Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
I needed to disappear. Fast.
I never wanted a criminal life. It’s not like I killed anybody, or stole the nation’s pension plans, unlike some governments which shall go unmentioned.
No. It was much more banal than that. I reneged on my student loans. Now I’m a wanted man.
Like many students hoping to get ahead in the world, I jumped into a full Master’s Program at a decent, but far from ivy league university, with visions of future grandeur making the stress inducing course load marginally bearable. Like every student, I was promised a well paid job upon graduation.
I did my time, studied hard. After graduating with honors and flinging my square, black cap into the air along with thousands of other students, all determined to make their dreams realities, I learned some hard truths we weren’t taught in school. There simply weren’t any jobs for us. Never had been. Maybe ten of every hundred graduates found employment in their chosen field, most through their parent’s corporate enterprise; the Golden Boys and Girls, whose futures were paved in gold the day they were born.
As for me, well…
I was unemployed and the proud owner of a 250,000 credit Criminology Degree.
Six months later the phone calls and e-mails started. It was the Bank. They wanted their money back.
I used up my two deferrals, buying myself some time, but time, like my meager savings, inevitably ran out. The phone calls resumed. The e-mails spawned. It was time to pay up.
After five years of searching within my field, the best work I could dredge up was as a Baker’s assistant; waking at 5 am, making thick dough for minimum wage. The Bank garnished 30% of every credit I earned.
At this rate, with added interest, it would take two lifetimes to pay off my loan.
Arthur Hanover needed to disappear.
I decided to put my Criminology Degree to work. Disappearing people wasn’t easy in the 2030’s, but I’d learned how. Everyone was numbered, coded and tagged at birth. If you weren’t in the system, you couldn’t do squat. Couldn’t even purchase a toothbrush without an I-phone, except on the black market. Mark if the Beast if ever I saw one.
My phone was the first to go. Not that I had any credit anyway, plus phones were traceable.
I pitched my ID, changed my name, dyed my hair and managed to barter some ancient LP’s – classics, mint condition – for a pair of retinal coded contacts.
A doctor friend from University was in the same boat I was; ran an underground clinic for the disenfranchised. I called in some favors and had him remove the IRF chip implanted in my thigh.
Debt between friends is so much easier to pay back than a bank loan. “Honor amongst thieves”, I s’pose.
I’d hoped to find a quiet place to live out the rest of my days as Devon Walsh. A nobody. A non-entity. Maybe meet a girl and eke out some humble existence. If being a Baker’s assistant was all there was for me, I conceded to settle for it. It could be worse.
They caught up with me in a hover station outside Whitehorse. Cyborg sniffer-dogs tracked my DNA all the way from Toronto. Betrayed by my own DNA. You really can’t change who you are.
Criminal Loan Default.
I’ve been drafted. My loan was bought and I’m bound for the front lines. NorAmer is at war with the Asian Federation for property interests on Mars and I’m cheap cannon fodder.
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
He was sitting in his chair exactly where I’d left him six hours ago, looking out the window of the impeccably reconstructed early 16th Century workshop. His plate of fruit, bread and cheese remained untouched. I glanced at the blank canvas and sighed. He’d been in this workshop for three weeks now and hadn’t drawn even the simplest sketch or touched his carving tools. This project was already way over budget. Unless this over-priced, over-hyped, gene-resurrected artist produced something, anything, he was destined for the chemical vat and I would be out of a job.
But artists, particularly Italian Renaissance artists, especially THIS Italian Renaissance artist, were a sensitive lot and don’t respond well to economic pressures.
“Good morning, Leonardo,” I said in Italian, suppressing my frustration and getting into character, “are you feeling ill? You haven’t touched your breakfast.”
“I have no appetite of late, Francesco,” he said, not taking his eyes off the holographic representation of the Chateau D’Amboise beyond the window, the exact view he would have had from his workshop at Chateau De Cloux in France during the last years of his life. “Food does not taste the same to me anymore.”
Could he actually recognize that the food was synthetic? If so, a gross oversight on my part, but one that couldn’t be helped; real farms were a thing of the past due to environmental pollutants. Everything was now grown hydroponically from cloned hybrids deep underground.
“Mi amore, you must eat,” I entreated, cooing like a mother hen. “You must work. The King grows impatient.”
Leonardo dismissed my lie with a flick of his hand and remained staring out the window, waiting for something. After a moment’s silence he spoke. “I’ve been having a dream, Francesco, every time I sleep.” He was so quiet I had to step closer to hear him. “I’m in a strange, dead land, familiar, yet unknown. The sky is the color of ash and weeps black, sooty rain. The trees are stunted, barren of leaf and flower. Beauty has fled the world. The shrouded sun brings no joy to the starving soul, no color, no life.”
Did he suspect that he too was a cheat, a facsimile of the man he was? Could he somehow sense that his original body lay buried under the radioactive ruins of Chapel Saint-Hubert and had been for the last seven hundred years?
“But you’re awake now, Master.” I knelt beside him and pointed out the window. “Look, the sun shines! The trees are in bloom! The sky is clear as sapphire! It’s but a dream that troubles you, amore – A ghost of the mind.”
