Listen to me, you can’t fix people. Your love won’t make him stop hating his father and your devotion won’t cure her of her childhood. All you can do is be there, violets sprouting out from your ribs, acceptance on your lips, your own wounds still bleeding and all you can do is be there and sometimes that’s enough, sometimes that’s everything.
“I no longer have the energy for meaningless friendships, forced interactions or unnecessary conversations. If we don’t vibrate on the same frequency there’s just no reason for us to waste our time. I’d rather have no one and wait for substance than to not feel someone and fake the funk.”—(via rabbrakha)
where’s all their praise and numerous articles breaking down their brilliance? it’s not good enough when women of colour do it, is it? it has to come from a maternalistic supremacist place and it most certainly has to perpetuate racialised misogyny, doesn’t it? it’s of course super feminist to throw these women under the bus, write articles about how destructive they are to the feminist movement, or ignore them entirely; yay solidarity.
“I wish you perspective when situations or people seem more important than they really are, and the ability to detect those people or events who have much to offer but don’t inherently draw your attention. In other words, charisma is not character. This is also very good dating advice.”—Laura Linney (via bridgeisburning)
I silenced the alarms with a twist of my head, trying to keep both hands on the arm of the young man in front of me. His blood spurted out from between my fingers and he gasped for breath through the pain, sucking the oxygen in through the mask I had put on his face.
“Arrival of hemostatic agent?” I asked, as Diaz, my partner, sewed his side up so we could get him away from the fighting.
12 minutes, the screen flashed.
“Fuck. Give me the four by fours and the bandages.”
Two compartments in my suit sprang open and I moved my hand away from his arm. More blood gushed onto the ground, dripping off of my fingers as the suit attempted to sterilize itself. The hydrophobic shell shed the blood and any contaminants in it. I wrapped his arm and checked the vitals reading. Dropped blood pressure, rapid and shallow respirations, heart rate weak and fast.
“Stitches?” I asked, as the alarm started ringing again, and a red pinging appeared at the left side of my screen.
“Almost done,” Diaz responded, as the screen analyzed them. “Follow up with skin glue.”
I reached over, and the suit responded to the command, moving the spray from my waist up the arm to where I could use it. I moved slowly down the long cut, keeping one eye on the bleeding arm.
“We have to get out of here,” Diaz muttered, tying off the stitching as his bandaging compartment slid open. “It’s too close.”
I sealed the last of the stitches as my partner wrapped the man in bandages — excessive, maybe. But his hands were shaky and he knew as well as I did how easy it is for those to get ripped out if we didn’t protect them.
The alarm flashed brighter, and words pulsed on my screen as I checked the man’s arm. My bandages had already been bled through, I thought, ignoring the DANGER IMMINENT alert. I wrapped it again, pressing a little more tightly as my partner sat him up.
“Let’s go, Frantz!” he said. “We can’t manage this on our own. We need to get back to where he can get some fluids.”
I hoisted the other side of the man up, his bandaged arm making the balancing act difficult.
“Oh no,” I heard him say. My partner looked at me, both of us trying to see the other through the DANGER flashing on the visors.
“Go,” I said. “Take him and go.”
“You’re fucking nuts,” Diaz spat. “I’m not fucking leaving you.”
“The suit is built for this kind of thing,” I said, shifting the young man’s weight onto Diaz. He hoisted the patient up onto his shoulders, the kind of thing they used to call a “firefighter’s carry” before that became automated and we still fought the fires that consumed houses before they turned into city block evacuations. “Get out of here. Go stealth. I can lead them off. What’s the point in coming out here if we don’t come back with him?”
He glared at me and ran off, disappearing off of my radar as I turned in the other direction, flicking the alarm back on and routing it through my external speakers.
DANGER DANGER DANGER DANGER
I felt the impact of an explosion to my left, the suit diffusing the energy so I only registered a heavy vibration in the smallest bones of my body, a rumbling in the ears and a trembling in my fingers and toes. Debris flew past me, a few pieces of shrapnel flaming as they shot past my eyes, leaving streaks in my field of vision.
