On the Wind

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Swerve left and dive over a fence, roll once and spring through a gap in a wall, landing in what used to be a lounge, my face inches from a dead someone’s diary. As a former librarian, I can’t help it: I have to read the words neatly written on the page-

There’s a grinding noise nearby that sounds like distorted laughter. Nasser! Move! Seeing the page is the last one with writing, I rip it out and pocket it. One sheet of paper won’t weigh me down.

Out the doorway and through a parched backyard, explode through a chain link fence in a shower of rust and brittle pieces, then over another brick wall, to plunge down into an open cellar. I crash land and the floor gives way. Surprisingly, it’s only a short fall onto a van roof. I wait for the Nasser to descend on me, but things only get quieter as bits cease to fall. Minutes pass and my breathing slows.

“You alright, mister?”

I turn my head and she gasps at facing the muzzle of my gun. Training: aim follows eyes all the time.

Preteen. Bright-eyed. Cleaner than me.

“I’m good, miss. You on your own down here?”

She nods.

“Had yourself a right good shelter, too. Sorry I made a hole in the roof.”

There’s a tentative grin. Then a smell reaches me. What the-

She sees my eyes widen as I sniff.

“Baking day. Nassers got no noses.”

True. The dreadful clones of a vengeful spaceman see very well, hear badly, have the tactile sensitivity of a car crusher, ignore odours, and I don’t want to know if they can taste things. Duke Benson got left in space when the shuttle fled the arrival of The Ship. Everyone thought he was already dead; he thought everyone had abandoned him. The giant alien manufacturing facility we call ‘The Ship’ may well have been a gift to humanity, an opening overture to eventual contact. Sadly, the first human it met was a mean, unhinged man with a brand-new lust for revenge. Now, ‘Nassers’ are perpetrating an extinction event that only the arrival of The Ship’s creators can prevent. That’s the only scientific conclusion reached: further research and related investigations were suspended in the face of genocidal empirical evidence and an overwhelming need to run and hide.

“I got rolls. Cake in about ten minutes. You want tea or coffee?”

What the-

“How?”

“Dad ran a catering business. I was down in our storage when it started raining Nassers. Dad and Ben, his foreman, reversed big rigs down the entry ramp and blocked it. Nassers got ‘em as they tried to get in. I’ve been alone ever since.”

Two years. She’s been here two years. Barely a mile from what was our camp until a few hours ago, when it became a Nasser-overrun slaughterhouse. Bertrand’s tale about ‘baking on the wind’ wasn’t hogwash. I wish I could apologise to him.

“You ran from Bagnell?”

She knows. I look at her and nod. It’s too soon for words.

“Then you better come in. We’ll be safe, I can drop the security shutters between the carpark and the warehouse. My name’s Greta, by the way.”

“Dustin.”

I clean up while she makes tea. As I shuck my ruined jacket, that torn page flutters to the floor. I pick it up and read:

‘There is no Judgement.
There is no Qiyamah.
There is no coming back.
There is only the end.
It will be ugly,
And accompanied by laughter.’

Now I wish I’d left it behind.

Extinction Event

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The sub-tropical jungle steams in the sultry afternoon heat as the sun reappears after the mini-monsoon. Sapping humidity returns. Two figures appear: the leader moving with the ease of long familiarity with the terrain, the follower stumbling every few steps.

“This undergrowth is hard to get through.”

“I’m afraid we’re not allowed to do anything about that, sir.”

“I paid seventeen million to come here to hunt. You could at least have cut a trail.”

“We’re not allowed to do that, sir. We have to maintain a minimum impact on this milieu.”

“Minimum impact? I’m about to shoot a Tyrannosaurus Rex with a Ruger-Wallace .655! What’s that going to do to the timeline?”

“We’ll remove the bullets and leave the dinosaur, sir. Predation by temporally-shifted hunters is a small enough factor that it is absorbed by environmental losses.”

“Then your man is in for a cheap payday. He’ll only have to remove one bullet.”

“My mistake, sir. Sorry, sir.”

“Oh, you found me a big one.”

“Apologies, sir. That one is not for hunting. Temporally relevant specimens are marked by a cartouche – you can see it on the Tyrannosaur’s head, between the eye ridges.”

“You’re telling me I can’t shoot that?”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

“Who decides that? And how?”

“I’m not at liberty to say, sir. Laramidia Hunt Tours will credit it you 5% for this disappointment.”

“Five percent be damned. I paid for it, it’s my kill.”

“No sir.”

“Get out of the way, Tour Guide Croon. Otherwise, we’ll see if you’re bulletproof.”

“Are you threatening me, sir?”

“No. Accidents happen and you’re going to have one if you don’t get out of the way.”

“The decision about temporally relevant specimens is made by a Sagnathus, sir.”

“A what?”

“Sagnathus. A sentient race that left Earth just before the KP event, sir. They decide which of their revered kin we are to leave alone. Attempting to transgress that will void your cover, sir.”

