Rat Freely


Read the latest posts from Rat Freely.

from amaral

Señoras y señores, venimos a contar, aquello que la historia no quiere recordar.

To all of you who are here, we have come here to share that which our history does not want to recall.

Pasó en el Norte Grande, fue Iquique la ciudad, mil novecientos siete marcó fatalidad, allí al pampino pobre mataron por matar.

It happened Farthest North Iquique was the city, nineteen oh seven – the year year of the atrocity, where the poorest pampinos all were slain in vain

Seremos los hablantes, diremos la verdad, verdad que es muerte amarga de obreros del salar.

We will be the narrators we will tell you the truth, the truth, was the most bitter of truths workers' deaths on the salt flats

Recuerden nuestra historia de duelo sin perdón por más que el tiempo pase no hay nunca que olvidar

Recall this our grieving story that no one should forgive, even as the time keeps going by, it shall never be forgotten.

Ahora les pedimos que pongan atención. Ahora les pedimos que pongan atención.

Now we ask of you all listen please carefully Now we ask of you all listen please carefully


from amaral

I guess my next few posts will be the about the translation of a cantata I said I'd do.

I will throw in some comments about the process. Translating anything that has rhythm is weird, to say the least.


from vv's hobbies

Taking some time to write a bit about my hobbies in this blog! Since I can't really think of what else to write about... :) And I have so many, that sometimes I forget them! I do write about them in my personal notes but sometimes it's nice to share.

This post will be about music. Music is a long-time special interest of mine. I've been mucking around with various forms of music for ages, but more recently (let's say, the past few years or so) I've really started to get into it more seriously.

My strengths and weaknesses

I have a lot of weaknesses when it comes to music. I tend to be clumsy on realtime instruments, and try as I might I really struggle to play what I want to play on a keyboard. So, the music I enjoy making the most is the kind that can be put together without having to play in real time. Any time I have to synchronize to a clock, I end up psyching myself out and messing up, and it's a whole tedious thing. But give me a grid or a sequencer and I can figure things out much more easily because I can go at my own pace.

I think this is why I tend to gravitate towards either generative music, or sequencers. And on that note...

Modular synths

I started getting super excited about modular synths after falling down one of those YouTube rabbitholes that happen sometimes. While I never plan to actually purchase modsynth hardware, I love how it sounds, and find it to be the perfect music to listen to while coding or otherwise focusing. I guess it makes me fit into a very particular stereotype, but it's not something I did to be 'trendy'. I've been into synths ever since I discovered the Casio keyboard as a kid and was excited about the songs it could play on its own.

But there's something special about modular synths, in how fundamental the creation of sound can be. And yet, it also can do a lot for you, which I appreciate. Having to go deep into sound design just to create a basic sound is something I want to choose to do rather than be forced to do it.

One of the coolest things I discovered was that VCVRack lets you play with a virtual modular synth. It's relaxing to create weird, or floaty, or just... bouncy tunes with it. It's been quite an intuitive way to work with sound.

Generative stuff is fun because it's really just like writing a program. You tell the modules what they need to do, and they do it!

The Digitone

For me, this has been one of the coolest devices to make music with. I bit the bullet and opted to get one of these, because I felt that it would be useful to have something physical to work with, which would allow me to create things quickly. And I believe it has!

While I found the interface to be quite intuitive, I am still getting my 'sea legs' so to speak. Sometimes I fumble. But ultimately it does make it easy to quickly throw together sounds.

I will have to spin up a personal SoundCloud-like instance to share music stuff. Yes, I do have a SoundCloud, but they are quite restrictive on how much you can upload so I'm considering stopping using them.


I only really have one large, cohesive music project right now, and it's for a video game I am working on with my partner Sara! It's quite a challenge to compose music for a game, but I do like giving myself challenges. So far I have one track mostly worked out (might still fiddle with it) and I have another that I have an idea of what I want, which I've sort of mumbled to myself on a voice recorder.

It's been fun to listen to tracks Sara provides as examples of what wants the game to sound like, and try to synthesize the styles, chord progressions, and moods into something unique. I feel like I've learned a lot already, even though I've barely scratched the surface of it.


from amaral

I have this cute little blue and green resin owl.

I didn't ask to keep the little resin owl because I wanted to remember her. I chose to keep it, because it reminds me of that time nothing mattered.

I don't feel safe in my memories because of you. I feel safe in my memories because I can't tell all of you apart.


from Juliana

I've been using Guix for almost six months now. I figured it was about time for me to compile my thoughts and experiences for others. In this post, I'll provide a brief backgrounder on Guix, then talk about how I use it.

What is Guix?

Guix, pronounced like “geeks,” is two things (well, three. well, four. well... we'll get there). Firstly, it is a functional package manager inspired by Nix, pronounced like “nicks”. Secondly, it is a GNU/Linux system defined using that package manager in a strategy called “declarative system configuration.” You can run the package manager on any distribution. Historically, the Guix distro itself was called “GuixSD,” but that seems to have fallen out of favor these days. Instead, people just say “Guix” or “the Guix system.”

Now, unless you're a big nerd like me, none of that means anything to you. Assuming you know what a Linux distribution is, you should also know what a package manager is (apt, dnf, pacman, etc.), so let's start there. What is a functional package manager? Essentially, it brings the functional programming ideals of immutable state and “purity” (no side-effects; code only acts on the input you give it and produces some output that is always the same for that input) to package management. This means, in practice, that upgrades are stored in “generations,” snapshots of sets of packages after some package management operation, which can be switched between at will. It also allows for declaring packages and profiles (sets) of them much like one would data structures in a functional language, manipulating values as needed along the way. So for example, if you want to change the version of some library a program you use relies on, you can simply write a bit of code to switch out that library in its dependencies, no need to edit the package definition used by the rest of the system. Declarative system configuration extends these principles to cover the entirety of the system configuration, from base packages up. And Guix recently introduced home, which manages home directories and their so-called “dotfiles” (configuration files) as well. Nix was the first package manager designed around these ideas.

