Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Flickering light fills the clearing, reflecting in the wide eyes of five people in restraint sleeves laid out next to a pair of freight containers.
I wait until they turn their attentions to me.
“Good morning. Welcome to Dantalius Nine. The sunrise is particularly beautiful, isn’t it? The rays interact with tiny crystals in the thermosphere, providing a magnificent lightshow to start the day. It does persist, but is best seen at dawn.”
The mother is looking about. The father is going from scared to angry, and getting angrier because he’s been scared. Both daughters are quiet, the older one showing early signs of digital withdrawal. The son, youngest of the siblings, is watching his father with a look I’d not want directed at me.
I crouch down and continue in my best news presenter manner.
“Hi. Right now you’re wondering what’s happened.” I gesture to all of them except the father. “You four are here because he,” I point at the father, “is being given a chance to demonstrate his extraordinary skills at colonisation.”
All attention falls on daddy dearest.
“Milo Wilkins, I’m delighted to say your persistent efforts are being rewarded. Only last month on FNXN you commented at length in reply to the ‘Colonies Beg for Aid’ article. You insisted the colonists were bleeding Earth dry because they were ‘too damn lazy to work for their privileges’. Your revolutionary ideas regarding crop growing, medicine, hunting, and the frontier family attracted a lot of attention. I must admit I thought some of your counter-arguments a little weak, but the approbation your comments received was startling. Your loud lamentations about not being able to ‘get out there with my family and prove them scroungers wrong’ were noted.”
If his wife’s eyes get any wider, they’ll crack her skull.
“I also noticed you commiserating with your followers regarding how a ‘truly independent thinker’ who ‘refused to fall for government and media lies’ would never be allowed to emigrate. That gave me an idea. What better way to prove that opportunity and justice for all still exist in this century than to give you that very chance?”
He’s gone very still, and very pale.
“Naturally, this can’t come entirely for free. After all, the exploration and colonisation of space is meant to be a co-operative effort. To realise something from this largesse, we’ve established a network of monitors, so your ground-breaking ideas and techniques can be codified to create a new guide for future colonisation efforts.”
The oldest daughter is starting to show signs of shock, on top of her withdrawal.
“You see those two containers? They’re settler pods. Each one contains enough gear and supplies to sustain six people for twelve weeks, plus the basics to get hunting, gathering, agriculture, and your homestead started. The restraint sleeves you’re in can be used as sleeping bags after they’re relaxed, which is done by an injection to change the state of the material. That process takes about an hour to complete. I did that just before I woke you to watch the dawn.”
Milo glares at me. I shrug.
“I’ll be in orbit before you can move. Also, any form of rescue would be prohibitively expensive, but I’m looking forward to watching desperate crowdfunding attempts.”
I stand and stretch.
“The live stream starts in about two hours. I’d recommend getting the louder recriminations over with before then.”
Turning away, I give them a casual salute.
“You’re going to be famous. Not only that, but one of the outspoken commentators on your stream will provide the next object lesson. Good luck. Goodbye.”
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
They’re sitting in the middle of the road, a bearded older gentleman facing a young girl in a saffron tutu. He’s sitting cross-legged, she’s kneeling. His hands move as he talks, face a picture of concern. She’s gazing at the ground, head down, dirty blonde curls stirring slightly in the freshening breeze.
I can see the woman who called us behind the controls of the flitcar stopped a coach-length beyond the pair of them. She’s beckoning to me, then pointing at them.
“Control, this is A614298. Please connect me to the reporting unit for Incident BB14-8092.”
“Will do. Anything we need to prep for?”
“No. Just comms and the usual safeguards, please.”
There’s a click, then a ringtone. I see the woman tap her ear to pick up the call. It rings again. I see her pound on the dash. The ringtone stops abruptly.
“…oddamn stupid tech- Oh. Hello?”
“Good afternoon, ma’am. This is Officer Gonzales of the South East England Rapid Response Unit. You called in an emergency?”
“Oh, thank God. He’s got this girl in the middle of the street and is threatening the poor thing. There’s some useless plod just stood watching! It’s heart-breaking. Are you going to be here soon? If not, can’t you get him to step in?”
Always nice to be appreciated…
The guy makes a ‘wait a moment’ gesture to the girl. The other goes into his pocket.
“Oh god, I think he’s going for a knife. Isn’t there a riot drone you can send?”
Not that again.
The guy’s activated the personapad in his pocket. It links to my dutypad. I request IDs. Stepfather and daughter. Looks like she’s got medical issues, poor kid. My interference won’t help.
He pulls out an inhaler with an attached spacer.
“He’s offering her something! This is terrible. Just like you see on ‘Real People, Real Lies.’”
That well-known source of largely fictional ‘reliable’ information – including riot drones. I particularly liked their documentary entitled ‘The British Police Have Been Replaced by Androids’.
