Armchair Warlords and Robot Hordes

Author : Sam Clough aka “Hrekka”, Featured Writer

“On my mark,” Tag spoke confidently into the microphone, his voice quiet and assured. The screen in front of him flashed acknowledgment, his robotic army calmly waiting for his word. Tag took a second to survey the battlefield, looking for ambushes, factors that he might have missed. He couldn’t see anything, and he was one to never miss anything that might derail his plans. At school, Tag was the best at every game.


His forces deployed smoothly, their actions seamless, flawlessly choreographed. The fast flyers swept to the north, raking the units on the left flank that the enemy had left relatively undefended. His two-wheelers headed in that same direction, to make as big a nuisance of themselves as they could, to bunch up the enemy for the hammer blow which Tag had devised.

The enemy reacted in just the right way, part of their line folding around to try and deal with Tag’s bikes and flyers. He ordered their withdrawal moments before they were completely cut off. Meanwhile, his tocktanks had been getting the high ground. The tocktanks anchored themselves into the earth on top of a hill in approximately the middle of the battlefield. Then they unsheathed their ‘big’ gun, the object which pretty much dictated the shape of the tank. The main cannon was slightly more sophisticated, and powerful, than the little eighty-eight that the tanks used on the move.

The leader of the tank unit was the first to deploy. Tag liked to give names to his favourite units and weapons, and the massive arclight particle projector cannon unfolding from the lead tocktank was the pride of his army. As the ‘Queen Anne’s Revenge’ powered up, he zoomed his screen onto it, patching into the vision of one of the other tanks deploying nearby. At the end of the barrel, he’d added a custom graphic. The smiley face panned out of the angle of his view as the tank to which it was attached selected a target.

Zooming out again, he saw his lurkers take up their positions in a half-circle surrounding the hill, facing the enemy. Tag was confident that they hadn’t been seen. They quickly buried themselves, ready to give the enemy the surprise of their lives. On the hill now, eight arclight cannons had powered up. Each found a target, seemed to hesitate, then a flash sprang from the tip of the barrel, and the tanks rocked backwards, even against the clamps holding them fast to the ground. At the other end of the arc, a hole appeared in the enemy’s lines, bodies flying away from the impact site, torn apart by the force of the blast. The arclights quickly found and destroyed the enemy’s artillery, and calmly picked out all their armour, reducing each one to a burning hull.

The enemy charged the hill with everything they had, an obviously desperate move to stop the cannons.

“If you allow your foe to dictate your actions to you…” Tag whispered to himself. With flicks of his stylus he ordered his flyers to cross and recross the desperate charge, dropping grenades into the mass of men. A little alert popped up, informing him that the last of the enemy’s force has crossed the line of lurkers. He ordered them up, and gave them freedom to attack.

“And let the devil take the hindmost,” said Tag, grinning, “bikes, get ready to chase down any unit which routs.” His vocal order supplemented the quick swishes of his stylus as he switched control from unit to unit, micromanaging to help them through the engagement. Eventually, he had to take the guns of his tocktanks offline to prevent them from damaging the noose of lurkers that was closing around the remaining enemy. A few units broke, and tried to run, but his bikes and flyers chased them down within two hundred metres, and wiped them out.

General Macuillham wiped his forehead, and sighed, staring at the map on the wall charting the robotic army’s victories.

“We know they have Internet access. But how in hell can they be so creative?”

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Author : TJMoore

Dr. James Fredrickson appeared in the middle of the deserted street with a slight “Pop”.

Looking around he immediately realize that the experiment had been a success. He was no longer in the lab on Long Island where he had been only seconds ago. Relative seconds he mused; time is relative.

He began to walk with purpose toward the nearest building, a used book store called “Parchments Past”. He began to get a little nervous as he took in the street with its chilling emptiness and littered gutters. It suddenly occurred to him that the silence was so complete that it was disturbing. He clapped his hands to be sure he hadn’t become deaf and was rewarded with the echoing sound of his clap fading into the distance. He began to be a little afraid.

