“What We Keep”

Short Story by Ava Reiss

Mansako replaced a joint in his hip. It had been loose for a while, but they had lost track of the repair kit. He debated heavily on whether it was even worth the time. True, the worn joint made walking troublesome, but they wouldn’t be on Earth much longer. He and half-dozen individuals were the Record Keepers. The last human consciousness on Earth.

            When the kit turned up during moving, he thought, “Sure, why not?”

            They routinely moved deeper into the tunnels. The large structures once held other names, but Mansako couldn’t recall. It was lost information. So they referred to the tunnels by letters.

            When the sun had started to expand, plans were initiated to move to Mars. The effort needed to be coordinated, but the nations of Earth struggled to find agreement. They argued over what country should inhabit which section of Mars. Blood was shed. In the meantime, much of civilization moved underground to escape radiation.

            When a deal was finally struck and terraforming began on the red planet, the Earth was barely sustainable. Most surviving humans left in a hurry.

Yet, there was consensus none wanted their history to perish with the Earth.

            Thus, the Record Keepers volunteered to have their consciousness transferred into android forms. They would remain behind, without need for food and water. Daily, they worked to record and transmit Earth’s history to databases on Mars.

Centuries passed and their work was nearly complete, and in good time too. Even their artificial bodies could no longer survive the surface of Earth. They had anticipated this, and moved many artifacts underground. At their leisure, they could continue their work. Once their task was finished, each would transmit themselves to another robotic form on Mars.

Mansako lifted his box of personal belongings and marched into tunnel D. He stared at the mishmash: A baseball from his childhood. A fossil. A lock of hair. The rest were handwritten letters. The arcane practice became a fad around the time the exodus to Mars had occurred. He had a lover and she hadn’t wanted him to stay. But Mansako felt it validated him to become a Record Keeper.

He scratched his head. Not that he had any hair. It was a tic from his behavioral code. Mansako couldn’t precisely recall the feeling of validation

“Fernia cried a lot,” Mansako recalled her saying so in the letters. He knew it should bother him but… it didn’t. He also wasn’t sure why he kept the letters. Mansako knew logically they were personal. But realistically, he felt no attachment. They were merely another stack of things he would scan to Mars.

Yet, parting with them seemed wrong. Perhaps it was another behavioral tic.

“Fernia died four hundred years ago…”

In the last letter to him, she said he had changed. That he wasn’t human anymore. Mansako didn’t understand what she meant. She broke up with him shortly after. He looked her up years later. He saw she had married and birthed three children. It was something she once described as her dream of a happy life. He felt satisfied for her.

Mansako’s happiness was in preserving human history.

He thought about smiling and the code for simulating joy was triggered. His android form would’ve reflected the thought, except his face coils were damaged. Half of his features sagged, unresponsive.

Mansako saw the other Record Keepers gathered around large metal tubes. Tunnel D had mostly been unexplored, and there were things left behind by previous inhabitants. His coworkers were peering into one tube with a glass window. Mansako set his box down and joined his coworkers. There were eight tubes in all, attached to a computing unit. Five were empty. Two held corpses.

The last one contained a perfectly preserved woman.

Tatiana was attempting to find an interface port with the mainframe. “I can attempt syncing one of my OS’ to see what information I can glean.” 

Loosil found one first. “I can do it,” he offered.

“Please,” Tatiana responded.

Loosil connected, and a moment later, he announced, “The meta data is damaged. I don’t know who she is. But she was a cryogenic experiment to a company that folded before the exodus. In the hurry, they abandoned her.”

“What do we do?” Tatiana asked.

“Simple,” Mansako responded. “She is a part of history. So we will transmit her consciousness as we do with all history. We will message Mars ahead of time and inform them to prepare an artificial body.”

“Appropriate suggestion,” Loosil commended.

“We must first wake her so we can copy her brain activity,” Tatiana said.

Loosil’s eyes flashed green as he interfaced again. “I have retrieved awakening procedures. Commencing now.”

Mansako and the others gathered curiously. None had seen a biological being in centuries.

There was a hiss and the metal tube vented gas. The top half lifted. Mansako’s sensors detected nitrogen and oxygen levels from before the exodus. He leaned his face close to get a better reading. Marveling at the state of the atmosphere from the past, he didn’t pay attention to the waking woman.

