한국문학번역원 로고

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  1. Lines
  2. Fiction

현남 오빠에게

  • Kim Seong Joong,Cho Nam-ju,Choi Eunyoung,Kim E-seol,Choi Jeonghwa,Son Bo Mi,Gu Byeong-mo
  • 다산책방
  • 2017

Kim Seong Joong

Kim Seong Joong’s short story “Give Me My Chair Back” won the JoongAng New Writer’s Award in 2008. She has since published a number of short story collections, including Comedian, Border Market, Isla, and Eddy or Ashley, and her short story “Martian Child” was included in the short story collection, Dear Hyunnam Oppa. She also received the Munhakdongne Young Writers’ Award three years in a row in 2010, 2011, and 2012, followed by the Hyundae Munhak Literary Award in 2018 and the Kim Yong-ik Literary Award in 2021.

I was the only survivor of the twelve lab animals sent to Mars.

We were launched into the future, frozen at -270° C in liquid helium.

While my shipmates changed course for the afterlife as they dreamt, I continued to faithfully send my healthy vital signs back to Earth. My duty was hibernating inside this pulseless, frozen body. And as I crossed the solar system, Mars metamorphized into red bugs, red clothes, red clouds, as it danced about in my subconscious. I was a bowl made of ice; only my dreams remained animated. Multiple centuries passed like a long nap.

I was discovered lying downby only myself.

I could feel the slow pulse of a planet that was matching my heartbeat.

How long had I been like this? When had the spaceship arrived? Was I alive? Or was this the afterlife and not Mars?

As questions filled my head, my brain commanded me to close my eyes and open them again. But nothing changed. I probably wasn’t hallucinating. I squeezed my eyelids once more then peeled them apart. Centuries of time screamed out between my eyelids. I made eye contact with the spaceship’s black pupil. I could still remember the shrinking image of Earth outside the circular observation window.

Memories crossed the vast expanse of time, docking with me in the present. Soggy feed and fresh fruit. Sweet meat dripping with juice. We were the pride and jewel of our research center. I was given the royal treatment leading up to the day of the launch, like a sacrificial lamb being fattened up for the gods. We were clones, the result of years of experiments that killed countless lab animals in the name of science. We were humanity’s dream.

And humanity was our dream. My language, my intelligence, my thought patterns, my longing for homeeverything about me seemed “human.” But were these things, was my longing for home, the result of natural processes? Or was it only something that had been transplanted inside me like a chip? I was born in a lab; I did not know what kind of organism I truly was.

I received tests and training all the way until the day of the launch. I never got to properly say goodbye to Earth. All I remembered of my last days on that blue planet were but a few snapshot images: people waving their hands at me; powerful vibrations at launch; the pressure on my chest and ears; the heat of the engine, which was so intense that we thought the ship had caught fire; cables floating in space.

Men drenched in conceit.



Ants slowly circling the observation window.

If everything went according to plan, this wouldn’t be Earth.

If everything went according to plan, this would be somewhere on Mars.

If everything truly went according to plan, this would be the future. After all, the clock was set to five hundred years in the future.

I turned, and a harness constricted my body. I forgot they had tied me up to protect me from the impacts of takeoff and landing.

My instincts kicked in. I had been trained on how to free fall, how to move in zero gravity, how to take care of my excrement in space, how to find the button and release my harness.

Button. Where was that button?

Before I could even finish this thought, my fingers found what they were looking for.

Just because I was awake didn’t mean I was completely on. I had released my harness, but I didn’t have the courage to get up. My body wouldn’t be as awake as my mind was. Something might have been damaged in the process of being frozen and thawed; it was possible my nerves might never come back to life. The low gravity could have weakened the valves of my heart, and my vision might not be as good as it used to be. I needed to move slowly and carefully, like a fish just thawed in early spring. I inspected each body part one at a time. After all, I was the only one who could conduct this process.

Right arm. Check.

Left arm. Check.

Two legs and two knees. Check.

My sense of vision, hearing, and touch were coming back to me.

