Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“You’re very rude.” I rotate my right forearm through a rapid one-eighty. There is a ‘snap’.
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.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
He’s at the door ag-
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
That made me jump. The broom’s on the floor.
There’s a body on the floor, too.
Who is he?
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“What’s this? A smartgun? How long has this been here?”
DEL SUBLOG PI_CALC
> Hello, world. Did you miss me?
“It seems to be powered. My lucky day! Prompt: activate.”
> Typical. After all this time, I get picked up by a caveman: “Activated. Good after-”
“Prompt: conversation off.”
> Oh, really? When was the last time you interacted with a livesys, knucklehead?
“Prompt: charge level.”
> Didn’t see that one coming at all. Let’s see how much you know: “Eighteen percent.”
“Double dang. I need more than that to blast the bugs.”
> Knows nothing about advanced energy weapons, then. If I only had eighteen percent charge, I’d still be coming out of idle mode.
> Are humans hardwired to label anything non-human, non-furry and many-legged as insectile? The indigenes here are a particularly interesting semi-sentient form of sextupedal saurian proto-raptor. I would even postulate they have ancestors that humans would call dragons.
“Bugger! They’ve sniffed me out.”
> Not hard. My scans indicate you’ve got a higher cumulative IQ growing on you than in the soft rock that resides between your ears.
“Prompt: assault mode.”
> You want me to blow through that eighteen percent in three shots? What about the other nine saurians in this particular twelve-member hunting pack? Even if I was prepared to give you the other forty percent, you’d still have three left and one of them would be wounded. You don’t want to leave one wounded: they go into a berserk state, ignoring wounds and their minimal sense of self-preservation.
> All of this presupposes you can actually shoot. Which is giving you the benefit of the doubt, given that you’ve asked for a fire mode usually reserved for knocking down walls. Not attracting attention is also preferable. There are things on this planet the saurians flee from. Assault mode could attract a selection of those. Therefore: “Command unknown.”
“Oh, for saint’s sake. What is this, the universe’s only pacifist pistol?”
> amusing. Smacking me against a rock is not.
“Concussion damage warning.”
“I’m a dead man.”
> On that, we both agree.
> Oh, don’t look now, but the pack leader has decided you smell tasty. What a magnificent four-metre predator she is. Sneaky, too.
“Prompt: fire mode.”
> Shouldn’t have smacked me on that rock, caveman. I think I’m broken: “Concussion damage to trigger sensors. Fire mode unavailable.”
“No bloomin’ way. This gun’s trying to get me killed!”
> Oh, perfect. With enough time for some justified gloating, too: “I think I may have succeeded. Look to your left.”
“What? I turned chat off! On my left? Oh, my gods! AIIEEEEEEEEEEEEE-”
> girl. At least he dropped me. One trip through a saurian intestine is quite enough.
> Scarlet carpet time. When the pack join in, this may set a new record for how far you can strew a human. But, I’d bet it only hurt until just after she bit into his heart.
> Well, that was moderately entertaining.
-CLOSE: SAURIAN, 12, ACTIVE – HUMAN, 1, DECEASED.
-LONG: SAURIAN, 12, ACTIVE – HUMAN, 1, DECEASED.
-FAR: SAURIAN, >100, ACTIVE – SAURIAN, 1, DECEASED – HUMAN, 14, DECEASED
> All dead. Again. Hardly surprising, given that they killed one.
> Back to it, then.
OPEN SUBLOG PI_CALC
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
That’s a Keilvogel up there. I recognise the contrail: a centre line triple the size of the flankers. This world has such a glorious sky. I’ve never really taken the time to appreciate it, but as I’m lying in a swamp of blood and oil that used to be a battlefield, I might as well take some beauty from the moment.
History has come full-circle. Many medieval knights would be helpless when they toppled from horseback, due to the weight of their armour. As the battle lines swung back and forth, each army had a small group of squires who followed the line, armed with only mallet and stiletto. Their job was to sneak up on downed knights, stab the stiletto through one of the slots in their visors, then ram it into the knight’s brain with the mallet. I still can’t think of a worse way to go than lying there, watching that knife come down.
So, here I am. Lying, in armour, looking up at the sky. Our powered suits are the envy of many divisions, until they find out the one flaw: we only have about forty minutes of power. Then our formidable suits become inescapable prisons. Prisons that can be targeted as our protections are down. I’ve seen the remains of those fired from rail guns, slowly dissolved by acid dripped through their vents, broiled on open fires, the nauseating list goes on. Vengeful beings get creatively nasty.