“What sort of horseshit are you trying to feed me, Croon? Smart lizards? Hah! Now, get out of my way or get shot.”

“Sir!”

“What?”

“Behind you.”

“You think I’m going to fall for tha-”

Croon catches the Ruger-Wallace assault rifle as it slips from lifeless fingers, then steps quickly aside to avoid being hit by the owner’s severed head. The Sagnathus sheathes its razor-sharp klewang while its tail slaps the ground in applause.

“Commendable alacrity! Fair greetings, Tour Guide Croon.”

“And many more to your troth, Ranger Takt’r.”

“Your pronunciation has improved.”

“Thank you. My apologies for-”

“None are necessary. We both know the difficult natures of some of the clients you have to guide.”

Croon gestures toward the body: “An unfortunate misfire?”

“I think taken by a pack of linheraptors when he left the camp – against your advice – would be more in keeping. He struck me as a human who doesn’t make mistakes with his guns. So, you found his gun and a few grisly remains, necessitating on-the-spot incineration. When you return his beloved rifle, heads will nod but nothing untoward will occur. But, as a precaution, we will monitor visitors for six months to ensure no investigators slip through.”

 

The sun beats down and the sub-tropical jungle steams in the sultry afternoon heat. Scavenger and predator alike, lazing in the humidity, momentarily tilt their heads to sniff at a scent that drifts by. Recognising incinerated carrion, they settle back to await the cool of evening and better hunting.

That Final Twilight

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“What is that which burns like the star had a child?”

“Terra of Sol Three, my bairn. Its residents called it ‘Earth’. It was beautiful.”

“Why does it burn, pata?”

“They had the war they said they’d never have.”

“That seems foolish.”

“It was. They lived on a planet with more shades of green than any place I have ever been. They had a host of creatures that gave voice; even had companion creatures. In addition to the dominant sentient primates, there were four pre-sentient aquatic species, two pre-sentient primate species, and a host of broad spectrum entities that we never properly catalogued.”

“They killed them too?”

“One could argue that a few hundred murdered billions. When you tally the number of lifeforms that abounded there, it is better the perpetrators died in the holocaust they made. We have not the penalties for a crime so all-encompassing.”

“Did they do so knowingly or were they insane?”

“Sanity is a trait that can change drastically depending on circumstance, my bairn. To the point where what is sanity for one can be insanity for others. I have no doubt that some thought themselves to be in the right, others thought themselves immune, and many more thought their chosen psycho-supportive idols would intervene. In the end, they all burned.”

“What remains?”

“Memory. Which, by the time the ashes cool, will be gone. I returned to renew my acquaintance with this, one of the most beautiful of worlds, scattered with a diversity of natural paradises almost completely ignored by the indigenes. I came back because I was forgetting. Now, I mourn that the forgetting will soon become total.”

“The death of memory being the final demise?”

“In all ways that matter to solid beings, yes. Those who are immaterial may have better of it, but the barrier betwixt us is as impenetrable as that between us and the dead.”

“Then Earth is dead?”

“Aye, my bairn. A glorious place made barren by fear and avarice. The naïve would simply blame a lack of communication, but, at the last, those who choose not to talk invariably have selfish reasons. Whichever of the two underpins the silences, it matters not.”

“What now, pata?”

“We note the loss of a destination. Then we move on.”

“Could there be survivors?”

“Scattered in off-planet habitats and suchlike? Undoubtedly. But, fewer than a viable colony at best.”

“Then we should leave them to their twilight. Anything else would be cruel.”

“Well said, my bairn. Let us begone.”

Targalla Wills

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Ninety-eight gazillion miles from anywhere I want to be and some teenage alley-captain and his squad manages to get the drop on me. That’ll teach me for daydreaming about places I’d rather be.

“Well, now, what do we have here?”

Oh, great. He’s examining the rod. If he’s as smart as I think he is, he’ll figure it out quickly and things will get interesting.

“Targalla! This is an Aiming Wand!”

Correct. And you’re a devotee of the local war god.

“Well, now, why shouldn’t I bring the thunder down on you?”

One of his squad looks about nervously: “Climel, we’re too close.”

Alley Captain Climel looks back, his tone witheringly contemptuous: “You scared to face Targalla, Rufutz? To take a spotter down, you’d hesitate to go in glory?”

I’m a bit more than a spotter, numbnuts. But, as long as you think that, I might survive this.

Climel waves his squad back. Looks like he’s not prepared to try and enforce his authority over suicidal moves. The verbal lashing is sufficient to keep up appearances.

From the end of the alley, he points the wand at me. I suffer a moment’s glare blindness, then he’s centred the dot on my forehead.

“Time to go, spotter. How does it feel?”

“I feel Targalla is about to bestow his blessings.”

That doesn’t go down well. Climel looks uncomfortable. The squad mutters. Invaders like me aren’t meant to speak like devoted. Climel utters a dismissive bark of laughter and squeezes the wand’s initiator.

