The Radio

Susan Jane Bigelow

September 15, 2022

Kay scanned the lifeless, shredded bodies of her unit, the sensors embedded in her hands and torso coolly picking up data as her eyes flicked over each of them in turn.

Jasar, X, Lt. [deceased]

Purte, D, SSgt.[deceased]

Leshandre, S, Pvt. [deceased]

Oudar, V, Pvt. [deceased]

The roadside bomb had spared only her, stranding her in the middle of ten thousand kilometers of the flat, featureless desert that covered most of Ianas. She kept trying to connect to the Sovene Army’s net, but there was nothing. She couldn’t transmit, she couldn’t receive. Her communications hardware had been too badly damaged by the blast.

There was nothing left to do but follow protocol. Once everything was documented, she sat by the road and waited to be retrieved, like the piece of equipment the Army considered her to be.

* * *

Time passed: hours, days, even weeks according to her internal clock. She watched as the corpses bloated and began to rot.

She could wait almost indefinitely. She didn’t need food or water, and her power cells were kept from draining by the sunlight and near-constant wind.

It did surprise her that no one came. Their course hadn’t been too different from the routine patrol sweep the base had ordered. Lt. Jasar had had a funny idea about the roads being sabotaged out here, even though things had been quiet lately, and had demanded that Leshandre turn down a random one to check it out. They’d driven for nearly a day before the bomb had proven the lieutenant right.

Still, it was strange. There were tracking satellites in orbit. They’d been in nominal contact with the base right up until the explosion, this stretch of desert wasn’t supposed to be terribly dangerous, and the Army swore it never left anyone behind.

So why was Kay still here?

* * *

On the thirty-seventh day, she registered something moving fast across the dusty flatness of the desert. She crouched behind the wreckage, cautiously assessing the situation.

The truck drew near, but it was soon clear that it wasn’t Army. Instead of a reassuring green and yellow, it was painted bright blue, and was old and beat-up.

She readied her weapon but held her fire. She couldn’t positively identify them as enemies, not yet.

The truck slowed to a stop in front of her, and three women and a man got out.

“Bomb work,” said one, a tall, thin woman, examining the remnants of the vehicle.

“Bolus’s,” said the shortest woman, spitting into the sand. “Sloppy.”

“Sovene Army,” said the third, a shrewd-looking middle-aged woman. “Had to have been here a while.” She glanced at Kay. “Their Synthetic’s still alive, though.” Her features suddenly shifted. “Oh ... oh, no.” She leaned in close. “No. It can’t be.” She snapped a finger in front of Kay’s face. “Hey. Hey! You reading me in there?”

Kay didn’t respond. She wouldn’t, not to a civilian. That was against protocol.

“Musta been caught out here before the evacuation,” said the man. He was also short; he had a scruffy beard and talked slowly. “Probably still waiting for orders.”

The first woman didn’t respond but kept staring at Kay. She exchanged glances with the tall woman, who shook her head slightly.

“Jassalan, no,” the tall woman said.

“We could use a new radio,” said the short woman. She gestured at Kay. “Get your metal ass into the truck.”

Kay stayed put.

The short woman crossed her arms, annoyed, then reached out to smack Kay on the helmet. Kay reached out, quick as lightning, and grabbed the woman’s wrist.

“Hey!” she squawked.

“Let her go, Synthetic,” said the third woman. But Kay held fast as the short woman pulled and grunted and swore. “That’s an order. Recognize Captain Macrandal Jassalan. Serial number 2789-KK-CN.”

Kay’s internal Army database recognized the number. There was a caution next to it, and her first impulse was to disregard her command. But she hadn’t had orders in thirty-seven days. She released the short woman’s arm.

“Shit!” cursed Shorty. “Tin-can zombie!”

“Back off, Liss,” said Jassalan sternly. “Yago, clear out some space in the truck. We’re taking her with us.”

The man shrugged and went to do as he was told. After a moment, so did Liss.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” asked the tall woman, whose name Kay still didn’t know.

“Hell no,” said Liss, still rubbing her wrist. “Leave it to run out of batteries or whatever.”

“They don’t run out,” said Jassalan distantly. “Synthetics last forever.”

“Then blow it up!”

“No,” said Jassalan firmly. “She’s coming. Get back in the truck, Liss. Payl, look around the wreck, see if there’s anything else we can use. Then we’ll get going.” She turned to Kay. “Go to the truck and sit in it,” she said.

Kay began to obey, but hesitated. “You’re wanted for desertion,” she said.

