Sunday night I dreamed I was pregnant, which was a horrible mistake. One minute I was picking out a onesie with a top hat-wearing elephant on it and the next my alarm rang. When I came to I groaned because I knew what was coming next.
The drones were already waiting for me outside my apartment. A bright red Target-branded one lit up with a ticker-tape message. ALL YOU NEED FOR BABY. Its onboard projector flashed sale-price diapers and formula on the side of a vacant building as I hurried past.
At the office, Diane winced when a blue drone appeared outside our sixth-story window and bleated, “Bassinets on sale this week!” with the voice of a twenty-year-old theater student who probably got paid a hundred bucks for the job.
“Bad luck,” she said. “After Shelley proposed, those things hounded us for months with ads for venues. It’ll get better eventually. Especially since it’s bad targeting.”
By lunch, the web crawlers had trawled my social media and discovered that I was not, in all likelihood, pregnant. The algorithms reshuffled themselves and a pink drone appeared outside my window to project ‘THREE IN FIVE MARRIAGES BEGIN ONLINE. TRY MATCH’ onto my cubicle’s convenient beige.
‘NEED A DADDY? YOUR PATH IS THE CAREER WOMAN’S SPERM BANK OF CHOICE.’
‘SINGLES’ NIGHT AT THE NECTO THIS TUESDAY. COME HAVE FUN.’
I shut the blinds and turned the speakers up on my computer.
Drugs were an option. People paid good money to shut off the brain/subconscious connection that let your implant read your dreaming mind. Trouble was the side effects. The drugs ended any conscious recollection of dreaming, which turned out to have psychiatric consequences. And there were those reports of federal employees whose security clearances were accidentally revoked — when their chips stopped receiving their dreams, their brain patterns no longer matched the ones on file.
Another strategy was flooding your search history with irrelevant queries to confuse the algorithm, but that took time and I didn’t want to gunk up my browser’s autocomplete. Plus, it was hard to shake pregnancy ads. The nine months before the birth of a baby were some of the most expensive in a woman’s life and everybody wanted a share of that sweet disposable income.
I spent the afternoon squinting at my computer in the dim and practicing deep breathing.
Aidan called at six. I expected it, but my heart still dropped into my stomach when I saw the caller ID.
“Hey,” he said, and then there was a long and awkward pause where there would have been sweetheart before. “I’m getting a lot of florist ads today. There’s one stuck to my window right now. It’s making it hard to use the sink.”
I used to love Aidan’s kitchen, especially that window, which overlooked his landlady’s rose garden. The view made doing dishes bearable.
“It’ll go away eventually.” We’d been together four years. Of course the drones found the links in our Facebook feeds, my blog, Aidan’s ancient LiveJournal. Four years of shared vacations and selfies. All the photos of us with me on his lap or him in my armchair or our arms around each other at a friend’s wedding.
A memory struck me like a falling piano. His hand on my side in the middle of the night, the swell and fall of his chest against my back.
“I had a dream,” I said. “About babies. You know, that’s a major trigger for ads.”
“No problem. It’s just an annoyance.” In the background I heard the water turn on and off, the splash of something in the sink. Washing salad mix, probably. I’d eaten more salad with him than I had in the prior twenty-three years. He was the only person I knew who actively enjoyed lettuce.
I had a prepackaged burrito waiting in the freezer. “Well. If that’s all, I’d better — ”
“Does this mean you changed your mind?”
If I said yes, it would be so easy to fall back together. I’d never asked for the key to my apartment back; knowing him, he hadn’t yet returned the ring.
I probably wouldn’t be a bad mother. We could compromise on one kid, I could take four weeks off and then go hire a nanny. Nobody was actually traumatized by being raised by the nanny. Mom and Dad and Aidan’s parents all wanted grandkids. What did it matter if I didn’t like children? What did it matter if my mind went blank when I tried to imagine a future where someone called me mom?
“I haven’t,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
He breathed out and static burst from the phone. “I know. Just thought I’d ask.”
After I hung up, I no longer wanted a burrito. I was thinking about ordering in Indian food, something that could reasonably be construed as a full meal, when something went thunk against the front door.
Another drone. Orange. Its eye opened and I didn’t need to see what it was advertising. I snatched it off the ground and stuck my thumb over the projector.
“Warning,” it said. “Damage to advertising property violates our Terms of Service and may result in — ”
It crunched under my slipper. I got the broom and swept everything into the dustbin.
Lina Rather lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan where she works at a historical archive. In her spare time she cooks, collects terrible 90’s comics, and writes melancholy stories. Her work has appeared in Shimmer, Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, and Lightspeed. You can find more on her website or Twitter @LinaRather.