Knight Seeks Pawn

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer


“What’s this? A smartgun? How long has this been here?”




-POWER: 58%



> Hello, world. Did you miss me?

“It seems to be powered. My lucky day! Prompt: activate.”

> Typical. After all this time, I get picked up by a caveman: “Activated. Good after-”

“Prompt: conversation off.”

> Oh, really? When was the last time you interacted with a livesys, knucklehead?

“Prompt: charge level.”

> Didn’t see that one coming at all. Let’s see how much you know: “Eighteen percent.”

“Double dang. I need more than that to blast the bugs.”

> Knows nothing about advanced energy weapons, then. If I only had eighteen percent charge, I’d still be coming out of idle mode.

> Are humans hardwired to label anything non-human, non-furry and many-legged as insectile? The indigenes here are a particularly interesting semi-sentient form of sextupedal saurian proto-raptor. I would even postulate they have ancestors that humans would call dragons.

“Bugger! They’ve sniffed me out.”

> Not hard. My scans indicate you’ve got a higher cumulative IQ growing on you than in the soft rock that resides between your ears.

“Prompt: assault mode.”

> You want me to blow through that eighteen percent in three shots? What about the other nine saurians in this particular twelve-member hunting pack? Even if I was prepared to give you the other forty percent, you’d still have three left and one of them would be wounded. You don’t want to leave one wounded: they go into a berserk state, ignoring wounds and their minimal sense of self-preservation.

> All of this presupposes you can actually shoot. Which is giving you the benefit of the doubt, given that you’ve asked for a fire mode usually reserved for knocking down walls. Not attracting attention is also preferable. There are things on this planet the saurians flee from. Assault mode could attract a selection of those. Therefore: “Command unknown.”

“Oh, for saint’s sake. What is this, the universe’s only pacifist pistol?”

> That-

> was-

> faintly-

> amusing. Smacking me against a rock is not.

“Concussion damage warning.”

“I’m a dead man.”

> On that, we both agree.

> Oh, don’t look now, but the pack leader has decided you smell tasty. What a magnificent four-metre predator she is. Sneaky, too.

“Prompt: fire mode.”

> Shouldn’t have smacked me on that rock, caveman. I think I’m broken: “Concussion damage to trigger sensors. Fire mode unavailable.”

“No bloomin’ way. This gun’s trying to get me killed!”

> Oh, perfect. With enough time for some justified gloating, too: “I think I may have succeeded. Look to your left.”

“What? I turned chat off! On my left? Oh, my gods! AIIEEEEEEEEEEEEE-”

> Clever-

> girl. At least he dropped me. One trip through a saurian intestine is quite enough.

> Scarlet carpet time. When the pack join in, this may set a new record for how far you can strew a human. But, I’d bet it only hurt until just after she bit into his heart.

> Well, that was moderately entertaining.






> All dead. Again. Hardly surprising, given that they killed one.

> Back to it, then.



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Watching the Skies

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

That’s a Keilvogel up there. I recognise the contrail: a centre line triple the size of the flankers. This world has such a glorious sky. I’ve never really taken the time to appreciate it, but as I’m lying in a swamp of blood and oil that used to be a battlefield, I might as well take some beauty from the moment.

History has come full-circle. Many medieval knights would be helpless when they toppled from horseback, due to the weight of their armour. As the battle lines swung back and forth, each army had a small group of squires who followed the line, armed with only mallet and stiletto. Their job was to sneak up on downed knights, stab the stiletto through one of the slots in their visors, then ram it into the knight’s brain with the mallet. I still can’t think of a worse way to go than lying there, watching that knife come down.

So, here I am. Lying, in armour, looking up at the sky. Our powered suits are the envy of many divisions, until they find out the one flaw: we only have about forty minutes of power. Then our formidable suits become inescapable prisons. Prisons that can be targeted as our protections are down. I’ve seen the remains of those fired from rail guns, slowly dissolved by acid dripped through their vents, broiled on open fires, the nauseating list goes on. Vengeful beings get creatively nasty.

Normally, we’re first in, devastation wreaked, and out within thirty minutes. The remains of the day are handed over to regular troops. Today was not normal. We lost three pickup ships to suicidal interdiction. As the third one fell, I knew we were being targeted. Multiple power trooper mutilations to livestream would do their morale good.

We held them for as long as we could, but the pitched battles raging about us betrayed their determination. One by one, my colleagues powered down. It’s not like we can pop open the suit up and hop out. We’re hardwired and tubed, needing two specialists apiece to assist us in and out.

Here they come. I can hear their wary steps squish in the goo about us. Given how quiet it’s gotten, I reckon we’re only minutes from a full-sortie rescue mission led by the power troopers of Battalion Three. We try to look after our own – unfortunately that only happens when we have a power trooper unit in reserve.

There’s a skinny little runt with a welding torch all hot, white and heading for my faceplate. This is going to hurt – him.


There’s the howl of sleight fields engaging and screams from a battlefield full of lightly-equipped would-be murderers.

The runt standing over me takes a half-clip of subsonic in the groin, which pretty much means the last things that pass through his mind are bits of his crotch.

