Silo One

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The cooling towers hum less at night, as the temperature drops in the world above. ‘The World Above’. Oh, how our leaders love that title. They use it everywhere, usually presented in ways that used to be reserved for heaven and similar post-death nirvanas.

“Tea?” Susan nudges my arm.

I look down to see a cup of chestnut-coloured brew. I take it, forcing a smile. Susan has adapted better than I. It would be petty to spoil the moment in a fit of pique.

The world was going to hell with fanatics of every stripe hacking at each other while good people were left to shore up the burgeoning masses with steadily increasing taxes. Even corporations stepped in to help governments cope as the global population exceeded all resources.

In better times, the outbreak between North Korea and America would have been limited. However, when Chinese intervention forces rolled into Pyongyang, little Kim let rip with everything he had at every country he feared. He had a lot more than outside observers predicted.

Things quickly fell apart in the aftermath. My grandfather spoke of ‘infrastructural dependencies’. I never realised that meant if you deprive an urban population of basic needs for six days, it’ll turn feral.

Fortunately, father maintained a place in Silo One, a modest six-bedroom affair in the upper tiers. After settling in, it was good for a year. Rationing was tiresome, but proportionate share based upon your gold reserves had been agreed as a fair method. What father had failed to grasp was that his gold trove was, in real terms, trivial. We should have taken residence in Silo Five – where our reserve would have been roughly on par – but father always insisted that one started as high as one could. After his strategies to secure our station failed, he took to gambling to top up his dwindling reserves. When that tactic failed, we found settling debts down here was a merciless thing: mother simply failed to return home one night, as she belonged to someone else! I railed at father until he tried to beat me down, at which point I decamped to Susan’s parent’s place. I found her alone, nursing her mother, as her father had moved in with a billionairess up on Tier Six.

And so, our descent began. Everyone we asked for help denied us – seeing our plight as where they would be if they frittered their reserves on non-essentials like helping others.

I remember the Tiering meeting so well. Susan and I sat, dressed in our best, and not clutching at each other like some desperate couple from a black-and-white movie; which is how we felt.

Mister Grooms summed up: “Roderick, Susan, it saddens us to see members fall. However, there is still a place for you. Mister Tasker will explain your obligations when you arrive on Tier 209.”

Mister Tasker was forthright: “To remain, you will need to earn a token reserve. I recommend choosing cooling tower duty.”

We took the hint and became cooling tower cleaners. One of us worked while the other cared. A year later, both our charges died within a month of each other, cancer taking her mother and alcoholism ending my father. We wept tears of grieving, guilty joy, realising we could change our shifts so we would have time together.

Those below Tier 100 have never seen the upper tiers. They regard Susan and I as curiosities to be avoided. At least we have each other, and, up on these tower ledges, we can pretend for a while.

Save

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

We’d been down for a long while before Commander Bramson came up with the idea of linking to the orbiter, getting it to swing into low orbit and tractor beam us off this damn rock. I objected on the grounds that humans can’t extract oxygen from vacuum; the orbiter couldn’t enter atmosphere thick enough to breathe.

“Sure, the ship’s beat up, kid. But the crew section is solid.”

“How the hell can anyone verify that? Our diagnostics and scanners were mangled when the control module got flattened!”

“That’s not the attitude we need. You go ‘bout your duties and leave the serious stuff to us.”

As I leave, Kristin grabs my arm and drags me behind a cargo pod.

“Will you stop kicking off at him? He’s not going to listen, even if you’re right. Always has to be his idea. You know that.”

I know that. But, Bramson’s last ‘bright’ idea planted us in a cliff face that collapsed on us after the ship fell out of it. Which is why I don’t trust his latest piece of inspiration.

Everyone else works like maniacs, morale improved by Bramson’s conviction. Meanwhile, Kristen, Tommy, and I hide what supplies we can as rationing has been abandoned. The pair of them trust me, which, in some ways, scares me more than the situation we’re in.

The moment comes and they all pile in, then peer out at the three of us.

Bramson steps back out: “Come on, Kristen. I know he’s a pretty boy but don’t you let your needs set you on a path to ruin. Tommy! Lars ain’t right. You come here, right now.”

Tommy shakes his head vigorously. Kristen calls Bramson so many names so fast he actually steps back.

“I see you’ve been learning manners from him. Okay, you’ve made your choice. Live with it.”

He steps inside and shuts the hatch. We backpedal quickly as the tractor beam fills the air with pinpricks of light.

I watch it rise through the monocular and well, damn, it looks like Bramson was right. There are no trails of leaking atmosphere. I’m just wondering how to apologise to Kristen and Tommy’s when the crew section pops. It was airtight, but with its reinforcing removed to lighten the load, it wasn’t strong enough to contain the atmosphere.

We stand under a beautiful clear sky, watching the awful result.

