The Alchemist

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The elegant décor did nothing to lift the atmosphere in the room as the small group of officers and dignitaries parted to let Inspector Carbeth through. He strode up to the sprawled body and rapped his cane on the parquet flooring to prompt his man’s report.

The detective spoke without looking up from his analyser: “His work, without question.”

“What was it this time?”

“A celery stick restructured to consist of tungsten-carbide.”

Carbeth scowled. The man was making a mockery of his department. Twenty-eight assassinations in nine weeks. The Council was gone. Only His Excellency remained. Drastic measures were required.

A polite cough from the entrance of the room caused all to bow as His Excellency sauntered in.

“My dear Carbeth. This is somewhat of a trial, is it not?”

“Excellency. The man known as the Alchemist is a coward. He slays and then disguises himself as a member of staff, uses his unique molecular manipulation techniques to shape a weapon from a household item, then kills his target without warning or mercy. We are now sure that he remains amongst the staff the following day and escapes in the evening.”

His Excellency looked perturbed: “You mean to say that the Alchemist is amongst the staff here, as we speak?”

Carbeth smiled as a notion became an idea: “Indeed, Excellency. And that is exactly where we want him.”

“Really? Do tell.”

“Please order the entire staff to assemble in the ballroom. I shall demonstrate.”

The ballroom was abuzz with muted conversation as His Excellency, Carbeth and twenty Pacifiers entered. Carbeth received confirmation from the seneschal that all were present.

He drew his flechette pistol and then nodded to the Pacifier Captain: “Kill them all.”

The spasmic grunts of unexpected death were drowned out by the crackle of twenty kazers. The silent aftermath was torn by the syncopated hiss of Carbeth’s flechette pistol as he shot the seneschal in the back.

“Good god, Carbeth! Are you out of your mind?”

“No, milord. I am killing the Alchemist. For the death of one such as him, the loss of eighty-five serving class is a bargain price.”

His Excellency gathered himself.

“Quite exemplary, Carbeth. You might give thought to a Council seat. I find myself in need of men of decisive mien.”

His Excellency was less sanguine later, missing his courtesans. Ah well, a couple of bottles of vintage red would tide the night over into the following day and the excitement of getting more staff. He always loved shopping.

Pleasurable anticipation was halted by the sight of a cracker lifting from his caviar, steaming and glowing as it was transformed from foodstuff to molybdenum. As the restructured wafer approached, a dulcet feminine voice spoke from the air to its left.

“It never ceases to amaze me that you are all so fascinated by the technology I use to make my weapons, yet never seek to question the simple ruses I perform to conceal my invisibility.”

 

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The Accidental Godling

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

George stood on the fused glass at the edge of the crater. It had taken him a while to climb out of the hole, but at least it allowed the forces arrayed against him to reassemble. He watched them advance, flicking his eyes between reality and nihil, fascinated that living organisms produced a shadow in that non-place.

A thought came to him. With thought came actuality and he flickered to all perceptions except his own, a curious moment when he just ceased to be before standing there again. In the command and control centre thirty miles away, consternation erupted as Major-General McChase keeled over, dead before his body started to fall.

George felt elation. Another thing learned. He could nullify the nihil shadow of an organism and the organism itself died instantly. With a rush of curiousity, he flickered a thousand times, nullifying the nihil shadows of things ranging from plankton to trees to whales. On his return to his standing place, he could sense the absences he had created. So he had proven shadows and echoes in nonexistence. But could it be nonexistence if he was there to see things?

His fascinated theoretical conjuring was interrupted by a massively amplified voice.

“Professor George Andrakoplis. This is acting commander Lamont. Surrender yourself for detention!”

Plainly as incapable of understanding as his predecessor. Maybe the next one? He flickered.

“Ack!”

The amplified noise of fatal surprise echoed. So his absences were infinitesimal in time consumption? Probably zero in real terms. He chuckled. ‘Real terms’. Now there was a phrase he couldn’t use anymore.

He paused his mental dissertation to gauge the approaching forces. He extended his newly acquired sense of hadronic potential over them and laughed to himself as he did so. Of course none of them had a large hadron collider with a gap just big enough for him to fit into, to separate him from the nihil with racing neutrons, to turn him into a four dimensional entity again before the proton stream inflicted another unpredictability upon him. Most likely it would actually end him, instead of inflicting a further freakish transformation.

He raised a hand to his forehead as an epiphany struck him. His sudden movement caused the entire advancing army to grind to a halt and dive for cover.

Could it be dark matter? He hadn’t been gifted with the ability to cease to be, he had been given access to the cloth upon which the tapestry of existence hung. Like any embroidery, he should be able to discover how to unpick bits of it.

He looked up as contrails laced the sky. How apt. Lacework. He cocked his head as cries of consternation echoed from the ranks arrayed before him. The missiles were not of their sending. It looked like an opportunist nation was using the situation to try to deal with him and their opposition in one holocaust.

