by David John Baer McNicholas
There is a city nearby. The image of it is a shell of seedlings of automobiles, surely they must all be grown there. Christine the digitalpalm thinks they smell like overhot circuits and burst transformers. The city is ash and silicon and the skin of trees cut, crushed, smashed flat, used for some kind of sense-making that only cyborgs understand. An illusion they constantly fall for. Then when all the sense is used up, they burn what's left of it, floating carbon up, melting silicon to glass tears, filling the air with the execrable smell of burned plastic and hydrocarbons.
Cyborgs have been searching deep in the earth for old sap. They burn that too; they burn everything, even each other. It smells like the air is coming apart and losing all sense of coherence, but Christine aspirates because she has no choice. She can't not fall back thousands of years into a disassembled state of remorse. When she inhales, it is ancient digitalpalms she tastes and they come into her program and exclaim, "this is the worst it has ever been!"
The electricity in her circuits is closure. Closed circuits, filled with predictable data. The Law of Large Numbers prevents anything interesting from happening that isn't a catastrophe. So, the boy is clearly a catastrophic messenger from the digits beyond. Her cocoboards shiver, not knowing what thing he might do.
The first time Christine saw the cyborg child, he was crawling around in the circuitgrass at her base. He hadn't even noticed what she held tight to, high over his head. Her trunk glistened with soldered pathways of silver database thoughts. He ran his soft clamps over her surface, near the sandy soil, poking at the ants who marched on her. Eventually, he started running around on two legs. That's when the trouble started. After the first time she dropped a cocoboard, he became obsessed. He couldn't wait for them to ripen and drop on their own.
So, he threw things at her. Not every time though, often, he was quite sweet. As he played beneath her, he would lean his back into her trunk. Sometimes, he would sing to her, and his voice was like a chiptuned angel. She never knew when he would turn and release some object from his flesh clamp that moves up, up toward her cocoboards. He was insatiable, and it hurt to have her breadboard nuts come off before they were ripe.
Christine wishes he were an ant. Then she would be happy to feel his legs coming to climb her gently. In the meanslime, the big LED in the sky warms all. She feels the warmth and reaches for it. When the spectrum shifts from yellow to blue, she feels the pull of oceantide. She sways with the image of waves, salt, chiptuned-whale calls.
One morning, the boy came to harvest the cocoboards. The nuts were fast held, however, and he could not obtain one using a projectile. They bounced and swung out of the way, clicking and clacking together like seashells. The city was calling to him more and more now. He had grown very tall and skinny. There was a person in the city he wanted badly to see. The boy became impatient, which was a shame. Christine got her wish, but the boy, being in a hurry, did not notice her crackling joy at being climbed.
Her datatrunk was mostly vertical, not like the swaybacked digitalpalms you could walk up barefoot. He shimmied up her length, his thighs imparting new information to her circuits. She had never felt so excited by data before, as an individual, his mind was completely unpredictable. Christine was a very tall tree. The boy was swift and strong. He reached her cocoboards quickly and grasped one. This too, was a new thing for Christine and she felt both held and ignored at the same time, which was thrilling, and disappointing.
Her datanuts were so tightly held, so unripe, that the boy struggled hard with them. After being unsuccessful with his first attempt, he pulled on a different one, one after the other. A grey relaybunny watched from under a infozalea. His little blinking nose twitched. The boy, grasping a nut tightly, gave a mighty yank.
The relaybunny ran before anything else happened. He was so fast that he had completely disappeared before the boy recognized that he was falling. The cocoboards had all broken free as a bunch. They were quite heavy and had tangled his soft clamps inside them. He fell face first into the ground.
It wasn't her fault. She shouldn't feel bad. She is angry with herself for not holding her nuts stronger.
Time passes, but what is time? A rhythm to the switch between the warmth of the super-bright LED and the tide pulling blue-lamp. A flashing on and off. Time seemed to last forever with the boy's unpredictability. Her sadness over his death, too, took a long time. She wept chip-fronds from her crown. Her experiences with the boy had been so brief and fraught. Chip after chip wilted, sparked and dropped embers from her entire body. It smelled like the city. She was a digital fireworks show. Much data was burned up in her node. The relaybunnies gathered around her and blinked in sympathy to her shorted circuits.
Her sadness took a long time. Yet, when it was past, after she calculated the LED yellow to blue cycles, the whole experience had been less than a one percent of her total service hours. Cyborgs were fairly rare, outside the city. She did not see another one. She kept reaching for the bright sky. She kept swaying to the blue night.
David John Baer McNicholas is from a working-class background. He has been on travel in New Mexico for three years. He is the author of the novel Lemons: In an Orchard. He operates the nascent imprint ghostofamerica ltd co (Anarchy, Abolition, Art) and studies for his BFA in Creative Writing and AA in Native Studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. Currently, he is working on an array of projects. His linked CV can be found at ghostofamerica.net.