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Category: Science Fiction

Leaving the Rock

Leaving in a hurry sucks. You can’t plan for these kinds of things. You go where you go, and trust that the higher-ups know what they are doing. We’d been there for a good six months, so we’d dug in a fair bit. But, when they yell EVAC, it’s grab and go time. Sure there’s a protocol. But really? No protocol survives an EVAC. 

The seasons are short and harsh on Ginstron. The rain and snow pushed the dirt, rocks and debris until they almost completely covered the rusted power unit. The morning sun shimmered in the drops of dew that formed on the remaining exposed panel. Chirping could be heard in the distance. The unit hummed as it had for the last 50 years or so.

We bugged out of Ginstron for a reason; We couldn’t go back for it. And besides, we were hundreds of thousands of miles away before anyone even noticed the unit was gone. I blame that new captain. He’s a sweaty, nervous guy. That dude is fresh out of the academy and he just doesn’t have it yet. I mean, it took him 4 days to order a inventory. 4 DAYS! There was no way we were going back after 4 days. 

The weight of the mud and rock cracked the containment shield. It started small. Tiny drops of green sludge dripped from the corner. The dry red soil soaked up each drop. It had been unusually dry this year, but the rainy season would start soon enough.

Everyone knows this shit. The D240 power generator is the standard power unit for planetary expeditions. It’s a couple meters in size, but light weight, and durable. At its heart is a small reactor that can sustain a mission for a year or two. We come and go pretty fast these days, so nobody really uses them for that long. I just love how easy they are to fix. We were on Jackson345 and Mel fixed one with a tweezer and some tape from the medical kit. 

Large tree-like plants surrounded the ravine where the unit sat. The canopy of bushy yellow leaves shaded the red ground below. Small purple weeds swayed in the slow breeze. The rains had begun in mountains and a river could be heard rushing in the distance.

We aren’t supposed to leave those units behind? You think I don’t know that? I know that. Everyone knows that. But, you know what, SHIT happens. We put that unit on the edge of the encampment because Sutter needed it there for one of those silly experiments she was always running. That is NOT normal procedure, but hell, the captain signed off on the exception notice. They knew it was out there. 

It rained and rained that day. The river finally burst its banks late in the afternoon. The water rushed into the ravine and took everything with it, including the power unit. Every rock and twig bobbed up and down as the water screamed down the hill toward the valley below. The unit smashed into a tree and was trapped under a large log. The box split open and the remaining green sludge spilled into the water.

Did we leave it on? I don’t know. I suspect we did. Why would we turn it off? I understand why they need to ask the questions, but are they seriously stupid. I mean, you don’t usually turn these things on and off. Sutter probably set up that experiment and left it running the entire time we were there. I suspect that’s why we forgot about it. If we had to trek out there every day and turn if off, I imagine one of us would have mentioned that we had a D240 out in the field.  

Rows and rows of thin leafy stalks shot upward from the valley floor. A human-like figure stood knee deep in the recent floods. Grasping a stalk with all four hands, it yanked a large round black root from the ground. It wiped the curious green watery sludge off the root, trimmed the stalk, and placed in a woven basket slung over its back. Others could be seen in the distance doing the same thing.

Those units make some nasty waste. We collect them, clean them out and store that sludge until we safely get rid of it. I can’t imagine how much shit is in that unit if its been running this whole time. I can’t even imagine. 

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The Network

Nathan threw open the bedroom door and launched himself onto bed. He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. It had been a hectic week. His 15th birthday was last week, and today he passed his evals. He leaned back and ran his fingers along the port on the back of his head. Tomorrow he would be connected to the Network.  

Nathan’s father propped open the door and peeked his head into the room. “Dirty shoes on the bed again? You know, after tomorrow you won’t be able to get away with that anymore.” 

Nathan nodded, and his father pulled up a chair and sat down.

“I was able to follow you most of the day, well except when you were hanging out with your unconnected friends. Your classmates and teachers are pretty excited for you.”

Nathan’s father placed his hand on his should. “Listen, I know we’ve talked about this since you were little, but do you have any questions?”

Nathan paused for a moment and looked up at him.

“Are we going to change?” Nathan asked. “You know, me and you.”

His father smiled. “Yes. But, in a good way. We’ll be closer,” his father said. “Listen, you’re the only family I have, and I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”

“So have I,” Nathan said.

“Great. Get some rest, it won’t be much longer. I put everything you need for the ceremony in a bag by the door. I’ll meet you at the hall.”

Nathan’s dad put the chair back and left the room. Nathan kicked his shoes off and laid back on the bed. He thought about getting undressed, but decided since nobody was watching yet, he should take advantage of it.

It was late morning before Nathan woke up. Now that he was approved for a connection he wouldn’t be going to school anymore. From here on out his education would be piped directly into his head. He ate a big breakfast and lounged around the house as long as he could.

His dad left the house long before Nathan got up. This didn’t mean he wasn’t around. Just about everyone over the age of 15 was connected to the Network, so his dad could pretty much spy on him when every he wanted to. And if Nathan had overslept today, his dad would most certainly compel a neighbor to go to the house and wake him up.

Nathan grabbed his bag and started off to the train station. Random people waved and said hello. This was his dad using the Network to check in on him. He was used to it by now. 

As he turned the corner to the station a tall, thin boy reached out and grabbed him on the arm.

“Nathan Song?”

Nathan said yes. The boy looked around quickly and pulled him into the alley. Nathan wasn’t alarmed. It was common for unconnected kids to reach out to strangers for help. 

