Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
John’s my next door neighbour. He’s growing into a fine specimen of xenorchis caucasia. By the look of the scalar development that has absorbed his ears, his head will blossom in about a week. His body is mottled cream and purple, with his extremities shading to a beautiful jade green where they sink into the soil and the wood panelling of his house.
His wife took the kids and fled when he first mottled up. I hear that she’s the beautiful xenorchis negrosa on the Longbridge roundabout. Don’t know what happened to the kids, but infection of both parents gives a ninety percent chance of the children becoming xenomycotina, the fungi that are essential for these xenorchids to germinate.
As for John, I can’t do anything. The religious and legal status of the florated is still a hotly debated topic amongst the few of us who remain Homo sapiens.
Two years ago, we picked up a formation of six vessels as they passed Pluto, travelling faster than anything we had previously seen. By the time the information flashed around the warning systems of the world, they had entered our atmosphere. The world braced itself for momentous events, but all the vessels did was split up in the upper atmosphere and circumnavigate the globe a dozen times before departing rapidly, leaving nothing but a web of intricate contrails that faded before they left the solar system.
It was three months before we realised what they had done. We presume they were doing what they always do, a fast pass to allow them to unload millions of litres of water containing hundreds of millions of spores into the upper atmosphere. The reasons for said remain a mystery.
The spores made their way to earth through precipitation and on the outer skin of anything that passed through the upper atmosphere. Global distribution meant that containment was impossible. It also meant that the predictions of anarchy in the event of a global pandemic were largely circumvented by everybody blossoming at once. Any creature is a viable host. Adaptation seems to depend purely on mass. Elephants, whales and the few other examples of megafauna are moving masses of growth with the underlying creature apparently adapting to its newly symbiotic existence. However, smaller creatures are consumed entirely. Anything under forty kilos is reduced to one of the many subspecies of germination supporting fungi, anything over becomes a species of xenorchid. There are as many species as there are hosts and the only protection is the amount of certain minerals in the host body. Survivors ingest dangerous quantities of potassium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and molybdenum in a daily regimen that is adjusted on a near-weekly basis as further research results come in. Those results also tell us that most flora on earth are now toxic to humans; an unfortunate side-effect, we presume.
As to what happens next, we have no idea. Eighty percent of Earth’s fauna are infected, including ninety-three percent of humanity. We don’t know if any of the resulting xenorchids are edible. Which raises a whole new ethical dilemma. Should we eat what were people if they are the only safe food? Will we be vulnerable to infection from ingested material?
Unfortunately we are agreed on the fact that we will have to confront these issues and a host of others we haven’t fully realised yet. This is not about winning. It’s about surviving.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
OUTCOME: PERPETRATOR FATALITY
INCEPT: 230336 Emergency call made from D40F38CB17: “Help. He has a gun. And a knife. And my daughter.”
RESPONSE1: 230619 LEU on scene.
RESPONSE2: 230728 Call for Policeman.
‘Call for Policeman’. Three words that define my life. Enforcement at all levels has been automated for over four centuries, yet the continuing need for discretion when dealing with humans resulted in real Policemen returning to duty three centuries ago. Machines cannot cope with the diversity of human actions, the nuances of emotion and expression. Lethal force had been applied too many times in minor situations, when decision trees bifurcated their way down to a guaranteed result that actually did more harm than good.
In my first life, I put nineteen years into the police force. On a rainy day in 2043, I was gunned down by a teenager with an assault rifle after intervening in a petty dispute over who controlled the drug distribution rights for a playground.
I had filled in the ‘Revive to Serve’ form thinking it was a joke. I’m not laughing anymore. This is my fourth tour of duty, each one lasting twenty years or until I am killed.
Last night I got the call and made my way to the thirty-eighth floor of Cityblock Seventeen. In Dwelling Forty, what used to be called a family-sized council flat, Mister Stevens had consumed his post-work alcohol ration and augmented it with several grams of something that apparently turned his world into a paranoid hell in which his family were out to get him. So he defended himself. He knocked his wife out with a home-made squeezegun before stabbing his son and the first LEU to arrive before barricading himself in the bedroom with his daughter. The fact he’d managed to scratch the LEU showed how far gone he was.
It was clear from the ranting that he had left the rails completely. He would return tomorrow, all grief and remorse. But for tonight, he was a chef beyond redemption. If he hadn’t grabbed his daughter, the response would be contain until sober and then fine him. As he had a hostage and was out of his mind, I had to try and talk him down.
I am equipped with body armour and full data access, nothing more. If I want physical intervention, the Law Enforcement Units on scene will apply it.
I spent two hours talking to him, hearing how his profession is no longer rated as such due to vending being available for all and no-one wanting to pay for the personal touch. He was angry and sad, seeing the end of his vocation. He’d mortgaged everything to keep his restaurant going, his family’s comfort secondary to the need to keep cooking.