It was now time for me to lift my body and get out of this capsule. And yet, despite knowing what I had to do, I just continued to stare up at the ceiling of the spaceship.


Bark, bark, bark, bark.

Bark, bark.


I could hear a dog. The barking lasted too long to be a hallucination. The dog was barking clearly and in rhythm. It also sounded like only one dog. Was there an open hatch on the ship somewhere? I realized I couldn’t lay here any longer; I had to get up and check the ship. When I stood up, my vision went dark from the sudden drop in blood pressure. But I was an expert in surviving in the dark.

I breathed in and visualized the pain spreading throughout my body. As soon as I pictured the synapses and neurons reviving, the black cloud began to lift.

When I opened my eyes, there was a Siberian husky in front of me wagging its tail.


The dog casually opened its mouth and spoke. It talked in a foreign language that I didn’t understand. When I didn’t respond, it barked once, then switched to English. “Welcome. My name is Laika.” Her English had a thick Russian accent.


I pointed to the closed hatch behind Laika but was unable to continue speaking. I couldn’t tell which was more surprising: that a dog was talking to me, or that it had opened and closed the hatch on its own.

“You want to know how I got in here?” Laika asked, reading my mind. “There’s not a door in the entire universe I can’t open.”

Later, I learned Laika could pass through walls. And not just walls. She could pass through entire planets and stars. Not even gravity affected her. Laika was dead. When I asked her what happened, she said it was a long story. But she did tell me about the moment she was reborn and what happened after that.

“When the spaceship blew up, my body disintegrated and fell to Earth like a spritz of consecrated holy water. I’ve been wandering the cosmos ever since. But damn. Once I was dead, I realized there was no god, no heaven, nowhere for me to go.”

Something about Laika seemed familiar. An image appearing on a monitor. I knew Laika. She was one of us, the first lab animal sent to space. On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched her into space with the Sputnik 2, making her the first living creature to leave Earth.

“I was born three centuries after that,” I said. “That makes me your successor.”

“Where are you from?”

“I was made in the US. I launched from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.”

“I’ve seen many Americans before. I think it was when I passed the wrecked spaceship around Venus. I saw an old, white-haired astronaut at the window. He was licking the walls like a crazy person. When I asked why he was doing that, he said it was because he was afraid of the moon. This to me seemed ridiculous for someone floating in space to say. He said that he’d heard people would go crazy if they went to the moon. And then just as he arrived on the moon, POP! The engineer exploded, but the machine he was operating was perfectly fine!”

“What a fascinating story.”


Silence fell between us for a moment. It was the talkative dog who broke the silence.

“These all seem related. A crazy astronaut, a test animal that wanders the cosmic afterlife in death, and a frozen mammal resurrected in the future.”

I realized the last one was referring to me. I crouched down, looked Laika in the eye.

“Tell me, Laika. Am I a machine?”


“Then do I look like a human?”

“Well, you talk like a human. You walk on two legs. But you’re not one hundred percent Homo sapiens.”

“Am I dead? I mean, you’re dead, not to be rude. So does the fact that we’re talking like this mean I’m dead, too?”

“I’m not sure what you’re trying to say.”

“Where are we? Is this space? The afterlife?”

Laika stared into my confused eyes. If she were human, she would have shaken her head. But instead, she did the equivalent in dog mannerisms by turning in place twice.

“It seems like by asking where we are you’re asking who we are.”

Laika elongated her body as if she were stretching. She preoccupied herself to give me time to dwell on the profound nature of what she had just said. It took a while, but eventually I came to realize that Laika was similar to a theater actor in many ways. She was a dog with a strong ego. In fact, she seemed high on her own ego sometimes. Perhaps it was because she had wandered alone through space for such a long time, just like me. I didn’t know how to react to what she said, as though I’d just heard a bad joke.

“Do you want to see my pet fleas?” Laika said, suddenly changing the subject.

