some sign of kindness or sympathy.
“Get out.” The man with silver captain’s bars said,
pushing two medical storage cubes into my hand.
“Captain...” The name patch on his battered field
jacket was too faded to read confidently. “Captain, I
can’t. I am First Lieutenant Resada Gestae, mother of
these two children.” I kept one eye on my greeting
party as I checked that fact with my medical scanner.
There was no trick on this world: these embryos were my
two lost children. “By law we share their custody. I
am under orders ....”
The words died on my lips. All of their faces were
hardened, fierce. I would get nothing from these
“I did nothing to you,” I said softly.
The colony’s commander, the world’s mother, gave me a
quick, half-shouted recital of what I had done: I had
brought down an investigating magistrate, I had set back
the colony’s progress, delayed their retirements, upset
their children, disrupted their team ....
I had not made anyone trade in flesh, I had not asked
anyone to lie. I would rather the whole thing had not
happened. Alone upon this world and dependent on my two
perpetrators for her survival and her children’s
survival, this commander had decided to side with them
and to imagine that I and my pimp were on the same
page. I could not shout back about just what my pimp
had done to me, there were children here, their children
and my son listening in the ship’s central corridor.
I took out my datatablet and pulled up the form that
would allow them to refuse custody of our unborn
children. I had never yet brought it out on the 37
previous worlds, and it required them to accuse
themselves of starvation, disease, abuse, neglect:
filing this might loose them their five growing
children. I silently handed it to the commander, who
tried to break the tablet across her thigh (the one that
did not have a womb built onto it.) It was a dramatic
gesture, but it did not work: Exploratory Corps field
datatablets are made to survive worse than that. She
threw it down on the landing ramp; I picked it up.
I turned. My young son was coming down the ramp.
“I’ll be right there, Honey. Go back in the ship.”
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. The
sound of a gun set to ‘lethal’ came from not a meter
past my right shoulder. I turned slowly: Strath had a
gun raised in perfect form. I had authorized him access
to the ship’s targeting range, and he must have
persuaded the ship’s computer that I was in mortal
danger. It had taken the gun in the doorside locker out
of its harmless ‘target practice’ mode and it was now
set to kill any animal between the size of a bison and
an elephant with one shot.
Strath was not close enough for me to grab the gun.
I turned back. One of my perpetrators had a gun out
and aimed, also set on ‘kill large target’. I could not
tell who had drawn first.
I was going to be dead the moment either of them
fired. It is safe to stand in front of a military
pistol set to kill rabbits, but not one set up to shoot
anything larger. I dove off the landing ramp as the
shooting started and stayed under its shelter until the
smell of ozone died away. I did not want to get up, but
my grunt’s medic basic got me to my feet and made me
survey the scene for the injured or dead.
All of the other adults were down, their children had
done exactly what they were trained to do: run in
perpendicular lines from the direction of fire and take
shelter. They were coming around the sides of my ship;
I was the one closest to their parents.
Each of the three adults had a pulse, and my medical
scanner confirmed they had been hit by properly aimed
shots at a setting that would only knock them out.
Strath, still standing calmly on the ramp with the
sidearm lowered, had adjusted the gun to non-lethal at
the last possible moment.
I was shaking too hard to yell at my son for
attempted murder. I did not even know what to say. The
other children arrived, my son sat down on the landing
ramp and pulled the datatablet out of my hands.
“I know you don’t want us here,” he said to the
world’s children. “But we’ve got to work something
out. We can’t leave until we’ve worked something out.”
He pointed to me and then to himself as if these
children had not learned Lingua Franca. “If your
three parents sign this form, the Corps will take you
away from homeworld. I have a better idea.”
By the time their parents were awake and I had
stopped shaking, Strath had worked out an agreement that
his two siblings should remain in storage, at a base
hospital, claimable only by mutual consent of all of
their parents, until all of us should die (or reach a
mutually agreed upon arrangement for bearing and raising
the two embryos.) Strath shook hands with his five
counterparts, saluted the world’s commander, and took my
hand to lead me back into the ship. I waited until the
landing ramp was up and the door shut.
“Young man ...”
“He raised his gun first. It was set on lethal.”
Strath said, knowing farspace law permitted him to
respond in kind.
“All the grownups signed it.” He put the gun’s
safety back on, presented it to me, his commander and
mother, for inspection then stood on his toes and stored
it back in the locker, where it became useful only for
“We ...” I began at last.
“Let’s get back to base; we’ll head to the next world
as soon as we can.” Strath said as he thumbed the
doorside panel for a hull integrity check and turned aft
to do the preflight checklist.
I watched the skinny figure in a baggy field uniform
walk down the ship’s corridor. He can’t go up for
command training until he’s 17. Until then I have to