I ran and ran and ran, skidding around corners of old buildings, running up piles of rubble, leaping halfway up the obstacles I couldn’t get a foothold on. The suits are what pull most people toward the medical field these days. You have a better chance of surviving when you’re not in an active zone, and you get better supplies for your family. You have to expose yourself to the danger more often, but the suit gives you a little bit of a better chance when the stars line up right.
The beeping stopped suddenly, and I switched the noisemaker back to the internal channel. “Diaz?”
No response right away, I peeked around the corner and tried again. “Diaz, respond.” Sprinted to the next building, flicking through the radar for incoming attacks, looking at my vitals and supplies, watching my orders. Diaz, motherfucker, where are y—”
I stopped. A big green giant bot, one of the house-stompers that was sent in the first wave before they got sneaky, was clanking around toward me. And in the foreground, one of the humanoids they sent in the third and fourth wave held a baby, maybe three or four months old.
The red light went off again. I slid my finger up my forearm, shutting off the alarms and all my lights, fading my visor screen to black and crouching down behind the rubble.
The lights from the stomper slid over the rubble behind it as it approached, sweeping in big arcs toward where I was.
The baby slept. The humanoid watched the stomper, keeping an eye on the lights, crouching down when they got too close. It held the baby awkwardly, but kept glancing down it at, the little blue lights lighting up the baby’s face from one side.
I clenched my fists, and Diaz’s response typed itself across the bottom of my screen.
Made it. Where are you? They’re reporting some major old school activity out west of where we were. Giants.
He tried to ping my radar, but I shut it off, keeping one eye on the baby as my feed watched where the stomper was. I had to get that baby.
“You never put yourself at risk,” my instructor had said.
We were all new in the suits, still jumping every time a new message appeared, turning our heads too far to flick through screens. Full immersion screens hadn’t been a thing except for the elite at the end, and none of us had the practice that our grandparents had. He was a pro, using minute flicks of his eyes to get to the information he wanted us to see. He barely moved.
“The suits will compensate for a lot. They deflect sharp objects, will stop most bullets, flameproof, you can even swim in them. You’ll get flung back from an explosion, but it’ll cushion your ass and stop the blast from rupturing your organs. But they won’t stop you from getting killed. Never go into a situation with something bigger than you. We took down most of the big guns before it was too late, but there are still some roaming around, following their programming.”
He tapped one finger on the desk, and detailed scans of what we would be dealing with appeared. “You want to save as many people as possible, but don’t get yourself killed. In your grandparents day, they were told to stay away from the burning cars and the poisonous gases. We can do that now and still not make patients of ourselves. But it won’t do everything.”
Two more taps, and a small flock of the bots appeared on the large monitor. “These, for instance,” he said. “We built these after we found out what issues in the programming were making the bots into what they are today. Your suit doesn’t have the AI to turn against you, report your whereabouts to the hostile bots next to you, or fix the people you’re helping. But these things will give the AI to the suit and it’ll turn against you.”
He showed us images of hostile suits, visors broken and empty, or closed, with rotting flesh inside. “Don’t let that be you. Don’t put yourself at risk like that.”
He tapped again, and the monitor went blank. “Now, although it doesn’t have the AI to fix people, you will have the know-how to do so. The suit goes off of your movements and judgement to help give you what you need next. It’ll take some time to get used to you.”
He nodded toward one of the veteran teachers in the class, there to help us with navigating the system. “Medic Lewis spent six years in the suit before all the bugs were worked out, and when she lost her arm and we repaired the suit, it knew her motions well enough that she could stay in the field.”
Lewis smiled at us, tight-lipped. Her neck and face were scarred from the blast that took her arm. She hated being used as an example, but it happened every year.
“I expect certain things from you,” the commander continued. “Don’t disappoint me.”
The stomper was closer now, and the light continued to sweep toward us. The humanoid looked nervous, glancing back at the baby more and more, adjusting its grip.
