Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“You know, I think Adolph is rightly regarded as inspirational.”
Darius spins round, his expression horrified.
“That’s not how I’d describe Kristallnacht, Mister Lamen!”
Russ Lamen points at the screen.
“Crystal-what? I mean his first exhibition of watercolours at the Neue Galerie in Vienna. 9th of November, 1938. He even broke new ground by having a midweek opening.”
Darius crosses the room as quick as he can.
“What the Holy Fires has gone wrong?”
Russ looks up at him, a look of blank incomprehension on his face.
“We’re overviewing Adolphus Alois Hitler, first master of the post war period. Given that a number of his early works were lost during the American invasion of Europe, Professor Dagenauer got permission for chronoimaging to bring the reference portfolio up to date. I thought the first exhibition was the most likely place to find the missing pieces, and in a setting conducive to high quality image capture.”
“Good thought, Russ.”
Darius steps away and looks about. Nothing untoward. He brings up his Chronopol managerial access and checks Hitler’s timeline. There! A huge swing in chronobalance, affecting the whole of October 1918. But, after that, the problematic ‘assassination attempt’ period that usually caused Chronopol so much grief had dropped to nothing.
He looks up at the ceiling. The Tienard – unseen future dwellers who established the agencies that police the timelines – hadn’t raised an alert, and they’d left his managerial causality buffer in place. This peaceful Hitler wouldn’t be the only Hitler he knew of until he next awoke.
What had happened? Clearly not an assassination, but such a pivotal being and the resilient causality surrounding him cannot have just decided to go a different way. Someone had meddled, and done so extremely well.
Stepping out of the control room, he routes a priority call uptime. This has got to be an enormous gaffe. It needs fixing before causality – which has ruined every attempt at establishing alternate timelines – kicks in and delivers some unexpected cataclysm to achieve the same effect as World War Two and the century of stagnation that followed.
“This is Control. Why the alert, Captain Kane?”
“We’ve got a huge, unrectified anomaly linked to C20 Hitler.”
“One moment. Patching you through to Tienard Ultam.”
Ultam? He’s going to talk with one of the founders of Chronopol?
“Darius Kane. We are aware of the situation. It has taken far longer to reoccur than we expected, but all remains within mandate.”
“Mandate? We’re about to have a cataclysm that could obliterate two centuries of evolution and memory.”
“Captain Kane, what I tell you now will not persist past the chronophasic reset you will experience when you next sleep. As I feel a certain obligation due to knowledge of a service you will render me in a time to come, I am prepared to accept the minimal risk entailed by assuaging your concern.
“The timeline you are now in is the one that leads to us. It is the only one that does so. We have spent longer than you can comprehend trying to restore this chronoinstance while sustaining the paradox we represented until a few minutes ago. The pivotal event in October 1918 must remain a mystery. We have survived too many near-obliterations to say anything else, except to conclude that Causality likes mysteries. The ramifications of that are not open for discussion. Continue with your duties, Captain.”
The line goes dead.
“Causality likes mysteries?” It comes out as a whisper.
Intolerable. Darius runs toward his quarters. He’ll forget when he sleeps? Then it’s time for a nap.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
I look at Rico.
“Mate, the shit just hit the fan, but it’s not immediate. Give me a moment to think, please.”
Tricia slaps the back of Rico’s head.
“He means back the fuck up.”
Time to do like my brother taught me: mentally sum it up like you’re describing it to a person who can solve it. So –
We’re at the top of Hammerton Grange, a tower block where the lower levels are toxic due to an incident ten years ago. We came to steal an ‘unclaimable’ salvage warrant because the penthouse here was thought to be impossible to get at. We solved that with a three-hundred-metre zip line from Spotman Point. The lead wire came over by hang glider, then Helka brought Don and myself in one at a time. Between us we ran that line round the penthouse itself and set up a crude pulley system to slowly drag the cable across from the big truck anchoring the other end.
The truck that belongs to Mally’s dad. She went back first with the easily carried loot. My guess is her Dad decided to seize the payday. He gets rich ‘by accident’, we get marooned. We could call for help, but as we’re trespassing and looting on contaminated ground, getting locked away forever would be the nicest outcome.
Was Mally in on it?
“Helka. Check your glider.”
She does. I get the answer to both questions from her angry scream.
“Are we fucked?”
I turn and grin at Tricia.
“Not yet. Just need to work harder.”
