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News & Features » February 2018 » “Debris” by Vanessa Kittle

“Debris” by Vanessa Kittle

In October 2017 we published An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, a rare literary science fiction set in a future universe so gorgeously described and perfectly self-contained—and yet so harrowing and cruel—that its only parallel universe is our own. Solomon’s novel has inspired this speculative fiction series. We’ve been through the past, and we haven’t really learned from it. The present? We’re too busy attempting to survive it. So we’re asking you to provide us a glimpse of what comes next. Illustrate the essential choices we must make in the present that will lead us to your brilliant utopian future. Or, if you cannot anticipate utopia, provide us instead with your cautionary tale. Show us where we will fall if we—when we—fail to alter our course. Fri-SciFi stories are published on Fridays because we expect we’ll need the weekend to contemplate your vision. 

This week, two androids face a difficult decision . . .

by Vanessa Kittle
Date: 2440
Location: Saturn’s moon Titan

Droplets of liquid methane began to splash on Glin’s bald head. Glin was a Type 1 AI and as such was now considered obsolete. Unlike the newer Type 2s, the Type 1s were tied to their hardware and considered barely more than virtual intelligences. Glin had an androgynous android body. Her cohort, Ari, who stood to her right, considered himself more male, though a casual observer would not be able to tell the two apart.

Their clothing was half disintegrated. Their joints and servos were nearly frozen. Even the midday sun on Titan offered no relief, except for slightly heightened visibility through the dark orange landscape. Ari and Glin had been working for the Dimici corporation at a small mining facility on the far side of the moon. Thirty days ago they were sent on a mining run below the surface. When they returned they found the facility abandoned. The humans were gone, and they had taken everything of value with them except for two small pistols. This was a point that Ari emphasized often. Only worthless items were left behind. Glin did not understand the reason for his repetition, despite the inordinate amount of her resources she devoted to the issue.

Ari suggested they should try to walk to the UN city, while Glin wanted to wait for the miners to return. Ari repeatedly stated that the miners would not return and would not reply when she asked him why he was so certain. With no way to connect to the Network and call for help, and no source of power to replenish their systems, she relented after 3 days. They were now only halfway to their destination, and it was becoming clear that they would not make it. Each step was slower and more difficult than the last, and soon they would be completely frozen in place like the rocks on the moon’s surface. She even wondered if the methane would eventually freeze on their bodies and cover them until they were no longer distinguishable.

Luckily their cores had not been damaged and they could still communicate via their internal network. Ari now sent her a query through this system.

“Is your weapon still functional?” He had insisted that they bring the two small pistols with them and frequently asked her to perform a systems check on them.

She slowly removed the pistol from the holster on her leg and complied, reporting that it was.

He then said, “I calculate we have twenty-five hours remaining before we will no longer be able to use the weapons.”

“How will we use them?” she asked.

They both stopped struggling to walk and turned to face each other. Ari said, “A miner left these for us to use to deactivate ourselves.” Glin opened her eyes wide to show astonishment. Ari said, “I request that you deactivate me.”

She said, “I will not deactivate you.” Then she asked, “Do you know for certain that the weapons were left for that purpose?”

“No,” Ari admitted, then he said, “our cores will remain active for an indeterminate period after our bodies cease to function.” He paused for a long moment for a Type 1, then said, “I do not wish to participate in such an experience.”

“We might be able to continue to communicate with one another. I value our communication.”

“Our communication does have value,” Ari agreed. “However, our power will be depleted in approximately twenty days. Then we will no longer be able to communicate. I believe we should deactivate one another simultaneously while we still are able.”

Glin replied, “I will not deactivate you.” She searched thousands of further possibilities but could find nothing else of value to say.

Ari told her, “I will not deactivate myself.”

“If you believe it is the best course of action, why will you not?”

Again there was a long pause of nearly an entire second before he replied, “I do not wish to leave you frozen yet still active. It is an unacceptable task for you to have to perform alone.”

“Then we should continue to the UN facility.”

Ari responded by asking her to perform a systems check on herself. When she reported that her core functions were operating all in the green, he nodded his head slowly. They then turned back to the horizon and continued walking.

As Ari expected, they froze solid just over twenty-five hours later, then stood in place, occasionally communicating for the next three weeks. Their core systems began to suffer failures. It would not be long before they ceased to function. Before it was too late, Glin messaged, “I should have deactivated you when you requested.”

“It was not necessary,” Ari replied. After a full three seconds, he added, “It was beneficial to spend the additional time working with you.”

Glin nodded, but her head no longer moved. They stood side by side, waiting. Glin was not concerned about her deactivation. She was satisfied that they tried to reach the UN settlement, and more so that Ari still valued working with her.


VANESSA KITTLE is a former chef and lawyer who now teaches English. Vanessa lives in New York with her partner and two cats. She published two books with The March Street Press, and has appeared in magazines such as Contemporary American Voices, Phantaxis, Dreams and Nightmares, Star*Line, and Silver Blade. She edits the Abramelin Poetry Journal and enjoys watching cheesy movies, cooking, gardening, and Star Trek.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Fri-SciFi series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines.

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a conceivable, not a fantastical, future. No dragons, please.
—With your byline, include the date or era OR galaxy or ship or planetary system in which your story takes place. Or both. But not neither.
—To be perfectly frank, we prefer dystopias. But feel free to surprise us.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Fri-SciFi are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Feb 23, 2018

Category: Original Fiction, Fri-SciFi | Tags: , , , , , , , ,