Ride Home

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The moon is a purple crescent that stretches from horizon to mid-sky. The few stars are scattered pinpricks of yellow, too far apart to make any sort of constellations. Consequently, the available light is less than ideal for people trying to engineer their continued survival from the remains of the formerly super-stealth space interceptor they just crash landed in. Emphasis on ‘crash’.

In a war reduced to slim tactical advantages that are obviated or surpassed quickly, I’d say our time as the most dangerous thing in the heavens has ended. As to what ended it, we didn’t even see it coming. We’re only alive because Mradin broke most of himself refusing to let us die. Ever since making him comfortable, I’ve been trying to wrestle weapons from the wreck.

“Teng, mate, stop trying to make swords from scrap.”

Mradin’s hissing whisper reaches me clearly in a night gone suddenly quiet.

Uh-oh.

A glittering pink energy beam passes close enough to crisp the hairs on my arm.

“They landed and came after us!”

Thanks, Mradin. Picked up on that myself.

From the bluish shadows on my left comes a four ‘armed’ triped at a fast amble. Discounting the one holding the gun, I have a six-to-one chance of hitting the ‘limb’ that’s actually the Clido’s head.

“Mradin?”

“Four.”

We survived. He’s got angels on his side. Fourth limb from the left it is.

Wrenching at the maintenance cutter, I put my weight behind the knee I slam into the obstructing panel. There’s an ominous popping sound and my knee gives out. The pain makes me scream, the shock makes me twist the control bar, and my fall means a glittering beam passes through empty air where I used to be. The bright ray I accidentally unleash incinerates limbs three through five on Clido number one. It stops moving.

In the brilliant light of the ray, I see the other Clido holding a limb in front of its optics. Which means the head is the limb diametrically opposed, as their nervous system interface requires a straight-line link. All I have to do now is persuade Clido number two to stick its head into the ray because the cutter is still wedged under the panel that busted my knee.

I roll off the interceptor and drop into thigh-deep foliage. My dodgy knee hits something harder than dirt. Crying, I move out using an inelegant elbows-and-single-leg squirm.

There’s a ‘clang’ to my left.

“Hey! Ugly!”

Timely distraction, Mradin.

As wrestling the Clido into the ray is a non-starter, I grab a leg strut and scramble up the three-metre-tall exoskeleton. Fixated on blasting Mradin, it doesn’t react fast enough. I stab its organic bit full of holes using the long screwdriver I found wedged under Mradin’s seat. Clido number two expires, leaving me spattered in frothing ichor and hanging from the uppermost limb of a stalled exoskeleton.

“Did you get it?”

“Yes! Now, remind me: which bit of their exos is the access widget for their vehicles?”

“Looks like a jade cybercarrot on the underside of one of the upper limbs.”

“Whatnow?”

“A ridged, graduated cone made of green crystal. About two decimetres long.”

Sure enough, there’s one – on a limb just out of reach. I’m going to have to swing across and grab it as I fall.

“Wait a while, then make hot drinks. I’ll be over soonish.”

“Why wait?”

“I’m expecting to pass out for a bit when I hit the ground.”

“S’fair. So, after waking and drinks, we find and take their – hopefully the newest – Clido stealthbus home?”

“Too right.”

Right and Rules

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

This precious space used to be an overgrown park, rarely visited by day and a haven for crime by night. Now it sits as a spot of verdant life amidst ruined towers and shadowed thoroughfares. Those who dwell here call it ‘Greenheart’. It is the start of something new.

“Who’s the lady in the blindfold, papa?”

Lilly points at the weed-twined fallen statue next to their stoop, held from being prone by a tripod consisting of its plinth, an outstretched arm, and the broken sword gripped in the opposite hand.

“Another goddess from heathen times. Her name was ‘Chus Tiss’, but those she afflicted nicknamed her ‘Blind Meg’. She clouded men’s minds so they could only follow rules.”

“Right and rules aren’t always the same, are they?”

“Truth spoken. Evil hides in blind obedience and evil men took advantage of her ways to rise to prominence. In so doing, she served Fear.”

“Did she bring about the Ending?”

