Shaking Off the Prime | S. Beaton

One less than a power of two.

Shaking Off the Prime

S. Beaton

Insufficient Credit Award


“What fun, a Mersenne prime on the team,” The attendant clipped a keycard zip cord to 127’s utility belt. 127 felt the intent of her unsolicited help was not flirtatious. Her slow enunciation rankled. “Those happen when-”

“I know what they are.”

Her sympathetic smile dimmed,  red lips thinning. “Have fun watching over those freaks. Night.” She turned about on her pumps and disappeared through glass doors.

127 carded into the server room. In the dark, rows of techs stared at their screens, unmoving but for the scrolling of their spindly fingers around a holodex. The light projected on the techs dyed them a ghostly white in the dark.Their calculations never ceased. Tick tick tick on the holodex, one hard-boiled life and onto the next. Digits.

127 made his feet move. He wondered, looking at the screens of his ghoul-like charges, who would be the one to extricate the life of his late wife from his own. From their linked credit, how would her value be disentangled and discarded? Which wraith would recalculate his new name on three tumblers?

He saw that they only watched a single person for several beats, never lingering. What would be included? Her soft braids maybe, or him helping her sit up to eat breakfast. She had been so self-deprecating about pulling him down sub-200, but after he convinced her of his surety, she sang the cutest jingle about Mersenne primes and the eponymous mathematician. She would play for the last time, several long beats, and then the servers would dispose of her in the next RAM dump.

127 decided not to look at the screens anymore after that first route. The empty techs’ faces on the second, the towering servers on the third. On his fiftieth route, the techs began to pack up and leave mechanically. They did not disturb their neighbors. 127 learned that they looked as wraith-like in proper light as in the dark. Perhaps the piercing light really did fade them.

Soon, all the techs had gone. But he heard an odd whirling noise, a repetitive clunk clunk clunk. At the very end of all the rows was one small light, winking in and out through the interruption of a body. A young man was propelling himself in circular motion by the pumping of his legs.

“What are you doing?” 127 asked. The young man squawked and pinwheeled dangerously for a moment. He lolled his head around, discombobulated.

“I’m shaking off,” he said, and began to sweep his hands down his arms in dusting motions.

“Shaking off what?” 127 tried for polite concern.

“The essence, you know, it builds up during a shift.” He began to shake his head this way and that, as though there were water plugging his ears.

127 looked down at himself. “Is there any, ah, essence, on me?”

The young man rolled his eyes. “Of course not. You’ve been walking all night.”

“If you say so,” 127 said.

“You’ll learn soon enough.” The young man heaved himself out of his chair. He groaned as he stretched his long legs. When he turned his screen off, the room was bathed in a dim red light.

127 escorted him out of the server room, and saw that the young man looked radically different than his co-workers. Every bit of him shone brighter: his amber eyes, his red shirt, his skin. It might have been a trick of the light, but maybe this essence he spoke of really did wash out the other techs.

The young man made to open the glass doors, but then looked back. “What’s your name?”


“No, not-” There appeared a shrewdness in his eye as he examined 127. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

127 was abruptly reminded that this young man judges people’s value every night. It was an odd thing to forget so quickly. He nodded sharply.

“But also, that’s not what I meant. Your name, I want it.” A private smile spread on the young man’s face. “For example, mine’s Luka.”

127 understood. A relic of the past, before his time, and certainly from before the time of this young tech. “I don’t have one, of course.”

“Oh?” Luka squinted, tilted his head, then held up one spindly finger. “You look like an Abel.”

127 hesitated. “Okay. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. See you tomorrow, Abel.” Luka pushed through the glass doors.

127, or Abel, maybe, set about closing the facility, feeling unmistakably as though he had been given a gift.