By Eliane Boey

The comet scoured a red tail overhead for half an annum, before news finally reached us that it was the quinquennial supply ship, going down in a solar storm. Cheer lifted off us and filled the dome, as our minds returned to preparations for Earth Day celebrations. It was then, as we chatted with neighbors about the scale of this annum’s re-enactment of the colonists’ voyage from Earth, that it came to us. The coming celebration could only be the grandest if we remembered the celebrations past. The ship carried memory upgrades and also served as a proxy for direct upload. Its loss meant no one on Tanjung Station would be able to save their memories to the cloud. Soon, we would have to choose between remembering and storing what was to come.

Above us, the comet’s tail brightened, but the eternal night sky only felt colder.


“I’ve got the steps now, Mama Zhi, look,” Bao Bao said.

The child’s voice, muffled through the old helmet we’d embellished together with colored plastic, caught me mid-way to falling asleep at the table, to face the blank canvas in front of me. It was my one cycle of relatively free time—Hui locked into conferences with other stations—but I hadn’t completed any of the things I’d planned five cycles ago. Getting back to oil painting, in the old style and with physical media, was the least of it.

Soft feet tapped on the insulated flooring, customized to look like wooden boards, as she made her way from her room to the dining table, which I’d only just cleared of breakfast and set out my paints on, although it was nearing lunch.

“Keep practicing,” I said into the cup of my fingers.

I pulled my hands from my face and saw a large glittering bird at the foot of the table. A bird in my craft approximation, worn by my daughter, who’d never seen a bird. She flapped and sent the cloth fluttering, the way I described a bird in flight to her.

Only, it was her hands alone that she flapped, articulating at the wrist.


After the memorial for the crew of the supply shuttle, and a brief period of groaning about the forgone treats and extras—things we couldn’t produce on Tanjung or stretch to last the ETA of emergency re-supply—life resettled into the nervous determination of willful disbelief. If my grandmother were alive, she might have said it was similar to the days in the spring of 2020, before the first postmodern pandemic event.

“You can’t believe we’ll run out of memory,” Hui said, as they stared into their kopi.

Before we conceived Bao Bao, we promised we wouldn’t slip into our interfaces and read messages or surf media in her presence. But by now, I preferred knowing when Hui cheated, to watching for adaptations. I poured boiling water over my bowl of pellets and powdered milk. Bao Bao played with her sweet potato pudding.

I said, “We don’t have the means to produce memory on Tanjung, and it’ll be three years before the fastest supply ship can get here.”

“Five years, more like. They tell us that emergency support is underway, but the entire supply fleet is committed for the next rotation.”

Hui always had to correct me, even when it didn’t help them.

“We’ll run out before then.”

“Or…” Hui said, as they blinked away their interface and reached across the table to tap Bao Bao twice on the nose, which was their code to increase chewing speed, “Or we figure out how to make memory ourselves. We have engineers here, as on Earth. A garment printer, or some other facility we can manage without, can be converted to manufacturing memory.” They got up from the table with a hand on Bao Bao’s shoulder.

I leaned upon my elbows on the breakfast table, where the cycle before, I’d tried to paint again. I hadn’t painted for myself since the lyceum on Tanjung canceled my digital sketching and art history elective to reassign lesson time to PT and basic technical.

“Yes,” I said. “That would be the practical thing to do.”

“By the way, don’t make anything for me, I may have dinner with the team tonight.”

Hui leaned down to kiss Bao Bao’s head, but stopped when they met the back of her chair and blew the kiss instead. A tube of paint found their elbow, and they picked it up.

“Fake Smile Pink.” They raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t know you still had these.”

“I’ve never been without them.”

“That’s really great, Zhi. I’m happy you’re painting again.”

I took my hand from my lip. “Right? It’s been soon long, and I’d thought, what’s the point, without show-space at the Cultural Center, or even a regular class to teach at the lyceum. But these paints are too good to waste.”

“You’re too good to waste,” Hui smiled.

“I had a germ of an idea while we were watching Shadow Earth
between shifts,” I said. “I want to do a series of paintings. In traditional media. Playing off that autumn scene,”

“Oh-ho!” Hui said.

I smoothed Bao Bao’s hair and picked out cloth ties for her. One purple and one yellow.

“Of course, I haven’t developed it yet, but I just know I want to create something in conversation with the way Soong and Jie mourned their last season together.”

“Yay,” Hui said.

I looked in their eyes and saw that I’d missed the blink and blurring when they slid into their messages. Bao Bao turned to face Hui, and the hair tie snapped out of my hand.

