SPOF

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The prototype bodyguard robot stands over both of us, waiting for emergency services that will arrive too late.

“Git.” John’s voice is a whisper.

I’ve never seen anyone with an expression like his: confused and peeved.

Whilst the expression is novel, it is entirely justified. After all, I’ve just knifed him.

“I’d say I was sorry, but it’d be a lie. Instead, I’ll go with ‘I told you so’.”

The whisper is weaker, but suffused with anger.

“You stabbed me!”

“Five times, all perforating wounds. You’re a dead genius talking. Proven wrong in the most authoritative case of empirical testing for some while to come, I suspect.”

“Bastar- What?” His eyes widen as my words register with his fading consciousness.

“You wouldn’t accept that your design had a massive flaw. Most murders are committed by persons known to the victim. And, aside from America where they gun each other down over the slightest thing, the weapon of choice is a knife. Usually of a household variety.”

“I allowed for that.”

“No, you didn’t. You allowed for a ‘trusted friends’ list. You actually installed a single point of failure in a system where a single failure is one too many.”

“What are you blathering about?”

“Look, I know the light is dimming, but try to grasp this: most murders are committed by people known to the victim. Therefore, having a trusted list allows those most likely to kill you to bypass the bodyguard robot’s vetting. Darwin is turning in his grave.”

“Darwinism is some delusional justification?”

“Actually, I’m a sociopath. Justification is always a moot point. Anyway, the Darwin reference was to highlight the fundamental nature of your design flaw. It really is a dead-end feature for your creation. And, yet again, you failed to grasp that.”

“You utter nutter.”

“Really? I walk by your defender, get a knife from the kitchen, come back past it with a blade in my hand, then shiv you up and down. I thought you’d be grateful for the insight. Your bodyguard is, in effect, partially blind.”

“You killed me to prove a point? You’re crazy.”

I look down at the blood streaming from the smoking hole blown through my shirt and abdomen: “Says the man who ignored the obvious but programmed a ‘retaliate’ function in.”

Amusement glints in his eyes as he replies: “Fuck you.”

He dies. The grin remains after his eyes lose their vitality.

Bastard.

Devil’s Game

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It’s another tediously quiet evening in Watchpost 113 at the western edge of the Sonoran Borderlands. Fred is making waffles while Adey idly flicks through the long-distance views. Fred glances round as Adey jerks upright in his chair, paging back to the previous view.

“What is that?” Adey points at the screen.

Fred sighs, moves the waffle pan to the cool plate and steps across to peer over Adey’s shoulder.

“Extreme buggy race. Looks like they’re really goin’ for it.”

Adey shakes his head: “Seen that before. This is one rooster-tail, straight for three miles, headed for Bessamy Ridge.”

“The Ridge just been finished. Thirty-foot high ‘impregnamesh’ topped with sprung razor wire, set on damn great H-beams backed by buttresses that are bedded fifteen feet back from the line. Whatever that is, it’ll turn off. But I still say it’s some desert dragster.”

Fred goes back to the waffles. Adey watches the rooster-tail of dust approach. As it gets nearer, he can see just how big it is.

“Freddy, don’t think this is a dragster.”

With a loud sigh, Fred puts the pan back onto the cool plate and rejoins Adey.

Squinting at the screen, his eyes widen.

“Damn me, that tail’s gotta be over a hunnerd feet high! Ade, git some infrared on this.”

The screen switches to show an ambient temperature nightscape, except for the blazing heat at the front of the approaching dust storm. Fred puzzles over the heated upper section of the dust cloud before noticing that the rooster-tail is hiding several hot objects.

“Ade, get Phoenix on the line. This ain’t no dragster.”

Adey presses the button. The screech and hiss of active jamming fills the room.

“Freddy?”

“Run!”

Adey beats Fred to the door. He grabs the handle and the booby trap delivers a jolt that lifts him from his feet and stops his heart. He drops with a grunt. Fred screams and dives under the nearest table.

The intruder removes his trap. As he exits the building, there’s a distant rumble of impact. With a smile that flashes white teeth against the camouflage paste covering his face, he sprints to his trials bike and is gone into the desert, his countermeasures drone wheeling above.

At the heart of that rumble, a 60-ton monster hybrid of snowplough and armoured loco hit the border wall at eighty miles-an-hour. The prow drove through, its flared trailing edges flinging the debris away and widening the gap.

Behind the colossal ram comes a pack of vehicles that trace their ancestry back to moonshine runners. They spray grit and flame as tuned power plants accelerate four- and six-wheel-drives. As they clear the dust cloud, countermeasures drones rise above each vehicle. Each pair heads for a destination known only to the driver. Rotors whine, countermeasures hum, off-road suspensions flex, and absorptive paint reflects nothing as they disappear into the night.

In a cloud of smoke and steam, the ram turns and rockets back across the border, off to disappear into its underground shed before the inevitable rabid response occurs.

