Deprecated

This short story was written while I was planning “We Broke the Moon”.


Kim kicked the door to her sleeping-pod. The damn thing never closed properly. Then again, soon enough, that wouldn’t matter. In fact she didn’t know why she bothered locking it. Habit, probably.

She leaned against the door until the latch clicked.

The corridors were still deserted, the lighting at early-morning-dim. She walked slowly. These days each step took concentration. She had plenty of time to get to her appointment. No need to hurry.

“Kimbo!”

It was Garry Lategan, opening the hatch of his little shop. Best pusher-pilot in the system and here he was, selling blinks and pins. She would never get used to it.

“Hey. Garry.” Kim nodded a greeting and managed something that felt like a smile. “Early start today?”

“Best to get going before the rush.” Garry leaned on the counter. “They still got you offloading?”

He was a good-looking guy even after all these years. He’d stopped dying his hair which was a relief.

“Yup. Doing docking manoeuvres today.” Kim kept walking as she spoke. Once she got herself moving it was better not to stop. She might not get going so easily again. “It’s not bad. Sort of fun.”

“I’ll take your word for it. See you later, then.”

“Good one, Garry.”

When she reached the main junction Kim glanced to the left as she always did. The doors to the old dock had long been welded shut but she could still see them as they used to be and see, in memory, the bustle and hustle of the bay itself.

Hear it, too. It had been deafening even out here beyond the doors. Engines revving, mechs hammering at some damn thing, the hiss of hydraulics as a suit powered up and the grumbling roar of the generators.

Now all she could hear was the hum of the light strips and her own breathing.

When she finally reached the door to the Memory Unit she had to lean on it for a few seconds, getting her breath back.

She cursed. Moving her body was like pushing a suit with a faulty power-pack. She half expected the irritating meep-meep-meep of a low battery signal.

Getting old sucked balls. Sucked gigantic, hairy balls. Joints seized. Bone density gone from too many months in zero gravity. That wouldn’t have been so bad, all fixable they’d told her, but the nano-bots could only do so much. Turns out the expensive shielding she’d so diligently installed, all up to company spec, had done zero, zip, fuck-all to stop the radiation.

Kim focused on the access screen and flattened her hand against it. She leaned her forehead on the door, waiting for it to open.

When it didn’t she backed away and frowned at the screen again.

“What the hell is this?”

A message scrolled across the screen. “…cancelled, please proceed to med-bay 18…” with a helpful animated arrow pointing the way.

“Bugger that.”

Tried pressing her palm again but the door stayed stubbornly closed.

She peered through the window at the brightly lit space beyond. Cheerful posters filled the wall. “Thanks for sharing your life with us” and “Memories should never die.”

Which was great. That was what she was there for. To share her memories and skills with the simulator. Except the door wouldn’t open.

With a sigh she obeyed the arrow and set off again, checking the signs until she found med-bay 18.

The door swung open to reveal a typical med-bay. Small, neat, well lit, just big enough to hold a narrow bed, a chair, and a nervous-looking med-tech.

“Um. Uh. Miss Senekam?” He glanced down at his clipboard. “I mean, Senekal?”

Kim jutted her jaw at him. “Why am I here?”

He stared at her blankly.

She was being too abrupt again. Young people preferred you come at things at an angle. She tried again. “Why have I been sent here? I’m supposed to be offloading memories. Got a session booked for this morning.”

“Oh. Yes. That’s been cancelled.” He held the clipboard out to her but she didn’t take it, or even look at it. “You want to tell me what the hell’s going on? I’m going to be late for my session.”

“I’m sorry, uh, miss—” He licked his lips and glanced helplessly down at the clipboard again.

She took pity on him. “Oh. Never mind. My session’s been cancelled. Can I sit down? You can call me Kim.”

“Of course!” He stepped back to give her room and held out a helping hand a moment too late to steady her as she shuffled past him and lowered herself onto the bed.

“Why did they send me here?” Kim said shifting backward till she was sitting steadily. She nodded at his clipboard. “What does it say there? Not more radiation, surely. I’m through with chucking up my guts.”

“They’ve cancelled your memory download. Your skill-area has been deprecated. Says here,” he glanced down at the clipboard “push-ship and suit-piloting have been reclassified non-central and as such are deprecated.”

Kim stared at him. “What the fuck—” She took a breath, forcing herself to be calm. No point in scaring the poor boy. He was just trying to do his job. “What does that mean?”

“If they’ve reclassified your skills as non-central, that means there’s no need to record them anymore.”

“Well.” Kim blew out a breath. “Bloody hell. Sure. The AIs do all the piloting these days. It’s not like they’re training any humans to be pusher-pilots. But I thought the whole point was to record these things in case we have another AI melt-down?”