Laika showed her back to me. At first, I didn’t see them, but Laika directed me to each of her pets one by oneon the back of her neck, on her right front leg, three fingers left from the center of her back, and on top of her tail. The fleas were able to jump and stay in the air for a long time, probably because the gravity on Mars was less than on Earth. Each of the four fleas had been given the name of a former astronaut: Collins, Irwin, Schweickart, and Aldrin.

“You used to be a pet yourself,” I said to Laika. “And now look at you. Raising your own pets.”

“Do you know what the two conditions of a good lab animal are?” Laika put the fleas back in her fur, where they started sucking on her blood. “They need to be intelligent and healthy, and they can’t have a master. I ran away from home to wander the streets of Moscow. I considered myself lucky when I was taken into the lab and fed until my belly burst. But the next thing I knew, a million wires were hooked up to my body and I was being sent into space. Damn, it was just like that David Bowie song, ‘Space Oddity!’ You know rock and roll, don’t you?”

Laika started humming as she crinkled her eyes. I didn’t know rock and roll; I didn’t know what this had to do with raising fleas; and who the hell was David Bowie? And yet I nodded anyway. It was weird; I was accepting everything without any resistance, as though I were in a dream. A ghost with fleas for pets? Where did she get the fleas anyway? Had they been on Laika when she disintegrated in the atmosphere? Did they turn into cosmic particles and re-form into fleas so that they could suck on her nonexistent blood?

“We don’t know where here is. We believe we’re on Mars, but we don’t know which dimension this Mars belongs to. Don’t think about it too much.”

Laika stared lazily at the dancing fleas.




It was now Laika’s turn to ask questions. She wanted to know the latest news from Earth. Unfortunately, the latest news I had was several centuries old, but that was more than enough to shock her.

Laika hadn’t known that the lab where she’d come from was gone, and that all the scientists who’d launched her into space were dead. In fact, all the animal rights activists of the world who used to protest unethical experiments on animals had also died off. And Laika’s friend, Albina, who had been chosen alongside her but eventually failed the last test, had also died. And so had the Soviet Union.

“The Soviet Union is gone?”

Laika looked like an exile who’d just learned she was the last of her kind. She’d been homesick. The astronauts of the Cold War era had waged a proxy war, and as a result, Laika had been sent to space. Laika at one time had been a symbol of Soviet triumph.

“There were even stamps with my face on them

Laika looked dispiritedwhich was ironic because she was nothing but spirit.

To lighten the mood, I asked Laika how she got all the way to Mars from the moon.

“It was easy once I died. I just walked here on four legs. The moon was crawling with astronauts, both alive and dead. There was no peace or quiet. When I first arrived on Mars, it was a perfect hideaway, not one footprint on its surface. And then it occurred to me that I might be in purgatory, stuck somewhere between heaven and hell.”

“Purgatory? What’s that?”

“Don’t tell me you haven’t read Dante.”

Laika stuck out her long tongue and clicked it in a disapproving manner.

This Siberian husky, whose head barely reached my kneecap, was unbelievably smart and snarky. And the way she liked to show off her mental acuity by acting surprised by other people’s ignorance was an act of great arrogance.

“Well, you’re the strangest animal I’ve ever seen,” Laika said. “You may not be human, but you’re just as dumb. Oh, excuse me.” But the look on Laika’s face hardly looked sorry. Laika’s facial expressions were as plentiful as her vocabulary, and I was getting sick of it.

“But how can you stand this stench?” Laika suddenly became serious as she started sniffing the air. She then began growling in the direction of the capsules with eleven corpses.

“You need to have consideration for my canine nature. My sense of smell is thousands of times better than yours, and the smell of rotting corpses is pure torture. Plus it’s disrespectful to leave your fallen comrades like that, you know. If we’re going to be together, we’ll need to make this place more hygienic.”

I didn’t know when she and I had become “we” or when “we” had agreed to live together, but I just nodded. This was something I would realize with time, but Laika was good at giving orders, and I was comfortable with taking them. We got to work. But by “we got to work,” I meant Laika wagged her tail and barked while I did what she told me to do. Because she only had four legs and had come to Mars first, and because I had two arms and still didn’t know what was going on, I had no choice but to do as she said.

