After the PreservationAux Survey SecUnit – which she refuses, she categorically refuses, to call 'Murderbot' - makes a run for it beyond the limits of the Corporation Rim, Dr Mensah decides she's going to watch Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon from the beginning. There are five seasons and about a hundred episodes, which is a lot but not a ridiculous lot. (With a spasm of internal embarrassment, she suddenly remembers Synthetics Love Soya, the coffee shop romance her whole origin-family loved, that ran to two hundred and twelve half-hour installments before the cyborg barista and the blushing regular customer kissed.) She figures that if she just gives it a try, she might understand Murderbot (SecUnit!) a little better. She might get it.
Ten episodes and a merciful mid-season hiatus later, she does not get it.
Dear Murderbot (I wish you'd given yourself another name): I am watching your show, the one about the terraformers. The girl with the blue hair is desperate for love but her boyfriend doesn't respect her and her robot can't satisfy her sexually.
I don’t blame you for running.
She really doesn’t. Mensah (who has a personal name, but this is what a lifetime of news media write-ups and public service in general will do to your interior monologue) understands consensual power dynamics. She is a planetary administrator because her people came together in their sovereign mass and granted her an awesome and extraordinary power, in exchange for skilled, faithful discharge of her duties, and her acceptance of the fact they could photograph her, misquote her, slander her, criticise her, and finally replace her, with neither censure nor dismay. What can be given can be taken away. Mensah took a lifetime in public service to understand that and she respects that Murderbot took five minutes.
But if it were here, Murderbot could have explained this. Why the girl with the blue hair was attempting reconciliation with two of her partners a mere three episodes ago (there were some slim overtures in a stopped colony elevator, and some makeouts but that was because the show was up for renewal) but now,she’s ditched them both and taken up with a third dude, who said he was going to get her out of this shithole colony and show her the universe but secretly just wants her to bankroll his somatic-stimulation-and-sexbots habit. Mensah wants to tell her she deserves love but first of all she deserves respect. She deserves the interiority of a whole self. And then the makeouts, for sure. Mensah and her mom had a tonne of ideas for what you could do in bed when one of you was a cybernetic barista.
Murderbot, I hope it's nice where you are. I hope they're treating you okay.
Blue Hair and Somatic-Stimulation resolve their differences via a fraught conversation with lots of soft-focus close-ups, and realise that the key issue is that they're not sexually compatible and they need a third – Way Too Much Deltoid – as the lynchpin of their triad. Dr Mensah thinks that all this will do is increase the combinations of shouting matches and fistfights that this relationship can encompass, but she's decided to go with it. Only eighty-two episodes to go.
Dear Murderbot. The application went perfectly smoothly and the order didn't have an expiration date. Your emancipation in the eyes of the Alliance will last, if and for as long as you need it.
(She’s a planetary admin, a gifted researcher, a woman whose guiding hand can be felt in every sphere of Preservation life. And she’s still talking to the TV as though the people in it can hear her, and writing letters that will never be read.)
But the application did go perfectly smoothly. They got the order, there were no surprises in cross-examination, and because Preservation courts admit only print journalists while a hearing is in session, Dr Mensah did not make an idiot of herself in front of any sort of image-based recording media. They have a robust legislative tradition and a rock-solid independent judiciary; the judge maintained her neutrality even with a planetary admin as the applicant. The lawyer they'd had to engage in such a hurry turned out to have been at law school with one of Mensah's partners, so he didn't even freak out when he saw who he was representing. The order was ten lines long and every word was perfect.
Dr Mensah stood for the reading of the judgement, listened to elegant, concise phrasing on the subject of autonomy, humanity, and self-determination and then started crying in public, great heaving ugly sobs, for literally no reason whatsoever.
Dear Murderbot. I believe in self-determination of identity but when I see you again we're going through a book of baby names until you pick something.
I watched episode sixty-four. I figure you probably know which one that is just from the number.
It's the one where Too Much Deltoid dies. He's been in the show for basically five minutes, just long enough that you've got to know him and then they can kill him off in another freak space elevator accident. Then it's the cut to the graveside scene, the rows and rows of people dressed in muted colours, the ominous silence, the weeping. The others – Blue Hair and Somatic Stimulation, and even the two from way back in season one, Insufficiently Sexual Robot and the other guy – are brought together by grief. They all kiss and make up, and they've somehow had time to change out of mourning weeds into neon spandex and it is all deeply, profoundly ridiculous.
Kim walks in in the middle of it all and Mensah expects her to be either dismissive or monosyllabic – it's a phase, everyone says, though if it is a phase it's been going on longer than some planetary rotational periods Mensah could mention – but instead her eyes light up, she insists they scroll it back so she can watch the graveside scene again from the beginning. She mouths along with the dialogue and starts explaining the plot before Mensah can point out that she's just watched sixty-four episodes in a row and is perfectly cognisant of who had sex with whom in what perturbation with whose evil identical twin. Afterwards they go onto episode sixty-five, the obligatory post-funeral histrionics, and then sixty-six and sixty-seven, and end up sitting on the couch all evening together. Mensah snipes about the plot holes and Kim throws popcorn at her. It's okay, actually. It's nice.
