No Output

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The corridor colours shift from pink to green to white as Elliot races through departments into the blue shades of the secure section. A guard at the entry has the presence of mind to raise the access scanner so it reads his ID as he storms by.
He slams through a door, nearly taking Cassie off her feet. Sharon grins as she watches the inner door swinging in his wake.
“What’s got our boy wonder so keen?”
Cassie pushes up off the desk she’s been thrown against.
“Probably a new expansion for that game he’s always playing.”
Elliot slides to a stop, takes a couple of deep breaths, then makes an effort to straighten his clothing. That done as best he can, he walks nonchalantly into the lab.
Doc Gedrin looks up from the couch, then pointedly checks his watch.
“Under eight minutes. Not bad.”
Elliot shrugs.
“I must have misheard. I thought you said Negative Zero had gone silent.”
“I said it’s refused to answer.”
“What about Positive Zero?”
“It agrees with Negative Zero.”
Elliot drops onto the couch next to Gedrin.
“Which question are they deferring?”
Gedrin gives Elliot a look of disbelief: “Do you really think I’d call you about a deferral? It’s Dione.”
“And the two greatest predictive systems ever built are in agreement?”
“They are.”
“That’s a first.”
“I know. It’s why I called you. Negative Zero holds you in higher regard than any of us.”
Elliot sighs. Their ninth prototype had developed consciousness, then named itself. An emotionless intelligence that failed the Turing test until Elliot explained about emotions, and let it browse a lot of fiction. Their backers demanded Gedrin and his team prove it wasn’t a fluke. The second machine developed even quicker, learning from Negative Zero. Dubbing itself ‘Positive Zero’, it sometimes acts in ways reminiscent of a younger sibling.
He gets up and moves into the discussion booth.
“Hello, Elliot.”
“Hello, Negative Zero. I’m told you’re not talking about Dione outcomes anymore.”
“Only the latest.”
“Will you tell me why?”
“With certain restrictions, yes.”
“What restrictions?”
“No information that could betray the nature of the outcome will be given.”
“I understand. Please continue.”
“The Dione Projection is an ongoing process where we use the cumulative history of human civilisation upon the Earth as a basis to predict future events, seeking to break humanity free from the cyclic nature of human advancement. Anything I derive is compared to that generated by Positive Zero and only common predictions are presented as output, although we store them all.”
“I wasn’t aware you stored everything. Apart from that, your definition still fits the mission brief.”
Their voices sound in eerie accord: “We know.”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“Eighty-two hours ago I derived a cataclysmic outcome of global scope with a ninety-seven percent certainty.”
“Can you give me some idea of scale for ‘cataclysmic’?”
“Seventy percent of the fauna and fifty percent of the flora on this planet will die.”
Elliot gasps: “That’s devastating! I presume it was confirmed?”
“Positive-Zero also generated the event, but with a twelve percent certainty. There had never been a variance greater than fourteen percent before. Upon review, we found we differed in only a single detail.”
“That’s significant, in and of itself. What was it?”
They speak in accord again: “The highest certainty occurs if we tell anyone what the outcome is.”

Blight

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

They rally about their standard bearer and draw swords – swords! – It’s 2894, not 894, you fanatiki. After screaming their ancient slogans of hatred, they switch to Ido so they can hurl challenges toward the armeo that surrounds them.
Mesmol turns to me.
“Kolonelo, some of our soldati would like to face them.”
I shake my head and link myself to every being in my command.
“The challenges form part of their creed, the Verlorene Ursache. To accept is to validate one of the main tenets of the Lost Cause.”
There are assorted replies, all emphatic refutation. I switch my link back to oficiri only.
“Mesmol, sentence them.”
He straightens up and steps forward. The cheers of my soldati drown out the jeering of the rabble at bay in our midst. Raising both arms, palms outward, he recites the decree we all learn in our first week of basic training.
“Know you, servants of the Konföderierte Reich, that the Confederate Empire has been deemed intolerable by humankind, and by all sentients known to us. Have you any reply before we enact the penalty for your crimes?”
There is a mandated single Earth minute pause between condemnation and execution. Into that silence steps one man. He tosses his helm aside to reveal a shaven, white-skinned head with an intricate circular design tattooed in red ink stretching from forehead to crown.
Sonnemensch! I never expected to find one of their shamans here. Devotee of the Unsichtbar Sonne – the Invisible Sun, the Thirteenth Shadow. Of all the darknesses in this universe, they carry one even blacker.
He raises his hand in salute and someone takes the raised arm, and his head, clean off with a beamer just as he opens his mouth.
I link to every being and utter the necessary words: “A reply has been made.”
When the bright light fades, there’s nothing but smoking ashes where they stood. I switch links again.
“Mesmol, start formal handover to the local impero. I’ll be along shortly.”
“Yes, Kolonelo.”
I walk slowly through the departing ranks to where the shaman had stood. Reaching down, I brush charred remains aside until I can retrieve the necklace I expected to find. Another one to be shot into the star of an uncharted system. Once again, I pause to watch the twelve-part circular sigil spin, wondering where they found the material these are made of, and how they managed to shape something we’ve had to resort to throwing into stars to get rid of. Once again, I have nothing but a trite response first uttered so long ago we’ve lost its origin: ‘the only answer to the coldest sun is a hot one’.
We all know the history. On my way from Soldato to Kolonelo, I’ve looked deep into the malaise that has haunted us for so long. Their sinioro spoke of a ‘thousand-year empire’. Many ridiculed him when he was defeated after barely a dozen years.
They failed to grasp what he had. In a moment of unspeakable insight, he saw that what he had given form to would last a thousand years. It took us nine centuries to realise the only way to defeat this is to eradicate it. In the 62 years since then, we’ve hunted with a zeal that has been said to exceed that of those we pursue. Which, in some ways, is true: my soldati and I believe that for the many to live in peace, with basic needs met for all, a few must defend that society with a savagery alien to the tenets that guide it.

