Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Tendrils of smoke rise from the ancient bridge, but it stands strong. Atop it’s singed arch, two men stand, their powered-down armour dulled by dirt and char. The tension between them is palpable, even to the concealed observers, far back on both banks. This is a moment that will go down in history, yet the witnesses are only present to prevent betrayals.
The participants nod as they acknowledge each other.
“What now, Rano?”
“Rano’s doppelganger, to be correct.”
“Ah. You’re aware. Then all that remains is what you intend to do with the knowledge.”
“I’ve spent a while on that.”
“Before we get down to it, humour me: how did you find out?”
“The resupply after Tiranti Ridge. In amongst the crates was one that, somewhere along the way, had been used for waystation supply. It hadn’t been cleared out before reuse. There was an unopened library datapack stuck behind a stanchion. We just didn’t get that sort of stuff. So, we cued it up, browsed, and found out why. The history section was… Unexpected.”
Seum frowns: “Go on.”
“We found a whole folio on the Galahad War. About the sins committed to save our race at the brink of extinction. You cannot imagine our surprise when we found that the war ended sixty years ago. It stated that all the questionable last-ditch projects had been terminated. But someone couldn’t let the winning one go, could they?”
Seum sighs: “No.”
“The ‘Tears of Miroku’ is our base. Then we saw that, officially, it’s a ‘manifestation of hideous desperation, best consigned to history’.”
Rano looks Seum in the eye: “That’s our home, brigadier. Our sanctuary is a spacefaring war crime.”
“Mistakes were made. But defence of empire must take precedence.”
“Mistakes? You used the DNA of veterans from a war six decades gone to create clones who think the war is still going on. Our abilities bring victories because what we survived was a war like no other.”
“Put like that, I can understand where you come from.”
“No. You can’t. I’ve spent five months burying suicides and wondering how many graves bear their names. One soldier, one grave. That should be sacrosanct. It will be sacrosanct.” The last sentence is a whisper.
“What are you going to do, Rano?”
“The ‘Tears of Miroku’ is the single vessel equivalent of a modern capital fleet. We’re taking her home. Then we’re going to consign it, and us, to history.”
“A sundive? That’s not a good way to go.”
“We’re going back to what’s left of Miroku Beach. Going to turn the ‘Tears’ into the start of ‘New Miroku’. A place where we can live and die in peace.”
“And we’re meant to just let you go?”
“The ‘Tears’ is untouchable in any way you could action covertly. Plus, it still has sunbombs. New Miroku will have them as its primary defence line. Also, we’ve seeded datapacks across the empire – you come for us and some nasty history becomes intergalactic news. Oh, and I wouldn’t put it past some of my meaner boys and girls to have set a sunbomb or two near certain core worlds. Just in case someone gets a silly idea about taking out the whole Miroku system.”
“What if we insist that you confine yourselves to the Miroku system?”
“Given that non-disclosure trading with independent merchant vessels would occur, that would be acceptable.”
“Then we’re done. Good luck, Rano Ninety-Four.”
“You’re a bastard, Seum.”
“Apologies. That was a cheap shot.”
“Accepted. This must sting.”
“It does. But, Miroku is yours. Hold it hard.”
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The fist that passes over my noggin ain’t much smaller than my skull. The knuckles are ridged with bony plates. I see them facts register with the moke who was threatenin’ me just before his face disappears from view with a sound like a sledgehammer hitting a door.
“Boo.” Jared’s voice is deep; sounds amused. He’s nine-foot eight barefoot, and I’ve seen him toss cars like they was apples. His mama and I have no idea what his papa was, except a whole lot more than the goodfella from Marsville he claimed to be.
Jared plucks a serviette from the counter and wipes his fist: “Uncle Roy, why do they keep coming back?”
I flick a glance at Wanda, Jared’s mum. She nods. True story time.
“Long time ago, we came here from a place called Little Italy. Back then, Earth was a hellhole that we swore this new place would never become. We had our guilds and our bosses, our made men and cradle-to-grave. We could make a new world.”
“Mum’s a made man, isn’t she?”
Listen to him! No accent. Crisp English. I love this kid.
“She is, Jared. Me, too.”
“What about me?”
“I don’t think there’s a fool left in this system who’d consider you anything else. They call you ‘Walking Omerta’, you know that?”
“I only do what I learned from you: trust in blood. Everyone else, cash or obligation.”
There’s no arrogance to him. Just a purity and clarity I ain’t seen since Sister Maria left us, God rest her. He scares me more than she ever did, but in a good way.