Far above, something detaches itself from my nearest companion drone. It’s not what Climel expects it to be. He’s expecting something to mangle and burn me.

With a ‘crack’ of ignited air and a flash that turns my view monochrome for a while, a stroke of artificial lightning leaves nothing of Climel but his arms and charred pieces. As the bits fall, Rufutz doesn’t even move – he just turns to one side and pukes hard. He’s not alone.

I roll to my feet and steel myself to show nothing but nonchalance. Strolling out to the remains of the squad, I bend down and pick up my Aiming Wand. I feel the tingle as it recognises the tags embedded in my sternum and pelvis. Anyone who tries to use it without those tags automatically becomes the target, regardless of anything marked by the wand’s beam.

The squad is badly shaken and hurting. The looks in their eyes are those of frightened kids rather than fledgling resistance members.

“So, who will take Targalla’s revelation over the squealing of their elders?”

They swap stares, the hidden meanings within lost as their team cohesion collapses.

“I will.” Rufutz remains outspoken, at least.

“Alley Captain Rufutz, I am Deldrac. I was born farther from this ground than you would believe, but will you believe I know Targalla’s favour?”

He’s still coping with me promoting him. This is the acid test. An alley crew on our side will be an asset, but he has to roll with my cues – and the squad has to accept it.

“Can you fetch aid for my people without bringing down enforcers?”

Got him! I see nods exchanged. Rufutz just became their boss.

“I can. Whilst they are attended, let’s discuss bringing Targalla’s peace to this neighbourhood.”

We like their war god, he comes with straightforward values: honesty, fealty, duty, family, society. Things we can work with to make this planet peaceful for those who remain now their warlords are dead.

Crush Test

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The bridge is quiet. That special kind of quiet when everyone is busily engaged in not paying attention to something. In this case, it’s the trio who stand in a tight group to the left of the command chair.

“I didn’t mean it like that!” Ensign Kurth Reynolds is standing on tip-toe. Which places Her Highness’ horn in line with his right eye. But he’s in too much pain to worry about being blinded.

“My Cahn, really, he didn’t. There’s a confusing multiplicity of meanings between colloquial and formal Humanish.” Captain Elonna Blaze rubs her muzzle slowly, her ears back. Both are a sign that this Wolfyn is reaching the limits of her patience – a place she visits frequently when her highness is interacting with humans.

“He insulted my butt. Which is why I’m crush testing his undercarriage.” Gemra Cahn, heiress to a title so long they just use her family name instead, is not in the mood for diplomacy. Braided queues of ruby-red hair flex of their own accord, scratching lightly at her demi-cloak and leggings. Eyes the colour of snow clouds glare from a freckled, high-cheekboned face. She even has freckles on the horn protruding from her forehead, a mark of exceptional beauty amongst the Tarraphym.

Elonna yips quietly before replying: “Gemra. He actually complimented your butt. If you translate what he said, he was highly complimentary of your – um – flanks. Let me run his exact words through the core translator so you can appreciate the real meaning.”

Reynolds pales. There is a moment’s silence on the bridge. Nothing and no-one dares move.

“Oh.” Elonna’s ears flick, then stand upright. She looks from the screen to Reynolds. Her eyebrows meet in the middle as her muzzle wrinkles. She growls.

Gemra looks down at the infobracer on her forearm, which mirrors what Elonna has just received. Her eyes widen. Her lower hand clenches into a fist. Reynolds emits a high-pitched squeal, his eyes rolling back to show only whites. Then he collapses – as far as her unrelenting grip allows.

Gemra looks at Elonna and nods toward the display: “I didn’t know they could do that.”

Elonna shrugs: “Every race has its quirks.” She looks down: “My Cahn, he will suffer permanent impairment if you don’t let go.”

“That could be a favour for females in his proximity.”

“Possibly. But it would cause a diplomatic incident. Which means reams of affidavits and interviews with functionaries from the consulate.”

“Bureaucracy would be a small price to pay.”

Ensign Karen Warratah waves her hand: “Your highness?”

“Yes?”

“We’ve got the measure of Reynolds, ma’am. You’re not the first lady to crush test his undercarriage and you won’t be the last. But we thank you for the furlough this particularly rigorous test will give us.”

Gemra singlehandedly straight-arms Reynolds and gives him a shake – he moans, even though unconscious, and Ensign Charles Wirth faints.

She chuckles, then drops him.

“I bow to your experience of dealing with the local pests, Ensign Warratah.”

Elonna relaxes her snarl and glances sideways at Gemra: “Your altitudeness is enjoying this a little too much.”

Gemra grins: “I enjoy harassing harassers. Set the bureaucrats on me if you dare.”

Elonna sighs and rubs her muzzle. It’s going to be a very long day with Gemra in such high spirits. She’d better warn the rest of the Honour Guard that their Cahn is in the mood for mayhem.