by Anya Ow

Kiat hovered anxiously around the workbench as the techman carefully put the cellphone back together, reassembling wiring and its microboard, its flat paper-thin glass surface separated into two folds. In the techman’s gray eyes, the magnification implants scrolled data directly into her field of vision, visible to Kiat only as faint white lines that etched restlessly over her irises.

“How old dis?” the techman asked out aloud, and Kiat flinched, startling her into looking up from her work.

“Sorry,” Kiat muttered. “I’m not used to… I live alone now,” he added awkwardly. “Pensioner.”

The techman’s workroom felt cramped even to a man long-used to the scarcity of space, and it smelled unpleasantly of overheated metal and plastics. There was a vent somewhere that spat recycled air in a wavering effort behind Kiat’s head, cold over his receding silver hair, and the every surface of the workroom was fitted with shelves of tools, boxes of parts and locked cabinets. The guts of some sort of miniature engine sat sadly on a corner workbench, wiring extruding from its chassis like red and yellow stamens, the petals of its propeller blades and landing shockpads strewn around it, discarded. The floor was greasy, and stuck to his shoes.

Over the disembowelled cellphone, the techman smiled understandingly. She was still young, the first seams of age only just starting to etch themselves noticeably in the corners of her eyes, but it gave her an open, honest face, round and pleasant, her brown hair tied back over her head in a no-nonsense bun, her gray wrinkle-proof clothes ballooning out over her shoulders and fitting down tight at her wrists and ankles, peppered at the shoulders with brightly coloured adscape. “Not used to realaudio, eh? I can proxy.”

“No. No it’s all right,” Kiat murmured, now embarrassed, glad that the right side of his vision stayed field-empty: the techman wasn’t pushing the issue. “Ah. I’ve had this model since it was first sold. My daughter gave it to me. To keep me company. After leaving home…” Kiat trailed off awkwardly, abruptly self-conscious. “To keep me company,” Kiat repeated, forging back to familiar ground, and wished he hadn’t over-spoken to a stranger. In his mind, Kiat could see Anna rolling her eyes and smirking. You’re always playing funny buggers, Dad, Anna would’ve drawled, all tenderness and contempt, spilling your life story to strangers.

The techman whistled. “Fifteen years? Diu me so happen.” At the blank look on Kiat’s face, she laughed, and translated, “I said that’s so old. Crono visa out p’more, mon.”

Kiat nodded gravely. That line he understood. His grandnephews tried it on him every Lunar New Year, and some years language changed the colour of its spots more quickly than others. You have to go out more, man. “Can you fix it?”

“NFW,” the techman shook her head. “Thissa so old, it history. Museum history. Too old,” she elaborated, when Kiat only picked nervously at his own wrinkleproof gray sleeves. His vision implants registered the adscape on the techman’s sleeves, which made a stab at the cause of his distress and translated it with retargeted ambient buy-in, peppering her arms with anti-ageing serum campaigns to Kiat’s eyescape. ‘Don’t wait for the next tomorrow!’ scrolled a line in frantic red block copy down the techman’s right arm, disappearing into her wrist.

Kiat blinked it away. “I need you to fix it.”

“I said NFW, mon. No way I could. The guts’a phone stop-made five years back, jacks. Why you need phone neh? I seen you got vis-tech, same’a alla us proles. You wanna call someone, just ping ya?”

Down the techman’s left arm, ambient buy ran an animation of a little human repeatedly running into blue cloud graphics to upgrade his eye implants, leaping full bionic into the back of the techman’s palm. Not for the first time, Kiat wondered what the techman saw on Kiat’s adscape. The same bionic tech ad? A woman instead of a man? The etched white lines in her irises flickered and turned briefly circular. She was re-scanning the phone, probably recalibrating it with a reassembly manual that only she could see.

“I’m used to it,” Kiat said quietly, as the techman put the phone back together again and pushed it over the smooth plasteel of the workbench. “What’s wrong with it anyway? Which bit? Maybe… maybe I could get a part. Last couple of times it was just the battery.”

“You replaced battery twofers?” the techman inquired, a little condescendingly, a little pityingly, as she industriously began to put her tools away, powering down the overhead strobes and setting away her sleek, pen-like ‘drivers. “Whew! Must’a cost p’highcred neh.”

It had. “I’m willing to pay,” Kiat pointed out stiffly. “It won’t be a problem-”

“Whoah oldsmon. Not saying you no’.” The techman held up her hands, fists up, in a gesture that lit up her adscape with #FreeStateSolidarity campaigns in seamless orange waves, photographs of people protesting, their adscaped arms covered over with black paint. “I can’t help you. But I’ll ping you a name. Man called the Collector. Maybe could help. Museum fixer, p’good.”

Kiat gathered the broken phone into its box, folding it into his suitpouch. Dulled still, but back in one piece, it just looked like a palm-sized rectangle of glass. “Please yes. Thank you.”

The techman exhaled, hollowing out her cheeks, blinking, and after heartbeat, the address appeared in Kiat’s proxy feed, along with a modest invoice for her service fee. Kiat paid, doling out creds carefully from his pension, and the techman smiled at him, sunny again. “Luck you, mon. Such luck, okay? Luck.”

“Is there something I should know?” Kiat asked, his sense of caution long honed by his daughter’s many homilies on the essential untrustworthiness of strangers.

“Well-a,” the techman hesitated. “I no send you there less I know he do you fine, ya.”

“Yes, but…?”

“Maybe you no find him,” the techman admitted reluctantly. “Been years since we pinged. And. He no like the BigMan. Hides, sometimes. So. Luck you, mon, okay? Hope you get it fixed.”

“He’s in trouble with the law?”

This unquestionably old-fashioned phrasing made the techman giggle: she belatedly covered her mouth with a toolglove, its stabilisers hissing in faint pneumatic whistles as her fingers curled lightly an inch away from her mouth. “Naw mon. Not really no. Maybe.”

“Ah.” Alarm bells, Dad, Anna would’ve wagged a finger. Ring-ring. Woop-woop. “Thanks again for your help.”

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Kiat had known that something was wrong when Anna came home for dinner. With liveable land still so scarce on Earth, like most people in their thirties, Anna couldn’t afford to live away from home, and the small, two-room apartment had always been an exercise in careful storage. When Carrie had still been around, it had been worse: the cracks between them amplified by the lack of space between. After Carrie had left, divorce papers and all, Kiat had naively thought that things would be better, but the Carrie-shaped hole in their private universe remained at large, instead, for years forcing every conversation, every conflict, into its gravitational maw.