As the shock releases us, the monocular beeps: it’s uplink acknowledging the orbiter’s loss-of-life check. The crash and fall out of the cliff hadn’t killed anyone, so as far as the orbiter was concerned, all was well – which caused our problem. But, with a sudden loss of life and confirmed survivors, the orbiter’s rescue beacon will have assistance here within a week.

Kristen turns to me: “Did you know about this?”

“I hadn’t thought it that far through.”

She nods: “Good. Keep that in mind because, in an absence of heroes, the debrief panel are going to be looking for culprits.”

Tommy raises his hand: “Bramson did it. Left us behind.”

We look at Tommy.

“Not strictly true, Tommy.” Kristen smiles at him.

Tommy looks at the sky, then back at us: “Lars disagreed. That’s only insubordination.”

“Tommy, it’s -”

“Irrelevant, Lars. Wasn’t mutiny, so nothing justifies him abandoning Kristen and me. It’s clear dereliction of duty. Throw in crashing the ship in the first place and Bramson will be found incompetent.”

Kristen claps her hands: “Lars saved us!”

“By accident.”

Tommy stares at me: “Accident, luck, whatever. You’re good by us.”

Vegetable Process

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Have you ever grown your own computer? It’s not like they show on MeVee. There’s a lot more liquid blend used because spillages occur all the time. The damn things sweat out unused elements constantly, overflowing the moulds. On a hot night, it can even overflow the trays you stand the moulds in. And that image of the girl in her skimpies leaping lithely across the room to get cloths to mop a spill? Utter tosh. Any leakage puts a near-frictionless layer between skin and any surface. You crawl to the towels with your hands and knees wrapped in stray clothing. If clothes are out of reach, duvet or sheets will do.
Very important: you’d better be using nanomachine-enhanced detergent or you’ll fuse the dryer and your element-soaked laundry into a whorled sculpture. Great conversation piece at parties, but it isn’t covered by your home insurance.
For pity’s sake don’t use the ‘quicksilver fastwiring’ hack. It does work, but, mercury is poisonous and doing this – unless you’re growing somewhere with always-on industrial extraction fans – turns the element sweat and its fumes toxic. You will die, along with your family, and possibly take the neighbours with you!
And, last but by no means least, we come to those fumes. The term ‘godawful stench’ doesn’t quite capture the sheer horror that overwhelms everyone on first encounter. It’s appalling and has the ability – like the odours of some cooked food – to impregnate certain clothing fibres. Unlike the cooking odours, it doesn’t wash out. Not even a commercial nanowash can shift “the smell that can make a Litran Skunk-horse puke”, to quote one victim. It also reacts to heat. That’s right, your stinking clothing will only smell worse if you wear it or hang it somewhere warm.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t grow your own. It’s the only affordable way to get access to the Versingloban datanet, and for remote outposts, it can transform communications and entertainment, providing desperately needed mental resources and a way to secure physical assistance on demand.
(Speaking of remote outposts reminded me: if you’ve got old interfaces, just slot examples into the ‘connectors’ mould during the ‘populate’ stage, remembering to etch how many of each you want onto the ‘iterate’ substrate.)
I’m just saying you should be aware of the real costs. Depending on your colony’s cultural background, you might encounter problems. My mainly Euro-origin colony was horrified when they found the computer that made their lives better needed a diet of fresh meat. I was catching rodents and feeding them to my computer for months before the colony council insisted that ‘humane considerations’ should take precedence.
Yes, I live on Prospect, home of the politico-religious drive to ban Versingloban carniculture technology as it’s ‘an unnatural way to perpetuate digital dependency’. I’m not going to get into the ‘blood machines’ arguments here. I’m just getting some real-life details out there for anyone who wants to grow their own.
Now, any Versingloban will happily give you a seed, it’s a goodwill custom of theirs to carry and give. However, because of my homeworld’s actions, it’s probably not a good idea to make a big thing of getting one. Find it at a location away from your local haunts and be dead snaky on your way home. No need to make it easy for any fanatics to follow you.
That’s it. Good luck, grow well, give freely. Remember to check-in at carniputers.everywhere on v.Earthnet and say hello when you’re up and running.

Sweet Rocks

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The stars appear like fireflies seen through vintage sunglasses, the ones that used to give everything a mellow brown hue. My grandfather had some, an inheritance from his grandfather. Guess they’re buried somewhere in the dust of Earth One.

Mellow. Now, there’s a definition for this moment. Sitting here, heels on the console, chilled vodka tube in hand, seat reclined all the way back, headrest cradling my head with the infinitesimal pressure granted by a pocket repulsor field. Mellow, indeed. More correctly, I’m mellow. It’s a feeling, after all. Despite all the advances in technology, we haven’t bridged the machine-emotion chasm yet.

Just like we haven’t bridged the gap between what Earths Two thru Seven provide and the stuff that could only be found on Earth One. We knew it was dying, but somehow, with our never-quite-accepting view of extinction events, we let it slide without conserving the bits we’d miss.