“I want to show you my bird, Mama Hui,” Bao Bao said.

“Mama Zhi hasn’t seen, show her,” Hui threw a smile at both of us and left the table, winking, mouthing, and gesturing, pretend you haven’t, THANK YOU.

Hands clasped together, and they were out the house.


I was lucky to have work the following week, redecorating one of the colony’s three restaurants, which were really the same canteen, split and scattered along the main street to give stakeholders a semblance of choice. This restaurant, named Wan-Dou-Sek, claimed to specialize in “Asian street food,” as though not one of us remembered ever eating on Earth, or had at least forgotten that peanut noodles and chickpea flour roti didn’t normally feature on the same plate, nor came with sambal, vinegar, and pickled ginger as condiments. But Hanwei, who held the operating license, had displayed some of my art when no one thought it was worth projecting in the commuter lounge bathrooms. She’d even come to one of my shows when I had them, before I had Bao Bao. Even if it was to herd the four other people who showed up to Wan-Dou-Sek for drinks after.

I inched my finger across the tablet screen and centered the image, a mural in the manhua style, of Chang’e the moon fairy and a rabbit, on the main wall of the dining room. The chairs and long tables were pushed to the opposing wall. Hanwei, loading the washer, stopped and lifted a finger to point at a corner where the image warped over an exposed pipe, and then dropped it. She waved her hand instead and put another plate in the washer.

“You still run those community painting classes?” she said.

“Art jams, you mean. And no, I don’t any longer. Not enough takers.”

“So, nothing at all, say, for a person who didn’t have anything to do, but who wanted to get onto something?”

“I’m a person with nothing to do.” Not in practical terms, that was for sure.

“Jie’s old man, Lao Ye, has plenty of time since he was let go from the Earth Day committee.” Hanwei took the dinnerware out of the washer and eyed the glasses. I saw a lipstick stain on one of them, but she returned the glasses to the cabinets, and I said nothing. “Every committee, actually,” she said.

“So that’s what this is really about. Getting Lao Ye off your back,” I said.

I hadn’t taken my eyes off the wall. The way the exposed pipe made the rabbit look like a twisted hare bothered me, but there was no correcting it. Not without foreshortening the rabbit on my device and mapping it again. Hanwei was determined to have the mural up by close of duty week.

That kind of half-heartedness, Zhi, is why you can’t find anything permanent on Tanjung Station, and not the Art Studies qualification on your skill set. I heard it in Hui’s voice and shook it off with a resolute tap on my tablet. The etcher I’d mounted to the ceiling buzzed to life and began printing the mural, line by line, in color, on the wall.

“Did they say why they let him go?” I asked.

The sharp edge of the heady scent of vaporized paint poked at my brain through my nose, as the image appeared on the wall.

“They said that it would be a waste for him to have the planning knowledge, given the circumstances.”

I looked away as the printing commenced on the pipe’s surface. It wasn’t that bad.

“Lou Ye is second generation, unlike most of the committee heads. He has the experience of overseeing many Earth Day events. What about that?”

Hanwei cut the tip off the nozzle of a soft plastic bag that contained a bright-red concentrate. She began to squeeze it out into a large clear tub where it sat like a coiled snake at the bottom of a drained pond.

“Eyes forward,” she said over the base of the bag. “As we unironically celebrate the Earth departure.” She shook the bag to get the last tails of paste out.

“The next supply ship will have memory enough to make up for this year’s loss,” I said. “It’s just a matter of uploading and refreshing then.”

My eyes were now on the rabbit as it appeared on the surface of the pipe. It was more warped than I’d expected, in particular, near its little furry rump.

“That’s years from now,” Hanwei said.

She placed the tub under the potable water and filled it to the top. I watched her stir it until the liquid resembled the contents of a watercolor wash tin.

“Come on,” I said. “Lou Yie’s still young…comparatively.”

Hanwei lifted the paddle to her lips and took a sip.

“You know what they said when he tried to appeal it? They said there was no way an old person would choose to delete memory and save new experiences instead.”

She poured out two glasses using a flimsy ladle that more closely resembled a dipper and held one out to me. “Soju watermelon?”


The changes in the way we sorted ourselves were at first so small that we didn’t notice them. What we did notice was the update blast to our interfaces at the next new moon.

For their key roles in maintaining the viability of the colony, Stakeholders with CAT-A and B skill sets are strongly advised to refrain from independently clearing their memory caches, until further guidance from the Board.