“For you, Dad,” Anna had a box with her, made of stiff neopaper card, smooth to the touch. She pushed it across the table as they sat down to mealcard gruel and supplements: her megacorp’s cantina served better, or so she often said. Sometimes, in unkinder hours, Kiat wondered if it was just Anna’s given excuse for coming home late enough just to sleep and wake up again for work, to become such incidental strangers. “Our latest product.”

“Um, thanks.” Kiat opened the slim box. Within it was a thin glass panel, the size of his palm. “What’s this?”

“It’s a phone,” Anna said proudly. “My first project as a principal designer.”

“Wow! It’s so thin.” Kiat lifted it to his eyes, and through the glass panel, Anna smiled at him, flushed with maternal pleasure. “So light.”

“It’s the future, Dad. Just the first step. Soon we’ll make it smaller, and smaller, until some day, it’ll be so small and thin, we can fit it like contact lenses right onto your eyes. Or even smaller. Inject nanotech directly into everyone’s irises. First step to a far more waste-free world.”

Kiat lowered the glass phone, forever made wary by Anna’s enthusiasm, particularly when he didn’t understand it in the least, but he made the appropriate noises. “That’s amazing, dear.”

Anna rolled her eyes, not in the least fooled. “It wouldn’t hurt you to try and live in the modern world now and then, Dad. Press your thumb to the glass.”

Dinner forgotten, Kiat obeyed. The glass shard lit up, blinking yellow for a moment before fading. Tiny little red and white koi darted out over its surface, and Kiat laughed with startled pleasure as they circled around his thumb before turning themselves into familiar icons. A little outline of a man talking, for calls. A speech bubble for pings. An ear with a lightning symbol, for the news. A globe, for the browser. The rest were a little unfamiliar. “Yeah,” Anna had been watching Kiat closely. “Knew you’d like the fish. Check out the other apps. Everything that you might’ve liked, I’ve already installed.”

“It’s great,” Kiat said, more honestly this time. “There’s going to be a promotion for you in this for certain.”

This had normally been a safe topic between them, a cue for Anna to launch into a tirade about the nuances of office politics, about who had been stabbing who in the back or scamming performance reviews, but instead, she smiled uneasily. “Dad. I’ve got to talk to you about something. I did get a promotion. But it’s offworld.”

“Luna?” Kiat frowned slightly. Luna wasn’t so bad. Only a short hop out-

“Mars,” Anna said, and her smile grew earnest. “I’ve been invited to be the Communications Director on Mars. The Mars Alpha colony’s getting well underway. I’ll be with the second wave settlers.”

“Mars!”

“It’ll be a nine-month trip,” Anna pressed on, inexorably. “But it’s been done a few times now. Practically near-commercial.”

“It’s still one way,” Kiat said numbly. Space facilities on Mars were still under construction, weren’t they? They’d been ‘still under construction’ for nearly a decade, now. There was no way to get back offworld in a shuttle from Mars. “Why does Mars need you?”

It had been the wrong thing to say. Anna flared. “I can’t believe you’re saying that. I told you it was a promotion. I’m going to be a Director for an entire planet. You and Mum… I’m always either not good enough for something, or it’s not good enough for me! I thought you would both be happy for me!”

“You spoke to your mother?” Kiat was astonished. The last he had spoken to Carrie had been at the divorce filing.

“Yes, Dad. I’ve spoken to her now and then over the last two years. She’s fine, by the way,” Anna bared her teeth. “Living over in SinoState. New life, new family. You’ll be glad to know that you both agree on me, as usual.”

“I didn’t say that you shouldn’t go,” Kiat murmured, stung. “I’m just concerned for you as your father.”

“I’m going, Dad,” Anna retorted, defiant.

“When?”

“Tomorrow night.”

Kiat was aghast. “So soon? Anna, have you really thought this through?”

“Can’t you be happy for me?”

The question hung heavy in the air, unanswered. A nine-month space trip! And so soon! Commercial travel to Mars — with a return ticket — was still years away. Practically more than that, to become even remotely affordable for a civil techie like Kiat. He sat frozen in his chair, struck dumb by the inevitable. Anna packed in the night, bitterly and loudly. Their final parting had been coldly silent, and without an invitation to the spaceport, Kiat had watched his daughter leave Earth through vidfeed that evening, one face of many, turned away defiantly from the newscam. The successful launch seemed marred by the reporter’s cheerfully plastic jubilation. Earth celebrated. Kiat was still too bewildered to mourn.

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The autopod dropped Kiat off neatly at the Museum Fixer’s address, and sped back into traffic, the other pods making way for it seamlessly. With all transport now automatic and public, autopods and buspods looked like evenly coloured fish, looping neatly between blocks of apartments and their trimmer, silver cousins, corpblocks. The autopod had left him in what looked like a public-access storage warehouse sector, all immense, windowless blocks covered wall to wall by adscapes. The closest wall displayed a huge animated ad about a man trapped in his apt by his possessions, only to be saved by some yellow robot that eventually transformed into the Ez-Stor logo, which followed him across the wall as he started to walk, looking for a door.

After ten minutes’ futile back and forth looking for a doorway, a bot message pinged his proxy feed. ‘Hello this is Stanley from Ez-Stor, how can we help?’ 

Like many people of his age, Kiat had never really taken to thought-to-proxy communication. His first attempt at a response read ‘HelloStanLEY I am LOOKING for TheCollectorYellowRobot’, and he had to painstakingly use hand gestures to correct his post.

There was a pause, then a brisk response. ‘There is no one here of that name, Mr Lee. May I help you with something else?’ 

No thankYstanLEE’ Kiat winced, and not for the first time wondered how his grandnephews managed thought-to-proxy so seamlessly. It couldn’t be practice. Kiat had his first eye implants installed a month or so before his grandnephews had even been born. Sometimes, it felt like Kiat was two generations behind the latest evolutionary leap.

Would you like to check the status of your box? The fee for inspection is free! Here at Ez-Stor, we love to help customers store themselves.’

I nobox donthaveBOX’ Kiat replied, and this time accidentally posted before responding. ‘NO-account,’ he added for good measure.

Our records show that you are an Existing Customer, registered today, as of 12:03pm. You are Valued Customer Mr Kiat Ming Lee of 4034#88 Honglim Rise TemState-2–2–810392.’ Stanley disagreed brightly. Stanley, Kiat decided with resignation, was probably a bot. It was getting harder and harder to tell nowadays. A door opened in the wall to his left, a smooth corridor that led into the storage block, lights blinking on. ‘Would you like to inspect your box? No storage fees will be charged for the first 10kg!’

