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Not just rockets & robots...
What is Science Fiction?
"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.

Return Policy

Stacey Berg is the author of the novels Dissension and Regeneration. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for much of her speculative fiction. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers' League of Texas. When she's not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half-marathons. She is represented by Mary C. Moore of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. You can visit her at staceyberg.com.
Marya took a deep breath and punched the transit button. A few seconds later she stepped out of the lift into a featureless hallway in a building whose address code was only available to the right kind of people.
Fortunately Marya was one of them.
At the end of the hallway a single door was marked, discreetly, "Service Center." Marya squared her shoulders and marched down the hall. "Come on, Sammy. Stop playing with those buttons." The child hurried to catch up, chubby hand grasping at hers. "Inside here."
The room held only a clerk in a plain gray suit--real organic wool, she noted with appreciation--accompanied by the most tastefully subdued shirt and tie. "How may I help you, madam?"
"I need to make a return."
He glanced at Sammy, then back to her, unperturbed. "Yes, madam. Do you have the receipt?"
"Yes, right here." She set the chip on the counter with a decisive click. "Sammy! Get those filthy fingers out of your mouth!" She smacked the offending hand, a meaningless ritual performed a dozen times a day, but as always, the boy looked at her heartbroken, tears brimming in his huge brown eyes.
The clerk had placed the chip into a reader. "Series S, luxury model, fully upgraded... May I ask if the unit was defective, or if you were in any other way dissatisfied with the product?"
Marya glanced down. Sammy's fingers had gone right back into his mouth and he was chewing them desperately. She glared at him, then gave up. If he hadn't learned by now he never would.
The clerk added deferentially, "We only seek to improve our customer service. All data is stored free of identifiers, need I say."
"There's nothing really wrong with the product. I'm just no longer interested."
The clerk made a notation. "Refund or exchange?"
Marya felt on firmer ground here. "Refund, please. You may credit my chip. Sammy! Now what are you doing?" For the boy was on the floor, poking at some invisible bit of dust or dirt. "Stop that right now! I'm sorry," she said to the clerk. "No matter how many times I try to tell him..."
"Children can be such a burden," the man said with practiced sympathy.
She tried to smile. "I'm so glad you understand." And ridiculously, she was. "I hope you don't imagine that I've made a hasty decision."
"Of course not, madam." He handed her a different chip. "All the necessary corroboration is here."
"The accident that explains... Merely to avoid any distasteful speculation."
"Oh yes, of course." Then she hesitated. "I was wondering how--that is, I wanted to be certain--it would not do to have any future... entanglements."
He caught her meaning so easily that she realized that everyone must ask the same question. Somehow that made her feel better--less naive. Less, dare she say it, as if she herself had failed. "I can assure you, madam, there is no cause for any concern. Lesser establishments, of course, have been known to resell components, even whole units--"
"Heaven forbid!" Marya exclaimed.
"Indeed, madam. But our firm would never engage in such an unsavory practice. Please be assured that even the basic components will be redigested."
Her mind shied away from digested. She had already told herself that she need not dwell on the details. "Excellent," she said out loud, but then she did not know what else to say, or do. Carefully as she had planned, this was the moment she had never quite been able to rehearse.
"Whenever you're ready, madam. If you'd like a moment, perhaps in private...?"
"No. There's no point putting it off." She gathered the boy up awkwardly into her arms, feeling that she could afford to be a bit sentimental just this once. "Here, Sammy. Let mama kiss you." Sammy took her face in his hands in sheer delight, one sticky palm clasped to each rouged cheek. She tried not to care as she felt the makeup smear.
"Sammy good boy?" he asked in his anxious lisp.
She thrust down a burst of resentment. If only he didn't cause so much trouble all the time, weren't so needy.... But she didn't want to think of that now. "Sammy good boy." He would never know the difference. She unwrapped his stubby legs from around her waist and set him down on the countertop. "Now go with the nice man."
"Sammy want go home with Mama!" he wailed.
She caught his shoulders as he tried to cling to her, pushing him away to arms ' length. "I'll take it from here, Madam," the clerk said. "Come Sammy. Let's go see if we can find you a toy." Sammy caught a sniffling breath, looked from Marya to the clerk, tears pearling on the long lashes.
Marya slipped out the door.
She only had to hear one last wail before the soundproofed door closed behind her. She took just a moment to pat her eyes with a fresh tissue, then strode toward the lift.
A brief stop for a glass of wine to calm her nerves, and to read the chip. Already she felt the sharpness of her grief, the stinging tragedy of the accident. Poor Sammy, taken from her so young. Thank god he hadn't suffered.
She sighed. It would be difficult, but she would be all right.
Her life would go on.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 1st, 2018

New advances in gene editing techniques have led to many articles and discussions about designer babies. Many of my stories start with "what if," and one day I thought, what if designer babies were like designer clothes? What if you decided after a while that they didn't fit, or that you didn't want them anymore? What would that say about them, and about you? These are the "what ifs" that led me to write "Return Policy."

- Stacey Berg

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