“Guess you’ll have to attend those lyceum performances and plan the Twelfth Moon party dinner without me,” Hui said. “I have to conserve memory now.”

They were on one knee in the wash area, cleaning their rover with an electric brush that rotated with a shrill whirl that bored into my brain as I pulled the clean laundry out the machine two feet away. Hui was hooked into conferences most of the time they were home, and when they weren’t, they went dune rovering with their mates. Now that they were unable to upload and delete their memory for the longest cycles they’d endured, they used rovering to take their mind off whatever went down during shifts.

To make up for the time they spent away, Hui had been doing me small kindnesses around the house. Hyperbolic praise of the food I ordered and reheated, performatively scolding themselves for leaving things lying around, and sternly reminding Bao Bao about tasks she was already in the process of doing. As though arranging or adding to the minute fixtures around me were the extent of their part in my world, which they only entered in the sleep cycle, between shifts, and days-off spent on the dunes. As though my priorities were so fundamentally different from theirs. Meanwhile, they grew larger for their newly defined key role and its demands.

The other CAT-A and B spouses joked about impending memory widowhood. When our partners’ memories were full, they would then have a proper excuse for needing to be reminded where everything in the house was, or for being surprised by playdates. I laughed along, hugging myself and rocking on my heels as I stood in the caregivers waiting lounge outside the lyceum. But the truth was, I’d begun to look forward to the Saturation, which is what the event of reaching our memory limit came to be called, first on the social channels, until it was adopted by the Board.

One evening, when Hui frowned and verbalized their frustration aloud to messages on their interface while at dinner, I tried to see the person whom I once thought my world would be unimaginable without. Whom I would eventually give up my place on the Earth Returnee Program for. Perhaps, when the moment of Saturation came, and Hui stopped acquiring new memories, what remained would be etched deeper in their being, and that person who dwells in the past will no longer be as distant. I could hope.


As the planning committees expected, it was the elder stakeholders who were first heard expressing the preference to hold onto their acquired memory at the cost of saving new experiences. But what the Board did not seek to measure was the actual levels of support for this opinion with Pioneers. “Pioneer” was the noun the Board used to describe any person above the age of sixty-five.

Hanwei’s partner’s father, Lao Ye, became one of the louder voices of a group that called themselves “Future First.” Firsters encouraged Pioneers to pre-emptively wipe their memory and face the future boldly, with new minds. The Future Firsters held social evenings, where all sorts of opinionated speakers—from medical experts to general theorists—spoke on the veiled blessing that the Saturation was for the Pioneers. How it offered them the new life and unjaded eyes—all the things they missed about their youth.

It was the sleep cycle before the new school week, and I had my palm over my mouth as I watched the 3D printer spit out a flimsy excuse of a wing that I had designed for Bao Bao’s performance. Bao Bao was in her room, building a structure I was forbidden to peek at, with blocks I printed off a kit I recently found on the toy plan archives.

Hui logged off from their call and began speaking as soon as they entered the living room, without introduction or asking if I had a moment.

They said, “Looks like the Board is about to roll out rules—not guidelines this time—as to which Stakeholders will be allowed to have their memory wiped.”

“Future First chatter on social channels getting too much for them?”

By Bao Bao’s third year, I’d perfected having entire conversations with Hui simply by responding with questions of logical deduction to whatever they needed to vocalize at me.

“The Future Firsters and their social campaign aren’t even the problem. We’re starting to see conflicts, even on shift. Kin and Fung are spouses in the same department, slight difference in functions. Neither necessarily likes the thought of saturating and not moving forward, but at the same time, neither thinks they should be the one to wipe.”

“Isn’t that a personal matter?” I said, examining the fragile wing in my hands. There was no way it would fit. I would have to redesign it. “Why does the Board have to be involved?”

It is worth nothing that at this point. For all the talk, human data storage experts on Tanjung were still refining ways to safely wipe our memory. If successful, it would be the first time that wiping was an autonomous function independent of uploading to the proxies on the supply ships, which were later uploaded to data centers after the ship’s arrival on Earth.

Hui had returned to our bedroom, where I could hear drawers opening and the sound of clothes being tossed onto the floor. I pulled up the design for the wings on my tablet and made a few quick adjustments. If I had a satisfactory print out in the next fifteen minutes, I could still make it to the Cultural Center. There was an off-chance that the slideshow of twenty-first-century art had finally been updated. The display had begun life as my project.