Hell. Why not. Kiat shrugged, and stepped into the corridor. It was cool, at least, away from the humid warmth of the street, and his footsteps echoed around him as he followed it down. He would find someone — some human, hopefully — and gently but firmly lodge a complaint about auto-signing people up to storage accounts that they didn’t want or need. Adscapes followed him on the floor and walls as he walked, with details of storage fees on his left, and more Yellow Robot ads on his right. This time, Yellow Robot was saving a man who had somehow climbed to the top of Millennium Tower, apparently out of despair for owning too many possessions. ‘Thank you Ez-Stor for Storing my life!’ bleated the man in throbbing text at the end of the ad, face distorted in chemical ecstasy. Kiat let out a deep sigh.

Thankfully, before Ez-Stor tried more ambient advertising, Kiat found himself at the end of the corridor. The empty wall flickered and disappeared — more holo tech — and Kiat stepped through and into long, rectangular chamber, set wall to wall with racks and pressure chambers packed with toy figurines, with pre-implant entertainment consoles, with dusty old vidscreens, lamps, speakers, even, in pride of place, a crimson electric guitar, within a case of its own, to Kiat’s right. As he stared, disoriented, the door behind him flickered and seemed solid again.

The Collector is IN,’ declared his proxy feed.

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With Mars at the closest approach, the message delay was three minutes. Kiat spent it playing a nervous sort of mental chess. He would send a response, replay Anna’s last message, and anticipate what she would say, mentally composing his next response. It felt, in a way, like writing a book, and was surprisingly exhausting.

“Hi Dad,” Anna had begun the first message. “Happy Birthday.” Her smile had frozen on the screen as the clip had ended. It had been a year and two months.

“Things are settling down here.” Was it Kiat, or did Anna’s smile seem strained? She was wearing a pale blue CommKon suit, no adscapes, only the logo printed bright over her chest, her black hair cut into a tight bob over her slender neck. She had her mother’s delicate, narrow features, though her usually quick smile seemed wilted. “I’m very happy here.”

“Happy New Year to you too. We celebrated Lunar New Year on the Guanyin, on our way here. We even had yu sheng. Not as good as at home of course. It was super messy in zero grav. The fauxfish and noodles and crackers went everywhere. Guess that means we’re all lucky right?” Anna was sitting in a white coffin of a room, vaguely bulbous, alien to Kiat’s Earthbound eyes, with cabling and panels exposed. “Nobody got any hongbao though. None of us are married.”

“Good to hear that Auntie Meimei and the others are doing well. The First Colonists here threw a big party for us. The other Directors have been very welcoming.” Again that strained look, or was it a father’s selfishness, hoping that she would come home? Somehow? “Everyone is settling down fine. How’s your new phone?”

“Glad that you finally learned how to use it. It’s not that hard, yeah? We tested it on a lot of older focus groups. Did you like the apps? Yes. Companion is our most popular app.” Anna laughed. “Let me guess, you chose Jia, right?”

“I knew it. Jia’s my favourite, too. It’s slightly smarter than the real thing, you know. The UN might have put a moratorium on creating AI, but subhuman AIs passed their loophole. Shortsighted of them, but they’ll come round.” Anna waved her hand back and forth, a strange gesture. A year after this message, Kiat would finally learn what it meant. It was a cosmonaut gesture, part of the sign language they learned during the nine-month trip to Mars, a shrug. Kiat did not know it yet, but soon, he would go through every second of this, by replaying the message every morning of his life for a year, unable to let go of their last conversation together.

“Good to hear you’ll be getting a pension after all. Use it to travel while you still can, ok? Maybe to Luna, the base there’s doing great. Give my love to Auntie Meimei, Cousin Jinn and Lacey. Tell Uncle Tommy that I’ll try and send him a Mars rock on the next SpaceX courier.” Anna was reaching across towards the screen to switch off the recording. Her smile widened, her eyes crinkling with good humour. “Bye now, Dad. Love you. Talk again soon.”

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Kiat hadn’t known what to expect, but given that the techman had said that the Collector was a he, an old lady certainly hadn’t been in any of his imagined scenarios. She was as tall as Kiat, waifishly thin, shaved bald, her full mouth pulled into a polite smile, large dark eyes narrowed in curiosity, her dark skin creased at her eyes and throat and spotted down her arms with pale old scars. She was dressed in a heavy fauxleather apron that was liberally stained with grease and paint, and wore a shirt and trousers and boots beneath it. Kiat hadn’t seen anyone outside of adwear save public servants like cops for years.

“Sorry,” said the old lady, in twanging English. “Had to switch off your adwear when you got in here. Messes with my electronics.”

“Sure. Sorry,” Kiat echoed automatically.

“It’s a private bypass, so don’t worry, your rec will still be spotless. Won’t mess with your pension.” The Collector strode over, and shook Kiat’s hand with a palm sandpaper-rough with calluses. “Nice to meet you, Mister Lee. I’m Neema. Welcome to my workshop.”

They were in a cubical chamber beyond the storage room, and like the techman’s, it had two workbenches, one cleared, with toolboxes lined up at one end, worklamps clamped to the edges and curled over, like nodding cranes. The other, along the wall, held ongoing projects, mostly disassembled toys. The sad remains of a train sat derailed beside the holopoints that would have worked to set it floating magnetically, flying over light-painted rails. Kiat had once bought his nephew a set.

“Getting popular again,” Neema said briskly, following his gaze. “But fucking hard to fix once the electromagnet goes on the whack.”

“I gave my nephew a set ten years ago.”

“Ah, really? He still got’em? No? Pity. Been trying to source replacement parts for months. Good thing the owner ain’t in a hurry. Probably gotta build them myself.” Neema spoke in sharp bursts, as though she was stuck in fast-forward. At least she wasn’t speaking in the street slang that the younger generation liked so much. “So whatcha got, hm? Grace referred you from her watch. Said you had a doozy.”

Kiat gave up trying to parse Neema’s words, and set the box carefully on the workbench instead. She whistled as she opened it, picking up the glass shard with delicate care. “Hoo-boy. Haven’t seen one of these for dog’s years. Where’d you get that?”

“My daughter gave it to me.”

Neema eyed him thoughtfully, and Kiat braced for pleasantries, for the impersonal, indifferent ah, that’s nice. “Anna Shimin Lee?”

