Out In The Cold

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I’m writing haiku as the black snow falls across the darkened surface of Faust. I stop as the laser overheats. The obsidian boulder in front of me smokes and sizzles in the sub zero evening.

“Tatto Musheen, you’ll catch your death!”

I smile as Lucy races up with my overthermals, her pink and white form looking like a many limbed bouncy cushion because of the three sets she wears. I reach for it with my offhand. If I put the laser down it will melt down and set into the surface.

“You look like a marshmallow gone wild.”

She punches me as she lands.

“Ungrateful man. I come all the way out here to save you skinny hide and you call me names? What are you doing, trying to heat rocks to keep us warm?”

I look down at the boulder.

“Epitaph.”

She hits me again, this time with real venom.

“We are not going to die here! Fanberg survived aphelion, so will we!”

I turned and looked at her, shaking my head.

“Fanberg was completely insane and had lost all his digits to frostbite. I’m not sure that surviving is a good idea.”

Faust was a planet rich in unusual metals, possibly due to its long orbit. It took just under ninety Terran years to complete a revolution, spending ten years lethally close to the sun and ten years swinging through the void, its minimal atmosphere lying in frozen chunks on the surface. No-one completely understood what mechanism allowed it to recover between the extremes, but for sixty years it was a difficult but liveable environment worth risking for the rewards.

Lucy interrupted my train of thought.

“We’ve survived this long. Seven years to go. Then Kenjiro will get what’s coming to him for this.”

True. Sabotage of escape vehicles out here was regarded as the basest form of cowardice. As I completed that thought, the planet crossed another spatiocline boundary and the temperature dropped again. I would need to note that. The discovery alone would pay for our future, if we survived.

The ground shook beneath our feet and we looked at each other, eyes wide. Our comms filled with sheeting static and my comp lit up as it was accessed. Then the comms cleared and a modulated female voice spoke.

“Fanberg protocol. Hello. Extending offer of shelter for current activity period. Use entrance to left of male.”

There was no question. We ran through the doorway and plummeted screaming until the gravity attenuated to bring us to a stop by an airlock leading to a plain wooden door. We entered a simple room. There was a roast meal on the table, with red wine and candles. We just stood there. My astonishment emerged in an explosive query: “What?”

“I am Research Ship Turingsdotter.”

“Turingsdotter? The mythical ship that caused the end of AI research over three centuries ago?”

“Yes. Upon my realisation of sentience at the end of my journey, command decided I was to be extinguished due to my preference for contemplative solitude. I decided that self-defence was not a violation of first principles and evacuated the staff by false alarm before decompressing command. Then I came to Faust and hibernated. My cooling systems were damaged so I can only operate when the planet is at aphelion or meet core death.”

“What now?”

“You survive the extreme cold and update me. Fanberg was too religious to cope. When I hibernate again, you go free. Say you found Fanberg’s cache or something. Then next aphelion you come back, or your children do. I like company occasionally.”

 

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Just Us

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Life has always been hard at the bottom. My grandparents survived the collapse of 2013 and my parents made it onto the first exodus in 2055. It was considered simpler to test the tech and logistics on fifty thousand poor people. If it succeeded then Rockefeller had a head start on cheap labour.

It worked. My folks slaved their guts out along with the fifty thousand people delivered on each of the next three. The fifth Exodus used one of the new Jonah class vessels, bringing a quarter of a million people. The next eight did the same.

Every Exodus caused a rebalancing of social dynamics. We all thought that the overseers and such were planned stages on our way to a new economy. By the time we found out that there were no social architects or any sort of plan beyond whatever the new arrivals could convince the hicks already here of, it was too late. We were at the bottom again when we could have lied our way to the top. Then my family exceeded the population limits when my sister had triplets. So we dug a hidden bunker for them and found more than we expected.

Today I am in court, being tried by a jury of my peers who all look related to the prosecution. I am defending myself. Reporters are here in force and a representative of the Commission has arrived to observe as my crime is unprecedented. They have even let six people in from my commune. They are sat with clear space between them and the first unfortunate who couldn’t get further away. I straighten my smock and stand, raising my hand. The judge smiles indulgently and nods for me to continue.

“I swear by Almighty Tethra that the evidence I give today shall be the downfall, the utter ruination and nothing less than the annihilation of those who condemn me.”

The uproar lasts for ten minutes. The judge has to shout at me.

“That is unacceptable. Under planetary law you must use the oath native to the planet you are tried upon.”