Jassalan smiled tiredly, wrinkles forming around her eyes. “I know. Did you want to bring me in?”

Kay did. But these people might be able to help her get back to the base. That was all she cared about right now. “No.”

“Thank you,” said Jassalan. She studied Kay again for a moment. “Get in the truck. I’ll be along shortly.”

Duty satisfied, Kay went and sat in the truck. Soon, everyone was ready, and they left the blast site behind.

* * *

They drove across the pancake flatness of the desert in silence. Jassalan was preoccupied, Liss fumed, and Payl kept sneaking looks at her. The man, Yago, was blessedly uninterested in Kay and looked out the window at the featureless scenery instead. After a few hours they came to a small rise. Kay’s sensors detected slight emanations coming from it.

“You have a power source,” she said. She calculated their location and plotted it. “You aren’t on my maps.”

“We wouldn’t be,” said Jassalan dryly. The truck pulled into a little gully next to the hillside, and everyone clambered out. “We’re home.”

* * *

Liss headed to her workshop, still grumbling about her hurt wrist. Payl and Yago started unloading scrap from the truck. Kay followed Jassalan into the cramped, dark kitchen, unsure of what to do next.

“We can’t use too much power here,” Jassalan said apologetically, putting water on to boil. “So we cook things the hard way. Takes time. Do you eat?”

“No,” said Kay.

“You have a name?” Jassalan asked.

“My identification is MSID-609872-K,” said Kay. “But I call myself Kay.”

“Right, right,” repeated Jassalan, as if lost in a mantra. “Right.”

“I need to contact Ianas Alpha,” said Kay. “As soon as possible.”

“We-ell,” said Jassalan, drawing the word out as she dropped pods of bluish vat-grown meat into the boiling water. “You can try. Won’t be anybody there, though.”

“I don’t understand,” said Kay.

“You must have been cut off before the evacuation,” said Jassalan.

“What evacuation?”

“The Sovene Army’s gone, hon,” said Jassalan matter-of-factly. “Headed back to space.”

Kay reeled, shocked. The Army was militarily superior to the small pack of rebels making trouble on cold, dry Ianas, and the planet was not yet fully pacified. “You’re lying.”

“Afraid not,” said Jassalan sympathetically. “They’re gone.”

“Why?” Kay asked, still processing. This had to be wrong, some kind of trick.

“Hm,” said Jassalan. “The usual sorts of trouble. Politics. Money. A government that can’t make up their minds about who they want to massacre this month.”

“I see,” said Kay. “May I use your communications equipment?”

“Go ahead,” said Jassalan, pointing. A screen and touchpad was mounted on a wall. “Doesn’t reach off-planet. Liss might be able to fix it up, but we have no reason to call anyone who isn’t on Ianas.”

Kay, still certain her host was lying about the evacuation, punched in the code for the base.

The connection established, and something that might have been joy filled Kay’s belly for a brief moment. But then a message flashed across the screen:

Ianas Alpha Decommissioned | Contact Sector 15 Command.

Something fell away inside her.

It was true. The Army was gone. Her companions, both human and Synthetic, were gone. The base she’d called home for two years was ... was ...

A terrible aimless feeling penetrated her half-synthetic skull. If the base was gone, the mission was canceled. There were no orders, no missions, nothing.

She had nothing to do.

A hand hesitantly touched her shoulder. “I’m sorry,” said Jassalan. “I don’t like the Army much these days, but I remember being in. They’re like your family, when you’re a part of it. I guess that’s true for you, too.”

“They may have just regrouped,” Kay said firmly. “They will return.”

“Maybe, but I hope they’re gone for good,” said Jassalan with a spark of anger. “The Sovenes have been nothing but trouble for this place.”

“But you’re a Sovene, too,” observed Kay.

“Well,” shrugged Jassalan. “Used to be.”

“You’re a deserter,” said Kay archly. To her there was very little worse than deserting.

“Sure,” said Jassalan, and waited. “Aren’t you going to ask me why?”

“I assumed you didn’t want to fight anymore,” said Kay.

That seemed to annoy Jassalan, and her frown deepened. “You have any idea what the Army does, Synthetic? The kinds of things they do here? I saw all kinds of horror. Civilians bombed. ‘Terrorists’ targeted, even when there was no evidence against them. Rape. Murder. Torture. You haven’t seen that?”

Kay had, though she quickly reminded herself that she’d seen many good things as well. She accepted the situation as ... complicated.

