The Lady Is Not

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

‘The night is yet young’ as my grandmother used to say. Apparently it was my grandfather’s favourite line before they’d go out and party. She told me about the two of them jetting off to Dubai for breakfast and always being in Shanghai for Chinese New Year. She also bemoaned the difficulty of remaining elegant in the face of a weekend of partying. It was difficult to be elegant on a Sunday evening when you hadn’t seen your wardrobe since Friday afternoon.

Fortunately, the times have caught up with the needs of the modern lady. Nanite refresher booths are a feature of every ladies room these days, and my nanofluidic couture allows me to vary my styles in response to the slightest need.

Tonight I am a belle dame from the Mississippi Riverboat era, swanning about in a flounced and ruffed creation appearing to be of jade velvet over black leather. My Personal Access Device is transformed into a pair of long lace gloves. Elegance at will.

“Christina, my dear. You look ravishing.”

His choice of words makes me smile. Carmody has a reputation for taking the ravishing bit all too seriously. But he knows that I know his tastes. He slides closer with a devastating smile in a face that cost a million. A shame that making his personality pretty is more than cosmetic science can accomplish.

“Why don’t we take a stroll somewhere quieter, mademoiselle?”

I am just about to tell him to fornicate and depart when my PAD clenches about my wrists as my dress locks up.

Carmody smiles: “Oh dear, cheap bodyware? Wonderful.”

My intent to shout for aid is pre-empted by my choker acting literally. Carmody is the very soul of attentiveness, helping me past concerned partygoers, onto the veranda and down into the bowers of the love gardens. The bastard is using a slaver program to turn my couture into a prison. I think about what I’m actually wearing and realise I am, to put it politely, vulnerable to manipulation.

Carmody walks through the starlit evening to a remote nook containing a low table, with me accompanying him like a meal in a serving-droid.

“I think we’ll start with obscene and get inventive from there. Any objections? Thought not.”

Bastard bastard rapist bastard. I am striving to remain calm when Carmody emits a falsetto shriek and collapses rigidly, his face slamming into the gravel with a satisfying crunch. A figure steps into view as my couture rushes to cover my nakedness.

“My apologies for being a tad late, Miss Christina. Your brother’s compliments; he felt that you would object if he insisted that you employed a Safeguard.”

Safeguards are personal bodyguards trained, enhanced and equipped with the latest countermeasures for just about anything. Using them is deemed as gauche, but after tonight, I’m a convert.

He offers his hand and pulls me up without effort. His impeccable couture changes colour and style to complement mine as I take in his two-metre tall frame. I could become accustomed to this. Turning slightly, I nudge Carmody with my toe.

“What happened to him?”

“I thought it best to dampen his ardour by restricting the volume of his codpiece as I locked his couture. The servants will take him to the gatehouse for collection by the Police.”

I like the edge to his voice as he describes defending me, but I have to confirm my suspicions: “What volume, exactly?”

He actually blushes.

“Five cubic centimetres.”

I laugh. My Safeguard and I are going to get along just fine.

 

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Life Star

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The room was smoky with the singed emissions of substances that made tobacco seem like a health supplement. Everyone knew the risks, but when you were fighting the greatest tyranny to ever rule humanity, longevity just didn’t enter the equation.
General Pantoro couldn’t believe what he had heard: “We’re sure about this?”
Intel Captain Lokus smiled: “It’s confirmed, sir. The damn thing has no defensive field generators and no trace of fusion armour.”
Major Ekrofan raised a fist: “Then we should strike against – what did you say Una Galacta had named it?”
Lokus checked his brief before replying: “Torush One.”
Ekrofan laughed: “Bloody silly name.”
All assembled looked to General Pantoro. He pondered for a moment, then nodded decisively: “Let’s take their new toy away. Tell the Antares and the Ceres that they are cleared for nuclear engagement.”