Well, he had a theory. What better time to practice than with something that should allow him to shift the perceptions of those before him? He flickered, disappeared, flickered and generally reinforced the fear of the unknown amongst those watching him. Minutes later he reappeared and stayed. The nuclear armageddon rained down in a series of solid impacts and detonator sized blasts, but not a mushroom cloud rose nor did a Geiger counter twitch.

He smiled, spread his arms and shouted: “Now can you get past your terror so we can talk like rational beings?”

 

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Hacker

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The pastel decorated walls were hung with tasteful art that changed as needed to offset any negative morale the system garnered from the gestalt of everyone’s mindnets. Since the advent of the cranial implant, society had changed beyond all recognition and this had forced policing to evolve as well.

Two figures leant against the wall of the hushed office, engaged in silent conversation like everyone else. Some predicted the death of all but the most rudimentary spoken language skills before the end of the century. Detective Reid paused to put a datapad on the desk before resuming his conversation with Detective Constable Moore.

*So we caught him at last?*

*Her. She’s a basket case.*

*Given her hobby of vivisecting prostitutes, I’m not surprised.*

*No, not in that way. You know the transcriber purchase that originally flagged her?*

*Yes. Uniforms spotted it and we were following her for the regulation twenty-four hours before arrest. She went out killing that evening.*

*Seems she did it deliberately so we would catch her.*

*What?*

*You need to listen to the transcriber. It’s been verified.*

The pair of them headed for the audience room and in the presence of an evidence unit the transcriber, and illegal device for undetectably recording mindnet chats, was set in playback mode.

*We’ll skip the early stuff, which includes the murder in full sensory pickup. It’s the end you need to hear.*

Moore gestured to the evidence unit. It cued and started the playback.

Her hysterical voice was shrill with emotive bias. She had bought a top of the line unit: “Oh god, oh god, oh god. No. No. I can’t take this.”

A second voice made Reid start. It was male. An exquisite old English accent reproduced with emotional tones of smug satiation.

“That’s fine, Penelope. This was the last one for you. The police are on their way, they seem to have gotten wind of us. You can have your body back and remember, if you say anything about me they’ll lock you up as a lunatic, because bodyjacking doesn’t officially exist.”

“But it wasn’t me!”

“Of course it wasn’t, Penelope. It was me. It has always been me. Now you lie down and they will be here to collect you soon. Sleep, dear Penelope.”

“But I don’t want to-”

Her voice became unintelligible as her consciousness was overridden. Reid turned to Moore, who raised a hand for him to wait and pointed at the transcriber.

“This is for the detectives listening on the transcriber this clever filly bought to get your attention.”

Moore gestured for the evidence unit to pause the playback. He looked at Reid, who resorted to speaking, a stress related habit of older people.

“Good god. We’ve got a slasher that hijacks normal people using their mindnets? ABM stock will tank if this gets out.”

Moore shook his head before replying verbally out of politeness, his voice scratchy from underuse: “You’re right. This one’s going to be a huge mess. I thought you should hear the whole thing before an edited version becomes the official one.”

Reid raised an eyebrow in query. Moore paused his gesture to the evidence unit to ask a question: “What was District Seven before the Rezoning?”

Reid scratched his head then hunched as an ominous suspicion came with the answer: “Whitechapel.”

Moore’s shoulders slumped as he gestured to the evidence unit.

The smug voice seemed to fill the room: “Let this be the start once again. My name is Jack. Catch me if you can.”

 

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Big Brother

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The battlefield is silent and empty. In the city beyond, we can see figures on the remaining vantage points. All of us gawking like children as the spectacle continues.

The dawning light reflects from angles or scatters in rainbow flashes across Sean’s body. With unbelievable grace, he executes a swooping lunge; his head briefly level with his ankles as his arms curve back and up, like wings spreading. The slipstream of his passing bends trees and flattens the few shanties they had supported.

“Colonel Jones, please instruct your brother to carry out his orders.”

The voice in my earpiece is stiff with disapproval. This paradigm shift in warfare is beyond them.

“Brigadier Stephens. Major Jones is doing just that.”

“Pardon me, Colonel. I had the silly idea that attacking a city involved fighting.”

“Brigadier, you misunderstand me. I do not expect this city to fall.”

“We don’t have the men for a hundred and eighty square miles of urban combat, Colonel.”

I see Captain Andrews raise a hand, his other one pointing at the white flag bobbing towards us from the city.

“Gentlemen, I expect hostilities to cease within the hour. Yes, Brigadier, I will resign before court-martial if I am wrong.”

Sputtering over the earpiece is my only reply. After a while, the Captain arrives with our flag carrying visitor, who cannot take his gaze from my brother, even when he speaks.