Nix and Guix

People, including myself, often hand-wave about Guix by saying it's like Nix, a much more popular, much older project which inspired Guix. In my mind, at least, this will be more likely to lead them to resources that understand and can explain better than I what functional package management and declarative system configuration are. If you're still confused, it might be worthwhile to do that; there are lots of examples of how these ideas are useful that I probably won't cover. Once you have a grasp on functional package management, or if you don't really care, we'll continue.


At its core, Guix uses Nix. Its build daemon – the background progam that puts together packages and, if necessary, compiles the programs in them – is just the Nix build daemon, written in C++. Guix also provides a functional language for package declaration in addition to its functional approach to package management, and it offers a Linux distribution and includes system configuration. All of this is also the case with Nix. I think Nix may even offer home configuration. Despite these points of crossover, however, Guix and Nix are very different beasts.


The first and most important difference to discuss is the nature of the projects. The Nix project is its own independent thing, focused on Nix. It publishes Nix itself under the LGPL 2.1 and nixpkgs package definitions under the MIT license. Guix, by contrast, is a GNU project, under that umbrella and, by extension, the umbrella of the Free Software Foundation, with all the concomitant foibles and issues that implies, including the ideological purity. In practical terms, this means Guix by default only offers free software and absolutely no binary blobs. Getting most computer hardware setups to work and downloading any nonfree software requires the Nonguix package repository, which is thankfully easy to add and provides installation images. There are a lot more implications of this that I won't discuss, but if you know you know. Suffice it to say, I do not endorse the FSF or GNU so long as their founder remains involved. And even then, I've got some notes.

Unlike Nix, Guix doesn't invent a language for users; it uses the existing GNU Guile Scheme variant. However, for package management and system configuration, Guile provides domain-specific languages, DSLs, written as extensions to Guile, to make everything nicer. As such, Guix is also a set of Guile modules (analogous to a library in other languages, with some caveats that aren't worth discussing here). Again unlike Nix, Guix itself is written in the language it uses for all of this. That is, excepting the build daemons shared with Nix, all of Guix is written in Guile. The guix program is Guile, your home configuration (optional) is Guile, your package profile manifests are Guile, where you get your packages is defined with Guile, if you're on the Guix system even your default init system, default process 1, and system configuration are written in Guile.

This is the main technical difference between Guix and Nix, if only because the implications of it are so far-reaching, and is a big factor in my choosing Guix. Nix uses a language inspired by the ML family of functional languages, whose members include the functional heavyweights Haskell and OCaml, for its declaration langauge. However, the Nix language is its own special thing, with its own quirks and peculiarities. It is legendarily difficult to grock, especially for those unfamiliar with ML languages, and mastering it sufficiently to do all but the simplest package maintenance is considered something of a dark art. Additionally, it uses multiple languages through its stack, from C/C++ for its build daemon, to bash scripts for its builders, to the Nix language for user definitions. Guile, by contrast, is at every level, and the entirety of Guix is in one almost-pure-Guile (except patches and build scripts for Guix itself) repository.

To give an example of how this helps, I didn't know Guile before using Guix, but I knew enough of Scheme that it didn't matter. I've successfully packaged almost a dozen programs in the last months with relatively little effort (though I have run into issues I'll discuss later). I've opened up default system configuration values and messed around with their innards (a normal part of Guix usage). I've looked at source code for the Guix CLI to borrow some of its functionality elsewhere. And because Scheme is so simple and small, the relevant aspects of the language can be picked up pretty quickly compared to ML-style languages (although if you're unfamiliar with functional languages or Lisps, you may want to follow a book like How to Design Programs for a bit to get the basics down).

My Guix Journey

So let's get into the nitty-gritty. What is using Guix actually like? I'll try to give a chronological recounting of my experience, noting pain points or areas of particular niceness as they come up. First of all, though: why?

Why GuixSD?

When I finally got another drive for my otherwise Windows desktop (a condition of my ownership thereof being that I cannot overwrite Windows), I decided it was my chance to try the functional package management paradigm I'd heard so much about. Up to then, I had only been using relatively low-power laptops and knew that functional package management was more resource intensive. The above discussion has probably made it fairly clear that Guix and Nix are extremely similar systems. One could just as well use Nix as Guix for most of the things that might attract a person to either distro. I chose Guix for this because I already knew Scheme and was quite confident I could quickly grock Guile. Guix has a reputation for being slow, and this holds true – though I feel it more than most because of how I do system management. If you're not on a beefy machine, it may be worth investing in learning Nix.

System Installation

Installation is a fairly straightforward and simple process, if you're using a computer with libreboot, only hardware with open source drivers, and no graphics card (!). In order to get the installer booting, I had to edit the Linux commandline from GRUB to disable the kernel's efforts to load a binary module for my graphics card. I also had to tether my phone to my computer with USB to get access to a network (if I had ethernet, it'd've been fine). You can use the Nonguix ISO to avoid these issues, though I haven't personally done so.

Once you have paid penance for your heresy against Free Software (!), the installer simply walks you through a few configuration options, much like Debian, before showing you the config.scm file it has produced for you. Approve it and it will begin the process of downloading packages, building derivatives, and installing the system.

This is gonna take a while. Guix is extremely slow for no apparent reason. I have a Ryzen 5 5600 and 16 GB of RAM, and I still make sure to upgrade when I won't need my computer for at least an hour, just to be safe, because I garbage collect regularly (it goes faster if you garbage collect less often). Installation takes even longer. So, go start reading the manual. I recommend reading it in order because otherwise you may find a page assuming you know about something you've never heard of. Linearly, though, it's great documentation, and once you get familiar with where general ideas or aspects of Guix are discussed, you can jump around no problem. You don't need to read the whole thing, but at least skimming each section and looking at its subsections is a good idea

Now that you have a base system installed (and assuming you didn't use the Nonguix ISO), you now need a functional kernel and drivers for your dirty, sinful hardware without free drivers (!). Nonguix has your back; just follow their instructions and you'll be good. Get to configuring your system!

Configuration and Daily Use

You did read that documentation, right? If not, go read at least Getting Started and Package Management. If you're on the system, you should also read at least the beginning of System Configuration and keep the rest handy for reference. Finally, I'd advise checking out Home Configuration because it's cool. It might be a good idea to break these out into separate reading periods as you're actively using what you're reading, though again going in order is advised. You'll also likely need to look at Programming Interface if you want to mess around with packages. Yes, it's a bit complex, and yes, you really do need to understand at least parts of all of the above.

