Baby Race

Baby Race

A Story by Ian Reeve

In the future, desperate measures have to be taken to tackle the population crisis. 2255 words

“Jenner has a clear lead,” said the louder of the two commentators excitedly. “Jackson will need a miracle to catch him now.”
“Yes, that tumble he took at the underpass may have cost him the race. His only chance now is to take one of the shortcuts.”
“He'd have to be desperate to try that. He'd be risking his life!”
“Some people will take any risk to have a child, Dave. You know that.”
Jackson tried to ignore the voices coming over the Baby Race channel as he pushed his screaming muscles to an extra effort. He thought about turning the small portable radio off, but the commentators might talk about something Jenner was doing and he might be able to use the information to his advantage. Every time they talked about how far behind he was falling, though, a black wave of despair would sweep over him, sapping his willpower, and he wondered whether he was doing himself more harm than good.
Every now and then the path through the forest would hit a straight stretch and he’d be able to see his adversary ahead of him. Small in the distance, so far away, but running with a steady stride that told him that he knew he'd all but won and that all he had to do was maintain the pace. Jackson had to fight an almost overwhelming impulse to just give up, to allow his tortured limbs to rest, to suck great gasps of air into his grateful lungs. He knew, though, that if he did that he would hate himself forever, a self loathing that would stay with him for the rest of his life. This was his one chance to have a child. If he lost, he would still have tried, but if he gave up...
In his mind he pictured the daughter he would have. She would be beautiful, with glossy dark hair and amber brown eyes that would shine and sparkle as she gazed adoringly up at him. She would have dimples at the corners of her mouth when she smiled and a laugh in her voice when she spoke. He would watch in breathless awe and wonder as she grew from baby to adulthood, gradually turning from an adorable bundle of gurgles and smells into a person with hopes, dreams and loves of her own and he would lavish every luxury on her, deny her nothing. He would care for her, love her totally and unconditionally, protect her from anything that dared try to hurt her.
That man up ahead was trying to kill her, he thought, and he felt rage and hatred flaring up inside him. He would kill her by ensuring that she never came into existing in the first place. The fact that he was also racing for the right to have a child, that he probably hated him just as much and for the same reason, cut no ice with him. He was trying to kill his daughter! He let the rage build to a new height, used it as a source of new strength. He'd heard of fathers killing to protect their children, of meek, mild mannered men driven to an insane fury that led to them strangling the attacker with their bare hands, the veneer of civilisation stripped away to reveal something savage and primal. He sought out that primal savagery now, imagined the man ahead menacing his beautiful daughter, and he felt himself lifted up by new strength, his limbs pumping with new energy. The hard, uneven ground sped past beneath him, the trees flashing past on either side. The man ahead had grown complacent, was allowing himself to slow a little, secure in the knowledge of victory. He would catch him up, overtake him before he knew what was happening...
“Jackson's gaining!” the loud commentator said in his ear, and Jackson cursed violently, a spike of fear freezing his brain. If the man ahead was also listening to the commentary... “Jenner’s put on a new burst of speed as well,” the other commentator added with an excited raised voice. “Guess we clued him up that the race isn't over yet!”
I guess you did! thought Jackson, and his hatred for the commentators rose until it dwarfed his hatred of the man ahead of him. The two men for whom this desperate race to have a child was nothing more than an afternoon's entertainment. And then there were the millions at home listening, the teeming multitudes most of whom had probably already won the right to have a child. How many of them emphasised with his pain, his desperation? He suddenly hated the entire human race, all thirty billion of them. Hated all previous generations whose uncontrolled breeding had created the present population crisis. He hated everyone alive, dead and not yet born, used the hatred to power his body, to drive it on.
“Jenner’s reached the quarry,” said the loud commentator whose name Jackson wished he could remember so that he could curse him and everyone on the planet who shared the same name. “Jackson can't possibly catch him now!” A new wave of despair swept over him, deeper and blacker than all the others that had come before. He cursed his decision to try the race. He should have tried the intelligence test or the talent contest or even the lottery! He had enough self honesty to admit that he wasn't exactly blessed with brains, though, and be had no talent that might have impressed the judges. And besides, those contests were too easily rigged. If the Directorate for Population Control decided that the world's population wasn't dropping fast enough, a few more people could be told they'd failed and no-one would ever be the wiser. The race, all the physical challenges, were fair at least. It was just him and his adversary, with the whole world watching to make sure no funny business took place.
“Jackson's coming up to the last shortcut!”
“You think he’s desperate enough to take it?”
“I think he might be! Look how he’s pushing himself. However this turns out he'll be in agony for a week!”
“Only one in three contestants survive the shortcuts, and Jackson's so far behind now that even the shortcut might not let him catch up. The outcome of this race is pretty much decided, I think.”
Jackson saw the shortcut ahead, the path branching off to the right and down a steep slope. Without pausing to think he turned into it and his feet immediately slipped out from under him in the wet mud. He fell onto his back and slipped down a narrow muddy chute, totally out of control.
“He’s taking the shortcut!”
Jackson struggled to control his descent, knowing there was something deadly below, something that was changed for every new contestant so as to give no advance warning. Yesterday there had been sharpened stakes, and the time before that it had been razor wire strung vertically in the gap, sharp and strong enough to sever limbs. For the past few days, since putting his name forward for the race, he’d watched dozens of contestants come to bad ends in a variety of imaginative ways, but none of them gave any clue as to what lay ahead this time.
