How will people regulate population growth in an eco-friendly future?

A lot of scifi transports us to a future world of high-tech plenitude. But in Carrie Vaughn's short story "Amaryllis," we get a more realistic future where human life is restricted to preserve the environment.

The central conflict in this story is ancient - a young woman wants a child, but she and the potential father don't have the means to support it. But that's where the familiar outlines of this story erode. In a few deft strokes, Vaughn introduces us to an eco-friendly society where all the rules of family and child-rearing have changed so radically that "family" and "marriage" are almost unrecognizable. And yet they are. Here's an excerpt from the first section of "Amaryllis," posted this week at Lightspeed magazine:

I never knew my mother, and I never understood why she did what she did. I ought to be grateful that she was crazy enough to cut out her implant so she could get pregnant. But it also meant she was crazy enough to hide the pregnancy until termination wasn't an option, knowing the whole time that she'd never get to keep the baby. That she'd lose everything. That her household would lose everything because of her.

I never understood how she couldn't care. I wondered what her family thought when they learned what she'd done, when their committee split up the household, scattered them-broke them, because of her.

Did she think I was worth it?

* * *

It was all about quotas.

"They're using cages up north, I heard. Off shore, anchored," Nina said. "Fifty feet across-twice as much protein grown with half the resources, and we'd never have to touch the wild population again. We could double our quota."

I hadn't really been listening to her. We were resting, just for a moment; she sat with me on the railing at the prow of Amaryllis and talked about her big plans.

Wind pulled the sails taut and the fiberglass hull cut through waves without a sound, we sailed so smooth. Garrett and Sun hauled up the nets behind us, dragging in the catch. Amaryllis was elegant, a 30-foot sleek vessel with just enough cabin and cargo space-an antique but more than seaworthy. She was a good boat, with a good crew. The best.

"Marie-" Nina said, pleading.

I sighed and woke up. "We've been over this. We can't just double our quota."

"But if we got authorization-"

"Don't you think we're doing all right as it is?" We had a good crew-we were well fed and not exceeding our quotas; I thought we'd be best off not screwing all that up. Not making waves, so to speak.

Nina's big brown eyes filled with tears-I'd said the wrong thing, because I knew what she was really after, and the status quo wasn't it.

"That's just it," she said. "We've met our quotas and kept everyone healthy for years now. I really think we should try. We can at least ask, can't we?"

The truth was: No, I wasn't sure we deserved it. I wasn't sure that kind of responsibility would be worth it. I didn't want the prestige. Nina didn't even want the prestige-she just wanted the baby.

Read the rest of "Amaryllis" at Lightspeed Magazine.

Photo by Kent Sorenson/Shutterstock.