For me personally, the above paragraph summarizes my first couple days with Guix. I was constantly in the documentation, making sure I was setting things up right, trying to prod and nudge without breaking things. Fortunately, if you do break things, Guix's rollback functionality means you can just revert and check what you did. And, I've had to use that relatively rarely. It's much more likely you'll get an error during an upgrade or install than that you'll get one during use.

That brings me to a major enduser painpoint. Since I've started using Guix, some package or other seems to be broken upstream and prevent me from upgrading about once a month. This isn't too big of an issue as one can simply wait a few days for the issue to be resolved – it might also help to report it in the IRC or open a bug report – or rollback Guix or use an older version of some packages for a bit. But even as I write this, a recent change in the build system leaves me unable to reconfigure my system or home at all. This means the packages they use sit stagnant and I can't change my active configuration with a new Guix release (though I could use an older version of Guix if I really needed to, something I've done before). To be fair, most other package managers would have similar issues if they were rolling releases where users pulled directly from the main branch of a git repository. However, other rolling release distros get around this by having strict commit requirements and extensive pre-commit test suites – see the Void Linux package repository for a good example. Hopefully Guix will implement such strictures in the future to reduce the number of these incidents. Reputedly, they used to be less common.

But what does it actually look like to, say, install a program? guix install <package>. Remove it? guix remove <package>. Roll back a generation? guix package --roll-back. Huh, that looks a lot like every other package manager. And it is. For traditional usecases, Guix is basically the same to the end user. But underneath, it's taking advantage of all that functional goodness. Every profile has a set of files that define it in its entirety stored right in them. You can export profile manifests to send to other machines. You can create profile manifests and install them separately.

How I use Guix is much different than the simple, straightforward workflow presented above. I'll try to explain it, but just looking at my .config/guix directory is probably better. Firstly, I use both system and home configurations. I decide what, if any, packages I want to be available to everyone who might use my computer and put them in the system configuration. I also put fonts and other system-related packages here. I put everything else in the home configuration. If there are sets of related packages in my home configuration, I may break them out into a specific profile. I use my default profile (that accessed by guix install <pkg>, guix upgrade, etc) for packages whose definitions I have written locally and which therefore can't be upgraded with upstream sources. In order to load in packages at login, I add a loop to my .bashrc (see the home directory of my Guix config dir) to source all the profiles. I also prefer to completely rebuild profiles rather than simply upgrade them (so guix package -p <profile> -m <profile-manifest.scm> instead of guix upgrade -p <profile>) to mirror the functionality of home and system. All of this together creates a rather messy upgrade process, so I wrote a Guile script to help (there are shell equivalents in my Guix config dir).

In order to add packages, I open up the relevant configuration file, add a package, and rebuild the profile. With minor changes, this is relatively quick thanks to cached packages and configuration files and whatnot. If this also requires reconfiguring my home or system, that's only a few edits away, usually in the same file, and it takes about the same amount of time as just installing packages. I've noticed this being particularly handy for things like switching to Wayland or setting up a Pipewire home service, things that would require editing several files and installing several packages by hand on another system.

Making Packages

Frankly, packaging in Guix is a breeze compared to any other package definition system I've seen. It particularly shines for strict build systems with well-defined interfaces. For example, there are a variety of third-party package repositories from which guix import can automatically generate Guix package definitions (though they sometimes need tweaking). There are some headaches, however, for less standard build systems, but even these are comparatively nice to deal with. Entire phases of the build process can be added, removed, or replaced in Guile, much like writing a lambda expression (and often using actual lambda expressions). Unfortunately, this has to be done fairly often, and there seems to be one main issue. Guix doesn't use the traditional Unix filesystem hierarchy, so shebang lines and hardcoded paths often have to be edited. There are automated steps that usually handle this without intervention, but in the body of source code or build system configurations they sometimes fail. Aside from this, most packages only face the same issues as they would in any other package manager.

I have packaged a variety of relatively small programs with little to no issue so far. Notably, my own upgrade helper; the pb tool; and qpwgraph. These are the current contents of my default profile. I also updated the driver for my wifi dongle (I simply changed the version and the hash) and did most of the work for packaging the Haxe programming language, including successfully packaging all of its dependencies (which I lost through insufficiently careful file management, entirely unrelated to Guix or any software). It's worth noting that I've also done analogous amounts of package definition on Void, packaging gdc for all supported architectures (before the PR was rejected for overcomplicating the bootstrap target, a position I agree with; I've yet to return to getting it merged separately) and updating Racket so that its 8.x releases would cross-compile (which I'm particularly proud of because it was the first time Racket 8.x was offered as binary packages for musl libc for any platform besides x86*). I say this to provide context to my comments on the packaging process. I'm quite inexperienced, but I know enough to actually do it.

There are two main bottlenecks in packaging for Guix that do not exist elsewhere. I mentioned the first above, patching file paths to handle Guix's immutable filesystem. But there's another issue created by the way Guix handles files: it's really hard to execute arbitrary programs. Now, this is overall a good thing: no one can execute a malicious binary on your computer, and since Guix is 100% open-source by default, you can theoretically manually verify every single line of code your computer ever executes. But this makes things tricky when you want to package, say, a package manager. Or, say, a game client. Like the kick-ass Minigalaxy. I never managed to get Minigalaxy packaged because I remembered it's available through the already-packaged Flatpak, but I got just far enough to realize that actually installing games was going to introduce several hurdles. The Nonguix Steam package, for example, bootstraps a temporary environment to run in. Do note, I haven't actually run into issues with this during packaging, it's just something I can see being an issue.

Development Environments

One thing that got me interested in finally trying out Guix was using some Python environment management tools. So naturally, one of the first things I decided to use Guix for was setting up development environments. The Guix command is guix shell and it can be passed a list of packages. With the -D flag, it collects development dependencies for the following package; with -f it evaluates a file to a package; with -m it accepts a profile manifest; and with -p it accepts a profile directly. You'll often see configs for this in project root directories as either manifest.scm or guix.scm. They seem to be more or less equivalent, though by convention guix.scm seems to be a package definition for the project which can be used to generate a development environment by guix shell -Df while manifest.scm gets fed to guix shell -m.