Hui came out of the room. “It’s precisely that it’s a personal matter, and also one that affects the colony because of their skill sets, that the Board has to mandate an outcome.”

“Why are you wearing your suit?” I pointed at Hui’s EVA-lite rovering gear.

“Going to squeeze in a spin before my next call. Jax and Weijun are already there.”

“But it’s inter-shift. Weren’t you staying in? I was planning on going to the Center.”

Hui lifted both hands and smiled a grimace that eleven years ago I thought was cute.

“I’ll be back as fast as I can,” they said.

They made for the front door and collected their helmet, but not before returning to the room to change their gloves twice.

“Will you be back by Bao Bao’s bedtime?”

“I’ll try,” Hui said, tearing open a new package of gloves. “Hey, I’m not taking stuff with me, so don’t arm the place or anything.” They touched the tip of my nose with a gloved finger. “I’m sure the nineteenth century will still be there when you go out later.”


“I’m going to get all of mine done first!” I skittered with a mock start to a sprint.

“No! You can never win!” the child squealed. She raced ahead of me and into her room, her hands clutching the labels and notes she’d printed to look like mine.

I heard the squeaks of her plushies as she evicted them from their spots on her bed, around her reading chair, and on her toy shelf, searching for the best hiding spot. I tried not to dwell on how many of her notes Hui would never find, never know about.

“I’m right behind you,” I called out to her.

I remained in the kitchen and living area. I pasted a sticker on the coffee machine and left a note under an unopened box of Hui’s gloves. The sticker on the machine contained operational instructions and the location of the refill pods. The note under the gloves read, “We love you.”—twice edited from “I love you.” As I replaced the boxes, I looked over to Hui, who was, in turn, verbalizing notes direct to their interface and then making grand gestures of snapping back to attention. I felt relieved that I’d wrote “we,” but also disappointed. Hui made an emphatic rap on the table and pulled a broad smile across their face, which only made them look tired.

“I hope you’re hiding them well, Bao Bao! Mama Hui is going to find them all!”

“Don’t tell, Mama Zhi! Don’t tell! They’re supposed to be found.

I peeled another sticker off the sheet and stuck it to the convection oven.

“Of course I won’t, sweetie. We won’t spoil the surprise.”

“I hope she hasn’t hidden them too well,” Hui spoke through a smile, teeth showing.

“Just make sure you find a few for a couple of weeks. She’ll forget after that.”

I didn’t really think that Bao Bao would forget. Hui took the three steps from the dining table to the kitchen, where they pulled open drawers and moved containers around the fridge. My stickers were all up by now.

“Perhaps we’ll learn to use our organic memory again. We used to. You and I are old enough to remember the early years, before external storage,”

“I was in preschool. I don’t remember,” I said. I folded my arms and leaned my back on the edge of the kitchen counter. “How exactly will the firm’s Regulators know if you didn’t comply?”

“Assuming the wiping procedure is given Health Board clearance for use—which it will be soon—and that it’s fully private? Wiping doesn’t leave any physical trace, at least no traces that can be observed without damaging the brain.”

I looked up at the space over Hui’s head. “So, they can never know.”

“But it’s the law, and it’s also what’s right.”

I said, “You are old enough to know when that wasn’t always the same thing.”

Hui huffed in disappointment at the contents of a drawer. “What?”

“I said, if you want your trail bars, they’re in that drawer.”

They pulled out a bar like discovered gold. “I always thought the bars went there, with the biscuits. Quick food and all.”

“They go with the oats,” I said.

“Of course,” they smiled again, hard wrinkles around the eyes. “Maybe this will all end up as a nice family exercise of note-leaving. Like a treasure hunt.”


“I’m sorry, what?”

“The bars, they go with the oats, because they’re meal replacements. I hadn’t realized I said that aloud.”

Later that night, I found a note that Bao Bao hid in her wallet, which was originally mine. It was a linen fabric wallet from the last days of physical currency on Earth, in a plausibly non-licensed Marimekko print. I’d let Bao Bao keep it because each stain on the once vibrant flowers reminded me of an experience I could never have again.

The note read, “Mama Hui, I hope you never forget our secret hug. But if you do, Mama Zhi will remind you.”


I tapped on the reader’s screen and flipped the pages to where I’d last stopped, because the reader was so old that the sync function no longer lined up with any of my devices. When I found the cliffhanger I’d intentionally stopped reading at, I no longer heard the chatter of the other parents standing against the walls of the lyceum’s waiting lounge. The berry-scented antiseptic air freshener didn’t sear the insides of my nostrils anymore. Reading novels directly off my interface was more accessible and easier on my neck, but the e-reader offered the added advantage of keeping my head lowered.