I had been creeping closer, around the opposite side of the building where the humanoid stood. I could hear the stomping and the baby’s sleeping breaths.
Normal heart rate, normal breathing.
What was it doing with the bot?
Why would a bot take a baby?
I had to get that baby.
There was an opening in the wall behind the bot, close enough to a shelter that I could make it before the stomper got too close. I had planned three trajectories on the monitor, depending on how much resistance the bot put up and how quickly the stomper figured out I was there.
Frantz, where the fuck are you?
Frantz, report in.
“There’s a baby,” I said, using the suit’s sub-voc feature. “A bot has a baby. I’m bringing it back.”
I sprinted toward the crack in the wall, and the humanoid came right at me, glancing behind it toward the increasingly loud footsteps of the stomper. I froze, all my trajectories erased, and reached toward the bot’s arms. Its head whipped right around toward me and the light increased, trying to blind me. The baby woke up with a start, but I caught it as the bot’s arms loosened and slipped it into the papoose I had made and took off toward the other building as one corner of the ruin we stood in collapsed into dust under the stomper’s foot.
The baby cried, but I piped my speakers into the compartment I had made and sang to it, softly, avoiding the alarm of the stomper.
Help me? a message flashed onto my screen. Help? Me, help?
I looked around on the radar as I ran, singing quietly. No other friendly signatures appeared. Maybe someone on a stealth operation?
Don’t, help Child wait help me. Stop wait
The baby’s vitals registered as asleep again, and I slowed down, the stomper far enough behind me that I didn’t have to expend all the pneumatic energy to get away. This was a quiet zone, far enough away from the fighting that I’d be able to loop around the active zone and back to the hospital.
Where are you?
Unknown sender, but the signal was strong. I looked around, using the suit’s recognition filter to find other similar, non-infected signatures.
Stop, wait. Child, let me help.
I slowed down more, looking back the way I came. The signal was getting stronger.
Peace, peace. Unfamiliar, peace.
An image flashed onto my screen, the humanoid from before, with a second message.
What was happening? I started running, watching the signature come closer on my radar. It shouldn’t have been able to follow me, let alone piggyback onto my comm system.
There were always theories floating around about the good bots, the ones whose AI had evolved far enough to see that what they were doing was wrong, like humans after the initial neanderthal wipeout had happened eventually realized that mutual cooperation was a good thing.
But I didn’t buy it. Not after I’d seen what they could do to human bodies, the messages they would daub out on blank stretches close to where they knew we were, using the organs and bodies of the slaughtered.
“We are waiting” was the standard message.
And they always were, I thought, running, trying not to jostle the baby.
Why did it have a baby? I had seen infants along with adults out there in the rubble, eviscerated alongside their parents. Bots were not kind to children, not for any reason.
Images started to flash along the left side of my screen, registering before I could block them completely.
The bot’s programming starting, being sent out to the active zone, infiltrating smaller spaces, crawling through rubble and tunnels, trying to ferret out human dwellers.
Encountering an infected suit, empty. Prying out one of the infectious reprogramming bots and examining it, pulling info for further use.
Then something different.
Analyzing humans as they ran away before sounding the alarm, watching the expressions on their faces as they pulled their comrades and loved ones toward them once the infiltration started. Turning away as the kill bots swooped in.
Finding the baby, tucked underneath a shelter, sleeping. Food next to it, wrapped up for travel.
The food package slung across the robots back.
Wait, the message said, pushing through my block. Let me help. Not enough food in compound for child. Kind not right.
I slowed down. It already knew where we were, how much food we had. I had to stop and turn around. I could see its eyelights bobbing, red in the dusty dark.
“Hurry up,” I whispered. “I don’t have much time.”
It came around the corner slowly, and sent me its specs. It was a purely seek-and-report robot, no weaponry, no defenses. Expendable.
I knew the type, and it was the dream bot for a medic to encounter. You could do away with it with a blow to the head or a quick tug to the central circuitry. No tricks, no fancy revival backdoors.
