“Grandmother’s Prerogative” by Beth Cato

We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. In this week’s story, we see that it’s always a grandparent’s job to worry about the impact of technology on the next generation.

Please enjoy our Feature Story: “Grandmother’s Prerogative” by Beth Cato:


As a young woman, Masako had vowed to never again leave the confines of Earth’s atmosphere. No extraterrestrial garden could cultivate her beloved roses as they grew on Earth, fragrant of perfume and musty soil.

In forty-five years she had never been tempted to break her vow–not until her first grandchild was born on Terra Station. Now she stood on a satellite circling that blue-green orb of home. The station smelled sterile, chemical. Revolting.

“Hello, Mother.” Eva greeted her at the door. She leaned forward, their shoulders just touching, and then stepped away from the embrace.

Masako winced. Eva had always been aloof, and it always hurt. The girl requested the Terra Station Academy at age 12 and had scarcely stepped foot on soil since.

Masako hadn’t told Eva–hadn’t had the chance–but she was willing to move to Terra Station to be closer to them. Maybe things would be different now with a baby involved.

“It’s so good to see you, Eva.”

“Please, come in.” Eva’s head tilted to the side in the telltale gesture of someone telepathically talking via their Inset. Masako ground her teeth together. Their first time together in a decade, and Eva couldn’t grant her undivided attention for one minute. Some things didn’t change.

Masako looked around the cramped space. Modular furniture attached to the walls or folded into the floor. “It’s a bit small,” she said.

“Larger than the majority of berths on board since I’m an officer.”

Eva always had to rub that in, but Masako had no shame of being enlisted back in the day. Besides, old squabbles had low priority now.

“Where’s that baby?”

“Through here, Mother.”

This room was even more cramped, occupied by a wall-attached crib on one side and a bed on the other. “That’s your bed,” said Eva, but Masako didn’t care. Her focus was on the crib.

Behind sleek silver bars, a swaddled lump lay very still. Masako squealed slightly as she looked down on Simon for the first time. A hooded yellow blanket cocooned him, revealing only his chubby-cheeked face.

“Can I…” Masako asked breathlessly. Eva nodded permission, her gaze distant.

Masako scooped up her grandson and cuddled him against her shoulder. He emitted a slight sleepy whimper.

“What’s his doctor said?” Masako asked.

“He’s…” Eva tilted her head again, probably responding to someone else in her mind. “He’s fine.”

“No repercussions from artificial gravity? What about a lack of vitamin D?”

“Mother.” Eva gave her a look. “He’s fine. He’s in a Napset. I’m tracking everything.”

“A Napset?” she echoed.

“Here.” Eva sidled to the wall. She tapped a panel and a screen turned on. “I don’t think they’re sold on Earth yet. See? The Napset diaper records a constant stream of data on his temperature, heartbeat, activity, metabolic rate, and bowel movements, etcetera. The liner absorbs urine–”

“You’re telling me you don’t have to change diapers?” Masako gaped at Eva.

“No. Of course I have to change his diaper daily.”

“Daily!” Masako had actually looked forward to changing diapers–to being useful. It’s as if her grandmotherly presence had been rendered obsolete.

Maybe she wasn’t needed here after all.

“Here on station, water and trash are constant concerns. The Napset uses the same absorption tech we wear when working on the hull.”

Masako stared at the readings on the screen. A new line appeared: “SIMON has been held for…” followed by a timer. The Napset recognized their accumulated temperatures.

“What about feeding?” Masako asked. “You confused me over the comm. You said you weren’t breastfeeding, but aren’t using formula, either?”

“Oh. That. Remember when you were burned and they used patch-tech on you?” She shifted to a small shelf where a pitcher sat within a device reminiscent of an old coffee maker.

Masako nodded. She had tripped in the kitchen and cooked her forearm along with pork steak. In a lab, doctors had reproduced swaths of her own skin to sheathe the injury.

Eva continued, “This is an advanced variation. It recreates the DNA signature of my milk with an additive–” Her brow furrowed. “Damn.”

“What?”

“Crisis at the dock. I need to run. I can drop him at the child center on the way or–”

Masako stepped back and bumped against the wall. “Don’t even think of taking this baby away from me!”

Eva smiled tightly. “Well, the Napset will keep me informed. I’ll be back soon.” She whirled on her heel and left.

“Well!” Masako huffed as she sat on the edge of the bed. “I don’t need some machine telling me how to take care of a baby.” Or did she, considering how Eva turned out? No, that wasn’t fair. Eva had always fixated on computers; now with the Inset, her brain was a computer.

Masako stroked Simon’s cheek. His lashes flickered open. Wide, black pupils stared at her.

“Look at you,” Masako cooed.

She pushed back the fuzzy yellow hood. She smiled at the black wisps across his scalp, then saw the slight bulge behind his right ear. An Inset chip. Masako stilled.

Of course. How would Eva know how to relate to her child unless they shared a network? The Inset wouldn’t be turned on yet, but it was there, already establishing itself in his neural pathways.

Masako looked away from the screen and its streaming, superfluous data. Her decision was made. “I will be here with you, every day. Not some robot nanny. You’ll talk to your mommy in her language.” She tapped her temple. “But I’ll talk to you like this.”

Simon’s face crinkled in a smile. The computer emitted a soft tone, and Masako smelled something foul, just for a second.

“I’m trading all the roses on Earth for you, no matter how you smell.” She glanced at the Napset and laughed. “But that fancy diaper may not be so bad after all.”


Beth Cato’s stories can be found in Nature, Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, and many other publications. She’s originally from Hanford, California, but now resides in Arizona with her husband and son. Her fiction, poetry, and tasty cookie recipes can be found on her website.


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