Special Delivery

Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

“I think mine is a girl,” Anju said as she stretched her legs out over the sofa in the resting room. Her hands crossed over her round stomach, which was covered by the stork-printed flannel shirt Special Delivery issued to everyone in the compound. A larger embroidered stork rested over her heart, carrying a swaddled infant in a sling. Most girls were horrified by the logo when they first arrived, but an aide explained that it was simply an ancient myth. No children would actually be dropped from the sky.

“You can’t tell what it is,” Jahnavi said. Her shirt hung around her stomach, deflated, but the next few months would change that. Even with an empty womb, she carried herself as if in her third trimester. Jahnavi had lived in the complex for seven years.

“I can tell,” Anju said. “She feels like a girl.”

“You’ve never been pregnant before,” Jahnavi pointed out.

“I know.”

Shaila listened to the conversation with mild interest, though part of her attention was directed towards the television. For weeks, she’d been trying to teach herself to read by watching American sitcoms with subtitles on, and sometimes, she thought she was getting close. Special Delivery didn’t allow anything but light comedy in the facility. A healthy mind makes a healthy baby, they said. Shaila’s dark eyes drifted to the other two women. “If she thinks it’s a girl, let her think it’s a girl,” she said. Her voice was a quiet warning. “They won’t let her see it, anyways.”

Anju’s hands pressed more firmly against her stomach, but she did not argue. For long moments, the only sound in the resting room was the laugh track of the television and the quick, poorly-dubbed dialogue. Shaila bit at her fingernail as she studied the rapidly moving words at the bottom of the screen. In three years she’d be too old to work for Special Delivery, but she didn’t intend to go back to the factory like most retired surrogates did. Shaila was going to move to the city and get a real job, the kind that she saw in the sitcoms.

“They really won’t let me see her?” Anju asked quietly.

“Why would they? It’s not your baby. Let the real parents worry about it.” Jahnavi waved her hand dismissively, though there was a hint of derision in her voice.

“I’d just like to know if it’s a boy or a girl.”

“Yeah, well. You’ll get over that.”

Another long silence. Shaila rubbed her stomach, which was just beginning to swell. This would be her thirteenth birth. “They look like that,” she finally said as she lifted her hand to the television. “Like those people. Blue or green eyes, red or blond hair. They get named things like Courtney and Jeremy.”

Anju looked at her intently, then fixed her eyes on the screen. “All of them?”

“Most of them. It’s what the parents want.”

Anju looked down at her belly, then back to the colorful television. She seemed to consider the statement carefully. “I hope she has blue eyes,” she said.

Jahnavi grunted. “It’s not your baby,” she said again.

“I don’t care. I hope she has blue eyes and black hair and I hope they name her Madhuri.”

“No one is going to name their baby Madhuri,” Jahnavi said. “No one. You ever seen a Madhuri on TV?”

The silence was tense, and after a few seconds, Shaila turned up the volume on the television. “It’s a perfectly good name,” she said, her words almost drowned beneath the laugh track of the television. “Just save it until you have a kid of your own.”

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Leisure Time on a Starship

Author : Patricia Stewart

“Honey, I’m home,” I yelled as I entered our spacious 241 square foot twin occupancy cabin. Being married, and serving on the same spaceliner together, entitled us to that extra 103 square feet of living space. But more importantly, it also includes a 32 cubic foot, state of the art, holovision center. Reason enough to get married, if you ask me. But, let’s keep that our little secret.

“How was your day, Steve?” inquired my lovely wife from our private shower. Another perk on these extended missions. I meant the lovely wife perk, in case you thought I was referring to the private shower perk.”

“Awful,” I replied. “I had to work four straight hours. Two consecutive shifts! Boy, I’m really beat too. Eed,” that’s short for Electronic Entertainment Director, “activate the HV. What are my options?”

“Good afternoon, Steven,” replied Eed’s deep simulated male voice. “Several sporting events are on tap. Solar wind racing in the Alpha Centauri system. Nuclear wake surfing on Saturn’s upper atmosphere. And, the Olympus Mons, 53 kilometer downhill sand skiing finals.”

“Solar wind racing? Are you kidding me? That’s ten times more boring to watch than cricket, as if that were even possible. Were there any crashes in the other two?”

“Nuclear wake surfing will be carried live via hyperspace relay. There’s no guarantee, but you can usually count on a few ships wiping out. The skiing was recorded yesterday, relative Mars time. The captain of the United European team caught an edge on the second gate and tumbled for fifteen minutes. But at only 0.4g, he was uninjured. Is it safe to assume that since there were no known fatalities, you want to move on?

“Roger that, Eed. How about movies?”

“Of the 162,244 movies in my database, you still have not watched four: Mr. Smith goes to Sirius, The Wizard of IO, It’s a Wonderful Timeline, and Top Phaser.”


