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Mother Pilgrim

Kelso is a genre writer, illustrator, editor, and journalist. His work has been translated into French and he is the winner of the Ginger Nuts of Horror Novel of the Year 2016 (for Unger House Radicals). "The Black Dog Eats the City" made Weird Fiction Reviews Best of 2014 list. "Shrapnel Apartments'"was endorsed by Dennis Cooper on his blog: "4 Books I read and Loved."
A foreign body has infiltrated one of the pods in the cargo hold.
My Margarets, my beautiful babies, are in danger. A screen flickers into life, and my oversized heart bumps against my exoskeleton: Margaret S's faceplate is sitting crooked. There's something beneath her oxygen mask, something squirming around inside the cracked O of her mouth. Noise like a stridulating cricket. This is the disease that will warp my children. This will be my fault.
All day long I scythed through the gravel bed of stars in a jagged cliff of metal called The Hieronymus Bosch.
In the cargo hold, I carried my newborns frozen in cryogenic twilight. My Margarets had to be suspended in pods of amniotic fluid for twenty days after birth, until their blood and tissue re-fused properly. Birthing them had been no small feat. I felt the pangs of prolonged labor even now. That said, I enjoyed the fullness of hard, noble toil.
Looking at the dry placental blood mortared across my palms, the complex process of creation came shrieking back at me. Both my states--godly and human--remained in hypostatic union. The Insects dubbed me the Motherlord of Genocide, an intergalactic serial killer. Such an inaccurate summation of my principles.
I will tell you the truth: I loved each of my brand-new children equally, even though I spotted better adaptive features in some of them. My little darlings, I would support them all. To seek motherhood is to accept forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. My many hearts, that is. Those that beat steadily and those that stumble.
Manning The Hieronymus Bosch was not the solitary existence you might expect. My computers chattered all the time, monitoring the brood's progress.
"Margaret A's mesoderm has formed into muscle." Scroll of data appeared in mid-air while the Medical Entity's deep contralto crooned, "She has achieved thalamic brain connections."
All the onboard Artificial Entities chimed in: Congratulations!
I wiped a tear of condensation from the lid of Margaret A's capsule. Such expressive features.
There is nothing insect-like about this one, said the Cultural Entity. Vast approval from the other computers.
The moment we land on our planet of destination, I'll begin to age, and I will eventually die, but I'll be glad to disappear knowing I got my babies to a safe place, where the Insects can't reach them.
We are 490 light-years away from exoplanet Kepler-5e, the Navigation Entity announced.
It is, by all accounts, perfect for the family to prosper said the Exobiological Entity. Liquid surface water and a strong plasma environment at high altitude...
Fresh, breathable air, too. Sustaining life there would be the easy part. Just the thought of my Margarets finally being able to survive without faceplates set my heart aquiver.
I'd spent a long time pregnant--ten thousand years in fact. I am a patient being, resilient. I waited decades before I could see the first sonographic image of my brood because of my ballooning mat/pat body (you try staying slim with that many fetuses growing inside you).
In their newest form, my infants were perfect. I had to cut them with blades, mold and rearrange the flesh until my knuckles were swollen knots of bone, but we got there, together we got there. Each Margaret was unique, and the adults would be specimens with their own individuality. It was our last chance to get it right. I would be judged on this mission's success.
Meanwhile the Insects raced in pursuit. You see, I was their creator, too, but they had since renounced me. My rebellious progeny knew I intended to build a harmonious society, in which each creature would find itself where it ought to be, just in the right place. Through their multifaceted eyes, they saw me as an anomaly. It turned out I would be the only unharmonious being in a world of equals.
The ship's biopropellant engines buzzed like dragonflies. The Insects. I couldn't forget them, no matter how hard I tried. Once you create something, it's impossible to destroy it for good. You tether yourself to your creation. I had tethered myself to eternal darkness, cannibalistic impulses, twitching antennae, ichor, and honey. Each with a fixed purpose, each similar to the rest of its cohort. I recalled the Insects' elegance. If we didn't make it to Kepler-5e then, there would be beauty even in mutual betrayal.
The infection has spread from Margaret S to all the other pods. Maybe my Margarets and I will get to our destination, alive yet cursed, them a batch of tainted creatures, me a useless husk laced with shame. No, it can't be. I'll fight.
Instructions? cry my computers.
Battle hormones flood my system. In my head flashes explode like snakes lashing out. Kill the bugs. Kill them all. I won't undo my little ones, though, won't open the capsules to their rotting death. But maybe I should. Unleashing a spoiled litter over the nurturing world would turn my mission into treason. Should I live to see the little monsters multiply and seek out their ancestors to consume them with acid shot through with sweetness? Kill the bugs. Or accept a cloying death like going to sleep in a bed of molasses, spreading myriads of eggs with tiny claws that will cling and pierce skin and bones to deliver waves of caressing insectile chromosomes.
My onboard Entities recite the Book of Abstractions: Mother cherishes all her...
Squash these little buds of love gone to waste or embrace their six-limbed perfection, and learn to slay my enemies in a different, augmented, regimented way.
I extend my hand, seize Margaret S's capsule, take in the baby's warped beauty, and cry.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Gio and I have written a few stories together now and thought it'd be interesting to put a New Weird spin on the theme of motherhood and altruistic filicide. What we ended up with is a kind of Freudian nightmare in space about infection.

- Chris Kelso and Gio Clairval

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