The med-tech shrugged and turned away from her, opening a recessed cabinet.

“Hold on.” Kim gripped the edge of the bed. “This isn’t— If they don’t want me downloading anymore, is this my termination?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He tore open a sterile package and swabbed the counter with it and discarded the used swab.

Kim closed her eyes. Ice curled in her belly and prickles coursed up and down her spine. Dammit. What was the point of these feelings? Death. She was ready for it, had been looking forward to it, for fucks sake. She was more than ready for the end. What was the point in recording her memories on that simulator, after all? No one would ever replay them.

“You okay?”

She opened her eyes to find the med-tech looking concerned. He licked his lips and swallowed.

Damn. Now she was scaring the boy again.

“Sure. Just didn’t expect it quite today.” She was pleased with how that came out. Calm, steady, and polite.

“You want to reschedule?”

“What? No. No let’s just get it over with.” She had a sudden memory of her sleeping pod closed up and locked. She’d meant to leave the door open on her last day so anyone who wanted to could help themselves to the few belongings she had left.

She tried to swing her feet up onto the bed then realised she was still wearing her boots. Dammit. This was humiliating. She’d never get them off herself. Bending forward would make her dizzy. She might even be sick which would be humiliating as well as inconvenient.

Before she could ask for help he was already undoing the clips and easing the boots off.

“So, you were a push-pilot, then?”

Kim nodded, lifting her leg so he could pull the boot off more easily. “Pusher-pilot. Drove a suit too, for a couple of decades.”

She leaned back, gripping the mattress hard. He dropped her boots and eased his arm around her shoulders, deftly lowering her into the pillows.

“After the melt-down? That must have been something.”

“It was something, alright.” Kim stared up at the ceiling, listening to the rustle of his movements. “Those were crazy days. I was here right from the beginning, you know. Lived through it all.”

She tried to turn her head to look at him but the pillow was too soft.

“I’ll never forget it. Power went down. Bloody alarms wailing. Airlocks all opening at the same time. God. Makes my blood run cold even now.”

“Wow.” The med-tech sounded genuinely interested. “That must have been terrifying.” Something rattled and then he was in her field of vision again, head silhouetted against the soft glow of the ceiling light.

“We survived.” Kim squinted up at him, trying to make out his expression. Was she boring him? “We were soft, those days. Used to the bots doing everything. Then the AIs all bottomed out and suddenly we had to scramble just to make sure we had air to breathe. Never mind food and all the rest of it.”

“You comfortable?” He adjusted her legs so that they lay a little straighter.

“Had to learn quickly, you know.” Kim pushed herself a little higher in the bed. “And no simulators then. Luckily we had the pressure suits and you could teach yourself to drive those if you had the guts. Pushing out to all the derelicts to scavenge what we could.”

“Must have been terrifying.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Kim frowned, trying to remember. Had she been scared? “We had to learn quick or we died. And I was young. You don’t believe you’ll die when you’re young. It was kind of thrilling, actually. Kicking into a derelict with your team. All dark, except for the bits you point your beam at. We didn’t even have radio at first. Used hand signs. Easy to die, you’re right about that. Run out of air, or get your mix wrong, run out of power, get tangled in some damn thing…”

“But you got through.”

“I did.” She dragged herself back into the present. “Not many of us left, either. Bet I’m one of the last. And here we are, AI up the ass. You’d think the meltdown never happened.”

“Is that why you asked for a manual termination?” He rolled up her sleeve and positioned her arm so that it lay wrist-up next to her.

Kim gave a grunt. “I guess so. Seems wrong to let a machine do it after all of that.” She watched as he peeled the back off the first patch. “So, it goes on my arm?”

“That’s right.” He smoothed a patch over her wrist. “And the other one goes here.” His fingers were cool against her temple.

“Doesn’t feel like anything much.”

“You won’t feel anything.” He drew the chair up and sat in it, glancing at the readouts above her head. “You sound like you were lucky. Never had any accidents?”

“I was damn lucky.” She let herself sink back into the pillows. “Had accidents, everyone does, but nothing fatal. And I had a good team.” She sighed. “Tough as nails, guys and girls. Brave. And we looked out for one another. Had to, out there in the dark.”

She closed her eyes. How could she make him understand? How could she explain what it had been like? She reached for the words but they slipped away from her, drifting like a stream of bubbles from a punctured hose.

For a moment she felt the sting of panic. Had to fix it— pressure would drop, she’d lose air— but even the panic softened, evaporated, bled away until she could no longer remember what it was she feared.

Somebody smoothed the hair away from her face. That felt nice.

She drew another breath.

And let herself slip away into the dark.

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