One Question by Helen E Davis

Today we are adults, all of us in our cohort. For our second gift, we will be marched out of the Foundling Complex, where we have spent the entirety of our lives, and put on the spaceship we have been trained to crew. Our first gift—in my hand is a memory chit containing all that is known about my parents. Who they were, why they left me here, and what happened to them. There will the opportunity to ask one, and only one, question.

There are ten terminals in the room, each with a small group clustered around it. There are other rooms nearby, other terminals, other cohorts, all of us crew for a brand-new ship. Each of us, after toddler assessment, was selected and trained for the position they would hold for life. Me, I will be growing plants, food for the stomachs, oxygen for the lungs.

Unwanted, disposable lives sent out to explore the stars. One chance to learn, why us?

Syl is in the corner, head in her hands. She went first, discovered that she was conceived in the back of a burnt-out Chevy. Her mother got clean long enough to carry her to term, here in the Complex Charity Maternity Building. No father listed, only, “Too many possibilities.” Once born, she was left in the nursery while her mother returned to the streets.

“Where is she now?” Syl asked.

The mechanical voice replied, “No information available.”

Art stands, arms crossed, staring into nothing. Both of his parents were from wealthy families, gazing down at the city from the tops of their towers. Well educated, married. No history of disease or malformation. No reason to leave him at the Complex.

“They were married,” he stated, voice strained. “Why didn’t they want me?”

The mechanical voice replied, “Not to each other.”

And now, my turn to face the truth. We had always dreamed of families that secretly wanted us back, discussed those dreams in whispers in the darkness of the dormitory, under the stars when we crept out into the scrap of roof beyond the building. Even as we grew up knowing that we were fodder for the stars, we dreamed that someone, somewhere was missing us. But I look back at Syl and Art, and know that the truth will not be pleasant. Still, they have done what they must, and it is my turn.

The chit goes into the slot, and the words come up. I read them aloud for the others, on the off chance that they are listening.

My father was in the Security Forces, a soldier. Healthy, strong, up to the day he was killed seven years before I was conceived. My mother was in the Exploration Forces on the other side of the galaxy. Quite intelligent, hard working. Healthy until the day her ship exploded, three years before I was conceived.

They never met.

I was created from stored gametes and grown in an artificial biosphere. Deliberately made, then deliberately dumped. Why did whoever go to all that trouble?

The door opens with a whoosh. I look up as our new captain enters. Handsome, broad-shouldered. Blonde, like me. Blue-eyed, not like me. He’s one of us, yet not one of us. The ones destined to be officers were in their own cohort with better food, better accommodations, better schooling. His perfect grin shows perfect teeth. “Be ready to go in one hour, worms.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” people mutter around the room.

Perfect, as if made for the job. Suddenly, I know.

His gaze sweeps around the room, pauses at me, still at the terminal. Stays a fraction, looks away. He knows.

His gaze returns to me, furtive. He knows I know.

“An hour, worms!” He sweeps out.

A handful of seeds are planted, and the strongest is saved. The others are tossed away. Unlike the Captain, I do not have the best qualities of both of our parents.

How many more are on this ship, not perfect, throwaways? How many biological siblings do I have? What does it matter, anyway? Syl and Art are my family, my friends, my lovers. All I really need.

The terminal is waiting patiently for my question. I have the answer I would have asked. I do not want the answer to the next one. What else is there?

Again, I glance at Syl and Art, and I think about my parents. Who they were and what they were like. How much our Captain resembles our father. “Tell, me, how much am I like my mother?”

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