“Last rehearsal, and then it’s home free,” said the voice beside me.

Except, I never learn that this strategy does not work in the one place where I need it most. The white walls of the lounge, the antiseptic-laced high-oxygenated air, and the pitch of the conversations in the small room re-entered my pores as though a layer over my skin just slipped off.

I looked up at the tight, smiling face. “Doesn’t time fly?”

“At least there’ll be no more of this.” The other parent shook an armful of a 3D-printed structural costume to illustrate. “Next annum. Last hurrah to get it out of their system, am I right?”

I tapped the reader again to shut it down. “You don’t mean… No more Earth Day?”

“Of course not,” they said, eyes wide. “If anything, the Earth Culture modules will be expanded. I’m still considering how to feel about that, honestly. But the enhancing and early commencement of the pre-vocation introductions that they’ve done—now those I can get with. But to have to prep for that, and then take an expanded course load for Culture, as well? The lyceum ought to let the kids pick streams sooner. And I know which one we’re picking.”

Mercifully, the gate opened. The K to lower-primary kids ran out in no given order. I knelt and opened my arms, miming great interest in the large box in Bao Bao’s hands.

“Did you dig up alien remnants, bunny?”

I walked today. We’d have to carry the box back.

Bao Bao shook her head as she dumped the box at my feet.

“Mx. Chua took down all our artwork and sent it back.” She raised her hands, and I scooped her up despite the looks from the other parents. “The music room is empty too.”


I should have done the proper thing. Should have pulled the file, compressed the rabbit, and then re-mapped it to the pipe. From where Hui sat with their back to the wall, the rabbit was over their left shoulder. Each time I tried to focus on Hui’s face, my eyes drifted to the rabbit’s nose, which looked like a pulled strip of pink gum.

“I can’t remember the last time we had dinner here alone,” Hui said. “You really didn’t have to. I know you’ve been busy with…things.”

This time, I pulled my glance back to Hui without difficulty. “I suppose I have.”

Hanwei slid up between us, released the tongs in her hands, which deposited two plates of jiaozi on the table. By day, Wan-Dou-Sek was a self-service lunchroom that offered the choice of three set meals. Hanwei charged extra in the evenings for table service, loud music, dimmed lights, and the contents of the same three meals spread out into bite-sized servings on small dishes.

She winked at me and said to Hui, “Hope you enjoy your evening with us! The new mural on the wall is just the thing to set the atmosphere for the full-moon sighting.”

“You had it changed?” Hui said. “Sorry, it’s been a while for us.”

I shook my head at the response I saw on the tip of Hanwei’s lips. “Thanks Wei.”

The reheated plates were scorching hot to the touch. I took one, promising I wouldn’t think about the wheat and meat substitutes. I left it on my plate and searched for an opening. But Hui’s brow had gone from the temporary friendly slackness seen during the encounter with Hanwei to the tight, preoccupied crease that was reserved for time alone with me. I might as well say it. Now was as good a time as any.

“I was thinking we might go on a vacation, before Saturation.”

“What now?” Hui said. And after a pause, “I know you’re always the one to laugh in the rain, make lemonade and all that, but a vacation is the last thing I can enjoy, knowing it’s coming.”

“All right then, we don’t have to.”

“Don’t be like that. Tell me where you were thinking of, at least. A short one on our moon might be doable. Would be good for Bao Bao to get off-station now and then.”

 “I thought we might return to Earth for a bit.”

“Not Earth. This is where I’m needed most,” Hui said. “And now.”

The rabbit was poorly mapped. I couldn’t even do the work I claimed to love well.

“It was just an idea,” I said. “But while we’re on Tanjung, I’ll be attending an explanatory lecture at the MediShield building.” I felt my heart in my throat.

Hui chewed a jiaozi, juggling it in their mouth from the heat. “Wipe procedure?”

“Yes, on wipe procedure. It recently passed trials and is now certified for stakeholder use.”

“I know about it. They did that talk for us at the hangar.”

Slowly, the blood retreated from my face and flowed back into my body.

“So, you’ll be okay? With me wiping,” I said. “You’ve had the talk yourself, I see.”

“Okay? It’s wonderful. I’m relieved that you’ve come to the decision on your own.”

Something of my heartbeat remained in my mouth.

“You thought you would have to convince me?”