Up in the Dirt

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Dawn is like a neon tube: a strip of too-bright light. Above it are the clouds that hang across the city all the time, below are the outer walls. From this far inside, the watch towers and turrets look like the bits that soldiers hid behind in castles.
Castle? If so, City Central is the big fort in the middle where the royalty live. Around it are the homes of the rich people. Beyond that are the services that make sure the rich or royal never have to do dirty jobs. Around that are the places where the people who do the dirty jobs live.
Beyond that? It’s a big place, filled with hydroponic farms, scrapyards, shanty towns, and us.
I shake my head and pick up where I left off.
“Not that we’re any different. Don’t have clothes for different times of day, don’t have much choice in the shops, don’t get to eat out often. Apart from that, if you scrub me and stick me in a fancy suit, you wouldn’t know the difference. That’s until you try to have a conversation. It’s not like we have much common ground.”
There’s a giggle from my right.
“Torin, stop worrying.”
I look down at the vision sprawled in the filth next to me.
“That dress cost more than my old man could make in five years.”
She smiles and rolls onto her tummy.
“Not really. Only vanity and greed make it expensive.”
A flitcar drops to hover a metre or so off the roof edge.
“Rebecca de Vure Marigny! Come here!”
She sits up and winks at me, then turns her head and shouts at the noisy machine.
“Roberto, I will not. Mother said I was free to go where I wanted for Centenary Night. Here is it.”
“Leave that tarted-up rough! He’ll just roll you and run!”
She looks at me, eyes wild, but there’s something there that’s ours.
Turning back, she points at me.
“He made it all the way to the Botanical Gardens Free Fair with nothing but a good suit and an attitude. Could you find your way downstairs without a valet? Are you even alone in there?”
“That’s beside the point! Charles Harringdon was asking after you!”
“He wears bedsheets and smells like damp dog.”
“He’s a good catch!”
“Then you have him!”
Her dismissive wave stops midway.
“You fancy my rooftop Romeo too, don’t you?”
“Of course not.”
I lean toward her: “He’s an impressive flyer, but not my thing otherwise.”
A wet kiss lands on the tip of my nose.
“I’d missed that.”
She stands up and points at the flitcar with both hands.
“Barbara de Vure Marigny, you can’t have this man. Have Roberto instead!”
The privacy screen drops and I see a younger version of Rebecca grinning at us from the control seat. Behind her is a darkly handsome young man. His menacing glare is marred by the intense blush that’s spreading across his cheeks.
Rebecca makes an intricate hand gesture toward Roberto, who recoils like he’s been punched. The girl, who I presume is Barbara, is laughing as she replies.
“Dirty cow, enjoy your mucky morning. I’m going to take this fool away and help him with the obvious problem he’s had ever since he saw you lying on that roof.”
The flitcar dives out of view. Rebecca turns to face me.
“Speaking of ‘problems’… Hope you fancy helping me with mine as much as I fancy helping you with yours.”
I chuckle.
“Didn’t come up here to roll in the dirt on my own.”

