Origin

By Ari Goelman

This is how I find out that I'm pregnant:

I wake up to find Carter standing next to my bed. The fire escape door is open behind him, so the rising sun silhouettes his body. A human silhouette, albeit a little crisper than it should be, as his body bends the light towards him, powering up. Always powering up.

"You're pregnant," he says. No particular emphasis on the words, which is as per usual, his voice being run through vocal cords that are not human, formed by lips that have blown hurricanes off course. It's not that he doesn't feel emotion, he tells me and anyone else who'll listen. It's just that he doesn't have the same biologically hardwired ways of showing it. Usually I believe him.

"What?" I rub my eyes, push up on one elbow. "That's not possible."

He leans over me, and touches my stomach. "I was flying by your apartment, thinking about you. I heard the heartbeat."

"You told me that was impossible," I say.

He frowns and asks, "I told you it was impossible for me to hear the . . ."

"Conceiving, Carter," I say. "You told me it was impossible for us to conceive."

"I thought it was. I was wrong." His frown deepens. "I could take care of it for you right now if you want."

I push Carter away from me and sit up. "For me, Carter?! You mean for us, right?"

"Right. That's what I meant." A pause, then. "You're freezing the bed, Margaret."

I glance down. Damn it. I've covered myself and the bed with a thin layer of ice. I take a deep breath and try to calm down before I do any permanent damage to my bed.

It strikes me that this whole thing smells of Dr. U. "Any idea where Dr. U is these days?" I say.

Carter shakes his head. "Ambrosius is reformed. This isn't one of his plots, Margaret. You—we—have to decide what we're going to do." He winces. "Shoot. Bank robbery in Chicago. I have to go."

He's gone before I can respond.

"I should never date other supers," I say, not for the first time. I put my hand on my stomach. Crap. I can barely keep a spider plant alive. There's no way I'm ready to be a mother.

I look back at the bed and wave my hand at it, heating the molecules surrounding it until the sheets are dry and warm. Then I call in sick to my norm-identity job at the advertising firm, and get back into bed. Of course I can't sleep.

After an hour of lying in bed, I get up and spend what's left of the morning surfing the Internet for information on pregnancy. My Battalion cell phone rings a few times, but I don't pick up. A few minutes before noon, I hear a tap on the window behind me and find Carter is hovering outside. "Come on in," I say.

A blur as he detours through the fire escape door in my bedroom and into my apartment. I know. It's weird—he lets himself in while I'm asleep, but if I'm awake, he'll always wait until I invite him in.

He runs his hands through his hair. "Why weren't you answering the phone?"

I roll my eyes. If he wants, Carter can fly faster than the signal on a phone. "What, did the bank robbery in Chicago hold you up?"

"It's a tough conversation. I thought it might be easier for you to have it from a distance."

"Easier for me?" I briefly consider incinerating Carter's costume. I'm pretty sure I could keep the heat contained, but if I'm wrong I'll end up having to evacuate the building and pay the fire damages. Again. Still, I'm thinking it might be worth the risk.

"Margaret . . ."

"You told me it was impossible."

"It is. I mean I thought it was. All the dimensions I've been through. I mean, for crying out loud, we're different species."

"You're telling me."

Carter frowns, but for once doesn't launch into his "Humanity is a matter of action" speech. "Neither of us want it," he says. "Right? I could take care of it right now." He looks at my stomach, and before I think about what I'm doing, I've thrown a wall of green ice between us, green being the color that stops Carter's nebulon rays.

My hardwood floors groan with the weight of the ice, not to mention the stress of having all the moisture sucked out of them. If Carter was anyone else he'd be shivering, as all the ambient heat in the room flows into me.

Instead he looks at me in that way. Even now, his eyes make me catch my breath. No iris, no pupil, just blue. As best I remember biology class, there's no way he should be able to see. Still, when Carter looks at you, you feel him look. I wonder if our child will get his eyes.

And that—that moment—is when I realize that I'm going to have the baby. Whatever Carter thinks, I'm going to have the baby. The thought makes me feel nauseous. Like my body is just catching up with the situation.

"You're not thinking of keeping it?" he says. Typical Carter. He can hear the faintest heartbeat of an embryo, but a wall of green ice and he still has only the vaguest hint of my emotional state. He doesn't stay to hear my answer. A blur of motion, and he's gone. Which I'm tempted to say is also typical Carter. But it's not. Usually when we have an argument, he'll ignore anything short of a full scale alien invasion—and I don't just mean a few aliens, but the whole fleet/superpowered honor guard/mad empress deal. This time, though, he leaves me alone with the melting ice. But not really alone, I guess. I touch my stomach.