Lieutenant Sprindi translates: “The humble representative of the people relays a request that when his august leaders capitulate, would the dalishen do them the honour of accepting their surrender in person?”

I smile at our visitor and switch to the command channel.

“Sean. Finish that pattern and get over here, will you?”

Sean finishes with a beautiful circling move, his hands moving so fast at it’s culmination you can hear the wind roar around them. After a simple bow toward the sun, he activates his gravtac and drifts our way, setting down with a gentle thud that only slightly demolishes our encampment. His feet are placed either side of the command tent. Our visitor is shaking like a leaf in the wind.

“Lieutenant, tell the humble representative we agree before he faints.”

A few moments later said representative is sprinting back to the city as Sean lets himself down carefully into a cross-legged sitting position. I lean against his toes until he extends a finger and gives me a boost to perch on his knee. I grin up into the immense sensor arrays so carefully designed to look like monstrous eyes.

“You were right. A two-hundred foot tall cyborg doesn’t need weapons; it only needs to be invulnerable. The terror inspired by facing something that can swat aircraft by throwing tanks at them is stupefying. Your destructive potential is unthinkable and you devastate their morale by just arriving.”

Sean chuckled over his speakers before resorting to command channel: “Good thing they needed the size to fit the first gravitic core. Sleight fields will keep me awesome until someone makes their own titans. Then things will get interesting.”

“Which is why I recommend you add Pehlwani and gada to your Wu-Shu.”

“Why?”

“They can’t shoot you, so they’ll take your lead. Seeing videos of your patterns, they’ll select a striking art. Which will be utterly buggered by Indian wrestling and Hanuman mace.”

“My big brother, still looking out for me. Love ya, Feargal.”

I look up at him, my quadriplegic brother turned ad-hoc battlefield god: “I think the ‘big’ bit is yours now. Call me older.”

I see the watchers flinch as Sean’s laughter roars out.

 

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Momentary

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I’m not in the moment. I am the moment, locked in by law-enforcement combat conditioning. Beyond my fixed perceptions, there is nothing. The instructors told us to take in the whole enhanced experience at these times, letting the moment become us instead of becoming our madness.

There’s a nanopede traversing the barrel of my gun, its tentacular manipulators working devotedly to provide gecko-like traction in the sheen of tarnish-repellent gloss upon the burnished alloy. The legs move in waves, reflecting little coruscating showers of light as it makes its way about its incomprehensible business.

“One.”

The stock of my gun is jammed tight into my shoulder, so tight my clavicle aches, but I can’t diminish my grip. The sights are aligned to the probable target vectors and the filament to my combat eye swings rhythmically in time with my heartbeat. My peripheral vision shows my team and headman distributed for optimum coverage.

“Two.”

The warehouse is silent. Our stealth gear means we are invisible even to a Tabino, the plastic addicted rodents famed for denuding citizens in moments. Thankfully the only citizens nearby are in the passing air traffic that illumines the darkness fitfully with bright beams through the torn roof. They strobe by like the strides of giants made of light.

“Three!”

The darkness is hurled back by the phased pulse of six demolition charges that turn air into energy with an efficiency that can suffocate the unprepared. Which is what we all hope our targets are. As the expanding rings of blue fire flash along exposed conductive materials, the bass thrum of a grazer amped from it’s workcycle of plasma cutting up to illegal death dealing autopulse reveals some of our targets were very prepared.

My legs are a separate entity, hurling me forward on an irregular course. My sights show no targets yet the autopulses increase from one to eight, stretching out towards us like ribbons of purple light. They must be cycling the grazers without regard for cooling.

“I’m hit!”

One of the ribbons intersected with my headman and his right thigh has been blasted to superheated mist. Now I understand why they’re running the grazers so hot – they can chop us down. I desperately try to find them, overriding the sights to fire at the originating end of the nearest lethal ribbon of light.

“Bastard!”

The scream over open comms coincides with the ribbon I was using to orientate my fire winking out. I’m just fighting my single-minded kill directive to rediscover speech, so I can pass the sight-override manoeuvre on, when two of the ribbons slash sideways and bisect in my chest, vapourising my forearms and detonating my gun. I watch in macro-awe as the nanopede executes a flawless pike off the gun barrel and drops from view behind the expanding pink and silver ball composed of gun shards, denaturing chest armour and limb fragments. Then the physics happens and I am dropped off the impaling spears of energy, falling behind a thankfully solid stanchion.

The medical unit on my belt exhausts its entire repertoire in under five seconds. I am going to live, my arms and weapon having reduced the death dealing beams to merely searing.

Released from combat mode, I open our tactical channel and tell my remaining team-mates about overriding their sights. Wordless growls of thanks make me smile.

The moment stretches and snaps, normal time and senses are resumed and I manage to race the pain into the welcoming embrace of sedative oblivion.

 

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