The twin battlecruisers Antares and Ceres approached the near lunar diameter sphere that hung in equidistant orbit between Earth and Mars. They were heavily cloaked and relying on the chaos created by their attack to give them time to escape, accepting the fact that they might have to go down fighting. It was worth the sacrifice. Torush One was an unknown element, silvery-white with sections of mirror-like reflectivity. Una Galacta had noticeably decreased military operations since it had arrived in orbit, probably from some hidden construction facility. Which indicated how overwhelming they thought it would be.

In the smoky room, a communications officer approached the General. He whispered to Pantoro, whose brow creased before he entered a secure comms booth. The conversation he had was short and he exited the booth with a look of terror on his face. He rushed to the main comms board: “Abort the attack! Stand down all combat units! Stop! Just stop!”

Antares fired first. The damn thing was so big, missing was not the issue. Everyone agreed that all the nukes had to land dead centre to rip their way to the heart of it. With a ripple in space, the Ceres appeared and unleashed her payload as well. The ships used every nuke the Resistance could muster.

General Pantoro sat and cried. No one could get a word of sense from him.

Antares and Ceres linked their comms:
“I’ve got nothing on detectors. Not one hostile or any countermeasures against the nukes or us.”
“Confirmed, we seem to have caught them napping.”
“Hang on; I have surface geometry variance from the target.”
“No impacts yet. What’s the cause?”
“Unknown. There’s a dimple forming in the centre.”
“A what?”
“A crater. Right where we’ve targeted. It’s getting deeper and the rate is accelerating.”
“Do you get a bad feeling about this?”
“Yes. Disengage and get the hell out is my instinct.”
“Agreed.”

Torush One flowed into itself, the crater sinking far enough to become a tunnel as the object changed from sphere to torus. The nuclear hopes of the Resistance passed cleanly through the hole, hurtling toward Earth where automated defences destroyed them.

Pantoro looked up, his face ashen: “It’s not their superweapon. It’s an intergalactic arbiter, sent to end the futile war we’re engaged in and the tyranny we fight. Una Galacta will become a benevolent leadership under threat of unstoppable annihilation.”
The room erupted with cries of “Victory!”
The General stood slowly: “No. Una Galacta ceased hostilities and delayed informing us so we would think that Torush One was theirs, make a desperate attempt to destroy it and in so doing, contravene the ceasefire. We will be liquidated for that. Una Galacta regard ‘last man standing’ as an acceptable win.”

 

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Come Tomorrow

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The echoes are thunderous, something that keeps most of the predators down here away. This far along, everyone is fatigued. Even the children no longer have bursts of energy. Existence is eat, sleep and march to the beat. The chant cadences our footsteps through the netherways, the deep tunnels that were once used to move building materials between the growing United Cities.

“Come tomorrow, we’ll live in a far better place.”

Each Petacity is a continent covering sprawl that incorporates everything into an extended conurbation. Intensive automation overseen by computers fast enough to map DNA in minutes made them possible. Mankind quickly became dependent on the hyperstructure that provided everything. Then the control systems worked out that growing replacement labour was far more ecologically efficient than building it.

“Come tomorrow, we’ll suffer no machine-led pace.”

We went from dependent to subservient in two generations. Some objected, of course. But ancient tales of rising against robot masters were glaringly short on overcoming the details. Death came in crush corridors and gas clouds. When you’re inside the thing you fight, nobility and righteousness count for little in the immune system versus disease deathmatch.

“Come tomorrow, there will be space for the free man.”

Our opponents could dynamically run every possible strategic response for every scenario before we detonated the bomb, landed the second blow, fired the second shot or took the next step. We lost nearly a whole generation in a guerrilla war that more resembled rodents versus pest control than a resistance movement. Finally, cleverer minds prevailed.

“Come tomorrow, we’ll do it all with our own hands.”

Rats did not fight, they inhabited places man couldn’t reach or didn’t want. Living underground was not an option and Galifan Scott gave us the answer: United City Seven. The south-polar Petacity had been abandoned as the cold was something that the robots could not overcome without causing ecological harm. They had withdrawn along the netherways, leaving the nascent Petacity to the eternal ice.