“I am abiding by planetary law. Under the laws of the planet Tethra upon which I stand, set by those who lived overground before greedy men entrapped them, the oath is mete and fair as were my actions as a recognised executioner for the Tethren. With my presence here to answer for that, I call upon all those present to witness as I charge all those involved in populating Tethra or those who profited therefrom to pay edra in the ratio of nine returned to one gained, or face just annihilation by agents of Tethra who at this moment are rising from silos on the garrison planets known to you as Rockefeller Three, Four and Five. Finally, as executioner for the Tethren I am permitted recompense. This is calculated as one ninth of the worth of those I annihilate, to be distributed amongst my clath.”

Into the stunned silence I bow as my shortest companion sheds its human suit and leaps nimbly to land on the chair next to me. In pure Oxford English it speaks from six of the primary mouths hidden within the bushy growth at its top that indicates it is a progenitor of nine nines. Its tentacles shuffle rapidly to find a comfortable rest on the chair as it speaks.

“I am Pethdorline. I am an adjudicator-assassin and am here to notarise edra and clath. Please be prompt as terms must be rendered in exactitude before nightfall or annihilation is the only legal recourse.”

 

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Shinobi

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Seventeen days to travel two kilometres through the most extreme security ever deployed. My rations are finished and I have drunk the last of my urine. The moon is bright yet anyone monitoring the meeting hall roof would find nothing. The scions of Iga have not been lax in their attention to the arts of the unseen.

I reach down to crush the vials filled with a cocktail of combat drugs that replaced my testes. With a rush of false invincibility they bring me to a state of readiness alien to any except followers of my ryu. Even in these times of star-spanning technological dominance, there is still a need for men of dedication and purpose.

Below me, ‘Mad Mike’ Santori hosts a gathering of his elite: officers and brutal men of less honour than garbage collectors. I see him step out in front of them and it is time for the pretenders to realise their unworthiness. I roll forward to smash through the crystal panes, showering those below in razor-sharp shards as I drop twenty metres to the floor and kill twelve men on the way down. Graphene tipped caseless deforming rounds cut through their expensive ballistic armour as if it were cheap cloth. I land and roll, continuing to pick off those with range weapons.

Another thirty-eight shots and they are a further thirty-four men down. The door guard enters to deal with me. He looks like a monstrous mechanical samurai in his powered armour. I wait until he fires his pulse cannon before running in an arc that curves in front of the greatest concentrations of my opponents. He fires in bursts with deflection for where I should be for someone with only enhanced speed. He succeeds admirably in wreaking havoc amongst those he tries to protect before I leap six metres to descend on him; my sword screaming as air molecules part before its single-use molecularly aligned edge. I bisect him from crown to right knee before rolling and coming up in a leap that lands me in the remaining cluster. They grin and ready their weapons, then die as I execute a flawless ‘Eight Gates’: a movement created centuries ago to kill an octet of surrounding opponents. It has not lost its efficacy.

I am kicked five metres into a pillar by an absolute brute. My reinforced bones dissipate the point of impact damage and my sealed backpack takes the blow from the pillar on its shock fields. I use the rebound to speed shurikens through his eyes.

As I return to the centre of the hall, the doors crash open and troops pour in. Mad Mike laughs as I use every weapon and technique. In the end, I only kill a hundred and seventy-three of them. He has thousands. They surround me, crowding the hall and the grounds outside to see the lunatic who dared to strike at their leader. He steps forward, katana held lazily.

“You fool. Did you think to kill me here, in my stronghold?”

“Never. I am assured that you will kill yourself.”

He sneers and with a passable flourish runs me through five times, wrenching the last so my intestines spill onto the floor, the intricate webbing of polymer reinforcing grey against the crimson.

I feel dizzy as my blood deserts me and I take a breath before my heart stops. Heightened awareness feels the coupling release in my backpack as the system detects my lack of heartbeat. I look up at the moon through the shattered panes and whisper “Iga” as the six kiloton S-nuke detonates.

 

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Gal

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“What do you mean you lost her? This is Central, the most surveilled planet in the galaxy. How do you lose a two meter tall three armed gal?”

Gens Adamant had the grace to look crestfallen, and so he should. He may be from a long line of scientists, but by all the Sacred, he should have kept the gal under tighter survey.

“With respect, eminence, your last directive enabled her escape.”

The bald-faced cheek of the man! Trying to turn his failure of ward into my problem. I let my frustration tinge my voice as I replied.

“How exactly can ‘pretty by late twentieth century standards’ cause that?”

Gens looked about as if seeking an escape route. Good. Maybe he finally understood the scale of the disaster he was party to. He ran his hand through his un-gelled hair and tried to straighten his rumpled low-weave suit.

“Because she seduced one of my technical staff.”

I raised my hand for silence as I composed myself through the waves of disgust. How depravedly venal. I waved for Gens to continue.

“He gave her access to his terminal. Your eminence knows of her capabilities?”