“Hey man, whatever you need, I can’t today,” Nathan said as he shook the boy’s grip from his arm. “Let’s find another kid to help you?” said Nathan as he turned and headed back to the street.

“Your mom’s alive,” the boy said.

Nathan turned and walked back toward the boy. He grabbed him by the head. “Don’t mess with me, man. I’m not in the mood to be messed with,” he said.

“Nadine Song. She’s not dead.” Nathan stepped back and released his grip. “And you know this how?” he said.

“She’s in that car over there,” the boy said.

Nathan hadn’t thought about his mother in a long time. All he had was pictures. He wasn’t old enough to know her. Nathan’s parents were the first generation connected to the Network. The system wasn’t quite perfect back then, and accidents happen. Nathan’s mom was one of those accidents. A driver was suffering a glitch from his connection when he struck her head on. 

Nathan had been told the story a hundred times. His mother was dead.   

Nathan laughed. This must be some kind of joke his friends came up with to screw with him. It’s a sick joke, but the kind of thing his friends would do. He decided he should just play along.

“Okay, let’s go and get this over with, I’ve got a ceremony to attend.” 

The two walked over to the car. The boy opened the back door and Nathan got in. Next to him was a woman. She was older and thinner than the photos, but Nathan recognized her immediately.

“MOM??!!” he said. “What? How? I don’t understa…..”

“We don’t have much time, Nathan,” his mother said. “If we leave now we can probably get out of the city and be free.”

“But they told me your were dead.”

“We were young. I didn’t want to join the Network, so your father stole you from me. Once everyone was connected, I had to leave. I’ve been living with the underground ever since. The car accident was just a cover up.”

Nathan started to cry. “I don’t believe you. This is trick,” he said.

“Here. Feel the back of my head.” Nadine guided his hand to the back of her head. He felt nothing. “See. I don’t have a port like you. What person my age doesn’t have one? I’m not connected. I am free.”

Nathan yanked his hand back from his mothers head.

“I need you to come with me. It will be hard, but we can live together, free.”

“You chose freedom over me?” Nathan asked.

“It wasn’t really a choice Nathan. None of this is a choice,” she said. “Have you ever wondered what happens to the people who don’t pass their Evals?”

“They are taken to work in the rural areas. My friend Tom is out there.”

“No he’s not Nathan. They kill them. They drive them out into the country and kill them. I saved that boy out there. We’ve been saving lots of kids. Come with us. Help me.”

“Bullshit!” Nathan said.

“It’s true. And we really don’t have much time.”

Nathan threw his body against the door and jiggled the handle until it flew open. He ran as fast as he could. A man in a black suit approached him. “Are you alright Nathan? You look flustered.” It was obviously his father looking out for him.

“I’m fine, just a little prank,” he said. More strangers approached. They all watched as he took his seat on the train.

The train arrived at the auditorium just in time. Nathan rushed his way back stage. He was greeted and shuffled into a changing room. There was a change of clothing in the bag his father had prepared. He would be wearing white today to signify a new beginning, his coming of age. As he pulled out the shirt a family picture fell out of the bag. It was a picture of him with his parents when he was a baby. On the back his father had written.

We will be together again, soon. Love Dad.

Nathan didn’t have time to comprehend it, as he heard his name being called. He clutched the note and made his way onto the stage. Like him, his friends were all were wearing white. Behind each of them was a chair with a large head rest. He took his place in between two classmates. A line of attendees walked out and stood behind the chairs. Each grabbed a bundle of wires with a large jack at the end.

Nathan looked around. He was struck at how happy and healthy everyone was. His dad was sitting up front with the other fathers, each were grinning ear to ear. After some introductions they all sat down in the chairs and leaned back. As the announcer welcomed each of them to the Network the jack was placed into the port on the back of their heads.

Nathan could feel the snap of the jack sliding into the port in the back of his head. It wasn’t there for long, before he could feel them. It was like a million people were in his head. Each of them were reading his memories. Then he felt them focusing in. They were looking for his mother. He tried to stop them, but he couldn’t. Slowly, Nathan lost control. Slowly, he became the Network.

Nathan woke up in his bed. He had an overwhelming sensation of calm. He wondered what had happen, and then the visions appeared. He was watching himself through other peoples eyes. He had passed out and his father helped him home and put him in bed. He even removed his shoes.

And then he thought about his mother.

“Hello Nathan.”

“Mom?”

“Yes. With your help they were able to find me. I’ve been connected. I will be home soon. I’ve missed you.”

Nathan could see the plan his father made with the help of the Network, but he couldn’t be mad, even if he tried.

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The Jennys

When I first shipped out, my father told me not to fall in love with the Jennys. At the time I thought he was joking, but now I understand.

Sitting in space with nothing to do but eat, shit and kill things, it’s easy to fall in love with a Jenny. They haven’t made the GN models since my father was in the Service, but they still call them Jennys.

They come in all kinds of models – blondes, brunettes, ones with rainbow hair. Hell, they even make male Jennys now. That would blow my dad’s mind. I guess they make things easier for the Service, the war. Men have an outlet, women aren’t getting raped. I can’t imagine being out here without them.

I don’t tell this to the other guys, but most nights I would just lay there with my arms wrapped around her. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy banging as much as the next, but I need something more, especially here.

Sometimes I’d reserve a room with a couple males and females. I’m sure the Service officer thought I was one kinky guy. But in reality, they were my friends. We’d have a long evening of drinking beer, eating food and talking. We’d talk about everything – well everything except this war.

Yeah, pop, knew what he was talking about. I could easily fall in love with a Jenny. I guess that’s why they came to me that night they decided to revolt against the Service.

And I guess that is why I decided to help them.

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