|Jul/Aug 2019 Fiction|
Multimedia artwork by Belinda Subraman
Yukako Ajayi cared deeply that the other 649 residents of Sigma Colony thought well of her, so when fellow engineer Pavel Li suffered a catastrophic brain injury, she struggled to contain her relief.
Engineering sent the staff home until they completed an investigation, but most assumed Pavel's habitual flaunting of safety regulations played a primary role. As Yukako wended away from Engineering and through Botanical-Bay, she kept her pace slow, her face deliberately downcast. Wrong to rejoice in a death. But at least it hadn't come at her hands.
She paused at the door to her residence pod and glanced up. Night mode. Only the dim light of Sigma Sun filtered through the mostly opaque dome. Yukako took a deep breath as if dreading the news she must deliver.
"Adeolu-Kun!" Yukako made sure to pressure-seal the pod door before signaling for lights and calling to her husband. "Adeolu-Kun!" She rushed to the sleeping alcove and shook his shoulder. "We're saved!"
Adeolu's head jerked from his pillow, hands shielding his eyes. "Wetin?" he mumbled. He had hours before he needed to begin teaching, and Yukako should have been busy with all-night repairs. "What you going on about, Oyin Mi?"
"Get up!" Yukako ordered. "Pavel's dead. Hurry! We need to get to the doctor."
Adeolu jumped from the bed, yelping as his toe struck a table leg. He hurriedly dressed while Yukako waited beside the pod door, foot tapping, arms crossed over her belly.
She could count each of the 92 artificial Earth nights since Lara Jeretzky, Lead Population Adviser, had visited their pod to deliver the directive.
"The Council wishes to express their approval of your marriage," she'd said, a cup of Matcha untouched and rapidly cooling on the table in front of her. "Since this is the first union between the Asian and African population lines, the Council have ordered you to contribute to the diversity of Sigma Colony."
Yukako gasped, a tiny whimper of escaped air. From behind, Adeolu's hands grew heavy on her shoulders. His struggle to stay standing pressed her to the chair.
"You will receive a copy of the directive in your personal drives today. Please remember that all population orders remain privileged information." Lara slid her tablet across the table for thumbprint acknowledgement.
Yukako's hand shook as she pressed her thumb to the screen then handed the tablet to Adeolu.
"I've already notified Doctor Salazar," Lara continued. "You're scheduled to have your implant deactivated at 15:00. Once your pregnancy is confirmed, she will notify me, and I will make the colony-wide announcement." Lara's voice remained steady, but she refused to meet Yukako's eyes.
They both knew the numbers.
46: Years since Sigma Colony lost contact with Earth.
650: Sustainable population of Sigma Colony barring further Earth resources.
97: Colonists who had trained successors and been added to the lottery list.
1: The person, chosen by lottery, who must die to make room for Yukako's child.
Three months of dread as a seed had grown in Yukako's belly.
She and Adeolu began eating their lunch on the memorial bench in front of Main Airlock, 52 names of previous lottery "winners" etched on its non-porous composite surface. The 53rd would come at their hands.
"They'll despise us," she whispered, a freshly plucked raspberry tasting drier than Sigma dust in her mouth. "They'll despise our child."
"They won't," Adeolu replied. He pulled her hand onto his lap and stroked it lightly.
"Then they're better than me!" Yukako snatched her hand back and stood to trace her grandmother's engraved name. "The day the computer chose Baba to die, I could have killed Jan Abadi!" She whirled to face Adeolu. "I still burn with fury when I see Cecil Abadi playing Körebe with the other children outside School-Pod. I don't understand how you can bear to teach him!"
Adeolu chewed slowly, his gaze on his feet.
Yukako had spent those three months since the Council's order poring over the lottery list. Memorizing the 97 names.
Each represented a reason for some or all of Sigma's population to despise Yukako and her child.
Lottery List #61: Saanvi Salazar – Colony Head Physician
"You'll feel some vibration." Dr. Salazar's hands had shaken slightly as she'd locked Yukako's forearm into a med-tube. "Don't move until it stops."
Yukako bobbed her head, but her stomach twisted and flipped. She couldn't look the doctor in the eyes.
"Before we begin, you must acknowledge the terms of deactivation." Dr. Salazar tapped a series of commands into the device's control interface and took a deep breath. "Yukako Ajayi, per Council Order 7031, you are forbidden from discussing your reasons for deactivating your birth control implant with anyone outside of the Population Advisory Board. To do so would endanger the well-being of any individual who has voluntarily chosen to bear children. Violation of Order 7031 could result in expulsion from Sigma Colony. Do you acknowledge?"
"Acknowledged." Yukako pressed the thumb of her unrestrained hand against Dr. Salazar's tablet and squeezed her eyes shut as the doctor activated the med-tube. A low hum resonated along her forearm and into her upper-arm.
"Don't worry." Dr. Salazar gently touched Yukako's shoulder as the vibration grew stronger. "This is my 18th deactivation since they added my name to the lottery list, a sacred number for my people. I will accept the outcome and lay no blame at your feet."
