Marooned

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It’s been ten years since the Humanis Confederacy swept the Roekuld from the Spiral Arm in a rebellion that no-one thought mankind capable of. In six months we undid the defeats and treacheries of fifty years. Victory was absolute and mercy forgotten.

We. Sadly. My blood is tinged with green and I can read thoughts within eight metres. I am a Rho-Ka-Mismeja, elite of the Absalon Rage, premiere commando of the Roekuld. I trained for five years to join humanity. Underwent six months of irreversible surgery, losing a half metre in height and a digit from each appendage. But the ‘man’ who joined the harvest labourers in Barron, a small town on the frontier world of Fettya, had the rugged features and hefty build that marked the nomads of the mountain ranges. My willingness to work and drink got me accepted, and after the winter I moved to Dellaban, the capital city. Command knew there was something major being planned. I had barely been accepted into the resistance when that something became the end of my race.

I spent a year as a homeless drunk, risking the minimal chance of detection. Only a small group of humans pursued the ‘shadow company’. The rest thought that we only existed in wartime myth. A year later I had become a vagrant when my remaining comrades commandeered an armoured freighter to strike at the heart of the Confederacy. I saw their final broadcast, all vengeful fury and bared teeth. They were blasted to dust and humanity celebrated the end of the Roekuld. I was alone, yet never regretted being too drunk to answer the final call to join them.

Three years later I returned to Barron, welcomed back like a prodigal son. Two years after that I had become the town smithy, with a profitable sideline in unusual jewellery: unusual because it used designs from my disintegrated homeland.

Early one dawning I was staggering home when a thought hit me: “You smell like a hebegraf.”

I spun round too fast and fell in a heap, opening my eyes to see a pair of grey eyes framed in a mass of tawny hair. She raised a hand so I could see one of my bracelets on her wrist.

“Your work made me cry. To see Lethdargil scrollwork again was something I never expected to do.”

I lay there as shock chased the hangover away. The smell emanating from me became all too clear. I smiled. “I remember hebegraf smelling better. Apologies, I thought myself alone.”

“I am Atanel of Palameen.”

Images of that vast, lush tropical delta spotted with small communities came to mind.

“Bushlarl of Lethdargil.”

She smiled. “The mountains bred another metalworker?”

“Family trade. Here I am Bush.”

“Atane.”

While I washed, she made breakfast and we spun to each other, the affinity of thought sharing healing us in places we had thought unreachable.

“I was wallowing when the last call came. I was the only one to refuse and had to waste half a year out of my mind so they could not find me. Then I wandered until I saw your bracelet. That was a year ago.”

She appeared in the doorway, mugs of steaming broth in hand and a faint smile on her face. “Shall I be your sister or first love?”

“First love, please. The drinking was only partly to forget. It also kept Barron’s marriageable women at bay.”

She laughed. I knew then that we could share, finding a refuge in each other’s mind while Barron became a comfortable place to slip unnoticed into extinction.

 

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Train Train

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Thundering down the kaleidoscopic tunnel at point four light and all’s well. Got a cold vodka sliding down to join the steak and chips delivered from the catering car as I look over to where old Max is interfaced to the drive arrays. The screens show that the drives are lime green across the scales. Not even straining.

I flick the broadcast switch and pass the news: “Fems and Gens, we are now riding the fastest man-made thing in all creation.”

We’re due to arrive at Stevenson Station in an hour. It’s in free space, as the wormhole generators and deceleration matrices work better the less gravitic influences they have about them. I’m looking forward to the look on Corvanto’s face as we pull in a full hour ahead of his much vaunted express.

Max slaps me on the head and points to where an urgent message flag is lit. I’m meant to be handling the peripheral boards while he has his hearing, taste and smell slaved to the drive arrays.

I hop from my seat and hit the read pad: MATRICES DAMAGED BY UNSCHEDULED OVERSPEED ARRIVAL AND TOTAL LOSS OF MALLARD TWO AT POINT THREE-ONE LIGHT. FLYING SCOTSMAN TWO MUST ENTER MATRICES UNDER POINT ONE-FOUR LIGHT OR RISK OVERSHOOT.

Overshoot? A slight understatement for becoming technicolour mince smeared across two star systems. Corvanto had obviously only partially succeeded in his industrial espionage: he got the accelerator plans. The greedy fool had implemented them without thought for the ability to stop several thousand tonnes travelling at double the speed rating of current catch matrices. I slide into the seat next to Max and slap the auxiliary interface cap onto my head.

“Max, we’ve got a problem. Corvanto’s express just tore up the sandpit and buffers at Stevenson as it smeared. We have to come in under point one-four.”

Max nodded: “Point one-four? They’ve had to switch arrivals to the old catch matrices. Our decelerators are only designed to resonate with the new units.”

Oh yeah. Forgot that little complication.

