Come Out, Come Out
by Myna Chang
Nati wanted her mother. She needed her mother’s jellied eyes and flesh-whorled fingers. Her heat. The chill of the ruined space station gnawed at Nati’s biometal bones, leached into her human-tinged processing lobes. She was tired of the cold.
She shifted her weight, positioning the copper-laced coils of her spine over the sterile charging pad. Power as tart as mother’s milk flowed into her starved cells, conjuring a cascade of foreign images: a daybed covered in fluffy pillows; cookie dough pressed into the rough shape of a human; a family gathered around a dinner table, bellies filled with laughter and meat.
The lead scientist, the one Nati called Mother, had woven those visions into the wireless induction field. She said the tenderness of humanity, of earthbound love, would bring Nati understanding, maybe even comfort. She was wrong. Glimpses of human-real memories only reminded Nati of everything she was not, of all the mortal mysteries a cybernetic construct could never truly grasp—at least, not without a fresh infusion of bio-tissue.
Nati had thought the finger skin and ocular slices she’d taken from the other scientists would bring enlightenment, if not full access to the station’s controls. But the tissues had already lost cohesion. Decay dripped from Nati’s optic orbits, her distal phalanges. She now knew she would need a superior biomarker source. She needed her mother.
Before fleeing to the lower levels of the station, Mother had sealed off the experimentation deck and cut non-essential life-support. Frigid triple-layered bulkheads now separated mother from cyber-daughter, scientist from failed experiment. Sometimes, Nati detected Mother’s movements whispering through the station’s crawlspaces. She wondered if Mother, too, ached raw in her isolation and want.
The power meter in Nati’s interface pinged: battery charge at eighty-five percent. Eighty-six. Mother’s misguided impressions teased, their intensity growing exponentially with each tick of the counter. A baby-doll with cotton-candy lips. Eighty-seven. A soft brown puppy nuzzling a little girl’s face. Eighty-eight. Mother and some other daughter, snuggled under a fleece blanket reading a storybook, “Once upon a time,” and mugs of hot chocolate, and “the queen loved her daughter so—”
Nati’s mindmap surged toward the cozy blanket, the luscious cocoa, but of course, she could have neither. She howled and bolted from the charging pad. She’d have to make do with an eighty-eight percent charge. Only two levels remained to search. The fingerprint and retinal scanners would slow her progress, as they had on previous decks, but she’d pry her way through the bulkheads if she had to. Nati’s organic components shivered. Mother was almost close enough to touch.
Myna Chang (she/her) is the host of Electric Sheep SF. Her work has been selected for Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton), Best Small Fictions, CRAFT, Daily Science Fiction, and MicroPodcast’s special science fiction edition. She has won the Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction and the New Millennium Writings Award in Flash Fiction. Read more at MynaChang.com or find her on Twitter @MynaChang.