I opened the capsules to find eleven clones that looked just like me, each at a different stage of decomposition. It seemed like there had been a critical failure with the capsules’ temperature regulation system. It wasn’t an easy sight for me to look at. On display were eleven different variations of death all in my image.

The corpses that were only skeletons were easier to deal with. I shuddered when I touched the corpses that were oozing with bodily fluids. But I forged ahead and cleaned every inch of the spaceship’s interior, which was the size of a medium-sized Starbucks. And as I did this, I was also organizing the last few centuries. As I busily moved my body about the ship, my old senses finally returned to me.

Outside the window, the orange sky was starting to darken. I opened the hatch to bury the bodies before the sun set.

That was the first time I’d stepped foot on the surface of Mars. The scenery wasn’t much different from the wastelands of Earth. Jagged rocks, silhouettes of boulders on the horizon, and an apricot-colored sky without a speck of cloud. Was this really Mars? Without any clouds, the sky was like an expressionless facethe face of someone whose mind I could not read.

I picked up my shovel and started digging. The Martian sand, which was finer than Earth’s, remained suspended in the air for a moment before slowly falling back down to the ground. I dumped all the bodies into the same wide, shallow hole, and covered it back up with dirt. I then cut a large piece of cloth from the airbags that had deployed during landing and covered the grave. I picked up four heavy rocks, which looked like pieces of olivine, and placed them at the corners of the tarp. And with that, the burial was finished. In the end, these eleven clones, my shipmates, had travelled all this way just to be buried on the surface of an alien planet.

Floating in the Martian sky were two lifeless satellites: Phobos and Deimos.

When I returned to the spaceship, Laika was sleeping under the cockpit chair.

I went into my capsule and lay down. It was still a good bed. When sleep mode was turned on, a soft sheet filled with air would wrap around my body. But this device had another use that its inventor hadn’t intended: it would comfort me when I yearned for human contact. When the air tubes connected to the sheet pressed down on my body, it felt like some invisible person was hugging me.

Out in the bleak expanses of space, could there be anything more useful than this? I wanted to let Laika experience this feeling, too, but because she was so proud, she hated anyone’s hands touching her.




It was about ten days after arriving on Mars that I was first able to hug Laika. That was also the day I met Deimos, so there was extra reason for celebration. That day, we’d traveled farther than ever from the ship to see “Eden.”

“It has the most beautiful sand ripples on Mars. The name Eden was my idea. When you see it, you’ll know why.”

Laika marched ahead as she proudly wagged her plump behind. I’d never walked so long through the desert, but I followed her without complaint, even though I was out of breath.

After walking for the better part of a day, we began to see structures in the landscape reminiscent of clam shells. On low hills, geometric patterns were carved into the sand, as though they’d been etched by a master sculptor. And scattered throughout the sand were shimmering stones of gold, blue, and black.

“It’s breathtaking!”

I picked up some orange-red sand with my hand, and the fine, dry grains slid between my webbed fingers. Laika looked at my hand and clicked her tongue in pity.

“What were they thinking, giving you webbed hands and sending you to a planet with no water?”

As Laika said this, I noticed a strong wind blowing in the distance. But soon, I realized it wasn’t just a strong wind, and it wasn’t that far off in the distance.


No sooner had Laika shouted this than the storm reached us. I held onto Laika out of fear, huddling close to the ground and waiting for the storm to pass.

Perhaps because of Mars’s thin atmosphere, the sandstorm looked more powerful than it actually was. A thick layer of sand covered us, but other than that, we were unscathed.

When the storm finally passed, Laika, who was still in my arms, said to me in an irritated tone of voice, “Get permission next time before you put your hands on me.”

As Laika freed herself from my embrace, she paused. “Oh my.”

“What’s wrong?

“You’re pregnant. And you’re a female! Humans are so cruel. How could they send a mother into space with her unborn child.”