“I’m open to suggestions, Max. You’ve been riding star-locos since they first pulled out. If anyone can stop us becoming fractal patterns on infinity’s cloak, it’s you.”

“Your confidence is touching. Really. Now go and tell the luminaries to sit down and strap in while I think.”

I had just finished when the Scotsman shuddered and creaked. A big, unhappy, metallic groan that vibrates your bones. Things this big just do not do that, especially in the midst of wormhole transit! I leap across and slam the interface back on my head.

“Max!”

“All under control. There’s going to be more noises, but don’t worry.”

“Worry? I’m about to spontaneously pass kittens.”

Max smiled. “Then we’ll have three firsts to declare on our arrival.”

“Okay, give. We’re going too fast to slow down in time using the usual drop-off. The matrices at Stevenson cannot hold us. What have you done?”

“This loco is a streamliner. Each car has drive arrays, instead of putting big grunt up front and pulling the carriages in its wake. Simply put, the rear cars are now trying to go back home instead of forward. I’m keeping the stress margins under eighty percent and adding cars to the reversal as the hulls accommodate the stressors. I calculate we’ll enter the catch matrices at point one or less. I don’t want to push the impact loading after stressing the hull in strange ways.”

“That trick could make big decelerator matrices redundant.”

“I know. I had the idea decades back, but no-one would let me test it.”

 

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Run Like Hell

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

How does hell run? If it’s moving as fast as your legs can carry you without thought for obstacles or turns, then I’m doing it. Bruised from hitting lamp posts, walls and other things that help you turn at full pelt. I’m bleeding and half-blind but so far I’m ahead of it.

It? Sorry, I have no other words to apply. We led this scientific field for years, having used the one thing our competitors did not: we looked back at the Victorian inventors and went through their work with a granularity never before applied. We used our research grants not for the latest technical advances, but to pry long unseen manuscripts from private collectors.

[ Please excuse the pauses in updating this blog, but the concentration needed to hurdle or scramble around things means I have to resync my headwear after each lapse. ]

We found a notebook written by Tesla, something thought to be non-existent. In there, we found the missing pieces of his wireless electrical field work, along with some vague notes regarding his decision to abandon it due to ‘unexpected phenomena’.

So we got busy and pretty soon had the bugs ironed out, or so we thought. In a world where access to webinfra was key to getting anywhere, having the power to run your latest device is essential. Mobile gadgets have been on the bleeding edge of battery technology for years. Our little (re)discovery meant that you could use them all, anywhere where a Colorado Field was operating. We named it after a Tesla test site, yet never noticed that he ensured all tests after the first were always staged far from population centres.

So after a couple of demonstrations, we had investors and media attention. That led to the usual safety and licensing rigmarole, but we had enough funds in discrete places by then to sidestep the slow grind of authority in the accepted ways. Sunderland offered us the best incentives and had an established technology base. It only took a year to establish broadcast towers, several of them built inside the old box frame electrical pylons, giving us plentiful power and established security perimeters at minimal outlay.

Media attention was focussed on this innovation, so we scheduled the startup for just after dusk on a Friday evening. People could party all night and update the world and their less fortunate friends in the newly battery-free city of Sunderland as enhanced reality projections lit the streets.

The bulbs flashed and the cameras panned as the Minister for Energy pocketed his expenses, made a speech and flicked the switch. The lightshow was everything we had predicted. The hum faded to silence as predicted. Then the screaming started.

Tesla’s phenomena had been transient and caused nausea with rashes on prolonged exposure. We amped the field up by a thousand percent and distributed it over ten thousand acres populated by a quarter of a million people. The phenomena we manifested were full blown entities, composed of charged particles and attracted detritus around a core that originates from somewhere I have no idea of. Some reports put the initial manifestations around graveyards, which makes me think of non-scientific explanations that terrify me despite my scepticism.

If you’re still seeing feeds from Sunderland, trust me when I say it’s worse than it looks.

I insisted on the control room having a manual kill-switch. That room is three blocks away and I am sure the phenomena are aware, somehow.

Signing off as I need to concentrate on running like hell.

 

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Remember Kuwait

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I’ve always come second. Not through lack of talent or effort, but because I sympathised. If someone wanted it more than me, I’d let them have it. It started at home before I knew the word compromise. By the end of college I knew it well, had even lost my virginity because someone wanted it so much. There were several similar mistakes before I learned the difference between compromise and pushover.

My parents wanted Gareth, my brother, to join the Space Force. At the time, it was one per family for that elite, so despite better qualifications, I joined the Navy. Eleven years later Gareth was lumps orbiting Jupiter and I was a Captain and a veteran combat pilot with sidelines in command and mixed-environment tactics. My compromising made me a good negotiator but a poor leader.