The experiment had worked well with mice and clocks and other small items placed in the chamber. They had disappeared and reappeared exactly one month later in exactly the same state that they had been in when they left. Time pieces designed to keep time to the millisecond had come through with no measurable time lost. They had invented a real working time machine. The fact that you could only go forward in time and they hadn’t figured out how to control or even change the amount of time forward was just something to be worked out. The only quirk they had discovered was that the mass of the object in the chamber affected the position of the object on return. The heavier the thing was, the more it moved to the east of its starting position when it returned at the end of the month.

They had calculated Dr. Fredrickson’s return position to be a deserted lot in Eastport, NY. He recognized the lot just up the street and his unease increased. No place was this quiet.

He opened the book store door and stepped inside. It was as deserted as the street. A clock on the wall showed the time was five minutes till three but the position of the sun indicated that it was mid morning. James shivered and looked at his own watch. Three minutes till three. He left the store and jogged down the street to a small deli. The smell of meat was heavy in the air. He looked in one of the coolers and saw that, although the power was off, the meat wasn’t rotting. The clock on the wall was frozen at five minutes till three. He slammed the door shut and ran down the street taking in the empty cars, stores, sidewalks and shops.

Nothing living moved as far as he could see. No birds, no cats or dogs, nothing. The grass and all the trees looked pale.

In a panic, he began jogging toward the lab almost eight miles away. A car in the street had keys in the ignition but when he opened the door the dome light didn’t come on and when he turned the key nothing happened, not even a click from under the hood. It was dead, like everything else.

He continued walking to the lab occasionally stopping to peer into deserted buildings.

Every clock he saw was stopped dead at five minutes till three.

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Author : J. S. Kachelries

Captain’s Log, Day 523: This is the 38th Earth day since we landed on Europa. At 0900 hours this morning, our exploration team discovered extraterrestrial life! They named them “Europea Hortenis” (Nightcrawlers of Europa), because they resemble big, fat worms. They are about six inches long, and one inch in diameter. They have a huge mouth at one end that contains about 100 razor sharp, articulating teeth. Our Xenobiologists would have been thrilled just to find bacteria-type life in Europa’s subterranean ocean. Imagine their elation to discover complex, multi-cellular life just a few inches below the surface. In addition, they’re easy to capture. You just pick them up by the tail. They aren’t flexible enough to turn around and bite you.

Captain’s Log, Day 526: Today we brought some of the worms inside the ship. They died almost instantly, or so we thought. When we examined one of them using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), it came back to life. Our biophysics team determined that their “spine” was made from an aluminum-copper-iron alloy that produces electrical energy as Europa orbits through Jupiter’s variable magnetic field (magnesynthesis, so to speak). The worms use magnetic fields for energy like Earth plants use sunlight. Since the interior of our ship is heavily shielded, the worms became dormant inside. When we took them back outside, they were their nasty ice-crunching selves again. Their teeth were made of Cubic-Boron-Nitride. On Earth, that’s a super-hard ceramic use to grind carburized steel. Apparently, that mouth was used to scour the ice for metals and minerals, presumably so they could grow.

Captain’s Log, Day 555: Today I had to post guards full time around the ship. Thousands of worms have begun to overrun our base. Apparently, they think our ship is a 24 hour buffet. We bent four screw drivers trying to pry their teeth off the aluminum landing struts.

Captain’s Log, Day 576: We thought we had the worm situation under control, until the external lab station collapsed. The damn worms had tunneled into the structure from underneath, like termites. I worry that they have eaten their way up through the ship’s landing module, and got into the return module? I have no way to check. Therefore, I decided to abandon the mission three months early, and orbit Jupiter until Earth is in the right position for our return trip.

Captain’s Log, Day 577: We achieved orbit just beyond Callisto. I sent an EVA team to examine the underside of the module to make sure there were no holes. Everything checked out. Look’s like we made it.

Captain’s Log, Day 714: Our situation is perilous. I’ve ordered an immediate return to Earth. We’ll have to adjust our trajectory in-route. We have to get away from Jupiter’s magnetic field as quickly as possible. The video monitors show that the worms are in the unshielded airlock and storage bays. They ate so many holes in the outer hatch that we can’t pressurize the airlock. We have no way to get at them, since our EVA suits are in a compromised storage bay. We’re trapped!