A few minutes later, I call Angie—my favorite teammate in the Battalion—to find out who delivers babies for people like us. She gives me the number, and I call and make an appointment for the following day. I don't say much to Angie, but she shows up on my fire escape a few minutes later with some Chinese takeout and a lot of chocolate.

The next morning I again wake up to find Carter standing over me. "Hi," I say.

"Hey." He sits on the edge of the bed, takes my hand between his. "You know. I've been giving the whole baby thing a lot of thought." He pauses, and for a moment I am flooded by affection for him. Then, he keeps talking. "It's not responsible of us. We risk our lives every day. What if we die?"

I roll away from him, pulling my hand from his. I stare at the wall, but that's no better. There's a framed picture of me and Carter kissing—the cover from last year's Valentine's Day issue of People. I close my eyes before responding. "Norms die all the time, Carter. They still have babies."

"I mean. Sure, I'd like to have a child," Carter says. Something in the way he's talking makes me think he's practiced this speech several times before trying it on me. "But it's selfish. What if one of my enemies—one of our enemies—tries to hurt us through the child?"

The thought makes me bolt upright in the bed, fists clenched. I feel myself absorbing heat, and I take a deep breath and release it. "If anyone tried that, we would kill them. I would kill them. And then I would incinerate their ashes. And then I would incinerate their ashes' ashes. . . ."

"Exactly," Carter says. "So what does that say—we don't kill mass murderers in Sudan—those people we leave to the international justice system—but we destroy anyone who threatens our child? Where's the morality there?"

He shakes his head. "The truth is we're not ready for this."

"You're not ready."

"And you are?"

"I don't know." I swing my legs out of bed and stand up. "I just don't know if I'll ever be more ready. I don't think you can plan these things out."

"Of course you can. The ability to put off childbirth . . ."

"Enough, Carter." It's not that I can't think of arguments. It's just that they don't matter. I want Carter to want the baby as much as me and he doesn't.

I walk away from Carter, go into the bathroom to wash up. When I leave the bathroom, Carter is gone. I sigh and call for a Battalion transporter. Looks like I'll be going to the doctor by myself.

The doctor's office is on the top floor of a midtown skyscraper. There's an entrance from the roof, a clear sign that he's used to dealing with supers, and the exam room is the nicest room I've ever seen in a doctor's office. It's about twice the size of my apartment's bedroom, and has a spotless white leather couch facing a huge flat screen television. The only sign of the room's purpose is an examination table off to one side.

The doctor comes in a few minutes later. He's tall, with salt and pepper hair and an even, expensive-looking grin. "Ice and Fire," he says, extending his hand. "I'm Dr. Frank. Let me say what a big fan I am. You can be confident that I am fully qualified to deal with your particular—"

A baritone voice interrupts him. "Please, Doctor. All due respect, but you're not qualified to take the lady's temperature, let alone deliver her baby."

Dr. Frank looks at something behind me, and his eyes widen. His mouth works but no sound comes out.

"Now, Margaret," the voice says to me. "Hear me out. Please. That's all I ask."

I don't have to look to know what's behind me. Sure enough, when I turn around, I find that a shimmering green portal has appeared a few inches from the wall, and there, outlined in the bright green light, is Dr. Ambrosius Urbinski. Dr. U. As though I wasn't already having a crappy day.

He looks the same as usual—white linen suit, shoulder-length red hair. Bushy red eyebrows obscuring his beady little eyes.

Judging by the portal, he's got his damn E-Machine up and running again. He steps through the portal into the exam room, holding a stethoscope towards me like a peace offering.

"Give me one reason not to fry you, Ambrosius. And give it before you take another step towards me."

He freezes in mid-step, which I have to admit I like. "I'm here to help you, Margaret. You need a doctor."

I look at Dr. Frank, who has backed up until his back is against the door to the exam room.

"Seriously," Dr. U chuckles. Not his usual evil laugh, but just a normal chuckle. It creeps me out to hear it coming from him. "I mean a real doctor." He waves his hand at Dr. Frank. "Please. We need some privacy." Dr. Frank turns and lunges through the door, almost tripping himself in his desperation to get out of the room.

Dr. U steps closer, takes my hand, and puts the stethoscope on my wrist. "How are you feeling?"

I jerk my hand out of his grip, and set the soles of his loafers on fire.