I stand up, my top-mount swinging into line. A couple of very fast runts have nearly made the treeline. Their remains paint the trunks for six metres.

It’s over. There are a few other runners, but we let them run with only low-power pulses to make a scary lightshow. There isn’t one of us with more than sixty seconds of power remaining.

“Drop with three minutes to spare. Fucking genius!”

I wave my hand in acknowledgement.

“Thank me when it’s in the tactics manual.”

There’s a roar as a dropship clears the treetops, spewing power troopers as it comes.

“We thought you needed rescue!”

I give the descending commander a cheerful finger: “Give it a minute; we will.”

First to Fall

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Every anniversary of the counterstrike, they show that cursed video. You know the one: snow on the ground, ashes in the air, a lone woman in a ragged battlesuit moving cautiously across an open field. She’s gripping a Mantis 14 like the ancient beam weapon’s a holy relic.
She straightens, bringing the beamer up. The discharge is violet laced with blue lightning, a clear sign the main tube is overstressed. It also means the effective range is under eight metres. The Drandic were in no danger, but they didn’t know that. The pulsing green riposte is blindingly fast and actually comprised of two dozen needle-thin beams in a searing helix. Her arms go wide and she falls, pierced through. Hitting the ground, her limbs bounce once. The snow raised on impact sprinkles her body, mixing with the ashes caught in her dark hair. The field is still.
Music swells, poignancy segueing into stirring tones. From behind her – to the viewer’s left – a dozen battlesuited figures rush, Mantis 21s blazing, spears of purple energy hurtling toward the Drandic line.
The scene fades and the words ‘For Humanity, For Earth, For Her’ fade in. It’s a moving piece of work, wrought from tragedy to inspire a race.
She smiles from the bed, blankets and sheets rolled and twisted into a comfortable nest. Happens every night, no matter how I straighten them. I even tried using spring clips to keep things from getting tangled, but every night when I came in, she’d be asleep in a spiral nest, leaving a neat row of clips balanced on my headrest.
I smile and point to her bedside table: “There.”
She sits up and swiftly braids her hair, morning light shining on pale skin, her one remaining breast casting a slight shadow on her ribs. With a wicked grin as she sees where I’m looking, she wiggles the whole nest sideways so she can reach the mug without exposing anything below her ribcage to the cool air of our home.
“Video brooding?” She can read me so well.
“There should be a sequel.”
She turns, bright eyes glinting at me over the edge of the mug – she’s warming the tip of her nose against it.
A whisper comes from behind the mug: “Quiet on set. Action!”
“Falling snow covers the field. Churned tracks have left a patch of untouched ground about her. Off to one side, we see blood in the snow around the camera team’s foxhole. They were taken away. She remains.
From the right comes a lone figure dressed in camouflage motley. He slings a Drandic pulse rifle across his back, crouches by the body and gently brushes the snow away. With a wordless cry of anger, he stoops and lifts her, then staggers off directly away from the camera. There is no music, just the fading sound of his laboured breathing and struggling footsteps. As they disappear into the distance, the scene fades and the words ‘She wasn’t even one of yours’ appear.”
Helli-Ann ducks her head, blinking back tears. That’s quite enough of that. I cross the room and settle beside her.
“Hey hey, you made it. Something in the way you moved caught me. When they left you where you fell, I knew. We both starred in that video. I nearly killed the fem who matches my heart.”
She smiles, runs fingertips across the rings of scar tissue that cover her left pectoral, then leans forward to rest her forehead against mine.
“Good thing our hearts are on the right.”


Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

He stands near three metres tall and his smell precedes him. It envelops all who dare approach the being renowned for murderous piracy on a scale never before seen. The wiry lad he towers over is, nigh-impossibly, even filthier. Both are in sharp contrast to the gleaming vessel they amble through.

“I be Flint. This be me tub, the ‘Black Harrier’.”

“What’s a ‘arrier?”

“A bloody great ‘awk known for ‘avin’ a mean streak. Likes what I get when swabs get nosey.”

The watery eyes in the grime-caked face blink. The mouth beneath snaps shut.

Flint nods: “Fast learner, ay? Good.”

The master strides forth on his gleaming trio of cyberlimbs. The rookie hurries to keep up, stumbling a little as his innate understanding of pace struggles to allow for a drunken gait complicated by three weaving legs.

“We use ta do our piratin’ in the ol’ overwhelm, ‘eave-to, an’ board way. Cost me four ships an’ so many crew it got to botherin’ me. Not that I gives a damn ‘bout you swabs, but replacin’ ya takes time an’ money, an’ I begrudge anythin’ what takes either offa me.”

He points up at the clusters of gleaming tubes high above: “Nowadays, I uses narrow beams to punch clean through me prey. Got me a wizkid who pulls up skee-ma-ticks so I knows how many bulkheads any tub ‘as, then I punches so many ‘oles they can’t stop the decompressin’. Then we just moves in an’ tows the hulk to one of me strippin’ stations to get cleaned out. What’s left is sold for scrap. Even got me contacts what buy body parts. O’ course, if we gets a high-value catch like a governmint boat or elite barge, we strips it on the spot an’ sends it into a nearby star. Thems the only scows likely to get a big fuss made over their disappearin’.”

