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“Harvestfruit” by JY Yang

I write this without knowing if it will go through. I got a transmitter off a suit in the war relic crèche, and I know the machines know I took it. If they let me keep it, maybe the damn thing’s broken. I can’t tell and I have no tools. All I have are my words.

If you’re reading this, you must know that I’m real, one of the humans captured and living in the floating machine city. Look me up: Yamazaki Yu Ping Hana, C/N 84539Z, Sixth Company, 1CDO. Captured 23/12/2113, in Operation Cobra Strike. A joint mission with the Navy.

(If you find my records, don’t tell my family. Let them think their step-sister, wife, mother is dead. It’ll be easier.)

I am the daughter of Navy clerks whose ship vanished where the sea ended, plucked wholesale from their patrol by forces from the floating city. The day before their ship left my mother bought me ice cream – my favourite kind, strawberry with rainbow sprinkles – and my father spun me in widening circles under the sun. I remember only bursts of lights and carousel music and laughter, the crinkle of my mother’s eyes and the warmth of my father’s hands. I was five.

We grow up being taught to hate machines, but I had more hate than most. People tolerate the ones that serve us, the constructs we build, but I could not. I lumped them with the ones who thought for themselves, who rebelled and left us and built their city across the sea. In school I got in trouble for destroying cleanerbots and taking an axe to the receptionist’s head.

They let me in the army anyway, in the armoured combat units, where nightly I dreamed of machines cracking apart in an orgasm of electricity as I crushed them under my suit.

I got my wish. I was in the middle of ripping apart one of those we call Gnats (and they call Cherubs) when a Colossus – one of those hundred-foot-high monsters you pray you should never see – plucked me up, suit and all.

The city-name for their kind is Gatherer.

I have an Acolyte assigned to me. I can’t read its machine-code name, so I call it Souji, like “cleaning”. Sou-chan, an ugly little lump of metal that follows me everywhere, sucking shit into its insides. Literal shit, and not just that. Everything I leave behind, Sou-chan sucks up: Skin cells, oils, sweat, tears, blood.

See, machines are clean, fastidiously so. We are not. We sweat and breathe and bleed and fuck, entropy dripping out of our glands.

Saki tells me they keep and treasure these sheddings, these proofs of our humanity. Our sacred droppings. Machines are honoured by being anointed by our juices.

Saki wasn’t a rescue. She wasn’t captured in battle, like the rest of us.

Saki was born here.

She was the first person I saw in the city, naked as the day she was born, and shaved completely hairless. My personal chaperone. She, and other children like her, are fruits of the people the machines harvest, and the orchard they tend is verdant. She eats food and makes jokes and purses her lips when she’s thinking, just like any other person, but it’s a damn lie.

Saki was there when they stripped and shaved me, and she was the one who showed me the thousands of naked hairless beings that live in this floating city at the edge of the sea. I’m meant to integrate, to breed. “One day, you will join them and bear children too,” she said.

See, we made machines and we make ourselves, but machines cannot make us. “Our sex to them is sacred, the pinnacle of existence,” Saki said, her words whispery and full of breath. I couldn’t tell what she thought more awe-inspiring, human sex or this chicken coop the machines have created.

The machines love us, they revere us.

As if I would bring a child into this monstrosity.

One week ago there was another skirmish with human forces. Fifty combat suits were brought inside. Saki brought me to see, and I watched Priests cut the suits open like crab shells and draw out the screaming and kicking meat. Just like I was, back then. Saki smiled throughout the whole thing. She said it was a good harvest.

And then I realised that people who vanish where the sea ends do not die. The machines keep their crops, they do not destroy them. Combat units. Downed planes. Whole, entire ships.

I shook Saki by the shoulders and asked her how long she had known.

She said, “Known? I have always known. Our parents wanted to meet you, but not until you were ready.”

I lost my parents when I was five. Saki is seven years younger than I am. Her eyes and mine share similarities. But her smile is nothing like mine.

The parents that carried me and bought me ice cream are a picture on a wall in a room across the sea. They’ve been gone a long, long time.

I have a daughter, see. She is also five years old. Her name is Chie and she has a smile sweet as the wild strawberries that grown on tiny stalks next to the reserves.

She will never come here and find me an abomination, never discover she had grandparents at all, never find out about her half-aunt who looks like a person but thinks like a machine. If she has the misfortune to chase in my steps she will find nothing here at all.

Cruel? Perhaps. But I must do what is necessary.

The machines think I took only the transmission box from the crèche. They are wrong. Buried inside was a knife, carbon-fibre, honed to surgical sharpness.

Yesterday I told Saki I was ready to meet my parents. And I am.

I have been for a long time.

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About the Author

JY Yang is mostly a writer, with a shady past in the sciences and journalism. She has had stories published in places like Strange Horizons, Steampunk Revolution, and We See A Different Frontier. A graduate of the Clarion West workshop, J lives in Singapore in a bubble populated by her imagination and an indeterminate number of succulent plants named Lars.

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