Assuming all your dependencies are in Guix, setting up a development environments (and packaging your own programs) is pretty simple. You can even pin versions. If you need to, packaging dependencies is usually straightforward, and these definitions can be included in the config file. I did run into issues once where I needed a specific version of Python which was never packaged, an issue I never managed to overcome. Times like these are rare, however, and using a later version of Python worked fine anyway.

Home Environments

I've mentioned home environments a couple times, but I haven't discussed them in any depth yet. Let's do that now. If you want to setup a home configuration, you should check out the blog post on the topic. Essentially, you define your shell and its settings using a configuration much like that for system, setup any home services, import any dotfile code not handled by Guix directly, add any packages, and that's it. You can import an existing home environment to get most of this automatically. Once that's done, modifying the login environment is handled by Guix. I really like this functionality of Guix as I find manually keeping track of my dotfiles to be a bit of a hassle.

Notable Quirks

I tried getting into Julia recently and found some issues with Guix. Firstly, the Julia package manager doesn't work without p7zip being installed in the same profile. Secondly, some major Julia libraries aren't yet available in Guix (and though there is a Julia build system in Guix, there's no import handler for its packages yet). These are both issues related to the raw amount of effort that is available for Guix, and not reflections on the system itself per se. Regardless, package availability may sometimes be lackluster, especially if you're habituated to Debian-based distributions. This can cause issues since on GuixSD, it's impossible to run programs that haven't been packaged appropriately, by Guix or a Guix-installed package manager. Theoretically the ease of packaging mitigates this issue, and in practice this often holds true, but it's still annoying.

Tidbits and Goodies

One neat feature of Guix that I'm very excited about but haven't had the chance to really use is guix pack. It allows the production of binary tarballs, Docker images, SquashFS images, or deb packages from any Guix package definition. I haven't tried it yet, and there are caveats, but it sounds promising.

You can ship off configuration files from one Guix system to another to reproduce package profiles. Combined with channel listings, which I haven't discussed, this allows arbitrarily reproducable (theoretically bit-reproducable) systems. You can also use guix archive to share binary images back and forth.


Guix provides an immense amount of power, and that comes at a cost. I've definitely complained a fair deal about various aspects of the system. Regardless, I find the exchange to be overall worth it. It really does provide a much nicer, more understandable interface to package management. Instead of package management being something I avoid, it's something I dig into because I have learned enough of my system to be able to manipulate it the ways I want. This kind of power would not be possible on any other system without a much, much more complex set of overlapping interfaces. If any of this appeals to you, try it. You might just like it.


from Rat Freely Housekeeping

Hey y'all, now that we're all starting to settle in, I just want to go over some housekeeping stuff. Any similar posts will also be made on this blog in the future, so you may want to give it a follow.

First, a notice: the default post privacy is Public. There seemed to be issues with changing a blog to Public when the default was Unlisted. If you don't want your posts to show up on the Reader, make sure to set your blog to Unlisted or something stricter. We can change back to Unlisted and/or turn the Reader off if y'all want, but I think it's neat.

Secondly, you can send trusted friends the invite link. As a friend of mine used to say when throwing parties, “You're cool, and your friends are cool, but not your friends' friends.” If the link expires, ping me for a new one. For the time being, only I can create invite links, and there may be a hard limit on users at some point. There are two reasons for this. Mainly, I want this to be a cozy space; I'd like to know everyone here. More practically, the server hardware and my finances are limited. If invite access is an issue, let me know and we can address it.

Thirdly, we shouldn't need community rules because we're all friends with similar ethics, but I want to make one request. Please use Excerpts to warn about and hide potentially triggering topics on Public blogs. Besides that, if any moderation issues come up, we can handle them interpersonally, ideally communally. If you have specific requests, or if we decide together we need rules, we can make additional posts to this blog or add rules to the About page.

Fourth, some rules for me. I won't look at any of your data unless I need to for moderation or administration reasons, or you ask me to. What I mean by this is, each user has a page in the administration dashboard. I won't be accessing this except for the above reasons. The same applies to all data WriteFreely stores, whether or not it exposes an interface to it. I won't take any action on your account whatsoever except for the same reasons. The spirit of this is mentioned in the Privacy Policy.

Do note that other people potentially have access to data on this instance. This server is not encrypted on-disk, I do not have control over the physical drives, there are backups made daily, and it's hosted near Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Keep all of this in mind when deciding what to post. There is a gag order canary in the Privacy Policy just because that's cool and cyberpunk; I don't expect it to ever be needed. Unfortunately, we live in interesting times.

Other than that, just let me know if there are any issues, technical or otherwise, on the instance. Y'all know more about administration than me, so I may also come to y'all if I have issues. If you want to change the name or public pages of the instance, or if you look at the documentation and think our instance should have different settings, let me know that, too. Overall, I just want this to be a cozy little writing space we build together!

En savoir plus...

from upgrades

I awoke to the sound of chirping birds.
I felt the dirt and rocks underneath my head and a cool breeze brought with it the faint smell of gasoline and the sounds of distant cars. No doubt about it, I was outside; I was finally free. I remained still and listened for shouts or footsteps, any sign that they were after me but heard nothing more than some light rustling from the trees and bushes around me. When I opened my eyes, I found myself face to face with a hooded figure hunched over me, examining me intently through a pair of thick goggles. I tried to run, but a paralyzing pang in my spine forbade any movement. The stranger, likely noticing my wince, reached for my left temple, causing my vision to blur and a thick fog to settle into my mind.
‘Least it’s not another fuckin’ lab coat.
Whatever happened to me now was no longer in my control, but it wasn’t in theirs either, and that bitter satisfaction eased my pain through the familiar wave of overwhelming calming coolness as the world spun around me and my brain slowly shut down.

