Maiden’s Egg

(Short story by Lance Erlick)

The decision to run an all-female crew and passenger list on the generation voyage to planet Genrad-26B4 had been acrimonious. At least that’s what I find in the ship’s historical records. Corporate bosses and government officials who wanted a part of this great adventure fought against gender restrictions that kept them off Eve’s Retreat, our home these past two centuries. In the end, when you’re footing the bill, as CEO Rene Clement had done, you can bend the rules.

After scientists confirmed that Genrad-26B4 showed conditions similar to primitive Earth down to a breathable atmosphere, Clement wasted no time in building a generation ship and assembling the right mix of crew and passengers. She felt it important that the community be harmonious since they and their descendants would be together during the two century trip, and then on the planet creating a new civilization. She envisioned a world without the poverty and war that plagued Earth.

She contended her experience as a bio-genetic entrepreneur made her uniquely qualified to guide this mission. She also believed the fertility process she helped to create, which allows two women to have children without the need for a man, provided a unique opportunity. Take skin cells from one woman, trick them into becoming stem cells, and then implant half of that DNA into another woman’s egg. It was a complex, but straightforward process, one her company had performed millions of times.

Rene Clement took every care to fine tune the makeup of her crew and passengers. She believed an all-female population would provide two benefits to a new colony. First, if all the women were fertile, her fertility clinic, where I worked, would allow them to maximize offspring, with the greatest genetic diversity given our fixed population of one thousand.

She had a less subtle reason for an all-female ship. Just before scientists confirmed Genrad-26B4, she had caught her husband of ten years having an affair with another woman. To make matters worse, that other woman was her sister, and it had been going on behind Rene’s back for ten years. There was no way she would have a man on her ship.

Despite the betrayal, the divorce had been acrimonious. She wanted to move on. He tried to squeeze every cent he could from her before he went away. He did go away—heart attack in bed with Rene’s sister. Well, there was some justice in the universe.

Rene Clement believed an all-female ship would eliminate gender conflict and make a more harmonious trip. Those who signed on, including my great-great-great-grandmother, agreed to abide by Captain Clement’s rules, which would accrue to any offspring, including me.

Despite the contract, some of those who signed onto this voyage had expressed their doubts, and had been “released.” I had few complaints about the arrangement. I hadn’t known another world than this ship and so I didn’t know what I might be missing. I guessed that had been part of the insight and wisdom of then CEO Rene Clement, and now our Captain in her sixth bio-regeneration, something that only works for her.

For generations, our fertility process worked as expected. Now, as we approach planet Genrad-26B4, it’s my job to bring the bad news to one who doesn’t accept negatives. Our DNA, and more specifically the telomeres that control our DNA, has deteriorated generation by generation.

We have finally reached our destination, but we will be the last generation, except for Captain Clement, who can live on, alone.