Author: Lynn Finger

“How much to fix this glitch?” I said.

“You can’t afford it,” he tossed back.

We were suspended in our respective amplifications, parked in an enabled space elevator made from light. We were formed and holding in the black expanse, our talk focused by the radios in our helmets. I, waiting to join the mines of a meteor near V616 Mon. He, on break from whatever con he was planning next. But I’d heard he was the best.

“No–I can afford it, I will. When I start working in the mines, I’ll throw some coin your way. But I can’t go on like this. This breakdown, whatever it is, is shredding the quarks in my field.” Our eyes met over the shimmering lasers of the space elevator. Our oxygen provided by self-replicating capsules in our skin.

“For the kind of thing you’ve got going on, you’d have to bind your protons to mine, become my slave.”

“You don’t even know if you can fix this,” I said.

“I do know. Shredded quarks I do all the time. You’d be surprised how often this happens off-planet. Your coherence is off. When that goes, you go. The binary holding you together is shit.”

“It’s getting worse,” I said. “Harder to breathe, to see.”
“Your company won’t repair you?”

“My protons are chained, and they have no intention of clearing those.”
He said, “They don’t want you anymore. “

I pressed on. “I want to get out of this shredding, can you do it?”

He laughed. “Yea I could do it. I could let you go free even. But for you, you gotta pay the price.”

“So my life, bound to yours, would buy me—?”

“More time, much more time.”

“Do it,” I said.

He typed into the virtual keyboard at his side. I waited. Nothing happened. I was still being pulled apart.
“You didn’t clear it, I’m being torn down.”

He shrugged. “Too bad about the glitch. Guess I don’t need a servant. I’ve helped you on your way to a sooner resolution. Goodbye.”

“What did you do then?”

“I sped up the shredding process.”

“It’s catching you know,” I said. Grabbing his arm. “The shredding doesn’t stop at physical boundaries.”

His image broke momentarily.

“You didn’t ask me what I’ll be doing in the mines,” I said. “Binding protons. Can’t do it for myself, but I can ensure the shredding virus spreads to you. You liar.”

“I let you think what you wanted,” he said.

I took his arm in both my hands. “Here comes the shredders! We’ll disintegrate together.”

With his free arm, he frantically typed into his virtual board. “Shredding’s reversed,” he said.
In a moment my form became coherent, my body could uptake my oxygen easily, and I was able to suspend without a problem.

“You had no intention of helping me.”

“I didn’t need your servitude, just wanted to see how much you would give up.” He laughed.

He pulled away, began his descent down the elevator. “I’m needed on a satellite. And watch your protons. You have nothing to give if you need my help next time.”

I called after him. “I left you a souvenir, a shredder seed in your cellular structure.”

His eyes met mine with alarm as my ride to the mines pulled up. “Don’t worry, it isn’t activated. Yet.”

“I need you to fix it!” he yelled after me.

“I know,” I said, stepping into the shuttle and closing the hatch.