Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The man makes his way down the street with care. It’s the care of old age, where a misstep could lead to a fall. As I get closer, I see it’s also wariness. This man doesn’t trust the things about him. Up close, I see he’s not that old.
He gives me a nod.
“Evenin’, trooper. Stuck on the roaming night patrol, eh?”
Looking about, I move my assault beamer to side port, as it gives me the best line to the blind spot behind him. Putting it in ‘wary’ mode, I grin at him.
“You know our routes?”
“I know most of them round here. I also know you must have annoyed someone something fierce to get sent out for this walk on your tod.”
He’s got that right. Sergeant-Major Nompins doesn’t like me.
“You’ve served, sir?”
“Save the polish for them that likes the taste, trooper. I did my time. Went in a Private, came out a Corporal. Seven years, three tours. Betelgeuse was a doddle, Sirius wasn’t much fun, then I drew a short straw and got sent to Mintaka in time for the downshift.”
‘Downshift’. The reason Orion’s Belt has only two stars now. Humanity doesn’t know how the Triclaws managed it, but our attempt to invade their home world failed when they moved their planet out of the way, an event that generated an exotic energy shockwave that devasted several nearby systems and stars – or used them for fuel. We still don’t know which.
“You were on the Banjax?”
“No such luck. I was on the Wyx.”
The Banjax was tail end Charlie in the invasion fleet, spared the worst shockwave effects by the ships ahead of it acting as collapsible shields. The Wyx had been one of the scout ships. It was mid-transfer to hyperdrive as the shockwave hit. It drifted in Hirschian subspace for two years before a combat engineer named Wola Ruxon, working with Emelia Laesmann – who would go on to marry Emil Hirsch, after meeting him because of the Wyx tragedy – managed to return them to reality as we know it. What the rescue teams found in the Wyx has remained classified ever since.
“You knew Ruxon and Laesmann?”
I snap him a salute.
“It’s an honour to meet you, sir.”
The revolver is levelled at my face before I register his move.
“I’m no hero. I’m just the lucky sonofabitch who had the skills that Emelia didn’t. She knew what we needed built. I could build it.”
“You saved ten crewmembers.”
“We bonded more men and women with parts of the ship in ways the boffins still don’t understand. We tried to bring thirty back, and killed over half. It’ll never be heroic to me. I had to shoot the ones who couldn’t die.”
“The Philadelphia Effect is an awful death sentence, because unless your brain gets merged with something solid, you live. No matter what your body has become a part of.”
How do you reply to that?
He cocks the gun.
My legs respond to his tone. The revolver roars. The person creeping up behind me with an executioner’s baton drops sideways, almost headless.
The revolver has disappeared by the time he reaches down to help me up.
“Mean streets hereabouts, trooper. Never take your eye off your proximity scanner, even when you’re chatting to a former member of the corps.”
I bring my assault beamer round so I can see the scanner.
“Just two comrades chatting, Mister Ruxon?”
“That’s it, trooper. Nothing special. Carry on.”