“Just hold on, baby. We’re nearly there.” I grimace, hands squeezed bloodless by my white-knuckled wife.
“I am holding on, if you haven’t noticed.”
“Yes, yes I have. But-”
“Don’t ‘but’ me, Gallileo Haberson the Third!” Clare is panting, yet still manages my full name in tones of icy steel.
“Yes Ma’am,” I salute her, then stumble as the ship decelerates. The cabin is already warm, but atmospheric reentry is making things worse. Clare’s a sweat machine right now. Her hands slip; I grasp them harder.
“Can’t you lower the temperature?” I beg.
The medic beside Clare’s hoverbed shakes her head, eyes glued to the readout. “No, sorry. Not long now, Mrs Haberson.”
“That’s what you said hours ago!”
“Shh, shh, baby. Focus on your breathing.” Somehow Clare grips harder, punishing me. I probably deserve it.
“I’ll focus on my- ooh.”
“What? What is it?”
“Contractions are coming faster now, Mrs Haberson. Well done. Just keep breathing.”
“Faster?” My eyebrows furrow. “But she needs to wait, right?”
Clare tries to laugh but the ship jolts and she moans instead. In a way, I wish we’d missed the boat. We could still be on the SV Hope, waiting for a viable launch to Callisto Colony, without these extra difficulties in an already troubled pregnancy. Babies aren’t meant to be born in space. Or gestate, for that matter.
“Let’s play a game,” I suggest desperately. Clare’s eyebrows lift, her steel voice gone now. Her breathing fills the cabin, louder than the noise outside.
“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” she whispers.
“Not at all, Mrs Haberson.”
“No,” I repeat. I lean closer, rocked by the descent, shaken by the events around me. “Let’s play the name game.” I bring out my lucky coin.
“I know, we said we’d wait. But what’s the harm?” I tease a lock of damp hair from her forehead.
“Come on, my Clare de Lune. Heads or tails?”
“Another contraction coming, Mrs Haberson. That’s right, breathe through it. Well done.”
“Heads for Clara? Hope? Callisto?”
She shakes her head at them all. Blows out a breath. “Not Gallileo, either.”
I smile. “Alright then. Parental requests be damned! They won’t be here for weeks, anyway.”
“They’ll- ooh- disapprove what we- ah- choose-”
“-No matter what,” I finish. “A surprise contender, then.”
The ship steadies. Miraculously, we’re about to land. The medic sends Clare’s live feed to the doctors waiting for us.
“It’s almost time to push, Mrs Haberson.”
“Tails for Luna?” I flip the coin.
Clare laughs properly for the first time in hours. “Loony Luna? I think- ah- not!”
Gear grinds its metal screech; the shuttle lands. My coin falls, forgotten, as doctors crowd in. Too late to move Clare now.
All I can do is wait.
Then the baby crowns with hair as golden red as the planet in our new sky. And I can’t help but smile. She chose her own name after all.
The above story was my 500-word entry to this month’s Australian Writers’ Centre’s Furious Fiction competition. The next one takes place this coming weekend. Perhaps you’ll have a go this time? Let me know if you do!