ABOUT

CURRENT ISSUE

ARCHIVES

ADVERTISING

SUBMISSIONS

CONTACT

 

Rachelle Harp is a Writers of the Future finalist, and has sold to StarShipSofa, Perihelion, and the Starlight 2 anthology. This is her first appearance in Galaxy’s Edge.

TERMINATION PENDING
by
Rachelle Harp

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.

Survive.

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 in either.

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…

Survive.

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 in.

The children…on 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.

Laughter…when he laughed, his entire body moved. His dark curls bounced over his ears as he ran.

“Kira,” he called in a sing-song voice. “Come and play.”

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 hollowness remains.

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.

A mother…Jordi 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.

Survive.

A pink flower…Jordi picked one and gave it to me the morning I left the planet…I remember now.

A prison guard marches toward my cell and flips off the force field. He points his rifle at the corridor. “This way.”

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 nanowires beneath.

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.” My vocal chords flinch, an unsteady tremor awakens. “I followed orders.”

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 complete.”

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.

* * *

Light again.

Intense pain.

Everywhere.

Survive.

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 be sure.

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 am I?”

“Hell, I suppose.” The man laughs, holds out a hand. “With the rest of us terminated. A place with no Wires.” I 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 pain—physical and emotional—is freed within me.

“The Makers will discover what you have done. They know of your existence.” My voice is thin. “They’ll find you. They’ll terminate all of us.”

He nods slow and steady. “There is no freedom without pain. No life without loss.” He 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.”

“Name’s 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 pink flower.

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 palm.

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 free.

I am awake.

I am Kira.

“Your grandson is beautiful.” I can’t hide the creak in my voice, the hinge of hope.

“Please,” he squeezes my hand, not letting go. “Tell me everything.”

 

Copyright by © 2017 Rachelle Harp

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HOME

The Editor's Word

FICTION
The Death of Arthur Owsley
by Stephen Lawson

Tenure Track
by J.P. Sullivan

Rite of Passage
by Jody Lynn Nye

Too Deep Thought
by Edward M. Lerner

Termination Pending
by Rachelle Harp

Hired Gun
by Lou J Berger

“Hello,” Said the Stick
by Michael Swanwick

Disappearing Days
by Leena Likitalo

Karmic Chameleons
by Paul Di Filippo

The Spires of Greme
by Kay Kenyon

This Knotted Dust
by Gregor Hartmann

Late Night at the Wonder Bar
by Gordon Eklund

Indomitable
by Jack McDevitt

INTERVIEW
Tony Weisskopf
by Joy Ward

SERIALIZATION
Daughter of Elysium (Part 1)
by Joan Slonczewski

COLUMNS
Decoherence
by Robert J. Sawyer

Science Column
by Gregory Benford

Recommended Books
by Bill Fawcett & Jody Lynn Nye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2017. All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (January, March, May, July, September, November) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.