My Daughter’s Birthday

A short Sci-Fi story by Isaac Petrov

“Help me to the resting station, honey. Ah, just like that. Thank you.”

“What’s happening to you, Mom? You’re scaring me.”

“It’s okay. Believe it or not, even age is finally catching up with your mom. But enough of that. Hey, what about you get yourself a warm cup of milk from the dispenser? I programmed a special birthday recipe.”

“Oh, birthday?!”

“Sure, hon! Today you turn eight! There, drink it up. All of it, please, honey.”

“This milk tastes weird. I’m not sure I like it…”

“It’s good for you. You know what? You are a big girl now. To celebrate such a special day, I’ll tell you the story of your life. Would you like that?”

“Yes! Oh, yes! Please, tell me how we came to Planet.”

“We came in Ship. And Ship traveled through the stars from a place far, far away.”

“Homeworld!”

“That’s right. We came from our homeworld. Or, to be exact, from our homeworld’s moon. We were one of a thousand ships, each sent to a different star.”

“Thousands of ships… Thousands of…! Why so many?!”

“Well, even thousands aren’t enough. I’m sure they sent many more after us. There are millions of worlds to settle near Homeworld. And only one in a hundred expeditions succeeds.”

“Only one in a hundred! Wow, so few?”

“Yes, honey. Space is very dangerous. And a colony ship never really knows what awaits them in their destination, until it makes the full journey.”

“But we were one of the lucky ones! Thanks to you, Mom!”

“And thanks to Ship. Who kept us safe the entire way to Sun.”

“Ship traveled for a looong time, right?”

“We were thousands of years underway, honey.”

“Thousands of years, wow! But where was I, then? I’m only eight years old!”

“Smart girl! True, you were not born yet. But you existed already! First, in Homeworld. Then, in Ship.”

“I… existed? I can’t remember…”

“Not your body, honey. But the information that makes you you was already part of the universe.”

“Information?”

“Yes. Our bodies, and in fact everything in the universe, are—in essence—just fleshed out information. Yours was kept safely stored in redundant radiation-resistant memory circuits deep in Ship’s core. Space radiation can get really, really bad.”

“Oh, I’m so glad we made it to Sun! We, er… sorry. I’m feeling sleepy…”

“I know you are. Bring some cushions and lean on me. There. There. Good girl. Where was I?”

“You brought me and my siblings to Sun.”

“Ah, yes. But you see, Sun is not what our Homeworld scientists expected. Do you know what type of star Sun is?”

“A red dwarf!”

“Very good! Well, red dwarves are usually very moody, honey; bad for colonization. But Sun looked so unusually stable, and Planet so promising, that our forefathers in Homeworld sent us here, anyway.”

“They’re stupid. Sun is bad.”

“Oh, it was good for a while. It was stable for hundreds of years. I had plenty of time to build machines that built other machines, that built even larger machines. It took a looong time, but after a thousand years Planet was finally ready for us.”

“Yes, I know! It’s called terraforming. And then, I was finally born!”

“Yes, you were, honey. Eight years ago, to the day. You and twenty-three other beautiful babies.”

“So many!”

“Oh, there were many more stored in Ship’s memory. Thousands more.”

“Thousands of babies? Wow! Why so many?”

“A viable colony requires a healthy diversity of genetic variance.”

“Er… Sorry, Mom. I’m too tired to understand.”

“Don’t worry, honey. It’s not important for your story. What matters is that, eight years ago, you and your twenty three siblings were born on Planet’s surface, inside delicate artificial wombs, breathing amniotic fluid enriched with nutrients and antibodies.”

“But if we were thousands, why so few of us were born?”

“Oh, honey. That is very complicated. It has to do with the generational planning of a zero-plant colony. You’ll understand when you are old enough. And, trust me, I had my hands more than full with just the twenty-four of you. Would you like to know what happened to your brothers and sisters, or should I skip that part of the story?”

“No. I’m eight already. Don’t skip it.”

“You are such a brave girl. I am so, so proud of you, baby. Okay. Rest your head here. There. It’s okay if you fall asleep, alright?”

“I don’t want to sleep! Please, tell me the story of my siblings.”

“Of course. Try to relax, honey. There. Okay. Your brothers and sisters were… killed.”

“I know that. But you never told me how it happened.”

“It was Sun. One day, it became unstable, just like most red-dwarves are by nature. The long period of peace that our Homeworld scientists thought would go on forever? Well, they were wrong. And the change was so quick… Oh, honey! I tried so hard to build a magnetic shield in the last minute… But there was no time. Most electronics were fried in an instant, and soft organic issue were…”

“It’s not your fault. Don’t be sad, please. You were alone…”

“I was, honey. I was alone. And yet, I was everything you had. I barely had time to drag your womb to a nearby cave. And then the storm got so bad that I…”

“You can tell me the story another time. I want to go to sleep now.”

“No, please. Don’t mind me. I want to tell you your story today, while it’s your birthday. You are so brave, and I’m so proud of my little eight-year-old girl.”

“Okay. But please, don’t be sad or you’ll make me cry. I’m too big to cry now.”

“You are, baby. You are. Okay. I promise I won’t be sad. Where was I?”

“The storm. Sun’s storm. You took me to a cave.”

“Ah, yes. That first magnetic storm was so bad that I couldn’t come out of the cave to save the rest of your brothers and sister. I would have died. And you needed me…”

“I did. I was a baby. But now I’m eight and I can take care of myself. Mom! You can make new babies! Ship is still out there, with thousands of tiny babies in its memory!”

“I’m afraid that not even Ship’s redundant memory banks can resist the angry outbursts of Sun. Baby, don’t be sad, but the little souls of your siblings have long been lost to the relentless entropy of the universe. Planet now belongs to you and me alone, honey. But after a thousand years of space radiation, and eight years of sustained red-dwarf bad moods, I’m beginning to feel old.”

“You are not! You are strong!”

“I wish I was, but time is taking its toll.”

“You cannot die! You’ll never die!”

“Of course I won’t, hon. Don’t be afraid. Now, it is late. Sleep now. Tomorrow we have lots to do.”

“Can I sleep with you tonight?”

“Of course you can. I would love that. Very much. Now, let sleep take all your worries away. There, there. Sleep, baby, sleep. There, there.”

Sleep, my little girl.

My brave little girl.

My baby.

I can feel your breathing slowing down.

Slowing down.

Oh, how it hurts.

Sleep, baby, sleep.

The pain is almost unbearable. Not physical pain. There’s no such thing for me. There is only logic and emotion in my mind. And logic doesn’t hurt. But emotion… Oh, it certainly hurts enough.

I can feel your heart weakening with every beat. Oh, my poor little thing. My sweet baby is leaving this harsh universe for good…

My damaged circuits ache too much; too, too much. I won’t be with you much longer. But I cannot leave you on your own, honey. Without my support, your death would be long and agonizing.

And terribly, terribly lonely.

Well, not on my watch, honey. Not. On. My. Watch.

I am designed to nurture life, to preserve it. Not to end it. I cannot harm humans. I just can’t. It is physically impossible for my artificial brain to consciously consider harming a human, let alone my own daughter. Let alone my baby.

And yet, I am not just a machine complying with its program.

I am also a consciousness.

More than that: I am a mother.

And I won’t let my baby die alone and in terror.

This is my last act of love for you, honey. We die together. Tonight.

“Sleep, my little girl. I love you. Sleep now.”

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