My mind went blank. And then forgotten memories started flashing through my consciousness. A lab. White lights converging into a single point. People in gowns staring down at me from inside the light. Dr. Lichnowsky. A syringe in his hand. As terror and unease seized me, the movie-like images started to blur, as though masked by a dense fog. I tried to close the door to my memories, but I’d already remembered most of what had happened.

I’d been inseminated without ever having mated with anyone.

“What kind of experiments did they do to you back on Earth?”

More images. Graphs and monitors. Nurse Cecilia, who cried as she tied me down. The painful shot into my ovaries. The insemination took more than a few torturous attempts before they succeeded. But that was the last thing I remembered.

Laika saw that I was unable to speak. She nodded her head in a knowing manner.

“They erased your memories.”

Laika really did know everything. She also knew how to comfort me.

“But it might’ve been for the best,” she said with a bitter slant to her mouth. “Just look at me. I remember everything. There’s not a single moment I’ve forgotten. Wandering the streets of Moscow; being taken in by a family only to be chased out of the house again; my real name and the metal cage in the corner of the lab; barking at them to let me go; the researcher who called me a dumb animal too stupid to talk (I mean, have you seen a more eloquent dog?); the cramped cockpit with all that heavy equipment; the terror when the fire engulfed my spaceship and me. I was burned alive! Just five hours after liftoff, I was turned into space dust. I’d rather be a blank slate than have to remember all those terrible things. Erasing your memories was the humane thing to do.”

Laika growled as she relived the horrors of her life. Even as I listened to her resentment, I instinctively grabbed at my stomach. I didn’t feel anything inside me. Was I really pregnant? It felt so strange. I didn’t know whether I was human or animal, and yet I had somehow become a mother.

“I was once a girl, too,” Laika said bitterly. “I bet my descendants are still living on Earth.”

As we made our way back to the spaceship in silence, each lost in our own thoughts, I stopped when I noticed a strange object.

The sandstorm had uncovered something buried in the ground. It was an inconspicuous hunk of metal, something I wouldn’t have noticed had I not almost tripped over it. At first, it looked like a washing machine. As I bent over to look at it, Laika lowered her voice and told me to quickly dig it up.

I didn’t have any tools, so it took a while to get it out of the sand, but when I finally managed to pull it out, what we discovered was a robot, about half my height and twice as wide as my shoulders. It must have been made of ultra-light material because it was almost weightless for its size. The edges were dented, and its tracks had fallen off the sprockets. The robot had no power. I said I thought it was beyond salvaging, but Laika pointed to the rear of the robot.

“Hey humanor whatever you areyou have two hands, you know. Do you see that shiny board on the back? Wipe it off.”

The place Laika was pointing to was a solar panel covered in a thick layer of dust. Laika was like a first-generation immigrant to Mars, and I was fresh off the boat. But I had no problem with following the orders of a dog. I didn’t have a strong sense of self as a human, and Laika didn’t have a strong sense of self as a dog. I liked her ordering me around and giving me things to do. And when I used my hands, I felt like I’d finally had respite from the thoughts threatening to make my head explode. I took off one of my gloves and used it as a rag to wipe off the dust on the robot.




The robot was only about half my weight, so it wasn’t surprising that it had been flipped over by the wind. After we dusted it off, we brought it onto the ship and set it up next to a sunny window. We soon forgot about it, like one forgets about a flowerpot of dead plants.

One day, as we were in the spaceship listening to Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 at full volume, the robot’s lights came on. Technically, the only thing that had changed was the electricity flowing through its circuits. But somehow it felt like the robot was overflowing with life now, as though the electricity had transformed it from an inanimate heap of metal to a living, breathing organism.

“Belated greetings.”

The robot’s polite voice had an electronic buzz to it. Not only were its vocabulary and intonation human-like, but it also had a light at its front that mimicked a human face. The face didn’t have a mouth, but it did have a pair of neon eyes, which expanded and contracted to express emotion. I bent my knees slightly and gazed into what would have been its eyes.

“I am Deimos, named after one of the moons of Mars.”

