Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“Let me get this straight; The slum kids were tagging you with paintballs of bioluminescent gel, so you took the decision to lift our forces into orbit and firestorm the planet?”
Major MacLachlan looked up from the miniscule desk in his tiny office aboard EMFS Bad Moon at the soldier who filled the rest of the free space. He leant back as he activated the disciplinary recorder and the officer defence system before continuing: “Why did you commit such an atrocity?”
“It was not an atrocity. It was the only reasonable response, sir.”
“Really, Strike-Lancer Peters? I am all ears and so is the recorder. Take us through the reasons why we are currently orbiting the biggest crematorium in history.”
“The children of Hesta had taken to ‘counting coup’ on occupying forces. This was tolerated even when they switched from paint to biolumins, despite the latter compromised our cloaking, making us vulnerable to insurgent snipers.”
“Since the United Planets intervention, we have been ordered to strictly obey their directives and rules of engagement.”
“Under ROE, I cannot take direct action unless fired upon by insurgents with weapons of Class C or better. I cannot respond to threats less than that without issuing three verbal warnings. However, being painted by four or more biolumin blooms is recognised in UP directive ninety-four as giving an eighty percent chance of fatality from first hit, thus preventing me from proper response by being dead.”
Major MacLachlan smiled and gestured for Peters to continue.
“As such, under UP directive one-fourteen, quadruple biolumin bloom is a pervasive threat to my health. Out of one hundred men deployed at my base, seventy-eight had received at least four biolumin hits. Therefore the level of danger is calculated to be epidemic according to UP directive two-ten. As epidemic danger is an indirect threat, it has to be met by containment rather than direct action. I queried orbital for statistics and was informed that at the moment I received my sixth biolumin bloom, sixty-eight point four percent of our forces worldwide were painted in a similar way. This meant that a clear epidemic threat was spread across three continents. UP directive sixty-three defines a pandemic as being an epidemic that has spread across two continental landmasses or more. When that information was revealed to me, it became clear as to the only response possible to save our forces from this deadly threat. I requested that all records and information be crystallised for UP scrutiny, then issued a Class B pandemic withdrawal alert in accordance with UP protocols. After that had been actioned, and in record time may I add, I consulted with UP delegate A.I. Hiroshi twenty-oh-one as to the correct way to address a threat of this nature. It responded that such a pandemic was obviously beyond remedial measures and as such should either be left to burn itself out or sterilising measures had to be applied. As UP directive eleven states that occupied territory cannot be abandoned for more than four hours, the burn-out option was obviously contrary to ROE, so I ordered a Type Six wipe, sir.”
Major MacLachlan sat and stared at the ceiling before responding: “Are you telling me that you have committed a war crime by adhering to United Planets protocols?”
“Question, sir: How can it be a crime when the body that regulates warfare mandated my decision by their own rules?”
Major MacLachlan looked directly into the untroubled, guileless blue eyes.
“That is a question they will be debating for decades to come, I suspect. Dismissed.”
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Whales have long been creatures that inspire awe in humans. When we discovered them out here, that mystery only deepened. At what far distant point, and how, did a star-roving behemoth come to dwell in the oceans of Earth? The xenologists used the Latin word for star to name the new family group, from which the common name, Astruma, came easily.
I’ve been herding these monstrosities for a decade and even now, they fascinate me, take my breath away and make me feel so small. My ship, the ketch ‘Fairtrade’, is an old tub, lumbering her thirty metres about on long-obsolete gravitic cores and having to hitch a ride on transluminal haulers to get between herds. The lads in the new cutters, all dash and sleek and barely fifteen metres long, ridicule me at every opportunity until a herd needs gentling or a bull gets surly. Then Petey Mendez and his rustbucket get to be real popular.
I don’t know which wag christened the bull of the Epsilon herd ‘Moby’, but he gave that damn great beast a heritage it seems to be determined to live up to. Like my granpappy said: “Name things with care, for names bestow as well as limit.” Today the one hundred and sixty-seven metres and Lord-knows-what tonnage of Moby has stove in two cutters and cracked a relay station. He’s royally peeved at something and no-one wants to go out and play.
“He’s coming round the asteroid, Petey. Must be doing nigh-on eighty knots.”
I do the conversion in my head while wishing herdsman usage of Earth nautical terms would cease. Astruma use a chronophasic ability to move. It seems rude to measure something about transposing time and space in yocto-increments in such an archaic way.
Oh well, time for the Mendez secret weapon. I cue the audio and let it play. The dichotomy of using such tranquil beauty in the face of such incredible danger is just so Zen. I close my eyes and let the song take me away.