There was a moan. As the biological being tried to sit up, she bumped into Mansako. “Ow! What is this? A weird floor lamp?” She grabbed Mansako’s arm.

“Excuse me,” he shifted his eyes to her. Mansako felt the left one stick at an awkward angle. Those darn face coils.

Her lips opened and a shrill sound echoed off the walls of tunnel D.

The androids raced forward, concerned their biological being was injured. They had a wealth of medical knowledge in their databases, and were eager to assist.

The woman jumped behind the tube in a spry action. Mansako didn’t recall humans typically moving that fast. Perhaps something had frightened her and her sympathetic nervous system kicked in.

“Please, we’re here to help,” Tatiana spoke.

A slew of curse words exploded from the biological woman’s mouth. Followed by, “ROBOTS HAVE TAKEN OVER THE WORLD!” She found a deteriorated leg on the ground. Loosil had tossed it yesterday. She swung it wildly, catching Schemus in the head. His skull came loose and rolled beneath a table.

Mansako sighed. It wasn’t going to be easy to reattach. It might be a good thing for Schemus though. One of his vertebrae had been locking and he couldn’t look to the right. They could correct it during reattachment.

The woman continued swinging. The Record Keepers stayed back, trying to prevent future repairs.

“Please listen,” Loosil attempted to soothe. “We’re here to help send you to Mars.”

She stopped swinging. The leg held tenuously between her and the Record Keepers. “Did everyone finally go?” she demanded.

“Yes, and we’re going to send you there too. If you’d cooperate.”

She gulped, “Okay. Where’s the ship?”

“What ship?” Loosil asked.

“The ship to Mars!” Her grip tightened and her face grew red. Mansako tilted his head, fascinated by her change in mood.

“There is no ship. We are sending you there the same way we will be leaving Earth. By transmitting your consciousness.”

Her brow lowered, “There’s no ship?”

“No. They all left five hundred years ago.”

The broken android leg started swinging again. The woman dashed out of the tunnel. “Get me outta here!” she screamed.

“You cannot go above ground!” Mansako called after her. “You will die and we will melt before our assignment is complete!”

“She’s headed towards the gate to tunnel C,” Loosil declared, tracking her position through the walls with heat-seeking vision. Tunnel C sat above tunnel D, and was from there they had moved.

“That’s alright. Biological forms will tire eventually,” Tatiana spoke optimistically.

“You sealed the exits to tunnel B, correct?” Schemus’ voice came from underneath the table. Tunnel B had become uninhabitable for even androids. Their heat-seeking vision showed nothing there but a sea of red.

The Record Keepers exchanged looks. “I did not,” each took turns saying.

“Why would we need to? We all know better than to reenter tunnel B,” Loosil responded.

Tatiana gulped, “But she doesn’t.”

The Record Keepers galvanized in unison, all dashing and calling for the biological form to stop.

As Mansako ran, his hip started to lock. He hadn’t greased it yet. The uneven pacing made him trip and he hobbled behind the rest. He passed by artifacts of tunnel C and felt his code for pride activate. Their information had all been transmitted to Mars. Their work was so close to completion. Tunnel D was the last.

As he neared the gate to tunnel B, his sensors went on the fritz. His gauges detected high temperatures, and he saw artifacts instantaneously incinerate. “Tunnel B has been breached!”

Mansako froze in his tracks. A difficult decision stood before him. He could head back to tunnel D and attempt to seal himself in. Hopefully in time to save the artifacts. Then, it would just be him and Schemus finishing the assignment.

Mansako gazed towards the red spewing from a circular door. Or he could seal the gate to tunnel B and save what Record Keepers he could. His body might hold up to the challenge.

Fernia surfaced in his thoughts. She had said that he left her behind. That he should feel guilty. Mansako wasn’t sure what type of synthetic body was waiting for him on Mars. But if it had a guilt processor, he didn’t want to trigger it.

He staggered towards tunnel B.

Before he turned the last corner, the temperature dropped.

When Mansako approached the gate, he saw android forms melted against the frame. They had managed to shut it. The biological woman was nowhere to be seen. Not surprising. No trace of her could’ve withstood the temperature of tunnel B. It was unexpected that she even survived tunnel C. It ran around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps chemicals from her cryogenic state still ran in her body, dulling pain receptors.

