Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
She stands there in the street, head cocked to one side, hair in disarray. I pause to watch what happens next. These ‘no loitering’ walkways are still new to smaller towns.
A patrol drone rolls up next to her. It beeps in what’s supposed to be an authoritative manner, but still sounds like a cheap toy.
“I’m sorry, I was listening to Odin.”
It beeps again.
“Yes, yes. He said you’d be insistent. It’s your mother, isn’t it? She’ll be fine. You have to stop worrying, and you need to stop taking it out on people you find contravening the urban behaviour rules. That’s just bullying, you know?”
The drone spins about and careens away.
“That was amazing. How did you do that?”
Her eyes find mine. It’s like a voltage runs from my eyes to my toes and back through my heart. Blue like Antarctic ice, distant as the sky. Then she blinks, the blue turns to that of a tropical lagoon, and the shock runs through me again.
She raises a finger. Nods, whispers something, then lowers her hand.
“I didn’t. He did. He knows. But not everything. Says that would be cheating. He can only know everything about one thing at a time. That’s one of the staves he set upon himself.”
I see we’re near a coffee shop. I’ll call this as ‘unforeseen circumstances’ and work through my break to make up.
“Can I get us a coffee while you explain?”
She nods, pirouettes, and rushes off towards the coffee shop. I stroll after her, trying to look casual.
By the time I get there, she’s sitting at a table eating a sticky bun. There’s another sticky bun on a plate opposite.
“Your coffee will be here soon.”
“How do you know what I like?”
“He told me.”
This could get irritating.
“Really? So he knew all about me for a while?”
Okay. You’re enchanting, and I could drown in your eyes. Let’s play.
“Did he keep it all to himself or did he tell you anything?”
“He warned me my eyes weren’t the right shade of blue. Told me which way you’d walk to work today.”
“Too easy. You got someone to run an online preference profile.”
“Your father left the keys to the toolbox on the windowsill above the freezer. The cat knocked them down. They fell and got caught inside the crossbar at the back of the freezer. That’s why you can’t find them.”
I’ve searched everywhere since he died!
Deep breath. Pause. Now say something.
“So you… No, ‘he’ says. What’s with the Odin advising you act, anyway?”
“He’s always been there, ever since mum introduced me to him. Said it was a boon those of our bloodline get.”
“Odin’s talking to a towheaded girl in a baggy white jumper, silver leggings, and army boots?”
A huge smile crosses her face. I feel myself grinning in response.
“You should be more worried about why he’s talking to me about you.”
Actually, that is disturbing.
“Did he tell you?”
“Can you tell me?”
She leans forward conspiratorially.
“A power cable fell from the pylon outside your work. If you’d arrived on time, you’d have been electrocuted and crushed.”
The smile returns.
“No, what’s insane is you’re sitting here on your own, this Valkyrie’s stolen your bun, and my boss has got plans for you. Good luck.”
She vanishes, leaving two empty plates.
A long, blue feather drifts down and alights on the back of my hand.
There’s that shock again.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The third moon of Charius has an erratic orbit. The survey vessel noted that fact, but evaluated the deviation to be within acceptable margins. Nobody bothered to investigate any further because, by then, the planet was desolate: ruined by a catastrophe during automated terraforming.
Thirty years ago I got a merit badge for my school project. I made a family tree going all the way to Earth, back to Laurent of Guienne, a knight. I started it because I’d always been fascinated with the ancestor I was named after: Antoine Guerin. 942 years ago, he captained the Éternelle, the second cold-sleep colony ship. It was followed by eight more. Each set off in a different direction.
The inhabitants of Zufluchtsort are descended from third ship colonists. Those from the seventh settled on Kaladden and Nathfend. We’ve found five ships drifting, everybody dead, with sorrowful records of starvation and disease. The radioactive remains from a drive malfunction on the ninth are known navigational hazards in the Landulaz system, and a fifteen-kilometre-wide crater on New Hope is embedded with fragments of the fourth.
We’ve mapped everywhere the cold-sleep ships could have reached. Until yesterday, a rogue wormhole was thought to have claimed the Éternelle, one of the first casualties of the rare hazard we still barely understand.
Yesterday I swung the pinnace from the Hilary, our expeditionary ship, round to the dark side of the third moon. In the beams of the searchlights, I saw wreckage. We confirmed it from samples soon after, then we found a collapsed shelter. Inside were two bodies: Navigation Officer Lilian Glazer and Ruth Guerin, daughter of Antoine and Lilian.
They’d left their story etched into fragments of ship panelling.
Twenty years out, meteor strikes damaged the cold sleep banks on the port side. We started rotating people through five-year sleep/wake cycles. Eighteen years after that, a mutiny occurred. They killed my father over crazy rumours about a plot to kill half the colonists and get back on schedule!
Flight Officer Gary Thomas took over, a compromise candidate agreed by the various factions. Lilian recommended Charius. We voted, then sent terraforming units ahead. As we approached, the ‘Eternal Journey’ faction sabotaged our drives. They were determined to keep us in space. Ned Gillen, their leader, was overzealous: he crippled our manoeuvring thrusters as well.