I tried. I always do. The evaluation headware that monitors my effort and mental state flashed an ‘out of options’ decision after ninety minutes. I kept going for another thirty. Then he sliced his daughter’s arm and clipped an artery. I saw his smile and realisation dawned moments before the response to life-threatening injury caused the LEU accompanying me to burn a hole through his skull. Within five minutes, the organ salvage unit had whisked his body away to pay his debts. My data feed told me that his corpse value was enough to pay them all and allow his family to live comfortably for a long time.
Nearly nine decades of service across three centuries and I still see desperate love expressed as ‘suicide by cop’.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The drill slides sideways like it’s got a mind of its own, so I straighten up to lift it clear of the crystal. My vision blurs and I pause to gauge which of the two reasons applies. With a bark of laughter I realise it’s the good option: too much rum.
“Hey Andy, you slackin’ again?”
Milt’s unbelievable, able to track the world around him like a sober person.
“Not enough blood in my alcohol system, ya fruit. I’m declarin’ snacktime. You in?”
“Goddam, boy. You goin’ nine-oh-one on me?”
That’s the medical code for saturation, when your body cannot metabolise enough alcohol to keep the Fenden at bay and let you work.
“Not a chance. I did half a bottle too soon is all.”
“That’s the problem with Jamaican. You should switch to Russian.”
“It’s got no flavour, Milt. If I’m going to pickle my ass, I’ve gotta have somethin’ I can savour.”
“You always did read too much and drink too fancy for a jeweller.”
“Bugger off. I’ve got cold hog and fresh kiwis; last chance.”
“I never said anythin’ bad about your goo-er-may eatin’ habits, boy. I’ll be there afore you have canvas up.”
I grin as I turn and use the drill to punch a post-hole in black rock. Sure enough, I’m just swinging the awning up onto the pole when Milt appears and grabs the far side. In a few moments we’re cross-legged in the shade savouring meat and fruit. From where we are, you can see the company enclave on the horizon. Between us and them lays the glittering expanse of the lowlands, shining like the treasure it conceals. Randell is a pretty planet, the vast crystalline plains reflecting whatever light is about, day or night. Under the plains in striated crystalline clumps is the wealth of the universe, the purest of which make any optical device better and the least of which make women feel appreciated.
When the company opened up the digs, they franchised the ‘jewellers’ and supplied the drugs that make our bodies inedible to the Fenden, the translucent gas things who just love having a human for dinner. Bloodmist outbreaks were a problem initially; when Fenden gorge and get amped up on warm human fluids, they group together and go into a slaughter frenzy. Made mining almost impossible until some doctor discovered that certain chemical additives make humans taste bad. The company had us jewellers over a barrel until Marty Grufe discovered that being pissed up was just as effective. You could buy two months supply of spirits for the price of a one-week shot of the company’s patent protector. Pretty soon, the only sober people on Randell lived in the company enclave. If you’re outside these days, you’re either drunk or dead.
Milt slaps my shoulder and points. In the middle distance, a ruby cloud whirls by. I wonder who we lost today. It’s easy to get so engrossed in a rich lode of gems that you let your regular swigging go. Do that for a couple of hours and you get to be edible, which is always fatal. Every jeweller has a few Fenden nearby, just waiting for him to get careless. That’s why smart jewellers pair up: to live long enough to enjoy their earnings.
I lift a bottle of rum and raise it to Milt. He lifts his vodka bottle and clinks it against mine.
“Here’s to the gems an’ the booze never runnin’ out.”
“Damn straight. Sláinte!”
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
As a child I was fascinated by the reflections you see when you place two mirrors facing each other and stand between them. Trying to understand that fascination drove me through mathematics and into science, down into quantum foam and up into the things that make reality real.
I could never shake the feeling that what I saw in those mirrors was something fundamental, if I could only understand it. When the new scientific fields caused by Tennerson’s discovery of the principles of wormhole transit opened their doors, I made sure that I was one of the first to get access to their data. Then Cravedine had his accident during a wormhole transit experiment. It caused an utter sensation, but I ignored the media furore. I knew that deep within the logs of that event was the thing I needed.
To go directly from one reality to its alternate is impossible. But in a wormhole, certain laws are placed in abeyance. A wormhole can deliver you into another reality. I added Cravedine’s rather elegant energy field equations to my mirror theories and used the gestalt result as the focus for a wormhole. Reducing the bizarre mechanism down to a backpack and a bag of portable reflective surfaces took longer than the science.
The paired mirrors are the key. The field generated between them places you in a portal. If you can see a reflection of yourself distinctly, you can go there. There being a reality divergent from our own. Of course, you needed to count how many instances from here the reflection is, so you can return.
