Blue Jumpers

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

They call them Blue Jumpers. I’ve also heard them referred to as the Kangaroos.

It’s a space version of the Screaming Meemies or the Heebie Jeebies except that it happens in low gravity atmospheres. You get carried away with how high you can jump and something snaps in the simian, as they say.

You start going for a record with a smile on your face and a clenched-teeth scream coming out of you like a human kettle. With all your strength you bound skywards over and over again, forgetting that flight is impossible and that landing is the hard part. Acceleration and mass and all those nasty physics stay in place.

Most people just get broken legs but some of them rupture their envirosuits and die.

That’s why the habitats have low ceilings. That’s why the observation booths have nets across them.

It’s for your own good.

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My Moon

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I used to be a very technical person. People can get to a level of reliance on their stealth tech that can end in their death.

Like the wide-eyed 20-year-old quivering around the shaft of my spear.

Her camsuit flickers like a broken wall display before becoming the sharkskin grey of an inactive unit.

Her struggles become more reflexive than conscious and she dies looking at me with the question in her eyes, “How did you know?”

The cheap bubble gum wafts out of her open mouth behind the slats of her face-shield. It helped me pinpoint her.

Sometimes the pros can get caught out in rookie mistakes caused by over confidence and a belief in invincibility brought on by too many victories.

I saw it happen to all of my friends when the government tried to expunge us. One by one, the hardest and smartest of my friends were taken out by weapons that fried their electronics or scrambled their communications.

We’d been the long knives of that organization. We’d killed a lot of people. We left no witnesses. And now that empire was killing the only witnesses left.

Us.

I carry no tech now. I had my biologicals reinstalled after I fled the capital, before I bought black market ferry passage to this deserted planetoid.

I am painted in the dark blue berry juice and mud that helps me disappear into the terrain here and masks my heat. I survive by killing and eating. I have been here for six months. I need nothing.

I had lulled myself into believing I’d have more time. That I’d fooled them. Or that they figured one last lonely soldier wouldn’t matter.

I push her body off the harpoon with my foot. It makes a wet, heavy sound hitting the ground. This rock’s blue scavenger insects are already making their way towards the body.

I wasn’t dead so she must have been alone, a recon scout or something, probably expecting to be bored.

It won’t be long until her absence is noted on the download box and they send out the word that they’ve found the defector.

I head back to my tree to enact the defenses.

This is my moon.

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Star-shaped Star

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The pendant dances slowly in the air currents, attached to one of the safety release handles on the top wall of the cockpit or what groundfolk would call a ‘ceiling’. It was given to me by my daughter before liftoff. She was four at the time. I’ll probably never see her again.

There are sixteen of these pendants around the ship. Different shapes and sizes and all from different colonies. All daughters. I wonder what the odds are on that? I should enter it into the computer later.

Little girls don’t have much imagination when it comes to giving gifts to a father from the stars. Their mothers don’t have much either, come to think of it. Outpost women see me as exotic and attractive just because I drive a truck through space. I’m grateful. I just wish the work schedule wouldn’t force me to leave and that relativistic speeds didn’t age them like fruit from my perspective as soon as I left.

The little girl who gave me the first of these pendants died centuries ago. The last one, Amanda, she’s probably seven now even though I only left her mom’s rock one month ago. I always toy with bringing them along on the trip but the truck’s cramped and it’s no place for a little kid or a family.

I tell them all I’ll be back. They all give me something to remember them by. I never see them again.

I don’t really understand the gifts. Stars are shaped like balls but each of these pendants has points on them. Some of them only have four or five points. The one with the most has sixteen, all wavy lines. Most basic science in these colonies tell the people there that stars are hot spheres yet the jewelry and icons all have points. Maybe it’s to represent the glitter that I don’t see up here with no atmosphere between me and the universe.

Knowing that most of my daughters have probably passed on makes these little metal stars into headstones in a way, but I try not to think about that.

I suppose it’s better than having a bunch of plain balls floating around the cabin.

I wonder why they’d give me a representation of something that I can see a million of out of my front windshield. The last thing I want to see is another star.

And yet I keep them.

There’s a whole constellation of daughters here in my lonely ship, looking at me silently as I float from room to room.

I’ve never seen a star-shaped star.

And they’ve never seen a father.

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Bioforms

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The ship had recently shaved a comet at close to metaspeed. Nowhere near light but still enough to cause pretty serious damage.