Along the great wall, this scene is repeated over a dozen times. By dawn, enforcement efforts at many of the breaches are being hindered by the hundreds of people streaming through the gaps – going in both directions.

The Sky Belongs

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It has always been the way that the skies inspired images of freedom and escape from the troubles of the now. “The sky belongs to none”, as my grandfather used to say.
We’ve had Eflubian motherships and Targamor raidcraft, Claflandian God-discs and Rablag Hulks. Nothing changed the facts that the skies remained free and humanity regarded the sky as their property no matter what came thundering through it to place a claim upon our resurgently verdant planet.

It was nineteen months after the last Rablag Hulk fell, taking the last of our militaries with it, when someone noticed that the birds were flying low. That may not seem like much, but those who observed eagles and similar high flying species agreed: the birds didn’t ascend as far.

Then David Meocrid flew his aircar above one-thousand feet and something tore him to pieces inside the craft, as he chatted on videocam with his business partners. Without that video, chances are we would have carried on for a while before anything was spotted as unusual.

There’s something in the sky, and it doesn’t like life, in any form, trying to share its airspace. We even sent up some geraniums in a basket slung under a balloon. It was all very scenic until one-thousand-an-one-feet up, whereupon the flowers became confetti. Within a month of what was named ‘the Meocrid Incident’, anything that ascended above a thousand feet had any organic ‘components’ shredded.

A year later, mankind had adapted and sea travel was burgeoning again. Then the sky started turning purple in places. While many powerful or curious people tried to work out what was ‘up there’, most people just changed their way of doing things. The tourism industries took a hit, and anything that depended on flying went under. Apart from the occasional sensationalist news pieces and the odd prophet or two, things seemed to be business as usual.

Except we knew that the skies weren’t ours anymore. People don’t look up to the heavens these days. We just go about our business and stay under open skies for as short a time as possible. Something else owns our sky and too many of us spend too much time worrying and waiting for the day it decides that the heavens are not enough.

Business is Good

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

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Run Run Run

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I’m pulling taters when I hear the bell and the rhyme starts pounding in my head. I scatter the haul as my legs take off of their own accord, carrying me with them.

Run, run, run,
The snuffymen come!
No time to hide
Just dive inside
Down the flows
Dim the glows

Their ears give them away. They might be behind a hedge, but the ears stick up above, all mirror shiny like the hubcaps on Uncle Tap’s old truck. Seeing ears ahead, I drop and roll under the hedge on my left, then cut across the maize field beyond, heading for the second grate. It’s open! I dive through and pause to make sure it ratchets quietly shut. No need to attract attention from what’s under them ears.

Run, run, run,
The snuffymen come!
Behind the hosties
Dodge the ghosties
They want your heat –
Be quick on your feet

I drop torches into their water cans as I run past. Ahead I can hear people trying to be silent as they scoot round the maze of server machines. Behind me, the darkness fills with a scary silence. I reach the machine stacks; there’s nothing to do about Laura, caught by the cooling-wights. I slip by easily as they’ve clustered about her body, soaking up the last of her life. Must remember to light a candle for her if I make it.

Run, run, run,
The snuffymen come!
Round the scrap
Through the trap
Cemetery stones
Under the bones

It’s a short corridor from the stacks to the piles. I have to slow down as the scrap has sticky-outy bits and jagged edges. Just as I reach the far side of the junkyard, I hear the cooling-wights scream. They fear snuffymen because they can’t steal their heat and snuffymen can do for them. The rhyme thunders in my ears, louder than ever.

Run, run, run,
The snuffymen come!
Pop a lid
Like she bid
In with the dead
To save our heads.

I dive into the chute and hope I got the right one. I plunge left, then right, then slam down with a ‘whumpf’ into a pile of old softs. Scrambling out of mouldy sheets and shirts, I hear chute-flaps banging. Snuffymen always hit the flaps to make sure we haven’t left traps. They never remember we criss-cross this end of all but one chute with cheesewire.
Out of the laundry dump, down the tunnel and into the necropolis. Headstones and crypts as far as the eye can see – and my underground eyes can see a long way. I hurdle three crypts and swing past a tombstone topped by a statue of a screaming angel with one wing missing. Two over, one back. A big, old grave topped by black stone. I slap its surface as I wince: Snuffymen screams are horrid.
The cold stone lifts along one edge and I wriggle into the dark, helped by the dozen hands pulling at me. The ratchet rattles as it’s released and we curl about each other as the lid drops and silence comes back.
“Breen, you made it!”
“Did too, Ella. Laura got chilled, let me pass easy.”
“Candle for her tomorrows, then.”
“Aye.”
“Time to pray?”
“Make it short, Ella.”
She starts and we whisper along, sounding like leaves in a churchyard on an autumn wind.
“Snuffymen, snuffymen, can’t get us today.
Snuffymen, snuffymen, take your nets away.
Snuffymen, snuffymen, we’ll not be your kill.
Someday, snuffymen, our kin will do you ill.”