“Come tomorrow, the white land will become our home.”

The netherways remain, some decrepit, some submerged, all dangerous. But those who survived the first long walks found only a Gigacity core with Petacity foundations unfinished in the face of machine-freezing cold. The founders of Free City One defined the maximum technology that could support millions without processor-based automation. From there they designed a new culture.

“Come tomorrow, our children will be free to roam.”

I am a Finder. We go out along the netherways from Free City One, equipped to rescue and retrieve those coming to the end of their long walk. We help the hearty and build cairns for the dead. No more shall we become food or fertiliser depending on our age at dying. The chant gives them hope and strength, keeps them moving toward freedom. It is the last regimen they will have to endure, as Free City One runs on pride, courtesy and idealised British policing.

They say that one day we will reclaim the world. I am one of those who believes that to be a futile objective. We will watch as an alien culture of our ancestor’s creation tends the world we so nearly ruined. What the future holds is for our descendants to decide. ‘Come Tomorrow’ is more than the title of a chant to march the people home.
It is a promise that free humanity will never cease to be.

 

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Food Chain

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Imagine a blue spider. One of the big hairy ones that move really fast. Make it the size of a tomcat. Replace the back pair of legs with bat wings. Add venomous spurs to those wings. That’s what is watching me as I sway head-down in the breeze that wafts through the Ghabeni forest.

It’s called a Darth. The wheezing noise they make when angered is the reason for the name and only dead biologists know why. They’re pack hunters occupying the ecological niches usually taken by small carnivores, large rodents, small raptors, vultures and scary ginormous insects.

I inherited my father’s arachnophobia in full measure. All I can focus on is what those legs will feel like against me when it climbs down the harness that suspends me from this tree like some macabre bird feeder.

When the orbiter malfunctioned, we abandoned it in the shuttle. When the shuttle malfunctioned, we abandoned it using parawings. They worked perfectly apart from the lack of open ground to land on. So we had a shouted discussion, slowed to stall speed while getting as low as possible, then dropped into the trees.

I can see Angus’ red suit from here. He stopped screaming a while back but his suit is still moving. A type of movement that makes me think Angus is lunch for the rest of the Darth pack.

I don’t even have a bright light to repel them. That’s their only real aversion, apart from the nocturnal predator we have no name for as it’s never been recorded. We’ve found entire Darth packs reduced to scattered chitin, every piece showing signs of powerful pointy teeth. The owners of said teeth remain a mystery.

A vibration on my harness makes me look up. In the creeping twilight, I see movement on the branches above. Looking across at Angus, I see his suit hanging like it’s empty. Oh crap.

There’s a Darth on my boot chewing on the laces, another going through the panels on my leggings. More are coming down the harness toward my boots. This is going to be a bad way to go, eaten from the feet up. I don’t scream until I feel mandibles pierce my calf. Then I spend a few minutes making up for lost time until I feel legs moving down my inner thigh, under my suit. I piss myself, hit a new high note and pass out.

I come to tasting blood. There are no mandibles in me, no legs on me. A crunching draws my eyes to the nearby branch. There is light from a crude lantern. In it I see that I am being observed by silvery oval eyes set slantwise in a head that strikes me as a cross between chimpanzee and leopard. The body is covered in dark blue fur, the hands and feet have two opposable digits as well as wicked claws. The mouth is filled with sharp incisors. It licks the last morsels from the Darth carcass and throws it over its shoulder.

Far to my left, I hear the click of scanners. It looks that way and picks up the lantern.

“Thank you.”

I don’t know what prompts me to say it, but I do. The creature leans close, touching my cheek with a single digit. I swear it smiles as it pats it’s obviously stuffed belly. I realise the meaning; it didn’t save me, it just can’t eat anymore. With that, it extinguishes the lantern and is gone silently in an eyeblink.

As the rescue team approaches, its not fear of Darths that makes me scream.

 

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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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