As I pace my cell, cold seeps through my
carbon plating into my flesh despite the nanowires controlling my internal body
temperature. My mission was not supposed to end this way. I am Kira, Cyborg
Operating System 7.1, Explorer Unit. I scouted the newly discovered planet in
Sector A77231 and reported back to the Makers. I followed orders—yet
I’m scheduled for termination
in 1.2 hours.
A single word repeats in my mind.
I run various escape scenarios through my
neural processors. Take out the guard who brings meals, short circuit the force
field, feign illness. With only one cot attached to the concrete wall and a
small vent far above my head, every idea seems fruitless.
Transmission dampers prevent my internal
communication signal from breaching my prison shell. No outside thoughts leak
I am alone.
With my index finger, I tap the force field separating
my cell and the empty corridor. A jolt of electricity stings my fingertip. The
burning sensation overpowers my pain processor and shoots upward. I wince, grab
my upper arm until the momentary surge passes.
The speaker beeps a loud warning sound. A
video screen lights up on the panel beside the force field. In bright white
letters, my programming axiom scrolls across like a daily reminder.
The Makers orders are perfection. The Makers
are just. Thank you for your duty.
I piloted a one-man spacecraft, landed, and
took readings of the reportedly lifeless planet. But it was inhabited by
unaltered humans—Unwireds. A people
with no advanced technology. Water sources were numerous. Plenty of huts and
timber structures. Fields with plants and food and animals. Natives were
friendly and unafraid of me, even gave gifts of foods. Honey, barley, corn.
There was someone who gave me something special…I
do not recall exactly what it was.
Report back as ordered…
Yet termination still…
I pull my fist back and punch the force
field. Energy swells and surges, spirals into my entire body. I scream, jerk my
hand free. Intense burning. Muscle spasms and swells of pain. I jump back,
panting as the shivers break through my emotion-processing sensor. A couple of
minutes pass before the pain subsides. My breathing slows and a memory flies
the planet. Fascinating to watch. One little boy who called himself Jordi came
to my ship and sang songs outside my window. Then he chased the other children
in their games.
he laughed, his entire body moved. His dark curls bounced over his ears as he
called in a sing-song voice. “Come
As I stare at my singed hand, a hollow
sensation roots in the floor of my chest. A strange feeling I haven’t
felt since that day on the planet. And I don’t
want it to leave. I don’t
want to forget it…or
him. My emotional processing sensor fails to correct the imbalance, and the
Thirty minutes until termination.
The cold in my cell wraps me like a winter
blanket. I sit on my cot and hug my knees to my chest. Hope should seem a
distant memory—a raindrop in the
desert. Even if I were able to breach the force field door, Police Units are
stronger than Explorer Units. No doubt they would overtake me before I could
slip past the perimeter fence, but I must try.
The hollow sensation burrows into my stomach.
One day on the planet…I
joined Jordi’s ball-catching game.
I did not return to the ship to fully recharge, so some of my sensors went
offline to conserve power. Sensations of wind soared through me and laughter
floated out. All things I hadn’t
experienced since I was a small child—before
the Makers transformed me from meager human into Kira 7.1, Explorer. Before the
metal and wires and pain.
After that, I only recharged enough to keep
minimal systems working.
picked pink flowers for his mother each morning. Her black eyes sparkled like
obsidian glass, her long black hair shimmering. She hugged him, kissed him
three times—once on each cheek,
then the lips. Jordi’s
eyes sparkled like his mother’s
did in the bright sunshine. They walked hand in hand to the creek, mother and
son. And though my emotional processor filtered some of the feelings away, a
few slipped through.
Longing. Belonging. Warmth. It was as if I
were standing in a gentle breeze and the sun brushed my cheeks, awakening
something inside me until my processor choked the feelings back.
Fifteen minutes until termination.
I recorded the required footage and flew back
to report exactly as ordered.
Police Units came for me in the middle of the
night and marched me down a long corridor with no windows. The hollow clank of
metal boots against the hard tile floor echoed.
They trapped me in this vault.
A pink flower…Jordi
picked one and gave it to me the morning I left the planet…I
A prison guard marches toward my cell and
flips off the force field. He points his rifle at the corridor. “This
I should follow without question, but
something whispers in the back of my mind. A buzzing sound that seems to tell
me I have to try…for Jordi.
I step outside the cell. Though I lack the
weapon implants of the guards, I use my carbon-plated limbs to my advantage.
When the guard glances away, I slam my fists down on his wrists. His rifle
bobbles, but doesn’t
fall. I kick him in the shin and swing at his face, but a second guard grabs my
shoulders and pulls me back. He slams me into the wall. My face plate skids
across the ceramic tiles, and he cuffs me.
The guards escort me down the windowless
corridor to a white-walled chamber with bright fluorescent lights shining in
the ceiling. Cold air circulates as we pass a dozen cells holding other Units.
Most look like Explorers. Three have armored plating on their chests, thighs,
and shoulders, typical of Soldier Units.
A sliding glass door swishes open, and my
captors shove me across the threshold. A third guard meets us inside,
prosthetic lens spinning faster as it focuses on me. He grabs my upper arm. I
resist, jerk back, kick at his knees. My captor is stronger, though. His metal
fingers jam into my shoulders as he picks me up and shoves me into a cold,
steel chair. Pain throbs in my muscles, sharp, piercing. My cuffs fall off, and
he straps my wrists down. The metal cuts into my bio-flesh, pressing into the
A video screen slowly descends from the
ceiling. A Maker Unit with long white hair appears onscreen, pale skin and a
slight upward curve to her lips. Her expression is calm and cool, not a drop of
warmth in her eyes. “Hello, Explorer,” she
says in a smooth, almost robotic tone. “I
am Maker 782. You have accomplished your mission, for which we thank you.”
