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Space Mama

Karen Heulerís stories have appeared in over 60 literary and speculative magazines and anthologies. Her latest book, a short-story collection called The Inner City, was published by ChiZine Publications, and her next, a novel called Glorious Plague, will be published by Permuted Press in January 2014. She lives in New York City, where she often gives tourists the wrong advice.

Dear Space Mama,
I joined an exploratory company about ten years ago, and have been traveling ever since. Lately, I met a being on Celsia 9 who exists midway between a corporeal and non-corporeal state. That is, he/she/it (undetermined) feels more like liquid than solid and is somewhat permeable. We don't really speak directly, instead doing a kind of mime of what we want. It's a slow and interesting process. Since this is a new contact, there is no handbook on what any of this means, but I have been feeling more and more like staying on this planet rather than continuing to explore. Oddly enough, all my crewmates feel the same way and we have wondered if there might be more to this attraction than we're aware of. What do you think?
Dear Filled with Unexplained Longing,
Get out of there now. This is not normal. This means something. You may be doomed to stay there forever or you may be eaten. Get out of there now.
Dear Space Mama,
All my back salary for the past six years has been removed from my chit. I approached my captain, who is a known gambler, and demanded an explanation. She said that there was a problem at headquarters.
I checked with headquarters and discovered that I was apparently listed as her dependent. When I asked how a 47-year-old male could be the dependent of a 29-year-old female, they said that papers had been filed showing that I suffered a head trauma that reduced my ability to live independently, and that my captain had volunteered to sponsor and watch over me.
My question: I seem to feel fine. Is this some sort of scam?
Dear Having Doubts:
Signs that you are autonomous:
Do you get dressed by yourself?
Do you go to the bathroom alone?
Can you choose your own food and eat it without help?
Do you know how to check your bank balance?
Can you order, pay for, and drink at a bar and get yourself home?
If you answered "yes" to these questions, you are normal and this is some sort of scam. If you answered "no" to any of these questions, buy your boss a thank-you card.
Dear Space Mama,
I fell in love with a new engineer on my ship. I assumed this was a female engineer, since it was pleasant and accommodating. As it turns out, the thing is male. At first I refused to speak to it--I mean, I was polite but I didn't really want a relationship with a male. It went to the captain with a claim of sexual prejudice, which I don't think will fly because there's a difference between prejudice and preference, isn't there?
By the way, I'm female.
Dear Knows What She Wants,
I thought we were past this kind of thing. You love the person, not the sex. Or the person, not the race. Or the person, not the species.
I insist you have dinner with this individual for at least a dozen times. Talk. Exchange handshakes. Test it out. Maybe the females on their world are more like men on your world. Maybe they're better than men.
Have dinner! See what happens! .
Dear Space Mama,
My Cerulean family and I have parted ways. As you know, Ceruleans don't believe in partnerships between two; they involve all the immediate relations into the marriage. This was fine at first, but over the years I've discovered that I don't like half of them, refuse to have sex romps with them, don't even like eating with them (that's for another letter). They believe marriage can't be dissolved; if I want out, I have to go through a death ceremony. I'm getting strange reports about what this death ceremony is all about. I don't think it's a metaphor.
Dear Wants to Be Free AND Alive,
Didn't you understand what you were getting into? Doesn't anyone read the handbooks? Cerulean marriages are for life; there is no way out unless you can crawl into some capsule and steal your way out. The death ceremony is just that: a death, then a ceremony. It's much safer to declare your desire to be a virgin again. They've never had divorces, but they have had virgins. Try confusing them by saying that your species re-grows a hymen every ten years or so and therefore must go through a new courtship and choose a marriage partner. Who knows? Maybe they'll fall for it.
Dear Space Mama,
While I was away on a one-year trip to Argos, I put my house on auto-backup. It was just to maintain cleaning routines and security routines, nothing more.
When I returned I found unfamiliar machinery in every room. Apparently, I have been hacked. The house has been sending wrongful reports to the police base, which has started a file on me. They have altered the records to show the owner as one Hiram Ha Ha. Last night, the lock was changed. The police told me I'm on a keep-away list. Apparently, the hacker has a higher clearance than I do.
I'm thinking of some neat explosives, but I think they'd come for me immediately. What do you say?
Dear Hacked and Homeless,
You can see whether the hacker has changed all the online records; if not, you can sue to get your house back; if yes, then face facts. You are hacked. You are homeless. Start from there.
Dear Space Mama,
I am a thief. I admit it. I see things and I take them. I've been getting away with this all my life.
Now I've stolen something terrible. I didn't realize it at the time. I was at a ceremony on Colandria and I took one of their idols. It turns out it's one of their gods. I have it in my closet and every night there's a racket in my closet followed by an earthquake. I would like to return this thing but everyone is looking for it and the temple is now heavily guarded. Last night the god created a small whirlwind in my compound I think it's gearing up for something bigger. What should I do?
Dear Prefers to be Godless,
You're not the first person to steal a god and there's actually a procedure for this. First, get a plastic box, put the idol in it and mail it to Artifacts Returns (see section 5 of your manual for the nearest branch). Please do this immediately. Very often, gods can start by creating miracles and getting followers. It wants you for a priest, of course, so it's trying to impress you. If it's a sacrificial god, however, it will sacrifice you once it convinces you of its powers. It's already halfway there, honey. And maybe you should be sacrificed, come to think of it, considering your predilections. But I'm concerned about your companions; it could get messy.