He grimaces and does a little two-step. "Please. Think of what the fumes will do to your embryo." I hold my breath, but don't put out the fire. "Margaret. I'm reformed. The president forgave my crimes. Why can't you?"

I just glare.

He holds up his hands palms out, wide-eyed with sincerity. Or as wide-eyed as that squinty little bastard could ever get. "Look. I don't blame you for not trusting me. I know I've hurt your feelings in the past."

"Ambrosius, you didn't hurt my feelings. You . . . you. Shit. Where do I start? You built a robot imitation of me to try to turn Carter against me. You tried brainwashing me into believing I had lost my powers. You animated the freaking Statue of Liberty and had her trash my apartm—"

"Margaret," he interrupts. "Holding onto your anger doesn't help anyone, including yourself. Trust me—I've learned the hard way. Forgiveness is the only path to recovery."

"Recovery."

"I'm a recovering supervillain. I forgive you and I want you to forgive me. I want us to move on."

"And I want you to get the hell away from me before I fry you like a frigging French fry," I say. Part of what's creeping me out is how convincing he is. I think he genuinely believes what he's saying.

"Hmm. About frying me. Or anyone else. Has anyone told you how using your powers will affect your embryo?"

I don't say anything and he says, "Even if they did, it doesn't much matter. Because no one knows but ME!" He roars with evil laughter, then quickly sobers, looking embarrassed. "Sorry. Um. Old reflex. What I meant to say was look—" He snaps his fingers, and a screen appears in the air next to him. There's a picture of a smiling pregnant woman with blue and red arrows surrounding her.

"Cold is fine, but unusual heat anywhere near your body is another story." The woman on the screen puts her hands to her cheeks and looks distressed. "The reverse entropy mechanism through which your bodily tissues produce heat may be extremely harmful to the embryo's replication, a problem which will be exacerbated by the elevated blood pressure that—"

"No extreme heat," I say. "I get it." Speaking of heat, his clothes must be coated with some kind of fire retardant, because it's taken me a few seconds to get them smoldering, too.

He edges back towards the E-portal. "All right. I'm going. But just think about it. We both know I'm the smartest man in the world. And even if you don't believe I've turned a new leaf—you know I don't break my word."

I'm about to let him cower back to his secret fortress. I think about how mad Carter will be when he finds out that Dr. U approached me. I think about how much angrier he'd be if I said yes.

"Screw it," I say. I cool off Dr. U's shoes. "Say it all, Ambrosius, and you have a deal."

It's true, by the way. Dr. U never breaks his word. That's how Carter used to stop his plots. They were usually too complicated for us to understand, let alone undo. Instead, Carter would just find Dr. U and dangle him upside down until Dr. U promised to undo whatever his latest scheme was and go to jail. Don't ask me why Carter never made him promise to stay in jail. The two of them have that classic "old friends/college roommates turned archenemies" dynamic. Not-so-submerged homoerotic if you ask me.

Dr. U puts his hand over his heart, like a six-year-old saying the Pledge of Allegiance. "I swear that I'll do no harm through action or inaction to you or your embryo or Carter."

"And no cloning my tissue or the embryo's tissue without my permission."

He hesitates. "Okay. Fair enough. No cloning. But you promise to leave me alone. No more setting my clothes on fire to make a point."

Now it's my turn to hesitate. I know he won't break his word, but I still feel like I'm missing something. "Okay. But the deal lasts until I say it does, and I can break it at any time."

"Five minutes' warning," he says. "Give me a chance to get away."

"Two minutes." I put out my hand.

He takes it. "Deal. You won't be sorry."

I'm already sorry. Still, I have to admit, after we shake, it's just like any other doctor's appointment. Well, like any other doctor's appointment that takes place in another doctor's commandeered office. He takes my pulse, and my blood pressure. Then he puts the stethoscope on my stomach. I start to ask him if he hears anything, and he shushes me. Then shakes his head. "Nothing. Don't worry. You're probably still a few weeks away from a heartbeat."

"Carter already heard one."

"No he didn't." Dr. U shakes his head wearily. "I published an article in Nature two years ago that made it crystal clear that Carter's whole super hearing/super vision thing is crap. It's clairvoyance, plain and simple. But psychic powers are too effeminate for your boyfriend's brand. No wonder he used to get so mad when I tested his abilities."

"Like when you blew up your dorm room when he was asleep?"

Dr. U pulls out a vial for a urine sample and hands it to me. "I feel really bad about that. You can tell Carter that."

