The Ore Carriers of Sanskrit Nine

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Have you seen what they do? Have you?”
He’s right in my face, so I priv-jolt him and uplink for a Poliz.
To my surprise, he drops to one knee and bows his head: “Ow! Chica, you didn’t have to zap me.”
I take a step back: “Too much drama, chico. You’re losing the message in your body words.”
He looks up at me. His eyes are blue, like the sky used to be. Saw that in scans of pics gramma had, before she died. I’da liked some of her old-time stuffs, but mama don’t got the credit to pay for extra space.
“What’s ‘body words’?” He sounds proper interested.
“Little ways you move when you speak and listen. Poliz taught my mama that. Part o’ the smarts for spotting crims.”
He nods, the smiles: “You sayin’ I should keep back a bit, maybe talk nicer?”
“Yeah. Script yourself a vid, run it on your glove.”
That’s one momentous glove. Right up to his elbow.
“Good call, but my glove ain’t no dev. It’s m’hand, chica.”
Am I having a stupid today? Eyes like sky and a half-proz arm: “You’re Kennira. Look right like your description on the truant board.”
He bows as he stands up, which is a fierce move: “The arm is easy for the prefects to remember. Like m’eyes.”
I cancel the uplink.
Mama’s audio-only with me in seconds: “Leela, problem?”
Shoulda guessed, mama got my dev on monitor.
“Spooked myself, mama. Worry not.” If I end with “no worries”, hell comes down. I done it once, to show off. Ruined the party. Got me credit for drugs seized, got me grounded by mama, lost me a crop o’ friends.
Now he’s not climbing me to preach, I can look him in the throat. Tall boy; me being near two metres.
“So, what do they do?”
I get a kick from watching him unravel that. Then he smiles again.
“Them who lug the Ambro you wear from the ground. How they live. How many die.”
“Whyfer you care?”
“M’brother’s there. Got a twenty-year for the fight that took my arm. Justice decided that loss was enough penalty for seven-year-old me.”
“How could I help?”
“Splash a link across your social. Make it viral for a week.”
“Link to what?”
“Petition board. There are links there to get further in, but people can choose.”
“Lib4Sanskrit9.”
That catches him. The look on his face is so good, my giggle gets out before I can stop it.
“Freakin’ how?”
“Papa runs the ghost servers it flits around on. And my Ambro was a gift from Ch’lalla itself. No one died for it.”
His eyes are prettier when they’re wide: “You know a Sanskritii shaman beetle?”
I hand him the piece that came off my bracer. As he touches it, it glows a little brighter. I feel a tickle in my mind: Ch’lalla approves.
“And with your touch, now Ch’lalla knows you. That’s why merchant Ambro is always mined. Any Ambro overground is still linked to the shaman that secreted it, and gifting it forms a sacred bond between giver and getter.”
He smiles. Oh, mama. I’ve done a daft thing while showing off, again.
“Sacred bond?”
The tickle in my mind turns to tinkling laughter: I’ve been set up!
“Kennira, if you ever tell how we met, I’ll hurt you something grievous. Now, wanna meet Ch’lalla, blind date arranger from Sanskrit Nine?”
His laughter folds him up. I find myself laughing too. This might actually work.

Of All the Orbits in the Universe…

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

You had to fall into mine. Lord, but you are a sight for jaded eyes. Hair like liquid night, eyes a man could drown in, lips that form a bow Robin Hood would kill for. We’re a long way from Sherwood, milady, and the Sheriff’s ‘men’ are darned strange, but won’t you quit your guardian’s space castle and come live in the asteroid woods with me?

“You’re staring again, Slim Jorn Banton.”

Every time I see Shreelanie Botarlion Cree, those thoughts echo through my mind. We met after I literally scooped her up from a dying drift after her cruiser got blast-looted by Drundim bandits. Not sure who came up with the idea of blast-looting, but it’s a cruel living. Why do the whole piracy thing when it’s easier to decompress the target and strip it bare at leisure? There are mean beings involved in that trade, and they can be hired to ensure specific vessel never reach their destination.

“I know. Can’t help myself.”

Like hers. A “tragic waste of a young noblewoman’s life”. They never even mentioned the two-dozen other souls sent into the long night with her ship. She wasn’t meant to survive. Officially, she didn’t.