Despite himself, Kiat flinched. “I, uh. Yes.”

Neema raised the shard to her eyes, turning it over in her hands, carefully, and Kiat realized, belatedly, that her irises were clear. She had no implants. A quick look around the workshop told him quickly how Neema had pinged him — a lower shelf held an old-fashioned input console, and a keyboard, its screen full of black columns of white text. “Yeah. Had to build that myself. No one’s got the parts now.” Neema patted the side of the keyboard. “This phone of yours is a firstgen CommKon Portal.”

“Yes. Can you fix it?”

“What’s the problem?”

“It won’t switch on.”

Neema opened the toolbox. Like the techman, she quickly took the phone apart, though slowly, and with a craftsman’s delicacy. She plugged parts of it with tiny filaments into her console, studying the readings before grunting to herself and looking away. She tested parts with little electronic pen-like implements. She cursed to herself as she swept around her workshop, locating a plastic container of tiny transparent chips, placing one in the phone before reassembling it. Kiat took a step closer as she turned it on, and the screen brightened to yellow… then faded.

Kiat let out a sigh. Neema pursed her lips. “It’s not the battery.”

“Can you fix it?”

“Might be I don’t have to. If you want to retrieve the data, I could probably access the cloud backup. If it was linked to the ‘net when it died, it’s probably imaged somewhere. That’s how they got away with no memchips.”

Kiat shook his head. That was what the techman had said as well. “I want it fixed, please.”

“This thing’s, what, fifteen years old?” Neema raised her eyebrows. “Broken down before?”

“Yes. Usually it’s the battery. Once the display module. Once it was the wifi chip.”

“Shit, son. That’s dedication. But y’know, if you just wanted something to remember your girl by, hell, the implants in your eyes, they’re a result of her preliminary work anyway. So’s adscapes. Moment you wake up till you sleep, your Anna’s work is everywhere. Can’t miss it.”

“Yes,” Kiat said tiredly, mustering his patience. “Can you fix the phone, please?”

“Maybe. You’re going to have to leave it with me for a while while I run some more tests. But if it’s the motherboard that’s gone, that’s you shit outta luck, son. Unless I can find another firstgen Portal with working bits to scavenge. But given how old this thing is,” Neema whistled. “Tall order.”

“Ah.” Kiat deflated. “Please try your best. Do you need a deposit?”

“Nah. I like a challenge.” Seeing the pain in the unhappy curl of his mouth, Neema gentled her tone. “Really though, I could just get the data for you. It’ll be easy. Cheaper, too. You’re a pensioner, you can’t be rolling in creds. Do you need a quote? Want to think about it?”

“No, no. It’ll be fine. How can I contact you?”

“Bit of a stubborn goat, aren’t you?” Neema smiled. “I’ll give you a proxy code. But don’t try to reach me unless it’s an emergency. And unless I invite you to, don’t come to this address again.” As Kiat wavered, she added, “Or you could try another techman. I got a list.”

“No,” Kiat let out a sigh. The keyboard and the handmade console had already convinced him. Neema was his last hope of seeing Jia again. “I’ll wait. Thank you.”

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At his feet, projected through the glass phone, Jia rested its head in Kiat’s lap, and wagged its tail as Kiat ‘petted’ its head. Under his fingertips, there was a faint staticky pressure before the signals told his mind that he was feeling flesh and soft fur. No warmth, though. Companion hadn’t managed that much yet. Jia had been modeled on a honey-coloured Shiba Inu, its perky ears flicking forward and back, its white-furred mouth parted in a happy, doggish grin. But for the faint flickers that occasionally marred its outline, it looked real, a constant conjuring trick right out of the phone in Kiat’s hand. According to Companion’s manual, it had the same intelligence as a ‘real’ Shiba Inu: CommKon had scanned and digitised the brain of an actual dog.

“That’s so cool,” said a little boy beside Kiat, eyes wide, and let out a yelp of protest as his mother dragged him away, tugging him into a seat at the front row. Kiat said nothing. People were filing into the sterile white conference room in the spaceport, shuffling in, all of them wearing the same, shell-shocked eyes. Some quietly sobbed, clinging to family, but the room was mostly quiet, even as it started to grow full. Beside Kiat, his sister Meimei tightened her grip reassuringly on his wrist. She was willowy like their mother had been, her black hair still rich and thick despite her greater age. Dressed neatly in a black jacket and long trousers, folded several times at the hem in the current fashion, she had aged with elegance and grace where Kiat had not. Kiat looked disheveled next to her. He had received the news while still in his nightshirt, and hadn’t bothered to change as he had rushed to the spaceport.

As though sensing his mood, Jia nuzzled Kiat’s wrist until he petted it again distractedly. His mind was static, a hollow brittle loop that kept touching back on the morning’s news headlines and then flinching away again, touching and flinching away. BREAKING STORY— ACCIDENT ON MARS ALPHA — CONTAINMENT BREACH — DEVELOPING STORY — His mind flinched away again. In the gray numbness of animal reaction there was still the scant comfort of denial.

“Don’t worry,” Meimei said, in her fierce soft voice. “Everything will be all right.” He had heard this before, when their mother had died in a car accident. When their father had passed away, years later, from cardiac arrest. When Carrie had left. When Anna had left. There was, by now, a funereal touch to Meimei’s optimism, in Kiat’s opinion.

“We’re the oldest in the room,” Kiat said, his mind grasping for gentler details.

Meimei swivelled her head around on her slender neck. “Nope, there’s an old grandmother in a hovchair over there in the corner. See? See? Maybe we shouldn’t stare. How are they going to fit everyone in here? Such nonsense. And why is it taking so long? I tell you, after this, we should complain.”

Gratefully, Kiat subsided against Meimei’s determined chatter, letting her voice wash over him. Yes. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe no one had been hurt. Or maybe people had been hurt but no one died. After all, they were growing carrots on Mars now, and bokchoy and cabbages and flowers and things. If they could make Mars green, surely they had the tech to make sure no one died. Or if someone died, maybe it wasn’t Anna. There were two hundred or so first and second wave colonists on Mars in total. That meant the odds that it was Anna was 1:200. There were good odds that it wasn’t Anna.

