Newsflash

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“I can see it from here, Duke, and it’s quite something, I can tell you. Let me give you and our other listeners what I see.

I’m on Parliament mound, facing south. The river Thames is a shallow umber trail flowing sluggishly from west to east, obscured by smoke and ruins before reaching either horizon. Below and to my right is the glassy common that comprises what used to be Kensington, Chelsea, Hammersmith, and Fulham. I still see the occasional bird falling from the sky, emanation-struck as it carelessly flies too low, too far across an edge. Beyond that scar, Ealing, Hounslow, and Richmond are landscapes of blackened ruins and twisted metal. But, at least there is scavenger activity over there, unlike across the river to my left: the wasteland that is Lambeth and Southwark. The hellstorm didn’t leave much, and what moves there is death to anything that ventures in.

Central in my view is the broad corridor comprising Wandsworth, Merton and Sutton. I can see the attackers coming towards me, armour at the front, levitroopers above, a few choppers above them. Behind the armour I see personnel carriers, stormtroopers hitching a lift on the exteriors, drone trailers behind. From that point, back to beyond the outskirts of Croydon, the dust-shrouded ground is covered in combat teams loping along in exos, weapons ready. They’re making good time, given the terrain. Their strategic bombardment over the last few weeks levelled the ground well.

These brave folk are risking their all, attacking the Quintessian burrow that gutted Camden and Islington; a living habitat that is now spreading inexorably into Hackney and Haringey. Their targets are the three great entrance portals that open south of the Thames, two in Wandsworth, one in the uppermost reaches of Richmond. They’ve chosen their time well: Quintessia are largely dormant in temperatures above twenty degrees and it’s a scorching summer afternoon at the moment, with the temperature approaching thirty. The location has also been carefully selected: London is on a large island. Quintessian reinforcements would have to be shuttled in.

They’re crossing Wandsworth! I can see the massed force trifurcate, spreading apart to attack the portals. Within minutes, we’ll see if humanity’s last offensive can turn the tide. The noise, even at this distance, is incredible.

What’s this? There’s a commotion within the dust-cloud concealing the far flank of the easternmost strike force. I can hear firing. Small arms and heavy weapons. There is definitely something – oh, good fates! I can see. Oh, no. This could be disastrous.

It looks like the deadly inhabitants of Lambeth and Southwark are attacking! Huge centipede-like creatures, moving with incredible speed and unerring accuracy. Where impact damage doesn’t down their opponents, powerful jaws or corrosive, flammable venom does. Their night-black hides seem to repulse all but the heaviest weapons, which cannot be used because of the friendly casualties they would cause.

And now, more of these many-legged aggressors are boiling forth from all three portal entrances, where they’ve obviously lain in wait. Is there a chance? Can the attack win out? We’ll have to see.

It’s a massacre. These combatants are too much for human forces. Their every riposte is ignored by these creatures – it’s as if they had been designed to be the nemesis for anything humanity could bring to bear. This is the end of it. Demoralised and decimated, the half-life of a futile resistance movement is the best that remains for the survivors.

Let me be the first to say it clearly, Duke. We’ve won.”

The Waiting Mist

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The rolling glens of Morglanwe sweep gracefully down, their bases hidden by the long grasses that gird them. From this side of the gently waving grass sweeps a scattering of low dunes that back the beach on which we stand. In the sunset, I can see the piled bodies that deface a scene so glorious in natural splendour it would otherwise be worthy of a classic painting.
My guide, Glimhre, is unmoved by my mutterings of offence.
“Wait, Envoy. Wait.”
Is all he says. It is his answer to my every question. Where are the burial details, the mourners, the funerary rites?
The only reply?
“Wait.”
High above, the clouds turn metallic purple in the last rays of the sun. I have never seen a shade so rich. The deep blue of the local equivalent of gulls perfectly complements the colour their wheeling flight sets them against. How can such beauty be allowed with the aftermath of bloody conflict strewn about below? It’s an offense to everything proper. Such ugliness should, if not erased, at least be solemnly removed piecemeal by grieving relatives and furtive scavengers. For it to lie ignored is a terrible thing to me.
A mist rises, mercifully shrouding the dead. I look about to see what beauty is brought by the ephemeral, faintly luminescent roils. There is no mist behind us. There is no mist amidst the dunes or in the vales of the glens. I look back. The mist is moving against the breeze. Moving. Like an animal!
I turn to Glimhre.
“What is that?”
He smiles a little smile: “That which was awaited.”
“I don’t understand.”
Glimhre rests a scaled hand on my shoulder: “You were insulted by our barbarous lack of care for our fallen. You were offended by our lack of funereal ritual. What you see is all of that. Look to the dunes.”
There are lights on the dunes. Each held by one or more beings gathered there. I hadn’t seen their arrival, so taken was I with the more-than-mist. The little groups – families? – stand together in silence. Everything about us has fallen quiet.
Answers. I must have answers. I point at the luminescent impossibility: “What is that?”
“It is a Sha’haan.”
“I repeat. What it that?”
“It is a hunger.”
“Again. What is that?”
“It is that which cleans the land of death. Where it touches, all organic death is lifted from the ground. Every iota is taken into its insatiable hunger.”
With incredulous eyes, I watch as the piles on the shore get smaller.
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
The inexorable diminishing process is hypnotic.
It is a while before Glimhre replies: “We could walk through it unharmed, except that our skin would be utterly cleansed and our clothes in tatters as every bit of deceased matter was consumed.”
A thought breaks my reverent watching.
“What if it started killing?”
“Thankfully, it has not learned that. I do not know if it could. But, thank you for a thought that will keep me awake at nights for a while to come.”
I turn my eyes down in shame.
As the Sha’haan finishes its grisly task and fades away, Glimhre slaps my back.
“You are imaginative and honest, Envoy. Never lose those traits, even when you become our Ambassador.”
Many serrated teeth flash in the dim light as he grins: “No, I have no idea where Sha’haan go when they disappear, and – based on recent example – I will be grateful if you do not share your thoughts on that topic.”