“I do not understand.”
vocal chords flinch, an unsteady tremor awakens. “I
She smiles. “Of
course. The Unwireds you discovered are dangerous. Resistors among us believe
we should shed our wiring to live the old-fashioned way. They believe those you
found on the planet are the true Makers. Some Resistors wish to join them, rid
us of our wiring. Disconnect us. This cannot happen. Once the wires are
removed, we will die.”
Maker 782 motions for a Medic, who carries a
long, thin needle on a metal tray. I shudder and my voice hops up into an
unfamiliar octave. “I
do not understand. I am Kira—I
did my duty.”
“We must suppress
viral meme infection,” she
continues. “Your duty is
The screen flicks off. The Medic moves
closer, carrying a syringe filled with clear liquid.
My muscles tense, I clench my fists. Every
day, it’s as if I pass
through the wind yet never feel it ripple across my skin. Seeing Jordi and his
mother for those brief moments, feeling the hints of life festering inside me…I
want more. I can’t explain it.
Something has awoken inside me that won’t
go back to sleep.
I want what Jordi and his mother have.
I want what I have forgotten.
I wriggle and fight with all the strength I
have. Anything to resist. The Medic shoves the needle into my arm, but my metal
bindings are too strong. I thrash and flail, but cannot stop him. A sting
sensation spreads throughout my body.
Darkness fades in.
* * *
A swirling sea of strange sensations swims
inside me. The desire to run into the shadows, the urge to scream as loud as I
can, the heavy feeling of a boulder dragging me down, the hollow roots twisting
through my chest and tying knots in my stomach…I
cannot process…no way to wrap my
head around them.
Is this is a dream? I blink away the fog. A
rock-hewn chamber. Dim lights. The faint scent of baked bread. But something
else is different. I can’t
More blinking. Every muscle, every bone,
aching. I’m not bolted to the
chair anymore. Fire dances down my skin and spine. Teeth gritting, I grab my
forearm. Bare flesh. Human flesh—not
bio-flesh. I graze my fingers over the naked, chafed skin. Small cuts and
bruises pock my arm where implants once dressed me. My hands, my legs, my feet—all
the enhancements have been removed.
I am Unwired.
I struggle to sit up, cringing. A short man
with a honey-kissed face helps me. He smiles like the people I saw on the
planet. Smooth-skinned and unmarred. Another Unwired.
Yet, I am not afraid. Warmth like the sun’s
blanket wraps me, and the mix of uneasiness floats away. I have the urge to run
in grass fields as I did when I was a child.
The pain ebbs a little as I scoot to the edge
of the table and dangle my feet. “Where
“Hell, I suppose.”
man laughs, holds out a hand. “With
the rest of us terminated. A place with no Wires.”
hold tight as he helps me to my feet. The first step is the hardest. I nearly
double over, breathe in a handful of shallow gasps. This pain soon wanes so
that I can stand upright and lean on his shoulder.
Slowly, we hobble to a window on the far side
of the room. Children chase each other and giggle. Men and women talk and laugh
as they move about a tent-filled cavern. Some people cook over cast-iron pots.
Others hang clothes to dry.
All are Unwired.
“Our Resistor in the
medical division saved you. Don’t
worry,” he says with a low
voice. “You are safe in our
camp. For now.”
As the children run free, the memory of Jordi
and his mother returns. I’m
no longer trapped in the glass tunnel looking out, empty inside. I feel a
spider web tug round my chest, spinning tighter and tighter. Every sting of
emotional—is freed within me.
“The Makers will
discover what you have done. They know of your existence.”
voice is thin. “They’ll
find you. They’ll terminate all of
He nods slow and steady. “There
is no freedom without pain. No life without loss.”
takes me to a worn wooden chair and helps me sit down. “Your
body will learn how to process all these feelings. Pain, emotions—good
and bad. Takes time.”
I slump in the chair, let the intensity of
all these new senses and emotions churn. A few minutes pass before I breathe
normally and the pain isn’t
overpowering. “Thank you.”
Jordan.” He smiles a crooked grin as he hands me a
small piece of paper with an old-style picture printed on one side. A younger version
of the man before me wraps his arms around an even younger woman with a large
belly and obsidian eyes. “Lyra
escaped years ago,” he
says with a soft voice. “We’ve
been unable to find out where she went.”
I take the photo, trace her long black hair
with my fingertip. I know her face—at
least an older version. One that smiled with the love only a mother can show
her son. The warmth and belonging I felt on the planet rush back.
Across the room, a light shines on the
operating table. The pieces that used to clothe me—all
the old implants, carbon plates, nanowires, strips of bio-flesh—are
heaped in a pile on the floor. I hand the picture back and stand, holding tight
to Jordan’s shoulder. With
small steps, I shuffle to the pile that used to be me. I kneel, sift through
the dead wires and parts until I find my left arm plate, the one with storage
compartments for samples. With a push, the door pops open, revealing a dried
I breathe in the sweet perfume, close my eyes
to remember for a few passing heartbeats, then open them. “Her
son’s name is Jordi.” I
set the flower in Jordan’s
His eyes brim and he blinks. “Jordi?”
I smile. Jordan grabs my hand with his free
one. Warm like a summer blanket. I don’t
jerk away. I want to feel everything.
For the first time since I was a child, I am
I am awake.
I am Kira.
is beautiful.” I can’t
hide the creak in my voice, the hinge of hope.
squeezes my hand, not letting go. “Tell