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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Bleeding Edge

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Space glittered as if strewn with crystals, millions of fragments ranging from a few kilos to hundreds of tonnes reflecting the distant sun. Colonel Defarris turned from the screens, right hand waving in frustration as the left raked his hair back.

“Stop me if I missed anything: Twenty centuries ago, the planet of Salarden was united under a single leader. He decided that the use of range weapons weakened a warrior’s resolve and instituted hideous penalties for owning anything capable of killing at a distance. That has resulted in an interstellar nation that considers any race using ranged weapons inferior.”

Captain Reonid nodded. “Correct.”

“That’s FUBAR.”

“Not really, sir. It’s just strange to us. Their culture hybridises the British chivalric model with the codified society of feudal Japan. The military caste call themselves Ledarnin. They are masters of a new form of interstellar combat.”

Defarris deadpanned: “Space-fu?”

Reonid smiled. “Stilettos.”

Defarris looked horrified. “Transvestite knights?”

“Not shoes; knives.”

“What?”

“The Ledarnin went into space and had to find a new way to melee without breaching what had become a racial psychosis. They started with forms of jousting, then as technology advanced, their ships became their lances.”

Defarris spun and pointed to the screens. “Are you telling me that space-knights charged the Sixth Battlegroup?”

Reonid sighed. “They call them Sunderlaw. Imagine two stiletto blades mounted at ninety degrees to each other. Where the crosspiece would be is the cockpit. The hilt is where the engines are. The ‘blade’ is made of an incredibly dense alloy and is a hundred metres long. The cockpit is housed within enormous armoured shock-damping mechanisms and the engines are immense. Their commanders each have ridiculous cityships called Bowcastles. Each one has a complement of pilots sworn to dedicated service. Wars are settled by chosen champions, fighting one-on-one. The duels take days or minutes, depending on who makes the first error. The skills required to impale a cockpit or disable a drive are precise. The ships of the Sixth Battlegroup were nothing more than slow targets to them. Our energy weapons are useless against the alloy of the Sunderlaws and our shields cannot cope with huge objects travelling that fast; in normal space, there is nothing faster than the mark eleven Sunderlaw.”

“We have armoured hulls!”

“Our definition of adequate armour will need revision. There is vidmon of a Sunderlaw going through the ‘Vanquisher’ bow to stern without slowing appreciably.”

Defarris choked out: “That’s a kilometre. Good god. We’ll have to stand off and bombard Salarden.”

“And only kill non combatants. Their entire military caste is based in Bowcastles and there are hundreds of them. The bigger ones are damn near the size of our Moon.”

Signalman Talloe ran on to the observation deck, message pad in hand.

“Sir! Flash from Earth!”

Defarris took the pad, keyed it and paled as he read out the opening paragraph: “The Bowcastle ‘Dawnheart’ has appeared and deployed two thousand Sunderlaw inside Mars’ orbit. The Lords of Dawnheart have informed Congress that they will perform a ‘Glory Strike’ on Earth unless we recognise the sovereignty of the Salarden Empire.”

Reonid checked the glossary: “That’s using Sunderlaw as manned meteors. They have the speed and weight to penetrate atmosphere with multi-kiloton impacts.”

Defarris sighed. “We are ordered to stand down. Negotiations are underway.”

Reonid looked out at the sparkling remains, his voice sorrowfully quoting an ancient memoir: “When sufficient crosses cannot be found to mark our fallen and blades are at our children’s throats, let the battlefield remain unmarked, for we did not fight. We were massacred.”

 

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Fine Line

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

My father always told me that there was a thin line between bravery and stupidity. Just like genius and insanity, it frequently comes down to time, place, outcome and who’s doing the judging.

Right now, I don’t need to check with any judges. This is stupid and insane. I am hanging, angled head down, from a kilometre length line woven from graphene, carbon nanotubes and synthetic spider silk. I’m naked under the sightbender bodysuit and the anchor points at my waist, knees and shoulders have been carefully needle-pointed through the suit and superglued to my skin, which has Kevlar weave bandages reinforcing those bits. Did I mention the stealth gel between skin and suit? I don’t sweat or anything right now and will die in about forty minutes if I’m not hosed down.

All the high-end sneakery is to place me above the target without being detected by some very thorough and murderous security. This piece of lunacy was suggested by yours truly in a moment of drunken insight a week ago. Well, what I actually said was: “We need a flying chimp with a spear to pop that dome.”

All I have to do now is use the carbon fibre composite bow to shoot the molecular-point diamond-tipped arrow through the forty metre diameter dome a hundred and twenty metres below gently swaying me.

The Thodmuk come from a deep subterranean culture and are methane breathers. After their initial assault, they adapted the Purbright mine complex as it has the right composition and depth to contain a pressurised methane atmosphere. This one arrow could change the course of history.

Ignoring the pains and the view, I nock and draw smoothly to my cheek in one movement as my father taught me. Relax, sway, aim, breathe in, breathe out, sway, breathe in, breathe half out, hold, sway, release –

*

I wake up a month later after they transfer me from the immersive healing vat to the silken hammock. All I remember is being a comet, hurtling through the sky, leaving a trail of incandescent me.

They tell me that’s not delirium. When I shot the dome, it ruptured savagely, and ripped some power conduits. Sparks and high pressure combustible gas resulted in a plume of fire jetting a kilometre into the sky.

I was a hundred and twenty metres up, remember? The plume blew me away. To the limits of my line, anyway. Which snapped. Fortunately I was glued to it, so the western winch anchor defined the radius of my arc, which terminated in a lake just under half a kilometre away. The hard water effect should have killed me, except I was completely relaxed: unconscious from the seventy percent burns inflicted by the flammable stealth gel under my only slightly flame retardant suit. I’m going to be in agony for weeks, but if the line had held I’d be a crispy speck dangling over the smoking crater where the Thodmuk used to live.

I’m going to be decorated for bravery when I have skin all over. The bloke who came up with the plan is being hailed as a genius.

Like I said. Results and judging. Because my opinion of him and the Thodmuk opinion of me are a lot less complimentary.

 

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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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