“The worst part of it is that it’s all in service of a government that lies to everyone,” Jassalan continued. “That controls every aspect of their lives without giving them any kind of say at all!”

“That is not true,” said Kay tartly. She had done a lot of study of the way Sovenes chose their leadership. “There is the yearly vote, and the local—”

“Don’t bother explaining the system to me,” said Jassalan. “I don’t want to hear it. People back home think they have a voice, but they don’t. I saw the light. I left. I’m no coward.”

“Are all of you deserters?”

“Just me,” said Jassalan. She poked the meat bubbling away in the pot. “Everyone else is family. So you don’t have to follow their orders.”

Orders. She tried to think of what hers would say now. “I must report in to Sector 15 Command,” she said after a moment.

“You don’t have to,” said Jassalan intently. “And you can’t, we don’t have the equipment. Come have dinner.”

“I said I don’t need to eat,” said Kay brusquely.

“I’m not saying you should,” said Jassalan. “Just ... come be with everyone.”

The look in Jassalan’s eyes gave Kay pause. She’d seen it once or twice before in the eyes of people who wanted her for some reason of their own, and those situations had never ended well.

But she had nothing to do, and the thought of standing here thinking about how cut off she was felt like staring into her own personal abyss, so she followed Jassalan to the table.

* * *

The dinner conversation flowed around her, avoiding her as if she stood on a rock in the middle of a stream. They talked about the food, the weather (still dry), and the paramilitary groups that were steadily taking power from the provisional government.

Liss glared at her, while Payl gave her little smiles. Yago ignored her, scarfed down his food, and quickly left the table. Jassalan ate very little, and studied Kay when she thought she wasn’t looking.

After the meal was done Kay helped Jassalan clear the table, and the others left to do other things. Payl went outside to fiddle with the moisture collectors. Liss went into another room and started banging on something metal.

“So tell me,” said Jassalan, a little too nonchalantly. “What’s your function? All-purpose communications, that sort of thing?”

“You should know that,” said Kay, stacking a load of dishes neatly on a table. Her internal sensors whined that her arms and legs could use maintenance. She ignored them.

“I do, I suppose. So. Do you like it?”

Kay turned to her. “Yes,” she said, in what she hoped was an assertive enough tone to forestall any further inquiry. She knew where this was going. People liked asking her intrusive questions like:

  • Are you happy?

  • Don’t you want to be free?

  • Do you have feelings?

  • Do you miss being human?

When she was new, she had tried to answer, but the answers were never what people wanted to hear.

“But it can’t be satisfying,” said Jassalan. “They don’t care about you.”

“I’m satisfied. I have friends.”

“They didn’t even come back for you!”

Kay shook her head, not wanting to think about that, but Jassalan pressed her.

“There’s a part of you that must remember that this isn’t what it should be like. You must remember being human. Don’t you?”

“I don’t,” said Kay shortly. “I’m not human.”

“You are,” said Jassalan, suddenly intense. “Part of you is human! You—you look like her. You even sound like her.”

“Who?” asked Kay, confused.

“My sister. When she died—she gave her body,” said Jassalan. Kay, frustrated, groaned to herself. One of those conversations, again. “We—we think she became one of those—one of you,” continued Jassalan. “And here you are. Deeslyn.”

“My name is Kay, and I am not your sister,” said Kay evenly. “Military Information Services have produced a film that explains how Synthetics are created, I could show it to you. It does a good job—”

“I don’t need to see a film,” said Jassalan, cutting her off. “I know my own sister!”

“The reuse of patriotic citizens’ donated bodies helps keep costs to the taxpayer low,” continued Kay, quoting from a standard explanation. “Bodies are outfitted with implants, and given power plants, and facial features are altered before we are activated. We are sculpted to give an attractive human appearance, so as to better interact with the populace and our fellow soldiers. You have no way of knowing if my donor body is related to you.”

“But you might be. When were you activated?”

“Four years ago.”

“That’s when she would have been processed!” said Jassalan, eyes bright with certainty. “It’s possible!”

Kay shook her head, her slow-burn anger finally beginning to kindle. “You aren’t listening. I am not your sister.”

“Can you check? Do you know whose body that is?” asked Jassalan hotly.

“I can, but I won’t,” said Kay.

Jassalan’s face screwed up in rage. “Get out, then. Get out! You’re just a brainwashed tool of the Sovenes! You’re nothing but a bunch of wires and processors lugging a corpse around!” A tear slipped down her cheek. “You’re unworthy of my sister’s body—or any human body. Get out!”