But you’ll find Slim Jorn Banton and his beautiful partner, Dark Lanie Banton, listed as ‘freelance privateers’ on the Cree Company rosters. Our retainers are paid in gems to trusted intermediaries scattered across the Outer Reaches.

They don’t care if she’s dead or alive, just as long as she stays gone. Lanie never wanted to be the bird in a gilded cage. She had no intention of going back if she survived the blast-looters. Then she got rescued up by a wandering hopeless romantic who happened to have the same birthday.

“Then, sir, you’d better lean over here and kiss me by way of apology. After that, we can decide where we’re going.”

As I lean in, I whisper: “Who cares? As long as it’s with you.”

Death Sentience

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The man coming round the corner blinks as I punch a killrod under his ribs and through his heart. By the time his body completes its slide down the wall, I’m over the barrier and extracting the other killrod from the receptionist’s eye socket.

My killrods are embedded where the smallest two fingers of each hand used to be. At rest, they protrude thirty millimetres and are concealed by prosthetic fingers. Extended, they are eight centimetres long.

The media insists on calling them ‘covert weaponry’. I fail to see how a man unable to make a fist can fit even the most basic requirements of covert operations. The false fingers are so the public won’t raise the alarm before I reach my destination and start killing. I’m not covert. I’m what gets sent in when covert has failed and the killing still needs to be done.

“Gloves, sitrep.”

They call me Gloves. A play on ‘gloves coming off’, I presume.

“Entry and reception areas quelled. Moving to laboratories.”

Someone has set off an alarm. Time to increase my pace.

The guards are good, but expecting someone who obeys rules and cedes to threats. By the time they are dead, I have been shot twice.

The next guards are ex-military. It makes no difference. I get shot five times, they die. I have to pause while my internal mechanisms expel a bullet that is jamming my shoulder. As it clatters to the floor, I hear someone swear.

“You’re a Teelow!”

I had not expected to be recognised, but hobbyists abound. I break from course of action to kill the geek, then return to plan.

Three floors and eighteen kills later, Professor Wilson Rodriguez looks up at me from where he cradles his wife’s body in his arms.

“Why can’t they let this technology out? It could help so many.”

“You’re asking the wrong end of the spear, Professor.”

His eyes go wide as my killrods punch through his throat.

“Target quelled. Exit path required.”

“Response was too quick, Gloves. Bin yourself.”

I run to the nearest waste processing chute and dive in head first. The trip down to the basement only inflicts superficial injuries. The trash shredder at the base of the chute is another matter. By the time I exit its smoking remains, I’m carrying my left arm in my right hand, with clothes and flesh hanging from me. Given the way my pickup driver turns pale and vomits, this must be a new level of ruin for me.

“Oh, God Almighty on a bloody harvester, you’re a mess. Turn about so we can snap a rear view.”

I catch an incredulous whisper: “Fucking hell, Tim. You can see right through him in places.”

We were created from a concept engendered by a film, of all things. Consciousness was an accident, they tell me. My name’s Cameron. I enjoy poker, am fascinated by photographs, and know over a hundred discrete ways to kill a human.

Principles

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The room is a stock F-Class residential dwelling. With three people and a forensics robot within, it’s one small child short of standing room only.
A young man in a lurid red suit, cut in the fashionable retro-zoot style, turns to his bearded boss with a look of mystification: “What’s a ‘buk’?”
Detective Dru looks up: “It’s an intermediary form of collated hardcopy, printed on sheets of pressed wood pulp.”
“It’s made of wood? No wonder they called it pay-per!”
“You’re not wrong. Now, back to the matter at hand: why does Miss Priscilla Townsend, a twenty-year-old student, living on the poverty line, have a shelf full of them?”
The third member of the team, a woman possessing eyes seemingly too large for her narrow face, waves a hand toward the shelf: “Initial assessment has their value at mid or high six figures, depending on content.”
Dru nods: “Tomas, get someone from Antiquities to catalogue and bag everything on that shelf, then get me the last five years of our victim’s life. Loanna, find me something on the family. We’ll meet at the office in two hours.” With that, he turns and carefully makes his way out of the cramped domicile.

