I am a mechanic. It’s all I ever wanted to be for as long as I can remember: I helped my parental unit from the first time I could understand apps and how they connected together, remained one even after the accident led to having a body that wasn’t human at all. I don’t use the infoweb much, beyond keeping up on technologies and new app development – narrowband interests, Max teasingly called it – and I ignore news about transfers like myself because all that news does is depress me. The infoweb supplied me with news I never wanted to know.
And I have no one to talk to about it. One reason I’ve turned off every security system for the shop. I hadn’t needed to have a shop in the last couple of years: every scanning system and repair module I used fit easily inside my chassis now. But the shop was real, and solid, and customers knew where it was. I’d had four customers in the last year. Three the year before that. I’ve spent my free time updating skills, learning modern systems. Updating my own body.
Outwardly its the same as it has been for almost a hundred years: a five-foot cylinder on treads, viewscreen with my ‘face’ on the top, arms inside reading to come out as needed. There is more armour than there used to be. More repair subsystems. No weapons. I have a few sealing apparatuses I could use as weapons if I had to. I don’t. A transfer with weapons sets off all the wrong kind of alarms, even now. I look about the shop slowly. Six scanning tables, repair modules, docking bays. I could hold fifty vehicles in various states of repair, not that I’d ever had that many here.
“Engage.” Everything shrunk down, folded in on itself smoothly, connecting together like puzzle pieces to become a small block in the middle of the floor. I opened the left side of my chassis, picked it up, put it inside, closed myself up. An entire life reduced to little more than a storage unit. Some days I now understand why my grandfather tried to kill me after I became a transfer, why progress scares so many people. The ways in which it makes us helpless before it.
The door opens. I flick my projection on, of a human-seeming Dar that fits easily over my chassis.
“We spent a lot of time here together.” It is Max’s voice, but not Max who enters the shop. Max had been male, the last time we saw each other – over six months ago – and this Max looked the same, complete with a tail that didn’t move as much as Max’s had at all. Constructs mimic people: you copy your mind into them, send them out to deliver messages. They degrade quickly, all told, but this one was expensive and well-made. Max always did plan for the future: you don’t survive two tours of the war and not plan. It even had a replica of his synthleg I’d worked on and updated for years.
“I found the news.” Nothing else. I dropped my projection, turned and faced him. Kept my viewscreen off.
The Construct flinched at that. “I’m not sure that makes this easier.”
“I knew you were dying, Max. You didn’t have to stay away.” The Construct isn’t Max, but – this helps. A little. Maybe.
“All your sensors, all your scans.” Max stares about at the shop. The only thing left in it is a chair I kept for guests, one that does massages that eased any pain it could manage. I’d sold the deign eventually at Max’s urging, and never had to work again as a result. I’d spent at least two years in a funk over that before donating the revenue to a transfer-based charity Max recommended. Max’s sib Kel had become a transfer on dying, becoming pure radiowaves rather than accepting another body to be housed inside.
“I couldn’t do it,” the Construct says, as if Max is reading my mind through the Construct. Knowing what I’m thinking without even being alive. I shudder a little inside. I wonder if this is how people see transfers, if this is one reason we unnerve them so.
“You couldn’t become a transfer. Like me. Or Kel. You never had to say that,” I snap, flicking the viewscreen on to glare at the Construct. “You could have just told me. I’d have been fine with it!”
“I didn’t know. For all the time we’ve spend together, there are things we never talked about. As friends do. Words we left unsaid so our friendship wouldn’t break down.”
I move closer at that, quick, extend a limb and jab the Construct lightly in the chest. “You could have tried. You’re my friend – you were my best friend, Max. I would have forgiven you anything you said.”
“I know. It’s why I couldn’t.” The Construct smiles, and looks so much like Max that it hurts. “I wanted you at the funeral, but someone might have – tried to hurt you. I couldn’t let that happen. So I made this Construct, to come and speak with you. It will shut down entirely once in the chair,” and the tail twitched to point to the chair, so like Max my vocal interface lets out a gulp.
“I’m not here to say all that stuff I never could. Or wouldn’t.” The Construct smiles. “Friendship makes cowards of us all. Sometimes. In some ways. I didn’t want to lose your friendship for anything. Not even because of me, in the end.”
“I’m one of the only first-generation transfers still alive. I lose myself in my work. I love my work. That’s one reason. You’ve always been another.”
“I know. And that you might die because I die – that always sat in the back of my head. Festering.”
“I won’t.” The Construct says nothing. “Because for all the time we spent togerther, it was never that long, and you were never that important.”
The Construct freezes, and then lets out a soft, Max-laugh, so real it does hurt this time. “You bastard.”
I flick my projection on, so my grin is as wicked as I can make it. “I can say the truth now,” I tease in turn, and the Construct laughs again.
“So could I,” Max’s voice says, “about how ugly you are, how my leg could have been better repaired by a real human and – huh. You’d think I’d have better insults for this.” A sigh, then. “They removed my tail, for the funeral. You would have protested.”
“I would have.”
“I wish –. I wish a lot of things,” the Construct says, softly. “I wish you’d been able to come to the funeral, and to hell with what might happen or what people might say about it. But I couldn’t ruin other people’s grief. And my parental units might have come to it, and you would definitely have wanted to have words with them.”
I thought about Max and Kel, and how they’d been made to take any adaptive trait. How their parents had arranged this without telling them, used the contract they’d devised to enrol Max in the war. I said nothing: words was putting it kindly.
“I thought you might close your shop down. Eventually. I planned for that.”
“Here.” The construct holds out one hand, a databall shimmering to life. “I refused a third tour of the war, you know. I taught in a few schools, in exchange for being able to pass on my security clearances to someone else. That someone else is you.”
“Oh.” I don’t protest, and the globe snaps over to me, and then inside. I don’t feel different, but my infoweb connection expands, broad enough to make me feel dizzy for a moment.
“It’s hard for a transfer to get off-planet, let alone employment. This will help. There are starcruisers in need of decent techs out there, and you’re more than decent. This isn’t an apology.”
“It better not be.”
The Construct grins at that, heading over to the chair to sit in it with a deep sigh of relief. “You spent time with me,” it says, rappping the replica of Max’s synthleg. “I get to spend time with you inside you, as a clearance. It’s not the same, but this way – this way it’s something. There are so many things I’m sorry for, and so much more I’m never going to be sorry for.”
And the chair activates itself. And the Construct shuts down. And Max is gone.
I don’t smash the chair apart. I don’t scream. I turn. I roll out. I leave.
I don’t put on my projection as I head down the road toward the nearest starport. Because Max was the bravest person I knew, and I can do this much. For Max, for me. For whatever future I might find.