My first jaunt was reality plus one, my shorthand for going through the right-hand mirror to the first reflection. I found myself in a familiar place, but standing in a sizeable crater. After scrambling out of it, I found the nearby city blocks deserted. Upon reaching populated areas, I got some odd looks. When I read the headlines about my ‘crazy’ experiment demolishing a neighbourhood, I ran back to the crater, unfolded a pair of mirrors and stepped back into reality minus one.
The guard standing in my laboratory was white-faced with surprise, but he held his rifle steady as he ordered me to stay put. I said I needed to stabilise myself by putting up two reflective surfaces. He nodded assent and while he called for backup, I unfolded my mirrors and stepped back into reality plus one.
I stepped into my laboratory and the me in there screamed like a girl before collapsing, hitting his head heavily on the corner of the bench. I heard his neck snap as his head twisted. I unfolded mirrors and got the hell out as I heard running feet in the corridor outside. This time, I chose reality minus two.
The ruined laboratory was open to the sky. Climbing up, I beheld the ruins of a city stretching as far as I could see. So I sat on charred masonry, snacked, drank and thought hard. Then I mirrored up and selected reality plus fourteen, the furthest that I could make out.
Six years later, I am still here. I have become a best-selling author with a backpack and a bag of mirrors cemented into the foundations of my Swedish home. I didn’t think it through. A reflection is never an exact copy and each reality has its own reflections. The reflections I saw in each reality were reflections of that reality, not mine.
I discovered the most effective method of exile ever. Then inflicted it upon myself.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“Unauthorised access to archives. Overdue viruser ‘Aloysius’ in serious breach.”
The info-alarm finishes as I slide onto the longseat, dermal plates on mesh conducting me into the antechamber. Checking my vody for artefacts, I find my virtual self complete and in the right sequence. Thinking a filter onto my command tab narrows the probable spoofers to two. Subsetting them by touchpoints highlights Angela Capel as aberrant, being a six year old querying the socio-data impacts of the Nazi putsch of 2098.
BritLib digitised the last library book in 2037, adding it to their info-archive which was established in 2024. They became the leading adoptee of crystalline storage and pioneered holistic archiving with vody access in 2052. By 2074, BritLib housed 3.2 yottabytes of information. Holographic recording and mind mapping quadrupled that. Near-exponential storage demand forced them to pioneer self-replicating crystal lattices, so the archives could grow unhindered throughout the Spadeadam complex without capacity restrictions.
Depending on your access permissions, you can retrieve any of the works of man from this morning’s quiz shows back to the pictures we scrawled on cavern walls. There are secrets here too, things deemed too critical to be lost yet simultaneously too dangerous to be known yet. Those are the usual targets, secrets being valuable in this info-dependent world.
Virusers like Aloysius-cum-Angela are either thieves or ‘Open Access’ fundamentalists who will not accept that some things are too risky to be known. They insist that civilisation can moderate itself, despite centuries of proof to the contrary. I am a member of the BritLib team that ensures none of them succeed.
I flash through the sectors back to the twenty-first century. There I pick up the intrusion and bi-directionally traceroute, pursuing while sending trackers back toward the originating noderooms. Angela’s teachnode will get a shock when Infosec barge in, but they’ll understand. The other hit will be Aloysius. Most breaches are met only with closetab actions, but any serious violation or a viruser hitting ten breaches is classed as ‘Overdue’ and referred to us for moderation.
Alighting in the data-draped halls of the Nazi subsection, I trace him past the putsch into the fimbulwinter caused by their nuclear totenreich. There are no lockloops to trap me in memory, but I find a shunt in the metadata and instigate an action prompt: “Immediate fix; prevent usage of index links to bypass access tabs.” The remediation team are going to love that one.
Slipping down the link, I overlay my vody to appear as a government privileged user. Let his access fixation bring him to me.
Emerging in a BritLib closed subsector is a surprise. I knew the library became the secure depository for all data during the fimbulwinter, but the fact they stored the entire preamble is unindexed. Too much information obscures many things, even from us. A scan of the infoclumps shows me that this subsector lists the actual location of BritLib. That fact is staff only. Game over, Aloysius.
I wait until he tries to subvert my simvody, falling for the lure of high level access.
“What the – who are you?”
That’s all he gets out before I lock his vody, diagnose his interface, select the correct overload and end him by turning his longseat into an electric chair, holding him in place with tonic seizures. Then I view his noderoom to ensure the orchestrated series of hardware overloads I deliver burn everything beyond salvage.
Infosec will clear up a ‘clumsy amateur killed by his own incompetence’ and his messy demise will add to the mythology that defends BritLib better than the firewalls.