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Jaysee reported to decontamination, wondering why there hadn’t been a revolt by the augmented long before. Every quarter orbit, Jaysee exited the mine through the primary medlock. Their shoulders hunched as they cringed around stomach and intestinal cramping. Nerves stretching from spine to extremities screamed with every flex of degraded muscle as they pulled off their neoposiprene surface suit. The biotech epidermis exposed was more grey than silver as they stepped into the first chamber for decontamination via liquid spray. The slick green sides of the shower room glowed as both radiation and pain leached from every organic portion of Jaysee’s body.

A voice in soothing contralto filled their mind. “Jaysee, beloved, remember me. I’ll be waiting at the shuttle port the day your contract ends. No matter how a hundred orbits spent apart may change us, remember we were made for each other. I will always love you.”

In that moment, as synapses recovered and toxins flushed, Jaysee remembered Esvee. Whether the words were memory or an audio file from the augmentations, Jaysee didn’t know. How much more debt remained to pay, Jaysee couldn’t remember, but they remembered their love, Esvee. Surely that feeling of love was organic.

When Esvee said they were “made for each other” that was only a figure of speech. Jaysee’s body had been customized for work in the freezing and radioactive mines of this distant moon, so they could pay off medical debt. It wasn’t meant to change how they felt about themself or someone they loved. Jaysee remembered nothing like that in the contract.

As the green glow faded, they passed through another medlock into a chamber, white with mist that smelled like gardenias. The temperature drop made them shiver, or was that the memory of Esvee’s touch? Did the gas mixture truly smell of gardenias, or was that a misplaced memory of Esvee?

Each quarter orbit in the mines scrambled neural functioning. The physical agony experienced in the harsh lunar environment drove away higher level thought. But wasn’t pain proof that they were still alive? Each quarter orbit, when a visit to decontamination cleansed and reconditioned both biological and technological components, Jaysee gloried in being alive and free from pain.

After one hundred orbits, they would be free from debt and indenture as well. Free to return to Esvee, their love.

As Jaysee walked into the final decontamination chamber, a warm yellow light suffused the room. It triggered memories of bare human skin, a yellow sun, the physical act of love.

Standing with all six limbs spread wide, Jaysee struggled to remember the shape or appearance of Esvee’s body.

Jaysee couldn’t even remember their own.

Had their limbs and bodily systems been so altered that they could no longer identify what they’d felt? How they might once have been shaped? The way they came together with their lover?

But their love was strong. Their desire for Esvee remained. They’d chosen between death and being augmented for purely human reasons. When their hundred-orbit indenture was complete, they would survive for hundreds of orbits more in this augmented form. They would be free to live and love then.

The power of that motivation assured Jaysee that they were still human, as they donned their refurbished neoposiprene surface suit and stepped through the final medlock back into the mine.

A moment later, Kaysee reported to decontamination, wondering why there hadn’t been a revolt by the augmented long before.

Clara Ward lives in Silicon Valley on the border between reality and speculative fiction. When not using words to teach or tell stories, Clara uses wool or glass to make practical or completely impractical objects. Past and future writing, as well as occasional book reviews, can be found at
Current Issue
29 Nov 2021

It is perhaps fitting, therefore, that our donor's choice special issue for 2021 is titled—simply—Friendship.
The year before this, the girls at school had called her Little Lila .
Pictures of me that day are kept in the ship’s files, sent back to Earth to be used in my captors’ eventual war crimes tribunals.
Perhaps a new urban system of star navigation is needed
This world, covered in spectral ebullience, was tied together by bows of light
Are you a good witch / or a bad witch? / as if there’s an answer earned, inscribed in bubbles reflecting an inverse crown.
When does the pursuit of pure thought, pure idealism, pure escapism become detrimental?
Issue 22 Nov 2021
Issue 15 Nov 2021
By: Madeline Grigg
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 8 Nov 2021
By: Allison Parrish
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 1 Nov 2021
By: Liam Corley
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Liam Corley
Issue 25 Oct 2021
Strange Horizons
Issue 18 Oct 2021
By: K. Ceres Wright
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 11 Oct 2021
By: Lisabelle Tay
Podcast read by: Kat Kourbeti
Issue 4 Oct 2021
By: Anthony Okpunor
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 2 Oct 2021
Podcast: Fund Drive 2021 Poetry 
By: Michael Meyerhofer
By: Wale Ayinla
Podcast read by: Michael Meyerhofer
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
29 Sep 2021
Opening to fiction submissions for the month of November!
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