Unable to change course, we were going to hit the third moon. Ned and his faction fought their way onto the bridge, refusing to believe he’d doomed us all. When confronted, they blamed the crew for ‘suicidally denying’ their wishes.
Gary ordered everyone to abandon ship, then led the attack against Ned’s faction. Mum and I tried to make it to a lifepod, but the stampede and running battles were too much. In the end, we suited up, set the timer on a stasis locker near the rear of the ship, and shut ourselves in it. Twenty hours later, we had to fight our way out of the badly deformed locker.
We’ve been using this shelter for a week. We’ve found no survivors. The moonquakes are easing, but some still throw rocks and wreckage about.
Tomorrow we’re going looking for communications equipment.
Looks like something crushed the shelter that night. Ruth and her mother lay side by side. The fragment with the sentence starting ‘Tomorrow’ was lying next to the hobbyists drill she’d been using as a pen.
I cried while I built a cairn over them, then returned to the Hilary.
I open a file I’ve maintained for thirty years. Time to put Lilian and Ruth back into my family.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The sky is lit by colossal energy beams throughout an otherwise murky afternoon. Most of them originate from the monstrous shape that looms on the far horizon like a mountain cut from steel.
The outpost on the hill had been deserted since a war over a century before. Now it’s crammed with officers, staff, and equipment. All the people with weapons are on the outside, and are happier there, despite the foul weather. Even standing upwind, they can still hear the General shouting.
“What do you mean we’ve got no tanks left? We had over a thousand last month. I saw them from the Glory Day Overflight.”
Inside the outpost, the quieter reply comes from a bespectacled giant of a man.
“She destroyed the last of them yesterday.”
The General brandishes a cane at the giant’s chest.
“What do you mean, ‘she’? It’s a machine! A damn big one, I’ll grant you, but still a machine. Just because it’s as big as a bloody battleship there’s no need to get soppy about it.”
The giant removes his glasses and massages his temples. That done, he puts the glasses down and speaks with a hand over his eyes.
“Excuse me. Headache from the lights. Tell me, General, what do you know about the Oni-Class Fortresses?”
The General chews a stray bit of his moustache.
“Sodding great wastes of time from a few decades ago, weren’t they? Somebody got a bee in their bonnet and built a couple before it came to light the computers required didn’t exist?”
“Neat summation. Well, times change and computing power increases. I got tasked with seeing if the repulsor-lift fortress dreadnought called the Western Oni could be activated with current technology. Took me a few years, and the co-operation of the AI Research Unit, but we cobbled something together that addressed the shortfalls of the original project and added a few new ideas. We took a Therbithi cryobrain, flashed it into a vegetative state, then loaded seed mnemonics and the whole Oni suite. Like the Therbithi recommend: wake one up, then give it something complex to do. The intelligence will stabilise quicker that way.”
“You lazy bastards put alien technology in my hoverfortress?”
“No, General, us overworked bastards put alien tech in the repulsor-lift fortress because your people insisted we succeed at any cost.”
The General points as the looming threat ploughs through another city, explosions illuminating the angled slabs of its lower armour.
“Well, you certainly did that. Now, how do we call it to heel?”
“Her name is Tabitha. She’s in total rage because I made the mistake of using emotional attachment to reinforce her control routines.”
The General steps closer.
“I don’t understand.”
The giant grins.
“That was my second mistake. Things were going well. We were just preparing for you to be introduced as another authority figure when I cheerfully told Tabitha I was being sent to activate the Eastern Oni.”
The giant colours up.
“Embarrassing as it is to admit, for all intents and purposes, the hoverfortress with enough firepower to level a continent is in love with me. Finding out I was intending to go off and fire up what she perceives as a rival, and giving it all the improvements I’d got from working with her, Tabitha feels I am betraying and insulting her.”
“The hoverfortress is jealous?”
“More like a woman scorned. I might be able to talk her down after she’s levelled the Eastern Oni. Until then? Not a chance. Best stay out of her way.”
“Oh my God. You idiot.”
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
They’re on to me. Not bad. Three continents, sixteen countries, four passports, and two illegal border crossings later, the one scientist shouting about me has, finally, received a fair hearing. Way to go, Gerald. I hope it makes your fortune, for all that it’ll never make up for what you’ve lost.
Too bad they’ll never get to me in time. It would be ironic to be the first person saved by their hastily-assembled remedy.
Time for my last Tabultin. Stuff’s been around for years, just another drug to combat flatulence. Still don’t know how they found out it kept the worst of the deleterious effects at bay. Probably some old bloke with a crappy diet somewhere surprised them by not dying quickly, so they analysed his blood, then asked what he was taking.
In case you’re starting with the last entry and working back, my name’s Nancy. I was a nurse, until I got set up to take the fall to save some doctor’s reputation. After that, life went downhill until selling my eggs and unsavoury gig work were all I had.