I paid a fortune for this recording. Captured in the depths of the Mariana Trench, the song of a thirty-two metre female blue whale lasts for a couple of hours. I have a hundred kilowatts of antique valve speakers rigged between the inner and outer hulls. The outer hull of all ketches is high-ferric alloy; they were the last of the deep space ironsides before ceramics, laminates and sleight fields redefined shipbuilding.
I lie peacefully meditating in the biggest man made amplifier ever to grace the void as Moby eases his charge and heaves-to alongside. Before the hour is out, I have the entire three hundred plus herd hanging motionless about me, all exactly aligned to my ships’ bearing and all completely tranquil.
As the recording finishes, I open my eyes to see a single ebon eye the diameter of a cutter regarding me through the cockpit veiwports. In that moment, we share something that surpasses all fumbling communication attempts. I see the intelligence behind his eye and he sees whatever he sees in the tiny creature in the metal tube that makes noises that reach so far into both our ancestral memories.
Homo Sapiens and Mysticeti Astrum stare at each other for a minute or two more, then he blinks and moves off. I watch his glistening hide stutter by.
Ahab would have understood, although I doubt he would have sympathised.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“Sarge, that’s illegal, isn’t it?”
“Yes Jim, completely against the rules of engagement.”
“So we can complain?”
“Hell yes, son. I’m sure the Captain will be right on the blower to the moderators as soon as the opposition finish killing us.”
Trooper Jamieson did not look convinced and Sarge smiled.
“Do you think your Sarge wouldn’t be expecting bad behaviour from the greens? Shame on you. Now pass me the medipack with the blue stripe on it.”
Jamieson did so, hefting the one and a half metre long box without a thought using his mags. Sarge smiled at his control, then slapped him across the back of his helm.
“What have they got out there? What are you doing?”
“Mag detecting godogs Sarge. Lifting your pack using my… oh.”
Sarge shook his head as he grabbed the pack from him. No further comment was needed as Jim got a roasting from the rest of the squad for leaving them open to a reaming from robo-dobermans packed with RDX. He concentrated on opening the pack quietly. No telling if a moderator was passing by. Just because the other side were playing dirty would not save him from a ten amp reprimand. As the dim lights picked out details there were low whistles from the squad, who huddled round to prevent observation from outsiders whilst simultaneously getting a better look.
“What the hell is that, Sarge?”
“It’s a shotgun, Napier. Real, honest-to-god personal artillery.”
“It’s beautiful, Sarge. Must have cost you a packet.”
“I couldn’t afford it, son. Been in my family for five generations. It cost a hundred and ten grand back then.”
“Holy smokes, Sarge! Is that a British shooting iron?”
“Sure is. Ladies, may I introduce you to a Holloway and Naughton Premier under-over 12 bore. Now I need two of you to go tell the armour to hull-down and cool their coils for an hour. Scoot!”
Jamieson and Napier took off like crazed caterpillars as Sarge selected the correct loads from the case. He lovingly cracked the breech and loaded paper wrapped tubes ahead of grey-jacketed cartridges before closing it with a smooth motion. Dumping every piece of detectable and energy pack reliant junk, he crawled off toward the enemy lines after giving terse instructions: “Timing is the thing here troops. I won’t be able to see the godogs from where I’ll be, so when you see them slip the leashes, you click two and one. Got me?”
He made his way round to the flank of the dugouts where the godogs were being prepped. It took him nearly too long to find the right angle, but he made it just as his headset clicked twice then once. Without hesitation, he aimed low across the leading edge of the dugouts and fired one barrel.
The godogs were primed and ready. Their senses detected the distant lure of magnetic fields and metals. They were just leaping up the slope of the dugout toward the enemy lines when a loud noise presaged a host of hot magnetic traces flying across their path and slamming into the field control centre. They howled with glee as their proximity-keyed mating urge drove them to accelerate at this new target.
Sarge smiled as the explosions tore the enemy command centre apart. He waited. Sure enough, a couple of greens came looking for him, their godogs leashed. Didn’t matter. Shoot one with a load of magnetic disks and the other one did the detonating. Time to sneak back and pack the family jewel away for another day.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
I’m splayed in the waterlogged grass, covered in mud and blood as the screams stop behind me. The white rabbit lied to us; I knew we should have stomped its furry ass. That damn Jabberwock has way too many sharp bits, the attitude of a wounded wolverine and a script stolen from every psycho film of the last decade or so.
We partied hard when the Employment Opt-Out Bill became law. A British idea that fitted the American way of life so much better. You signed on the dotted line, got yourself sterilised and from then on you got a few bucks a week from the state. Everything else you had to handle yourself. For a lot of people it was an improvement.
Leisure parks sprang up. They had food and booze outlets so we could hang out there. Hell, some people never went home. The whole thing got twisted when the media got involved, letting the workers relax by watching the Opt-Outs dice with death. They got round the salary clauses by only giving money as rewards.