“All that’s irrelevant now.” Hui smiled. “What matters is, we’ll be perfectly calibrated that way—in our roles and as a family.”

Whatever I was about to say was lost in the movement of all heads lifting and turning to the front of the restaurant, where two Regulators were making their way across the dining room. In the seconds as they approached us, my hands grew numb and cold, and I felt my ribs close in on my heart. The Regulators stopped at the table behind us.

“Shit. It’s Kin and Fung,” Hui said under their breath. “But how…?”

“Did one of them have themselves wiped” I asked. Or both?”

Hui never finished their sentence. Instead, they blinked rapidly to silence me. I followed their eyes. One of the Regulators was looking our way. Hui’s colleagues, Kin and Fung, got up from their seats and stood near the other Regulator. Nothing held them to the uniformed individual, except their sideways glances at each other and the stolen looks around and from across the room.

“Hui Jun,” the white suit said. “Didn’t expect to see you here too.”

Hui nodded. “Mx. Liu.”

“Shift ended early for you too?”

Hui reached across the table and touched my hand. “It’s my partner’s birthday.”

My lips parted, but I caught them in time to press them together in a smile. I softened my eyes.

“Then I’ll wish you both many happy returns, Mx. Hui,” they said.

“We thank you,” said Hui.

Both Regulators bowed, and the one who spoke with us indicated towards the entrance. Fung tailed behind, and when Kin put a hand on her back, she turned and looked at Hui. I looked into Hui’s eyes and saw that they were calm, waiting for the interruption of their dinner to end. Their fingers tightened around my hand, and I sank my teeth into my lower lip. Fung lowered her eyes and followed Kin and the Regulators out of the restaurant.

The dining room was noiseless now. I could not hear even the movements from the table behind us. When they were gone, Hanwei raised the volume on the 1990s Mandopop and announced that dessert was free tonight, with any order of a new side dish. I sat in the middle of the noise and the forced laughter, and Hui telling me through a tight, forced smile that Kin and Fung were probably in for nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Docked coin, at the worst. I sat in the middle of it, with my head pounding behind my eyes, as though demanding of me to look. But at what?


It was four days later, in the evening, I tapped on the touchpad outside Bao Bao’s room and heard Hui whisper from inside as the door slid open.

“Let’s put everything back the way Mama Zhi likes it.”

The door opened to the clatter of toys.

“I could never get her to do that before,” I said.

Hui said, “I never tried to help.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Bao Bao only listens to me because it’s not what she expects.”

I wanted to say something nice, like how I appreciated every little effort of theirs, but what I said instead was, “She’s still little. You can change that expectation any time you want.”

“So, that is what you meant,” Hui said. But they’d dropped their tone at the exact moment I pulled the gloves off. “I don’t know how it’ll be after Saturation.” They tapped my nose in the same way they did with Bao Bao at the dinner table. “It’s good for Bao Bao that she has you as her constant. You wiping means you’ll grow with her.”

I smiled under the caress. I believe I blushed, even.

“That’s what matters,” I said.

When I knelt beside our daughter and took the little plastic toys from her hands to set them on the shelf, Hui stood up and left the room noiselessly. I was the constant—always had been. I think that was why I’d been feeling not unsettled, but weighted, after the dinner at Wan-Dou-Sek. I had gone into dinner prepared to defend my decision to wipe, and the thought of that warmed me. The surprise of their support did not relieve me as I expected, but only anchored me to the ground. To home.

Grow with Bao Bao. As much a child as my daughter. Perhaps, I already was.


“You’ve been rearranging things,” Hui said.

They had their rovering helmet under their arm and were lifting and moving items around the shelves in the front room. I remember when we unboxed the shelves in so many little pieces, back when we first landed on Tanjung. Assembling them and setting them into the wall.

“Your gloves are next to Bao Bao’s puzzle boxes.”

Hui found the puzzles, which were right by their elbow. “Twelfth Moon Festival cleaning isn’t for a few more cycles, is it? I haven’t forgotten that.”

I said, “Do you remember when we first settled here? We set up these shelves as temporary storage until we found our way around.”

Hui smiled as they strapped on their gloves. “It’s become us now.”

“No, it’s you. Each time I’ve wanted to dismantle them and order something I liked, you said, ‘What’s the point if it still works?’ As if all that matters is function. Just like this obsession with Saturation. Prepping for it, claiming to not fear it, while planning every aspect of our lives around it. Like choosing the things that matter more for function than others. And the people.”