Mansako inspected his friends’ CPUs. To his chagrin, most were fried beyond salvaging. Only Loosil and Tatiana’s appeared hopeful. Mansako carefully cradled them in his palm. With a sigh, he limped back to tunnel D.

On the way, he deliberately sealed tunnel C.

“What happened?” Schemus cried. “There was a ruckus, then lots of flammables disappeared in here! And you!” Schemus tried to roll out from under the table. He rocked feebly. “You appear half-melted!”

Startled by Schemus’ words, Mansako ran to his box. The baseball was a charred orb. The fossil cracked. All of Fernia’s letters and her lock of hair were gone.

Mansako sighed. A code was tripped, one he hadn’t thought of in a long time. He became debilitated.

He slowly realized it wasn’t that the words of her letters and genome sequence were gone. No. He had those scanned into his personal database. What was missing was the connection to her. Fernia had touched those papers. The hair was compiled by her cells and blew against her cheek. When Mansako stroked it, it activated a memory code in a different way than if he merely thought of brushing her hair.

Mansako stared dumbfounded at the artifacts surrounding him. “Schemus?”


“Has it ever occurred to you we’ve only been sending shadows to Mars? That the real history of people lies in the very objects themselves?”
            “I don’t know Mansako. Why are you speaking like this?”

Mansako walked to his friend and retrieved his head. He set him carefully on a lopsided table. “We’ve been ‘alive’ for five centuries. Yet, why are the things we keep in our memory boxes all from before that time?”

“Thank you.” Schemus said as Mansako placed a stone carving to keep his head from sliding off. He blinked thoughtfully, “Are you saying to be alive is form new memories?”

“No. Because I can remember in crystal clarity every item we’d documented. They’re new memories, on old things. Totems that have built empires, and stood for hope… icons of monumental significance to masses.” Mansako scratched his head. “But I haven’t been able to trigger my emotional code unless it’s in relation to something in my personal past.”

There was a moment of silence. Schemus then asked, “Are you saying we died for nothing?” His brow furrowed, distraught.

Mansako unfurled his titanium fingers and gazed at Tatiana and Loosil’s chips. He retrieved an image of their biological forms, photos taken five hundred years ago. A wave of sentimentality swept over him, reminding briefly of a quality Fernia described as ‘human.’

“I don’t know,” Mansako spoke wistfully. “But why do we keep what we keep if the significance is something to be shared between people? Shouldn’t the memory of it be enough?”

About the Story:

Ava dreamt most of the story, especially parts about the sun expanding and transmitting consciousness to Mars. She also dreamt of the biological woman awaking from a cryogenic state to discover the world was no longer how she left it. In the dream, there was more going on with the woman being terrified of the androids and trying to breach the surface. Ava dusted the story with attributes of herself battling pack rat tendencies. She’s paranoid she’ll become a hoarder, buried in stuff she’s convinced holds sentimental value.

The End

To read more from this anthology, Ava’s Short Short’s can be purchased on Amazon: here


post by: Ava Reiss

Hello friends! Ticana and I decided not to adhere to a schedule anymore when it comes blogging. Whenever we feel there’s something worth saying, or updating about our work, we’ll post. That being said…

In being an indie author, one of the most important aspects is choosing where to dedicate my time. I’ve got lots of stories churning in my mind. Placing the ideas onto paper (or word processor) is easy. The hard part is rewriting, and editing to ensure everything is as cohesive as one person can manage it to be. It takes a tremendous amount of time. And I still have responsibilities in my usual life.

In prioritizing my time on writing, it doesn’t leave a lot for promotion. I’m asking that you kindly spread my existence to your fellow readers through word of mouth. Or hitting that share button!
As a gift for the holidays, I will be posting five of my short stories starting on Thanksgiving. I will post one story each Thursday from November 26th, until Christmas Eve (December 24th).
If you could please share these stories (and this post), I will be exceedingly grateful.
If you don’t want to wait to read these stories, you can find them on Amazon right now: click here

The short story anthology Ava’s Short Shorts should be $0.99 through kindle, or free through kindleunlimited. The paperback version is also available for $8.95.
It’s got little doodle illustrations of mine in there as well. I’ll be posting those as well with the short stories starting November 26th.
Thank you!

