Vegetable Process

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Have you ever grown your own computer? It’s not like they show on MeVee. There’s a lot more liquid blend used because spillages occur all the time. The damn things sweat out unused elements constantly, overflowing the moulds. On a hot night, it can even overflow the trays you stand the moulds in. And that image of the girl in her skimpies leaping lithely across the room to get cloths to mop a spill? Utter tosh. Any leakage puts a near-frictionless layer between skin and any surface. You crawl to the towels with your hands and knees wrapped in stray clothing. If clothes are out of reach, duvet or sheets will do.
Very important: you’d better be using nanomachine-enhanced detergent or you’ll fuse the dryer and your element-soaked laundry into a whorled sculpture. Great conversation piece at parties, but it isn’t covered by your home insurance.
For pity’s sake don’t use the ‘quicksilver fastwiring’ hack. It does work, but, mercury is poisonous and doing this – unless you’re growing somewhere with always-on industrial extraction fans – turns the element sweat and its fumes toxic. You will die, along with your family, and possibly take the neighbours with you!
And, last but by no means least, we come to those fumes. The term ‘godawful stench’ doesn’t quite capture the sheer horror that overwhelms everyone on first encounter. It’s appalling and has the ability – like the odours of some cooked food – to impregnate certain clothing fibres. Unlike the cooking odours, it doesn’t wash out. Not even a commercial nanowash can shift “the smell that can make a Litran Skunk-horse puke”, to quote one victim. It also reacts to heat. That’s right, your stinking clothing will only smell worse if you wear it or hang it somewhere warm.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t grow your own. It’s the only affordable way to get access to the Versingloban datanet, and for remote outposts, it can transform communications and entertainment, providing desperately needed mental resources and a way to secure physical assistance on demand.
(Speaking of remote outposts reminded me: if you’ve got old interfaces, just slot examples into the ‘connectors’ mould during the ‘populate’ stage, remembering to etch how many of each you want onto the ‘iterate’ substrate.)
I’m just saying you should be aware of the real costs. Depending on your colony’s cultural background, you might encounter problems. My mainly Euro-origin colony was horrified when they found the computer that made their lives better needed a diet of fresh meat. I was catching rodents and feeding them to my computer for months before the colony council insisted that ‘humane considerations’ should take precedence.
Yes, I live on Prospect, home of the politico-religious drive to ban Versingloban carniculture technology as it’s ‘an unnatural way to perpetuate digital dependency’. I’m not going to get into the ‘blood machines’ arguments here. I’m just getting some real-life details out there for anyone who wants to grow their own.
Now, any Versingloban will happily give you a seed, it’s a goodwill custom of theirs to carry and give. However, because of my homeworld’s actions, it’s probably not a good idea to make a big thing of getting one. Find it at a location away from your local haunts and be dead snaky on your way home. No need to make it easy for any fanatics to follow you.
That’s it. Good luck, grow well, give freely. Remember to check-in at carniputers.everywhere on v.Earthnet and say hello when you’re up and running.

Sweet Rocks

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The stars appear like fireflies seen through vintage sunglasses, the ones that used to give everything a mellow brown hue. My grandfather had some, an inheritance from his grandfather. Guess they’re buried somewhere in the dust of Earth One.

Mellow. Now, there’s a definition for this moment. Sitting here, heels on the console, chilled vodka tube in hand, seat reclined all the way back, headrest cradling my head with the infinitesimal pressure granted by a pocket repulsor field. Mellow, indeed. More correctly, I’m mellow. It’s a feeling, after all. Despite all the advances in technology, we haven’t bridged the machine-emotion chasm yet.

Just like we haven’t bridged the gap between what Earths Two thru Seven provide and the stuff that could only be found on Earth One. We knew it was dying, but somehow, with our never-quite-accepting view of extinction events, we let it slide without conserving the bits we’d miss.


I jolt fully awake and the chair reacts by bringing me up to ‘pilot ready’ position. The smell reaches me first and judging by my saliva production, I reacted before consciously realising I could smell it.

Jansis skips into the cabin, that curious childhood gait so mysteriously suited to moving quickly and safely along grip strips in low gravity.

“Premium grade! We’re going home!”

I raise my eyebrows. She shoves a clear mug of steaming golden goop at me.

“Taste it and tell me I’m wrong.”

She’s not. Three mouthfuls of the delicious proto-treacle are all I need before a gentle rush of ill-formed, impossible reminiscence momentarily overwhelms me.

“Oh, my sweet lord, you’re right.”

Jansis kisses me, combining the rush of the mouthful she’s had with mine and our usual on-contact arousal. I sputter as I recoil.

“Whoa! Easy there, tigress. We need to lay claim.”