“Incoming!”

I jolt fully awake and the chair reacts by bringing me up to ‘pilot ready’ position. The smell reaches me first and judging by my saliva production, I reacted before consciously realising I could smell it.

Jansis skips into the cabin, that curious childhood gait so mysteriously suited to moving quickly and safely along grip strips in low gravity.

“Premium grade! We’re going home!”

I raise my eyebrows. She shoves a clear mug of steaming golden goop at me.

“Taste it and tell me I’m wrong.”

She’s not. Three mouthfuls of the delicious proto-treacle are all I need before a gentle rush of ill-formed, impossible reminiscence momentarily overwhelms me.

“Oh, my sweet lord, you’re right.”

Jansis kisses me, combining the rush of the mouthful she’s had with mine and our usual on-contact arousal. I sputter as I recoil.

“Whoa! Easy there, tigress. We need to lay claim.”

“I filed a composition analysis to the ninetieth vector before warming our mugs. We’ve already received over a hundred requests for deposits.”

“Lords of earth and air, how many?”

She checks her bracer: “One hundred and fifty-seven as of last packet received.”

“Biggest deposit?”

“Half a tonne, that request secured by an escrow offer of three hundred Krugerrand per kilo.”

I take a steadying breath and point through the supraglass: “How big is it?”

Her eyes are fever bright as she checks her bracer: “Point four-five-seven-oh-eight of a gigatonne.”

I take her in my arms and that moment returns. We are going home, and set for life when we get there, or anywhere else we take a mind to visit.

No-one knows where these dark amber asteroids originate from, nor why they consist entirely of a substance that, when brought to tolerable temperatures, exhibits all the properties of varying grades of treacle or molasses, plus that uncanny rush of deep imagery. There are religious groups and scientific teams trying to make sense of the data released. Personally, I think it’s just a side effect of human biology meeting millennially freeze-matured alien syrup.

Whichever way you regard it, humanity has developed a taste for ‘Amberal’. With sugar cane and bees nothing more than dust on Earth One, these asteroids fetch exorbitant prices. With each one exhibiting slight variations in composition, toxicity and flavour, finding one that can be quaffed straight after thawing without needing filtering is a one in a million chance, guaranteeing the fortunes of those who find it and their backers.

One huge reward nobody mentions outside exploration team circles is the one we’re enjoying: we get to drink sweet rock all the way home.

Brakes, Scars, and Other Things I Miss

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Funny how the roar of wind fades into the background after a while.

I loved the wind roar in my rag-top coupe. Drove that antique everywhere, pretty much spent my late teens in it, met the love of my life while driving it, and waved her goodbye from it, too. Which was fitting, as its weak brakes scared her. As trivial irritations do, the fright led to arguments that revealed bigger things; things the passion we shared couldn’t overcome.

A rogue booster rocket cuts a jagged turquoise line across the violet sky.

Ah, war wounds. The scars that proved you had been at the sharp end, and on the receiving end of it, too. NanoHeal sorted that out. Bonded to your DNA profile, it restored you to how you should be. Which was great, except for the first time. While sorting your wounds, it dealt with all the other stuff: tattoos, piercings, and every other blemish, inside or out. I can’t even get a tan. We asked if it could be programmed to exclude trophy marks like they programmed it to ignore cyberware. They replied: “That wouldn’t be cost effective.”

In eerie silence, a burning chunk about the size of a small mansion tumbles past, shedding random bits along with burnt stick figures.

Something I’m glad I missed; being on the impact side of the station when we all discovered the Euripides was a ghost ship, her crew slain by supratrans shock. Usually, that happens on entry to supralight and the ship never re-emerges. Occurrence on exit is rare and can be problematical. Supralight craft are at least the size of old Earth cruise ships. If nobody realises the problem in time and gets an emergency crew aboard, there’s going to be a big mess. In this case, the Euripides emerged closer than expected on a heading that bisected the heart of Plusidra Station. The impact hurled me through the environment field on a loading bay and here I am, imparted sufficient momentum to make orbit impossible, now freefalling from as high as you can get. Yet, I’m still glad I wasn’t on the impact side. I’m sure that was a moment of pain and fear no-one should have to endure, however briefly.

By sheer luck, my selection of cyberware means I’m not blind, liable to suffocate or pass out. I get to enjoy this ride all the way to the multicoloured desert below, where I expect to die and be buried in a spectacular spray of rainbow-hued crystals.

I can think of worse ways to go. The views are superb and the contrasts of debris against sky are quite awesome, their terrible import only enhancing the beauty.

Just in case browsing disaster investigators haven’t already guessed: this is my final diary post.

My name is Jedry Strong.

Her name was Kelly Frea-something. I hope she’s happy, out there, somewhere. For the first time ever, I’m with her on wishing for better brakes.