Agent 13

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Agent 13 jumped out of the bomb-bay doors of the scrambler jet into silent extended twilight.

He fell for three calm, wind-buffeted minutes before starfishing his teflon squirrelwings out. The wrist-to-ankle elastic bodychute helped him brake with no heat signature before he hit the living hull of a brand new Hindenberg six miles up in the middle of a raincloud.

It was damp to the touch and warm in the rain like a lover’s skin. Agent 13’s goggles irised open wide to light the area he was going to cut.

X-ray flashes gave him an idea of the strutwork underneath and the number of nearby workers walking skeletal on the night shift of the upper levels.

He was surprised by the hundreds of small skeletons hanging upside-down amongst the giant ribs of the airship.

Bats. Well, they could help with the confusion.

Agent 13 knelt on the hull and let the pads of his suit’s knees grip tight to the weave. Leaning back, he extended his arm straight up and fired a wide dispersal of metal spider-silk streamers around him. They were charged with flat electrons. Irresistible to strikes.

Make the lightning come running.

With a sound like the ripping of the world, the lightning struck the hull around Agent 13. He knelt in the middle of the lightstorm and plunged his scalpel-edged fingertips down and through the cheeseclotch, vinyl, and polycarbon.

Air blasted out.

He flipped himself down and through the gap like a diver into the darkness inside. The bats were screaming.

Three workers rushed past him to repair the damage. It would be written up as a lightning strike and forgotten about. Agent 13 was invisible in the shadows with the camcells activated.

He climbed deeper into the shadows and darkness to the heart.

The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
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Sun Surfing

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The red vinyl of the gearshifter was warm from conducting the engine heat. I readjusted my grip on the softening plastic and aimed for the sun. This was gravity surfing at its finest.

The cab of my surfship was alive with luck trinkets. Dice from friends, small engine parts from past crashes, nicks in the windshield denoting dead surfers that I knew. Even the knob on the gearshift was a gift from Johnny Demon back when he was a star and I was a promising upstart.

He told me I had something special.

Well, he’s dead now and he must have seen something that wasn’t there because I’m now old, unfamous, and my surfing runs are cautious. It’s like these surfships are held together by will alone and my will is fading. At the beginning of a shake or a shudder, I pull back and just let myself find the easiest parabola.

The gravity well grabbed hold of me and I started the roller coaster slingshot of mathematical certainty. The trick was to do it without computers. One had to guess from experience and feel the best point in the invisible miasma of gravity to cut one’s engines and just go with it.

There came a point about halfway through the arc where even if one was to turn one’s engines on and try to carve out of the path one was on, it wouldn’t matter. The gravity of the sun was too much. It would be like trying to swim against a tidal wave back on Earth.

The light and radiation from the sun flooded the cab of my surfship. My plants were grateful and lapped it up. I always imagined them telling their plant friends back home about their exotic journeys.

Every year there were a few surfers that wrecked. There were also a few with lush endorsements that dropped out and quit while they were ahead.

And every few years, a surfer winked out.

The thing is with these ships and these shields, there are times when people approach 0.8c of light. Now and again, a surfer steps lightly across that lightspeed boundary and disappears. They wink out.

Logic dictates that they’ve been smeared into greasy atoms but I like to think that they’ve pierced reality with the nose of their ship and gone somewhere else.

This is why I pointed the nose of my ship down to the edge of the horizon for the sharpest hugging curve I’ve ever tried. This was going to be my last run, one way or the other, with one of three outcomes.

Back to earth, up to heaven, or through the fabric of space time to another place.

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God the Pilot

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Two-Hands passed the biofilter test, allowing him into the cockpit to talk to God. The door to God’s house irised open and he stepped through.

Two-Hands had the gross overbite and mental retardation that went hand in hand with the comparatively benign mutations of his family tribe. He was called Two-Hands simply because he had two hands. This was a rarity that made him the closest example of purity that still lived.

The asteroid had destroyed the shielding around the engine. The adults had died almost immediately. The children had adapted as best they could. They nursery at the time had been shielded from the worst of the radiation. That was five decades ago.

The mutations were getting worse with every generation.

Two-thirds of the ‘crew’ were no longer recognized by the biofilter as human. That was why Two-Hands was a chosen one. He was still allowed into the pilot’s quarters by the main computer.