Kay wanted to tell her that it didn’t matter. The human or humans who had donated their bodies would be just as dead if she weren’t here.

But she didn’t say that. Instead, she left without saying another word.

* * *

The flat expanse of desert seemed to go on forever. Kay trudged through it, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other. She was painfully aware, thanks to the constant readouts from her internal sensors, that her body needed some serious repairs.

And yet she kept going, straight through the desert. She’d roughly calculated her position; her onboard maps said there was a small village in this direction.

She didn’t know what she’d do when she got there. She knew she should report in to Sector 15 Command—that was her only mission now—but she kept exploring options to do so without really deciding on a plan she liked. She fretted over this; she was usually very fast to weigh possibilities and make decisions.

Her sensors picked up their truck before it was even visible, and she went on alert. She checked her weapons, unsure what Jassalan intended. She had some charge left in one of her pulse cannons, and two working dart missiles in each wrist. It wasn’t everything; half her systems were wrecked and her rifle had been damaged in the crash. It would have to do.

The truck roared up beside her, and Payl grinned out at her.

“Hey, Kay,” she called, turning the rhyme into a little two-note singsong. “Need a ride to town?”

* * *

“Jass’s mad,” Payl said as they bounced along. “But it’s her own fault.”

Kay had to agree, but said nothing. Payl was clearly getting some kind of thrill out of doing what Jassalan wouldn’t like.

“She told me about it,” said Payl. “She should know better.”

“Agreed,” said Kay coldly. Payl blanched at that, so Kay tried to pick up the conversation from there. “Did you know her? The woman Jassalan thought my body came from?”

“Sure,” said Payl. “I was married to her.”

“You were?” exclaimed Kay, surprised. “But—”

“She died a long time ago,” said Payl. “I let her go. Jass ... can’t.”

“What was she like?” asked Kay.

Payl smiled a small, wistful smile. “Dees was ... amazing. Quiet, kind and generous. She believed in a lot of causes, believed in service. Her death was bad for Jass; it’s why she dropped out of the Army. It’s probably why she asked me to come with them to Ianas; I think I’m some way of keeping a piece of Dees close. Do you really not know anything at all about who you—ah, who your body’s from?”

“No,” said Kay. “But I could.”

“You could?”

“It’s a file in my core,” said Kay. “I’ve never accessed it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not that person,” said Kay flatly. “I’m me.”

“Oh,” said Payl. “I think I get that.”

A long moment passed. Payl drummed her hands on the steering wheel.

“So, are you okay?” Payl asked at last.

Kay didn’t know what to say to that. People had never asked her that. “Yes,” she said at last. “I think so.”

“You think so?” Payl said jokingly. “Don’t you have sensors and all that inside to tell you?”

Humans so rarely understood, thought Kay. They were a mess, a whirling maelstrom of emotions. Kay and other Synthetics seemed like a placid pool by comparison, but still she had her tides, and her ripples, and even feelings humans seemed to lack.

Among others, there was a sort of beyond-certainty that she seemed to feel only with her synthetic parts. It was a cold and awful feeling, and she’d never succeeded in explaining it to humans.

“So where were you heading? I mean, after town,” Payl said. “Where next?”

“Sector 15,” said Kay. “I have to report in.”

“How’re you going to get off-planet? Spaceport’s in Tarthe, that’s halfway around the planet!”

“I’ll call for a pick-up,” said Kay moodily. “Someone in the village should have an off-planet setup. They’ll evacuate me.”

“Will they? They didn’t seem to want to come for you before.”

“They will,” stressed Kay. “That was a specific set of unique circumstances. It’s a simple matter of going to the village and contacting them; they’ll be by to pick me up soon.”

“If that’s true,” said Payl. “Then why didn’t you do that when you were stranded?”

“I don’t know. I was waiting for them to come,” said Kay softly. “I was so sure they would.”

The truck drove on through the dusty flatness.

* * *

They pulled into what passed for a town, a cluster of pre-fab buildings grouped around moisture-collection stations.

“You go make your call,” said Payl. “I can bring you back home after, if you want.”

“No, thank you. I’ll wait here,” said Kay.

“Yeah, I understand that,” said Payl. Her constant smile flagged a little. “It’s been good to talk to you. I’m sorry Jassalan acted like she did.”

“I ... I’m sorry about your wife,” said Kay.

Payl nodded. “Yeah. Hey ... Dees was big on making her own choices. Even if part of you is her, she’d want you to do what’s right for you. Okay?”