Don, Tricia, Rico, Helka and I spend a long time dragging the cable closer. Lucky for us, the Hammerton Grove Exclusion Zone stretches to the foot of Spotman Point. A few people ringing up about a huge metal rope slamming through their roofs would have been a finisher.
It’s the following evening by the time we’re stood on the highest balcony, looking at the greasy cable that drops away at a steep angle into the shadows below.
“How dangerous is this?”
“SafeBreathe9, what everyone calls SB9, was only toxic because they deployed concentrate at ground level or directly into ventilation shafts, like they did here. It’s why they dilute and dump SB9 from drones now. Anyhow, apart from sheltered places like the lower parts of this block, where residue soaked into the walls, the concentration of SB9 down below should be tolerable for a short while.” I look at them and smile. “Even so, I’m not hanging about or taking my mask off until we’re clear.”
“Only you British could come up with something as stupid as immunisation by gassing the population.”
I’m not going to argue.
“Okay, people. Grab what you can, wrap your hands well, and slide down the cable carefully.”
The truck burned for a long time, even with a pair of fire engines hosing it down. Mally’s dad had gone in to activate the fire suppression on board, but died trying. At least his widow and Mally’s little sister have an ‘unexpected windfall’ to get them by.
Rico got really bad cable burns. Can’t even make a fist. Tricia lost her mask, landed in a cellar, and SB9 residue nearly killed her. Both of them will pull through, but it’s taken a lot of our proceeds to get them there. Mally left for the coast while we were dragging cable. Helka and Don have taken their drinking problems with them while they hunt for her.
I finally understand what my grandad said: ‘no good ever comes from stealing a dead man’s money’.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
I can’t find the words to describe what Jerome is eating.
“How can you?”
He grins around a mouthful.
“Crash land on Lear II. Spend a month waiting for Integral Retrieval to realise your beacon is not a test, and a further six months waiting for the rescue ship to traverse a significant portion of the known universe to collect you. Started out there were six of us. Only me and Gerd made it, because we discovered that Alentl can be eaten raw. You cook them and these,” he flicks an off-white pod from the meat to land on a little pile of matching pods, “burst and drench the whole thing in poison.”
“I understand that. What I don’t understand is: you’re not on Lear II anymore. Why still eat this?”
He finishes his mouthful and grimaces at me.
“Like I said, we survived because we found we could eat Alentl raw. But, I’m still here because Gerd ate less Alentl than me.”
“Still don’t understand.”
He points to the pods.
“They’re the eggs of a critter the Contraxans have named ‘Jerochymia’. They’re also the reason Alentl can eat Posrium, the poisonous weeds that grow all over Lear II. The pods start off as microscopic spores, absorb the toxins, and grow. It seems to be an accident of nature, because while they absorb the toxins, the same toxins keep them from transforming into intermediate forms. When an Alentl dies, it stops eating, the toxin levels drop, and matured parasites eventually hatch from the corpse. They’re really pretty: like long-legged spider crabs made of amethysts and rubies.”
I reach a shaking hand for my drink.
“If you’re a human, when you eat Alentl, you ingest the tiny spores that will eventually grow into pods. When you stop eating Alentl, you stop getting the residual toxins that prevent those spores from transforming into the larval form of Jerochymia that will eat you from the inside out. They’re not so pretty. Look like sabre-toothed hagfish.”
Another pod is flicked from another chunk of flesh.
“I hate this stuff.”
He chews and swallows.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The observation tower runs up through a hollow tree. Not sure which was here first, but it sure looks real. From the top, you can see damn near to the horizon in all directions.
A view which is, no matter where you look, shades of green spotted with the occasional gap or tall ruin. Makes me wonder why they put it in. Unless you like watching treetops, the only early warning you could get is of attack by aircraft or giants. I scramble back down.
“Could be an army coming at us under the trees, but looks calm.”
He nods and gestures toward the can of sliced peaches he’s set at my end of the table.
“Fill yer boots. We can weather the winter here, I reckon.”
I pull the ring on the can and lose myself in the flavour of something that tastes better and wetter than MREs. Draining the syrup to the last drop, I place the empty can back on the table and wave my eating knife about.
“How d’you find these places?”
It’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask for the last year or so, but never got up the courage. Guess I was still star-struck. After all, how many orphan kids running wild through a post-apocalyptic wasteland get partnered by Levi Skills? I used to watch his webshow about survival after the SHTF. I was never able to afford the fancy stuff he came up with, but his basic skills and mindset schooling went so deep it became instinctive.