“There are several network comedy shows that are about to start: Married with Clones, Two and a Half Aliens, My Favorite Titian, and Gilligan’s Asteroid.”

“I swear, the major networks repeat the same shows every generation.”

“Apparently, every generation for the last 200 years. But as you always say Steven, Mary Ann is still the hottest babe in the entire universe, right?”

“In any century too, Eed. Ant keep your volume down, please. What do you have in the way of science or history?”

“There’s an International Solargraphic Special on the killer worms they found on Europa.”

“That was true? I thought somebody made that up. What else?”

“How about a Supernova Special on public holovision about alien spacecraft debris found in Siberia near the Tunguska River?”

“That debris was probably planted there as a college prank. Public holovision always falls for that crap.”

“Oh, here’s a good one, Steven. The Ancient History Channel has a special on a 21st century phenomena called Flash Fiction.”

“What’s that? Did you say ‘Flash Fiction’? Man, I love that stuff. Those writers are geniuses. No, make that super geniuses. Hey, honey, hurry up. There’s a great show about to start. While we wait for her Eed, run the credits. I want to see it any of those early writers ever became famous.”

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Author : Duncan Shields

It’s how you react to your life going wrong that defines you.

When you win, you smile like everyone else. It’s how you react to obstacles, changes of fortune and sudden lane changes in your life that reveals a true aspect of your personality.

Take me, for instance.

I never wanted to be cleaning the mobile arrays on the outside of this gigafreighter as we passed through crystal dust fields. I had a girl once. I even had the money to afford a pet. I lived planetside and breathed real air.

I’ve been given a tool much like a toothbrush. Something about the crystalline make-up of the comet trail doesn’t show up on sensors until the build up is too severe. They found that two diligent humans, each working in twelve hour shifts, was the cheapest solution to keep the array clear of crystal dust.

Some of this crystal dust is rumoured to be sub-molecular in nature. I try not to imagine the feeling of tiny shards filling my entire body, lodging in the mile-wide craters of my pores, sticking out of my skin like tiny daggers. It make me itchy.

Being itchy in a spacesuit is not good.

I clump around the array in a ritualistic circle, making sure to scrub in between the struts and under the dishes. I get the whole thing done in about two hours. That means that I clean it six times during my shift.

The comet we’re following must be giving us some pretty impressive data because I’ve been doing this for a year. I was only supposed to be doing it for eight months.

The overtime’s good but I miss my dog and even after everything that happened, I still miss Sara. If that was her real name.

Sometimes I’ll stop for a minute and just look out. I’m standing on a long steel tube in the middle of nowhere stuck in the sparkling tail of a comet. There’s a light xylophone being played just inside human hearing range as the rain of crystal dust collides with the hull. A constant distant ringing that I’m sure I’ll miss when I’m done this job.

If it doesn’t kill me. I’m scared every time my eyes get itchy that my orbits are filling up with interstellar sand that won’t be able to be removed. The bosses assure me that it’s psychosomatic but really, it’s in their best interest to keep me working. I don’t trust their smiles.

The colours swirl around me in blues and violets like a sheer veil thrown over the stars. It’s a belly dancer about to drop the last scarf.

I get back to work before the siren call of that shifting borealis makes me leap off into infinity.

Scrub, scrub, scrub.

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Perfect World

Author : Geoffrey Cashmore

The unit amended its status from idle to active and moved from the rest position to its allocated docking bay. Immediately the previous night’s traffic from distant units in different time-zones came into view as a long string of pulsating alert buttons colourised and prioritized and systematized to their maximum ergonomic efficiency.

Three units were asking for immediate responses, so these became the tasks of highest need.

Two units were sending status notifications of their own, and could simply be allowed to log themselves with the operating system.

Five units were offering access to illicit services that would be frowned upon by any decent unit, and could therefore be added to the junk unit list.

Tasks of the highest priority completed, the unit ran a diagnostic to determine current nutritional requirements and fed the results into the biofeedback module, simultaneously ejecting waste via the slurry chute into the biofeedback module.

Satisfaction quotient +2.

Activating the stimulation pod with post-idle-status stimulation programme number 1 – as recommended in The Unit Manual – colours, shapes and sounds pulsate in comfortable familiarity; enhanced by smells and tastes, they encourage warm reflection on shared memories of peaceful conformance.

Happiness quotient +1.

Fourteen minutes and thirty five seconds of stimulation complete, it is time to leave the docking bay to make a positive contribution to society. Units emerge from the domicile and proceed to the transit area, their paces measured and even to minimize risk and control energy expenditure.

“Welcome Units. Transit will begin in 10 seconds.”

Comfort quotient +1.

Transit exhilarates. Transit in the company of units promotes group exhilaration and shared happiness. Units say “Ooooo” when experiencing group exhilaration, as recommended in The Unit Manual.