“I filed a composition analysis to the ninetieth vector before warming our mugs. We’ve already received over a hundred requests for deposits.”

“Lords of earth and air, how many?”

She checks her bracer: “One hundred and fifty-seven as of last packet received.”

“Biggest deposit?”

“Half a tonne, that request secured by an escrow offer of three hundred Krugerrand per kilo.”

I take a steadying breath and point through the supraglass: “How big is it?”

Her eyes are fever bright as she checks her bracer: “Point four-five-seven-oh-eight of a gigatonne.”

I take her in my arms and that moment returns. We are going home, and set for life when we get there, or anywhere else we take a mind to visit.

No-one knows where these dark amber asteroids originate from, nor why they consist entirely of a substance that, when brought to tolerable temperatures, exhibits all the properties of varying grades of treacle or molasses, plus that uncanny rush of deep imagery. There are religious groups and scientific teams trying to make sense of the data released. Personally, I think it’s just a side effect of human biology meeting millennially freeze-matured alien syrup.

Whichever way you regard it, humanity has developed a taste for ‘Amberal’. With sugar cane and bees nothing more than dust on Earth One, these asteroids fetch exorbitant prices. With each one exhibiting slight variations in composition, toxicity and flavour, finding one that can be quaffed straight after thawing without needing filtering is a one in a million chance, guaranteeing the fortunes of those who find it and their backers.

One huge reward nobody mentions outside exploration team circles is the one we’re enjoying: we get to drink sweet rock all the way home.

Brakes, Scars, and Other Things I Miss

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Funny how the roar of wind fades into the background after a while.

I loved the wind roar in my rag-top coupe. Drove that antique everywhere, pretty much spent my late teens in it, met the love of my life while driving it, and waved her goodbye from it, too. Which was fitting, as its weak brakes scared her. As trivial irritations do, the fright led to arguments that revealed bigger things; things the passion we shared couldn’t overcome.

A rogue booster rocket cuts a jagged turquoise line across the violet sky.

Ah, war wounds. The scars that proved you had been at the sharp end, and on the receiving end of it, too. NanoHeal sorted that out. Bonded to your DNA profile, it restored you to how you should be. Which was great, except for the first time. While sorting your wounds, it dealt with all the other stuff: tattoos, piercings, and every other blemish, inside or out. I can’t even get a tan. We asked if it could be programmed to exclude trophy marks like they programmed it to ignore cyberware. They replied: “That wouldn’t be cost effective.”

In eerie silence, a burning chunk about the size of a small mansion tumbles past, shedding random bits along with burnt stick figures.

Something I’m glad I missed; being on the impact side of the station when we all discovered the Euripides was a ghost ship, her crew slain by supratrans shock. Usually, that happens on entry to supralight and the ship never re-emerges. Occurrence on exit is rare and can be problematical. Supralight craft are at least the size of old Earth cruise ships. If nobody realises the problem in time and gets an emergency crew aboard, there’s going to be a big mess. In this case, the Euripides emerged closer than expected on a heading that bisected the heart of Plusidra Station. The impact hurled me through the environment field on a loading bay and here I am, imparted sufficient momentum to make orbit impossible, now freefalling from as high as you can get. Yet, I’m still glad I wasn’t on the impact side. I’m sure that was a moment of pain and fear no-one should have to endure, however briefly.

By sheer luck, my selection of cyberware means I’m not blind, liable to suffocate or pass out. I get to enjoy this ride all the way to the multicoloured desert below, where I expect to die and be buried in a spectacular spray of rainbow-hued crystals.

I can think of worse ways to go. The views are superb and the contrasts of debris against sky are quite awesome, their terrible import only enhancing the beauty.

Just in case browsing disaster investigators haven’t already guessed: this is my final diary post.

My name is Jedry Strong.

Her name was Kelly Frea-something. I hope she’s happy, out there, somewhere. For the first time ever, I’m with her on wishing for better brakes.


Author:  Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I land with a crunch that tells me the remaining organic ribs in my left side need replacing.

“I bet that hurt, Shields.”

Fast footsteps betray his next move. I brace, left arm tight. Sure enough, Manny lands a running kick that would have driven shards of those ribs into my lung.

“I bet that hurt, Shields.”

Manny does the silent and deadly thing, all dressed up in custom leathers. No-one had the guts to tell him he only looks sullen and silly before tonight. He’s taking it badly.

At the top of the enhanced human food chain is the bioengineered soldier. Of course, down on the streets, there are many who want that sort of power. Without the inconveniences of dedication, training, and a lifetime commitment.

A fast grab-and-throw: I take the short flight back across the street.

“I bet that hurt, Shields.”