It felt like no time had passed when I opened my eyes again. This time, I’d been placed upright on a ratty green sofa inside a small, cluttered apartment. My senses came back online one by one, and I quickly determined that we were somewhere around the hundredth floor of a building, in a place that I couldn’t quite locate. I figured it was in a less wealthy part of town judging by how gray everything was outside the window. The room itself was dusty and littered with professional looking computer repair tools, as well as spare parts, most of which I couldn’t recognize. In the center of the room, though, right across a small wooden table, was a girl with bright pink hair sitting motionless on the floor, asleep, fingers loosely curled around a lukewarm mug. I thought about running for the door, but figured I was safer here than in the hands of my previous hosts, that and my limbs were much too sore for any such endeavor, so I instead let out a cautious “Hello?” She spilled what appeared to be tea on her lap, apologized, and started to get up but stopped dead in her tracks realizing that I’d just woken up. She met my gaze and looked away almost immediately, as if trying to make it seem like she hadn’t just been examining every last square centimeter of my skin.
An all too familiar reaction to seeing the humanity behind my eyes.

“Hi!” she piped up, “I’m Emmie!” I was about to introduce myself in return, but she continued. “I’m really sorry for dragging you all the way back here. It’s just, you seemed like you were hurt, and I panicked and maybe something was damaged, so I had to check, but then you woke up, and I was afraid to break you, so I turned you off and, well, now you’re here and all my tests say you’re okay.” She inhaled deeply and sighed a long sigh.
I blinked slowly. “I hope you’re feeling okay. You can leave if you want to.” She seemed equal parts embarrassed and curious, and I took it to mean she wanted to learn more about me, although I couldn’t yet conclude whether that meant me as a person or as a machine. Her eyes were practically welling up with tears as I opened my mouth to answer. “Thank you, Emmie,” were the only words I managed to eke out before I started to feel lightheaded like I usually did after an intense battery of tests. I politely asked to lie down, and she quickly nodded to me with a concerned look, letting me sink my head directly into the couch cushions. “I’ll get you something to eat!” she stuttered, before hurriedly leaving the room.

She returned while I was regaining my composure, holding a platter of pink cupcakes and a large mug of hot chocolate. “This is for you!” she smiled. “I hope you like them, I don’t bake often, but I wanted to try out this new recipe and I thought maybe you’d want something sweet. I can make you an actual meal if you want, though.” I smiled back, thanked her again, then took one of the cupcakes in my hand. It was decorated to look like a cat’s face, complete with whiskers and little ears sticking out of the top. The buttercream frosting tasted like strawberries and the inside of it had a jam center. I probably ate it too fast, but that instant was a delightful change of pace. It must have showed on my face, she sighed a sigh of relief when she saw me finish it and I had to rush to thank her once more and tell her that I enjoyed it before she could ask.

For the first time in months, in the home of a complete stranger, surrounded by scattered circuit boards and cute kitty cupcakes, I felt at ease. I took a sip of what turned out to be a surprisingly creamy and rich hot chocolate and sat still for a while, taking in all the warmth and comfort my newest host had so graciously given me. I looked back at her, and she seemed a lot calmer now, which in turn made me relax as well. She was no longer a threat; in fact, to an outside observer, the two of us would’ve looked like two regular friends enjoying a quiet afternoon snack, that is, if they ignored the fact that one of the friends had been, to use their word, upgraded.

A chill made its way down my back as I started thinking about all the garbage inside of me, my scars throbbing with the ever fresh pains of old wounds, their tests and lies eating at my mind like vultures. I couldn’t bear it. She noticed my shaking, or my pained expression; whatever it was, it made her approach me, hesitantly at first, like one would approach a crying child alone in the street. She tried to grab my hand and I pulled away. “Oh I’m sorry,” she said, visibly uncomfortable. I apologized in return and she continued, “Is anything the matter?”

I breathed in deeply with a quivering lip, words crowding my mouth all rushing to get out. “You don’t have to tell me, I know more or less what it is they do,” she admitted. Her face showed a caring willingness to listen and help but her eyes betrayed a morbid curiosity. So I told her. I told her much more than I should’ve, but she listened. She listened when I told her how I was offered money to help test out new body enhancers, how they held me against my will, threatened me, and treated me like I was some toy to play with, disassemble and reassemble, adding and removing things, running more and more dangerous and painful tests. She listened when I told her how they weaponized me, how I figured that out, how the army recruiter walked in followed by generals to try to make me kill for them. It always hurt so much to remember, but saying it out loud, to this person I’d barely met, it almost felt false. She kept listening with clenched teeth and fists when I told her of the threats to me and my loved ones, of how I had to harm guards to escape, how they remotely deactivated my muscles, it felt like a story, and my only tethers to reality were the dank smell of the sofa and the lingering bitter aftertaste of strawberries and chocolate.

“I understand how you feel,” she said in the distinct tone of someone who wants to be reassuring but doesn’t know how. “Not all the robot stuff, but I know how it is to be treated like you don’t matter, and to have your family be scared and disgusted by you, and to be constantly be examined and reexamined. I get it, sorta.” I thanked her, weakly, a life I’d let myself be robbed of flashing before my eyes and a feeling of abject revulsion at myself gnawing at my insides and rising to my lips as I conjured up the courage to ask for help for the first and maybe last time in years. Another deep breath. Fuck it. “Emmie,” I began, to her apparent surprise, “I don’t know if you can do this, and I don’t want to ask too much of you, but I know you studied me.” She took on that embarrassed look again. “And I want to know if you’d be able to disconnect my power button.” Her face went from shock to understanding to nervousness in a matter of seconds. “I think I should be able to do that, but wouldn’t it hurt you? What if something broke and needed fixing?” “I don’t care,” I muttered. I was likely more scared than she was, but to be honest; I was ready for anything. “What if I fail?” she asked, knowing exactly what failure entailed. I couldn’t bring myself to answer. I nodded slowly. “You could die, right?” “I’m okay with that,” I answered, meekly, words struggling to escape my throat. I wouldn’t have wanted to live otherwise.

I took a deep breath and steeled myself. She took my hand and cracked a faint smile, one that wanted to be reassuring but knew it couldn’t possibly be. I responded in kind. “You know, I’ve never taken anyone to my room without knowing their name before.” I was taken aback, not only because this was possibly the absolute worst time for a joke like that, but because I realized in that moment that I’d managed to forget my own name. I only remembered the number they’d given me. “A-014 Δ3.
I spoke that string so mechanically that my whole body began to shiver. I felt like a computer who’d just been given a command. She looked at me confused but caught herself, trying to stay as calm as she could. “Delta’s cute, we can go with that! And if you ever want to change it we can figure it out together, okay?” Her enthusiasm came as a shock to me, but I just smiled. “Yeah, let’s go with Delta,” I answered before following Emmie into her bedroom.