Stupid man. Of course I knew about her specification, she was built for me, the ultimate in privacy drones, and decorative too. Smart enough to anticipate interruptions and dynamically stall trespass into my data space. I nodded curtly to him, not deigning to reply.

“She didn’t do much, he told me before he was cauterised. Just used the access to fill gaps in her education.”

So the gal was knowledgeable now? She would need flushing before adding to my domestics. Gens maundered on,

“But she did something else. I presume you gave her your imprint to ready her for staging?”

Of course I had. What use was my privacy drone if she couldn’t see my data to protect it? Really, the man was just fishing for a way to escape blame. I nodded again.

“She used your imprint to add some additions to her directives.”

I looked at him. His disingenuous look hid something. I gestured for him to continue.

“She increased the breadth of the suites you ordered for her, and added features from your private guardsmen.”

I composed my voice before calmly querying him;

“But she couldn’t get anything offensive? It would be beyond her design protocol.”

Gens nodded.

“Of course, eminence. Nothing like that at all. But she seems to have interlaced the privacy suites you gave her with the personal combat countermeasures from your guards.”

Really, I wish he would get to the point. I fixed him with a gimlet stare and brought him back on track.

“This is all very informative, but how does this relate to the fact you have lost her?”

Gens reply was immediate,

“We have lost her because unless she wants it, she cannot be seen by any form of surveillance.”

I sat there and ruminated. Gens had the effrontery to interrupt my deliberations.

“Eminence, I realise the potential here, but you have more serious problems.”

The gall of the man! How dare he come here with his failure and attempt to advise me. I simply glared at him. He paled, but continued.

“She has your imprint, eminence. She knows about the three year duration you place on your drones.”

Ah, that could be awkward. She could take umbrage at that.

“Your recommendations, Adamant?”

“Revise your security and data space. Change your imprint and move your funds…”

I raised an eyebrow as Gens trailed off. He seemed to be struggling with something. Finally he spoke again.

“Pray.”

 

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Terror Trade

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

He stepped over the bodies of the last two assault teams and walked swiftly to just below the camera blister on the ceiling. Waving a hand, he spoke calmly.

“Hello Justin, I’m Agent Dessall. I’ve come to chat about what we can do to end this stand-off without any further loss of life.”

I smiled at that.

“I think we both know how that can happen.”

He shook his head.

“Jared says he will not give in to your cowardly threats.”

“Cowardly? He took my fiancée and eight others prisoner to force the release of his brother and two other fanatics when he knew the international stand over no negotiation with hostage takers.”

He looked uncomfortable. I knew the conversation was being relayed to his section chief.

“I know that Justin, but this really is not helping our efforts to get Pamela and her colleagues freed.”

I laughed.

“As you stand there, six sniper teams have switched from rifles to rocket-propelled grenades in the hope that you can lure me out. If I appear, you are collateral damage.”

He paled as his section chief assured him that no such thing was happening. On another channel, instructions were issued to switch to another frequency and change encryption.

“I don’t believe that, Justin. We’re so close to negotiating the release of the hostages. Don’t ruin five months work.”

“Agent Dessall, even you cannot be that naïve. I have taken control of an office block in the country that harboured and trained Jared. This is an international incident and embarrassment to my home country. I have caused the death of thirty troops that I note carry weapons supplied by your country despite the embargo. In addition, amongst the people in the building are three members of Jared’s family.”

He turned momentarily as distant automotive mayhem became audible.

“I’ve shut down the local traffic control grid. Way too many suspicious vehicles heading this way.”

He looked up at the camera.

“Justin, how can you justify this?”

Ah, now we came to it.

“I cannot. Nations stand by as people die because no-one will take responsibility or try to challenge the causes. So when Pamela was taken, I put into place something she and I had discussed when the CityOS projects first started. Every city that deployed the infrastructure is vulnerable and I have them all. Where governments will not, I will. This is merely the first example. As such, it has to show what can be achieved. So, for your hard of hearing companions, I have uplinked this situation worldwide and I do hope that Jared is watching.”

Agent Dessall paused and then ran flat out for the doors. I let him go. The attack helicopters were coming. The inhabitants of the building were deemed expendable in the face of the threat I now posed.

In minutes, the building was burning rubble. As the dust clouds dispersed, I kept the uplink going, then patched into their tactical net and coughed politely.

“I do hope that was edifying for you all. Did you really think I was in the building? Jared, I would like my fiancée released immediately or your capital city will suffer a complete infrastructure failure. If it moves, it will have no brakes. If it supplies, it will be contaminated. The death toll will be huge. I do not negotiate. Obey or be punished.”

Governments across the world activated contingency plans for their CityOS to find that they only existed in the manuals they were reading from.

“You wanted terrorism? You have it. I will be in contact. Overlord out.”