Hiatus Announcement

Post by Ava Reiss

Hello friends. Thank you for your continued support through these trying times. Until further notice, I’ll not be contributing to monthly posts. Ticana Zhu will still be posting bi-monthly.

There’s nothing wrong. I just feel Cycles of the Lights has taken over my life. As much as I’ve loved it, I feel as if I’ve been missing out. My cats vie for my attention, and in other areas, I feel a bit lacking.

I might’ve created universes and expanded entire existences, but my “real” one has been slow. Since our time on Earth is limited, I thought I should balance out where I spend my focus.

Book II in Cycles of the Lights– The Seed of Life is still due out next January 28th.

Thank you!

Reincarnation Considerations

post by: Ava Reiss
Starting in June 2020, we will be posting once per month, alternating between Ava Reiss and Ticana Zhu. Blog posts will appear the first Tuesday of the month.

I’m not certain I believe in reincarnation 100%. I do most of the time. Yet, when it comes down to it, the lack of proof stops me from accepting completely. There is no quantifiable evidence that can be measured and retested.

Let’s say—for sake of argument—that reincarnation is indeed fact. How does it work?

Is there a white light? Or are we merely drifting consciousness when we die?

I recall one conversation years ago, where my counterpart was surprised that I believed we could reincarnate as different races. He felt there was some sort of clan karma. To his credit, he was leaning towards non-believer. I tried to frame the concept that souls know no races. It’s simply a collection of unconscious experiences (to put simply).

This brings me to Brian Weiss, author of Many Lives, Many Masters, and a few other books on reincarnation. I can’t recall the title of the other book I read. It’s been some years. Anyway, in one of his books, he states that reincarnation is down through the family. That your past lives were shared with your current family members. I feel that if reincarnation is true, that is an exceedingly limited belief. (His books are still good, and worth a read)

I’m also a believer of statistics. Particularly the ones that state it’s unlikely were the only sentient creatures in the universe. One woman I spoke with was surprised that I believed we could incarnate across planets. She’s a believer of reincarnation, and extraterrestrial sentience. We never got to finish our conversation as the evening had moved on. I was curious if she’d thought that each planet, or solar system had their own rules of reincarnation.

I didn’t realize how radical my theories were. That we, as souls, could reincarnate anywhere in the universe. Alien planets included. Or perhaps they’re not, and I need to consider the fact that I live in a more-or-less conservative Midwest city. Remains to be seen.

Anyway, I had put my ideas into my novels. They are the mechanic that drives the plot and characters. The series is dubbed Cycles of the Lights. Yes, there are some kitchy things. Such as souls being little balls of floating light. I don’t think we’d really look like that. However… I paid homage the fortune cookie fortune that inspired me to start writing… “A book is a ball of light in the reader’s hand.”

Before I go, I should mention what I put into my novels as the main driver of reincarnation: Karmic debt. There are little strings of debt between souls. It’s a vast and holistic network across the universe. (There is a multiverse, but I if I talk about that now, I’m getting ahead of myself). A soul reincarnates towards the biggest draw of debt .It’s like gravity, however. Sometimes, a more immediate situation can draw them in due to proximity.

If you’re curious about more, please check out the first novel in the series: Fall of Ima. The second book, The Seed of Life is due out January 28th, 2021.

This is not a sponsored post.

I’m Alive

Post by Ticana Zhu

My apologies for the late post. With so many things occurring on a global scale, I struggled to organize my thoughts. I’m doing well, however. No real complaints. My shelter is secure—for now. I have plenty to eat and new pets. ​(But not eat the new pets XD)

Writing is not progressing, but I have found respite in the quite moments of the day. My novels are nearly complete. I merely feel they lack a certain finesse. Once I feel better about them, they’ll roll into production. It’s the quite moments that allow me to reflect deeply and identify what’s missing.

There’s not much else of interest to report. I did have a thought the other day. That our lives here on Earth are as fleeting as a glimmer on the crest of a wave. That our existence runs so much deeper. As deep as the ocean. I fear death, yes I do. But I can’t help but wonder what lies on the other side. It could be nothing. Then what would I worry about? It could be nightmares. Or, it could be finite peace. As in, a peace that never ends. I’m sure the truth is someplace in between.