Hui let their hands fall to their sides for a second, and then they folded them again.

“I didn’t know the shelves bothered you that much. Take them down if they do. Or, if you can wait, I’ll do it for you during one of the longer betweens.”

“Waiting is all I’ve been doing,” I said.

Hui said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”

“I’ve signed up for the next Earth-returnee program trial. Turns out the shuttle for the next trial intake will stop here on Bao Bao’s Earth Day performance. Unscheduled refuel. And don’t worry, I’ll be taking Bao Bao along with me.”

“I thought you’d gotten that out of your system, teaching at the lyceum,” Hui said. They undid their gloves and strapped them on tighter. “But sure, take a break if it’ll help. Goodness knows I would take one, too, if I could.”

I turned from their glance to pull out a stack of puzzles and set them on another shelf with determination. But I only clicked my tongue and returned the puzzles to where they were.

I said to the boxes in front of me, “What happened with Kin and Fung, in the end?”

Hui had a hand on the door when they turned around.

“I don’t understand the question,” they said.

“Your colleagues. I’m assuming the Board had something planned for them, after they followed the Regulators. Slap on the wrist? Docked coin, you said? Exile?” I laughed.

My hollow laugh died when I saw the question written on Hui’s face. They’d forgotten the incident. I didn’t trust myself to want to know if they’d forgotten Kin and Fung ever existed.


Somehow, autonomously but altogether, we had assumed that the Saturation would be a singular, collective experience, like a fairytale kingdom of old folklore falling into a deep sleep on the advent of a curse. Succumbing, and yet spared the knowledge of the fact. I believed it too.

Instead, Saturation—when it came—visited us like death, finding us one by one as we were, and at the pace of our own lives and minds.

The elders were affected in the first wave. In the beginning, there were few raised eyebrows because it was what the Board had expected—after we adjusted to the knowledge of how it would claim us. Before advances in memory storage, humans had suffered from geriatric-onset mental degeneration. The Board distributed information packets to our interfaces and updated old manuals for living with, and caring for, elders with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. They told us that it was nothing that earlier generations of humans did not have to weather. But we were wrong there, too, because it was nothing like the old diseases.

“Oh, goodie, chives are back on the supply list,” Hanwei said, speaking into the display panel on her walk-in chiller as she squinted and swiped at the screen.

“Get it,” I said.

Hanwei sighed, “Just once, I wish I had an excuse to indulge in wheat flour.”

I heard the tap of her lacquered fingernail on the panel.

“Your jianbing are reason enough.” I straightened my back and rolled my shoulders.

Then, I got up from where I had been squatting on the floor beside the mural.

“I wish I had the coin,” said Hanwei. “That rabbit looks good, by the way.”

I pinched the muscles at the back of my neck. “I’m glad I painted it over.”

Hanwei completed the order and was about to refill my glass of premixed lime soda when the doors of Wan-Dou-Sek were thrown open. An old man stood in the light between them.

“Wei Wei, I can’t find Jie anywhere. She isn’t answering her pings either.”

“Jie’s on heavy maintenance this cycle, Lao Ye,” Hanwei said. “I told you.”

“You girls have things to get done, but always remember: stay online. What if something were to happen, and you were unreachable?”

“Alright, Lao Ye. Always online. I’ll tell Jie that when they get back.”

The old man’s face softened. It was as though that was all he’d come to hear.

“Don’t forget it’s my pick for film night tonight,” he said.

“Is it? Again? You’d better do us good,” Hanwei said.

I rested my paintbrush on my palette and stood up as Lao Ye left.

“Isn’t it—”

“The Tenth Moon party tonight? Yes. I’ll be here all evening. But he won’t get that far. He’ll forget and go to bed. But tomorrow, he’ll be here again, saying the same thing.”

I said, “Wasn’t he planning on being the first to wipe?”

Hanwei put both her hands on the countertop.

“He thought he would too. I think none of them knew how much memory space they really had left, and how fast they are filling it.”

I was glad to have fixed the rabbit. But now, my wrist ached from the sharp angle I’d used to hold my hand against the wall. I tried to take my mind away from the pain, but I had nothing else to turn it to.

Hanwei was still speaking. “It’s nothing like what they said it would be. No regression or degeneration—at least not yet.” She rapped her knuckles on the steel counter.. “He’s still the same. If anything, he hasn’t changed at all. It’s like he just stopped and stayed exactly where and how he was. And it was us who left him behind.”