“There!” He said, pointing suddenly at a passing blackbird, “Every hour, the same bird flies the same path. The clouds too are different, but the same. I’ve been watching. Its like I am looking at a moving painting, rich in detail, but devoid of God’s touch.”
Damn! Some programmer just lost their job. I would too if I didn’t get Leonardo to produce a new masterpiece. “You must paint,” I implored, “or feel the carver’s chisel in your hands again. Then you will rediscover the world’s beauty.” So would we. “It’s been too long, Lolo.”
He looked at me then with cold, loveless eyes, which scrutinized every wrinkle and contour of my face, reconstructed to resemble his most beloved pupil.
“Inspiration is dead, Francesco,” he whispered with deep sadness. “This room is artifice. This view is an illusion. Even you, amore, are an imposture. My heart knows this. How can I paint a lie?”
I had no answer.
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
“Doppler readings show primary vortex three hundred meters off starboard and closing fast on my position,” I radio to the control hub, half submerged into the desert mesa two miles away. “Wind speed… 400kph and rising. All systems green. Ready for takeoff.”
“Roger that, Indra 2-Whisky. You are clear for takeoff. May the wind be in your favor, Captain Chandra.”
I repeat the familiar idiom uttered before every flight to myself like a mantra as the storm rages outside the view port in all its chaotic glory.
I smile. The wind is a fickle mistress and favors no one.
The swirling debris kicked up by the storm reduces visibility to nil. I can only hope that the computer has put in the right alignment to the cyclone bearing down on me, otherwise my ship and its cargo of medical supplies bound for the plagues of America will be arriving late, if at all.
The ship rocks and rattles violently as the outer edge of the F5 tornado hammers sand and small stones nearing velocities of 600kph into the hull. I methodically check my instruments; land tether and stabilizers are holding fast. At this point all I can do is hold on and pray.
Compared to Storm Riding, traditional methods of flight are cake-walks, but airplanes and helicopters collect dust in museums now, relics of the past. Global climate shifts have left violent storms raging over most of the planet for the past two decades, many of which are accompanied by, as my father called them, “Fingers of Indra”, giant tornados, usually F3 or higher. These made contemporary takeoffs and landings extremely dangerous at the best of times. Nowadays, Storm Riding is the only way to fly.
All becomes suddenly calm, quiet. The winds still. I’m in the eye of the storm at the bottom of a deep well, the walls of which are a swirling tempest of cloud and dust. Constant flashes of arc lightning fills the cockpit with an eerie yellow light. High above, I glimpse a circle of pale blue sky. My exit.
Warnings chirp. I release the land tether and fire a short inertial boost from the ram-jet before the storm passes by, leaving me grounded. The sudden vertical hop shoots up the well until she becomes firmly caught in the twisting whirlwind, like a genie trapped in a bottle made of furious zephyrs.
I engage fins, which fan out to catch the insides of the cyclone, turning the ship into a massive windmill. A high-pitched whine begins as the outer hull spins rapidly around its core, super-charging batteries for the long flight ahead. Gyroscopes hold my cockpit relatively stable as spirals up, up, up the tornado’s lightning wreathed runway until, at last, she bursts through the troposphere into a new kingdom above the clouds; a continent of white mountains beneath a clear blue sky.
I disengage the fins, which fold neatly back into place against the hull. For a moment all is quiet and serene as reaches the zenith of her parabola and hangs suspended in sublime freefall.
“We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” I mutter quietly.
“Indra 2-whisky,” Control cuts in suddenly, breaking the spell, “Did not copy that last.”
“Flight altitude achieved. Engaging gliders and setting course for TransLant crossing.”
“Bravo Zulu, Indra. Happy trails.”
May the wind be in my favor.”
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
When their explorers first arrived they were few; we’d no reason to fear them. We welcomed our brothers and sisters from another world with open arms. We traded with them, celebrated with them, showed them our ways and invited them into our homes. They were so like us, and yet, so very different. They departed with promises to return with wondrous gifts.
I’ll never forget the night they returned. Beneath a sky dark and clear, I lay studying the ancient constellations twinkling in their familiar geometries, slowly unraveling their secrets throughout the seasons. Starlore held practical knowledge; when to sow, when to reap, aided those at sea, but it also told legends of monsters, heroes and wisdom. The past and the future were written in the night sky.
That night, before my eyes, many new stars appeared and grew larger. Too many to count. The Great Archer, the Winged Serpent, the Virgin and others became obscured by our visitor’s arriving ships. My heart soared. That night I anticipated a great celebration, a union of cultures, a sharing of knowledge and the beginning of an age of peace.
For three days crates of their strange metal rained upon our communities and country sides. When they broke open revealing odd trinkets, exotic cloth, food and drink we took them as the promised gifts from our star family.
Our guests from across the cosmic ocean never came down to receive our thanks. They waited in their ships while we celebrated without them. They watched us from above as we danced in their strange, new clothes, became intoxicated on their potent elixirs and fell into drunken stupors. They watched as we fought amongst ourselves over their useless trinkets. They waited as my people became sick from their alien diseases. They watched and waited as we died in the billions.