Take care, everyone.

This is not a sponsored post.

Junk Journaling

post by: Ava Reiss
Starting in June 2020, we will be posting once per month, alternating between Ava Reiss and Ticana Zhu. Blog posts will appear the first Tuesday of the month.

I recently discovered Junk Journaling. This is right up my alley, since I like to keep little pieces of things that inspire me. It might be the design of a buckle, or a piece of ribbon. Ever since I was little, I would take breaks from homework and look through some things I’ve collected. Most of it was indeed junk. It ultimately ended in the trash. However, I’d like to think that it found some appreciated with me before it parted ways.

Nowadays, it’s my concern for growing waste in the world. I try to hold onto things for a few days or weeks. There might be an instance where I could use it as a quick patch for something. I’ve got so many pasta and jam jars filled. The jars themselves I like to decorate in my free time. Most have been given away. I’ve been making them less and less since free time had been slim.

I had always appreciated the pieces and odds-and-ends as art, but it had never occurred to me to use them as art. Now with more free time, I’d like to see what exploring would bring! Stay tuned to see my progress! Don’t forget to check out my books on!

The Moon

post by: Ticana Zhu
Starting in June 2020, we will be posting once per month, alternating between Ava Reiss and Ticana Zhu. Blog posts will appear the first Tuesday of the month.

It’s perhaps the moon that first started my interest in science-fiction. I thought asteroids were merely lost moons, without planets. That was where le Petit Prince resided. I wanted to live on “a moon” with a soft glow. A place near twilight when dreams are sweetest.

There’s always been something comforting about the moon. That it’s been there to see the birth of humanity, and will be there long after we’re gone. (Unless something unpredictably catastrophic occurs.)

A song I grew up listening to had a line that went something like, “The moon walks beside me.” It indeed feels like a companion at times. A un-judging presence offering at the very least a guiding light on the darkest of nights when streetlights falter. With the exception of the nights when it rests. Yet even on those dark nights when it renews itself, it gives us quarter to let out our darkest selves. If anything, to merely face our murkiness. Recognize, contend with, and accept a difficult truth.

At most, it offers up a feeling of freedom. Freedom in knowing that in comparison to its presence, we are nothing. Freedom to know that even if we amount to nothing, it will still continue to watch over us, un-judging. That we will all be forgotten, but it will not.

With the nihilistic concept translated to day-to-day, it allows us to take a breath, and not push so hard. Even if we can reincarnate, and our souls are eternal, the life we’re in now—in the state it’s in now—cannot last forever. Each person should take that to mean whatever they wish. I choose to see it as a reminder to live in the present. We never know when life can end.

With Covid-19 ravaging the planet and usual operations interrupted, we’re all granted a breather. I recognize this isn’t entirely a fair statement. Many are stressed out of their minds, trying to figure out how to pay the bills without employment. Those who are employed are adjusting to new methods. Whether it’s telecommuting, educating children from home, or added safety precautions. Yet, it’s undeniable that even if it’s not a “pause” button, the speed of things have certainly slowed.

I, for one, had been trying to use this time to push ahead. But the truth is, though some sectors are denying the effects of the Covid-19, it will run into roadblocks where it intersects with other industries. Because of this, I’ve been spinning in circles, moving little. It’d be frustrating.

It finally occurred to me to ease up on the gas pedal. To accept that things are outside my control. I simple poured myself a drink, and sat beneath the moon. Basking in its loving glow.

Wishing you all better times.

Ava’s Short Shorts

post by: Ava Reiss
Starting in June 2020, we will be posting once per month, alternating between Ava Reiss and Ticana Zhu. Blog posts will appear the first Tuesday of the month.

My anthology, Ava’s Short Shorts silently went live in March. There was little press about it, since it would hardly make a dent with Covid-19 absorbing all headlines. I was a bit concerned, but then remembered to count my blessings. I’m not sick. Neither is anyone I care about. (*knocks on wood)

Most of my book sales came from events. Book shows, art shows (I sell my art prints), and readings. These have all been canceled, or delayed until further notice. Effectively, my writing career has gone on hold. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. This space allows me to recharge, and gain perspective on my work. I could write smaller things as exercises, to return to a spring of inspiration.