“No, child. She certainly set the stage for the insanities to cavort upon, but the curtain was brought down by Fear, as always.”

“Fear is the true enemy, isn’t it?”

“It is. Right could crumble before Fear, but rules hold it back. However, if Right becomes too obsessed with Fear, it can make rules that let Fear spread instead of reining it in.”

“So, Blind Meg got sent down when the nukey seeds fell and hellflowers bloomed?”

“She did. Along with every other pretender. Now we have Sun, Moon, Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Storm from which to weave rules to keep Fear in check.”

“I like the Moon.”

“That you do, child. I think there is a priestess or even a witch in your calling.”

“Sun will light my way, but that’s for a tomorrow after tomorrow. Today, I want to be a Pegasus.”

“And so you shall be, missy. Give me those handcloths and we’ll have made you wings before mama gets back.”

A shadow falls across them and a laughing voice makes them smile: “I’m wise to your wing-making ways, papa bear. Unhand my dining implements and fetch my daughter some decent linen to make her wings. And bring some wire to frame them with. Everyone knows that a Pegasus’s wings stand tall.”

“Mama! You escaped!”

“Only for a while. None of the elders would gainsay me time with my family, just like I wouldn’t do that to them. We’ll have a Pegasus picnic right here on the stoop, then I’ll go back to putting the reins on fear and the right into rules.”

There is a place called Greenheart. Its beat will eventually invigorate this blasted world and let wonders return.

SPOF

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The prototype bodyguard robot stands over both of us, waiting for emergency services that will arrive too late.

“Git.” John’s voice is a whisper.

I’ve never seen anyone with an expression like his: confused and peeved.

Whilst the expression is novel, it is entirely justified. After all, I’ve just knifed him.

“I’d say I was sorry, but it’d be a lie. Instead, I’ll go with ‘I told you so’.”

The whisper is weaker, but suffused with anger.

“You stabbed me!”

“Five times, all perforating wounds. You’re a dead genius talking. Proven wrong in the most authoritative case of empirical testing for some while to come, I suspect.”

“Bastar- What?” His eyes widen as my words register with his fading consciousness.

“You wouldn’t accept that your design had a massive flaw. Most murders are committed by persons known to the victim. And, aside from America where they gun each other down over the slightest thing, the weapon of choice is a knife. Usually of a household variety.”

“I allowed for that.”

“No, you didn’t. You allowed for a ‘trusted friends’ list. You actually installed a single point of failure in a system where a single failure is one too many.”

“What are you blathering about?”

“Look, I know the light is dimming, but try to grasp this: most murders are committed by people known to the victim. Therefore, having a trusted list allows those most likely to kill you to bypass the bodyguard robot’s vetting. Darwin is turning in his grave.”

“Darwinism is some delusional justification?”

“Actually, I’m a sociopath. Justification is always a moot point. Anyway, the Darwin reference was to highlight the fundamental nature of your design flaw. It really is a dead-end feature for your creation. And, yet again, you failed to grasp that.”

“You utter nutter.”

“Really? I walk by your defender, get a knife from the kitchen, come back past it with a blade in my hand, then shiv you up and down. I thought you’d be grateful for the insight. Your bodyguard is, in effect, partially blind.”

“You killed me to prove a point? You’re crazy.”

I look down at the blood streaming from the smoking hole blown through my shirt and abdomen: “Says the man who ignored the obvious but programmed a ‘retaliate’ function in.”

Amusement glints in his eyes as he replies: “Fuck you.”

He dies. The grin remains after his eyes lose their vitality.

Bastard.

Devil’s Game

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It’s another tediously quiet evening in Watchpost 113 at the western edge of the Sonoran Borderlands. Fred is making waffles while Adey idly flicks through the long-distance views. Fred glances round as Adey jerks upright in his chair, paging back to the previous view.

“What is that?” Adey points at the screen.

Fred sighs, moves the waffle pan to the cool plate and steps across to peer over Adey’s shoulder.

“Extreme buggy race. Looks like they’re really goin’ for it.”

Adey shakes his head: “Seen that before. This is one rooster-tail, straight for three miles, headed for Bessamy Ridge.”