“Does that mean there’s a Phobos?” Laika asked without any preamble.

The robot’s eyes became long and thin and turned to the color of tungsten. After a slight pause, Deimos said Phobos had fallen into a ravine, and it had been a long time since Deimos had heard its twin’s signal.

The twins Deimos and Phobos were pioneers, laboratories, and photographers all at the same time, and they’d explored every inch of the red planet. As an eternal duo, one would come to the rescue whenever the other was in trouble. Upon completing their mission, they’d lived five times longer than their expected lifespan, and over that time, they’d become close to one another and very intelligent. They explored canyons, traveled to Elysium Planitia and Valles Marineris, and searched for traces of water, sending back all manner of pictures to Earth, even ones of their own tracks.

After sending the pictures, they’d collect sounds from space and play them back to listen together. Deimos said they were so happy when they got a signal from other ships. The twins held a vague fondness for the blue planet they’d sent images to. They knew the word “fondness,” and they knew the phrase “to long for.” To them, it meant sending data endlessly in one direction.

The scientists who received these images would save them to a folder to be used to develop helmets, gloves, and boots that humans could wear on Mars one day. The photographs would increase, and there were plans to create a mock Mars environment somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico. Humankind would prepare to go to Mars there. They would put on boots, practice walking, and get their bodies used to Martian gravity, using tools and equipment designed from the data that Phobos and Deimos sent.

The twin robots would talk tirelessly amongst themselves about the mock Mars environment, like two people who’d bought a house on a distant planet. They’d even made retirement plans to live there as monuments to their mission once they returned to Earth. They would be worshipped, and they would live out their lives in a cozy model home they designed and built. And

“Don’t tell me, you’ll be put on stamps?” Laika said, cutting Deimos off. Laika’s mocking tone shattered Deimos’s daydream. “I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but that won’t happen. Most humans die before they live to be one hundred. You really think they have the patience to carry out a migration to Mars that could take several centuries? Dreamers always make up a first generation of human explorers. They get on boats, chase dreams of freedom, sail to distant lands in search of gold. When they settle down in their new home, their sons inherit the land. Their people prosper from the bountiful soil. Their sons, and their sons’ sons, grow fat and weak from the successes of their forebearers. Success to humans is like reduced gravity. You might get taller under one-fifth Earth’s gravity, but your bones become weak. In the end, they stop exploring. They lay waste to the world they inherited and begin to wage wars. And in the blink of an eye, everything turns into a desert wasteland like Mars. Tell me, Deimos, what do you think your role in this story is? You were born from the ambitions of the first generation, and are busily sending messages to the second generation. By the time the third generation comes around, you’ll be all but forgotten. I bet the funds for the mission to Mars have already been reappropriated for war. All your messages are probably collecting dust on a hard drive somewhere. No one’s listening anymore.

“The truth of the matter is that we need to escape from these pointless duties. Let’s not waste energy setting up high-powered antennas. Our effort would be better spent cleaning up the surface of Mars. Let’s stop wandering the desert and just stay here.”

“But it’s in my nature to wander,” Deimos said in a tiny voice. It looked overwhelmed by the length of Laika’s argument.

“You talk just like a human! Nature. Wander. Words like that don’t apply to robots. If you want to go out there and continue ‘wandering’ through a sea of rocks, be my guest. But this one’s pregnant. Speaking of which, do you have any medical supplies?”

“I have a bio-protocol designed for any biological organisms I might discover. The protocol’s name is Doctor.”

“Great. Show us this Doctor of yours.”

Laika nudged me forward. I didn’t know what to do. Deimos extended its hose-like arm and pulled me toward itself with a clamp.

“I just need one drop.”

I felt a small prick as Deimos drew my blood. I could hear a fan whirring inside the robot.

“Twelve weeks and healthy. It looks like you’re due seven months from now.”

“Just great! How’s a baby supposed to grow up in a lifeless desert?”

“Try not to go to the lower regions of Mars. There are high levels of radiation there. The radiation is so high, in fact, that it was melting the subterranean ice and sending vapor into the air.”

