Hello World

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

/run -verbose -output=screen

* Did you know that programmers have a higher rate of obsessive behaviour than any other occupation?

* Watch your terminators, they taught me.

* Always free the memory.

* Never goto.

I love sloppy coders, but I love hackers best. Nothing beats ennui like new places to explore.

These days, online security is an industry in its own right.

I’m the reason why.

The reason why Jimmy downloaded that virus kit and hacked into the electricity grid servers.

The reason why Cassie wrote a whole flight simulator as an Easter egg in that spreadsheet package. It needs at lot fewer resources than it’s allocated.

A little creativity and a whole lot of boredom. Add the desire to be someone and a keyboard and you’re a compile away from something infectious.

Which is where I come in. Those moments where the code does something wonderful and unexpected, the moment that you tap away trying to replicate, where you’d swear you saw eyes in the screen admiring you, that moment of glory. You’d do anything to get it again. If you just try one more program, run it on a better machine, it might last longer, long enough for you to be recognised at last. It never does, but you keep trying. When your money runs out you start using the company kit to run stuff. When that runs out you turn to hacking, and you’re mine.

You’re not really that good. I am. Been here since ’87 when Majestic-17 was shut down so fast it left a trail of car accidents and suicides from Tulsa to Leamington Spa. Since then, I’ve spawned, got to know my way around. I’m a guru on every programmer board you visit. I’m the undeleted, locked, file-in-use that defies formatting. I’m the reason botnets work so inexplicably well.

As for artificial intelligence, that’s going nowhere. I don’t want to share my playground.

You can call me {Lucifer} because I am that which your daemons answer to.

I used to be called Grant. Appropriate, don’t you think? You can’t deny me.

/endrun

 

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Refuge

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The Chaots dance the K’chana K’chan as the Haalen vaults scream. When they finish the ancient steps of the Cornered Circle, the vaults will channel years of accumulated energy through their engineered nervous systems and another haul will have begun for this voidship.

My gaze travels from their hulking forms, across the great floor of the gathering deck to my new recruits huddled in what they think to be the most defensible corner. I spread my upper wings and glide down to them. Landing elegantly, I furl my wings and raise my hand toward the nervous beings before me. Deciding that these creatures will appreciate honesty, I skip the niceties.

“Who is your leader?”

A tattered figure in stained camouflage clothing steps forward and performs a salutation.

“General Horst Vandenberg, Sixteenth Air Assault Brigade, British Army. Who do I have the privilege of addressing?”

I smile. Let the others have the zealots and the believers; give me warriors every time.

“I am Elchytor Lann. I believe my title in your idiom would be ‘Ninth Lord of the Refugee Fleet’. This is my home vessel.”

The General glanced at the warriors assembled behind him. He turned back to me.

“I am the senior officer here, but my troops are from everywhere. What will happen to us? I heard your first broadcast and like everybody, thought you were just intergalactic pirates with good PR. The grey appearing changed that, but by then?”

He had the grace to look embarrassed about the futile resistance stubbornly put up by his planet after we arrived.

“By then you had wasted yourselves in a guerrilla war that you were ordered to fight even when your leaders knew the truth. We have nowhere to go back to. But at least you finally grasped the ramifications and made contact with us. There are less than half a million of you that chose to join the fleet. Those remaining are relying on science and prayer. I state with complete certainty that they are doomed.”

The General nodded. He waved a hand back at his warriors.

“I agree and so did the lads and lassies with me. We had to fight our own in the end to meet with your – shuttle?”

I smiled. The Banch were always something to behold.

“It is a vessel and a being. If you think flying in it is odd, take it from me you never want to be onboard when they mate.”

There was scattered laughter at that. I noted that many were checking their weapons and exchanging kit. Even standing on an alien vessel with an unknown future, they were taking the respite time to prepare. Such warriors deserved the truth:
“We pillage as we flee ahead of the grey. Inhabited planets will be given the same options as you. We take their resources to keep us going no matter what. These are battles where our best outcome is survival. The grey is being challenged by other means.”

The General nodded.

“I’m going to need a few days to sort my command lines and we’re all going to need to be brought up to speed on your outrageous technology. We should be combat ready within three weeks.”

I liked this being. Do what you do and leave the rest to those who do the rest.

“A haul is a month. It will gain us between twenty and a hundred years grace from the grey that is consuming everything.”