If it's a changing god, you could go through a number of transformations, some of which will be uncomfortable.
If it's a warrior god, you will find an army outside your room one morning. That can be nasty.
If it's a love god, well, I've heard good things about that, actually.
If it's an elemental god, you may end up in cinders.
To be safe, send it to Artifacts. Read your manual.
Dear Space Mama,
I've been in this space pod for over a year now, with one other passenger, who makes sounds when he eats. I have asked him not to. I am considering killing him, because all we have are soft pasty meals anyway--why does he have to slurp and smack his lips and get the stuff all over his teeth? This capsule is too small for me to go somewhere else. Just some equipment, two seats, a fold-down table and our computer network.
I've worked out a plan. I'm going to wait till he sleeps, then I'm going to hit him over the head with the computer. No, not the computer--then I'd lose all communications. What about if I strangle him? There are cables I could use, though I'd have to cut one and then repair that. If I botched the repair, I'd probably ruin climate control.
I have another six months with this guy. It's him or me.
Dear Getting Close,
Have you tried sex? This is an obvious solution. If you still want to kill him after having sex with him, well, you did your best.
I say this because there's a little more leniency with crimes of passion than there is with crimes of eating.
Dear Space Mama,
I fell in love with Jed although I was married to Jarold. I never meant to; it just happened. We fled to Omistarrigy as one of the original settlers. After a year, however, Jarold found out where we were, took on an assumed name and identity, and threw Jed off the top of the roof where we lived.
Luckily, there's almost no gravity and Jed wasn't hurt.
Jed brought charges of attempted murder and Jarold was arrested, but the judge released him on bail because Jarold said throwing Jed off the roof was an accident; he had meant to throw me.
Then he said Ha ha, he was just joking. He knew no one would get hurt.
The trial is coming up in a week. I am wearing a protective cloak. Do you think he was joking?
Dear Looking over my Shoulder,
Check out section 41 on Humor under Difficult Conditions and you'll see that what's funny on one planet is dangerous on another. In this case, the opposite applies. Jarold meant to harm Jed (and why did you two go up on the roof with him, anyway?). However, in a failed attempted killing, all motives must be weighed and passion has always made people feel some sympathy. So if Jarold is passionate, he should have succeeded in killing. If he wasn't passionate, then it was a joke.
Not everyone has a good sense of humor.
Dear Space Mama,
On long space journeys, I bring along my pet Yoya. I pay extra for this. Yet people complain. It's true Yoyas do spit out their food first before re-ingesting it, but I've paid for this, the company approved it; what can I do to shut up these annoying people?
Dear Loves my Yoya,
Just because you paid to bring your Yoya doesn't mean the others paid to see it. While we do of course accord all respect to the diversity of species in the universe, we also believe that you have to acknowledge their effects on others. We don't change the oxygen content on shared space for nitrogen breathers; we keep them separate. You and your Yoya should stay in your cabin when it's eating.
Dear Space Mama,
There are five of us in a short-range module on a four-month tour. It's very tight quarters, with carefully allotted water, food, and air.
One crew member has been gaining weight steadily. He no longer fits in his chair. We don't know where he's getting the extra food, but since there is no renewable resource here, we're suspicious that he might have rigged the food dispenser. This would mean we'll run out of food eventually. Or he has a secret supply--but where? This capsule has no real hiding places.
We have begun considering putting him out the porthole. His food behavior may cost us our lives. What do you think?
Dear How to Lose Weight While in Orbit,
There are rules in the handbook, section 127 and on, about respecting an other being's physical habits and appearances. This is at the heart of our ability to communicate with other species. If you can't interact well with your own kind, how will you manage with radically different races with different cultures and different eating habits?
This man may have developed a hormone problem; have you considered that? Have you even spoken to him about it? If he eats all your food, that's one thing--but you don't know that. If you did know that, you would be justified in throwing him out the air hole. Or, in fact, killing him and eating him. That's section 134.
Dear Space Mama,
We've heard rumors that you don't actually exist, that you are in fact merely a computer program or maybe even an intern. Which is it?
Dear I Don't Believe in Santa Claus Either,
As your manual clearly states (section 1,004), Space Mama is an appointed position. Every year, one person is chosen at random and his/her brain is attached electronically to the Mama pit, where the accumulated wisdom of all the previous Mamas is stored.
Whenever anyone questions our existence without first consulting the manual, we select them as the next Space Mama. Then the previous one (that's me) gets to retire into the Mama pit. I'm looking forward to it. By the way, is someone knocking on your door? There's no point in trying to flee.
Space Mama knows where you are.
Welcome aboard!
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Author Comments

I used to read the "Dear Abby" columns when I was a kid, and I read other bleeding hearts columns later on in some alternative newspapers where the columnists got tough with the complainant, and that was definitely more fun. Most letters seem to be about love and about greed, so it was amusing to think about what love and greed would look like in an intergalactic world. I debated about the term "Space Mama"--was it demeaning? But the whole illusion about lovelorn columnists is that they'll comfort you and give you wise advice, which is what people expect from mothers as well. And mothers deal with an awful lot of crap. So I went with it.

- Karen Heuler
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