First Family of Mars

Libby Cudmore

Aida had already chosen a name for the baby. David if he was a boy, Bowie if she was a girl. The Man Who Fell To Earth. A little on the nose, perhaps, certainly not a name she would have chosen back home. But when she and Calvin and baby David/ Bowie did return, the people would eat that shit right up.

The task was simple on paper. Horizon Beyond had conducted a nationwide search for two healthy people willing to leave Earth behind and try to create a child on Mars. To see if it could be done, conceived, born and raised a year before a mission would return to bring them home. The risks were high, but she had nothing to lose. Every time she had left Andrew, he had managed to find her—first with flowers, the second time with a gun in hand. He couldn’t find her on Mars. She hoped it killed him to see her face on the news, the cover of supermarket magazines, the webcasts they posted chronicling every stage of the baby’s development, their cozy little life on the base. From nobody to a celebrity, a modern day Mary, carrying all of humanity’s hopes. If a baby could be born on Mars, their overheating Earth could be left behind.

Calvin came into the nursery. He could have been a Playgirl model with his boy-next-door blue eyes and his tightly-wound curls and eyes like shooting stars. She felt plain compared to him, but he made her feel beautiful. They had no problem going to bed together, aided, in part, by the champagne the team had sent as a gift for when they got settled. David/Bowie was conceived within the first two weeks they were at the base, and they didn’t stop there. And even now when she was swollen and sore, seven months along, he was still loving toward her. She wasn’t used to that.  

She just kicked, she said.

He put his hands on her belly. David/Bowie kicked again. Calvin smiled and kissed her forehead. Our little Martian, he teased

Don’t call her that, she replied.

Her? he asked. Last week you thought you were having a boy.

I dreamed last night she was a girl, she said.

We could name her Leia, he said. Luke if he’s a boy.

 Those were both good names. But not as good as the ones she picked out. They still had a few months to decide. There were arguments that could wait for another day.

Calvin had been a doctor back on Earth, a general practitioner in a small town outside of Minneapolis. He had delivered babies at home before, confident he could handle everything up here. If a problem did arise, there were instructional videos on how to handle it. But she knew she could die up there, that their baby could die too. Or that their baby might survive and Calvin, a widower to a woman he hardly knew, would be left with a child who was little more than an experiment.

They had gotten married on Earth. Polls showed the public would prefer a married couple give birth to the first baby on Mars, so Horizon Beyond gave her a wedding she would never have allowed herself to dream of back in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. A custom-designed dress dripping with Swarovski crystal. A cake covered with fresh flowers and a groom who’d never given her a black eye. The pews were full, celebrities and scientists, the President and First Lady came for the ceremony and left before dinner. But neither she nor Calvin had family there. That was a line on the hundreds of pages of criteria when they applied for the job. Orphans only. No siblings or close cousins. No one who could sue or try and claim the baby or weep to the press if the whole thing fell to pieces.

Aida never wanted to be a mother. Never held baby dolls, never cooed over the strollers of strangers. She wasn’t repulsed by infants; if anything, their fragility terrified her. She was unsure if she was capable of a love that would force her into protecting something so helpless. And if she was, could she survive if that fragility was tested? There was no way to win, she feared, and the game felt so rigged. Disease, bad luck, bad genes, fate. And if Andrew had gotten her pregnant, he would have taken out his rage on both of them.

But then motherhood became her only escape. A brief journey, and then the baby would be set for life. Money, a college fund, housing, a family. She wasn’t saving her body for anyone. She could serve as this vessel. It was her only way out of the life she had before, and she was happy to take it.

It was strange to think her pregnancy test would be filed in the archives, photographed for textbooks and presentations. Back home they had a nickname for her. Mother Earth. So long as she carried this child to and from the red planet, there was hope for humanity. A celestial Madonna, drifting in a metal womb, high among the stars.

But there were fears that kept her up at night. Fears that she might lose the baby in utero, a miscarriage broadcast to the world. Fears that the child might emerge broken and deformed in a pain she couldn’t remedy. If that was the case, if they consulted with the team back home and agreed the child could not thrive, there was a small kit called The Lullaby. No questions, no consequences, a fill-in-the-blank press release, a tiny coffin, an extraction team that was ready to deploy from the International Space Station and arrive as soon as they could. She didn’t like to think about it, but the thought returned, over and over. Only a terrible mother would imagine such a thing, she told herself, stroking her belly, counting each kick like a breath.

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Photo by Daniele Colucci on Unsplash