The Chadda-ho are a typical race of colonising humanoids. Earth was a preferred acquisition, being nicely built up. Unfortunately mankind were still in residence. Their colonisation effort so resembled the pilgrims and the Amerind that we knew what was coming and objected violently. What we didn’t know we reverse engineered and enhanced. We beat them into a bloody stalemate.

The Eflubians ruled the Chadda-ho. So when the war stalled, the pink amoebas from Hell waded in and mankind got a thrashing. A lot of our military died while we learned to fight back. I found myself in a place where compromise cost lives, so I stopped compromising and started leading. Other officers didn’t learn as quick. They died and very soon I found myself to be second in command of Earth’s forces.

Fighting like humans yet described as devils, tigers, terrorists or fools depending on which newsfeed you read, we fought while politicians flailed and people died.

Last night the Diplomat-Commander called me in for a reprimand because my ragged army was doing too well and spoiling negotiations. I knew we were days from new weaponry as my boys and girls had taken the tech and paid in blood. We would have them. But the accountants had decided we should sue for peace. I got another reprimand when I used the word ‘grovel’.

We were fighting for our planet and the Amerind outcome showed us the cost of failure. So I looked that earnest officer in the eye and told him something my grandfather told me: “A long time ago, we let a regime survive after all but defeating them.”

I pointed out and up at the Eflubian motherships, hanging in the night sky like bloody teardrops the size of Bristol: “They won’t make the mistake of stopping in Kuwait.”

He looked at me and shook his head. His voice was patronisingly gentle: “Deputy Commander Trent. You have to accept that compromise is not defeat.”

I saw the look in his eyes and I knew I had looked like that in the past. He hadn’t learned. So I stepped forward and slid eight inches of Sheffield steel under his ribs and up into his heart. As he collapsed, I looked at his aides and said: “No, it’s worse. Defeat is being beaten. Compromise is beating yourself. I will not give this ground.”

The aides looked at me, at their squads. Then back at me. They came rigidly to attention and saluted with their men mere moments behind. The one on the left barked out: “Officer down, suspected heart failure. What are your orders, ma’am?”

“We fight. We don’t stop. We win. Move out!”

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No Further My Blood

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The morning breeze is so refreshing here in the heights overlooking the Gordet Pass. We had to stop the Persimma getting through to the Femberul plainsland and this is the choke point. It was going to take old-fashioned grit to hold the line, so we were given the task along with divisions heavy on tradition. Made us smile, mercenaries and old guard having to work together.

I started in the battling business in my teens. Where I grew up, it was take ship with mercs, turn to crime or become a cyberpeon. So I took the coin and went to war.

My first battle was Smarkandie. I shat myself as the nine-metre natives in their spiked armour charged. As someone once said: “Sometimes the only reasonable response to abject terror is a bowel movement.” After that, I carried spare underwear with my ammunition.

I got my first command at Upshallon. Made a complete hash of it and a lot of good men died. Hesitation is fatal. Unfortunately it was only fatal for everyone else.

After that I got myself a Blenkinsop Multi-Load Autogun and a shit-hot loader by the name of Tay. In between fucking each other senseless for sixteen good years, we killed everything the galaxy threw at us and made several fortunes. We pissed them all away in style.

On Aloysius II, Tay made sure the bastard who disembowelled her with a vibroblade died headless. I survived that bloodbath despite trying very hard not to after she went.

I became the rarest of warriors: a veteran mercenary. Got to the point where the kids I was fighting alongside hadn’t even heard of the places I’d fought my early battles on.

Iskaflune is a beautiful planet. The thought that I could happily settle here surprised me. Just get a place out by one of the tundra lakes and live quietly off the monies I’d stacked up since Tay went. Lost my appetite for partying when she went, as well as my reason to be.

I’d even started negotiating with the locals over settling down, with a consultancy to their military lined up. Then came the news that the Persimma were making a last ditch assault and we were off to Gordet.

They came hard and fast, pretty banners flapping over hardcore soldiers with no choice but to win. Their atrocity record guaranteed them no survival if they failed. So they came like their future depended on it because it did.

Three days of screaming hell running on drugs with names I couldn’t pronounce that made me feel like I was nineteen again. The fact that the chemical interactions gave us all erections was hilarious for the first few hours. Then they just became another bit of us that was bruised and sore.

At the end we were down to knives and clubs. We struggled in the twilight that this place calls night, slipping on the blood and entrails of the fallen. Those last few hours were the worst battle I have ever fought. Gutter biochemicals and acid competed with improvised warhammers and serrated blades. But we held.

The early dawn light is purple, making gentle pools of shadow from the gaping wounds in the ground and the bodies about me. My credit share for this will be huge. I smile and cough blood, making my autogun mount tilt as I’m slumped against it. All the fortunes in the universe are nothing to the love of one good woman.

And even she could not give me one more moment of life.

 

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