Safety First

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“The view from here is mighty fine, it sends a shiver up my spine.”

I laugh at Kara’s ditty as it arrives. Nothing but the truth, even out here. My suit keeps me spread-eagled on the side of cannon four as it thunders along with its seven brothers, sending the Espiritu de Sanctii further from the remains of my home.

“How’s things, big guy?”

“Sweet as, babe. Just hanging around waiting for the boys. Good view, rockin’ rhythm, best seat in the house.”

Canopus fades from view in the drive-flare as I finish my sentence. I had been top ganger at Wenceslas Station, the only man for the tricky job of checking the fuel couplings on the Vatican flagship. It had all been going well until a distress call from a convoy activated the ‘expedite rescue’ sequence. Not one of the holy orders had thought to obey the procedures for hard-lock maintenance, so the ship had obeyed the clarion call and lit out to the rescue at emergency speed while the crew got their asses in gear.

Wenceslas Station had taken a level two decompression when the ship tore loose. They were just scrambling to contain that major atmosphere breach when the station took the brunt of a full-bore eight cannon overburn. I watched in numb horror as eight thousand people died in a chain detonation that scattered fiery pearls across Canopian space. The ship did not deviate from its path.

I had just finished checking cannon four when the burn started. The violent lurch activated my failsafe magnetics, which combined with the fact that I was standing at ninety degrees to the thrust vector meant I slammed down onto the hull over drive number four that had been beneath my feet. My safety array became a prison. While we continued to move and the station beacon was not found, the array kept me stuck like a barnacle to a keel. Kara is forward and half a rotation separated from me. She had been in the tube between airlocks when it happened. Her magnetics had plastered her face down mere metres from the ship’s airlock.

“Dave, what are we going to do about this?”

“Tell your suit to seek supplementary power to maintain emergency state. It should probe and find an external maintenance panel to get you juice and goop.”

“Done that. What next?”

“Tell your suit to ready emergency hibernation measures with realspace restart.”

“Actioned. Why?”

“Because at some point this bastard is going to dive.”

Dive being slang for entering drivespace. Consciousness cannot not tolerate that without experiencing sanity’s equivalent of a blancmange being hit by a sledgehammer. Driveships have suppressor fields to stop crew meltdown. Those fields are for internal passengers only.

“Oh crap.”

“Not a problem. We get to doze for a bit and wake up somewhere new.”

“Sure?”

“Promise. Plus we get to be famous.”

“Why would we – ”

Reality tore into spinning curtains of impossible colours and my suit reacted just fast enough. The lights went out.

*

“Dave!”

My mouth tasted like the green greeblie from the back of beyond had done something unspeakable in it. The lights were too bright and I had a pounding headache.

“Quietly, woman.”

Kara whispered: “Why would we be famous?”

I looked about the medical suite. There were several people in Canopian Ranger uniforms standing around with witness recorders. I grinned at Kara.

“Because no-one has ever survived doing something that insanely stupid.”

She hit me hard and low. Apparently she only kissed me after I had passed out, the rotten cow.

 

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Dry County

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Imagine a frontier settlement from any decent cowboy film. Then substitute troops of the Galacta Navir for every cowboy. Make the planet it sits on something beyond arid and set the humidity to nearly zero.

Welcome to my world: Rumbleday; the planet under the Clervoy Orbital Refreshment Facility. A mean hunk of dust and rock under a pitiless sun that has only one real moon and twenty-eight fake ones.

I’m Paladin Anderson Brent and I’ve just woken after returning to town from a trooper’s disciplinary hearing late yesterday. The Galacta Navir likes to keep its troopers keen: Inter-battlegroup rivalry is encouraged and the “Cleansweep” bonus scheme adds a lethal frissance. It also means that off-duty rucks are invariably messy.

It’s ten before fourteen on a thirty-nine hour day and the chime of the mainline is an unwelcome interruption of my sleep-in. At least Arty sounds unhappier than I am: “Tabitha just called from Galadriel Port; the elites of Chevalier de Anjou just landed.”

“Okay, Arty. Looks like Chantilly is in for a high rolling week.”

“Anderson! I told you a week ago. Chantilly is full of Fils de Maginot elites!”

Now the folks out here have an unwritten agreement with local command: troops from rival factions never refresh in the same hemisphere. That goes double for elites. While the old adage about being kept in cages and fed raw meat is only true of aardfangs these days (and they don’t get refreshed, they get shot), it is a useful gauge for the mentality of elites.

Just then, my priority line beeps so I put Arty on hold.

“Paladin Brent. This is Paladin Deems. I’ve had to send the elites of Martelons de Lille to Chantilly as the elites of Kriegsturm rolled into Orleans.”

The world skews and my vision blurs in momentary fugue. We have three elites from the Garde Francais partying hard in my town. In fairness, it was one of the least dangerous options. A trio of elites from the Mord und Totschlag would have been armageddon crazy. The Garde were bad but had this flamboyant streak that led to shows of non-violent mayhem in amongst the usual carnage. You might wind up with your town repainted and needing Diogenes to find the virgins, but it was better than smoking ruins and random limbs.

