Artist's_Conception_of_Space_Station_Freedom_-_GPN-2003-00092

Childhood in Zero-G

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“Three years ago today, the first–and as far as I know, the only–zero-g birth occurred, right here on Marseille 6. It was… a little more difficult than anticipated. Eh Rick?” There was scattered laughter among the guests, and some smiling glances at the man who had performed the delivery–and fainted the second it was over. He grinned and raised his champagne bulb. It hadn’t been a particularly dangerous birth, but it was unexpected and a bit messier than anyone could have planned for.

“Since then, we’ve had the best three years we could imagine. So, thank you all for coming together today to celebrate our little girl.”

“Give us a toast, Tom!” someone shouted.

“All right. A toast to… Sofia! Come here, flying squirrel!”

A little girl launched herself from the other side of the room, spinning and dodging guests like a fish. They laughed and attempted to move out of the way, their movements suddenly appearing awkward next to her native grace. She flipped one last time and came to rest in her father’s arms, nearly launching him. “Is it cake time?” she shouted.

He grinned at her. “Yep!”

“Cake time! I want to pass it out!”

She kicked off his chest and raced around the room, pushing off walls and guests and delivering packets with contagious eagerness. At last she came to hers, to find a tiny candle taped to the straw. There was some murmuring among the crowd, but the father smiled and waved them off. “Relax, we’ll just light it for a second.”

The party continued well after Sofia’s mother chased her to bed. The station doctor had brewed up a batch of “bathtub shine” and causes for celebration were rare out here. But person by person the party dissolved until it was just Rick and Tom, sipping the last of the moonshine.

Rick broke the silence. “The New Caledonia is shipping out tomorrow.”

Tom nodded. “Yeah, Sofia’s pretty excited to see the launch. I told her was going to be boring, but kids think everything is great.”

“I’m going to be on it.”

Tom sighed and nodded again. “I figured you might be. We’re gonna miss you out here, buddy.”

“Have you ever thought about taking the little one back home?”

Tom smiled this time, but there was a little sadness in it. “This is home now,” he said, looking away. “Sofia has never felt gravity. Alice says it doesn’t matter how much she exercises; she’ll have to stay in zero-g her whole life.”

“Alice said that? C’mon, man, she can fix a leg and put together a good bathtub brew, but she doesn’t know everything.”

Tom shrugged. “It’s happened before. Remember the Russians from the first Jupiter trip? Picture that, but worse. She doesn’t have enough bone to hold her up.”

Rick whistled. “So you and Karen, what are you going to do? Stay out here forever? How many zero-g stations are there?”

Tom drank the last of his whiskey. “There are four, but it doesn’t matter. If you want to get to them in less than five years, that means major acceleration. And that means…” He took a sip.

Rick nodded. “Gravity.”

Tom clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about us, man. In a few years they’ll expand the station, more people will come… this could be a metropolis by the time you think about visiting again.”

They both smiled because they both knew it was ridiculous. “But no kids,” Rick said softly.

Tom shook his head. “No. But kids have grown up in adult environments in the past. She’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.”

They drifted in silence for awhile.

“I better go, Tom.”

“See you, Rick. Come get some coffee before the Caledonia leaves.”

And they went their separate ways.

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