The woman is gesturing angrily at me.
The daughter slowly reaches for the inhaler.
“I have to save her. I’m going to ram him.”
Glad I asked for safeguards. I disable her flitcar.
She starts thumping on the dash again. There should be a big ‘Police Override’ banner flashing right where her fist is landing.
“My car’s died!”
She tries the door.
“I can’t get out!”
“Please stay calm, ma’am. We’re working on that.”
The father pantomimes how to use the inhaler properly. The daughter nods. She takes it from him and uses it, face a picture of concentration. Her hands slowly drop into her lap. A beaming smile spreads across her face. She looks about, then hands the inhaler back to him. He pulls a hydropouch from another pocket and indicates she should rinse her mouth.
She does so. Keeping the hydropouch clutched to her chest, she stands up and offers the other hand to him. He takes it. She grins and leans back. He stands up, grinning at her. They walk off, hand-in-hand.
Good luck to you both.
I enable the flitcar, noting the woman couldn’t flit over the pair because of a three-month aerial activity ban for ‘aggressive queue jumping’.
The flitcar pulls over next to me. She glares, then registers my name tag. This could be amusing.
“You related to Officer Gonzales of the South East England Rapid Response Unit?”
Best not to say anything. Just nod.
“He obviously inherited the balls and brains in your family.”
She accelerates away.
Always happy to help, ma’am.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
There we are, minding our own business, watching our quarters, when some maniac breaks cover and sprint towards us. Charlie Four – John – knocks him down and sits on him.
A mob of ragged soldiers burst from the trees. Not a weapon in sight, but they sure look motivated. That much snarling can’t be good for your facial muscles.
Charlie Four cold-cocks the one he sat on and rises into a smooth uppercut that flips the next one arse over apex. Charlies Two through Six are similarly playing human skittles.
I’ve knocked two down when a third drops from a branch above me. How did she get up there without anyone seeing her?
She bites my ear! I yell, toss her off me, and draw steel. Instead of coming back at me, she moves off into the fight. I take one step to follow, then my world goes fuzzy-dizzy. I drop into a big black puddle of not-awake-anymore.
I come round when she bites my ear again. I try and swat her, but Godzilla’s big brother is sitting on my chest. Somebody spits.
“Easy, boss. Just first aid.”
That’s Charlie Three – Charity; misname of the century – muttering by my ear. She fastens on my ear again and sucks.
“What the everloving f-”
“The unarmed kung fu crazies came with ninja snake women, boss.”
I look up at Charlie Four, who’s getting off now I’m not a danger to myself or those trying to fix me.
Charlie Three spits again.
“Fecking stuff tastes nasty.”
She lets me go, sits up, and grabs the hip flask offered by Charlie Two – Alex.
I sit up slowly and look about. All five members of Charlie Team, looking a bit ruffled but otherwise intact. Charlie Five – Lira – is resting on a cot bed like me. She gives me a wave.
“Got bitten by two of them.” She gestures to a bandaged breast. “Second one bit me on the nipple, the vicious cow.”
I swing about to take a look out at the encampment. Local troops are guarding our prisoners. All of them have their mouths taped.
“What fresh hell is this?”
Charlie Six – Fred – shrugs.
“Got chatting with one of the girls after I let her get a good tug on a whisky bottle. They all used to be university students. When our lot rolled into the country to help the local junta, one of their professors asked for volunteers. Apparently all humans have the biological components to make our saliva venomous. Some ancient leftover. This professor worked out how to switch it on. It’s not always lethal, but it makes for a good guerrilla warfare tactic when you top it off with something to bring the angry out.”
“Somebody get hold of our agent. ‘Poison’ comes under the biological weapons clause, and that’s a premium rate hike. Two weeks backdated and danger rates for every sortie, or we are on the next transport to a warzone without venomfreaks.”
There are five nods. Never had all of them agree so quick.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
I can hear his controller yelling at him to shoot. His eyes flick left and right, then he stares at the woman with the kid a short distance behind me. That shouting must be deafening. It’s certainly not helping him do anything useful.
Overcast afternoon, leafy plaza, man in a suit pointing a gun at thin air while sweat runs down his face. People are starting to notice. I turn and raise my hand towards the CCTV, fingers spread. I start folding them down one by one.
They’re still shouting.
Single voice. Urgent. I check my position and step sideways to keep the woman and kid directly behind me.
A single word being shouted. I see his finger go from frame to trigger. I crouch, he fires. A woman screams. I stand and walk away as the man falls to his knees. People run about screaming. I don’t look to see who he hit. I don’t look back when another shot sounds.
By the plaza entrance, a second operative rushes towards me, eyes roaming, desperately trying to find the menace they’re shouting about. I locate the nearest CCTV and raise my hand again.
Frantic shouting over the headset. Confused, he charges at me. I step to one side.