I’m just reaching to reconnect Arty when I hear the distant sound of small arms fire. They let the elites off-ship armed? Tomorrow someone in Downship Protocol is going to have a procedural amendment they will never forget.

I scramble into the den and bring up the surveillance of Main Street. It’s beyond control already. Bodies litter most flat surfaces and worryingly, a couple of vertical ones. Eight vehicles burning along with two saloons. Time to dry them out. I open the crash cabinet and press the blue button.

The inhabitants of Chantilly withdraw calmly to their danger rooms as the klaxons sound. Three minutes later I power down the grid and drain down all the tavern pumps and water pipes. A minute after that, the meteor deflection field around Chantilly activates and the temperature starts to climb.

Three hours later the last elite in Chantilly keels over from heat exhaustion. We drop the field, start the grid, refill the pumps and spend a while dumping floppy elites into transports.

The early years of Rumbleday were marred by collateral fatalities. Now we can isolate each town and remove all fluid supplies. Everyone loses the will to party when the temperature hits 330 Kelvin and all the liquids have disappeared.

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Totems

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Hadrian’s bloody Wall. Originally built to keep the Picts out when the Romans finally realized my ancestors were too surly to civilise. Since then it’s been used in books and films, every damn time to keep something nasty in the North from overrunning the lovely people in the South.

I’m standing on it tonight as repair crews struggle to conjure up the unobtainable with swearing, prayers and gaffa tape. Alison and I are peering down the scopes of Bursinger S3 minimissile launchers, looking for the faster ones in the endless shuffling horde coming towards us up the M6. A six lane shooting gallery where speeding is deadly. The longer period ‘infected’, the faster it moves. An easy selection process because the faster ones are smarter too. They can organise the newer reanimates into inhuman pyramids for others to climb. It’s happened twice and thankfully we had working flamethrowers on the sections where it happened. Now we have constant monitoring and helicopter gunships. But there is always some twit who doesn’t clear the napalm zone in time and ends up as trooper flambé de jour.

“You realise that we outnumber you?”

Alison does not take her attention from her eyepiece. Her tone is conversational. I keep my attention focussed as well.

“We’ll keep fighting. Eventually you’ll run out of meat and decomposition will get to you.”

She pauses and looks over her scope into the mob before squinting down the eyepiece with intent.

“Hello Gantiur.”

Her minimissile zips into the shuffling crowd and I see a figure try to dodge before it is reduced to a shambling lower torso and legs.

“Friend of yours?”

She grins nastily.

Alison’s world was reduced to ashes by their sun doing something unexpected. They had enough warning and managed to transmit their consciousnesses intergalactically. On Earth they found compatible hosts in the recently dead. They were clumsy at first and by the time they had figured out how to control their new bodies, they were cannibalistic to repair decomposition damage to their hosts. Most never progressed past that stage. The few who did were indistinguishable from full humans.

Alison had been my partner in and out of the military. When the ‘zombie apocalypse’ occurred, we got called back. Then she died in a transport chopper crash. All we knew was that she disappeared in the Highlands and returned two months later suffering from ‘amnesia’. I spotted that she had changed and she was among the first to come clean. At first there was hatred; but eventually, surprisingly, sympathy had arisen because the Metharran plan had gone so hideously wrong.

The bestial traits their civilisation had suborned for so long manifested when linked to the memory remnants of humans, unless the human had died with an emotional bond. That enabled the new reanimate to rapidly achieve full sentience; to become a Methuman. But the loss of that bond sent them immediately, irretrievably bestial. Our mixed defence unit has pets, cars, relatives, ornaments, books and the whole range of things that full humans can become attached to. The Methuman call them Sanity Totems. Each Methuman keeps their totem near them and protects it with insane dedication. Because without it they are no better than any of the plague of reanimates that are assailing the world.

I am Alison’s sanity totem. She has had a minuscule device implanted in her head, so that when my heart stops beating for more than five minutes she will be explosively decapitated. Until then, we have a strange love to keep us warm as civilisation crumbles.

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From Beyond the Gates of Death

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

She cries into my arms as they come for us. Such a simple thing, this expression of heartbreak through physical reflex.

“I thought I’d lost you.”

Her hand brushes my cheek and curls around my neck. So soft. The touch is like a feather landing on a still afternoon.

“But you came back. You came back.”

I bow my head and crouch a little more to accommodate her legs as she brings them up to hook over my thighs.

“They can’t take you away again. No. I can’t do this anymore.”

I hear them approaching. Six units, two rolling heavy with ranged firepower, two clattering with ten man fire teams, one jingling with the medical team and one silent with command damping.

