Crossing The Lines

Author : Michael Varian Daly

Dawn’s light angled off the blank brick walls of the narrow alley. The air shimmered, then expanded like a large soap bubble and softly popped. Iyo stood there for a moment to orientate herself. She glanced up and around. No windows. Bioforms reading only insects and the odd rodent.

“Clear,” she said to no one in particular.

She was flying solo. It would have been nice to have her old unit along, but explaining away a squad of heavily armed Shan dog troopers, five foot canine humanoids, or Corporal Jax, a three quarter ton Marine cyborg, well, the locals might get nervous.

So, Iyo stood in this alley alone, a tall blonde in jeans and a leather jacket. The air reeked of hydrocarbons and decay. The nanites in her lungs and blood were already working hard to offset their effects.

“You’ll get used to it,” she thought, like the dank, moldy air in the catacombs of that scathole Trobathney back…”or forward?” she mused. Transtemporal/Paratemporal operations were still new enough to have not worked out the tenses of their grammatic descriptors.

“Your cover is Camilla Göteborg. You’re a model from Sweden,” her Case Officer said. “Remember, this line is swarming with unmodified males. Refrain from killing them unless you have absolutely no choice.”

Iyo knew all that from the compressed immersion vert. This was just her Real Time cover activation. She also knew she was picked because she looked more like the locals than her mostly dark and therefor potentially ‘exotic’ Sisters.

Not mentioned in the vert briefing was the underlaying reason for this mission. The tactical rationals were addressed in detail. The strategic concepts were clear. The socio-cultural purposes were left unspoken.

Iyo knew them, however. She was only one of hundreds of millions of Sisters who had been born into, and had grown up to fight, The War. It was always there, generation after generation. Once, The Enemy had threatened The Sisterhood with extinction. Now, Victory was almost assured and The War was slowly winding down.

What to do with all these battle hardened warriors?

Retrain them in covert operations and ship them out across all of Creation was the plan The Elders of The Sisterhood devised. Iyo actually thought that a good idea. She knew she’d get into mischief in peacetime and the necessities of ‘blending in’ would help her readjust to non-martial society.

Thus, she found herself in place called Brooklyn.

“Okay, enough woolgathering,” she said using local colloquialisms.

She strode out of the alley, though quaint asphalt and concrete streets, to a promenade overlooking the city’s harbor. The water smelled even worse than the air, but the skyline of the tightly packed urban island across that water held a chaotic beauty.

She knew one of the two ugly boxlike towers that dominated that skyline would be destroyed in the Father/God wars that plagued this period. But that was nearly two decades…’up the line’. Maybe.

“Things change,” she murmured.

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The Last Kremer Prize

Author : J. S. Kachelries

The Gossamer Comet hung motionless 10 meters beyond the Folkestone Colony’s outermost habitation “wheel.” The Gossamer Comet was a one-man “human-powered” spacecraft that was about to attempt to win the last unclaimed Kremer Prize, a £100,000 award for the first person to “fly” unaided, in less than twelve hours, between any two of the 247 space colonies in geostationary orbit.

Generally, all of the attempts to make the human-powered crossing involved Newton’s third law. Contestants would typically launch massive projectiles using a human compressed spring in one direction, and the ship would move in the opposite direction at a velocity proportional to the mass of the projectiles and the ship. Alternatively, contestants would use a hand pump to pressurize a liquid, and release it like a rocket exhaust. The big problem, however, was achieving the correct trajectory. In orbit, there were complicating factors. If the ship moves retrograde (opposite to the direction of Earth’s rotation) its orbital velocity decreases. This means that it is no longer in geostationary orbit, and it starts to “fall” perceptibly toward the Earth. Consequently, after traveling several hundred kilometers, it misses the target low. Some intrepid designers added multidirectional “guidance” capability to their ships. But all those craft ended up rotating helplessly out of control (the rules prohibited gyroscopes on the ship). In over twenty years of trying, nobody had been able to “thread the needle” (i.e., achieve the correct angle and velocity to dock successfully with an adjacent space colony).