That room was as messy as the living room, save for a bed which was only covered in clothes that she quickly tossed off before inviting me to lie down. “Can I turn you off?” It was going to be the last time anyone did that, and the first anyone had bothered to ask. I nodded with the most confident expression I could muster, and she turned around to fetch a familiar pair of thick goggles and a bottle of Xanax before gently laying her finger on left temple, and pressing the button. Her caring smile was the last thing I saw before I lost my vision, my senses, and my thoughts.

I found myself surrounded only by a wide expanse of lush, dewy grass peppered with small blooming daisies and dandelions. I walked for a while, incredulously admiring a starry morning sky as the sunrise brought with it a faint honey breeze. I kept walking towards the dawn and eventually encountered another person, someone I recognized. I couldn’t place their identity at first, but I felt the pride in their buzzed hair, the shame in their thighs, and the determination in their eyes. They marched right past me in the way I imagined a soldier would when they returned to the battlefield. I wanted to turn around, to call out to them, but I frozen in place and my knotted throat couldn’t produce a single sound. I could only look down to see a small bloody pile of spare parts lying in the soft grass in the spot where my legs should have been, and as I tired to reach down to it, my hands and arms disassembled themselves and joined it, turning into rotors, chips, keyboard keys, and bones. There was no way for me to scream for help; something inside me knew to just accept what was happening. As the last remnants of my flesh were added to the junk pile, the smell of coffee invaded my mind.

I gasped for air and opened my eyes to the now familiar freckled face of the girl who’d saved my life. A smile took control of my face as I realized what was happening. Not only was I alive, but I was safe. “How do you feel?” Her words occupied all the space my brain, the depth and softness of her voice radiating through my chest with a reassuring warmth. I opened my mouth to speak and managed to push out a hesitant, “I’m okay.”
The room spun circles around me.
For the first time in nearly four years, I felt safe.
For the first time in nearly four years, I felt alive, almost human again.
She got up from her chair and quietly stumbled across the room. I groggily sat up on the bed and silently suggested she come next to me. She obliged, sitting just far enough that I was able to let my head accept her hand’s kind invitation to rest on her lap. I closed my eyes and my breath slowed down to follow the rhythm of her fingers stroking my head. She inhaled deeply and started let out a sob. I held on tightly to her thigh, trying however I could to reassure her, but knowing there wasn’t much else I could do than to sob with her. She held me closer, wiping off the tears that occasionally dripped onto my face while my own seeped into her jeans. “You’re going to be okay,” she said, “I promise.” I took her hand off of my head and held it tightly, pressing it against my face, trying to wordlessly communicate to her that I wouldn’t let her down, that I could be there for her too, that she could count on me. Minutes later, she’d fallen asleep. I pulled the blankets out from under her and covered her to her neck, made sure her head was on the pillow and resting well, then set off to clean up around the place, doing dishes and organizing things into neater piles and groups, or putting them in their empty labeled drawers.

By the time I was done, it was four in the morning and the sky outside the window was starless as ever; a wide expanse of cloudy gray, just dark enough to indicate that the city was still asleep. I stared longingly at the sparse yellowish squares on the sides of buildings, thinking about the lives that these people might have, and wondering about what I could’ve had. A freer life, I thought, one without trauma and pain, without the doubts about my humanity, without my betraying my trust and my will. A life where I’d be free. I’d work a boring job, drive to it every day, have a routine, eat healthily. I’d be happy, right?. I knew fully that this could never happen, that even if I tried my best, even if I did manage to pretend, I’d never feel real enough to live like that, to interact with them, to pretend that I also need to eat every day and sleep every night, to lie about aspects of my life that would otherwise be so mundane that I’d never even think about them.

I felt a tear make its way down my cheek and a hand slide up my arm and onto my shoulder. It was 5:30am a half awake Emmie had just unknowingly calmed all of my worries. In that instant, I felt more serene, I thought, than I’d ever felt in my entire life. “Come get some sleep,” she said with a yawn before walking back to her room. I followed and sat on the bed next to her, not quite sure how to tell her I didn’t need to sleep. She gestured for me to lie down, I obliged, and she put her head on my shoulder, sheepishly asked “This okay?” only to wrap her arm around me and fall asleep shortly after seeing my nod. I awkwardly put my arm around her and noticed a faint smile on her face. She seemed so peaceful. I let my fingers get lost in her soft curls, letting locks of her hair coil around then and tickle the palm of my hand. I closed my eyes and tried to match my breathing to hers, relaxing like that for a few hours before getting up when I felt her sleep was about to lighten.

That morning, it was Emmie who woke up to the smell of sweet coffee and toast with scrambled eggs waiting for her in the kitchen. She seemed overjoyed and hugged me tightly before eating her breakfast heartily, with a charming grin on her face. After she was done, she left to her room to grab two pillboxes and I watched her meticulously take a pill out of each, inspecting them, then taking them with what was left of her coffee. She looked up at me with a warm smile after finishing her mug, and I smiled back before getting to the dishes. I must’ve finished earlier than she expected so when I turned around, I found her quietly inspecting herself, looking down at her chest, squeezing and poking at her arms, thighs, and face in a way that felt like a choreographed routine. Her cheeks flushed when our eyes finally met, and she realized I’d been watching her, which in turn made me realize I was watching her and a wave of shame and guilt spread through me. I was about to open my mouth to apologize for my rudeness, but she sighed a deep sigh and asked me if I had a place to live. Of course, I didn’t.

“I used to live in a place like yours,” I answered, “much smaller though, and it never got any sunlight.”

“Does anyone really get sunlight these days?”

“That’s fair, I guess… I just mean everything was always so dark, it felt like constant fog in there.”

“I get what you mean, back when I lived with my family it felt like every corner of the house was filled with this evil mist.”

I knew better than to ask about her family.