It unstrapped the bag and placed it on the ground. Radio silence, but I could see it watching me.
The stomper was far away or not moving, no vibrations in the ground, and the alarm system was silent.
As I picked up the food, the baby fussed and stirred in the pouch I had made for it, and the bot reached out. It was a gesture I would have called instinctive in a human, but in a bot it looked like a threat. I stepped back and turned.
No, sorry. No threat. Child ok?
“The child is fine.”
I picked up the bag and turned away. But I couldn’t leave. “Why did you do it?” I asked, and turned back. “Why save this one?”
Bug in my programming, it said. Infected, you call it. Like with the suits, but in reverse. Symbiosis.
“That doesn’t make sense,” I said. “You designed those things.”
You designed us.
We stood in the darkness, watching each other. I scanned the baby, making sure there were no tracking devices, and looked through the bag for the same thing.
Won’t follow. Nothing left to do. I know where you are. I’ll bring more when I find them if its safe.
“Don’t. You’ll be destroyed.”
You would have been. Why did you stay?
I couldn’t answer.
“Thank you,” I said, before I could stop it.
The bot nodded, and turned away, running back toward the stomper.
I don’t think she expected it to turn out this way, and honestly, I can’t blame her. I got so good at pretending I didn’t feel that way, that eventually, I didn’t. But when she turned up at my door and told me she had enough of being alone and untouched…what could I say?
She slept and I dozed afterwards but kept waking up to see sprawled out on the bed, the cats padding around her feet as she moved them or mumbled in her sleep. I would get up and drink some water, or perch on the edge of the couch, examining my bare knees for some kind of epiphany or takeaway or relief. Then I would go back to bed, and curl my arms around her and kiss the top of her shoulder, and wake up again and repeat the cycle. Eventually I took the blanket and the cat and slept on the couch.
She woke me up by joining me, in her pants and sweater, crunching the old springs under the cushions so I rolled towards her. My ribcage collided with her hip, and I squinted at her. “Hey,” I croaked.
Before she could say anything else, I sat up and pulled the blanket to my chest. “No, don’t say it. We don’t have to talk about it.”
She pulled at the frayed edge of the blanket and opened her mouth again.
"Really." I said, and stood up. "Let’s not. Why ruin it?"
She touched my back before I walked away, and her cool fingers on my skin made me shiver. “We should talk about it.”
"At least let me put clothes on?"
She left her hand on my back and stood up to guide me back into my room.
"No, don’t get dressed." She sat on the bed and reached toward the hem of her sweater. "Let’s just talk like this."
I grabbed her hands. “No.”
She looked at me and pouted. “What’s wrong?”
"Just…don’t do that. I can’t— don’t."
She cupped my face in her hands and stroked my cheeks with her thumbs and I wanted to die, just slip out of my head and go along with this crazy thing that was happening. I gently held her wrists and kissed the palm of each hand once. “No. This isn’t about me, Liz. I know it’s not. You don’t want me. You trust me, and that makes me feel good. You feel comfortable enough around me to let what happened last night happen. Both of us wanted it and it was good. But it’s not about me. If there was someone else you trusted, it would be them.”
She wouldn’t look at me. I squeezed her fingers.
"You miss him."
"It’s ok. It’s only been a month?"
"Okay." I put her hands on the bed beside me and grabbed my shirt from where I had dropped it on the floor. "It’s ok to miss him. It’s ok to miss being touched. It’s ok to miss sex." When I pulled the shirt over my head, she was looking at me again, eyes brimming with tears. "I just need to know that’s the case."
"I’m sorry. I didn’t want it to be like this," she said, and tears came spilling over. "I just need to feel like somebody cares about me."
I let her lean into me and held her. “It’s ok, it’s ok. I know. I care about you. I’ll be here however you need me to be.”
she’s a sweet person and she’s being exploited by the western media as being this savior for girls in pakistan, even though she is against american influence in pakistan just as much as she is against the taliban