With silicates, sparks would be flying around the cabin. Since they’d used the bios instead, it was juices and blood. The pilot was metal but the ship was meat.

He was ankle deep in a dying craft and aiming for a rest stop.

Something bubbled up on the monitor in front of him: a course to a hot rock that was close. It had an atmosphere that would support the ship but would eventually kill him if the repairs didn’t get finished in time.

He knew that he was the expendable part of the mission. It was a gamble. He squeezed the ‘yes’ organ beside the chair and the ship lurched sideways on the new course.

The hot rock came closer on the screen as the humidity inside the ship increased along with the rising fluid levels closing around him.

The ship tore down through the atmosphere, igniting as it went. The outer shell layers hardened and then shriveled as the ship sped closer to impact.

The ship hit the ocean a few hundred meters away from the coast.

The impact tested its structural integrity and found it wanting.

It cracked open like an egg into boiling water.

The pilot sank down beneath the waves. He needed no air to survive but the salt content in the water would rust him solid if he didn’t get to shore quickly. He hit the bottom and started walking shoreward in the darkness.

It took him six hours to get to the beach.

The remains of the ship washed up around him. He collected what he could find in the surf and put it all into a wet pile.

He connected what umbilicals he could find to the main processor organs and waited for a wetboot to start.

He waited for a week until the air on the planet oxidized him to the brainpan. Days later, he fell forward in pieces with a rattle into the pile of bioship remains.

The rains and heat mixed them further into a soup over the course of the next month.

Bioforms are adaptable.

They couldn’t perform at a macro level so they set about making adjustments at a molecular level, stealing from the available materials to make simpler self-propagating one-celled organic copies. They did this for years, using up the entire reserves of composting organic bioship and pilot mineral compounds at their disposal.

The volcanoes cooled over the next few millennia. The one-celled organisms became more complex. They adapted to life on the surface with the idea of building a ship to go further buried deep in their DNA.

We are the descendants of this ship. Every living thing on the planet is a result of an attempt to build a ship that failed. All evolutionary trees are attempts to create more ships or ship builders. Our duality, our two sexes, our inner yearning of something unfinished and our hybrid nature. We are coded at the most basic level to be what we are. We are the closest that the builders have come.

We have been programmed to leave and continue the journey.

We will do so.

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Tyrania

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

It’s a little ticklish when the needles go in but the anesthetic keeps her from moving. It keeps her laughing on the inside.

Grown from a vat of jaguar with a splash of greyhound and a swirl of human, she’s extremely thin and toothy. This is her last treatment before she’s shipped off to Overman Ranker’s Field Farms for training.

She’ll be part of an Assassin’s Guild nick-named The Circus. All of the killers are animal hybrids. The term ‘guild’ is a bit of a misnomer. ‘Kennel’ would be more accurate. The assassins are little more than happy pets that are conditioned to be stealthy and to kill without mercy.

An animal’s nose full of the scent from the victim’s clothing is much more efficient than a photograph/dossier when it comes to tracking a man down in the dark.

Tyrania is two years old. She’s either happy or in pain. No other emotions exist within her. The pain of punishment tells her what not to do. Right now, she’s happy. The spinal tap keeps her immobilized while the nanozomes do their knitting and pearling to the building blocks of her epidermis.

After training, she’ll be able to pass for human. The skeletal creature on the table with dark spots dotting the long, grey fur will become something more akin to human when the process is finished.

She’ll be killing in the higher classes. It’s the bear-and-croc mods that they send to the poor places.

Her long nails are retracted and painted a garish red. The newborn killers always choose cosmetics that look like blood on their nails and lips. It’s comforting to them. It’s frightening to see them smile in the mirror after their first reward of makeup. More often than not, they’ve smeared a line of lipstick around their lips. The eyes glass over with the dreams of blood as they tilt their head at their reflection.

They get trained to be human on the Field Farm. I mean, they get trained to kill people in any number of ways with the aid of mental downloads and grueling days of physical training but they’re also told how to act at the dinner table and how to keep a conversation going.

We teach them to be background. They’re expendable so there’s no exit routes planned when they’re sent on missions.

I miss the ones that don’t come back. I don’t like the ones that do. They change after a successful mission.

This one here, Tyrania, is looking straight up at the ceiling as I prepare the depilatory cream. I’m in her peripheral vision. I give her a wink to reassure her.

She smiles at me.

It’s a smile I see in my nightmares for years. I won’t do that again.

My team and I get to work making her as human as we can and I try not to catch her eye again.

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