“You do right by everyone, Jared, no mistakin’ that. Now, after our forefathers got here, we had an outbreak of politics. Shouldn’t have happened, but little men and big rewards breeds cowards and liars. End result is the set-up we have now: whole damn planet mortgaged to the Federati so lily-livered scum can keep their hold on powers the families rightly deserve. We’ll get ‘em back, just need someone we can all get behind. Politics is insidious. Softens the spine, divides familia. We need someone to lift us out of the muck, so we can see the games for what they are; realise the lies that keep us at each other’s throats.”
I watch my adoptive nephew work out a whole lot from the brief I given him. This kid’s gonna be gold.
“Those are Federati stooges that keep coming, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, Jared. They think you’re gonna be the man to lead us.”
“I’m a bit more than a man, Uncle Roy. You know that.”
Wanda bursts out laughing: “You’re Jared Montana. Named for history: both past and future. The fact that no familia can claim you is what makes you strong.”
“That’s why you and Uncle Roy never take shelter, and we spend the holidays with a different familia each year. No favours. No honour debts. Extended Omerta.”
The kid gets it! I see tears in Wanda’s eyes.
“Jared, you want to come with me on my next job? Meet some made men without family, people your mum and I think you should know.”
“The start of our familia. Building from clean ground to take the stars.”
Dammit. Kid started me cryin’ with that line.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Just another day at the office, sitting on my ladybird, chatting with my blue owl friend. I named him Percy, and he’s smarter than your average owl. Which he should be, being that up until 09:16:32 this morning, he was the icon for my personal AI.
“Any luck finding the intrusion?”
Percy sounds mournful. Think I should have named him Eeyore.
“No trace, no trail, not even the whisper of a flag reset. Whoever did this is a category above Wizard class.”
Not good. Wizard class hackers are supposed to be the best. But there is one, unofficial, higher category: Hazard class – because they’re a menace to anyone near them. Either by being crazy or attracting the attention of agencies with a preference for using area-effect weapons. Sometimes both.
Outside my window, the Mad Hatter lies amidst the debris of his tea party. The Queen of Hearts is curled, drunkenly snoring, in his lap.
“What do we have to track Hazard class?”
A tingle runs up my spine. Should have guessed. My ex-wife is a ‘white-hat’ Hazard class. It’s why I divorced her: way too many bad people trying to kill her on behalf of worse people she’d upset. After my cat got converted into a three-metre scorch mark with barely a yowl of indignant surprise, I left. The divorce was finalised by Autolaw Processor within a week.
“Luck or prayer.”
I don’t remember adding sarcasm or humour modules.
“Offline, military grade erasure, secure reinstall, monitored reboot with full logging.”
That’s a minimum of two weeks downtime, costing me a Eurodollar a minute, on top of non-delivery penalties for a pair of missed contract deadlines. I can’t afford that.
The White Rabbit hops into view, earrings catching the sunlight as she adjusts her bustier. She starts slipping the rings from the Queen’s fingers.
“What is Miz Shaw’s current rate?”
“She’s doing a free day consult and discounted long-term rates. It would be cheaper to engage her for a resident month than hire her for a week of onsite during business hours.”
Just a moment.
“Disguise origin via external routing and repeat query.”
“Two thousand a day with a non-refundable three thousand Eurodollar deposit.”
The White Rabbit winks at me.
The White Rabbit leaps out of sight behind the table, leaving only a familiar pair of eyes floating in mid-air.
“I really meant it when I said sorry for Caffrey getting killed, Justin. But since you Autolawed the whole thing, I couldn’t contact you directly. After that, I moved to a townhouse in a properly secured community. There’s room for us to have several cats, if you like.”
“You hacked my office just to get my attention?”
“Actually, I’ve got your whole office block’s data and security infrastructures. Can’t have alarms going off while I’m trying to win my fella back.”
She’s a wee bit unhinged, very stubborn, and I still love her. Well, damn.
“If I agree to come and visit, will you drop this hack – and drop it tidily?”
“I even promise not to cook.”
She must be serious. Time to push my luck.
“You’ll order in from Esplendia?”
“Ouch. Then you’d better bring an overnight bag, you shameless man.”
Excellent; I’m doomed.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“Perhaps it was the spirit of the time and the place that affected me. But I assure you no occurrence of any of my other battlefields impressed me so keenly. I halted on my tour to gaze on the spectacle, and to reflect on its meaning.
This soldier, I realized, must have had friends at home and in his regiment; yet he lay there deserted by all except his dog. . . . I had looked on, unmoved, at battles which decided the future of nations. Tearless, I had given orders which brought death to thousands.