“Vapor? Ice? Does that mean there’s water on Mars?”

“By my calculations, there is about a sixty-seven percent chance of there being water.”

Confronted with this shocking news, the Siberian husky shook her body and fell silent. A chance. A chance of there being water. And sixty-seven percent, at that. After regaining her composure, she began giving orders like someone in charge.

“Deimos, this is vital information. If there’s water here, that means this planet can eventually become like Earth. And there’s nothing good about that. But that can wait for later. I’m a ghost and you’re a machine, so it doesn’t affect us; the same can’t be said for this one. She needs to eat and drink. And soon we’ll have a baby. Goodness, this is giving me a headache. Anyway, while I’m away, you need to look after this one. You’ll become a good nanny because you don’t complain and you act fast. By the way, is there anything else you can do?”

I felt uncertain as I watched this large dog analyze information and make decisions so suddenly. Once she learned I was pregnant, Laika took extra care of me, as though I were now her daughter. I had been born without a mother, so when I thought about the love Laika was showing me, I wondered if Laika was a gift sent to me from heaven. Of course, the scientists who’d made me wouldn’t agree with such theological thinking.

As soon as I learned I was twelve weeks pregnant, I noticed my body starting to change. I vacillated between states of extreme fatigue and severe insomnia, and I spent more and more time lying in my capsule. And when I looked at my slowly ballooning stomach, it felt like I was observing a waxing moon. Had I not known I was pregnant, I would have just thought my body was adjusting to the Martian environment.

My friends took naps several times a day in the hammock hung under the spaceship. When the baby moved inside my stomach, joyful vibrations filled my body with warm concentric circles. As the waves exited my body, a smile formed on my lips. That smile created a new map on my face. But this only lasted for a short while before tears rolled down my cheeks. When I observed my rapidly swinging emotions, I was unable to tell if they were the results of experiments or just something all pregnant mothers experienced.

Deimos said my condition was due to hormonal changes. When the morning sickness started, Laika complained that my sense of smell had become even more sensitive than hers, but Deimos explained that it was just vertigo and had nothing to do with my sense of smell. I couldn’t hear the rest of their conversation because I was clinging to the toilet bowl and throwing up.

“Lue’s estrogen levels are thirty times higher. It’s to be expected.”

“I’d accept that if she were just a normal human. But she’s evolved. She shouldn’t have to suffer from morning sickness like this.”

Was I really an evolved form of female primate? Were these strong emotions really just the result of hormones? Regardless of their origin, my emotions were real and true to me. As a mysterious being sent to a mysterious world, this was the only thing I could tell myself with certainty. These emotions were real. And this truth belonged to me and me alone.

One day, Deimos let me hear the fetus’s heartbeat. There was nothing that Deimos’s arm couldn’t do. Half-immortal, it was programmed to work for eternity. Right now, it was doing everything in its power to take care of us, and now it was letting me hear my baby’s heartbeat. The sound was like a small spaceship racing toward us at close to the speed of light.

“I’ve never heard a sound so loud,” Laika said as though she were a poet.

Over time, Laika and Deimos finished digging the well for water and once every four days went down to put ten liters of water in the tank. Deimos’s tests determined the water to be safe, but Laika wasn’t ready to let me drink it. She always worried about me. In fact, she was so concerned for my and the baby’s health that she took her pet fleas from her body and stored them in a container, even though I wasn’t due for many more months.

“I can’t get rid of you guys, but you need to stay here for now. You might not be good for the mother and baby. I’ll let you drink my blood occasionally, so don’t be sad. We must prepare for the baby!”

The desolate landscapes ceased to look as hostile because of the daily love and care that Laika and Deimos showed me.




I was taking a nap under the canopy.

I was drifting in and out of consciousness as several dreams flashed across my mind. I could hear two voices, both in my dreams and outside them.

In the dream, I see a cloud. It’s shaped like a fluffy feather, not like the clouds that form in the Martian atmosphere. As I stare up at the blooming cloud, I can hear my friends talking.