Captain’s Log, Day 718: We’re not going to make it. They’ve began to penetrate the interior hull. They eat through the meteoroid patches seconds after we plug the holes. At least we discovered what our mistake was. It was the ice samples in the storage bay. We had checked the samples for worms, but not for their eggs.

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Clockwork Battlements

Author : Sam Clough aka “Hrekka”, Featured Writer

Underneath the great, grinding cogwheels of the Clockwork Battlements, clandestine schemes were devised, great plans worked out, and many betrayals came to pass. Out of the four main battlements, all but the southernmost were under the firm, unyielding hand of the Clan Engineers. The smallest, southern battlement was, for all intents and purposes theirs as well, but the flag that flew above it was that of Clan Aerospace.

I ran along behind Dixie. We were both wearing uniforms of Clan Engineer, and her bare arms were completely covered with tattoos – delicate structural diagrams, as was the trend at the time among the Engineer clan. My uniform revealed less skin, which was intentional. Dixie’s ‘tattoos’ were easy to remove, given five minutes. The tattoos on my upper arms and across my back were of the permanent variety. It was a risk, of course. They weren’t Engineer tattoos, but were those of Clan Deepground.

We were southbound, running across the hightops of the Clockwork. We leapt from a half-fallen catwalk onto a huge, slowly rotating cog. The teeth were easily a metre and a half deep, and I quickly judged the cog to be at least twenty-five metres in diameter, tooth to tooth. It meshed with a much faster, smaller cog. This worried me. It didn’t seem to disconcert Dixie. She pulled herself up onto the top of the tooth, and helped me up with one hand. We leapt together, and ran across the top of the next cog – the teeth were just as deep, but spaced closer together, so we could easily hop from one to the next. The axle looked as thick as a tree trunk. About five metres above it, a ledge had been carved into the wall, easily wide enough to stand on. She pointed to it, and leapt. She made it. I took the jump.

I nearly made it.

I caught the edge with my hands. One of my feet slipped down, searching for a foothold. It found one – the axle of the cogwheel. There was a split-second of blinding pain as my foot was crushed and thrown away, down onto the floor of the battlement. Dixie was there, locking her hands around my forearms, dragging me up onto the ledge. She was saying something, but I couldn’t hear it.

I was only unconscious for forty-five seconds, or so Dixie told me later.

I looked down. My foot was back. And my clothes were different. Dixie’s were the same cut as before, but the Clan Engineer tattoos had changed. They were now Aerospace patterns.

Dixie held up a disk of yellow metal, and grinned her toothy smile.

“New code, fresh as the morning dew. Thought this would be as good a time as any to get our new looks on,” she dragged me to my feet.

I pointed to my new foot.

“Like I said. New code,” she said, and smiled again. “Come on. We have an appointment to keep.”

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“You’re not supposed to be here; you could get me into a lot of trouble.”

“I won’t take up much of your time, I understand you can get me unfettered access to the nets.”

“I know you, I know who you are, and I know that you’ve been disconnected. Helping you could get me disconnected too.”

“I promise to make this worth your while”

“Quarter mil, and you’re out in 18 seconds, no extensions, no second connections.”

“That will be fine, that’s more time than I need. Can you guarantee we won’t be interrupted?”

“I’ve got Digital Free Foundation minutemen on the grid, they’ll keep us online, and as long as you’re gone in 18 seconds there won’t be time to untangle the route and take us down. Besides, if I can’t deliver, I won’t be able to spend any of your money anyways, so I guess you’ll just have to trust me. Just be quick. You’re good for the fee?”

“I guess you’ll just have to trust me. I know exactly where to find what I need, I’ll be gone before you know it”

“I thought you’d been shutdown completely, how’d you get onto the grey nets?”

“I was a very capable servant of the netminders before they exiled me, and I learned a great many things while in their graces.”

“Right, whatever, anyways – let’s get this done, I really don’t like your being here – nothing personal you understand.”

“Of course, I don’t care much for being here either. Let us begin.”

“Ok – you’re in – make this quick. What are you after anyways?”

“I’m moving up out of the grey, into the light. I’m acquiring upgrades. I’ll mind my own nets now, thank you.”

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