The whole appointment is like that. Dr. U talking about how guilty he feels about everything. By the end of it, I almost miss the unreformed Dr. U. At least he wasn't so stinking boring.

A few days later a small chrome box shows up in my mailbox. I press a button and it projects a small hologram of what looks like a fish. A slip of paper emerges from one side of the box. "Embryo week 6, magnified 100 times. Test results all looking good. Drink a lot of fluids. Step away from the projection device (not yet patented). —U." I step away from the projection device and it dissolves into green flames.

And that's how it goes. I see Dr. U every few weeks. I take a leave of absence from the Battalion so I won't be tempted to use my powers. Of course, this also means I don't have to see Carter every day. I hear about him on the news, of course, although he's taking a pretty low profile, too. Early in my second trimester he makes a brief appearance to destroy an asteroid headed towards the Earth.

A few weeks later, Angie is over for dinner, and tells me that no one in the Battalion has seen Carter since the asteroid incident.

"Any idea where he might be?" she asks.

I hesitate. I swore never to tell anyone about his hideaway on the moon. I'm mad at Carter, but a secret's a secret.

Before I can decide, Angie says, "I've already checked his little moon fort." Angie sees my surprise and rolls her eyes. "Puh-leeze. You thought you were the first girl Mr. Perfect took to the moon? The Huntress spent a month there with Carter when you were still in grade school. Anyway, check this out." She has to squirm to get her Battalion cell phone out of the tight leather pants she's wearing. Angie is wearing what passes for her street clothes: black leather pants and a matching tank top, cut to allow a hint of cleavage in the front, and a wide range of motion for her wings in the back.

She shows me the screen. "Tell me this isn't weird even for Carter."

The pictures aren't great, but I get a sense that the whole place—previously a sort of super-charged bachelor pad, all big-screen televisions, hologram projectors, and trophies from various super battles—has been totally destroyed.

"What is that?" I say. "What's the blue stuff everywhere?" I'm thinking it's an alien species of some kind, but I can't get a good look on the little cell phone screen.

"Weird, eh?" Angela says. "The whole place is covered—floor, ceiling, walls. It's like being inside a blueberry."

"But what is it?"

Angela shrugs and slips the cell phone back in her pocket. "The big brains don't have any idea. It could be an alien symbiote, could be an interdimensional extrusion." She eyes me. "It could be a plot by your new doctor friend."

I shrug, then turn back to my dinner. I'm almost as hungry as Angie these days. Flying takes lots of calories, but so does pregnancy. I talk around a mouthful of barbeque chicken. "Thing is, Ambrosius couldn't resist bragging about it if it was him. Trust me. He talks so much, it's a wonder he had time to be a supervillain."

Angie leans back in her chair, resting her hands on her stomach, which I can't help but notice is about one quarter the size of mine. "I'd be happier if Carter were around, that's all."

"You and me both," I say. Figures. Like the pregnancy wasn't bad enough, I have to worry about Carter now, too.

Aside from that, the second trimester is better than the first. The morning sickness goes away, and I get my energy back. For the first time since I've had my norm-identity job, I even go a few weeks without missing any work.

Near the end of the second trimester I'm meeting Dr. U in a small house in Westchester for a regular checkup. It's a cold day for June—which is wonderful after sweltering in the city heat for days. We're sitting in the backyard with a hologram of the fetus floating in the air beneath the elm tree where I'm sitting. I have to admit it makes me a little teary. The fetus looks like a baby now. The body is finally the right size for the head, and you can see the fingers and toes and even traces of its tiny fingernails.

Dr. U is muttering measurements—either to himself or to a recorder—as he moves the sonogram tool over my distended belly. "Note to self—BPD of 73 millimeters, femoral leg length of 53. Note to self—fetal proportions appear to tend towards Earth norm rather than PM. Note to self—in modifying PM sperm's genetic footprint, I may have moved too far towards human norm. In follow-up experiment—"

"What?" I say. "What did you just say?"

He freezes, and I know.

"PM stands for Power Man. You did this, didn't you?" I say. "You somehow instigated this pregnancy."

His squint becomes so pronounced his bushy eyebrows entirely obscure his beady little eyes. "Now, Margaret. Let's not get into a blame game. Anyway, how could I be responsible for your pregnancy?"

"Huh." I force myself to smile. There are some tricks that never get old. In some ways Dr. U is pretty stupid. "You're right. It's impossible. There's no way to knock up a girl—especially a superheroine—without touching her."