“Thank you for picking me up,” was all Kay could think of to say to that.

Payl’s smile grew wide again. “You’re welcome! Find the rain!”

Kay must have looked puzzled, because Payl added, “That’s what we say when we hope someone gets lucky. There’s never rain!”

With that, Payl roared out of the village, and Kay was alone again.

* * *

She found her way to the store/comm shack and asked the man at the counter about an off-planet communications system. He glared at her; she couldn’t hide what she was, or her Sovene Army markings.

“I can pay,” she said hurriedly. She removed the currency she kept for emergencies. It seemed thin and paltry, but the storekeeper’s eyes widened.

“It’s expensive,” he warned. “Very expensive.”

She thought, then removed one of the sensors from her leg. It was full of valuable electronics and a few precious metals, even if it wouldn’t work without her input. He frowned, but he pointed the way to a console in a booth. She went inside and located the code for Sector 15 Command in her file system.

Her fingers hesitated.

Thirty-seven days in the heat and dust. Thirty-seven days of waiting patiently next to the rotting corpses of her friends, her systems damaged, her long-distance voice silent.

Thirty-seven days of being utterly alone for the first time in her life.

Why didn’t you come for me?

There was a knock on the outside of the booth. “I’m using this,” she said.

“Come out of there,” said a voice she didn’t recognize. “Now.”

She scanned and found six humans, all armed. They’d come quickly from the street and the back of the store.

She could fight, she could probably hurt them badly enough to escape, but what was the point?

Kay stepped out of the booth, hands raised.

* * *

They were going to kill her; she knew it with that cold, absolute certainty. There was no escape. Their leader, a man named Bolus, had ordered her tied her up in the back of the store with ropes and metal bonds generating electromagnetic fields to dampen her electricals. They’d been prepared.

Bolus sat on a chair in front of her. They’d kept her waiting for hours before he came back to see her. She saw only death when she looked at him. He was young, with beady, hate-filled eyes and a bushy beard worn in showy defiance of Sovene fashion and hygiene.

“So you’re a spy,” said Bolus. “Sovenes are coming back. They promised they wouldn’t, but here you are.”

“No,” she said, her voice badly slurred from her bonds’ interference. “I was part of a unit sent out before the evacuation. We were caught by a bomb.”

Bolus laughed. “One of mine, I hope. Good! Dead Sovenes, everybody’s happy. So what, you just waited? Like a good little drone? Ha! I bet you’ll just sit there while we peel you apart.”

“I have no technology you can use,” said Kay. “My systems are integrated; they won’t work without my brain.”

“Oh, I don’t care about that,” said Bolus. “We’ll take you apart because we can. And because it’s all the justice we’ll ever see from the Sovenes.”

“Justice,” repeated Kay dubiously.

“Yes, justice!” said Bolus, suddenly angry. “For Gorodan, and for Yellow Sands! There were children there! My brother was there.”

Kay had been at Yellow Sands, not long after. She pictured the long field in her mind, and the blood flecks on the prison wall they hadn’t quite been able to wash away.

But she also remembered such kindness. Soldiers giving kids the last of their rations, her unit taking in a family for a week, building schools and roads and sewers ... she remembered that, too.

“It’s ... complicated,” she said helplessly.

“Sure,” said Bolus.

“You’d be just like us,” said Kay, trying one last desperate tactic.

“I know,” said Bolus grimly. “Like you said. Complicated.” He opened the door, and his people filed in. The shopkeeper was among them.

“We’re ready,” said one.

“Good.” Bolus turned back to Kay. “It’ll be in the square out there.” He jerked his head at the window. “It’s no small thing to kill a Sovene Synthetic. We’ll put your armor up around the village, so people know not to mess with me and mine.”

There were nods all around.

“You’ll serve a purpose,” said a woman. “The provisional government is useless; criminal gangs and warlords are everywhere. When you left, you left anarchy. We need to be safe.”

“I could keep you safe better if I was alive,” slurred Kay.

“I doubt it,” said Bolus fiercely. “And even if so, who cares? I’m the head man around here now, and what I say goes. You’re gonna get dismantled. Is that death for you? Or are you already dead? Huh. Only the Sovenes would dig up the dead and make them fight.”

* * *

The light was bright, worse thanks to the magnetic fields dampening her vision.

“You scared?” Bolus taunted, as they strapped her to a pole. “Mighty Sovene! You scared?”

“Yes,” said Kay truthfully, her voice disintegrating into static.

