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love on a dying planet


Haverwrath is burning. The city-world, once unrivaled for its technological advances, has fallen into decay in the face of human hubris and climate devastation.


Amid an eight-year drought and mass migration off world, the hardy folk of the lower ledge still go about their daily lives. Among them is N8, a grieving factory worker, for whom the end will be a welcome change, or at least, he hopes, spectacular enough that he might feel something again.


Callio is an off-world scientist whose vast intellect is matched only by the enormity of her despair. She’s been sent by the Universal Pact on a futile mission – to bring rain to a place long past the point of no return.


This is the soundtrack of their time together – a song cycle in eight parts – as they discover the passion and peril of love on a dying planet.

Part 1: chose the machine

N8 loved Sten. He did. But they fought like space pirates. Only rather than the bluster and bravado of heavy weaponry, they attacked with stealth – silent looks and well-placed sighs. On their final night together, N8 left for his stack with a sinking feeling in his heart. He was right to worry. Sten, always a bit cool and carefree, took one too many slivers and tranced in his sleep.


Inconsolable and on the verge of a breakdown, N8 elected to have a surgical procedure to rid himself of the pain. He became a synth – a man-machine hybrid whose emotions were only whispers at the far edges of his consciousness. Within months of the operation, however, N8 regretted the decision. He wanted to feel again. But he wasn’t sure he ever would.    

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Part 2: Company line

The sound was always with him. The hum of the belt. The whir of his microbore. The click of his finger tapping the screen, two thousand times a day, if everything went well. When N8 closed his eyes for an instant, he could hear the factory around him, a symphony of metal and mechanism that lingered in the confines of his brain even after-shift.


Most industry had long since left Haverwrath. But there was still work in the warehouses, especially since the robots were relocated off world, or scrapped. Cheap labor, even with an expiration date, helped meet the overwhelming demands for beauty mods, in particular, surgical implants. With every burn of the bore, N8 built the dreams of perfect people across the universe. But he never dared to dream himself.

Part 3: When you see the lights

Callio left her life behind – to move her dreams forward. Of course, she couldn’t exactly say no. An up-and-coming scientist didn’t turn down the Universal Pact, the governing body for the entire developed cosmos. As a member of the science division, she’d been assigned to join a team of brain-heads on a futile mission: bringing rain back to a dying planet. 


On her last night in Hostia, Callio lay on the floor of her empty apartment and wept for the past. She’d said her goodbyes. To family. Friends. Nearly everything she’d known. A perfect life, in many ways. But she’d always wanted more. And when the ghost skiff descended into the city-planet of Haverwrath, Callio gasped at the eye-popping constellation of lights spread beneath her, and the unknown future that awaited.

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Part 4: lost without the rain

“It’s a long way down,” Callio muttered to herself, peering out the convex window of her bubble top to the parched ground below. The machine hummed as it rose higher into the atmosphere, to the place where the clouds would be, if her team ever succeeded. So far, the new cocktail had done nothing but put more pollution into the air, as her gas mask was fond of reminding her. The chem-strikes were getting worse too, the spontaneous lightning bursts making it even more dangerous to fly. She turned up the music to settle her nerves, and to dim the thoughts that flickered around her mind like heat dust. And for company, of course. It was nice to have some company, to feel less alone, even if only for a little while.

Part 5: private comms line

N8 wasn’t sure why he waited. A hunch, maybe. A hope that reached out from behind the numbness? Perhaps. But every evening after long shift, he stood on the platform. The trains ran less frequently now. Fewer people than ever lived under the illusion that they needed to be anywhere. Most stayed on ice, waiting for the end to find them. N8 watched the trains through his visor, the music in his helmet keeping time with their stops and starts.


One night, someone came to stand near him. His suit reported no threat. Through his left cam, he could just make out a face beneath the gov-issue gas mask. A nice face. Possibly. His comms line pinged, but he ignored it. He was allowed to stand there, if he wanted. But it beeped again. Twice. So, he answered. Her voice was like cool water. “Hello,” Callio said. 

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Part 6: Neon signs

Callio had been so deep in the mire, she almost hadn’t noticed when someone reached out a hand to save her. Well, truth be told, she was the one who’d introduced herself. But she’d taken one look at N8 in his impossibly scratched mech suit and thought: Here’s someone doing even worse than me. The moment made her smile even now.


She wasn’t sure exactly how it had happened, but they’d wound up walking the ledge for hours. She hadn’t talked so much, maybe in her whole life, but certainly not since she’d arrived on Haverwrath. The conversation came so easily that the glowing city around her, the dying world she’d failed to fix, had almost ceased to exist. N8, with his synthetic calm and soft questions, slowed her heart rate and, miraculously, quieted her mind. This, she thought, must be what love is.

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