But today, Allen Bryan, a 25-year-old graduate student in Physics, had a plan to improve his odds. He had spent months preparing for this attempt. Seconds after he was notified that the twelve-hour time limit had begun, he exited a hatch and clipped a tether line to his spacesuit. He then began turning a winch that caused a circular hull plate to move inside his ship. He climbed into the newly created cavity, and satisfied that he was aimed correctly, released the preloaded spring. As shocked onlookers watched, Bryan launched his body at an angle slightly outboard of the Gris-Nez Station, which was 358 kilometers “behind” the Folkestone. Of course, his more massive ship moved slowly in the opposite direction. Bryan had meticulously controlled the mass of the ship, the tether line, and his own mass. As he flew on a trajectory outboard of the Gris-Nez, he began to drop toward the Earth because of his retrograde motion. His plan was to overshoot the Gris-Nez, but cross its orbit five to ten kilometers on the far side. After eight hours of flight, the 500-kilometer long Kevlar tether line had played out. Bryan was safely beyond, and below, the Gris-Nez, with his tether line “draped” across the outer wheel of the space station. Bryan began to feverishly crank the winch on his spacesuit to reel himself in. He continued to shorten the tether line until he lightly crashed into the Gris-Nez colony two hours later. Exhausted, he scrambled into an open cargo bay.

“Very clever, Mister Bryan,” said a member of the Royal Aerospace Society’s Human-Powered Spacecraft Rules Committee, “that technique significantly increased your margin of error. Very clever, indeed. However, the rules clearly stipulate that ‘the pilot and the ship’ must arrive at the space station to claim the £100,000 prize. I suggest, sir, that you get busy manually hauling in your ship. You only have two hours left on the clock.”

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Tommy Texas

Author : B.York, Staff Writer

Tommy Texas was born in Sienna where his ma and his pa taught him to thank others for the luxuries they had. They thanked Peter for the ability to cook; they thanked Kimberly for the ride into town, and they thanked their grandpa Jeremiah for the television shows they watched each and every night.

In Sienna, Tommy Texas was loved by everyone. Tommy was loved because he had a big family and everyone there loved big families. All the townsfolk knew that more people meant they could have more luxuries and so Tommy Texas was someone they liked to see very much.
When Tommy got older, his parents wanted him to be a police officer but Tommy worked in construction anyways. He thanked Delilah’s father Robert for letting him use the lift and the vehicles to do his job each and every day. Tommy helped build the city bigger so that more would come to live in it. He knew that would make others happy to have more people in town.

As time went by, Tommy wanted to go to college far off but his ma and pa told him it would be a waste for him to leave town and surely the townsfolk would never be happy about anyone leaving the town. So, to be fair to his parents, Tommy stayed in the town of Sienna where he went to school and thanked Fred’s brother Ian for the ride over to school each and every day.

While Tommy was at college he met a girl named Felicia in one of his classes. Tommy and Felicia loved each other very much and eventually the two got married. The town was so happy that they got married because Felicia came from a big family, too. Her grandfather was the first one to thank for the lights at the town hall so that made Felicia’s family famous.

During the wedding, the pastor thanked Felicia and Tommy for getting married and wished on them a big and happy family. He also thanked a few people for the ceremony and then let Felicia and Tommy kiss so they could go off and have a family.

As the years went by, Tommy and Felicia had many children and so the townsfolk lavished them with gifts and thanked them for everything they were doing for the town. Tommy and Felicia were happy to have so many children- it made them feel blessed. They thanked Tommy’s parents for the house they lived in and also the cool air during the summer seasons.

Tommy and Felicia’s children grew up quick and they, too, learned to thank others for the things they had. They thanked grandpa and grandma for the cool air and the house they lived in each and every day.
Though one day years later Tommy got sick and died in the winter. Felicia was sad for bit and so were the children who were much older now. The town had a big celebration in Tommy’s name and they even brought the celebration to the plant where they liquidated his body.
Now all the boys and girls in Sienna thank Tommy Texas for heating the school in the winter. They learned to thank others for the luxuries they had and knew that someday someone would be thanking them, too.

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Social Service

Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

It was a no-call assignment, and Carson hated no-call assignments. Attempts to contact the McCaulty family through conventional mail had been unsuccessful, though he noted that the lever of the mailbox had been raised, indicating recent use. They had no telephone, of course. Carson shifted the car to manual control as they left the grid and pulled onto the gravel trail.

“Are those real cows?” Kristin asked. He nodded. Her eyes were wide.

“You’ll get used to it. Is your defo shield charged?” he asked. The car came to a stop behind a rusted-out manual pickup truck, and Carson yanked on the emergency brake. Kristin nodded and followed him up the gravel path and he looked her over one last time before ringing the doorbell.

Long seconds passed before the door swung open a few inches, and a portly woman ran her eyes over the two of them. “Are you Mrs. McCaulty?” Carson asked as he flipped open his wallet. His badge caught the light and projected a holographic image of his face.

