Twenty minutes into the transatlantic flight, Connor started wailing. Pauline cradled him in her arms. Then she rocked him, she offered him her breast, she sang to him; Connor continued to cry.
The man sitting on her right gave her a thin smile. “Did you forget the baby’s pauser code?”
“No,” Pauline mumbled, wishing she could sink through the floor into the cargo hold. “I’ve never used the pauser.”
Connor quieted just long enough for her words to carry to the neighbouring rows. Indignant heads swivelled to glare at her.
“Unbelievable,” said a woman with a Bronx accent, pretending to talk to her husband, but making sure Pauline heard. “Travelling with an unpaused infant should be illegal.”
As you can see, this story takes a wish-fulfilment idea and runs with it. Babies can be paused with a tap of their bracelet, and they turn into a frozen shadow, experiencing no passage of time until you unpause them. All babies have them. Using them has been normal for at least a generation.
Pauline refuses to use them. When she was growing up her own parents much preferred her younger brother, and they continually found excuses to pause her: anything from the importance of Harold getting piano lessons while Monsieur Hubert was available, to the necessity of pausing Pauline until the boarding school had a vacancy for her. Even though she was born a year before him, by the end of her childhood he was chronologically nine years older than her. She is determined not to let this happen to her own son.
But it’s difficult. Pauline is a single mother who works freelance from home, and she struggles to look after him simultaneously. She can’t afford daycare. And as time goes on she finds it more and more difficult to avoid giving in and using pausetime.
I love the design of this story. Lee has taken the high-concept of the pausetime gadget and has dramatised it with a cruelly, believably conflicted protagonist that cuts to the core of the morality of such a gadget. While the story leaves me wanting to see more of the world, I know there won’t be, because all the important themes surrounding this gadget have already been done to the right length.
PauseTime by Mary Soon Lee
Availability: free online, print
Word count: 4,000
First published: Spectrum SF #4, Nov 2000
Where to find it: Free online at Lightspeed magazine here:
Ebb Tides and Other Tales, collection, 2002, Dark Regions Press