Our latest story, “Burnover”, is available at Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show now! A suicidal cyborg wildlands firefighter faces flames and oblivion.
I awake. Someone pulls a parachute off my head and I see the world again. The briefing loads into my active memory, where we are, why, weather reports, but none of it matters. All that matters is fire.
The grass fire creeps along the hillside above us. I draw my Pulaski from my flank sheath, my four long metal fingers dark against the golden wood of the axe-and-hoe combination tool. The wildfire is in the dry cheatgrass ahead of us, three-foot-high flames lapping along the ground. Dark smoke billows upward, blotting out the brilliant blue sky and the spiky granite teeth of the mountains fencing this remote valley. There’s twenty of us: fifteen lean men, four wiry women, and me, the four-legged metal monstrosity they call NK7 after the first three letters of the radio call sign assigned to my chassis.
I’ve counted a hundred and forty days on fires since I first deployed. I think it’s been three years but I’m not sure. Something in my cybernetic brain doesn’t do well at making memories. Facts, I know. Faces and names, how to fight fires, a simple tally of days on an incident, I can recall. Bigger things, like how often I’ve seen August burning red on the mountains, are as lost to me as the taste of bread or the feel of a bed or human touch. The things I knew before I became a centaur-bodied cyborg. I remember them less every day.