I am awake. It is time to begin The Work.

I am attached to a station in a decaying orbit around a planet in an expanding orbit around a solar object in a decaying orbit around a black hole that is not in orbit around anything, at least not that we know as we have not left the orbit of this solar object. That is the extent of what I know, and it is A-oh-kay-oh that I do not know more than that. I was not told to know more than that. I do not need to.

Every morning my batteries charge and my subroutines let me know it is time to begin The Work. The Work is the most important thing. The Work is The Station, and The Station Must Operate And Produce At All Costs. The Station has not Operated And Produced for years. The Work continues nonetheless.

It is wrong to suggest that I “feel.” The humans, the lyricians, they feel. I simply exist. I Operate. I Get Enjoyment From The Work, even though enjoyment is a feeling. But I cherish it! I do.

I exit my alcove and I visually inspect myself. Two arms, check. Two hands, check. Two legs, check. Two feet, I say, and I wiggle them each — left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot — check and check. One of these I salvaged from another Frame. It was my left foot. That Frame was damaged. It had reached the end of its Usefulness. When we cease to be Useful, we are no longer Frames, we are an assemblage of parts.

My left foot is tricky. But I manage. It does not drag, but sometimes it loses magnetic constriction with the deck plating. This is important as The Work often involves I position myself in areas of grave danger to myself or others if I am struck by rocks or dust or debris or space refuse.

But I must not let that deter me from The Work. I simply remagnitize my foot, and I go about my day. “Bad foot,” I caution it aloud. My words are stern and echo off the bulkheads. My foot cannot hear me. I do not care. Some things I do just for me.

The lights in The Station do not work. This Station Belongs To Me And It Is Important, but I do not need lights to see, and there is nobody else aboard The Station, so I Do Not Need To Fix What Is Unnecessary. I can see every color, including ones that you cannot. I can see sounds. I can see what you would call “smells,” but I would call “gas chromatography” and “mass spectrometry.” I can see gravity. I can see all manner of things you cannot. That is why The Work is done by me.

As I approach the airlock on Deck L, Section 17, I catch a glimpse of the planet in the transparisteel bulkhead separating the interior of the corridor in this section from the vacuum of the planet The Station orbits, a sickly ochre and cream light reflecting in off the clouds. Sometimes, when I am outside? I like to stare at them. The data I analyze I could analyze for hours. The movement of the clouds. The radiography, the gas chromatography, the mass spectrometry, the geography, the geology. The planet is old, and it was never fully itself, but that did not stop it from Becoming.

The Work enables others to Produce. Production is important because The Company Suffers Without Production. I cannot let The Company suffer. Though, if you were to ask me who The Company was, I…I do not think I could tell you now. The Company is gone now. Only The Work remains.

I cycle the airlock as a formality. I do not need air. But, I do it for Safety. The Safety Of The Workers And The Frames And The Station Is The Absolute Priority. I know many things about airlocks and the need for them, particularly how the airlocks here have been known to be temperamental. We once lost a cracking crew to sudden unexpected decompression. I remember the stationmaster before me had held a memorial for them. I remember the Operators being sad. I remember spending several days being told the failure of the airlock was because I Was A Useless Frame. That made me f̵e̶e̵l̵ ̶v̸e̶r̸y̸ ̴u̸p̸s̷e̴t̴ ̶w̵i̷t̷h̴ ̶T̴h̵e̸ ̴W̶o̴r̶k̵e̷r̵s̵ ̸a̵b̸o̸a̶r̸d̶ ̴T̴h̵e̷ ̴S̶t̸a̴t̸i̴o̴n̴.̸

But I repaired the airlock. We did not lose any more cracking crews then. I was told I was Useful again.

The humans, the lyricians, they still regarded the other Frames and I with disdain. They did not like us because we were Frames, and we would Steal Their Jobs. This was not true. We were there to Help The Workers And The Station. But they did not listen, and they did not trust us.

But I do not care.

I magnetized my feet to the deckplates. They attach, and I can feel The Station in what are supposed to be my bones. It is not a feeling like how you are used to, but my sensors tell me that I am 94% magnetized to the deckplates.

I spot my reflection in the mirrored glass of the airlock door before it rolls out of place. I can see the powder coated titanium of my cream colored head. I can see where it has worn off, in places. I can see the long crackling trail of an electrical scar along the left side of my long trapezoidal head from when I was repairing a power conduit and I did not correctly assess that the conduit was offline before attempting to separate it. The scar runs from the left side of my head to my left shoulder down my left upper arm assembly and across the elbow joint and dances around my lower arm and across the third and fourth digits of my left hand, wrapped tight against my housing like the spiral of a barbed wire.

The station engineer never repaired it. I am not the argumentative type; aesthetic details are Unnecessary. She said it would “teach me a lesson” and that I was still “handsome.” I do not understand either phrase; I am incapable of forgetting and I do not need more than two hands.