He looks up and grins.
“Been wondering when you’d get round to that.” he puts his empty down, then stretches.
“Started to see the way things were going a good few years before it all went to hell. Like you, I came up through the foster system. Never had much that I couldn’t pick up and run with. Figured out to do anything except shelter in place or hunker down with neighbours, you needed money. Serious money. The sort of money I would never have.
“I spent what I had on a webcam, then started shooting what I knew in a copse out back of the garage where I worked. After a while, I picked up a reputation. Other survival sites started linking to me. So I started coming up with bigger projects, whole bolt-holes and hideaway builds. Got all my info off other people’s sites, just dressed it up for the videos using the back of a wall in the garage yard and some stuff stolen from a nearby building site. People started asking me for help, so I started advising them on sites and such. Got invited to a lot of them – always passed on the ones where the folks involved knew what they were doing. Just in case someone asked a question I couldn’t answer without access to real experts.
“Naturally, a few people took issue with my shakier ideas. I took them down and pedalled them to the eager as ‘secret survival knowledge for the serious prepper’. My basics were as solid as any. The advanced stuff was theory, lies, and…”
He stops and looks at me.
“Those ‘secret survival tips’? A whole range of stupid things to do in confined spaces that will kill you and any who hide with you. That’s why the smart folk called me out. The smug folk thought the smart ones were only jealous, then spent their money building shelters that became caches for me after they died.”
“The lower level that’s flooded?”
“Full of drowned amateurs.”
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The view outside is breathtaking, one that many would pay to see. The lights of Xīn Xiānggǎng spread as far as the eye can see, both into the distance and up into the skies above: islands of light connected by the coruscating ribbons and kaleidoscopic fireflies of the ways and vehicles that link them.
Inside a room the size of a tennis court, the spectacle outside is ignored. Holoscreens bigger than luxury coupes are arrayed in a semicircle two deep and three high about a king-size chaise-longue.
Sprawled on that gigantic piece of furniture, looking like a child in an adult’s seat, Alois Jean Danube IV plays his fingers across the trio of holographic keyboards before him like some crazed organist at a recital.
“To complete the spaceport within eight hours will require 180,000,000N$.”
The fingers stop moving. Alois looks up and to the left, into the main focus of his AIPA.
“How much to do it in eleven?”
“Do it in eleven. Divert unused resources to the reception dome.”
“Reception dome completion now expected in nine and one-half hours.”
He smiles: “Confirm colony ship arrival.”
The silence stretches for four minutes. Alois sits motionless.
“ETA for ECS Margaret Hamilton is sixteen hours twelve minutes.”
“Subcontract residential builds on Tescona to tier one and two players. Ensure they receive a completion date that is one Terran month before the reception period completes.”
He’s made the mistake of trusting lower league members before. Now he always has a top-tier player stage a one-year ‘city life’ sim on any new build. They regard it as a recognition of their abilities and never let the slightest thing slip by. Fatalities due to infrastructure failure in colonies SIMbuilt by his company have dropped to 0.04% since he instigated the procedure.
“Next greenfield site?”
“Pethtornay. We have a NeoGenesis Explorer 4.0 in orbit. It has just confirmed that all initial assessments were correct. The planet is ideal. SIMbuild 1.1 will be sufficient.”
Alois sits up.
“We are Danube Planetary Development. ‘Sufficient’ is for other companies. Institute a SIMbuild 2.0 frame with luxury pack 12.”
“That will offer more accommodation than a single consignment can deliver.”
“Then notify both ECS Katherine Johnson and ECS JoAnn Morgan. Have them confirm our projection of their ETA being seven months.”
“Done. Reply will take nine minutes, give or take.”
“Give or take?”
“I have updated my interaction routines. I selected ‘give or take’ as a suitable conversational substitute for ‘deviance of less than eight percent’.”
“Valid, and I like it. Next item: order me a six-course meal with a Szechuan bias, but with wines from California. While I wait for that, give me a roster of the next ten brownfield sites. It’s been a while since we ran a competition for entry to the top tier. As the petty cash could do with a top-up, a premium entry contest with the usual paid viewer packages should get us a new recruit, pay for their induction, and fill the coffers.”
“Very well, Alois. Meal ETA is twenty-two minutes.”
“That request I was able to predict. Double decanted, chilled, and here in three minutes or less.”