After Bao Bao’s last rehearsal, I took her to the Market to choose a treat. Food delivery dropped just the day before, and the chiller at home was fully stocked. But stakeholders on Tanjung don’t go to the Market to pick up freeze-dried sweet potato noodles. They go to caress lab-grown papaya, jackfruit, and water spinach, and treat themselves to grilled meat products—also lab-grown—at the rotisserie on the way out. Bao Bao’s eyes widened at the strawberries.

Chao-mei! Please, Mama Zhi, please.” Little paws gripped my hand tight.

Of all the precious fruit of controlled growth and micro-managed cultivation, strawberries were among the dearest, and for that, you still had a seventy percent chance of drawing a box of sours.

“How about peaches this time? They’ll be lovely with ice cream.”

“But strawberries, Mama! I haven’t had them in forever!”
I tried feebly, “Look, bunny! Fresh peaches; not the tinned stuff.”

I sniffed the fresh peach. It was beautifully pink and fuzzy, but it smelled of nothing. If anything, it had a slight saltiness. I smiled and held it out to Bao Bao, who looked doubtful, but obliged with a receiving hand.

“Your business? You think you act on your own, do you? Answer me!”

I turned at the jarring growl. Behind us, an older person, but not so elderly as Lao Ye, stared hard at a woman my age. From the hard focus of their eyes and the projection of their voice, I believed they were recording—possibly live-streaming—the woman. The woman had her hand raised to his face, and her own face turned away. The man was moving around her, doing everything he could to keep her face in the frame.

“Have a family, do you? What about my spouse, who’s come to rely on your sessions? What will she do now? Why won’t you answer me?”

The woman kept on walking with her head down towards the exit, with him staring her down, trailing by her side.

“I know you wiped. You can stay silent all you like, but I’ll prove it,” he said.

She stopped then and faced him.

“I don’t know you,” she said. “My function is non-essential. What I do with my memory is my business.”

It was then that I became aware of the little fingers digging into my arms. Bao Bao’s trusting eyes wanted me to tell her what she couldn’t understand.. I picked Bao Bao up, something I hardly did then at her age.

“Let’s get the strawberries, bunny.”


Eleven shifts later, the Board sent a blast to our interfaces, updating the Memory maintenance rules. The official list of essential skills to be preserved from erasure notwithstanding, each stakeholder’s intention to have their memory wiped was now subject to case-by-case appeal and approval by a newly formed multi-disciplinary committee. With the update in the rules, the Medishield facility was overwhelmed with pre-approval assessment appointment requests for memory wipes.

Had the Stakeholders made up minds with fingers poised on the trigger? Or had the change of rules made the minds up for them?

My appointment had been booked ahead of the scramble, and the medical review readily rated me physically fit for a wipe procedure. Three shifts later, I was in the holding room of the Admin building, built in the brutalist revival style that was popular back on Earth when Tanjung was being terraformed. The comedy series that was streaming on the Admin building’s controlled network paused and a pop-up message on my interface alerted me that my queue ticket was up. All I did was rise as the door beside me slid open.

There was no interviewer in the room—none visible, at least—only a screen that was certainly built to be one-way. The speaker above it crackled to life.

“Xu Zhi Yi, welcome. Kindly check your Stakeholder number and address as it appears on the screen in front of you, and then tap OKAY to confirm. You are a domestic-based primary caregiver, previously art history teacher at the Lyceum. Yes or no?”

“Yes,” I said.


It’s a beautiful dawn cycle on Tanjung.

I suspect every cycle is always as perfectly staged as this, from the lights to the canned birdsong, rotated to mimic the seasons, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something to appreciate all over again, at every new rising. There’s the swish of sliding doors, the patter of feet, and all the childrens’ voices talking at once.

I look away from the full-length windows of the lyceum auditorium and spread my arms wide for my daughter.

“Mama Zhi, did you see me? I was the bird,” she says.

“You were exactly like one.” I smile and lift her in my arms. “Bunny, how about we see real birds? On Earth.”

“I want to take my stuffies. Is Mama Hui coming?”

I bury my face in her warm hair. It smells of raspberries, a fruit I’d long forgotten the taste of.

“I brought your stuffies with me, bunny. We have everything we need.”

It’s a short tram ride to the shuttle depot. Departure is before the end of Hui Jun’s shift. They know about the program trial and me needing what they have called “a break.” What they don’t know is that I have not released coin for our return flight to Tanjung. Not yet, anyway.

We are everything we need.


Copyright © 2023 Eliane Boey

The Author

Eliane Boey

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