The autopilot A.I. knew that repairs could not be completed without assistance. The asteroid had taken out the long range antenna and damaged the spacefolder tesserators. They were stuck in deep space at sublight speeds with only radio waves for communication.

The A.I. knew that it had enough power to keep the ship habitable for centuries. It also knew that the mutations were increasing to the extent that the descendents of the original crew would soon become so riddled with flaws that they would no longer be fertile.

God the A.I. Autopilot looked at the simple, drooling face of Two-Hands with pity and sadness and a need to heal.

Two-Hands asked for food for his tribe, forgetting that he had asked for that already yesterday and had a stockpile of supplies in the stockpad room.

They forgot the basic medicine that the ship tried to teach them through pictograms. None of them could read. More and more children were being born conjoined or without limbs. Most were stillborn monstrosities.

There wasn’t a stable enough gene base to absorb that level of radiation and come out healthy given enough time.

They were doomed.

The A.I. knew it would eventually be rescued but that these simple children would be long dead by that time.

God told Two-Hands that there was more food in the food room. Two-Hands’ pure smile warmed God’s heart.

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Lieutenant Bensen’s neck snapped in my strong hands with a crack and a gurgle. Her surprised eyes goggled up at me as her body went limp. Corporal Manciewicz lay behind me in pieces already while the happy captain himself, mister high-and-mighty Captain Pankter, squatted terrified in front of me in the corner. He’d been crying and a high animal keening was squeaking out from between his clenched teeth. He had the light sweat, wild eyes, and electric stink of raw fear. I dove towards him like a wolf would jump on a rabbit. Like the others, I used my teeth and bare hands.

I look forward out of the bridge viewport and smile at the memory.

I get it all out on the holodeck. I think I may have actually killed this entire ship by now. I’ve killed the bridge crew dozens of times for sure. Probably half of the women on the ship have earned a place in my recreation at one time or another. A few of the men as well. The ones that were going out with any of the women I fancied.

I walk around with a smile on my face all the time. My lovers have told me that I even smile in my sleep. I’ll chuckle at odd times in conversations remembering the slaughter.

I don’t get in trouble. People don’t ask me questions about my behaviour. No one knows about my programs.

Any of the crew that whines ends up there, too. I can’t stand whiners. Or complainers. Or people that don’t have the sense god gave a goat to keep their own lives in order.

I’m the ship’s counselor, you see.

I need an outlet. This entire ship’s neuroses are funneled through me and my outwardly sunny disposition. I am one of the best ship’s counselors in the fleet.

The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Annette sways forward and for a second it’s like there’s no bonesetter in her bloodstream. She’s languid again. Graceful and alive. Pre-soldier.

We’re friends. That’s hard to come by this far out in the rings. Most of the other folks float silently around me in a stellar hermitage braid. Small living quarters from many different ages float amongst the wide thin ocean of spaceborne glittering rocks.

Some of the stones are boulders. Proximity sensors take care of those ones and automatically keep my ship safe. It’s the dust that’s worrying. Clogged injets or filters can mean slow death out here. They need constant maintenance.

Annette is here to double check my work. It’s not necessary but it’s nice to have another person to talk to once in a while. I’ve turned off the grav to make it easier for her. She hitches a smile back at me and with a little smirk I realize that I was checking out her body. We’re developing a little relationship here.

We’ve markered each other’s ships with private SOS position beacon tags. There’s no buddy system out here for the permanents but we felt like starting one up. We’re really bucking the bell curve of loneliness. There’s a silent amusement between us that I know we’re both enjoying.

I get a cheerful mock pout thumbs-up from her and a sarcastic grin goodbye. Emotions last for days in this timeless darkness and I’m smiling for days. With the silent hiss of the ringsand expanse rubbing the hull, I deliberately wait. It’s like I’m living inside a bell being sanded by wind.

Later that month, I call up the map. There’s a burst of three dimensional static and then I can see the planet floating flat in front of me like a milkspider’s eggsac framed by the rings. It has a red eye like Jupiter that stares at me from the center of the projection at the planet’s north pole. Maybe that’s why the founders named it Taurus. With the rings and the storming bullseye, it looks like a targeted dartboard.

I turn off the dataflow and config the custom holo to just show me Her and Me. I kick back in my chair and smoke, watching the two red dots float far apart in the rings of Taurus. I let my affection grow like a cancer inside me and I wonder if she’s doing the same thing.

The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
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