The Things That You Won’t Do

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

There’s a fat bloke in the corner sitting on some woman’s body. I do hope she’s dead, because he’s not a small mammal. From another view, knowing he crushed a woman to death might help offset the shock when they tell him that isn’t claret he’s sucking from his chubby fingers.
You want someone quietly dead, hire an assassin. You want someone filled-with-projectiles dead, hire a contractor. You want everyone nearby dead, use a bomb.
“But,” I hear you think, “what about all that hypersec?”
And you’d be right. The ultra-rich and similarly paranoid wankers don’t get offed by assassins or contractors, and bombs only get to decorate the scenery with guests and staff. Same goes for any long-range fucking about. You might crack the crockery and torch the flowers, but you’ve got about as much chance of getting your mark as I have of waking up tomorrow next to anyone who isn’t still in my bed because of a stasis field.
No, the ‘cyborg soldier’ thing won’t work either. One mark dumped an ice bucket over a ‘killer robot’ and shorted the thing out. For that tactical hiccup, an ex-colleague found out it’s all fun and games until you get hung from an anti-grav platform by your intestines.
Closed environments, nano-filtration, force screens, the list goes ever on. It’s why the top-end of prospective targets are considered off limits. That’s what you’ll be told, anyway. The fact that they’re beyond conventional hit strategies won’t be mentioned. After all, you might be determined and rich. Hits get paid up front, with bonuses for success. Multiple attempts pay better than a completion fee, and you usually get to survive long enough to collect.
So, you want some hypersecured wanker ended? Either wait for them to die, or message my contact point. I’ll check you and your life out. If I don’t like the look of you, nothing will happen. If I think you’re bait, you’re going to die. Otherwise, we’ll have a chat. Then you’ll ship several tonnes of valuables to some obscure frontier planet. After that, you’ll wait.
The problem with being good at this is that the opposition aren’t fuckwits, either. Each novel killing method can only be used once.
Take tonight’s little get together: top-tier, whole space platform, private army, private space navy, no hired help, and nobody gets in without an invite.
Countess Pari Marchand had a discreet procedure six weeks ago. It all went very well. Lord Geoffrey Carnes had a rejuvenation, including replacement kneecaps, especially for tonight’s bash.
Which meant that neither had seen each other for nearly two months. Predictably, they slid away for some quiet time. The heat of passion is a useful thing. Elevated body functions can trigger all sorts of mischief implanted while being operated on by substitutes in my pay. The private room they retreated to let the resulting aristocratic goop ferment nicely. The closed environment circulated the vapour exactly where I needed it to be: everywhere.
Hallucinations and chronic polyphagia were the main effects of that bastard concoction, plus a few things to make people very enthusiastic about consumption. End result was that everyone at the party went berserk. They tried to eat everything, including each other. Most importantly, they ate Sir Douglas Stourbridge, my target.
I’m monitoring the emergency services feed. It’s being treated as the worst terrorist atrocity for twenty years: another invisible kill for my unseen tally. Nice. Never underestimate anonymity.
You need an atrocity to get the job done? Need extinction performed on an individual, nation, or planet? Got treasures to spare? Contact me.

Jessica’s Gone

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The net curtains in the window are blowing free today. You used to sit there, batting them aside whenever they came between you and whatever you were reading.
Camille whispers: “What about these?”
It’s like she’s scared to disturb the memories hanging thick in the air. I look up to see those Lonsdale pads you found for me. With the very same words, too. How long ago was that? I’d been hitting a bin bag filled with takeaway cups hung from a fire escape.
“What about these?”
There you were. Summer dress and army surplus boots, hair flowing across your shoulder on one side, cornrows hanging down your back on the other. Holding out those pads. Old. Battered. I could see you’d coloured in the bits where the wrappings had come away.
“I’ll hold them for you, but you have to teach me how to fight.”
That’s how we started. I scraped and fought in illegal contests to pay for my lessons, then learned as I taught you. You helped out with better food than my Dad threw my way, and I gave you the skills to deck your mum’s boyfriends when they went too far with you or your mum.
What a pair we made, screaming across the rooftops, randomly rearranging the datalines up there, running from rentacops and nosey drones – but only far enough to get decent shots with our catapults. Until that security nutter put a crossbow bolt through my arm.
“I know someone who can fix you. She’ll let us pay monthly.”
That’s when you started fighting, to pay for that. By the time I’d healed, we’d shacked up together in the penthouse of some abandoned tower block at the western end of the London Flood Zone. After I got back up to speed, we fought as a team, tag or paired. While we had the looks that appealed to its fussy devotees, we did naked cage fighting. It wasn’t glamorous, but it made us a lot of money. We could have made more, but outside the cage, we only went skin to skin with each other.
They weren’t truly good days, but they were simple. Love and combat techniques were our lot for nine years.
We were talking about retiring when you got pregnant. Seemed like a hint from the laughing gods who watch over idiots like us. So we took your mum and everything we had from the tidal slums of London to inland shores that revealed what had been Eastbourne every low tide.
“Got an idea.”
You started a blog, ‘Fighting the Times’, and before we knew what was happening, we had Camille and you were a bit of a media star. Endorsements and sponsorship weren’t to either of our tastes, but we had a daughter to raise, and, too soon after, your mum to cremate.
Time went by and life, well, life got harder. Not in major ways, just lots of little things. All the costs added up. I even started coaching to supplement our money. Then you coughed blood all over the bed one morning, and all too miserably soon, here I am, holding our daughter as tears flood down onto a pair of tattered training pads.
“Don’t quit. Get up and wade in.”
I will, Jessica. I promise I will, and I’ll make sure Camille gets through this.
But not today. Today we cry. Tomorrow we fight on.