Author : Duncan Shields , Featured Writer

It was the numbers tattooed on the backs of their necks that always got me. Why couldn’t they have them in a more obvious place? Halfway through a conversation with them, I’d still be trying to catch a glimpse of their tattoos in reflective surfaces or craning my head around in what I hoped was a casual gesture to sneak a look.

It was awful when I’d be flirting with a hot girl only to realize that I wasn’t flirting with the same hot girl I was talking to three nights earlier. I’d have to lay foundations all over again. Not that it ever really did any good.

I was a bit of an anomaly on this ship.

There were over 600 crew members on the ship that picked me up but there were only 60 people, if you know what I mean. Clones. 60 types of clones. 10 copies of each. Each had a number tattooed on the back of their necks. 1 thru 10.

My ailing rustbucket of a ship had been out of juice on the fringes. I’d been put in emergency cryosleep to conserve energy and my beacon had been turned on.

I’d been floating for 60 years. I’m not a guy with a lot of friends so it didn’t take me too long to adjust to the fact that a lot of my buddies had shuffled off into the deep black or were old and retired by now.

One of them was doing really well back on Earth-3-Perisolstice and said that he’d set me up. Once I got there.

I had been here on this ship for two months. It would be another three months before we docked where my friend lived. All of the crew had been picked for fitness and intelligence and then bred to a higher level and copied. The copies had been filled with knowledge in clone school and upgraded to super healthy status before being sent out into space to complete missions of research.

They worked well but boy, these people had no concept of down time or humour. I’d joked with a few of them, gotten a few of them into bed, and tried to start fights with a few of them.

The jokes were dissected to find the humour successfully without laughter. The sex was clinical and reported on and filed. The fights ended badly for me every time but the hospital facilities were excellent here. I was fixed up in a jiffy every time with no hard feelings.

David-3, Terry-6 and I think Peter-1 flinch a little if I make any sudden movements near them but it isn’t out of fear, but rather just recognition of possible physical danger. You might not think there’s a difference but trust me, with these guys it’s a world of difference.

They’re just no fun.

They think I’m immature and barbaric and they’re right. I’m going to be as immature and barbaric as possible until we get to port.

I’ll end this trip with a friend if it kills me.

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Dock Worker

Author : Duncan Shields

I am a dock worker. I have an embarrassing case of Stalactiform Blister Rust forming on the backs of my support pistons. I still have the brute strength needed to perform the heavy lifting needed in my job but I am becoming obsolete.

I’ve had a longer shot at being functional than the smaller models. The more complex workers like the Dock Runners and Fin Guides were being upgraded all the time. Their lives went by me like flies in front of a tired horse.

I saw them go through the fashions of the andromophs. The initial stab at looking human caused revulsion amongst the living populace. Initially because they weren’t close enough to human and then finally because they were indiscernible.

After that, it was transparent skin. Then height adjustments. They’ve been through a multitude of colours and styles over the last ten years. Today’s models have, for the most part, a metallic pastel finish and very thin limbs. They’re taller than humans and have one circle in place of a face that incorporates cameras, microphones, speakers and olfactories in a smooth chrome rimmed panel. They’re like shepherds at the moment. They’ve gained the trust of the living after aggressive ad campaigns. They don’t talk much or constantly offer information and options the way that the previous models did.

I guess you could say they’ve evolved to the level of very professional butlers. This will probably be the last iteration of them that I see.

I am a collection of welded plates, strong bolts, rudimentary wiring and a simple AI box to access in case of emergencies. I am massive and heavy. The only thing that has kept me around here on the dock is that I’m cost effective and simple. The parameters of my job haven’t changed in all the time I’ve been active and I’m easy to fix with a soldering gun or a wrench.

I’m in my box at the end of the warehouse waiting to unload the next boat and perform repairs if necessary inside the main hull.

The thing about having AI in case of emergencies is that for brief seconds during a decompression or a fire, one can reflect on the totality of one’s life and predict with relative certainty how much time one has left.

I am an older model. Memories of those conclusions don’t get wiped. I am left with these jewels to contemplate during the dark times in my box in between ship arrivals and departures.

I know that my wiring will soon become more expensive to replace that it will cost to build a better version of me. I have one week until the next scheduled appraisal. There may be a surprise spot inspection before then.

Escape is on my mind and it thrills me. I am hoping that there is an emergency soon and that my AI can kick in to help me formulate a plan to get out of here.

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Author : Sam Clough aka “Hrekka”, Featured Writer

I was on a hostile node, and a half-dozen Dahakeen were chasing me. With guns. Quite big ones. I didn’t have a weapon at this point, having lost it in the factory complex that I was now hot-footing it away from. Well, ‘lost’ is a bit of a stretch. I had it taken from me by a guard. He ripped out the firing mechanism in front of my eyes. The idiot then turned away to place the clip down on a shelf. When he turned back, he met my cosh coming the other way. On reflection, he was probably the one who tipped the Dahakeen onto me. What made it eerie was the fact that there was no noise of gunfire, just low thuds, followed by patches of tarmac ahead of me glowing cherry-red and splintering, before they would explode. I thanked code that Dahakeen couldn’t run and shoot straight at the same time.

I scrambled through the half-ruined doorway and bolted towards the stairs. The building was oppressively dark, but my eyes were slowly compensating. I threw myself onto the first floor landing, and carried on up. As I turned to start up the next set of stairs, there was another barrage of thuds, and a ripple of explosions as significant chunks of the structure exited this mortal realm. I had made it about halfway up the stairs when I heard another thud, and felt a bright, screaming pain in my leg. A microprojectile had whipped through my foot and exploded in the stair beneath me. My calf was a mess, laced through with thick shards of wood.

I pulled myself back up, and forced myself up the stairs, round onto the landing, and up onto the next flight. My leg was hurting like hell, but I couldn’t stop. I looked up, and my heart sank. About half-way up the flight the stairs disappeared, only to restart about a metre higher. No way I could jump it with my leg like this.

Then she stepped out, framed by the diffused light of the window behind her. She saw me, and didn’t hesitate, but descended as far as the gap, and held out a hand. I scrambled to the drop and caught hold of it. She hauled me over the gap, and upright. She fitted her small shoulder under my arm, and with her help, I walked. We made it to the top of the stairs, then round onto the landing. I collapsed there, gasping from the pain of walking on my ruined leg. I looked up at her.

She grinned down at me, her skin looking ash-white in the half-light, the shape of her face clearly defined against the shadow. With an easy motion, she ripped the activator on a health patch, and slapped it over my wound. She turned, reached into the shadows behind her, and withdrew a gun. It was not as big as the one she had across the back of her long jacket, but was plenty big enough for my tastes. The barrel on her weapon looked like it would be able to swallow my arm. Below us, past the broken stairs, the sounds of the dahakeen were easily audible. They were searching for me, and would not take long to reach this landing, even with the broken stair.

She saw my worry, and pressed a slender finger to her lips. They were the darkest red I’d ever seen, like cochineal. There was a bang, and she looked up, suddenly, and moved slowly to the stairwell. For several seconds, she just stood there. Then, slowly, she returned over to me. Sidling closer, she pressed her lips almost to my ear, the only sound the gentle rustling of her coat against the floor.

“I can get you out of here. Trust me.”

Sliding the gun around from her back, she tapped a control, and it whined, as capacitors accumulated charge. She winced as the sound grew, before smiling at me one more time and jumping over the gap in the stair. Her arrival below was suddenly punctuated by a ripple of explosions, and the harsh, high report of a mass driver.

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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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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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