(My children's names are Kim, Radhika and Angela. They all have daknams as well. You can have a daknam too if you want. If you don't that's okay too.)
Episode seventy-eight. Blue Hair wants to sleep and can't. She walks out beneath the glass domes, small and alone beneath the absolute blackness of planetary night. It turns out grief carries more weight and tether than emotion-of-the-moment sexytimes.
Mensah cries about it. Just quietly, on late-night floating transit while she's watching it on her tablet. There's more soft-focus close ups and it's such trash and she's crying in public, again, for no reason, like someone she knows has died.
(She watched Synthetics Love Soya when her mother got sick. Mostly, she watched episode two hundred and twelve, which was the one with the kiss in the rain, the barista and her brand new girlfriend making out with glorious abandon, with the windows steaming up behind them. She and her mom were so excited they had a viewing party with coffee-bean shaped cupcakes. After her mom's diagnosis she sat there in the dark, wrapped in blankets, ate nutrient bars and leftovers, watched all the way through the credits, scrolled it back to the beginning and watched it again.)
Murderbot, she writes. I'm sorry for your losses.
Dear Murderbot, Dickweed Whatever-the-Fuck – that's her treasury secretary, he has a name, it's Ari Gonzales, she really needs to watch less TV – is getting on my nerves this week. He spent four hours on the floor of the chamber pontificating about the necessity of reducing public spending and then voted for fourteen new corporate tax breaks and a planetary administrators' official yacht.
Episode eighty-nine. The terraformers' evil solicitors are finally rumbled in their scheme to embezzle all of the colony's funds and sell them out to the empire builders in the next star system over. There's a very public trial with lots of angry cross-examination and remorseful speechifying. The chief defendant was Blue Hair's ex from season one so there's lots of opportunity to close up on her shocked, pale, beautiful face, then cut to the ranting and raving of the accused, then back again. Very dramatic, very irony.
Women's innocence as a tired metaphor, Mensah thinks irritably, and resolves to mention that to Kim before any more of her fundamental beliefs are shaped by this fucking show. Real choices are made in the shadows, she wants to explain. Even open and democratic elections can't diminish the human tendency to conspire in smoky rooms, to step out into the open air with the fate of worlds quietly decided. Even in the Preservation session court, Murderbot's sentience was granted in the course of a day's judicial business. It was a small thing to grant a life.
Kim watches her mother watching the trial episodes, and there's a pensive, unreadable expression on her face. "Are you okay?" she says, after a while. "Like – you know it's all just shit, right."
Mensah wants to snap back tartly that if it is, why does she know every detail about every subplot and why is she willing to explain them at the slightest provocation (and, on that note, why must she write so much fanfic in her notebooks when she should be studying). And then she doesn't say any of those things. "I'm worried about some things," she admits. "Your show – it reminded me."
"Sure," Kim says, and it isn't dismissive. She makes more popcorn. "You wanna do one more? The next one's good, there's a power outage and they have to huddle for warmth."
Mensah thinks that sounds great.
Dear Murderbot: Kim aced her finals. I promised her a trip offworld so maybe I won't write for a while.
Her radio silence is also because she's hit episode one hundred and one, which is the last episode, which is where the big break up happens, and that's it, there's no more episodes.
"You couldn't have seen that coming?" Kim asks, with the world-weariness of great age. "Like - you thought it'd be a happy ending all tied off with a bow? Seriously?"
"Yes!" Mensah says, and resolves to make Kim watch Synthetics Love Soya as soon as possible.
When they get back, Gonzales has got his tax breaks in. All fourteen of them he wanted: for initial public offerings and long-established corporate entities; for basic overheads and for start-up costs; for small, medium, large and very large enterprises; for an indefinite period of time with immediate effect. It was rushed in while Mensah wasn't around and it's not very clear how the votes were gathered across the Alliance legislature over such a short period of time.
People have opinions about it. It's every outlet's headline story. People are excited, cautious, indifferent. Some of them don't understand the implications. Some of them very much do.
Mensah reads the briefing notes and thinks she's going to cry again, and then doesn't. She puts them down and starts making plans for what she's going to do next.
Dear Murderbot, I believe in self-determination and autonomy and humanity.
The company are not going to fuck with us.
Kim isn't into the whole cybernetic barista thing. The tech looks so dated. (Mensah thinks she just doesn't appreciate quality when she sees it.) So they've picked another show alongside, a new one about a science survey on an uncharted moon. It's not great, but they leave it on in the background while Mensah goes through the market analyses she's commissioned for the planetary administration, and Kim does her reading for her classes.
It's a lot of reading. She's decided to major in economics.
Murderbot, seriously, Mensah writes. It's supposed to be on this completely unexplored planetoid in orbit around a gas giant, but they all wear stacked heels and seduce each other in their off-hours. I don't know how anyone gets any work done.
I have so much work to do.
The letters might be reaching Murderbot, or they might not. It's okay. They will be here, Mensah and her people. If Murderbot comes back one day, it can read all its letters all at once.