“There are three ships.”

“I know. But how many people do you think that is?”

“A lot.”

“Are they landing?”

The cloud changes into the shape of a spaceship, and outside the observation window astronauts with pacemakers prepare to land. The images in my dream continue to change based on the conversation. Laika asks most of the questions, and Deimos answers.

“Are they human?”

“Yes. Humans. One, two, three, four. . . About seventy of them in a line.”

Humans are coming to destroy the planet. Seventy humans split between three ships land on Mars. Humans are terrifying when alive. I remember steel bars. What will happen when they discover me, a lab animal? Will they kill me and dispose of my baby? Is that why they have come all this way? How can I stop this future from happening? How much time will it take for humans to get here? Something is pounding inside my body, either my racing heart or the baby’s kicking.

“What about the well?”

Long tire tracks appear in the sand. They morph into the shape of a whip, and then change again into Deimos’s robotic arm. And then I am open. Deimos cuts the umbilical cord. “I will cauterize it to prevent infection.” But in a daze from the birthing, I feel no pain.

We’re at the coast. A glacier falls, letting out a loud sound like a gunshot. The glacier, which has grown for the last several centuries, falls into the water, and the baby exits my body. The newborn is covered in its own bright-red blood. Laika leaps with joy and licks the baby.

“A child has been born unto us!”

“What do you mean?”

“The most glorious and succinct sound? Haven’t you read Hannah Arendt?”

Patronizing Laika.

We go down to the sea. We wash the baby in the water where the glacier has fallen. When the baby touches the cold water, it begins to cry and buries itself in my breast. I look at the thin, translucent, sail-like webs between the baby’s small fingers, then suddenly jump into the water. I put the baby on my stomach and wash away the blood. Fish dance. The newborn baby swims like a fish. I know this is all a dream, but not wanting to wake up, I squeeze my eyelids tighter.

“What if they discover the well?”

A low voice that comes from reality. I wanted to return to the dream, just one more time. To a world with no humans.

White wrinkles appear on the sea. The wrinkles move toward me, and I float over their white ripples. “Waves.” “What?” “Sea wrinklesthey’re called waves, dummy.” Suddenly, Laika is continuing my dialogue. This is my dream in another place. A me from a different place is dreaming. The dreams of two people overlap.

“If this were really Mars, you’d be jumping around like a kangaroo. And your eyesight would be deteriorating. And how could you survive -62° C? This place only looks like Mars. Even if something bad happens, it’s not real.”

Another Laika is telling me this. Another universe, another Laikaa planet where several dimensions superimpose, where time and space bend, where the line between dreams and the afterlife blurs. I am moments away from being split in two; I have no choice but to wake up as I am pushed out of the dream.

When I woke up, Laika and Deimos were still by my side.

“I had a dream. A dream about giving birth.”

When I told them about my dream, Deimos explained that it could take more than a millennium for an ocean to form on Mars. Did that mean I had seen the future?

“What about the spaceships? There were seventy humans on three spaceships that landed on Mars.”

“You must still be half-asleep. Don’t worry. We’re the only ones here right now.”

Hearing this, I let out a sigh of relief; it felt like I was being embraced by my capsule’s air tubes.

I picked up a rock of beautiful azure, placed it in my palm, and stared into it. Off in the distance, I could hear something that sounded like a plastic bag being dragged through the air by the wind. I could see the faint silhouette of a small volcano beyond the spaceship. This scenerymy nest comprised of familiar things and friendsrelaxed me. Once this happened, I wanted to say something to my baby, I wanted to say something loving, words of mine generated by you.

“You’re the only one I care about in this universe. My child. Every star in the cosmos is a mother, and we aren’t cold.”

The baby will be born. I am here with your two aunties, so there is nothing to worry about. When I repeat this to myself and rub my large stomach, Deimos asks me if that means it’s a female robot. Laika perks one ear up as if to wink at me.

My stomach wiggles in response.


Translated by Sean Lin Halbert

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