Summary: After Tandra, who is pregnant, destroys a robot assigned to her for the parent test, she and her friend Uki flee in a helicar to El Yermo.
Summary: After Tandra, who is pregnant, destroys a robot assigned to her for the parent test, she and her friend Uki flee in a helicar to El Yermo. They hope to join the new colony established outside the city limits by a group of dissenters.
Tandra meets a mutant for the first time. Friendly, chatty and gender-ambiguous, Pisces has three arms and only one eye. Despite the language barrier, they are able to communicate. As she gets used to life in the colony, Tandra finds out that the mutants are waiting for a star, or some kind of celestial body, to appear at the same time she is expected to give birth. They have even built what looks like a landing strip for it.
The day had finally come for Tandra to give birth. It couldn't have fallen on a worse date--for her and everybody else.
She had already heard the rumors. Raquel and other colonists were afraid of an attack from the neighboring boroughs. But Uki, claiming insider knowledge, assured her that the chances of an attack were minimal.
"Oso says we are safe here," she kept saying.
But they weren't that safe. First, the colonists had gotten a polite message: dozens of copies of the same letter, delivered by a drone, inviting them to go back home. The letter cited the dangers of the radiation and the distance from "all the resources needed for their general well-being." If they were dissatisfied with something, they would have a chance to present their case to the authorities, the message promised. The tone was courteous and almost paternal.
Oso had convened a meeting. When it was over, 10 colonists decided to return. The others, over 100, were determined to stay. Tandra and Uki were among them.
"It's not worth it, after all it took us to get here," Uki said. "Besides, they haven't said that we have to. It was only an invitation."
"It looked like an order to me," Tandra replied.
"No, nena! You always see everything in a negative light."
"Well, I have reasons. And it's not like I have any desire to return. But…"
"Look, that message was just a formality so we can't say we were kicked out of the boroughs or something like that. They don't care what happens to us. They already have enough people to control!"
"But the day we arrived Oso was afraid of an attack, wasn't he?"
"Well, there is always the possibility. But it's remote."
Tandra admitted she was pessimistic by nature. But she also thought that the issue had not been open for discussion. The colonists hadn't been given the opportunity to explain why they'd rather stay in El Yermo while they were still there. Who knew what would really happen once they were back in the boroughs? Who would defend them? That was an order to go back, nicely camouflaged under the authorities' usual verbiage. If they didn't comply, there would be repercussions. She was convinced of it, and time would prove her right.
The mutants --who of course hadn't been included in the order, the invitation or whatever it was-- didn't seem to mind what the colonists did. They built fires every night, as soon as it got dark, and spent hours watching the sky. They had also finished the runway for the "star" to land. Tandra had gone a few times with Pisces to check out the construction progress. It was around 5,000 feet long and made of a material she didn't recognize. Cement? Concrete? Where had the mutants found it? And how had they managed to finish that landing strip so fast?
When trying to explain how it had been built, Pisces just pointed to the sky, which confused Tandra even more. But soon she forgot about the mutants and their project, having enough troubles of her own. The baby was due that week, both the midwife and Raquel said. She got the news the same day that a second message, also delivered by a drone, informed the colonists in no uncertain terms that they were expected to go back to the boroughs "right now." There was no politeness this time, no sugarcoating. The colony had been established without proper authorization and it was not allowed to exist. Period.
Some would have been scared enough to return, but a recent arrival, the last man who managed to sneak out of a borough, reported that nobody had seen or heard of the first 10 colonists who had gone back.
"See?" Uki told Tandra. "We did the right thing staying here. Had you believed that first message, they'd have sent you back to the Institute for Parental Certification, or something worse. We're better off here."
Being "better off" was not the way Tandra would have described her current situation. Lying on a bed, with Raquel on one side and the three-arm midwife on the other, she felt an intense menstrual cramp multiplied by a million. She focused on her breathing, as Raquel advised her to do, and looked out the window. It was already dark and she could see the fires that the mutants had set. The pain came in waves and she felt her body pulsating to its own rhythm. Suddenly, her water broke and she heard a soft pop.
"It's here!" the midwife said, or that was what Tandra understood.
She knew she was going into labor, but the baby hadn't been born yet.
"I don't think so," she muttered.
She then realized that the mutant wasn't looking at her, but out the window. A bright object (a star? a drone?) was quickly gliding across the night sky, getting bigger and brighter as it moved toward the earth.
The Spanish version of this story is here.
Teresa Dovalpage is a Cuban writer living in New Mexico. She is the author of the dark culinary mystery Death Comes in Through the Kitchen and eight more novels.
Born in 1992 and drawn to his love of comedy and horror movie monsters, Diego Lopez illustrates his cartoon epics from his studio in Taos. Diego has always welcomed a good laugh and believes that art should be uncensored and limitless.
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