Taurus

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.

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Jarima

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

It was always slightly embarrassing for me to watch Jarima try to pick up a guy.

She had a bodybuilder’s physique. She had a wide rubbery mouth and a strong jaw. She had bright red hair kept short. A little spray of freckles danced across the bridge of her wide nose.

She laughed like a horse and chewed with her mouth open.

She was an orphan and had learned to fight from an early age. She protected her little brother and her little sister in the orphanage until they were taken away and adopted by separate families. She never saw them again and since she was older, no one adopted her. She told me once that they didn’t actually tell her that they were in an orphanage until they had been there for two weeks. She laughed when she told me that story.

She made it to being a teenager through several rapes and numerous beatings.

She made it through being a teenager by killing boys who tried to rape and beat her.

During battle, she was as good as most of us and better than some.

We picked her up outside the courthouse. She’d gotten off in three previous murder trials with a self-defense clause but it was clear that the next time she was on trial for murder, she’d go down. It was only a matter of time in her neighbourhood before some thick-headed boy would think she was an easy target, ignore the rumours, and try to get it on.

We gave her the pitch. Money, interstellar travel and violence. She leapt at the chance.

We’re a company of private mercenaries. We look for a certain type of person in police records and give them the chance to make money with us. Lots of violence. Some months are better than others.

So now we were on leave in a backwater bar in Southern New Nelson.

She never went as far as to wear a dress but she was wearing some badly applied makeup. Coupled with how much courage she’d had to drink, she made a messy picture. She asked me to wish her luck before she sauntered away from me after a deep breath.

I’ve seen Jarima stare down warlords until they break and spill their secrets. I’ve seen this woman kill with her bare hands. I’ve seen her take bullets and hardly wince until the mission was completed. I’ve seen her lose friends and keep going without looking back.

I covered my eyes with my hands as she walked up to the guy at the end of the bar.

I was waiting for his polite rebuke followed by her angry response. I was waiting for his insolent reply and then the sound of his arm breaking and perhaps some shattering glass before going in as backup and peacekeeper.

It was always slightly embarrassing for me to watch Jarima try to pick up a guy.

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Battle

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The green circle of power irised open on the wall, filling the reception chamber with a medicinal glow. A body flipped through, smoking and wounded, over the ledge of the portal and landed wetly on the pads with a thud. The sickly green light of the hole clamped shut like a magic sphincter-ring and plunged the room once again into darkness.

These were the battles. The knights were welded into their suits and connected. They were more of a virus now than a collection of individuals. Volunteering for defense was a one way trip. What started as a human shield of nimble pilots had, over three decades, become a cyborg invasion force of desperate hybrids of flesh encased in metal.

A wrist-gate’s singularity snagged the lab’s co-ordinates again with a stuttering flash before glinting open with a bone-vibrating hum. Another two bodies flew backwards through the circle before being hooked by gravity and pulled down to the mat. The green luminescence looked like the light from a firefly. The tunnel folded inward with an arcing snap that echoed away before collapsing back to the battlepoint.

Each knight looked different. The custom tech was adapted for every warrior with programs designed to accentuate their strengths and protect their weaknesses. Some were huge and some were slight. Some were quick and some were armoured. Some were armed with a vast array of weaponry and some were given a specific weapon they’d shown an aptitude for in training. Then they were sent to The Front. One wave every two days.

Two bodies groaned. One lay still, breathing but unconscious. Two of us and one of Them.

Every person’s body image was augmented with the memetic colourmetal to make their permanent transition to Guardknight as smooth as possible. Battle-scars, trophies, graffiti and tags took care of further individuality as their career spooled out. To this day, we’ve only had eighteen psych-deaths in the waking bay. We’ve done all we can to create happy monsters to protect us.

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Glittering Tumours

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

That’s the thing about silicates. They get cancer from radiation, just like us, except their tumors are jewels.

The silicate in front of me here has a head full of diamonds.

He’s looking up at me with his prism eyes. When the sun shines through the hospital window, the sunlight refracts through them and shoots little rainbows around. He’s no smarter than a cat now.

Their presence here was a history of shame. They landed in their glittering spaceships made of super-dense manufactured crystal in a park in Philadelphia.

Their technology was entirely built around the manipulation of crystal growth. They created crystal that made diamonds look brittle. They ate sand and rock. Their stomachs were kilns. They could make their bodies faceted and sharp with a thought.

All was peaceful for a time until the first few of them got sick. Their doctors worked with our doctors to find a cure before they realized what was happening.

Cancer. Just like humans.

The first tumours to be removed were a revelation. Emeralds.

Once the news got out, a black mark on the history of humanity started.

Many of the silicates were taken prisoner and bathed in radiation to produce raw emeralds, diamonds, rubies and hundreds of other types of valuable rocks. The market was flooded, with the jewels ceasing to be valuable after six horrible years.

Diplomacy healed the wounds over the next decade but there was still bitterness on both sides

Any jewelry at all is seen as gauche now.

My friend, Rock Opal Truestone, is going to be dead before the week is out. There’s still no cure for cancer but at least the egg-sized diamond eating the mental pathways behind his beautiful eyes is worthless.

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Making Up For Lost Time

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The correctional facility did not work for me.

I left the building with the need to make up for lost time.

I waited exactly one day and sixteen hours before I grabbed someone and dragged him into an alley to resume work on cleaning the world like I was destined to do.

I guess the cops didn’t tell me about the remote probation device they’d installed in me.

I had my hand drawn back to start working on this terrified man the way the voices had directed when all of a sudden my body felt like it was on fire. My muscles spasmed and I collapsed to the ground in the dirty alley amongst the needles, newspaper and grease.

I stayed there for half an hour. People went through my pockets and found nothing. They stole my shoes.

I woke up angry.

I punched the dumpster beside me, denting it with my hands. My body erupted in searing pain again as I did this. My muscles spasmed and I collapsed to the ground for a second time.

The probation device was wired to my body’s pulse and respiratory system. It was wired to my brain waves.

I needed to remain calm and positive or I would be shocked into convulsions again.

No problem.

I practiced on cats and stray dogs for three months.

Now I can kill an animal with no change in my heartbeat or breathing. I can do it with nothing but positive thoughts in my head. The creator would be proud.

All the time I’ve been practicing on the animals, the voices have been demanding I resume my job. They don’t understand about the probation device. It’s maddening. It’s been torture knowing that I can’t resume my work until I perfect my innermost emotions.

It’s time now. I’m ready to do a human.

I leave the front door of the cave of boxes I’ve made in my squat like a trap door spider coming into daylight.

For the second time in my life, I feel like I’ve been released from prison.

I have to make up for lost time.

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