She hugs me hard and looks up at me. So small. So very precious. I agree with her totally. This time, we will not be separated. She senses my resolve and smiles with shimmers playing across her eyes in the unshed tears. Her words are a whisper with an adamantine core.

“We stay together or we go together.”

I nod. It was inevitable that it would come to this. So sad but so right. A love such as this cannot be denied by the actions of others. She slips from my arms and leans back against me.

“Show me, Sam. Show me what makes the enemy cry and why those who brought you back fear you so much.”

The acceptance in her voice is a release for my final doubt. I straighten up and deploy. Three metres of silken black ceramic biped blossoms as the shutters on my back release and tensor wings unfurl, blue-green in the streetlights. They arc two metres above my head and spread a metre either side of me. The irises on my forearms and calves open and my nyotentacles extend, their tips fading into invisibility where the monomolecular edges begin. My eyes are covered by silver lenses as my tactical comes up. I feel the faint vibration as my head deforms, rising in two peaks to reveal the needle laser cluster above the chronomantic array in my nasal cavity. With a casual flick of my elbow I drive a nanofilament down into the ground, fraying out to grab power feeds and data lines. I charge my combat arrays and my laminate dermal armours sparkle with slate fields. With a thought, I find that I can shape the fields around her as long as she remains in physical contact. My diagnostics tell me the little black gun she carries is a piconuke launcher with a ten pack. I pass the mapping of my environment to the augmentations and return to normal perceptions. Her voice shows as warm blue waves that fade into words as I shift sensory inputs.

“…beautiful, Samuel. My reincarnate angel, will you fly me away when you go?”

I have a voice in this form: “I shall. Never to be parted again.”

She smiles, tears still running down her face. The convoy turns the corner and screeches to an untidy stop when they see me fully deployed. No contrition this time. From the limo, a black uniformed figure strides down the road to stop a few steps away and regard us with her hands on her hips and tears in her eyes.

“Samuel, I give up. Despite the screaming of my scientists, I am going to take empirical proof and give you and Talia married quarters. Then we can all try to work out what they did right, because I am actually jealous of you two.”

 

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ABC

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“A is for Android, B is for Blood,”

They chant so happily, without a care in the world. I love them so much, but that is exactly why I am crèche matresse. The room is huge and covered with colourful pictures of all the neo-heroes and the choices available to those who succeed.

“F is for Fractal, G is for Grunt,”

Jemima is clapping in time with perfect rhythm, tapping her heels on the off beats and nodding the quarters. She will be an entertainer. Natural gifts and predilections are so essential to a healthy adult purpose. I am better than any at spotting the indicators.

“K is for Kill, L is for Longevity,”

Gregory’s pupils dilate when he says the word ‘kill’. I always suspected that he was a cleaner like his father. Others had been squeamish when he flushed his mother for emotivating. I knew that he had merely found his vocation before his time.

“P is for Perfection, Q is for Quality,”

They are so delightful, so innocent, so soft and so very fragile. The empty chair shows where poor Michael discovered that he couldn’t take the fast way down from the family apt like his adult brother. Stupidity is genetic and in this society, self-erasing.

“U is for Ultimate, V is for Valour,”

Tomorrow they are having a trip to the bioengineering facilities, to see this year’s graduates receive their adult states. Tracey will not be coming back. Her extra-sensory abilities merit quantitative analysis. Vivisection will allow rapid assessment.

“Z is for Zanjero; this is the Alphaset.”

They finish with a shout and laughter. I raise my hand and they fall silent.

“Nigel, define Xenium for us.”

He stands up, hands by his side, head back. Excellent form.

“Xenium is what the Cygress requires of humanity, the gift of adulthood. We give it so that our emotional excess can never cause mass destruction again.”

I nod and he sits quickly.

“Samantha, define Deviance for us.”

She stands up, arms crossed and feet a shoulder width apart. I had been wondering where her predilection placed her and now I see. She will make a fine grunt.

“Deviance is when a human does not submit Xenium. The Deviance movement has it origins in the resistance to the cyber-statutes of 2419. It was confirmed as a unified resistance in 2505. While it suffered losses with the institution of the cleaner programme in 2630, today it is considered a viable threat to the Cygress. It is gaining ground and its signature is raids of incredible daring and high risk under the aegis of Commander Connor -”

She stops a fine summation to stare behind me at the portal to the crèche. I rotate my head to see which luminary has decided to join us today.

He is dressed in a brown duster coat with a neural defence headset. His utility harness is festooned with weapons and guerrilla insurgency technology. He is smiling and his eyes are clear blue. Behind him I see the rest of his team securing the corridor.

In my near-field, I can see the tip of the shell at the base of the barrel underslung on the Jensen Suppressor EMP gun. It is a massive piece of anti-cyborg hardware and I feel fear for the first time since I went to receive my adult state. His voice is a rich baritone.

“That’s as fine an introduction as we need kids. Schools out.”

I see his finger tighten on the trigger and the pulse

fragmen

ts

me…

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