The crowd murmured as Bolus’s people brought plasma cutters to take her apart, one slice at a time.

She tried to replay good memories. But they turned into bloody fields, stone prison walls, and so much else.

“I’m ... sorry,” she said to one of them.

He stepped back a pace, and looked at his companion.

“I can’t do this,” he said, shutting down the plasma cutter and dropping it. “Look at her, just sitting there ...”

“Damn it!” said Bolus, picking up the plasma cutter. “It has to be done! We have to be strong! The Curvatene boys will come through here and kill everybody if we’re not strong enough!” He tried to hand the cutter back to the man. “Do it. Make it quick and painless. Remember, it’s just a machine. It doesn’t care if it’s alive or dead.”

“I care,” said Kay. The words were barely audible. Only the man and Bolus heard them.

Bolus sighed and raised the cutter himself. He switched it on, and it hummed menacingly to life.

But at that moment there was a thunderous blast and the roar of an engine, and Kay saw Jassalan’s head over the sea of faces. She was riding in the back of the truck, manning a huge mounted gun. Payl was driving, and Liss and Yago leaned out the windows, rifles in hand. “Get back!” Jassalan hollered as the crowd parted. “Go on! Bolus, get away from her!”

“Well,” said Bolus. “Always knew you’d turn back to the Sovenes in the end, Jassalan.”

“They abandoned her,” said Jassalan. “You can’t just kill her in cold blood! She’s done nothing to you.”

“She’s got no blood! And she’s no innocent, you know that. The Sovenes are all guilty!”

Jassalan shook her head. “Get away from her, or I blow you to bits.”

Bolus gave her a cocky grin. “Yeah?” He strode up to the vehicle, arms spread. “Go ahead.”

The village took a collective breath.

Jassalan shrugged and blew him to bits.

* * *

“I think that’s got it,” said Liss, tightening a bolt and running a scanner over the new connection. “How’s it feel?”

“Serviceable,” said Kay.

Jassalan stood in the kitchen door, nodding. “Good work.”

They’d scrounged the parts out of the village’s salvage yard during the aftermath. Liss, who was some sort of mechanical genius, had managed to cobble together enough old electronics to mend Kay’s broken long-distance communications equipment. It took weeks and she’d grumped the whole time, but by the time she was done she would wink at Kay when she thought no one else was looking.

When Kay tried to thank Jassalan for saving her, she only shrugged and said, “Payl likes you, she ran home to get us as soon as she found out what was going to happen. I couldn’t just let them kill you.”

Liss had pointed out wryly that she’d killed Bolus, and Jassalan sighed. “It’s never simple,” she said at last, her eyes heavy with something that might have been regret. The matter dropped.

“So, you’re set,” said Liss. “You can call off-planet. It’s all connected back up. You can call for rescue, get off this dirtball.”

“Though you don’t have to,” said Payl. “If you don’t want.”

Kay thought of the sequence that would open the channel. Payl’s smile was tight. Jassalan looked away.

Kay pondered that sequence. She could go home. She could see the Army again, have a mission again.

She glanced at Payl, then at Jassalan. The Army hadn’t come back for her.

But these people had.

“It’s ... not working,” Kay lied. “I can’t get through. Maybe it’s not strong enough.”

“Well,” said Jassalan, not buying that for a second. “You’ll just have to stay here until we fix it better.”

There was a soft rustling sound on the roof, and Kay glanced outside. Big raindrops had begun to fall from the sky.

“Rain!” shouted Payl, running past. “Rain!”

Liss scrambled up and followed Payl outside.

Jassalan and Kay were left alone.

“I accessed the file,” said Kay softly.

Jassalan held up her hand. “Don’t tell me,” she said. “I don’t want to know.”


“No,” said Jassalan, and her smile was genuine and warm. “You’re welcome here no matter who you were. All right? Now ... go help with the collectors, Kay. It’s raining.”

Kay ran outside to help Payl and Liss deploy the collectors. Kay felt each drop rain on the skin of her face and the metal of her arms.

“You brought the rain! You brought the rain!” whooped Payl, face lit up with joy.

And, for a fleeting moment, Kay was utterly certain that she had.

Susan Jane Bigelow is a librarian and science fiction and fantasy author who likes biking, reading, walking, Doctor Who, and My Little Pony. She is the author of the Extrahumans series and writes a weekly political column for the Connecticut political news website CT News Junkie. “The Radio” originally appeared in War Stories: New Military Science Fiction.