Duty and Debt

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Broadbeam seems heavy tonight. That’s silly. It’s not like I’m holding it myself.
There used to be a thing called ‘karma’. It marked your soul for doing good or bad things. WorldOne tells us superstitions like that are fiction. I wish I believed them.

John and I had been watching the explosions get nearer. TACnet was frantic with attempts to intercept this bunch of mad irregulars who had sparked worlds into riot with their desperate rebellion. Crazy or not, they could fight.
“Incoming.” John whispered.
They came pelting down the causeway toward the Core Gates, a motley crew in mismatched gear waving assorted weapons. I could hear their whooping glee getting quieter as it dawned on them what they faced.
The warmecha we piloted had been designed to be imposing. John had a Bastion, I had an Edifice. His the taller, mine the wider.
They stopped a way back and looked up at us, then one of the women started shouting.
“Join us! We’ve only come this far because many troops let us. It’s time for the despots to fall and the people to determine their own worth, their own way!”
I knew her. She’d been at the Academy: Stalli. Still beautiful despite the grime from days of fighting.
The man behind her waved his arm. I saw the bracer of a Star Marine.
“She’s right. This time, let’s fight for ourselves! Let’s put our families and friends before the interests of the conglomerates. Let’s bring the towers down!”
And what could replace the towers? They housed the machines that fed forty percent of the population, maintained by those doing civic penalties. How many would die while this rebellion spread, sputtered, and maybe, eventually, stabilised into some sort of peace? With the Core gone, what outcome could keep the supply runs to the frontier settlements going? One of those settlements, Chriaster, was my homeworld: an unforgiving place. If the freighters are late, people die. Would these rebels even know it without looking it up? No, that was unfair – WorldOne has too many planets for one person to know them all. But, then again, what about Widenet? The military looks after the satellites that provide it – a thankless task that keeps the most essential lifeline of all working. If things fell down, who would volunteer to keep the details of our civilisation going? Sorry, Stalli, but your idealism provides no gentle route for the populace to get to your utopia from here.
I was about to announce my decision when the Bastion slammed its fist through my head. John had decided I’d not cave and gone for a pre-emptive strike. In his haste, he’d forgotten the head of an Edifice only houses sensor arrays.
They were still shouting support when my broadbeam sliced arm, head, and half of John off the Bastion. I didn’t even recalibrate, just swung the broadbeam round and down. I’ve seen what it’s like to die from broadbeam injuries. Better they went quickly.
I burned them down. Couldn’t look at their faces, just watched their sensor silhouettes fade, one by one.

I made a choice. Still not sure if it was the right one. The rebellion continues. The rebels have a bounty on my head so big my family has had to emigrate. WorldOne promoted me, yet no-one will stand guard with me.

So, when you finally die, this karma thing checks how much good and bad you have marked on your soul, then decides what your soul comes back in.
I’m not convinced I’ll be coming back.


  1. jwa

    This is my new favorite of your stories. Where “idealism provides no gentle route” (!!!), we get impossible decisions, violent pragmatism and remorse. And cool mechs. Loved it.

  2. mina

    I found the conclusion sober and sad. The ultimate self-sacrifice?

  3. SimonJM

    Damned if he does, damned if she doesn’t. And who picks up the biggest portion of whatever he chooses? Only history will tell, and no-one has yet managed to make a lotion, potion or balm out of history.

  4. xdhz8

    Thought-provoking. Not just the part about karma, but also the idea of idealism clashing with pragmatism.

  5. djl

    Well-rounded. Clearly, nstant karma’s gonna get u…

    • Jae

      Thank you.

      Karma in it’s original form isn’t quite what the western concept of it has become, but the simplicity of it makes sense to me, despite my aversion to ‘justice/reward tomorrow’ creeds.

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