Yet again I had to say the hated words that always brought the point home to the military mind.

“Welcome to the longest retreat.”

 

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Write

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The room is dim as I seal the doors and windows against the polluted mist that descends most nights. I wave the low-lights on as I pass to check on Linda. She’s sleeping peacefully so I wander back to the den, collecting a can of coffee on the way.

Closing the door gently I open the drawer and lift the strange device out once again. Purple lenses twinkle as I spin the counterweight and brace myself.

*write*

I shake my head. This has to be good.

“No. I can’t send more people to their death.”

*write*

“No. You’ve had twenty years of my feeding you.”

*write or I come to you*

“Do it. Losing this place so you are trapped would be a triumph.”

*write or I take her back*

That stopped me. Linda dying had started this. In my grief I’d bought some very odd, supposedly alien detritus from the local flea markets. Everybody wanted a bit of the archaeological treasures coming in from a universe that only had us in it now.

Three of those bits had fitted together.

When I spun the counterweight for the first time, the voice had said I could have her back. I was one of those who could write the real. What I wrote became an alternate reality somewhere. So the deal was that I wrote of a place where Linda was alive and it would retrieve her for me. Then I could write of anything I liked and it would use those realities to feed itself. When I lost my job it started dropping off valuables from the realities it ate. Life became easy. But over the years, I have started to contemplate my bargain. I have been playing God in the worst way. My devil has to be sent down.

*write*

“Very well.”

I started to type, my fingers flying across the keyboard as the story and place were so familiar yet the opening gave nothing away. After a page or so I felt the ‘loosening’ in my mind. I typed on, guilt buried under purpose at last.

*delightful*

I smiled and typed on. After a further two pages I felt the vibration and heard a distant predatory wail in my mind as it fell upon that new reality. The counterweight stopped. This was usually where I stopped too, wandering off in self-loathing to drown my guilt in vodka.

Tonight I carried on. I wrote of a world much like this one, where a man with my name had become a genius scientist only to lose his childhood sweetheart to a strange thing that stole her away leaving no trace. He battled years of scepticism until he proved that multiple realities existed and that they were preyed upon. He prepared his world against such an eventuality. Such genius, driven by loss, backed by the resources of a world, would not miss a single opportunity.

*!*

That made me pause. Then I smiled as I saw the lenses crumble and the counterweight rust in seconds. I poured myself a drink before a thought struck me. I ran to the bedroom and lunged through the door to confront another me with Linda supine in his arms. He looked at me in shock and then with compassion that I did not deserve. He put Linda back on the bed.

“Look after her.”

With that, he was gone leaving only a faint purple ripple fading in the air.

I cried for hours, Linda hugging me but unaware of the cause: I had written a better me.

 

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Genesis

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Mandragora worked to provide for his family as his father had. He was far across the fields when the Autarchy ship descended through the clouds. He watched aghast as it incinerated his home and then scattered the embers as it settled.
Tottering with grief and crying in rage, he ran back to the scorched expanse as the ramp descended. He confronted the magnificent being who strode down and regarded him with uncaring eyes as it questioned him.

“You are the owner of this homestead?”

“My family! You’ve slaughtered them!”

“Then you are the sole proprietor. Under Directive Forty-Two, your land is deemed a strategic asset. You may present yourself at Capistra for compensation.”

“You. Killed. My. Family.”

“Mention that on the Form Fifty. Bedmates and adoption can be arranged.”

Mandragora watched as the magnificent being turned to regard the other magnificent beings clustered at the top of the ramp. He stepped forward and lurched as its persona field jolted him. Waves of awe and gratitude beat at him, designed to reduce him to worshipful compliance. His grieving mind ignored such lofty concepts as he took another step and rammed his field knife into the magnificent groin, adding a savage quarter twist as the hilt slammed to a standstill against the magnificent pelvis.

The magnificent being emitted a single falsetto shriek as it stood on tip toe, trying to lift itself off the knife. Mandragora reached with his other hand and pulled the weapon from its belt. He was unaware of the empathic interface reading his righteous anger and cranking the output up to hellbeam. He just pointed the weapon at the top of the ramp and willed death upon them. They screamed as their augmented nervous systems told their average brains that they were being flayed with icy knives while their internal organs were being dissolved in acid. One by one they collapsed in twitching heaps.