Their office was a converted B-Class residence, salvaged from the last flood before the Thames Levee went up. On the flat roof, where Dru was, you could see the broken line of low islands that marked where the Thames Barrier had been.
“She was the great-granddaughter of Elliot Parson, boss.”
Dru knew that name, but the details eluded him. He sighed: “Go on, then. Remind me.”
Tomas grinned: “Headmem, boss. You really should get some before your mental archives of London criminality and how to catch them are lost to us.”
“I meant remind me about Mister Parsons.”
Loanna joined them: “He knows that, but couldn’t resist it.”
Dru pointed at Tomas: “Tell.”
“Elliot Parson, last curator of the British Library, disappeared fifty-three years ago, just after the library system was abandoned. During the transfer of assets to the British Museum, it was found that he had stolen a huge selection of collectables from the deposit archives in Bolton over the preceding decade. Most of those items are still missing, and all of the items on the young lady’s shelf are part of that haul. She died of malaria because she wouldn’t sell stolen goods to pay for treatment.”
Loanna nodded: “We’ve actioned a death mandate for her data presence, and her private blog details exactly that. It also seems that Elliot may not be as dead as everyone thinks. He, or someone purporting to be him, sent those books to her three years ago when she started university.”
Dru stared out across the Thames Delta: “Send the actionable data to Interpol, arrange for her ecofuneral, and hand the books over to the British Museum.”
As Tomas and Loanna reached the door to the stairs, Dru’s raised voice reached them: “Don’t forget to get an itemised physical receipt as well as an electronic one. There are far too many academics in that place for there not to be an indebted hacker or two.”

Wine and Tears

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“I’ll bring your drinks over in a moment, but the steak sandwich will be about ten minutes.” With a flick of her auburn hair, Teria moves away, navigating the tables, chairs and customers with an unconscious grace.

She works fourteen hours a day, six days a week, and volunteers at a shelter for abused women on the seventh. As she relays my order, Leo, her supervisor, looks up and waves a greeting toward me. I smile and nod. He splits his time between working here and caring for his terminally ill son, doing nothing else except eating and sleeping.

Compassion. I had never encountered a race like you, nor had I heard of anything like it. In a universe of predator-eat-predator, the concept of being strong enough to survive was thought to be the antithesis of caring about the weak.

I arrived by supralit, stepping from its crackling portal with eighty-four others. We were the infiltration teams, spreading across the continents of Earth. Our job was to start the rot that would ruin your societies, weakening you for the moment when our governance would be welcomed as a saving grace rather than an invasion.

Since then, I’ve seen war zones, refugee camps, rural towns and packed cities. I’ve broken break with Amish, shared MREs with survivalists and greeted the dawn on Anglesey. I’ve sung in churches and thrashed like a lunatic at heavy metal gigs.

And, more importantly, I’ve intervened in situations where the strong prey upon the weak. The first time that happened, the rapist was dead on the ground before I realised what I was doing. As the intended victim fled, I stood there with blood on my hands and cried like a lost child.

You did this to me. With your savage battles and glorious last stands, by giving your last pound to a homeless man, the completely impossible ability to go from killer to healer in the blink of an eye. Nowhere else in this universe will a fighter stoop to aid a fallen opponent after the bout is done. Respecting your adversary is a concept alien to the very aliens you postulate about. Valuing every life – is ridiculous.

Until I saw you do it. I came to wreak havoc in the name of an empire so distant you cannot see the light from the sun above its nearest outpost with your greatest telescopes. In the ten years since I have killed seventy-three of my former comrades. I would be agonising over that, were it not that the remaining eleven have suffered similar epiphanies to my own.

We send back reports of a race torn by factions of varying depth, of fighting a long war with deadly opponents, of a long-term strategy that may take generations to accomplish. The empire we serve notes our reports and commends us, as it pursues a thousand strategies on ten thousand worlds. We have a couple of centuries before suspicions arise.

A chromed tray sliding onto my table breaks my reverie.

“One latte, one red wine, and a Danish from Leo’s mama. He says she demands that you visit again.”

I smile up at Teria: “Which evening will you be free next week?”

She grins: “Tuesday. I meet this lovely bloke after work, but you’ll do if he doesn’t show up.”

It’s our little joke. She spent ages stalling me, just to see if I was deadly serious about her. This ‘lovely bloke’ was born thousands of light years away. My children will be born here, and we will start the defences. Deadly serious is all I have left.