Help! I’ve Got a Human!

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

(We hope you’ve linked after following our Intergalactic Most Requested: Should I Be Keeping a Human? infoburst. If not, link it before continuing.)

IMPORTANT: if you bought your human for a sub-adult of your race, please void the transaction and return the container immediately. Giving humans regular interaction with sentients they can influence is forbidden. The ban is there, with good and (sadly) repeatedly proven reasons, to protect YOU.

So, you have a human. Maybe you have more than one. (If so, IMMEDIATELY link the infoburst ‘Humans: Pack Behaviour to Watch For’ before continuing.)

Did you get your human from a reputable outlet? Human trafficking continues to be a problem, despite the terrible tragedies it has caused. Simply scan the docpak panel. Do it now. Our watchware will validate the whole unit.
Is the indicator red? This human is dangerous! Press the red panel to end this threat and call for assistance.
Green indicator? Then, link the infoburst ‘My First Human’. We wish you many happy seasons together.
Blue indicator? There is a mismatch between human and container, but the human is viable. Link the infoburst ‘My Human is a Stray’ for how to resolve all issues. We wish you many happy seasons together.
Yellow? The human is diseased in a non-threatening way. If caring whiles your idle, this will be rewarding. If not, continue as if the indicator is red.
Orange? This human was wild caught. It is attested that these are the most rewarding to have. However, the initial investment of time and effort on your part will be considerable. If this is not for you, continue as if the indicator is red.

So, you have a wild human. Don’t worry. ‘Wild’ simply means that your human was taken directly from a resource world by a qualified collection team, but was surplus to the study’s requirements. It has been sold off to recoup project funds.
Press the yellow panel. Does your human move quickly, uttering discrete word forms?
(Don’t worry about any aggressive displays or behaviour; this is why humans cannot be recognised as fully sentient. All truly intelligent species have evolved past their instincts of violence.)
If it has, you have a fine specimen. Link the infoburst ‘Taming Wild Caught Humans’. We wish you many happy seasons together.

Is your human babbling or uttering rhythmic but nonsensical sounds (it may also be waving some or all of its limbs about)? Link the infoburst ‘Humans: Directing Epiphanic or Religious Fervour’. Proceed carefully, but the devotion you can obtain from a human with this is without compare. Good luck. We wish you many happy seasons together.

You seem to have an unresponsive, wild-caught human that is currently unconscious. Link Time Conversion: Human Standard Diurnal. Wait one primary subdivision of that, then press the yellow panel. If the human remains unresponsive, wait a further two primary subdivisions, then press the yellow panel twice. If the human remains unresponsive, we regret that there is no recourse but to press the red panel. You should be able to secure recompense from the outlet for your broken human. Let them know you followed this infoburst.

This infoburst was created and is curated by the Human Care Collective.
We say: “Treat Them With Respect, They Could Be Sentients One Day”.

Dragonflies

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Abomination!”

“You’re very rude.” I rotate my right forearm through a rapid one-eighty. There is a ‘snap’.

“And dead.”

Bamid rises from cover: “Weren’t you supposed to capture him?”

I smile: “He was a veteran of Tobruk. His feedback-scarred brain is mostly hardware and his memories are now read-only. Why interrogate when it’s easier to download?”

I draw steel and take Gdenski’s head off tidily, rather than continuing to twist.

“Take that back, will you? They’ll get excited and I’m not in the mood.”

Bamid nods, bags the tête, and leaves me in silence.