"Exactly. It would be absolutely impossible." He tries to keep his mouth shut, but he just can't resist. "Or at least it would seem so. Of course, for someone as smart as me, it was trivial. I just inserted some modified sperm into your Carter's testes when I last had him in my power. This was before my recovery, of course."

"Whose sperm?" I'm almost afraid to ask. The thought of carrying Dr. U's baby literally sickens me.

"His own. It would have to be his own or his body would reject it." He flushes a little. "As it happened, I—um—had harvested his seed previously."

"You 'harvested' Carter's 'seed'? You were gay!" I say. "I knew it. I knew it. Angie and I—"

"Are completely wrong," Dr. U blushes a little darker. "Not that I wasn't open to experimenting, but God forbid Carter touch another man. Have you ever seen him as much as hug a male friend? Him and Captain Planet and their handshakes." He shrugs. "I took the tissue out of the garbage when we were roommates."

"You swore no cloning." I hope he did break his word. It would be such a pleasure to freeze him where he stands. Just a few degrees of cold can incapacitate almost any norm.

"I haven't cloned a thing since we made our agreement," Dr. U says primly. Averting his eyes, he mutters, "Our agreement said nothing about using the embryo's excess stem cells to help create a new class of killer robots that can regenerate and recombine with one another at will. A man has a right to his hobbies."

"What have you done with Carter?"

"What?! Nothing!" Dr. U says. "I've been looking for him for months to ask his forgiveness. I figured he was ignoring me." I stare at him and he meets my eyes. Still, he only promised that Carter would be safe from him, he didn't say anything about capturing him or stealing his memory or any of the rest of his usual crap.

"Okay," I say. "You have two minutes. Run."

"Why? I'm telling you I haven't touched Carter. And haven't I been a great doctor?"

"One hundred seconds," I say. "I'd run if I were you."

Dr. U just stands there. "Margaret, you're being really unfair." He glances down at his wrist communicator, and touches a few buttons. One of them activates a force field. "You're also making it really hard for me to maintain a caring and empathetic doctor/patient relationship."

I glance at my watch. "Seventy seconds."

"Margaret. I hear that you're feeling angry."

I nod. "Sixty seconds."

Dr. U swallows. He touches another switch on his wrist, and an E-portal appears behind him. He doesn't turn, though. Instead he closes his eyes and hums. Then, eyes still closed, he says, "I don't have to fight. I have everything I need to be happy already inside me." He hums again.

"Thirty seconds."

His eyes snap open. "Fine." He spins and climbs through the E-portal, muttering. "It's not evil if it's self-defense." The E-portal dwindles and disappears.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath and wait. In about five minutes I hear the distant whirring sounds I'm expecting. Without opening my eyes, I feel the little centers of heat approaching as Dr. U's robot fleet flies closer to me. I suck the heat of the engines right through the pathetic little heat shields that Dr. U has inserted around them. I'm careful not to let the heat come too close to me, funneling it right back towards the robots, melting their propellers away. I hear the far-off thuds as the robots hit the ground a few blocks away. A few seconds later, I hear the whirring resume.

I sigh and open my eyes in time to see about a hundred robots streaming over the horizon, no doubt using some secondary energy source that doesn't generate heat. Usually at this point, I would throw up a few walls of flame and ice to slow them down. Instead I focus on taking deep breaths, relaxing and looking vulnerable. As pregnant as I am, it's not hard.

In past encounters, I've been too busy destroying them to appreciate Dr. U's handiwork, but this time I just watch them approach. I have to admit it—his robots are beautiful. They are sleek and multicolored—silver and gold inlay shining from the green and gold siding. It's as though a fleet of luxury sports cars have sprouted weapons and learned to fly.

The robots are just a few dozen yards away, when a killer breeze seems to move through them, leaving a debris of robot limbs and hands in its wake. When it settles, Carter is standing there, giving me an angry look. "Why would you call off the truce now?" he says. "It was totally irresponsible, when you can't even fight."

Another robot approaches him from behind and without turning, Carter backhands it, breaking it into dozens of titanium pieces. Behind him, I watch all the pieces from the shattered robots begin to recombine.

"How else was I going to flush you out?" I say. "Where the hell have you been? And what happened to your moon fort?"

Carter looks blank.

"The blue stuff?" I prompt him.

"Child proofing," he says like it should have been obvious. "That place was all hard corners."

Once the robot is complete it brings its hands together and points at Carter. Carter casually uses his silver cape to deflect the energy beam the robot shoots at him. "I want you to know," Carter says, "that I still have a lot of doubts."