Ava’s Short Shorts is filled with some late night (or early morning) writing exercises from over the years. Developed of course. It was nice to work on those, and step away from my Cycles of the Lights series. But I hadn’t written anything new in two years. Nothing substantial, anyway. I’ve been in deep editing-mode. I’m hoping in the coming months, I can reconnect to my creative source.

Some of the short stories in Ava’s Short Shorts are a bit quirky. In “What We Keep,” androids left behind on a dying Earth discover a cryogenically frozen woman. They wake her and she falls into hysterics. The androids hadn’t considered how frightening they appeared with their disintegrating bodies. With the last human on earth in a heightened emotional state, she threatens all they’ve been working towards.

Then, there are tales with serious tones. “Runaway” is about two teenage friends, who’ve known each other since childhood. Both love the other dearly, but their own feelings of insufficiency keep them apart. It paints how there is more than one way to run away.

“Through the Rainbow” is another serious one. It’s weaves modern-day mythology with an LGBTQ theme.

“Fractured Shadows” is sci-fi. “Finding Ada” is post-apocalyptic, and “Imaginary Jace” is a playful, heart-warming tale about a flustered, fly-on-the-wall kinda girl.

I’m hoping as this pandemic dies down, these stories will find their readers.

Ghost or Coincidence?

post by Ava Reiss

A former friend passed away recently. It wasn’t from Covid-19. I heard it was from kidney complications. He had moved out of state, so we didn’t keep in touch.

Before he left, we had a falling out. It had to do with my cat; the one I modeled Mantou after. Mantou is a character in my Space Tigers children’s book. My cats’ favorite toy is a shoe string tied to a stick. This former friend tied the shoe string to Mantou’s tail. She tore through the house, nearly having a heart attack. It took me a while to catch her. Mantou eventually cowered in a corner in the basement. Her little heart was drumming too fast and her eyes were terrified. The stick rattling behind her made her thing she was being chased.

Just a few nights after this guy passed, Mantou got herself caught in a plastic bag. That bag had been sitting in the same, open spot for nearly two years. My cats don’t care for plastic bags in the eight years I’ve had them. They see them all the time, but have better toys.

The handle was looped around her. Again, Mantou tore through the house, knocking things over. I found her trembling in the basement like before. Those were the only two times anything has ever spooked her.

She’s alright. Just needed some soothing words and a good head rub.

It’s likely this was all a coincidence. But I couldn’t help but say a loud, and a smidge sadly, “Goodbye, Asshole.”

Inevitable Creativity Block

post by Ticana Zhu

These past few weeks have been rough. I’ve hit creativity block pretty badly. It shouldn’t be that surprising, because I have a bad habit of taking on too much. Yet, I’m the type of person who loves to live inside her head—a place where the stories never die. I thought the inspiration would keep going. I had hit a sweet drift in “the zone.”

However, tedious day-to-day things have carved away my time. It’s forced me to use my left brain. Things to deal with changes in insurance. Decisions around the house, and getting finances in order. Things that are far from creative. Little by little, I thought less and less about my stories. I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to coast in “the zone” of effortless imagination.

Lo and behold. My manuscript—about 80% done in its final edit—has just been sitting open on my computer.

Dynasty of Summer has by far the most positive feedback from beta readers. It’s about a princess who has accepted the role given to women in her society. She’s obedient, prepared to marry for a treaty between empires. Yet the turmoil surrounding her empire has her attacked on her journey to her betrothed. She finds herself amongst bandits, and presumed deceased by her father, the Emperor.

The princess (Summer) ends up finding power in her own right. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers.

I started this novel in 2012. It kept getting interrupted by life… Getting married… buying a house… switching jobs… At one point, when I picked it back up, I had forgotten that I’d actually finished the first draft!

I keep telling myself I’ll push through. That this story will be done this year. I even set a June deadline and a September release date. I’m hoping things work out. The story hasn’t had the best track record.

I will say this. Unlike other stories I’ve written that evolves over time, forcing me to go back and make structural changes, this one has remained true to its core.

Now… if I can only get past this creativity block…

This is not a sponsored post. Ava Reiss posts every first Tuesday of the month. Ticana Zhu posts every third Tuesday.