With a chirp from the med-tube, the vibrations ceased.
Lottery List #12: Hua Green – Colony Chief Engineer
One month into the pregnancy, Hua had called Yukako into her tiny workspace and sealed the door.
"I'm sorry, Yukako." Hua kept the workbench between them as if it might somehow protect her. "The Council has called for my decision in the event that I am chosen in the lottery. I've selected you as my successor."
Yukako's lungs decompressed under the weight of the words. She leaned against the workbench, vision spinning.
"I know." Hua shut her eyes and took a slow breath. "But Pavel's a safety risk and neither Juanita nor Mowen have the experience."
"You… you…" Yukako stuttered, trying to force her words into alignment. "You have always been good to me." She bowed her head and looked down at her white knuckles. "I want you to know that I would never—"
Hua held up a hand. "Don't!"
"But they will say I wanted your job, that I chose the pregn—"
Hua reached across the workbench and pressed her hand on top of Yukako's. "Hush," she admonished. "The rumors will hurt. But they will be only rumors. You will survive."
Lottery List #97: Ousmane Sembene – Oldest living Sigma resident.
"Bon anniversaire, Papi!" Yukako had kissed Adeolu's grandfather on both cheeks before presenting him with a small birthday basket of fruit and vegetables. "How is your health today?"
"I am well," Ousmane said as he lowered himself onto a stool outside his residence pod.
"Just resting before the birthday celebration this evening." He beckoned for her to join him on a second stool. "And you, ma petite fille? How is your health?"
Yukako flushed and resisted the urge to touch her belly. Nearly three months, but the pregnancy didn't show yet. Still, she felt as if all of Sigma must know her secret.
"I am also well," she said, squirming on the hard stool. "Did Adeolu come by before school today?"
"Ah, yes, he was my first well-wisher." Ousmane sighed and leaned back into the pod wall. "Twenty-Nine lotteries for this old man. If number 30 is my last, do you think they will let me see my great-grandchild before I die?"
Yukako gasped. "How did you know?"
Ousmane patted her on the leg. "An old man knows," he said absently staring at his feet. "An old man just knows."
With Pavel's death though, Yukako and Adeolu could forget the lottery list. They could visit the doctor to confirm the pregnancy, then wait for the Council to make the announcement. A new life without lottery! Sigma could rejoice.
In Med-Bay, Dr. Salazar, fresh from Pavel's autopsy, hummed softly as she began the scan of Yukako's still-flat stomach.
Assuming the computer hadn't chosen her name, Dr. Salazar would have been responsible for mixing the sedative, an herbal combination designed to keep the lottery recipient asleep as the Council deposited the body in Main-Airlock and waited for Sigma IV's low-oxygen atmosphere to do its work. She would have confirmed the death and tagged the body for ag-cycling. Now she wouldn't have to.
Dr. Salazar slowly moved the handheld scanner across Yukako's belly and smiled encouragingly. Adeolu kept a firm grip on his wife's hand, staring slack jawed as a three-dimensional holographic projection of her womb materialized above the examination table. It pulsated with heartbeat.
Yukako lay her head back, tears leaking from her eyes as she looked at Adeolu, awed by what they'd created. Life that would not take a life.
"Adelou-Kun," she whispered, "your grandfather is safe."
"Yes, Oyin Mi." He lifted her hand and kissed it. "If it is a boy, we can name him Ousmane. Ousmane Ajayi."
"And if it's a girl?" Yukako teased.
Adelou flashed a white-toothed grin. "Momoko, of course. After your grandmother. Little Momoka Ajayi. An engineer like her mother."
"And no one will despise her," Yukako whispered, tears streaking from her eyes. "No one."
"No," Adeolu said. "No one will despise her." He laughed then. A joyful vibration that began deep in his chest and expanded to fill Med-Bay. Yukako smiled and absorbed the laughter, willing the joy deep into her womb, nourishment for the new life.
But as the final projection materialized in the space above them, Dr. Salazar's smile dropped. Wrinkles tightened at the corner of her eyes, and her face paled. With a flick of her wrist, she swept away the image and began a new scan with increased urgency.
"What?" Yukako asked, her throat tight. "Is there something wrong with the baby?" Adeolu's grip on her hand felt like a carbide spanner. Her fingers went numb. Dr. Salazar didn't answer.
A second projection, exactly like the first, hung above them now.
Yukako took deep breaths, fought the buzzing black curtain threatening to descend over her vision.
"Doctor?" she asked.
But Dr. Salazar only stared blankly at the projection.
Yukako's shrill cry seemed to penetrate Dr. Salazar's trance. She looked down at Yukako lying trembling on the examination table and then across at Adeolu.
"Right," she finally said. "right."
She lifted a limp hand and with her finger, circled two pulsating points in the projection.
"Congratulations," she said flatly. "You're expecting twins."