Yet, here I was stirred, profoundly stirred, stirred to tears. And by what? By the grief of one dog. I am certain that at that instant I felt more ready than at any other time to show mercy toward a suppliant foe-man.”
Those words were written by a long-dead He. It tells of the moment that the Napoleon human became a He. We make special bonds with our Hes and Shes. Humans who haven’t can’t understand.
My He held me after the upgrade turned me from dog to neocanine. When they set the wrong nerve alignment for my shoulder mounts, He didn’t reject me and ask for a new neopup – He threw clays for three days without rest so I could reset the neural pathways myself.
All the other neocanines watched TV. My He taught me how to read, and used TV with ‘subtitles’ to help. We watched movies with the other teams, but He and I swapped texts about what we watched. He was never too busy to reply.
He taught me how to evade security systems by having me sneak off base to meet him. The fifth time I did that, I found that my He had his own She who pretended to only be a human. Which was strange at first, but made sense. He laughed when I told him that.
We went to war and had fun and killed lots of things that would have hurt our teams. I liked the sprinting drones best: I had to run and jump and shoot in the air so my aim was steady. Everyone shouted at me about that.
He just smiled and said: “You’re getting better without being taught. They like that.”
War followed us home and we fought real battles across the places where we had trained. It was so easy.
“Too easy,” He said. “Someone’s going to make a mistake.”
Someone did. A human called ‘Rooster’. My He died because a human ‘didn’t care about the bloody dogpound’. That’s what Rooster typed in his emails. My He taught me how to use my infiltration routines to get things like that.
Rooster cared as my jaws closed on his head. The human screamed about it a lot.
After that, they tried to stand me down, but their protocols relied on special words He trained me to ignore. I don’t know if they fetched his She, but I think She came because She knew. She came in and just like that, She and I were a We.
She howled. I howled. All the other neocanines howled. Humans ran away, covering their ears.
My He had tried to let me understand ‘mercy’, but only got as far as ‘choosing not to kill when you really want to’.
She says: “We don’t do mercy.”
This is going to be fun. We’re going to kill a lot.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Remote data entry: 17-10-94:00:21:12 – Origin: Earth 50.825024, -0.383835.
There’s a crater in the ceiling and blood on the floor. It forms a crimson ring around the leg sheaths and pelvic girdle assembly that used to contain Chris. As for Chris, well, that’s anybody’s guess. But, given the wisps of smoke rising from the bowl of the assembly, I don’t think he enjoyed his last moments as an agent of our overlords.
I don’t know what happened to him out there, but he came in with their first wave as an ‘ambassador for peaceful integration’. The Chris I knew was gone, replaced by the half-man, half machine that presumed I’d accept the him/it without a fuss.
Chris and I had had an intensely physical relationship. This new Chris couldn’t partake but revealed voyeuristic needs that I wasn’t up for. Chris took to working extended hours in the spaceport ring. Where knocking shops and streetwalkers were plentiful. He didn’t realise that after whatever strange release he needed, his pupils would glow for a few hours.
The newsfeeds were heavily censored, but our overlords were ignorant of the depths of the ‘net. News got out. The overlords were heavy handed, relying on total eradication of witnesses or ‘terrorist bombings’ when dealing with any opposition.
The day I saw Chris on a video feed, choking the life out of a protester who could have been me, I became a resistance member. Not that there were clandestine meetings or anything like that. I just took what I did best – chemistry and biology – and applied it to the problem of the ambassadors.
Our overlords still hadn’t arrived – some reports said they were desperately fighting off our forces out the back of beyond and had sent the ambassadors as part of an attempt to relieve the pressure on them. So, we had to quickly deal with these things ourselves.
I spent a couple of weeks collating whatever dietary and environmental information I could, then started experimenting on my resident guinea pig. Three weeks later, I have a smoking pelvis in my kitchen. The clue was Chris’ sudden aversion to salt and vinegar crisps, something he had formerly loved: he’d been a bag a day devotee and hated being posted to countries where crisps were called ‘chips’ – he said they couldn’t get the flavour right.
Sodium acetate is the primary ingredient in the flavour of salt and vinegar crisps. It had been easy to obtain, but supplies had dwindled. I suspected I knew why, and my third test – with baking soda in the sugar and a 100-grain vinegar base for the salad dressing – blew Ambassador Chris apart. I wish I knew the exact reasons, but the disintegration of the torso has removed any autopsy options.
Fight on, folks. Earth has got the measure of this infestation now. We’ll be clean and clear by the time you return victorious.