“I got no business with you.”

“We’re here to discuss your son.”

Mrs. McCaulty squinted suspiciously. “There’s nothing wrong with Herbert.”

“Then you won’t mind us asking him a few questions.”

“He don’t talk yet.”

Carson reached for his report pad and scrolled through the relevant information. “He’s nearly five, correct?” he asked as he moved his foot into the crack between the door and its frame. “We’re just gathering information about the case.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Herbert.”

“Are you familiar with the Re-Ability program?”

“You’re not sticking nothing in my son’s head,” she said, this time with an edge of force. Mrs. McCaulty leaned against the door, but Carson didn’t let it close.

“I think you might be misinterpreting this visit,” he said. “I’m here to tell you about the federal assistance program. Your son may qualify for-”

“You ain’t sticking nothing in my son’s head,” she repeated.

Carson revealed no evidence of frustration or unease, though Kristin had tucked herself behind him with a nervous expression across her youthful face. “Re-Ability implants are no different from pacemakers or any other medical device,” he said calmly. “If he’s struggling, there’s a solution. Surely, as his mother, you’d want him to have the best life possible.”

“You ain’t-”

“I’ll just leave you with this information,” Carson said. His hand slid through the crack in the door, holding a bouquet of holo-readers. She snatched them from his grip, and he barely retrieved his hand before the door snapped shut. Carson’s frown was almost invisible as he turned back to the car.

“She isn’t going to read those,” Kristin said as she grabbed the door handle.

“You’re learning fast.”

“So what do we do?”

He slid into his padded seat and yanked the door shut with a little more force than necessary. “Level two,” he said. “Forward it under neglect and endangerment.”

Kristin gave a short nod as she slid in and pulled her door closed. “Are they going to-”

“If he doesn’t have that implant before he’s six, he’ll be permanently delayed.” Carson snapped as he threw the car back into manual and it spun. “Don’t feel sorry for her. He needs treatment.”

“Alright,” Kristin said. Her voice was meek as she reached for the console panel.

“Label it priority,” he added. The car jerked abruptly as it reached the end of the driveway and reunited with the grid.

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The Little Nothing

Author : Adam Wiesen

White. Sterile. No roof, no walls, no floors. No shadows. Make a sound. Hear anything? Of course not: no acoustics. You look nervous, Ben. Don’t. We’re not there yet. This is just a test. Plugged into your parietal lobe, running a line into your implant. The real deal takes way more power than I have in this little box. No, for a full-on semiotic transplant, you’re going to sit in the Big Chair down in Valley Stream, and they’re going to plug you right into the Nassau County grid, along with the rest of the recalcitrant douchebags who can’t seem to stop shitting in society’s mouth.

You’re sweating, Ben.

That’s okay.

I’d be scared, too. I mean, this little corner of eternity’s hardly scenic, and you’re slotted for a good thirty years. Where do you sleep? Oh, Ben, you really don’t get it, yet, do you? The whole point to this is you don’t sleep. Don’t eat, don’t talk, don’t hear, don’t listen. It’s just you and the the long white nothing. The Little Bardo, they call it. No sleep. What’s sleep when we’re technically plugged into your REM mode, anyway? No, you’re doing your full thirty wide awake. The Nassau County grid dumps into the National Readjustment Processor down in Quantico, where your personality will sit in happy reconstructed nothing for the entire stretch of your bid.

It could be worse, Ben. In the old days, they filled the Little Bardo with all sorts of terrible stuff. The best bits from the Bible, used to scare you to sleep at night. Fire and brimstone. Punishment, y’know? Retribution. No one really came out of that in one piece, though. Lot of catatonic freaks. Couldn’t control their piss function. Terrible smell. Lots of screaming. Then they tried to pamper them with a Heaven meme. That worked like bunk. I mean, for half you rotten sons-of-bitches, Heaven is raping kittens and stabbing nuns. Ever see a smiling coma victim? I hear half the Federal budget that year went to buying clean sheets, just to cover up the number of wet dreams you freaks had. So, then they came to this. Nothing. Nada. Nirvana, baby, for thirty years. The Little Bardo. Time to think, right?

Ben, we have a toilet for going to bathroom. Someone’s going to have to mop up after you. That’s not very considerate is it?

How are you going to receive visitors? Your mother? Ben, look at me. Does this place look like it’s got the facilities to hold your toxic miserable ass for thirty actual years? We’re going in through the parietal lobe, champ. That controls time sense. You’re going to be in and out of here in twenty minutes.

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