Stella pressed her hand flat against the screen and waited, feeling the hum of the computer and hearing the cheerful beep as it opened the door. She stepped through, pausing while it closed behind her, and then crossed the room. Bending down, she pressed her thumb to a tiny spot in the floor. Another door dropped open beside her, and she stepped onto a ladder, climbing down into darkness. When she stepped off the ladder, the door above her closed and a soft light illuminated the room.
She dropped into a chair in front of a computer, rapidly typed several keys on the keyboard, and waited. For a moment the computer hummed. Then with a flicker the screen came on, showing her Jacob’s face, his brow furrowed with concentration.
“Jacob?” she asked. Instantly his face broke into a smile, and he reached forward, adjusting the controls and glancing directly into the camera.
“Hey baby. Are you ready to go?”
Her heart twisted. “I don’t know. Are… are you sure about this?”
She could see the determination in his face as he glanced out the window of his spacepod and then back at her. “Yes. Are you coming with me?”
Her mind raced over the things he’d told her about the new planet he’d found. A planet completely different from theirs. A planet without all the comforts and achievements of her planet, yet with—
“They have babies there, Stella.”
He was grinning. “Babies. I saw them. They’re so cute. Tiny little humans, yet they can smile and kick and laugh. They need to be held and fed, but you should see how they are treated. Special. Treasured. Everybody loves them.”
“Oh, Jacob…” She tried picturing what he had described, what she had found in her research, but she couldn’t. “Baby” here was a term for a pretty woman. Yet when she’d found that once upon a time, all people began as helpless, tiny things called “babies”… she’d been enchanted. It had been hard finding information. Anything about the past, the things that had been “improved,” was hard to access. No one wanted to talk about the way it was before.
Babies were a nuisance, she’d discovered. A terrible burden, requiring constant care and a lot of money. Care and money that could be better spent elsewhere. And so a way had been discovered to create humans without the problems of children. Do we need another doctor? Simply clone the best doctor on the planet – create another individual with all his talents and skills, yet a younger one, who can learn more, and advance civilization to a greater place. It was perfect. No wasted time coddling babies, teaching children, training youth in careers. They simply began life as twenty-something clones, already able to function and work and contribute to society.
Something in Stella had been disappointed when she discovered that. Babies had sounded so cute, so fun. She had heard the downfalls – the pain, the effort – yet it seemed there were other things that made those worth it. The thought of holding a baby filled her with a sense of excitement and fulfillment that she’d never found here. And now Jacob was saying that he had found babies.
“Come with me, Stella.” He watched her face intently on his computer screen. “I’ll be there in an hour. Don’t bring anything. Just meet me at the pad. I’m landing long enough to pick you up and then taking off. The Chief doesn’t know I’m coming back – I haven’t filed a report in a week – but he’ll see me when I land. We won’t have much time. And they won’t want us to leave.”
“What if they stop us?”
“They won’t.” His voice was steel. “We’re leaving, and this time I’m not coming back. I’ve found a place that’s better. A place where things aren’t run by computers, where everything isn’t driven by perfection. You’ll understand when you see it. It’s about more than babies, Stella. It’s about you and me. Our love. What we know of love compared to what these people do is nothing. You gotta see it. And you gotta meet this incredible Being that holds it all together. It’s amazing. Are you ready?”
She looked across the room at the small white backpack she’d packed when Jacob had first told her his outlandish scheme. “Yes. I’ll see you at the pad.”
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