He stops and spins, gun coming up, finger on the trigger. I quickstep until I’m behind him. I was always the best at this game as a kid, and that was when my opponent could see me.
We dance about as he frantically tries to turn to face me. The voices are getting louder. Any second –
Now. I see his elbow bend and duck to the opposite side of where he fires blind over his shoulder. Then I hop back as he swings the gun to shoot under the other arm. That second shot elicits a scream from behind us.
He spins to see who he hit. I bat his arms down, then open his throat with my bone knife. They grew it from a bit of my femur and a few stem cells after they became certain I couldn’t make normal objects be like me. A clever bit of thinking, and it works. Doesn’t keep an edge for very long, but they hone them very sharp, and have grown spares.
There it is. Loaded with multiple ways to ignore my curious case of not being visible to the naked eye – the scientists have promised they’ll explain what happened, one day. I don’t think it’ll be anytime soon. At least it’s a useful mishap.
I raise my hand and make childish shooting gesture towards the drone. It drops, going up in flames as it does so. Laser! Tasty. I never know what my support will bring, but they do try to be appropriate, and monitor me for cues. Today’s theme is ‘invisible killer’.
We’re done here. I move my hand in a throat-cutting gesture. Support takes out the surveillance in the park and on two streets, one at either end. Then I run into the bushes next to this entrance and shimmy down the shaft opened by an unseen support team member. As I’m throwing on clothes, an unseen person closes the hatch. Nothing left to chance.
One day the opposition will get their act together. Until then, it’s open season.
I emerge from a distant storm drain. In a nearby car park is an SUV that recognises the key in my pocket. I’ll call for my next assignment in a week. Time to disappear properly for a bit.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Have you ever tried to outrun God? An idle question, but valid. Can any sinner avoid their fate? Pondering such considerations passes the time.
Hunkered down in a grassy nook amidst the densely planted fields that surround Karnourie, a sprawling town that is, to be honest, a defensive nightmare. Villas and farmsteads scattered all over the place, no fortifications, no hills, barely a bump in the earth for miles around. Nothing but several species of exotic grass amidst the stands of hybrid maize that’s the primary crop hereabouts.
My talkbox crackles.
“Sleepest thou, trooper?”
“Nay, Leftenant. Merely resting my armour.”
There’s a laugh.
“Likewise.” He sighs. “These fields. Watching the wind bend the grasses is like watching waves cross an ocean. The synchronicity of God’s works is wonderful.”
I’ve never seen an ocean. Born in Titheport and recruited right off the streets, this galaxy is ever a source of marvels to a simple man like me.
The talkbox screams: one of ours warning us as they die.
The Leftenant may well ask. I feel a tremble and stand to confirm what I dread.
A division of Nadbar Monotracks burst from the concealing foliage, each rolling on a single jointed tread wider than two men. Their favourite tactic is to slot together and roll over anything in their path, the momentum of a two-hundred-metre-wide wall of treads crushing all before them. The howitzers they mount in their blocky turrets ensure very little remains to slow their advance.
I pause to launch a warning flare, then obey the same instruction.
Curse that Sellean Grass! It grows to six metres in height and is renowned for its sound-deadening qualities. Ideal when you want your armoured assault to go unnoticed until the ground shakes.
It’s a warm day to be sprinting to save one’s soul in fifty kilos of armour. Funny how the sustained exertion gives the mind a chance to wander. I recall my tactics tutor one day, warm like this, digressing into the amusing considerations that remain unanswered due to there being nobody stupid enough to try them.
“Lochstein postulated that a wall of monotracks had channels a man might pass through unharmed. One could argue that him dying when facing that very thing proved him wrong. I disagree, but am minded to pray I never have a chance to test it.”
I laughed, then. Not now.
The gap below the side armour, between the tracks. I chance a look back. What gains on us are not rigged for city storming – they have not the ground-brushing kilts to prevent close flank attack.
“I expect to see thee at the Pearly Gates, trooper.”
“Lochstein’s Gambit, Leftenant!”
“God’s teeth! It’s worth a try.”
I turn, pick a gap, and crouch. As the roaring wall looms over me, I utter the family prayer my mother left me and throw myself down on my sword arm, striving to keep myself taller than wide.
Dust chokes me, noise drowns me, and shrieking steel claws at my armour. I am about ready to meet my Maker when the storm passes. I drop onto my back, turning my head to see the mail across my shoulder where the shield pauldron has been torn completely away.
The Leftenant’s voice replies, sounding as tremulous as mine.
“Indeed. Dear Lord, pass our thanks to Emmanuel Lochstein. Beest thou hale, trooper?”
“Aye. My plate be breached, but my mail untouched.”
“Then rise, trooper. The Lord did not guide thee that we be idle for it. We have sinners to send His way.”
That we do.