He reached out to a branch and managed to grab hold of it, his fingers slipping on the slimy, mossy bark before gaining a firm grip. His momentum swung him around and his body collided painfully with a tree trunk, driving all the wind out of his lungs. He hung there for a moment while his body recovered and took the opportunity to look ahead. Below him the muddy chute continued on, turning a sharp bend that prevented him from seeing what lay beyond. To descend in a controlled manner would mean lowering himself carefully from branch to branch, a time consuming process, and time was his enemy. His daughter's enemy. There was nothing dangerous that he could see, though, so with a sigh of resignation he let go and let himself fall.
He saw the trap an instant before running into it, a tripwire running across the chute at what would have been ankle height if he’d been standing. He couldn't stop himself from running through it, but he ducked his head and pulled his arms tight into his sides as he rushed past faster than running speed. A massive tree trunk hanging from ropes swung inches past him with enough speed and momentum to have crushed him like an eggshell if it had made contact, but then he was past and a moment later he reached the bottom of the chute where he rolled across flat, leafy ground to slam hard into another jagged tree trunk. Pain flared as the stump of a broken branch jabbed hard into his side.
“He made it! And he’s ahead of Jenner!”
“Only by a few metres, and the finish line is still fifty metres away! And he’s hurt!”
Jackson scrambled back to his feet, desperately trying to ignore the pain in his side. He could hear the other man close behind, terribly close! He didn't dare take the time to look around to see how close but just staggered along the path, willing himself to as much speed as his tortured body could provide. He pictured his daughter again, the daughter waiting for him in his future. Alice! He decided. We'll call her Alice! His wife might object, she'd hinted often enough that she wanted a daughter named after her own mother, but he didn't care. Let her win the right to have a child of her own, he thought, and she can name her whatever she wants.
Alice! He thought desperately as he ran. I'm coming for you, my sweetie, my precious one! The man closing so fast from behind would not keep her from existing! He would not! By some strange telepathy he sensed a sudden fear and desperation from his adversary. He'd thought he had the race sewn up, and then this! He heard the other man changing pace as he increased his speed, and he heard something else as well. His breath was gasping and laboured. He was almost spent! He'd used all his stamina to get an early lead and now he was used up! Jackson’s heart leapt with hope. He could win this!
“It's going to be close! It's anyone's race!”
The pain in his side increased with every step and there was a stitch developing in his legs. He began to hobble despite every effort to keep his pace steady and suddenly the other man was beside him, glancing across at him with eyes that burned with hatred and jubilation. Jackson saw the longing for a son in the other man's eyes, felt a moment of guilt and shame that he was striving to deny him his heart's greatest desire, but then he remembered Alice and he pushed himself to the last extremity of effort. Something tore inside him but he didn’t care. The race could leave him confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life and he wouldn’t care so long as he had Alice.
The other man pulled ahead of him and Jackson wept with frustration as he struggled and failed to keep up. “Alice!” He gasped, knowing it was over. “I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!” He allowed himself to slow down, to give his body the rest it craved, felt the pain in his side flaring as the adrenalin rush that had kept him going began to abate...
Jenner stumbled, his ankle giving way beneath him and tumbling him sideways, and Jackson actually froze as his numbed brain struggled to process what his eyes were seeing. Then he threw himself forward, eagerly taking advantage of this last chance the gods were throwing him. Jenner struggled to totter forward, his features contorted in agony, and Jackson swept past him, his whole body screaming in protest.
He hardly felt the finishing line as he stumbled through it and only knew he’d won when he heard the commentators yelling jubilantly in his ears. “He's done it! The turnaround of the year!”
“The last time I saw a race like that was Barnum vs Lear. That was in ’68 I believe...”
Jackson reached a trembling hand to his radio and turned it off, then flopped over onto his back and lay there, gasping in relief. He'd done it! He'd won! He heard a soft noise beside him and saw his former adversary on his knees, his body shaking as he wept openly. “Sam,” he sobbed, looking over at him with red rimmed eyes. “I was going to call him Sam.”
There was nothing he could say so he said nothing, but the raging turmoil of despair he knew the other man was feeling terrified him with its intensity. Winners of the race had been murdered by losers more than a few times in the past. Right now, though, he could only think of Alice, the beautiful little girl he would now be allowed to have, and the joy and relief overwhelmed the aches and pains and the terrible gnawing guilt that he knew would never entirely leave him.
He felt arms gently helping him back to his feet. The race administrators, keen to get the two of them off the track so that the next race could start. “Congratulations!” one of them said cheerfully. “You're going to be a father!”

© 2017 Ian Reeve

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I dig the idea of competition in order to procreate! Very dystopian. But you know what that means, right? Expansion, expansion, expansion! You wrote it like it was a one-track, which works and has power, but its those outside elements (i.e. the founders of the race, the why the race is happening at all) that add the little bit of garnish I think this piece needs. That or a prelude. This one piece creates a big world, shed some more light on it!

Posted 11 Months Ago

Outside of maybe spacing to help read things better. This is a great piece.

Posted 11 Months Ago

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2 Reviews
Added on August 3, 2017
Last Updated on August 3, 2017
Tags: Sci fi, chase, race, parenthood


Ian Reeve
Ian Reeve

Leigh - on - Sea, United Kingdom

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