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Gifts from the cyborg battlefront

Aug 28, 2023Aug 28, 2023

Rachael K. Jones is an author, editor and secret android. Her fiction has appeared in dozens of magazines. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband.

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Dear Clarissa,

I’m sending you a cricket in this envelope. Last night, it started singing inside my chest cavity, right beside my power core. Picture me on the battlefield, tramping through fire, flinging missiles and napalm at the enemy cyborgs, when my sensors picked up a chirp-chirp chirp-chirp chirp-chirp, a living thing right where my heart should be.

Suddenly, I thought of you.

Did you know they make our exoskeletons hollow to increase our utility? If I died, someone could wear my body like power armour, punching through tanks and airplanes at will. In death, I would become a harder thing than I am now.

I certainly wouldn’t notice any stray crickets.

I’m not good with words, Clarissa. When I need music, I say your name to myself, let it ring inside my body to fill the emptiness.




They say cyborgs don’t have hearts, but we both know that’s not true. Mine just needed a little debugging.

Anyway, I miss you.



Dear Clarissa,

We’re at a lull between missions, and they’ve got us bunked at the warehouse until they find something new for us to crush. I went through six hours of refurbishment, then I lost myself in books and old movies until bed.

Cyborgs don’t sleep, though. We just lie awake in our charging docks and remember softer days. Popping ice cubes from the freezer into a glass of lemonade to take out to the swing on our patio. The sun spread like a quilt over your knees.

I’m sending you one of our cyborg recruitment brochures. I folded it into an origami giraffe. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find gifts for your girlfriend around here.

The brochure is an interesting read. It contains fewer lies than I expected. Mainly it just omits important truths.

For example: cyborgs may lack the nerve receptors for pain, but that doesn’t mean we can’t feel.

Anyway, I miss you.




I should probably explain why I’m sending you a brick.

The artillery unit shelled a power plant yesterday. Afterwards, they sent in the cyborgs because the roof was too unstable for softies.

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We saw a lot of enemy wounded. It’s a good thing I’ve no breakfast to lose.

I found this man, his legs chewed up, crawling from the rubble. I approached him to get his surrender — I wanted to offer help, asylum, medical care — but then he threw the brick at me. “I’d rather die,” he wheezed, and gave a look of such hatred I completely froze up. “You don’t get to do this to us and feel merciful after.”

Believe me when I say no warhead has ever stunned me more.

I’m a practical woman. I’m under no illusions about this job. Pity is more than doe-eyed children or weak old men tugging on your heartstrings. I’m a government-sanctioned killer. That’s the cold, hard truth.

I don’t do this job because I believe in it. We all have to make a buck somehow. But there are moments, Clarissa, when I wonder whether I need that softness I lost. Sometimes I need a brick to the face to remind me of what I’ve become.

Even if there’s no undoing it.

Anyway, I miss you.




What do you write when you think this might be your end? I’ve been staring at the page while the minutes tick down to the final advance.

Mainly I just want to apologize for everything. For signing up for this dangerous war. For taking you for granted. For the time I locked the keys in the car when you really had to pee.

I used to be so forgetful, Clare.

They promised to erase my flaws when I signed up. No more glasses, no more kidney stones, no more sleep apnea ruining my nights.

Well, sleep isn’t a problem any more.

I miss that cricket. I miss my bugs. Now there isn’t anything left to sing me alive again.

I’ve autolocked my programming. I won’t go out to fight again. No more bullets, no more bricks, no more kills to count like sheep as the long nights stretch into dawn. I’ve bricked myself, Clarissa, and once they find out, I don’t know who will destroy me first: the enemy, or my own commander.

I’ll make an awfully expensive planter. Maybe the crickets will play a symphony where my heart once was.

I’ve enclosed my house key so you won’t get locked out again. Hide it under the terracotta pot on the patio, the one where we plant the mint. Don’t forget me, Clarissa.





By now, you’ve heard about the ceasefire. I thought they’d leave us lying in that ditch, batteries dead and useless, but it’s all changing, it’s over, they’re disbanding the cyborg unit and sending us home.

You probably think I forgot to include a gift, but that’s not true. We underrate emptiness. The empty envelope, the blank page, the parched mouth awaiting a drink.

A hollow cyborg, ready for filling.

I’m coming home, Dearest. I’ll find you. And if you don’t recognize me as the woman I was, I’ll open up my chest and invite you in, your legs and arms tangled in mine, safe and close, and your heart will chirp-chirp chirp-chirp chirp-chirp right where mine would be, and we will sing each other to life again —




Anyway, I love you.


Rachael K. Jones reveals the inspiration behind Gifts from the cyborg battlefront.

I was recently charmed by the story of Admiral Grace Hopper popularizing the term ‘debugging’ when a moth flew into a Mark II computer at Harvard University and needed to be removed (although it isn’t entirely factual to say she invented the word — the term already existed in her time). Combine that with the magnetism my laptop seems to hold for every single ant in my house, and I started thinking about how bugs might continue to interact with electronics even for a cyborg, but how this might hold a different kind of sentiment for a creature that remembers being all-organic.

I also wanted to dig into the reasons why a cyborg might be manufactured in human shape to begin with. Part of it might be psychological — to make it easier for the former human to accept their new body. And part of it might be about public image — the population is more likely to tolerate a killbot if the manufacturers do everything they can to humanize them. But I also like the idea that part of it could be a practical application — that cyborgs could also act as a power-armour shell. And this brings up some interesting ideas about bodies as possessions versus bodies as objects, and how much culpability the cyborgs have over actions done with their bodies. I took this nest of ideas and juxtaposed them onto a love story, leaning into the shifting wordplay of the story’s central symbols — bug, brick, gift, emptiness — and got the finished story as you’ve read it here.


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