The reason why Manny sounds like his audio’s stuck is a side effect of Doctor Clifford Lomax’s answer to a poor person’s bio-enhancement cravings: Rooster, available in syrettes that let you hop yourself up from unbalanced to crazed whenever your self-esteem needs a boost. You get super strength, super speed, super resilience, random aneurysms, and a craving for Rooster.

“Going to kill you now, Shields.”

Rooster users are tough targets, but I can usually tame ‘em. Manny’s ex-service, like me. He’s more than I can handle – on my own.

“No. You’re not.” The voice comes from a medium-tall gent in a virulent purple shirt, barefoot below spotless, razor-creased cream chinos.

“Okay, mister loud shirt, you first, then Lincoln.”

Manny makes a move so fast I can’t track it. He misses. The gent taps Manny on the shoulder.

“Try again, punk.”

Manny spins about and launches a vicious something that stops with a wet ‘snap’. His upper arm forms a right-angle. Manny screams. The gent smiles.

“Manny, meet Don.”

“My arm!”

Manny seems to be having trouble getting past his bendy humerus problem.

“Don wanted to meet you, seeing as you’ve been touting yourself as bio-enhanced. He wanted to see if you have what it takes.”

Don’s smile disappears.

“If you don’t, he’s going to take what you have.”

His moves are a blur. The impacts sound like a fast stick-on-stick rhythm. Manny’s eyes go wide while his mouth forms a perfect ‘O’. The noise stops and Manny drops, shattered in his skin

A hand grabs my collar and brings me upright, leaning against the wall I bounced off.

“Thanks, Linc. Another city closed to Lomax’s legacy.”

Don’s the real deal. Bio-enhanced from the age of fourteen. We met when he saved me from a nasty death a decade ago. Since then, we’ve helped each other out. This little to-do is the usual set-up: I do the finding and luring out, he does the stopping. Doesn’t usually hurt this much, though.

“Don’t call for at least two months.”

Don laughs: “Deal. With Manny ended, Lomax will be running again.”

“Shame I couldn’t lure him out.”

“Never a chance. He always gets a power-hungry fool like Manny to front for him. Gives him time to flee.”

“High cunning and low courage. Never a good combination.”

“Too right. But, he’s running out of cities to disappear into.”

“I’ll keep an eye out. He’s the sort who might try to double back.”

Don nods: “Appreciated. Let’s get you to hospital.”

“So you can leave ‘em your payment details and head off while I’m in surgery?”

“Affirmative. I have a renegade deserter mad doctor to hunt.”

“Next time, the ribs are on a plate, and on you.”


Hanging from a Ledge on Mantriss V

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Jolla looks toward the setting sun: “A million light years from home and we still instinctively count ‘one’, ‘two’, ‘three’, ‘four, ‘lots’. Our territories are virtually limitless, yet our minds still consider a horizon as the end of the world.”

“I know you’re one of the smartest people ever loosed upon the universe, but do you have to be such an asshole?”

He looks across at me and smiles: “Unfortunately, my intelligence is the side effect of a modification to correct a genetic defect. My being an asshole would still be a feature even if I were as slow as you.”

I’d take a swing at him, but that would mean releasing my death grip on the finger-width ledge we dangle from.

The sun sinks behind distant mountains and the twilight is a strangely comforting shade of deep blue.

He reaches up, swaps gripping arms, and gives a one-shouldered shrug: “To be fair, I only pointed out truths.”

I shake my head: “Pointing out to a bigger force that we’re out of monitoring range, I could let slide. Subsequently cataloguing the shortcomings of the entire opposition from boss to deckhand, I can’t. The fact you’re the logical expedition leader had no influence on a group of beings who hated you for your condescension over the previous eleven months. Hell, the only reason I’m here is duty. We had a mission. Now our vessel is heading for the Free Territories, loaded with the legendary treasures of the no-longer-long-lost Corunna. If I’d been given the slightest moment to change my mind, I’d be with them. But gut reaction is what it is. My reward is to be left hanging from a precipice alongside the cause of my imminent death. Why couldn’t Handra or Marten have gotten lucky, instead of plummeting? At least they were funny.”

“Plus, you fancied them both.”

I look him straight in his perfect blue eyes: “True.”

He smiles ruefully: “Never could get interaction with slow-minds right. Even hints to the one I fancied.”

It takes me a moment to get that.


He closes his eyes: “Yes. I always hoped; never had the guts. So smart, so scared. So, here’s a thing. I know you’ve got a one-shot line on the back of your belt. You’re just too damn dutiful to abandon me, even though I’m to blame. Therefore, I apologise.”

He lets go.

Just like that. Asshole to saviour, but still an asshole. He’s guaranteed I’ll never forget him.