Their gift to us was death.
We’d been betrayed, yet their sickness did not take us all. When they finally descended on their iron battle horses, we met them in open war, fighting as our ancestors had taught us, with bravery and honor. But these warriors from the skies were not brave, showed no honor. They murdered without thought, burning women and children, the sick and the old with their lightning sticks. They burned ancient forests to ash and boiled seas to salt deserts.
I killed five of their warriors as they brutally raped and beat two of my sisters. I have never seen such hatred of life. They laughed mockingly as Myrrah and Nevi cried for mercy, but they will laugh no more. I killed them quickly, which was more than they deserved. I wish I could have killed five thousand more.
We lost. We never really stood a chance. It wasn’t their superior technology that overwhelmed us – a single one of our warriors is worth ten of theirs in a fair battle – but their cunning and deception was unmatchable, their strategies lacked mercy and dignity. Before they came we were six billion strong. Now, what few remain are herded like animals into crowded reservations where we must live the rest of our days, clinging to the shreds of our culture, while, beyond the electric fence, our world is consumed by the Usurpers.
Tonight, I long to see the stars once more, but my eyes cannot pierce the thick veil of smoke rising from their mines.
I wonder if somewhere, hidden within the constellation’s legends there might have been some warning, some message I missed; that one day a race called “Human” would plunder my world and destroy all that I loved.
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
To: B’naar Vetch, President of Trans-galactic Mining Conglomerate (TMC)
Subject: Increased Efficiency
Submitted By: T’lal-fphoon of Gondol Prime
Bio-Geo Engineer, 6th Rank
Galactic Epoch 62, Cycle 4322.214.171.1244-Q
PROPOSAL: The primary objective of the Indigenous Harvesters Project (TIHP) is to train the indigenous, sentient populations of resource rich planets to do the preliminary ground work of harvesting their assests for us via a six phase program.
PHASE 1: Identify and Infiltrate primitive societies on planets with abundant desirable assets.
PHASE 2: Genetic Encoding. Covertly accelerate species’ natural evolutionary processes, i.e. mutations for better tool manipulation, and/or adaptability to hostile environments, and/or increased intelligence for enhanced productivity. The latter should be used with extreme caution.
PHASE 3: Control. Mandatory to ensure loyalty from and/or provide incentives for indigenous workers, including, but not limited to, one or several of the following:
– Establishment of Religious Institutions. TMC operatives will impersonate powerful deities. Failure to comply with”Divine Law” would result in being made to suffer some form of “Existential Punishment”.
– Modification of target species’ psychology. Enhancement of the cognitive dissonance required for religious/political control, coercion and/or bribery.
– Military force and/or slavery may be required due to costly/ unalterable aspect of genetics, an advanced/old species, or a particularly hostile/inscrutable intelligence. (Note: To be explored only if the financial input/output index is considered profitable.)
PHASE 4: Training. Educate a select few natives on the basic properties of desired assets, including efficient harvesting methods.
PHASE 5: Wait. Within 2-5 Cycles the newly indoctrinated species will have mastered the skills required to extract and stockpile target assets.
PHASE 6: Harvest. When target quota has been accumulated harvest ships are dispatched. During a swift, efficient operation a planet’s assets could be collected within a single day (galactic standard).
PRELIMINARY FINDINGS: Our trial of TIHP has been a tremendous success! No one anticipated the ingenuity of the species known as Homo Sapiens (HS) in the Sol system when we began TIHP experiments over 20 cycles ago.
Phases 1 and 2 identified HS as a primitive, easily manipulated race requiring minor adjustments to their already adaptable biology and intelligence. They took to religion eagerly in Phase 3, even believing they were fashioned in the image of their “creator” – a stroke of genius on the part of the agent involved. < (Recommend immediate promotion to entity known as Yahweh.)> Throughout Phases 4 and 5, our observers recorded the evolution of a complex culture obsessed with the accumulation, manufacture and/or distribution of primary, secondary and tertiary assets. Those endowed with our specialized knowledge assumed a privileged lifestyle while the rest of society toiled in substandard conditions.
The species exceeded expectations, even developed, independently, new methods of mining and extraction which are now being taught in TMC training halls. The profit input/output index of this TIHP has become the new benchmark for all present and future operations.
The harvest ships have been deployed several cycles ahead of schedule.
CONCLUSION: Despite initial output, we anticipate colossal long-term profits through TIHP. Consequently, TMC will be free to expend materials and manpower to exploit uninhabited, mineral rich planets, meteors and asteroids.
Note: The environmental impact of TIHP has left the planet pockmarked with massive open mining pits, all major rivers dammed and a majority of forests harvested. Domestic and industrial pollutants contaminate land, air and waterways. The overpopulated indigenous workforce will be left to live out the rest of their days on a planet stripped of the basic necessities for a stable, sustainable existence.
To be considered collateral damage.
I humbly recommend immediate implementation of TIHP on all suitable planets.