“News from Space Station Daius-Beta: Update on ‘The Children'” by Bruce McAllister

Twelve standard years ago today, a woman on Level 27, undergoing fertility treatments and showing no sign of psi ability herself, gave birth to a rare set of triplet empaths, two girls and one boy, all with high psi-reliability ratings. As the result of complications in the pregnancy beyond the resources of our station, the mother died giving birth. The father refused custody of the infants, citing “single-parent accommodation stress” and “psi aggravation” laws, and no other family members stepped forward. Given the station’s infant surplus, adoption by non-family station citizens was not likely.

Guided by research conducted centuries ago on surrogate-mothering among Terran mammals, and on the physiological and emotional benefits of such surrogacy to the surrogate mothers, the Station’s physicians moved the infants from our station’s central hospital to our spacious zoo on Level Fifteen, placing them with the zoo’s one Terran tiger, an artificially inseminated female that had just lost its own litter of five. Suckled by the tigress, with supplements provided by zoo staff, the human infants did well, overcoming their initial “failure to thrive” even as the tigress overcame her own clinical depression, the consequence of her progeny’s loss.

The empathic triplet’s adoption of their new mother’s predatory behavior in the carefully designed “wildness” environment of the zoo kept them from human socialization, but the children did well when left alone with their mother’s instruction on how to hunt the small Terran and comparable game that were placed in their new environment. “The empathic bond between children and mother was helpful, too,” chief zoo administrator Marli Pantalou reports. Before long the exhibit, which zoo officials called simply “The Children,” became the most visited zoo attraction. Tragically, one female child, Lara, was lost seven years ago to a mature kelio—a large, tusked, rodent-like creature from Hogun II known to those of you who enjoy small-game hunting in our station’s hunting preserve on Level 74—but the other two children have survived and will, if they can be tranquilized without unreasonable risk, be re-evaluated when they reach adolescence, which will be this week.

Bruce McAllister‘s short SFF has over the years appeared in the SFF field’s magazines and “year’s best” volumes and been short-listed for the Hugo, Nebula and other awards. His most recent novel is The Village Sang to the Sea: A Memoir of Magic.

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