April 30, 2394
Hannah – better known to her friends and clients as Wide Open Hannah – locked the door to her living box and waddled down the dim, narrow hall to the exit, her distended midsection leading the way. In the final month of pregnancy, Hannah should have been irritable and tired. She was, but much more was a deep sense of satisfaction that erased all negative emotions. This was a happy day, for her and for all the Earth. Today, Hannah was to give birth, and a grateful society was to reward her with a huge payment totaling more than a year’s wages.
Since the beginning of planetary emigration over a hundred years earlier, Earth’s population had been decreasing; dropping by four billion in the century from 2270 to 2370. It had plummeted even faster in the past two decades, when Martian bombardment of Earth with guided asteroids had killed 480 million and scared another two billion into moving to other solar systems. Hannah constantly heard on the netly news that – any day now – vast amounts of land would be made available to all remaining citizens. Perfect looking newscasters with perfect looking teeth and perfectly glistening hair proclaimed in their deep, perfect voices from the holos that despite the scars and craters that now peppered the planet, Earth was still the best place in the galaxy.
Hannah didn’t have a very informed opinion on the state of the planet, but she had a very clear idea about the condition of Boston. It was hole. Having the only operating spaceport on the east coast of North America, Boston was a city state with a population of twelve million, most of whom came to work a year to earn citizenship and the right to use the spaceport and emigrate off planet.
They were all fools, Hannah thought as she descended the cracked concrete steps of the compartments and walked up the warm, worn sidewalk to the bus stop. She didn’t know what awaited those who emigrated to other planets, but it seemed like too much work. Sure, she had only a small three by four meter compartment to call home. And there was always the threat of muggers and ripists. But she spent most of her time at work, in large compartments or even houses, without a care in the world. It was a wonderful time to be alive! To be able to take care of herself and have the government take care of her was too good to pass up. And with that new agency, NATech, making everything all better, well, emigrating off planet was just stupid.
The bus pulled up to the stop while Hannah was still fifty meters away, so she began running, careful not to strain her bulging stomach. The baby was due any time today, and Hannah wasn’t going to take chances. She’d cut back on the drugs four months earlier and was only drinking at night now. She cared too much for the unborn child, and what it represented.
She mounted the steps and sat down, grateful there was still a seat. The door closed and the bus, floating on a pocket of antigravity, moved off silently toward downtown Boston, where Hannah’s parental competency hearing awaited her.
“Hearing PC940430-H183; Parental Competency Hearing of Hannah…” the court clerk’s monotone voice broke off and he double-checked the glowing tabinal that displayed Hannah’s entire life, reduced to filled-in boxes, letter selections and terse notes written in too small spaces. He frowned and looked over at Hannah, who shook her head slightly. The clerk shrugged and continued speaking. “The hearing of Hannah, no last name, this thirtieth day of April, the year 2394.” He sat down and opened Hannah’s electronic file for editing. Hannah, used to the process, stood up and faced the judge.
The judge – a woman younger than Hannah – looked down at Hannah with hard green eyes. Her face struggled to hide her thoughts, but to Hannah it was clear the hearing was already over and judgment had been passed.
“Miss Hannah,” the judge began, “you realize the seriousness of this hearing?”
“Uh-huh,” Hannah replied. “Can we hurry it up? I’m due at the birthing hotel in two hours and I want to get a quick beer. It makes it easier during labor if I’m a little out of it.” Hannah laughed a short, conspiratorial chuckle, winking at the judge. “You know what labor can be like, right? Anything to make it easier.”
“Miss Hannah!” the judge snapped at her. “I find your remarks reprehensible! Any further such comments and not only will I refuse you custody of your own baby, I will hold you in contempt of court! Do I make myself clear?”
“No, you don’t. What do you mean, your Honor?” Hannah asked. “I was just tellin’ it like it is. You want me to lie?”
The judge blanched, horrified at her attitude. She raised her gavel, ready to pass judgment, but laid it down again, having not heard the evidence. Visibly restraining herself, the judge took a deep breath.