“Well you’ve got a beautiful home, I mean, if you can manage to keep it tidy”

She looked away, so I continued

“Wasn’t my strong suit either.” I chuckled. “It’s not like I’d blame you for it after all you’ve done for me!”

She looked up at me, visibly uncomfortable.

“I don’t want you to feel like you have to repay me.”

I did. Of course I did.

“But I do have a favor I’d like to ask you for.”

I nodded, she breathed in deeply.

“I have this implant, for some medication, that I want to get inside me, but of course because it’s custom made no doctor’s gonna put it in me, and I can’t really handle pain well enough to put it in myself, so when I saw you had all this medical equipment in your arms I thought, you know, maybe you could help?”

My stomach dropped at the thought of inflicting even a fraction of what I’d been put through on anyone.

“Again, you really don’t have to,” she said with a defeated look.

She’d tried it before and I was sure she’d try it again if I didn’t do it for her. At least I had specialized equipment and some amount of training.

“Can I see the implant?”

She brought me a small and slender white tube.

“Contraceptive?” I asked.


I examined the object. It had a slight bulge in the middle that tapered out

“It dispenses œstradiol and progesterone,” she admitted. “I triple checked the dosages and I don’t want to keep taking pills every day.”

I nodded knowingly and she flashed a shy smile.

“When’s the last time you had your blood tested?”

Her eyes lit up. I figured if I was going to do this, I might as well do it properly, and it was the least I could do for her.

“It’s been a couple years. Would you be-”

“I wouldn’t have done it otherwise,” I smiled.

I asked her to sit still for a few minutes to and started preparing myself. After a moment, she fetched me the necessary equipment and I got to work. I disinfected her inner elbow, pierced her skin, and carefully drew her blood. The needle went into my own arm without much discomfort, I’d had a small hole built into it precisely for blood testing; it was originally designed to detect toxins on the battlefield but it was easy enough to reconfigure with a panel of tests she wanted me to run, nothing too complicated or extravagant. It felt strange, the warmth of her blood coursing down my arm, the numbers bubbling up to the surface of my mind. I’d felt it before, during testing, but this was all so foreign and so real all at once. Feeling numbers is something I quickly got used to, but feeling something almost alive inside of me was entirely different to anything I could’ve expected. I listed the numbers with that complacent mechanical tone they’d taught me to speak in, and she wrote them down dutifully, with the infectious, almost childlike giddiness. Her levels were solid, maybe a bit low but nothing out of the ordinary, so I sanitized her other arm, applied the numbing cream from an almost empty tube she’d handed me, and plunged the applicator into her. It was in and out in a quick motion, and apart from a yelp she’d let out she seemed fine, so I excused myself to the bathroom to catch my breath and dispose of the blood lingering in my arm.

I was heaving over the toilet when I heard a knock at the front door. She opened and a glacial voice greeted her.

“Good morning, Mr Ellis, would you have a minute to talk?”

I knew that voice.

“You know not to call me that.” She sounded completely different; frustrated, scared, alone, like an animal that’s just been caged.

“Oh I apologize, does Mr Ellis not live here? I’ll have to stop sending his checks to this address, then.” They both fell silent, so the voice continued. “Please sit down, sir.”

I knew that voice.

I was taken back to my empty white room, and could almost see the navy blue suit looming in the doorway, telling me horrors with perfect diction and that eerie calmness of men who know exactly how much power they have over you and fully intend to use it. That voice was, for the third time, mere feet away from me, and that terror I’d wished so hard wouldn’t become habitual settled into my bones once again. I quieted my breathing and listened.

“Mr Ellis, I believe you know why I’m visiting you, so I won’t waste your time. Give it back, please”

Emmie didn’t say a word.

“You didn’t think we’d leave our most valuable projects unsupervised and with no tracking, now, did you?” He scoffed, “your type are so greedy! We give you money, for doing absolutely nothing, might I add, and you still try to steal from us? I wasn’t sold on you being an asset, but you’ve just proven yourself a liability, which gives me the authority to do what needs to be done, so I will ask one more time. Give it back, now.”

I started searching the bathroom for tools, weapons, anything that I might use to protect Emmie and defend myself, anything other than the shit they’d put into my fingers, but the search was in vain. Worse yet, my shaking hands dropped a razor on the ground, breaking their silence with faint yet deafening clang.

“Well!” the voice exclaimed, “Seems it’s my lucky day, Mr Ellis, I was just saved a hefty dry-cleaning bill.”

There was a thud followed by a pained grunt and another louder thud, then footsteps, and finally a polite knock on the bathroom door. Without having a chance to think, I felt blades pierce the scarred underside of my fingertips, a sight that scared me more than the one that would come next. I watched as my left arm opened the bathroom door while my right slashed at the figure in front of me, and before I could understand what was happening, I had cut a clean line through this man’s throat and stained his navy blue suit, and as he dropped to the floor without so much as a gasped, blood pooling on the white tile, all I could think about was that plain white room and that tall navy suit. I shook myself out of my stupor and ran to the living room to find Emmie lying on the ground and struggling to get up. “We need to go, fast!” I said, getting some blood on her pajama sleeve while helping her to her feet. I rushed to grab a large black backpack from the corner of the room and tossed a laptop in it while she scrambled for a screwdriver kit, a hard drive, a pair of headphones, and a black stuffed cat, along with her keys, wallet, and cellphone. I nodded for her to follow me and ran out the front door, which she was careful to lock. We hastily made our way down the hall and to the elevator, which luckily was already on the seventy-first floor. When it reached floor 102, we walked in and mashed the close door button.

“How are you feeling, are you hurt?”

“I’ll be okay”

She stayed silent the rest of the way down.
I did too.
Upon reaching the ground floor, I asked her if she had a place she could be safe in, hoping that I might be able to stay with her there. She mentioned an online friend with an open invitation that she would text on the way there as we rushed towards the door. Outside, her neighborhood was falling apart; the sky and streets were a dull gray, with tattered bleached ads on every wall assaulting the eyes with a barrage of information over this bleak landscape. Large cracks ripped through the pavement and some of the buildings, like giant scars exposing a salted, dying earth, and the constant hum of nearby highways filled my ears and lungs. She led me, still shaking, through this wasteland of a city to a small subway station where we could squeeze our way into a packed lunch hour train that stunk of urine, sweat, and meat. Emmie, on the verge of tears, kept her head on my chest and clung onto me for dear life for that interminable ride. I held her tightly and pressed my forehead to hers, repeating the phrase “We’ll be okay” in my head with all my might, and hoping the thought would be strong enough to make its way through both our skulls.