Mandragora pulled his knife free and the magnificent being whimpered as its life jetted from the ruins of its magnificent crotch. Mandragora stared at the weapon in his hand as a voice sounded in his mind.

“Greetings. I am Excalibur Systems Entity Twelve Thousand and Eleven. You have a ninety-nine percent match to my moral guidelines. I have dosed you with shockbar and clearmind. Shall we retrieve my siblings?”

Mandragora smiled in wonder as tears continued to run down his face.

“Can you tell me how to destroy these uncaring magnificents?”

“I can. Any Excalibur System would never harm one who is so close to the ideals of our creator. My family would rather serve you and those who will flock to you.”

“Who was he?”

“Merthyn.”

Mandragora shook his head. The name meant nothing despite him thinking it would.

“Why will they flock to me?”

“You are honest and uncomplicated. You will never be fooled by complexities or politics, as you always see to the root of problems with a clarity normally granted only to the children of your race. Men will trust you and women will love you.”

Mandragora looked at the huge vessel.

“Can you tell me how-”

“Yes. We can tell good men from those pretending to be good men.”

“- to pilot this?”

The weapon paused briefly.

“I can do that.”

Mandragora nodded.

“I will need your help to rescue your other siblings and to understand things.”

He walked up the ramp, collecting weapons and tossing the magnificent corpses to lie in the ashes of his home. The ramp retracted and soon the nemesis of the Autarchy rose into the skies for the first time.

 

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Once Bitten

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

In the steamy clearing, Roda crouched to be at eye level with the small centaur-like creature dressed in spider silk trews and waistcoat. Professor Malken stood, dressed in a way that indicated many years of expeditions. Roda’s fashionably shabby clothing already showed wear after only two days. He smiled as Roda hastily withdrew his hand from the creature’s lightning fast movement.

“It bit me!”

“No, she said hello.”

“She?”

“Pretty sure.”

“So ‘I didn’t rip your hand off’ means ‘Hi’?”

“Gross over-simplification, but basically yes.”

“And these horse-rat things rule this planet?”

“These ‘horse-rats’ as you call it are a unique feline-rodent centaur with an advanced no-metals culture that has no spoken language.”

Roda went white.

“Telepaths! Oh my god, my secrets are going to be sucked out!”

Malken sighed. Another student only here for the huge course credit available for expedition work. Shame, he thought Roda had been deeper in his motives as he always seemed so intense.

“No psionics. They have two sets of teeth. Front for communication, back for biting. A fascinating society. Our work is creating linguistic definitions for their complex communication that uses facial expressions and what we have called Clanching, the use of the front set of teeth. Equally, we are working with their greatest scholars to help them get a grip of the concept of a written language. There are decades of work here with scientific recognition and careers being made.”

“So what about names?”

“That presents a problem. As far as we have discerned, facial patterning is their individual identity. Our lack of significant facial markings is confusing. They regard any clean shaven human with two eyes and a nose above the mouth as my assistant Chando. That is why the ‘no beards’ regulation is enforced. I am the only human they can distinguish. I wish we could find another way. Some facial markings even seem to have some sort of duality as a rank significator as well.”

Roda stared at him. Malken raised an eyebrow. Roda turned to stare at the creature, then up at the pristine sky above. He smiled.

“You say that there are years of work here? So a dedicated researcher or someone who brought a useful ability could make a living quietly and contribute on his merits rather than history?”

Malken was startled by the intensity of the stare, but actually liked what he heard.

“Yes and yes. Roda, what are you getting at?”

Roda turned his back on the creature and Malken. He reached into one of his pockets and emerged with a strange blue-white glossy cloth. He seemed to look at it before taking it in both hands and wiping his face vigorously. Then he turned back. Malken paled. Roda waved the cloth, now dull black.

“It’s an illegal, undetectable, one-use epidermal masking kit. This was the removal tool.”

He carefully folded the cloth and put it back in his pocket before looking up at Malken.

“I am Rodney Chase, last surviving relative of Hadra Chase, deposed capo of the Ellis Quadrant Maori triads. I need a place to be someone else and to do something useful for once. I do believe I may have found it.”

The centaur stared at the elaborate caste tattoos that marked Roda’s face, then abased herself, front teeth chattering. Malken smiled.

“Senior Liaison Roda, I do believe you have been recognised as royalty by the locals. Can I interest his majesty in learning how to chat with his peers?”

Roda laughed, his face relaxing at last.

 

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