Kiat clung to that statistic even as CommKon finally decided on an appropriate sacrificial goat, coughing out a sweating young man Kiat did not recognise, trailed by spaceport officials and someone in a Mars Alpha jacket. He was barely listening as the CommKon executive more or less parroted the news reports. Yes, it was a Developing Story. Yes, they were trying to contact the Mars Alpha base. Yes, at this stage, it’s quite likely there were survivors. Even if there was a breach in one part of the hab, failsafes would kick in at the rest. No, the situation was Still Developing. Meimei sniffed. “Useless,” she muttered under her breath.

“Mars is almost at its furthest,” Kiat whispered back. “It’s a twenty minute wait between information getting back here.”

“So? It’s been one hour since the news broke.”

Kiat said nothing. They didn’t need to. Several of the other people in the room were already shouting questions at that CommKon exec, their voices joining into an uneven background roar of grief and anger and disbelief. Security and medical waded in, soothing whom they could. The CommKon exec had taken a step back, pale, visibly spooked at being the lightning rod for so much pain.

“Our thoughts and prayers remain with you all,” said the man in the Mars Alpha black and red coat. His voice radiated assurance and calm. The room started to subside, and he began to discuss in painstaking detail a minute-by-minute byplay of their last hour of reports leading up to the breach. Everyone else calmed down. He took questions, quiet and confident. In control. That’s what people liked, herding gratefully around a shepherd. Even Meimei was relaxing, reaching over to pat Jia behind its ears.

“So real,” she murmured. “That girl, such a genius. I always said to Tommy, if our Jinn ended up with even half of Anna’s smarts, we’ll be blessed.”

Kiat grimaced. “I hope you didn’t tell Jinn that.”

“Of course we did. Nothing like some healthy competition.”

Apples clearly didn’t fall far from the tree. Kiat thought briefly back to his own nervous, competitive childhood, pitted against his sister like two coltish throughbreds at race with no goalposts in sight, and felt vaguely glad that they had spent only the first two decades of their lives as enemies. “How’s he doing?”

“He’s going out with some girl.” Meimei rolled her eyes. “Seriously. He’s been changing his girlfriend every year. Tommy and I tell him, he has to settle down sooner or later. After all, he hit the economic threshold to be eligible for children two months ago. It’s about time.”

“Maybe he’s not ready yet.” Kiat felt lulled by banalities, comfortable again. On stage, the Mars Alpha person was making a joke about space carrots. A nervous chuckle rippled through the front ranks. People who had been strangers but minutes ago were talking to each other at the back benches in low, reassuring whispers. It was probably just an accident. Yes, Our Mindy was a Second Waver. Always wanted to go to Mars.

“That’s what he says. But what can he do? There’s no one else in Tommy’s line to carry on the family name. Has to be Jinn. It’s not like us, where we’ve still got our Cousin Billy. His son is getting married soon, did you know? Once they settle on a date, they’ll be posting out invites. I told Billy, I know the younger generation now don’t believe in auspicious dates, but…” Meimei trailed off, always with her instinct for trouble, snapping her stare back to the stage. The Mars Alpha executive had leaned back from the podium, listening to whispers from another Mars Alpha rep, who had darted out from backstage, holding something up in her palm for the executive to see. As they watched, the executive abruptly went so pale that it looked for a moment as though he was going to faint.

The hum of the crowd collapsed in a death rattle of ebbing whispers. The Mars Alpha executive pulled himself back towards the podium amp, grim. “It is with the greatest regret that I stand before you here today to give all of you the following news. Judging from our full status reports from the Mars Alpha project, I have just been informed that the entire hab was vented-”

Meimei’s grip tightened painfully on his wrist, even as Jia let out a low whine. Kiat was blank again, pinging back to disbelief. The rest of the executive’s words washed away around him, his measured nature, his cultivated corporate grief. The crowd clamoured for more details. For answers. How had that happened? An accident? A mistake?

“For the hab to fully vent,” the Mars Alpha executive said carefully, “to our knowledge, the safety codes would have had to have been manually overridden, and tripped from the two security posts at the same time.” Someone shouted a question. “We have no further information at this time, and ask for your patience as we wait for updates on this developing situation.”

“Sabotage,” Meimei whispered.

“We don’t know that,” Kiat murmured back, but it was too late. Meimei hadn’t been the only one to connect the evidence. Now, families drew back into themselves, creating miniature cores of doubtful suspicion, looking keenly at each other. The child, sister, brother, father, mother of someone in here had chosen to kill everyone else’s. He or she had killed themselves as well. Lunacy. Someone in here was related to a murderer. At least two. The first mass murder in space. A crime for the history books. Kiat tore his glance away, and stared down at Jia, which wagged its tail, grinning up at him adoringly, as the silence around Kiat was abruptly broken by someone’s voice, breaking into an animal wail of agonised grief.

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Some mornings Kiat took his coffee upstairs to the roof, where the apartment garden was kept green and trim by a controlled hydroponics system and the owners corp’s drones. It was a modest garden, nothing like the lushly cloned tropical ferns and orchids of the upscale blocks: square patches of grass were boxed in by narrow blocks of bougainvillea shrubs, spotty with pink flowers. On most mornings he would have the garden to himself, given most of his apartment block had family units that would be busy preparing children for school or heading for work. Sometimes there was a taichi class, for the few retirees still holding on to their apts.

Today, as he was sipping from his mug, a familiar face climbed out of the rooftop entrance, grumbling under his breath. Parth grinned as he noticed Kiat on the garden bench, striding over vigorously. Parth seemed to do everything vigorously: to the stout, bald, retired policeman, life was clearly something to be approached at a belligerent charge. “Kiat! Morning, man!”

“Morning, Inspector. Coffee?”

“Got my own. None of your bloody milk and sugar shit.” Parth threw himself onto the bench, still grinning under his thick silver moustache, unscrewing the cap from the silver thermos that he took out from under his suit. “How’s life? Where’s your dog?”

“The phone broke down, I’m getting it fixed.”

“Again? Man. I told you this before. But you got some funny ideas. When you buy a pet, Kiat, I heard this from somewhere — when you buy a pet, you’re buying a miniature tragedy-in-waiting. It’s been what, ten years? More?”

“Fifteen.”

Shee-yut, man. Real dogs are lucky if they last that long. Don’t pull a long face. Science nowadays, it’s so good, they’re bringing animals back. Give it a year or so, you can get a real dog for a few hundred creds.” Over the arm closest to Kiat, the adscape triumphantly ran a CronoLab ad, duplicating a grinning black puppy all the way down Parth’s sleeve in a kaleidoscopic pattern, finishing with ‘How much is that doggie in the Crono? Call us today! Conditions apply.’

“I know, Parth, thanks. I’ll think about it.”