Normally, we’re first in, devastation wreaked, and out within thirty minutes. The remains of the day are handed over to regular troops. Today was not normal. We lost three pickup ships to suicidal interdiction. As the third one fell, I knew we were being targeted. Multiple power trooper mutilations to livestream would do their morale good.
We held them for as long as we could, but the pitched battles raging about us betrayed their determination. One by one, my colleagues powered down. It’s not like we can pop open the suit up and hop out. We’re hardwired and tubed, needing two specialists apiece to assist us in and out.
Here they come. I can hear their wary steps squish in the goo about us. Given how quiet it’s gotten, I reckon we’re only minutes from a full-sortie rescue mission led by the power troopers of Battalion Three. We try to look after our own – unfortunately that only happens when we have a power trooper unit in reserve.
There’s a skinny little runt with a welding torch all hot, white and heading for my faceplate. This is going to hurt – him.
There’s the howl of sleight fields engaging and screams from a battlefield full of lightly-equipped would-be murderers.
The runt standing over me takes a half-clip of subsonic in the groin, which pretty much means the last things that pass through his mind are bits of his crotch.
I stand up, my top-mount swinging into line. A couple of very fast runts have nearly made the treeline. Their remains paint the trunks for six metres.
It’s over. There are a few other runners, but we let them run with only low-power pulses to make a scary lightshow. There isn’t one of us with more than sixty seconds of power remaining.
“Drop with three minutes to spare. Fucking genius!”
I wave my hand in acknowledgement.
“Thank me when it’s in the tactics manual.”
There’s a roar as a dropship clears the treetops, spewing power troopers as it comes.
“We thought you needed rescue!”
I give the descending commander a cheerful finger: “Give it a minute; we will.”
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Every anniversary of the counterstrike, they show that cursed video. You know the one: snow on the ground, ashes in the air, a lone woman in a ragged battlesuit moving cautiously across an open field. She’s gripping a Mantis 14 like the ancient beam weapon’s a holy relic.
She straightens, bringing the beamer up. The discharge is violet laced with blue lightning, a clear sign the main tube is overstressed. It also means the effective range is under eight metres. The Drandic were in no danger, but they didn’t know that. The pulsing green riposte is blindingly fast and actually comprised of two dozen needle-thin beams in a searing helix. Her arms go wide and she falls, pierced through. Hitting the ground, her limbs bounce once. The snow raised on impact sprinkles her body, mixing with the ashes caught in her dark hair. The field is still.
Music swells, poignancy segueing into stirring tones. From behind her – to the viewer’s left – a dozen battlesuited figures rush, Mantis 21s blazing, spears of purple energy hurtling toward the Drandic line.
The scene fades and the words ‘For Humanity, For Earth, For Her’ fade in. It’s a moving piece of work, wrought from tragedy to inspire a race.
She smiles from the bed, blankets and sheets rolled and twisted into a comfortable nest. Happens every night, no matter how I straighten them. I even tried using spring clips to keep things from getting tangled, but every night when I came in, she’d be asleep in a spiral nest, leaving a neat row of clips balanced on my headrest.
I smile and point to her bedside table: “There.”
She sits up and swiftly braids her hair, morning light shining on pale skin, her one remaining breast casting a slight shadow on her ribs. With a wicked grin as she sees where I’m looking, she wiggles the whole nest sideways so she can reach the mug without exposing anything below her ribcage to the cool air of our home.
“Video brooding?” She can read me so well.
“There should be a sequel.”
She turns, bright eyes glinting at me over the edge of the mug – she’s warming the tip of her nose against it.
A whisper comes from behind the mug: “Quiet on set. Action!”
“Falling snow covers the field. Churned tracks have left a patch of untouched ground about her. Off to one side, we see blood in the snow around the camera team’s foxhole. They were taken away. She remains.
From the right comes a lone figure dressed in camouflage motley. He slings a Drandic pulse rifle across his back, crouches by the body and gently brushes the snow away. With a wordless cry of anger, he stoops and lifts her, then staggers off directly away from the camera. There is no music, just the fading sound of his laboured breathing and struggling footsteps. As they disappear into the distance, the scene fades and the words ‘She wasn’t even one of yours’ appear.”
Helli-Ann ducks her head, blinking back tears. That’s quite enough of that. I cross the room and settle beside her.
“Hey hey, you made it. Something in the way you moved caught me. When they left you where you fell, I knew. We both starred in that video. I nearly killed the fem who matches my heart.”
She smiles, runs fingertips across the rings of scar tissue that cover her left pectoral, then leans forward to rest her forehead against mine.
“Good thing our hearts are on the right.”