“Please read the city state’s evidence,” she requested flatly.
The clerk rose and began decoding the check marks and selected options of Hannah’s life into normal speech. It was a long and bleak reading, containing reports of numerous arrests for unlicensed prostitution, repeated treatments for sniff overdoses and physical abuse of children, all of which had been removed from her custody. Not even the steady, unemotional sound of the clerk’s reading could alter the stark nature of a wasted life. He finished and sat down.
The judge blinked and opened her mouth, but could not speak. New to the bench, she was only now learning that the difference between the privileged few, the struggling many, and the hardened dregs was immeasurable. She looked with cold eyes at Hannah. The woman stood there, a faint smile on her lips. In that moment, the judge wished she had on not her judge’s robe but instead an executioner’s hood, such was her hatred of this woman’s abuse of the system.
“Is the record correct, Miss Hannah?” the judge said, forcing herself to remain professionally detached.
“Yeah,” Hannah nodded after a moment’s consideration. “Only the part about usin’ sniff is wrong. I stopped using it after New Year’s Eve, and switched over to all booze to get my trips. I didn’t wanna miscarriage.”
“A miscarriage,” the judge numbly repeated. “So why didn’t you stop drinking as well? Weren’t you aware that alcohol adversely effects the health of the child?”
“Sure,” Hannah said, offended at the judge’s assumption she was stupid. “But I know about that.” She peered at the judge. “How many kids you got, judge?”
“I hardly see where…”
“Just a couple, I guess. Maybe none. I’ve had a bunch. Booze will make ’em smaller. Easier to deliver.” She moaned and put a hand to her stomach. “Ouch. Guess we better hurry up. So, can I keep it, judge?” She laughed. “Or do you want it and save yourself the trouble of gettin’ knocked up?”
This time the judge could not restrain herself. The gavel came down hard.
“Miss Hannah, it is the judgment of this court that you are unfit to be a parent. You are further found to be in contempt of this same court. You will be taken to the prison infirmary to deliver the child. You will then be remanded to the Bostonian Prison Institute to serve a term of two weeks for contempt. The child is to be turned over to Child Services until placed in a loving home.”
“One last push,” the nurse told her. Despite the pain, Hannah still had a small piece of her mind focused on how stupid the nurse was.
“Now!” the midwife assisting the nurse barked.
Hannah pushed and the baby was born. She heaved a sigh of relief. While the nurse tended to Hannah, the midwife cleaned and bundled the baby. A compassionate woman, she offered the crying infant to Hannah.
“It’s a boy,” the midwife said cheerfully, hoping to strike a chord in the mother. “Would you like to hold him?”
“Sorry,” Hannah said, “but I can’t. Judge says he’s not mine anymore. I’ll take the bonus, though. I already gave the prison my cred account number. I’ll pick the money up when I get out of prison.” She leaned back and stared up at the lights contentedly. The prison infirmary was so much nicer than a birthing hotel. And free, too. “I got me two weeks of relaxation and good food!”
The midwife recoiled at the woman’s callousness. She clutched the bundle to her, now glad to be able to refuse her the child. She turned away but Hannah called after her.
“Wait a sec,” Hannah said. “I still get to name him! That’s my right as bio mom.”
The nurse interjected angrily. “Why do you want to name him? He’s only going to be renamed. You’ll never see him again. At least,” she added with a viscous satisfaction, “I hope not.”
“Makes no dif to me,” Hannah shrugged. “I just know I got my rights. I get paid for giving birth – fourteen months pay – and I get to name the kid legally. No matter what they change it to, he’ll always know who his real ma was.”
“And what did you want to name him?” the midwife asked, still with her back to Hannah and wishing she could run as far away from this woman as possible.
“Same as I called my other eleven. His name’s Hannah,” Hannah replied with a big grin, already thinking ahead to her next dose of sniff. “Middle name’s Twelve.”
Copyright ©1999 by Peter Prellwitz All Rights Reserved.