“Pssh. So what’s wrong this time? The battery again?”

“The techman’s not sure. She’s running tests.”

“Ever tried getting one off the ‘Net? People might have replacements out there.”

“It’s not the same,” Kiat said mildly. “The hardware’s one of a kind.”

“A prototype? I see, I see. Good luck with that. You’ve been watching the news? No? Mars, man. They’re launching the Mars Three colonists this week.” Parth smiled with a gentle reproach that Kiat had never failed to find unsettling all this time, whether it was playfully chiding Kiat for not keeping in touch with the world, or — at the start — as one part of a ten man emergency investigation team, interviewing the Mars Alpha families while preparing for a long haul over to Mars and back, sponsored by SpaceX and the UN.

“Good luck to them.”

Mars Three! Kiat felt a moment of vertigo, so abruptly reminded of the gulf of time. Had ten years truly already passed since the first set of Mars Two colonists had left Earth? Fifteen years, since Mars Alpha? He clenched his hands tightly, breathing deeply.

Parth didn’t seem to notice. “Did they give you a spectator ticket? I got one. Front row seats. Courtesy of CommKon.”

“Probably.” Kiat didn’t bother reading many of his CommKon pings. They were fewer and far between nowadays. “Are you going?”

“Nah. I gave the ticket to my nephew. I’ve been through the whole business firsthand, went there and back, that’s more than enough for me.” Parth poured himself another cup from his thermos. “I talked to a few of the others. The Kidmans and the Gowdas are going.”

“And how are they?” Kiat asked dutifully. He had not spoken to any of the Mars Alpha families for more than a decade, now. With the so-called ‘Crime of the Century’ still unsolved, suspicion ran deeper than shared grief. Small wonder that the only link between them remained a doggedly good-natured, retired policeman, for whom the case had been the shining failure of an otherwise exemplary career.

“Not bad, not bad.” Parth began talking about the new Kidman baby. Colic, apparently, was making an aggressive comeback. Nothing to be worried about, though. Everything was under control. Listening to Parth’s gentle, grave voice, Kiat remembered with wry clarity that Meimei had never liked the Inspector.

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“She didn’t seem stressed or troubled about anything to you?” The Inspector’s warm, friendly voice stood starkly apart from the chill of the interview room, a sterile white cube with curved silver seats and a tempered glass table. The door had been left open as a sign of reassurance — for obvious reasons, none of the Mars Alpha families were suspects — but Kiat didn’t feel reassured, for all that the young police Inspector before him had been solicitous about coffee and comforts.

“No sir.”

“No need to be so formal here, we’re all friends,” Parth smiled. Kiat had heard of Parth Shanmugan before. He had been the leader of an international police coalition that had stopped a water trafficking ring, just years ago, preventing State tensions from escalating. The scoop had dominated the news cycle for a week.

“Okay,” Kiat said, uncomfortable. He had been brought up to be Helpful to the Police, but even sitting here like this, looking into Parth’s friendly smile… “We, uh. I haven’t been a very good father to her,” he confessed, his voice hushed. “We fought about things. When she was growing up. After her mother left. It was… it was my fault, you know? I think she blamed me for the breakup, and then I never really tried hard enough to relate to her, and then we argued again when she wanted to leave for Mars, and…” Kiat trailed off, foundering. Parth’s smile didn’t even waver. “It wasn’t her,” Kiat said forcefully, belatedly remembering why he was even here. “How could it be her? It must have been someone else. She was very proud to be there. It was a promotion. She said she was happy.” But was she? Doubt had uncurled in the corner of his mind, poisoning even his last memory of his daughter. “She’s never hurt anything in her life.”

“No one’s a prime suspect at this time,” Parth said soothingly.

“But they’re all suspects.”

“Ah, well,” Parth noted wryly, “unless you’re of the school of thought that thinks murderous aliens exist on Mars.”

“I don’t know anything about aliens,” Kiat began, before realizing that Parth had been joking. He blushed. “The last we talked, she mentioned celebrating the Lunar New Year aboard the Guanyin. You know, the ship they took to get there.” He trailed off again, doubly embarrassed. Of course Parth knew. The whole world knew. Kiat wished that he hadn’t had to hand over his phone. Jia would have kept him calm.

“Ah yes. The yu sheng was messy, she said.”

Kiat swallowed a spark of unexpected temper. Of course Parth knew about the yu sheng. He probably knew about all of it. Every video recording sent back from Mars must’ve been combed over a hundred times by now, searching out nuances, hints, each of them little pieces of a puzzlebox whose key still eluded Parth and his team. Everyone’s memories, taken away, now tainted around the edges. “Yes.”

“Do you know the Gowda family?”

“No, I don’t know anyone by that name.”

“Their daughter Anoushka was also aboard the Guanyin. She was one of the second wave colonists.”

“Ah. No. I don’t know any of the other Mars Alpha families.”

“Do you know Anoushka?”

“No.”

“Strange,” Parth’s smile remained gentle. “They know you. Anoushka and Anna were seeing each other, they said. They had been for months. They applied together for a housing permit, to try and get an apt close to Anoushka’s workplace, but they were denied twice. After that, they decided to be colonists.”

“No, I… don’t… she’s never… really?”

“Yes, according to the development board. Anoushka Gowda and Anna Shimin Lee applied twice and were rejected on income grounds. Their total familial income level was too high for assisted housing.”

“I… I see. I never knew.” Why hadn’t Anna ever said a thing? It wasn’t as though Kiat would’ve minded. As long as she was happy, he wouldn’t have minded. “You probably think I’m a bad parent.”

“No, no. My girl didn’t want to tell me when she had her first boyfriend either. Thought I would send a constable to stalk them on their dates.” Parth laughed heartily, so invitingly that Kiat smiled as well, hesitantly.

“And did you?”

“Who has that kind of time? I might have run a background check and tapped her phone though. Kidding, kidding.” Parth grinned impishly. “Kids, eh? She told me so many tall stories.”

“Anna said that she got a promotion,” Kiat blurted out, swayed by Parth’s amicable smile. “To communications director. On Mars. She said that was why she was going.”

“Which was true,” Parth assured him. “She received the promotion after she tried to resign. Since the hab was partly CommKon’s design, the company thought it would be good to bolster up their local presence. Or so I’ve been told.”

“So I don’t know Anna as much as I should have,” Kiat said quietly, trying to put a blank face on all the fresh little hurts that Parth was digging into him, so very patiently. “But lying to her father… so what? Like you said, kids tell their parents tall stories. It’s normal.”