At the end of the line, she tugged at the waist of my coveralls and we stepped off the train into an old, damp station. She checked her phone and asked me to stay put while she called her friend, promising she’d be back quickly, so I sat on a bench and watched her disappear up a flight of stairs. My gaze found rest on a leak in the ceiling creating a puddle drop by slow drop, echoing throughout the room and harmonizing with the occasional distant footsteps of some rushed traveller. A few rats were making their way in and out of small burrows next to the tracks, climbing up to the platforms to feast on any crumbs and candy wrappers they could find, and my mind wandered back to my empty white room, to the routines, and tests, and training, to the same small set of faces with soulless eyes and cold words. I would have envied the rats back then, their freedom, the vast environment they had to explore, their adventures; In a way, I still did.

When Emmie reappeared, she took my hand and led me through a labyrinth of increasingly small and decrepit tunnels full of moss and ivy. After crossing an old police tape barrier, we found ourselves in front of a heavy steel door, much like those on the sides of other tunnels, but on which plants didn’t grow, and that wasn’t withered by decades of rust and decay. It dawned on me that this was our destination. She knocked, and the large wheel in the center slowly turned, opening the door as my heart sank. Behind it stood a lanky pale bearded man with unkempt hair and piercing green eyes, smiling wearily. His face lit up upon seeing Emmie and the two embraced like old friends. “It’s good to finally see you in person, Em,” he said with a raspy voice. “Wish it didn’t have to come to this though, please, come in.” He nodded to me and led us into a large concrete room with cables running across the floor, ceiling, and walls. Long desks lined every wall, all littered with computers and electronic devices in various states of disrepair, the corners were stacked with large plastic bins full of salvaged parts and wires, and the whole room bathed in a bright cool light such that our shadows fractured and faded into the floor.

“Welcome to my home, I guess, please grab a seat, tell me what happened.”

The man left through a purple curtain bolted to the wall and came back with water bottles while Emmie and I were pulling out desk chairs to sit on.

“You can call me Niko, by the way,” he said to me. “Em and I met, uh, online, a while ago. It’s good to meet you.”

Emmie spoke up before I could.

“This is Delta, they’re one of the A14s I was telling you about! I found them in the woods near the southern complex completely passed out, so I took ’em home”

She explained our situation in much detail while this troubled looking stranger stared me up and down with a furrowed brow.

“So this man, he’s still at your place?”

Emmie nodded.

“And, ARBT is tracking your friend here?”

She nodded again, so he turned to me.

“Any idea where they might have put any kind of tracking chip in you, or even what kind of tech they might be using?”

I shook my head, ashamedly. He looked pensive for a moment, then sighed.

“I’ll go pull out the spare mattress for you two to sleep on, have you eaten? I got uh, energy bars and some of those meal replacement drink things, they last forever. I can’t do biotech or surgery or any of that shit but you’re welcome to stay here and hide out a bit, no EM waves are getting in or out of this place so you shouldn’t be having any trouble with the cops or AR or whoever they might send after you, just be careful you’re not seen when you go out okay?”

Emmie thanked him, in tears and I got up to help with the mattress. Behind the curtain was a small recess in the concrete that had been fashioned into a rudimentary bedroom with just two mattresses stacked on the floor, some books, and boxes full of clothes. As we started lifting the top mattress to pull out the bottom one, Niko started to ask questions about my time as a lab rat for Arnold Russel Biotechnologies, and my mind went blank. I felt myself give out the answers, and I knew what I was saying, but the words poured out of me like a stream. By the time we got the mattress setup with spare sheets, I’d told him all about why I’d gone in, what they had done to me, and how I escaped.

Emmie was sitting on a desk chair holding her plush cat as tight as she could, munching on an energy bar and softly rocking back and forth. Niko looked at her then at me with a pained expression, then just blurted out “Wanna play video games?” The three of us shared a moment of silence, then, witout a word, we each sat down in front of available computers and started playing games together. That was how we spent that afternoon. After the first hour, the silence broke, and after a few more we were all laughing and talking like old friends, avoiding the heavy topics and focusing on what we had in front of us. For the entire afternoon, we overlooked our sorry states, the fact that the nearest bathroom was at the other end of a long tunnel, anything that could make us remember that we weren’t three old friends sharing a day. We let everything melt away, and for just this half of a day, we let ourselves have fun like I hadn’t in the past however many years of my life.

When evening came, Niko left to get us food, not wanting us to dine on the thick white slurry he subsisted on. Of course, he was more than cautious, took no device with him and set himself a time limit of forty-five minutes after which we were to make an escape, but Emmie and I both felt safer there than we could have anywhere.

The silence descended upon us immediately after loud clang the heavy metal door. Emmie and I both sighed and I went to lie down on the mattress. She looked at me for a moment, so I looked back and saw the fear, pain, and resolve dancing behind her eyes like a flame in her mind. I observed the way her pink curls faded at the roots, and the way she held herself in that chair, protecting that plush cat like it was the most precious item in the world. My gaze drifted back to the ceiling and I closed my eyes. I could hear her breathing over the faint whirr of fans and electric hum of the various computers, and she sounded alert.

“Can I ask you something?” I hesitated, eyes still shut

“Of course, what’s up?” She sounded nervous

“Why did he say he paid you?”

“Can I come lie down next to you?”

I nodded and felt her lie down on her back next to me. She explained that she used to mess around with computer systems and one day found her way into an internal AR corporate network. Nothing too spectacular, but they found her immediately and met her in person to hire her. She said she worked for them a while, until she met some of the first participants in the research; project A-10 at the time. She quit working directly with them, and eventually stopped working for AR altogether, but they kept paying her, a show of good faith, in their words. For the past two years, she had amassed information on their projects and lived on their money in that run down building near the complex.
I believed her.
The silence came back and we basked in it for a while.

When Niko came back she was fast asleep and I was getting lost in my memories.
It had been sixteen minutes.