“The Ridge just been finished. Thirty-foot high ‘impregnamesh’ topped with sprung razor wire, set on damn great H-beams backed by buttresses that are bedded fifteen feet back from the line. Whatever that is, it’ll turn off. But I still say it’s some desert dragster.”

Fred goes back to the waffles. Adey watches the rooster-tail of dust approach. As it gets nearer, he can see just how big it is.

“Freddy, don’t think this is a dragster.”

With a loud sigh, Fred puts the pan back onto the cool plate and rejoins Adey.

Squinting at the screen, his eyes widen.

“Damn me, that tail’s gotta be over a hunnerd feet high! Ade, git some infrared on this.”

The screen switches to show an ambient temperature nightscape, except for the blazing heat at the front of the approaching dust storm. Fred puzzles over the heated upper section of the dust cloud before noticing that the rooster-tail is hiding several hot objects.

“Ade, get Phoenix on the line. This ain’t no dragster.”

Adey presses the button. The screech and hiss of active jamming fills the room.

“Freddy?”

“Run!”

Adey beats Fred to the door. He grabs the handle and the booby trap delivers a jolt that lifts him from his feet and stops his heart. He drops with a grunt. Fred screams and dives under the nearest table.

The intruder removes his trap. As he exits the building, there’s a distant rumble of impact. With a smile that flashes white teeth against the camouflage paste covering his face, he sprints to his trials bike and is gone into the desert, his countermeasures drone wheeling above.

At the heart of that rumble, a 60-ton monster hybrid of snowplough and armoured loco hit the border wall at eighty miles-an-hour. The prow drove through, its flared trailing edges flinging the debris away and widening the gap.

Behind the colossal ram comes a pack of vehicles that trace their ancestry back to moonshine runners. They spray grit and flame as tuned power plants accelerate four- and six-wheel-drives. As they clear the dust cloud, countermeasures drones rise above each vehicle. Each pair heads for a destination known only to the driver. Rotors whine, countermeasures hum, off-road suspensions flex, and absorptive paint reflects nothing as they disappear into the night.

In a cloud of smoke and steam, the ram turns and rockets back across the border, off to disappear into its underground shed before the inevitable rabid response occurs.

Along the great wall, this scene is repeated over a dozen times. By dawn, enforcement efforts at many of the breaches are being hindered by the hundreds of people streaming through the gaps – going in both directions.

The Sky Belongs

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It has always been the way that the skies inspired images of freedom and escape from the troubles of the now. “The sky belongs to none”, as my grandfather used to say.
We’ve had Eflubian motherships and Targamor raidcraft, Claflandian God-discs and Rablag Hulks. Nothing changed the facts that the skies remained free and humanity regarded the sky as their property no matter what came thundering through it to place a claim upon our resurgently verdant planet.

It was nineteen months after the last Rablag Hulk fell, taking the last of our militaries with it, when someone noticed that the birds were flying low. That may not seem like much, but those who observed eagles and similar high flying species agreed: the birds didn’t ascend as far.

Then David Meocrid flew his aircar above one-thousand feet and something tore him to pieces inside the craft, as he chatted on videocam with his business partners. Without that video, chances are we would have carried on for a while before anything was spotted as unusual.

There’s something in the sky, and it doesn’t like life, in any form, trying to share its airspace. We even sent up some geraniums in a basket slung under a balloon. It was all very scenic until one-thousand-an-one-feet up, whereupon the flowers became confetti. Within a month of what was named ‘the Meocrid Incident’, anything that ascended above a thousand feet had any organic ‘components’ shredded.

A year later, mankind had adapted and sea travel was burgeoning again. Then the sky started turning purple in places. While many powerful or curious people tried to work out what was ‘up there’, most people just changed their way of doing things. The tourism industries took a hit, and anything that depended on flying went under. Apart from the occasional sensationalist news pieces and the odd prophet or two, things seemed to be business as usual.

Except we knew that the skies weren’t ours anymore. People don’t look up to the heavens these days. We just go about our business and stay under open skies for as short a time as possible. Something else owns our sky and too many of us spend too much time worrying and waiting for the day it decides that the heavens are not enough.