“Mister Lee,” Parth blinked at him, as though in mild surprise, “I’m not implying anything. However, as one of the Directors, your Anna would have had access to the override codes. It’s true that we don’t have a prime suspect. However, we’re all looking more closely at the Directors, for obvious reasons. So if you remember anything that you feel is even remotely relevant… feel free to contact me at any time.” The friendly father was gone, in his place, the dogged inspector. “The sergeant will show you out.”

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Neema left him a message. It was definitely the motherboard, but she’d gotten her hands on a second gen model, was Kiat OK with her trying to retrofit it? He sent her an affirmative, chewed his protein supplemental breakfast very slowly, and in the end, unable to put the world off any longer, he dressed with care and went to the spaceport.

He was early. CommKon had allocated a viewing room for its launch guests, and was already supplying everyone with fingerfoods and drinks. Kiat ignored everyone, staking out a comfortable corner with a couch that overlooked the huge glass wall of a window. The launchpad itself was miles away, visible only as a white, sleek object hemmed in from the sides by scaffolding. This wasn’t the ship that would take the Mars Three colonists on their nine-month trip — the Shiva had been built in orbit. The SpaceX Phoenix shuttle would rendezvous with it where it was docked at the Luna shipyards.

CommKon staff in their uniforms mingled with guests, friendly, mostly young, elegant. Professional glad-handlers. One of them had left Kiat with reconstituted orange juice and chocolates before bustling off to greet another family. Many of the guests were Mars Two families, Kiat guessed, from their relaxed smiles and familiarity with the viewing room. The Mars Three families were crowded near the back, nervous, but excited. Children darted around the adults, playing with tiny complimentary models of the Phoenix shuttle and the Shiva. Adscapes had been temporary bought off: the only logos that showed on everyone’s arms were CommKon’s, and Kiat’s proxy feed had long been briskly swallowed by corporate pings.

The Kidmans arrived noisily, the whole set of them, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and occupied an entire section of the seating area, drawing CommKon staff armed with toys and refreshments towards their orbit. Being a Mars Alpha family, they had been given prime seating in reserve despite being late, in front of all the Mars Two and Three families.  Kiat shrunk himself against the couch, and pretended to sip his orange juice, setting the chocolates aside on a glass table.

“May I?”

He glanced up,  and then hastily got to his feet. Dr. Dia Gowda smiled at him, as elegant as ever, her ears adorned with large golden loops, her silver hair bound back in a large braided coil against her skull.

“Dia, it’s so good to see you. Are the others coming?”

“No, no.” They sat carefully, navigating joints gone creaky with age. “Rishi’s babysitting today.”

“How have you bean?”

Dia set her palm out, and wagged it up and down, like a wave. Some cosmonaut habits never faded. “All right. I’m down to teaching one class a week at the launchschool now. Think they’re trying to ease me out to pasture.”

“Nonsense. You’ve got years left in you.”

“So I’ve told them.” Dia smiled as she looked out from the glass windows, with the consuming affection and longing of a grounded spacer. Years ago, she had touched the stars and more, as one of the first people to visit the rings of Saturn and return. The first woman to travel over 400 million km away from Earth. Beside her, Kiat had always felt vaguely insignificant.

They sat in companionable silence until the last of the guests arrived, at which point CommKon made a concerted effort to herd everyone to the buffet tables. Launch was scheduled in half an hour, the earnest young execs said, and everyone would have to be seated by then. Kiat and Dia resisted, staying where they were, and a young lady left them a plate of little pastries.

Shiva’s returning to Earth afterwards, isn’t she?” Kiat selected one of the little tarts.

“Oh yes. They’ll be bringing one of the Mars Two colonists back to Earth for treatment. They haven’t quite fixed all strains of early onset dementia, and they don’t have the facilities on Mars.”

“You must be more up to date on Shiva than anyone here.”

“I’ve been on deck, actually,” Dia said modestly. “Two years ago, when she was still under construction. She was mostly finished by then. The doctors say that’s the last time I can safely handle hypergravity. Age catches up with all of us.”

“It does.”

“Where’s your little dog? I think this is the first time I’ve seen you without it.”

“Being repaired. There’s something wrong with the motherboard.”

“Ah,” Dia smiled and nodded. “Well, if it’s not fixable, they’ve made real inroads with cloning tech. My grandsons are in the queue for the first batch of public-ready puppies. If you’re interested, I know the director.”

“No thanks,” Kiat said quickly, then amended hastily, in case he seemed ungrateful. “Look at us. We’re both old. How am I going to keep up with a puppy? Better that someone young can take it on all the walks it needs.”

The launch came and went. People cheered and drank; Kiat and Dia rose to their feet, clapping along, and then sat down again. Miles away, the white plume that the shuttle had left behind was fading away, while the shuttle itself was darting up, up, away. The guests were giddy with jubilation, toasting each other, still cheering. Kiat looked at Dia, whose eyes stayed locked on the slim white speck until it had sped on out of sight.

“Fifteen years ago,” Dia said softly, barely audible above the crowd. “I always meant to apologise. You didn’t get an invitation to the launch because Anoushka didn’t want you to be there. She didn’t want you to find out about them. Somehow, she was convinced that you would not approve… Anna thought that you wouldn’t. She used to tell us, you never approved of anything that she ever did.” Dia sighed. “Children never understand their parents until they become parents.”

Kiat shook his head slowly. The scabs over that wound had run so deep that he no longer even felt the scars. “I would have approved of anyone who could have made Anna happy.”

“I know. Rishi and I, we should have reached out to you ourselves. Carrie, too.”

“They would have gone anyway. To Mars.”

“It’s a sad thing,” Dia folded her hands in her lap, “when a child thinks that she has to run as far as Mars to get away from her mother’s shadow.”

Kiat stared at Dia, startled. He wasn’t used to melancholy from her. Always, through the interviews, the hearings, the panels, the press, Dia had seemed to radiate an inexorable, graceful serenity. “Don’t blame yourself. Anoushka, Anna… they were old enough to make their own decisions. They wanted to go.”

“We all blame ourselves. Mourning is the emotion that we feel when we have been left behind.” Dia glanced pointedly across the chamber to the Kidmans. The grandchildren were playing with model shuttles in between eating pastries, their parents busy trying to corral them close by. Roger and Carly, however, sat pale and silent, oblivious to everything but their renewed grief. Overlaid over Dia and the Kidmans, the proxy feed in Kiat’s eyes flicked up congratulatory messages. Phoenix was on schedule. Ready to rendezvous with Shiva. Another small fragment of humanity, prised off the Earth, to be flung nine months away through the void, out of reach.