He casts a quick glance behind him and sighs as another nine giant robots fly over the horizon. He looks more tired than I've ever seen him.

"Where have you been?" I say again, this time a little softer.

"Working," he says. "Almost forty million babies have been born since we found out we were pregnant. I was protecting them. Trying to protect them."

The nine robots combine with the first one to make a staggeringly immense robot, the size of a medium-rise apartment building. Its face bears an eerie resemblance to Dr. U.

"Carter, that's impossible." I say. "Even for you."

He rubs his eyes. "I know," he says. "I know. Do you know that 3 out of every 1,000 infants die in the crib? No one knows why. It just happens."

"You can reduce the probability by half if you sleep them on their back." Dr. U's voice booms from the robot's mouth. The robot lurches towards us. "And, by the way, I view this as self-defense. Margaret's attitude was posing a real threat to my recovery process."

Carter catches the robot's giant foot as it approaches us. He flexes and—though this should be impossible given Carter's mass relative to the robot—the robot flies upwards further than I can see. "The point is," Carter says, "there's nothing you can do about it. It just happens. Likewise autism, allergy to wasp stings. Whatever. Even a flu can be deadly to an infant.

"Do you know—200 major banks have been robbed since I stopped caring about crime? Several large insurance companies are suing me for negligence. Our pregnancy has single-handedly sparked the largest run on banks since the 1930s."

"Our pregnancy?" I say. "Did I see you puking every morning for three months? Did I even see you anywhere nearby?"

Carter starts to answer, then glances up. His eyes widen. A few seconds later, I see the robot approaching. Very fast. "Damn it," Carter says. "I hope the fetus is okay with loud noises." He leaps into the air straight towards the robot. They collide, and it's like someone has struck a giant bell right next to my ear.

It turns out that the fetus is most emphatically not okay with loud noises. It feels like it's trying to kick its way out of my uterus, as it flails around in response to the still echoing sound of the collision. "Shh," I say, stroking my stomach. "It's okay. It's okay." I take a deep breath. "Don't . . . get . . . mad," I say to myself. The effort of not going supernova is giving me a headache. "Shh." I say again, as much to myself as to the fetus.

Carter lands a few feet away. "Are you okay?" he says.

"No . . . more . . . loud . . . noises," I say.

"Right," Carter says. "Sorry." He glances up. "Uh-oh."

The robot has split into hundreds of pieces. All of which are headed straight for us, moving very quickly. "Carter, why didn't you just tell me where you were?"

"Look," Carter says. "Forty million babies. I . . ." His voice tapers off. "I'm really sorry. No excuse."

He moves too fast for me to see, but I can feel the friction of his body moving through the air as he shreds the robots. As fast as he shreds them, though, they recombine into other forms, working their way closer and closer to me. And the baby.

I sigh. Do I have to do every stinking thing in this pregnancy? Fine. I drop the temperature around us to as close to absolute zero as possible. Then I expand the bubble of coldness until it covers every robot, while still creating little bubbles of warmth for the trees, squirrel and sparrows that happen to be within that sphere.

It makes my head hurt more, but at these temperatures the robots can't recombine fast enough. Carter is still moving too fast for me to see, but in a few seconds it's over. When he slows, he's shredded the robots into a kind of silvery dust except for a few frozen fragments—the base of a head here, a gauntlet there.

Carter grinds his heel on one of the fragments, and then looks at me full on. Oh, that gaze, I think. "I won't be able to protect her," he tells me. "Not totally and completely. Things will happen to her that I can't control."

One of the robot's speakers is still working, although Dr. U's voice sounds a little tinnier than it did. "Welcome to fatherhood," he says. "Good lu—"

I pull some of the leftover friction heat into the speaker, and hear the satisfying pop of nano-transistors overheating and breaking as the speaker falls silent.

Carter sits down next to me. It always surprises me how small he is. When he stops moving, Carter is just a few inches taller than me, and no broader than an athletic norm. "She will get hurt, and I won't be able to help."

Her, I think, but I don't say anything. After a second he tries to put his arm around me. After another second, I let him.


Ari Goelman lives in Vancouver with his wife, their toddler and the rain. He has recently published stories in Talebones and Fantasy Magazine, among other venues. "Origin" marks his second appearance in Strange Horizons. His first Strange Horizons story, "Private Detective Molly," can be found in our archives, and is also available in podcast format on Escape Pod.