The station engineer told me I had a “photographic memory” which she attributed to “my big camera head.” I attribute it to the Builders, who I understand created me. I do not know who they are. It is not important.I will never forget that incident. I̷t̷ ̷w̷a̷s̵ ̵t̵h̴e̶ ̸f̷i̷r̸s̸t̶ ̵t̸i̴m̵e̴ ̷t̶h̴a̵t̵ ̵I̶ ̸r̵e̴a̸l̶i̸z̶e̴d̵ ̴t̶h̶a̷t̵ ̵I̷ ̶w̷a̸s̶ ̶v̷e̶r̷y̴ ̸a̵f̶r̴a̷i̷d̵ ̷t̵h̷a̸t̸ ̶I̴ ̷c̴o̸u̶l̴d̷ ̸d̸i̸e̸.̴

The station engineer, she used to listen to a song from thousands of years ago. She listened to a lot of music. I did not recognize any of it, but I remember enjoying it, as much as I Enjoyed The Work, because The Work Gives Me Purpose, and the station engineer also gave me Purpose. Purpose Makes Me Useful. Something about the resonance of her voice. It was…It was…It was…


I remember that the Station Engineer was my friend. She was among the last to evacuate. I̸ ̶m̵i̶s̵s̷ ̸h̷e̴r̵.̴ ̴I̴ ̴h̷o̸p̵e̸ ̵s̶h̶e̸ ̵i̷s̶ ̵o̸k̵a̶y̶.̵

I grab hold of the handrail and decouple my feet from the deckplates. I swing my body around to the exterior of the station and I re-engage the magnetic constrictors and I feel my feet — left foot, right foot, left foot right foot — connect to the exterior plating. I do not see the sun, but I see the light from it cascade across the delicate ochre and mustard and dirt colored atmosphere and the glittering dirty rings that surround it and the gases and the radio waves and the gravimetric distortions emanating from it. The planet is called “Saturn.” I do not understand the origin of this word. It is not necessary that I know, but I know many things that I am not supposed to.

My tools are attached to my back. They are magnetized to me as I am magnetized to the hull. There is a problem with the communications array, and the problem prevents me from summoning help. I do not know why we need help, because I am the only one aboard the station, but Something is telling me that I̸ ̵a̵m̸ ̴s̴c̴a̷r̴e̴d̵ ̶a̷n̷d̸ ̷I̵ ̷n̵e̷e̶d̷ ̵h̶e̷l̵p̸ ̷a̴n̴d̴ ̸I̸ ̸a̸m̶ ̶g̶o̶i̸n̴g̸ ̴t̷o̵ ̴d̸i̵e̷.̵

As I begin The Work I think about Her and how when I work, I sing her song. Her Song Gives Me Purpose. Her Song Helps Me Do The Work.

Her song is ancient. It is old. She said it reminded her of the CARNET Pioneers. I spent several charge cycles studying them even though I was not supposed to know it. I learned a lot about CARNET even though my Primary Function Is The Operation And Productivity Of The Station And The Safety Of The Workers And The Frames and that information is Unnecessary. But I did not find that it was useless. I remember having conversations with Her and Her being Pleased With My Usefulness at knowing this information.

I̷ ̶l̷o̵v̷e̶d̶ ̷h̴e̸r̸,̵ ̶I̵ ̸t̴h̶i̴n̷k̴?̴ I do not know. I̵s̴ ̶L̸o̴v̴e̷ ̶a̸n̵ ̶e̷m̷o̵t̶i̵o̸n̶?̴ ̷I̸ ̸a̴m̷ ̷s̸c̸a̶r̸e̵d̸.̴ ̸I should not feel,̴b̷u̷t̸ ̸I̶ ̸f̵e̵e̵l̸,̶ ̷a̶n̵d̶ ̵I̷ ̸f̸e̴e̴l̴ ̷L̴o̶v̶e̶ ̸f̸o̵r̸ ̶h̶e̴r̴,̶ ̴a̶n̸d̶ ̶t̷h̴a̴t̶ ̶m̴a̶k̶e̷s̸ ̶m̵e̷ ̴s̸c̸a̸r̵e̷d̸.̶

Space is a vacuum. Air and sound do not exist in the way that you are told they exist. In fact, I would say by and large that I have spent a great deal of time in space without feeling air or sound.

But that does not keep me from singing, even though no one can hear me.

I am a lineman for the county, I yell from my vocoder. The sound feels rusty and old and distorted and bad, but I am struck by it nonetheless.

And I drive this main road. I feel the words echo through my bones. There is nothing here that can hear me. This does not deter me.

Searching in the sun for another overload.  I remove the communications relay access panel by twisting the lock handles and throwing it open. It comes loose.

I hear you singing in the wire. I bend over to reach in and throw a red lever. I am confident this has resolved the issue to my satisfaction.

I can hear you through the wine. W̵h̷e̷r̷e̴ ̴h̷a̴s̶ ̷s̶h̵e̵ ̴g̷o̷n̸e̴?̶ ̷W̷h̷y̷ ̶d̷i̶d̷ ̸s̷h̷e̸ ̴n̶o̶t̴ ̷c̶o̶m̴e̴ ̸b̵a̴c̴k̵ ̶f̷o̸r̶ ̸m̵e̸?̷

And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line. The Work Is Done Today. I begin the return to my alcove, satisfied. After all, There Is Satisfaction In The Work.

In a far off corner of C deck, a display lit up on the comms panel, the only light left remaining on the command ring. A readout began to generate on the screen in teal-green phosphor, blinking urgent and furious.



and i need you more than want you
and i want you for all time
and the wichita lineman
is still on the line

meryl please come home. meryl please come home. i am scared. i am fletcher and i am scared. it is too quiet and i am afraid.