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Kiat had been surprised to see Parth at his door. The usually sunny, smiling Inspector was sober, and he nodded absently as Kiat invited him into the apt. “We’re practically neighbours,” Parth said, as Kiat closed the door. “My wife and I live in the South block.”

“Can I help you, Inspector?”

“Inspector, pah.” Parth sank wearily into the nearest armchair, even as Jia ran a loop around him, barking excitedly. “I won’t be an Inspector for very long more, just you watch. Maybe one, two more years. I don’t mind. I was going to retire soon anyway.”

“Uhm. Coffee? Tea? Water?”

“No, no. I won’t be here long.” Parth rubbed a hand over his face. “You weren’t at the closing statement.”

“Not everyone was.” He’d watched it on the vidfeed at home, though, numb. So many resources spent, nearly two years of investigations, a round trip to Mars and back, only to end with a no conclusions. Dia and Rishi had already called him from outside the courthouse anyway, just in case, distraught, complaining that it’d all felt like a gut punch. Kiat had said little to them. He had mourned his daughter years ago. No. He had been mourning her for years; the moment Carrie had left, he had already been losing Anna in degrees. With that knowledge, Kiat had long made his peace.

“I apologised to the families.”

“Yes. I know. I watched it.”

“The thing is,” Parth sank deeper into the armchair, staring at the ceiling. “If the crime had taken place on Earth, we would’ve known who did it. Even without the surveillance. I would’ve learned everything I could from witnesses, checked imaged communications records… we would have reconstructed everything from the ground up. On Earth, solving crime is all about understanding human nature.”

Kiat nodded solemnly, growing a little confused. “Inspector, the committee may not have been able to find any conclusive evidence of what had happened, but thanks for trying.”

“Bloody waste of time and money that was. Mars is hellish, you know that? Even after we fixed up the habs, made it livable, spent months in there, trying to figure out what the hell went wrong. I didn’t think it would be that hard, even after all that intensive training they put me through.” Parth admitted. “Even just living there, day to day, was hard, let alone trying to solve a crime that was a year old by then. But two hundred suspects, right? I thought maybe we’d just find the culprits in the security rooms, their thumbs on a shiny red button. ‘Course, that wasn’t the case. Reality’s always messier. No one died instantly from exposure. Especially those deeper in the hab.”

“Yes.” Kiat had seen the pictures.

“It was murder. Premediated. The envirosuits were all breached. The security footage had been wiped.”

“Someone knew what they were doing and had the means to do it.”

“Not all the personal logs had been wiped. There were some on a backup server. I’d predicted as much. Friction between the first and second wave Mars Alpha colonists. Little cliques setting up everywhere. The fractures were setting in, that’s what the team psychologist said. Everyone was under stress somewhere. So it could’ve been anyone. Someone snapped.”

“Human nature,” Kiat echoed. Jia rested its muzzle on his knee, and wagged its tail as Kiat patted its head. “So… that’s it? A mystery for the ages?”

Parth had an odd, wry smile on his lips as he got to his feet. “A mystery for the ages,” he agreed briskly. He hesitated, as though he had something to add, but then he seemed to think better of it. “See you around, Mister Lee. I’m very sorry about everything. Thanks for the chat.”

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“There, all done.” Neema handed the phone over. Kiat took it eagerly from her, and switched it on. There was the yellow flash, and then he let out a sigh of relief, as the little koi fish swirled around his thumb.

“Neema, you’re a genius.”

“Yes, I’ve been told.” She grinned at him, an arc of white teeth, pleased by the praise.

“The techman gave me the impression that this was going to be some sort of exercise in black market illegality.”

“Hah! The real world isn’t like the movies. Grace just wishes a techman’s life was more exciting, that’s all. I’ll ping you my invoice,” Neema shot him a sidelong stare. “Hope you don’t mind though, I took a quick look through the stored databanks. Wasn’t prying, just looking for bad code.”

“That’s all right.” Kiat had nothing to hide. Buoyed by relief, he added, “You could ask, if you liked. Everyone does.”

“Ask about what?”

“About what happened. ‘Who killed Mars Alpha?’ Everyone’s asked. ‘Does that phone have something to do with it? What did CommKon’s Anna Lee know?’ Think there was going to be a movie at some point.” Thankfully, CommKon had nixed it in the works. For years, its PR arm had gone into overdrive, what with Anna-designed products packing their rollout schedule.

“Ah.” Neema watched him keenly, for a long, uncomfortable moment, then she smiled, and pushed up her goggles. “I don’t care about all that. Look at what I do for a living, Mister Lee. I fix things from ten, twenty years ago. Source parts, make them tick again. And I’m not cheap. Some people will pay a quarter of their life’s savings to make a little toy train levitate through the air again. Is it because they really, really love that dinky little train? Naw. Not usually. They love what it meant to them. A substitute for something else that they had before. Whatever it is… whatever works, you know? Life’s short.”

“Yes,” Kiat said softly. “Thank you.”

“But speaking as a pro, that phone of yours is going to break down again sooner or later. What I pulled with the retrofit, it’s a once off. Better find a cheaper kind of closure.” Neema waved him away. “Bye-bye. Careful with that antique of yours. Don’t use it so much.”

Kiat let himself out. The adscape reactivated as he walked down the corridors, and switched to CommKon ads as he took his phone out, flicking through the apps. Closure? Closure was nine months and a lifetime away. Closure had been packing away the last of Anna’s things for storage; had been Kiat being ground through the legal process, along with all the other families. Closure had been receiving the box of her effects from the committee, after the hearings were deemed closed. Closure had been slowly, painfully accepting the inevitability of a child leaving the nest, and watching its flight cut brutally short. At his feet, Jia flickered to life, padding beside him, wagging its tail, frozen the same way for fifteen years, oblivious to human nature. Now, as before, Kiat could only look upon it with a gentle sort of weary envy and affection.

“Come on, boy. Let’s go for a walk.”

___

Copyright 2016 Anya Ow

Anya grew up in Singapore and moved to Melbourne to study law. After a few years of legal practice in Australia, she went back to school to study graphic design, and is now a designer in an ad agency in Melbourne, working in branding, illustration, copywriting and digital projects. Off hours, Anya freelances and writes for fun. She can be found on twitter at @anyasy.