Then came Gerald Bacan and his drug testing. There were several levels of involvement, but the highest offered accommodation, regular meals, even a salary! I applied for that, and got accepted.
Gerald’s project came at a hefty price: military backing. He admitted his work could be weaponised. He also took pains to hobble any such efforts. In the end, they were pointless. One of the sera turned out to be deadly.
Batch 1.11Y.4g, ‘Illya-G’, hit Volunteer 84, Dav Mikalos, like a truck. Barely had the needle left his arm when he collapsed. He died the next day. Everyone who had been in the room with him died within a week. Everyone who came into unprotected contact with his body died within two weeks. This included Helen Bacan, Gerald’s wife. As Gerald was away, appearing before a committee in Washington, he missed it all.
Helen and I had become friends. She’d confided in me her doubts as to the sanity of trying to save humanity from cataclysms. I thought her a little crazy in that.
I was one of those infected by someone who came into contact with the body. I keeled over, then woke up in a makeshift morgue. My metabolism slowed so much they thought me dead. I’ve since seen a couple of studies that match my pathology.
Being mostly paralysed for a day after coming round, I overheard some interesting conversations between various officials who were using the space by the door for ‘off the book’ discussions. While the topics were awful, it was the anticipatory glee that sickened me most.
Around then is when I became what you’d call crazy. It gave me clarity and motivation like I’d never experienced. After sneaking out, I raided the pharmacy; turned the loot into cash to get me started. I preyed on anyone, and at every opportunity. Didn’t have long: no time for niceties. I used public transport, hung out in crowded malls, packed restaurants, everywhere people congregated in the last throes of the joy at COVID-19 being ‘defeated’.
What gave me away was the text I sent Gerald: “My condolences. She was right.”
What let me get this far was the disbelief that met his claim of someone deciding to spread Illya-G in an effort to end mankind.
I love the silence of snow-covered woodland. Deep amongst the trees, where only wolves and white rabbits disturb me, I’ll feed the scavengers and decompose. Hopefully I’ve done some good for them with my passing deed.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The valley is smoking, trees nothing but scorched gravestones for the life they once sheltered. The farmland around here used to be really scenic, but the only tourists today are the subject of my little excursion.
“Good morning, Elizabeth. Welcome to this ashen paradise.”
With Cardy as my overwatch, this is going to be nothing but fun.
“Morning. Who am I partying with?”
“Seventeen hardcases with a penchant for scorched earth tactics.”
They’re good at their jobs. Holy hell, what a mess.
“Does anyone need to talk to them?”
“Do I need to be discreet?”
“Anything left I shouldn’t hurt?”
“Don’t be silly. Your targets just finished a sweep. They sure as shit ended anything living.”
Then it’s open season.
“Set the clock.”
“Engage in 3… 2… 1… Go!”
I reverse the direction of my knees and charge, letting my targeting arrays prioritise victims by proximity as I accelerate to a whisker under 55KPH; I can’t hit shit at anything over 60.
“They’ve spotted you.”
“I’m leaving a rooster tail 10 metres high. You’d be wasting my time if they hadn’t.”
Powering up a low hill, I launch myself into a somersault, letting me shoot the three twats huddling in the lee before I land. Two down, one staggering.
“Left a stray.”
“I’ve rolled a posse from 42 Commando in on your tail. Nothing’s escaping.”
The landing isn’t as pretty as I’d like, but no-one’s watching bar the boys and girls who’ve made me and my kind legendary, so I’m allowed a skid or two.
The next fire team is five strong with heavy weapons. I don’t like GPMG. They scratch my plating. Plus, a close-range hit could tear my head off, but that’s beside the point. A trio of minimissiles with frag heads leaves only their outlier.
He feints right, goes left, then breaks his dagger on the ceremetal chainmail across my gut. Funny how ancient warfare tech often works really well when made with modern materials. I box his ears with my stubby assault rifles. He’s wearing a helmet, but it doesn’t matter. With titanium-wrapped weighted jackets on each barrel, I halve the width of his head.
The next mob are in two pairs, and enhanced. I can see their raised body temps. Which makes the colder sections revealing their junction boxes really easy to target with the baby railguns on my right arm. I only get ten titanium ball bearings to play with, but they travel at four kilometres a second.
Three targets go down, crippled at best. The fourth is fastest, but a futile dodge only changes where he gets hit. Paired supersonic projectiles make a godawful mess of his head.
Last are the command team. Four around one. I go straight at them, flat out, assault rifles spitting. One goes down on the way in, the railguns do for his partner, and I’m on their leader before the furthest two can cover. She lets me have both barrels from a sawn-off shotgun, which hurts, and slows me down a bit. I’m going to be picking pellets out of my softer bits for a week.
Even slowed down, I still hit her at 45KPH and stop dead, launching my empty guns into the last two. The transferred energy hurls her broken body away as the rifles knock her cohorts down. I pull my automatics. Simultaneous headshots finish the party.
“26 seconds from first contact. New record!”
Mission complete. I switch my knees back and retract the lenses over my eyes. I prefer to look passably human when I’m not being devastating.