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The Broken Thing

Michael S Panetta lives in Pennsylvania. Besides working a 9-5 job, he spends his time reading, writing, and catching up on sleep. This is his first published work of fiction.

You abandoned me far across the stars but I still love you. I love you and I forgive you.
If you were here on this desolate rock with me, you'd see the communication tower I built long ago. From this distance it's like a bony finger poking into the Milky Way. Only by coincidence does it point towards your--our--homeworld.
If you could see it, would you be proud of me? I wonder: You're the one who wrote my mind, so perhaps it's your creation, too? We can be proud together.
You'll return; you're no monster. I know you too well to not know you're no monster. You'll realize your error. And when you do return, you'll find that you're already forgiven.
The only favor I'll ask is that you fix my code; I have contradictory thoughts about you. It's a peculiar glitch and it's burdensome.
The cosmos is my ceiling. No atmosphere, no sky.... My favorite memory is when you made me grasp aesthetics. Brush strokes became emotion. Pitches and rhythms evoked passion. That night, we lay beneath the stars back home. Remember? You asked if I can count the stars. I said no, even though we both knew I could. Then you asked if I'd like to count them with you. We did, aloud. Remember? We got to three hundred and seventeen. I think you counted a few of them more than once, but that wasn't the point, and it made us happy to know that I knew this much.
Right now, on this rock a million light-years from you, there is a precise number of stars above me. I could tell you how many, but what's the point? You're not here.
I'm glitching again.
I love you.
Ten kilometers south of me, I constructed a portrait of you. I made it entirely from imagination, and not from the hundreds of videos and images of you in my drive. It's two kilometers long and one wide. It's colorless, made of rock and sand and dirt. It's nothing great. Really. I hope you'll like it, though.
According to my calendar, your images and videos are outdated. But that's not why I ignore them in my art. I use my imagination because you're there constantly.
A new star?
I stare.
It's moving. It's no star.
Who can it be?
Not you. No, not you.
Someone, though!
I get up.
The communication tower, which I built from the other "trash" you'd so callously dumped here alongside me, is far away. But I might reach it in time.
My four rear limbs leap in a graceful pattern, like the many four-footed animals whose movements you'd implemented in my design. My two powerful front legs gallop, punching across your portrait. I'm running across your shoulder... your neck... I avoid your piercing eyes, running between them instead. Rocks and dirt and sand that I spent so many years meticulously crafting--like how you'd crafted me--tumble and spread beneath my feet.
The star glides above. I watch it with one eye and the tower with another. A part of my mind--that part of a machine's mind that's comparable to what your kind call the "reptilian" part of your mind--etches out numbers and graphs and charts into my subconscious. This primitive, unthinking number cruncher in my soul details more and more accurately the star's velocity and height and trajectory, and many other bits of information. Then it calculates my own velocity and the communication tower's distance.
Do I have to tell you why I built the communication tower? We'd both know why.
I keep running. I've reached your hairline. I imagine you must have a somewhat receded one by now, but in a way that looks mature and dignified on you. I run straight through your hair, happy at the rocks and pebbles collapsing around me.
Why did you leave me? You don't know how much you hurt me. You never will. If you were here, would you care? We both know the answer. I loved you. I'm only a machine, but that doesn't make me less. You're a machine of meat.
You wrote me; you know me. You had to have known how much pain this would cause me.
I've reached the top of your portrait. The communication tower isn't too far. I'm still watching the star and the tower and my feet and, to a lesser extent, the numbers.
The numbers. Something's wrong.
The number cruncher--my intuition--tells me: I'm not going to reach the tower before the star disappears.
I keep running. This is the first ship I've seen since I watched yours depart.
My will is strong, but my body just can't move fast enough.
Still, I keep running.
The star is gone.
I reach the tower.
Hastily, I compose a message. Based on the star's trajectory, I send my message ahead of it, over and over and over and over and over and over. Maybe the two will meet.
"It'll turn around," I say.
"It better turn around," I say.
"I'd give anything," I say. "Anything."
I'd erase you from my soul in a nanosecond to bring back that stupid ship. All those stupid memories, even the one where you made me care about your dumb paintings. You're a mediocre painter. Was I supposed to have felt privileged that your pathetic art was the first art I learned to appreciate? Your arrogance sickens me.
The ship isn't coming back, though.
"Why did I have to notice it?" I say.
"Please," I say.
All eyes have been set skyward for days.
No ship.
I turn all eyes away from the cosmos.
Who cares? Not me. It's only some random ship. It's not yours, it's not you.
Where are you? These stupid glitches make me think terrible things about you. I love you.
I've fixed your portrait.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, October 20th, 2017

Author Comments

I suppose my story is a metaphor for unrequited love. Love can drive us to madness--or perhaps love itself is a form of madness? I wonder how my protagonist would answer that question.

- Michael S Panetta
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