My counter reads 15942 – the number of days since I became immortal. I didn’t plan it, nor did I plan for it. When I took a missile point blank, the last of the organics in my torso went. If my bones hadn’t been cerasteel, I’d have been nothing but a smear on the wall. As I hadn’t read the appendices of my top-of-the-line medical insurance, it was a surprise to wake up ‘deathless’ – a hypercybered being.

Many aspects of the human brain remain a mystery. The pertinent one being that it cannot be naturally sustained without 18% of its body attached. While they try to understand why, anyone under that threshold – and with the insurance – gets their brain carefully placed in a gold mesh container and immersed in a conductive preservative gel. Sometimes the brain stabilises. Other times it rots. After twenty-nine days, a stabilised brain is placed back within the modified cybercranium of its owner and ‘rebooted’.

I woke up and nothing seemed different. Even now, every waking comes with the same feeling: invigorated after a long rest. Then my brain interfaces with my ROM and the truth arrives.

The last night I remember was the night before I got shot. Everything since is stored on secure RAM in my chest. Of course, it’s not everything: storage is finite.

My brain is, in effect, pickled. There is no plasticity to the contents. The ‘memories’ in my chest are simply recordings from my eyes and ears. There’s no instant recall: I have to ‘look up’ anything that occurred sooner than 43-odd years ago. The delay isn’t discernible to anyone, but I know. It’s like watching television inside my head and it’s too disturbing. So, apart from essential data, I keep nothing.

Thus, my contiguous waking hours are precious: thirty-seven hours is the limit. Every minute after risks a cyberpsychotic episode that will inevitably end in my permanent death.

I have amazing abilities. Superhuman, in many ways. I’m haven’t failed a mission in over forty years. I am the first of my profession to go this route, and I may well be the last. The camaraderie of warriors is cemented by facing death, not working alongside it. Thankfully, Bamid isn’t a fighter. He has some odd religious views regarding the nature of my existence, but they haven’t stopped him becoming my liaison with those who don’t want to face me. He also handles things when I’m not in the mood for dealing with people who breathe.

I relax by plumbing the depths of silence. It’s never total. There is always an ant stomping around nearby or a dragonfly flitting over the ponds that dot my untended rooftop garden.

I always thought dragonflies lived short lives. I identified with their thirty-six-hour span. Turns out that primeval trait actually belongs to mayflies.

But, I’m still fascinated by dragonflies. I see patterns and colours in their movements, hinting at something I cannot grasp. In my darker moments, I think it’s life: something familiar, but no longer mine.

Flip Out

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

He’s at the door ag-

BANG!

Loud. Never try and creep up on a paranoid woman with pre-menstrual hypervigilance and a pistol. I usually spend three days screaming at random people for doing things so trivial they didn’t know they were doing them – or even what the things were. Today, I’m shooting assassins between stomach cramps. Or overly cautious couriers. Makes no difference. Not now. Too many possibilities to risk compassion.

Like flipping through a book until a shape catches your eye, you choose a different reality. Quicker than a blink, a silent holocaust happens, leaving the world changed. If you don’t really like this one, flip on. You can’t go back. You might be able to resist your sudden memories of a life in the different reality – being the cause gives you a little leeway. But you can’t save anyone else. I tried.

BANG!

I hear our coded knock, then hear his voice: “Don’t be silly, Genniphur, I’m on your side.”

He’s lying. Data streams and life styles, realities and perceptions. Quantum lies entangled with vested interests. It doesn’t take much to ruin a race. Somewhere there’s a me who’s realised their endgame. I’m sure someone outside the reality enclaves has worked it out, somewhen.

BANG!

A body in my hall, a hole in the front door and a tear in my eye. You shouldn’t have sent my mentor to get me. I’m off finding a thousand other versions of me for the truths they’ve seen. I’m lost to you.

BANG!

He’s dying. Data dreams and living death, what you see versus what you’re seen to be. Quantum entanglement makes lies of everything the moment you behold it. It doesn’t take much to win a race. Just change the definition of winning. I’m sure no-one outside the skycastles chose feudalism as a ‘fair society’.

His heels beat a familiar tempo on the floor as he gurgles: “Don’t be naive, Jennifer, no-one’s on your side.”

BANG!

Loud. Never try and leap on a schizoid woman with pre-menstrual paranoia and a broom. I usually spend three days, chain-swallowing pain killers, ignoring my med schedule to do so, and pretending the impressive hallucinations are trivial. So, today, I’m swinging at assassins between stomach cramps. Or whoever they really are. Makes no difference. Not now. I’ve downed too many pills to play at compassion.

This me. This is me. We are me. We know. I know!
What do I know? Are the meds conflicting?
No, we know their endgame: feudalism.
Damn. This one’s bad. Codeine overdose?
I’m lost – to me.
What?

BANG!

That made me jump. The broom’s on the floor.
There’s a body on the floor, too.
Who is he?