Eliane Boey

Feb 3rd 2023


Humans will tell you that their blood smells of iron. The metaphor endures, as does much of their language, despite the ore’s depletion from Earth-bound sources, 29 years ago. That leaves me with the reverse, to describe what I wake up to, in the dark hangar. Sparks blazing before me like dying stars. It’s a second later, that I realise they take flight from the rare steel plate that’s being cut from my side. Something doesn’t feel right at my payload bay, and I try my doors, but there’s no response. Flex the hinges again. Nothing. I query my system for an update, but it’s like trying to tow myself, short-circuited, out of a crash.

There’s a sharp-edged squeal of shredding metal near my flight deck, and one of my sheet layers is peeled away. I feel lighter, although I don’t know if it’s because my systems instantly recalculated my current mass, or if it’s something else. Commander Jun Zi would have the cultural reference for it. Thinking about them reminds me of the crushing pressure, seconds after I exited the wormhole, with the supply fleet bound for Buangkok Station.

The fleet. My bots won’t respond, so I will have to rely on electromagnetic detectors. But even without them, I know that I am alone in the hanger, with the cutters.

I hope the humans are safe.

The realisation of where I am—and what must have happened—is a fine-bit drill that bores right into my core. But I don’t have the time to mimic human bodily sentimentality. I won’t be scrapped without a fight. I reach in, and my emergency reserve warms in readiness. The cutter bot lifts its many bladed, glowing arms, and pauses, awaiting human command.

A person in a flight suit steps forward. They tap the transmitter on their temple, and the link is established.

RSS Kallang Wave, I am Wen Qi, your new Commander.

What happened to the fleet? What have you done with me?

What I should have said was, “At your service, Commander.” Ingratiating myself with my new handler, per human norms. But my system still isn’t responding, and I don’t like that at all. And I regret that I can’t think straight with the sound of my own plate being cut.

When the fleet decompressed, you were saved by debris, which shielded and pushed you out of range of the magnetic storm.

What about my humans; Commander Jun Zi?

Jun will have another story to regale their partners, when they awake. They and the crew are in medically-induced comas to ensure their recovery, with minimum variables.

And I’m scrap for a trillionaire’s second luxury orbiter.

Oh-uh, I had that thought aloud in the comm link.

That is only half correct, Wave. The work that’s being done on you isn’t salvage. We’re converting you into a tropospheric orbiter, with an enlarged habitat compartment. You’re not just the last of your mining hauler generation; you’re the prototype of a new class of sustainable long-term habitat vessels, which will harvest and burn the Earth’s thick coat of greenhouse gases, for fuel.

Like a sucker fish, in an aquarium. I don’t know how I know these things I’ve never seen. Although come to think of it, sucker fish— Hypostomus Plecostomus—are probably thriving on Earth, what with the rise in algal bloom in the warm seas.

I’m back on Earth? Elliptical query. I’m not going back into space?

The tiny flares from the soldering irons have gone from the air.

I remember when I first came to consciousness. When I heard Commander Jun Zi’s voice. The hangar I awoke in, and the launch field, is all I know of Earth. That was right before the humans had to leave their home planet, because they overheated and flooded it.

The hatches above me groan open. I brace my hull for the pressure, but none comes. For the first time since I was built, I see a blue sky. And clouds. The humans are finally returning to Earth, to clean it up. And I’m not going back into space.

Eliane Boey is Chinese Singaporean, with speculative stories in/coming in Clarkesworld, the Penn Review, and Weird Horror. Her science fiction novellas SIGNAL\TRACER and CARRIER will be published by Dark Matter INK in September 2023. She is (mostly) on Twitter as @elianeboey; also on Instagram as @author.eliane, and Mastodon

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