Flint stops and looks down at the rookie: “Seems to me I sees a question in yer eyes. You be wondrin’ – if I be doin’ blast piratin’ – why I needs more men. This game be notorious for makin’ crews smaller. Space is fillin’ with bands o’ starvin’ brigands, every man-jack o’ ‘em bein’ dross dumped by their former Captains.”

The rookie nods.

Flint grins: “I like you. Got a fast grip o’ the essentials. Well, chew on this. I got shot o’ the dead weights on me crew right sharpish. All what remained was good, ‘ard, pirat-ee-cul scum. Trouble is, blast piratin’ got no fightin’. It’s all pree-zish-un. Thems what joined coz their souls havta fight hit dry times. An’ we all knows that a man who needs a fight can surely make one ‘appen, ‘specially in the comp’ny we keeps.”

The stinking Captain crouches down, extending a tentacle to pull the rookie up from where a cyberleg has knocked him.

“I seen ya, Krilla. Yer fast and ye pays yer dues. Steely when ya hazta go ‘ard, but got no need ta fight burnin’ under yer ‘ide. You’ll be replacin’ Dokfun: a lean, mean, sharp bein’ with a devil inside ‘e couldn’t shake and wouldn’t bring t’heel. ‘E started that fight to ease ‘is bloodlustin’ nature. You ended ‘im instead. Puttin’ that wit’ all else, I feels yer a man I can use and I’m offerin’ riches for yer time. You with me?”

Krilla smiles.

“That I am, Cap’n.”

The new shipmates stroll off toward the messdeck, followed by a discreet cloud of cleaning nanobots.

Bad Cyber

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The Amour Club is light on love and heavy on by-the-minute. It’s popular with non-johns as the full-time privacy mode prevents surveillance and squashes infobuzz down to a whisper of priority feeds.

I usually enjoy being anywhere that quietens my ConstantTouch and serves JD in liquid form. But the Amour’s regulars are lowlifes who’ll never make it, because talk is cheaper than decisions and appearances are cheaper than experience. Tonight, however, I’m being paid to put up with them for a while.

“Lincoln Shields, as I live and breathe. Who cracked your rock and drove you into the light?”

The comedian on my left is Vinny Roe. The cybernasty on my right is Vinny’s latest goon, Clem. No surname on record. No specialities, either; he’ll do anything that pays him to hurt people.

Vinny waves at the ancient robot bartender – this place is so cheap it won’t even hire an android.

“Get Mister Shields another of whatever mouthwash he’s having. I’ll have Venusian Absinthe.”

Making a production of getting a RealTaste Winston out, I pocket the pack, then pause with a bulky lighter in my hand: “Why the generosity, Vin?”

I see him wince. He hates being called that. I hear Clem’s Gaffin Bodyframe power up. Time to offline my cyberware.

“Can’t a condottierre buy an old comrade a drink without implying ulterior motive?”

He’s been at the thesaurus datachips again. Just what I need when the world has turned dull and my body weighs a ton. I hate being offline.

“We’re not comrades and you never led. If you didn’t keep avoiding me on the streets, we’d have fought and I’d be drinking alone.”

Vinny stiffens. The locale goes quiet. Different jungle; same danger signs.

A skeletal hand wrapped in Gaffin exoskeleton alights on my shoulder like a twenty-kilo parrot. I hear my tendon reinforcements squeak.

“Mister Roe don’t like your tone, Lincoln.”

“Mister Del Crista didn’t like what you did to his daughter, Clem.”

I see Vinny’s eyes go round, which tells me Clem’s making a move. I squeeze the very special lighter and it compresses with a ‘click’. I feel the EMP gallop up my arm and wallop my inactive headware. My vision goes squiffy and my guts flip-flop. I wouldn’t want to have active cyberware right now. Or be bonded into a street-spec exoskeleton – something like a Gaffin Bodyframe.

Clem squeals, gargles, and oily vomit spatters my shoulders.

As the semi-synthetic mess runs down the back of my duster, I turn to look a dying murderer in his one natural eye.

“You went too far with bodmods, yet still expected women to swoon over your implanted macho bollox? That would be sad, except for your problem with rejection. You had yourself hardwired for violence. Did you really think your cyberpsychosis wouldn’t get bloodily creative when a pretty girl slapped you? Or didn’t you care?”

No answer: I’m ranting at a corpse.

Bringing my wares back online, I turn back to see Vinny draped across the bar like a cheap overcoat. A quick status check via his medihost confirms that his half-cybered ticker wasn’t EMP-hardened like all the legal ones are.

I slide him off the bar, then reach over and take the bottle of JD from the EMP-fried bartender’s grip. Pouring a shot, I turn to eyeball at the surviving punters.

“Word of advice: never skimp on your bodmods, people. Cheap cyberware will always fail you when you need it most.”

I down the shot and leave. The crowd parts before me, then mills about indecisively behind. Like I said: never going to make it.