QSFer R.R. Angell has a new gay sci fi short out: In The Space of Nine Lives.
A pilot on an interstellar colony ship has a conflict between choice and destiny.
Originally published in Asimov’s SF magazine, this story is about a boy and his boyfriend on an interstellar colony ship and how love can shape the direction of a life and a civilization. ebook and print.
“Pilot?” Tom called as he ran.
Past the galley, the door to Pilot’s sim chamber was open. Tom ducked inside, feeling the empty chamber pushing him gently away. He was too happy to care, full of energy and good news. He raced around the habitat, calling out for Pilot.
Pilot was in his quarters, sitting quietly on his bed. Widget, partially wrapped in a towel, lay beside him.
“She’s dead, Tom,” Pilot said. “I’m sorry.”
“How?” Tom stared. Her fur looked dull and flat against her bones. He didn’t want to touch her.
“It was her time. I’ve been here with her all afternoon.”
Pilot pulled him close, stroked his hair. The warm strength of Pilot soothed him.
This embrace, familiar and comforting, was so different from Mark’s electric touch.
Tom touched the lifeless body, and pulled back as emotions tumbled through him. He wouldn’t cry.
“Little one,” Pilot said, cradling Tom’s head against his shoulder. They hadn’t hugged like this in over a year. At fifteen, Tom was bigger, lanky, and almost as tall as Pilot. His thoughts turned to Mark, and he pulled away.
“You were calling me?” Pilot said. “Are you all right? What did you want?”
“Mark and I,” he began, then shook his head, suddenly private.
Tom wanted to say that he and Mark had camped out in the field last night. Their thick blanket pressed down the tall grasses, making a kind of room. The stars had shown like sparks winking around the brilliant moon. They had run naked to the pond, chasing each other, swimming in moonlit shallows. The silvered water caressed and held them together. A meteor shower had splashed across the sky.
He was in love, but Pilot already knew. So he said nothing.
Pilot folded the towel over Widget’s body and stood. “Come,” he said. “We have work to do.”
Tom followed him out and up the access tube to the hub. Floating down the corridor, Tom glanced at the disposal unit with its smashed button, and hurried himself along ahead of Pilot. Before, only Pilot could open the Con door. Now the door opened as Tom approached, swinging toward him in welcome.
He eagerly strapped himself into the copilot’s station, taking in the colorful holographic displays showing the visual status of the ion fountain drive, and a view of the unmoving stars. For a long time he stared, looking for the slightest movement out there, until Pilot interrupted.
“This is the Crèche, Tom, the artificial womb. Today, we select a new cat.” He pointed to the diagram on the console. “This is where you operate the egg-retrieval unit. Go ahead. You do it.”
Tom moved his chair to the console and grasped the controls. The Crèche helped him guide the calipers across an array of frozen ampoules. He hesitated.
“How do I choose?”
“You just do,” Pilot said. “This is your choice to make.”
Tom guided the unit up and to the right, and found a cluster of missing ampoules there. No, he thought, somewhere else, somewhere new. Tom selected a vial from the lower left quadrant and slipped it into the injector. The system took over and released him.
“Very good. This egg will grow into our new Widget. She will be born then,” Pilot said, indicating a new tick on the timeline above them.
“Will this be the old Widget?”
“She’ll look the same, have the same genes, and will pretty much act the same. But, she’s entirely her own, new self. She’ll prefer you to me.”
“You know what she’s gonna do and how long she’s gonna live?”
“Of course. I’ve known four Widgets in my life,” Pilot said. “Uninterrupted, they live for fourteen years.” Pilot frowned.
“And I can tell you that the Crèche isn’t just for making kittens.” Pilot paused. “There’s something special you get to do, but that’s a long way away.”
“What? Tell me.”
“When you turn thirty, you’ll get to select the next little one. Like I selected you.” Pilot watched the stars for a while. “Of course, if you don’t, the ship will probably do something on its own.”
R R Angell is a queer writer (pronouns he/him) and a graduate of the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. His work has appeared in Asimov’s, Interzone, Compelling Science Fiction, Gargoyle, Chelsea Station, and The Baltimore Review, among others, and many anthologies including “Sex & Chocolate,” “Best Date Ever: True Stories That Celebrate Gay Relationships,” and “Stress City.” His work has been translated into French and Chinese. His queer science fiction novel will be published in mid 2019. More at rrangell.com