Themed parks were the next step. You could try your luck at handling situations from your favourite movies: Horror became a craze. A real chance of dying but the rewards were worth it.
“Biillleeee. Oh, Biillleeee.”
That meant that the rest of my group of Alices were sleeping with the Queen of Hearts. Should have known that ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was not going to be an afternoon’s hallucinatory fun when it was filed under ‘Survival Horror’. Oh well, we were legless and up for it. A thousand bucks for everyone who walks out, plus fifty bucks an hour for staying in the game. Which actually meant staying alive. Should have realised that as well, but we were too drunk to care.
The wall of the cottage explodes outwards and the spiky, winged lizard-thing strides out. I gather my feet under me and scuttle toward Janine’s backpack, hung on a branch before we entered. I hear the frustrated roar and thank my guardian angel for the fact that the creature has to pause for ad breaks.
My frantic hands tear the pack open and find the smokes and lighter on top. Then her clean T-shirt for the winner’s podium. My hand closes on a big bottle. I pull it out and twist the cap as the roaring ceases behind me. I rip the T-shirt frantically, becoming aware of a hungry stare from behind. Don’t ask me how, I’m too busy soaking a chunk of cheap cotton in Everclear. God bless Janny, her preference for strong booze and her willingness to screw anything to get the good stuff. I ram the soaked cloth into the neck of the bottle and spin round, flicking the lighter.
Ugly and spiky is a few feet off, taking its time. Good enough. I light the rag and scream at the Jabberwock. It screams right back and I let it have a litre of one-ninety proof in the mouth.
The whoosh as it goes up is followed by the thump of the bottle giving up the ghost. I feel pieces of glass cut me as I fall backwards, but it’s nothing compared to what’s happening to the flame-headed thing in front of me. God, it smells worse barbequed than it does when it’s breathing on you.
I roll over and see spotlights wobbling through the trees towards me. I’ve done it. Eleven hundred bucks for two hours and six dead friends. A bargain.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“Underarm with the knife!”
Every instructor I have ever had said that. It’s not strictly true, but it’s a good start. When it comes right down to it, you stick the knife through any gap available, switching grip as necessary. You need to be quick to do the switch, but after a few hundred years it becomes second nature.
I come back to the moment to find Corporal Stevens flying through the air and Sergeant-Major Kejiro looking at me intently. I must have lost the plot and used an old move for getting rid of irritating knifemen quickly. I straighten up shakily by over-correcting my suit and finish in a very non-combative stance, pointing at Stevens.
“How?” I ask plaintively.
Kejiro relaxes a bit as the other recruits laugh at me. Drill resumes and I spend the rest of the session being very average. After the post-session diagnostics and stripdown I take a long run.
This planet is like rural Lincolnshire; level with far horizons across rolling farmland, broken by copses where plants resembling dog-daisies nestle under wind-biased trees. There is nothing moving. With our sentry gun regime, the lack of visible activity is easily understood. We could be inadvertently conditioning a new generation of stealth predators to trouble the local farmers and hare equivalents, all in the name of security.
Returning several sprinted kilometres later I head for the showers, having left enough time for the other recruits to move on. Coming out of them I find Kejiro waiting. I had been too good at being not very good for the rest of the session, it seems. He casually asks me: “When did you study with Abuta?”
“Just before the dojo-“ I pause. He had asked me in formal Japanese. Oh, I was having an off day today.
Kejiro swings himself to stand square in front of me before performing a deep bow. He straightens up but keeps his head down, gaze below mine. Of all the places to meet a believer.
I say the words again: “Look up, warrior soul. I am nought but a ghost passing on the wind.”
He does so, his features suffused with wonder and question: “Kalpa-sama?”
“Yes. But I shall be gone soon, out to battle amongst the stars. Can you hold true?”
He looks about carefully before dropping to his knees and making the shin bow to me, with not a teapot in sight.
“I can, soke. But may I ask, how came you here?”
He deserved that, at least.
“From Thermopylae to Fuji to Mars to here, I have followed the centuried trail of the one who told me to come and find my kin when I was ready. I am slowly going home. Rise.”
He stands, a tentative smile on his face. Then he turns to one side and gestures with his far hand: “Would you take tea? My grandfather sends it from Akihabara. Then I would ask a favor.”
Here it comes. It always does.
“I would like to take Ikebana to the stars, hakase. It is said that you studied Ikenobo?”
Astounding. I expected the lost five kata of the Nine Dragons, or maybe the nerve touches of the Linguakai. But this? Hundreds of light-years from Kyoto a man is asking me to teach him the purest art of flower arranging. I am humbled again. This time, I bow to him.
“It would be a pleasure. Lets have that tea and discuss the fundamentals.”