Society is kept in the large stone building where Units were once sent to make amends for their negative contributions to ancient societies. Now, transit brings units there from the domicile and takes them back once a positive contribution to society has been made. It takes precisely one hour and forty six minutes to make a positive contribution. This is defined in The Unit Manual.

Social value quotient +3.

“Welcome Units. Transit will begin in ten seconds.”

Post-transit-relaxation programme number 5 reinforces Units’ sense of social contribution. Three minutes and seventeen seconds later the unit activates its docking station once more to deal with pending activities.

The Unit Manual recommends a choice of either relaxation programme number 5 or number 6 for twenty five minutes and fifty six seconds after nutrition intake phase two.

Freedom of choice quotient +1.

Insecurity quotient +4.

Thank The Unit Manual for our perfect world.

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The Dreaming

Author : J.R.Blackwell, Staff Writer

Dear Harold,

I’m so pleased that you are considering uploading! It would be very nice to have my nephew with me here on the other side. I would be happy to be your sponsor if you decide to cross over. The experience can be confusing at times, but I find that as successive generations are uploaded the process becomes easier. Younger folk are making the transition very smoothly these days. I’m sure that you, being a bit of a technophile, would adjust quite well.

I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have about the process. I know you must have read the informational brochure already, so I won’t go into the medical process or how your consciousness is digitized. From your questions, it seems like you are mostly interested in the lifestyle of the uploaded.

To answer your first question, yes, the scenery is very realistic. Visitors say that it seems, at times, to be a bit pixilated. However, visiting is not the same as being fully uploaded. It’s like seeing a photograph versus being immersed in the space. Sometimes new attractions can suffer from a bit of pixilation, but that is usually smoothed over quickly. If anything is unrealistic about most of the public spaces, it is the cleanliness of it all, nothing is rusted, there is no litter, no dirt. Private spaces can be programmed to get filthy, and some do that to keep a degree of realism, but public spaces are always clean.

Space is infinite, so you can choose to have a home with eight other people, to live in a castle by yourself, or not live anywhere at all. Call me old fashioned, but I like having a base of operations, working within an avatar. I live in a single level private home on an island. The island is a community, we screen applications to live here and talk about the settings we like for temperature and scenery. It’s a place for people who like a quiet retreat but like the occasional sense of community. I have to admit, my community is, like me, all early adapters. We aren’t a cult or an artist commune, like you might find in other spaces, but we are a nice little community, and we have all designed some wonderful sunsets. I love to sit on my porch and watch the sun go down over the ocean. It’s a stunning view. Before you upload, you should pick up an avatar and come visit me on the island for a good sunset.

What do we do here? Well, mostly, to be honest, it’s experimentation. People experiment with living together, taking different shapes, entertainments, building experiences of pleasure and pain. Food is a major art form here, with connoisseurs talking about what tasted like what when they were alive. Coffee and wine are major sources of debate, and no one can agree on the taste of them. I find that Italian food is usually great, but it’s impossible to find a good chili, so enjoy your chili while you are alive!

What I miss the most is the dreaming. When I died, I was uploaded, neurally scanned and moved into the electron network, the energy web that surrounds the earth. I can have anything here, I can build a dream home, make friends with dead and the living who choose to interact with the dead. I can read books in seconds, write books in minutes, paint, design my avatar, divide my consciousness between a thousand activities, but I can’t dream.

The uploaded can even enjoy sleep, hours of a semi unconsciousness state where we enjoy a black warmth, but mostly, only newbies indulge in that kind of luxury, most of the uploaded consider it a waste of time. I can have these neuro hypnotic experiences designed by my friend Sam (also dead) who made a program that assimilates your memory with randomized images, feeling and experiences that coalesces into an experience that’s something like a bad trip, but that’s far from a dream.

I used to have the most wonderful dreams. My husband would curl his warm body around mine before we went to sleep, putting his hand on my bare stomach, his face on my shoulder. I would fall asleep with him at my back and have the most extraordinary dreams, epics, fantasies, shorts, little stories starring my family and friends, terrifying horrors where I was killed, or worse, when I was a killer. I would dream of riding monsters, of sex, of flying, and going to sleep, I never knew what I would be dreaming next.

Now I always know what my next experience is going to be. I know because I choose it, every choice is conscious, every step clean and prepared. This is the world of the uploader, predictable, intellectual, sterile.

My husband is dead, truly, dead, not uploaded. He didn’t want to join me. I’ve thought of death too, but I’m a coward, and not willing to step into the unknown. There are still interesting things, my grandson still talks to me over the network. He’s a good boy, my grandson, always willing to tell me his dreams.

If I can make one suggestion for you before you get uploaded, it would be to make tight connections with your family, and always be there for them so that when you are uploaded they’ll stay in touch. Things can get strange without a physical body, so make your ties tight before you go, you will appreciate having people on the outside when you’re in here.

I hope that this has answered most of your questions about uploading. Please do come by for a sunset sometime. I’d be glad to see you.

Your friend,

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