Philia, Part 6

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.

Read Part 5 here.

Philia struggled to smile at her mother.

“She’s refusing to eat.” Mary’s eyes never left her daughter.

Paul nodded. “I’m sorry, but I’m shocked she was able to go this long without any complications.” He looked down at the child. “Longer, and filled with more laughter than I ever would have guessed. Three months of it.” He looked back up at Mary. “When was the last time she ate?”

“She ate a little bit yesterday morning, right before her checkup. Last night she refused, and then this morning, too.”

Paul looked away. He couldn’t hold her gaze. Not anymore. “I can give her a supplement, make sure her body’s getting nutrients, but I don’t think it will do much good. The body itself will start refusing any kind of intake soon.”

“Doctor.” Mary’s eyes had shifted from the baby to Paul. “You will do what you can for her.”

“Yes, I will. But I also want you to be realistic. We’re still a month out. I don’t think she’ll make it, even though she’s thrived so far.” He turned away, going to a storage locker to find and prepare a standard nutrient bag. “I’ve been reviewing what I could of the research that was done before the ban on children in space took effect. Once the symptoms start, they usually continue on quickly. She’ll refuse to eat, her body will stop actually processing any kind of nutrients, everything shuts down.” He paused and closed his eyes. Enough rehearsing of symptoms. “She’ll need to be on an IV for at least an hour. We’ll start her on that.”

“Have you found any needles that are… appropriate for her veins?”

“No. We weren’t supplied for children and I still haven’t been able to figure anything out. We’ll have to make do. She will cry. But it will be better for her to get some food than none at all.”

Mary tightened her lips and caressed her baby’s face once more. “All right, doctor. Do what you can.”

Mary held her, sang to her, rocked her, as Paul went about his tests and administered the IV. The doctor finished his pokings and proddings and let the IV run its course. At last he pulled out the needle and announced, “I’d like to see her in four hours. I’ll stop by then. Feed her if you can. Either way, I’ll take some more readings to find out how she’s doing.” With that, he left Mary’s cabin.

Mary paced the room a few times until Philia fell asleep. She placed the child onto the bed and lay down next to her. The little chest rose and fell so perfectly.

The chime at the door sounded.

Philia grumbled and flung one arm over her head, but remained sleeping. Mary stood slowly and tiptoed to the door. The panels opened to reveal James. “How is she doing?”

“Just fine. Does Paul tell you everything?”

“Mostly. It’s a professional courtesy.” And not much more, these days, James thought to himself. He noted the dark circles under Mary’s eyes. Right after the birth they’d been there, as Philia underwent every kind of testing the infirmary could handle. They’d faded as Philia developed as any healthy child should. Now, though, they were back, and darker than before. “May I come in?”

“As long as you whisper.” Mary stepped aside to allow James entry.

The pastor decided to take one of the chairs around Mary’s small round table. “Are you going to ask Grayven to take your shift tonight?”

“That wouldn’t be fair to her. She’s already picking up a lot of my slack since Philia was born.” Mary sat opposite him.

“Have you considered what you’ll be doing if Philia gets worse?”

Mary turned back to her daughter. She was still breathing well. “I’ve worried about it for a long time. I’m hoping last night was a fluke.”

James’ gentle voice brought reality. “And if it wasn’t?”

“I don’t know.” Mary’s voice shook.

James saw her again as he had that day.

If only he’d been faster. They’d stormed the ship as soon as they’d docked, of course. Grayven led one group, Beatrice another, and Trent had led his group. James remembered slapping one of the access panels on a door. They slid open to reveal the horror. He saw Mary. He saw the man on her. He froze.

He didn’t remember screaming, though Trent said he had to hit him to make him stop. He didn’t remember the others on his team shoving past him to recover the captain, though he was certainly glad they did. All he remembered was the sound of a gun firing in that enclosed space. The sound echoed in his ears still.

It was his fault that Mary had experienced that first pain then. He shouldn’t have done nothing when he saw what was happening. He should have acted faster. It was his fault that she would experience the pain of losing a child now. He had failed to protect this member of his flock. And though he tried, nothing seemed to ease that burden on his heart.

Mary’s gaze shifted suddenly to James. “Is it my fault?”

“What?”

“Was Paul right? Should I have terminated her before she could feel pain? Would it have been better?”

“Oh, Mary.” Stupid, James. So stupid. He was not the only one in this room with a weight of guilt. “Mary, you chose well. You brought Philia into the world in an act of thankful worship. You brought her new life when you requested baptism. No, you have no guilt in this. And even if you did,” James raised a finger, “Even if you did, you are forgiven, fully and freely. As far as the East is from the West. Philia’s illness isn’t a punishment for you. Or for her.”

Even as James announced forgiveness, he felt the net of guilt wrap around him even more. It was his fault Mary felt this way. It was his fault she had the opportunity to know that guilt.

His fault.

Read Part 7 here.

Read Part 8 here.

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13 thoughts on “Philia, Part 6

  1. I’m glad you started to go in the direction of what is happening to the child as a result of space travel. I was starting to feel a little like the story didn’t really have a strong Sci-Fi element. I mean, yes it took place in space and all, and there was plenty of Sci-Fi stuff around, but it didn’t have that essential element, in my mind, of the story really being about something that can only happen in a Sci-Fi setting. You know what I mean? A woman can be raped and get pregnant and struggle with whether or not to keep it and be swayed by friends and have the baby… all in a rural town in Minnesota. But a baby potentially dying of an illness brought on by FTL travel, now that can only happen in space. So, good. Glad to see this developing in that direction. I hope it continue to do so, while still retaining a lot of the themes you’re going for.

  2. Thanks, Brandon. Yeah, the scifi elements in this one are fairly light, but they are necessary — because of where the ship is, they know that the child has next to no chance to live, which does make it different from a Minnesota town. Otherwise, yeah. It could happen anywhere!

  3. Yeah, that was in there at the outset. But I like how you’re fleshing that out, making it a dilemma that is truly speculative in nature. Something about disconnecting it from reality a little makes it easier to face, and because it’s easier to face it’s also easier to see where I can relate to it and investigate my own reaction to the problem.

  4. Hm, disagree a bit. There are certainly other defects that can be prognosticated before birth, that practically guarantee a slow, painful death early in a child’s life.

    Thsere is a big difference though. This story removes the deadly circumstances from the baby’s own health (she was born healthy) and into a realm that affects everyone. Ought they eschew FTL travel? Well, no, because they’ll all starve to death before reaching Earth. But even still, what is saving them is killing the baby. I doubt this dilemma has ever been faced outside of speculative fiction. Great work, Luke.

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