Appeal

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Your lights are too bright.”
The fresh-faced lady looks nonplussed. The bearded man behind her taps something into the rig on his wrist and the brightness cuts by half. He gives me a thumbs-up. I nod.
The suited man who looks so out of place in my cabin taps his watch.
“Live in three, two, one…” He points at the fresh-faced woman.
“This is Charlene Mason of KBTX, your realtime online news source. I’m here in Manitoba Springs with Clinton Wilkes, a man who knows the Ectarra like no-one else.”
She points the microphone wand my way as the camera drone swings through a half-circle to bring me into view.
“So, Mister Wilkes, you’re an Ectarra expert?”
I shrug: “Wouldn’t go that far, Charlene. Just been researching them for a while. Come to a conclusion that isn’t popular.”
“We at KBTX are always interested in presenting well-researched alternate views, Clinton. Your work caught our attention and we think it deserves to be shared. So, please, take us through it. But first, for those who may not have heard of Ectarra, would you please give us an introduction?”
“First sightings happened in Scotland. Would’ve been dismissed as Kellas cats, except the pelt colour described was purple, not black. That got some attention. I’ll admit to being one of those who said them people who reported were drugged up. Until it happened to me.”
She raises a hand to interrupt: “You’ve actually seen an Ectarra?”
I nod: “My first thought was that it looked like a wolf and a leopard had a purple-furred baby. Has short fur, mottled with paler spots excepting flanks and face, which have faint black stripes. Its legs end in big pads of feet. I never saw claws, never saw the red eyes blink. I saw it, it saw me, it was gone.”
“That’s where your research started?”
“Yes. Was local sensation for a couple of days. While other people’s interest moved on, mine didn’t. In the eight years from then to now, I’ve followed as many reports, sightings, and videos as I can.”
“You’ve exposed a dozen hoaxes and a smuggling ring while doing it. What else have you discovered?”
“I got the impression of intelligence when I gazed into its eyes. Thought I was a mite touched, then my research brought me to an odd theory.”
“Which is?”
“Ectarra are usually only glimpsed on the move. Videos show them moving with purpose. It struck me they were hunting. Three-quarters of sightings occur close – in time and location – to reports of ‘a bubbling pool of muck’ being discovered. Those so-called spills are attributed to various causes, but are always gone within a few hours.”
“I’m not sure I see the connection.”
“I’ve got no proof of one, Charlene. But you wanted my interpretation, so here it is: they’re not a rare hybrid or laboratory experiment – well, they might be either or both, but they’re not from Earth.”
“You’re saying they’re aliens?”
“Yes. Earth creatures can’t teleport. I saw, and refused to accept for five years. It didn’t ‘dive into the undergrowth’. It wasn’t moving, then it wasn’t there. As for why they’re here: they kill things that collapse into stinking puddles. I’m sure the Ectarra are protecting us. We urgently need to find out from what, and why.”
I stare into the lens: “Got so much data I can’t get through it quick enough. So, if one of the secret government research teams out there could get in touch, I’d be obliged.”
Charlene looks nonplussed, again.
The man in the suit looks nervous.

Judgement Today

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Jesus came strolling through the corn, two women in winged armour following behind. He had a hemisphere of light flickering about his head and nothing caught on his robes as he walked barefoot across our yard to stand in front of my sister, Annelise.
I’d been wondering why she’d stopped playing with the deer that came to greet her every morning. Must have felt his approach. Come to think of it, things did seem nicer hereabouts, all of a sudden.
“Can we take my brother?” her voice is pitched so I can hear.
“No, Annelise. Not this time.”
This time? I thought there was only one Judgement Day?
“But he doesn’t deserve to be left behind.”
He turns his gaze upon me and I’m shot through with light.
“Eventually, for certain – if your Grandfather doesn’t corrupt him first.”
“But Granpaw Trey used to be a preacher. He wouldn’t corrupt anything.”
Jesus gives a little grin, then composes his expression before turning back to her: “You’d like to think so, but it’s not always true. Anyway, we need to go.”
She clutches a posy of daisies against her chest: “Now? I’m sure Granma Laiden would love to meet you, and she makes the best lemonade.”
He crouches down and smiles: “I know. The granny witches of your family and I have talked on many occasions. I’ve no doubt we’ll talk again. You’re right, they make wonderful lemonade.”
Annelise turns and waves to me.
I step off the porch: “Can I ask a question, sir?”
He nods.
“Are you real godly, or one of them alien imposters?”
Out of nowhere, Granma Laiden cuffs me round the ear.
“Mind your manners, Johnny boy. The son of our maker don’t need to show credentials.”
He smiles: “Thank you, Anne Marie.”
Granma blushes: “You remember.”
“Always and everything. It’s my burden.”
There’s so much unsaid interesting stuff between these grown-ups it’s not fair.
Annelise reaches out to tug his robe: “Granpaw’s coming.”
He smiles at me. Again, I feel… Lifted.
“You have other questions.”
How did he…?
“How many you taking, sir? How come Judgement don’t have all the angels in the skies an’ fanfares an’ stuff?”
Granma cuffs me lightly: “Just because you’re talking to a god doesn’t mean you can forget your grammar, my boy.”
He waves a hand: “Judgement isn’t a day. It’s all the time. I come along when someone shows a talent that can be better used on other worlds within Father’s part of the heavens.”
Annelise ‘harrumphs’ at him like she does at me when I’m being tight-mouthed about something.
He chuckles and grins at Annelise: “As I’m being told off, I’ll admit to the occasional extra visit to have lemon meringue pie. You just can’t get it better anywhere else.”
Granma raises a hand.
He smiles: “You don’t need permission.”
“How many, this time?”
“Nine, including your granddaughter. There’s a world in dire need of their gifts.”
She nods sadly and waves to Annelise: “Do good, sweetie. But remember to have fun, too.”
“I will, Granma. Look after Johnny. Don’t let Granpaw corrupt him.”
Jesus and Granma laugh.
The sound of vigorous swearing punctuated with apologies for blaspheming reach our ears.
“Here comes Granpaw.” Annelise shakes her head.
Jesus offers his hand. She takes it. With a flash and a waft of meadowsweet after rain, all four are gone.
Granpaw Trey storms in, pulse rifle waving: “Awright, where’s the varmints? What were them dang lowlanders peddling this time?”
Granma winks at me.
“Redemption, Trey. You scared ‘em off, thanking you.”
“Darn preachers. Can’t be trustin’ them.”

Belonging

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Another flawless afternoon.
“Spin for me.”
I smile and cut a perfect seven-twenty, poised on one heel, arms spread to imitate the mantling of an eagle. As I come to a stop, I let a flash of dragon wings spread down from my outstretched arms before dropping the visuals, transferring, and collapsing into a heap on the couch next to Lizzie.
She squeals, slaps me, then rests a finger on the end of my nose, the other hand raised in admonition: “You promised to stop using instant transference.”
Sinking deeper into my slump, I sigh: “Habit. Too easy to do magic when there’s a yottahertz CPU with a billion cores handling the reality.”
The admonishing hand slaps my forehead: “No-one knows the specs of Heart or Mind.”
“Some might do. It’s only been forty years.”
Lizzie tilts her head in surprise: “Hadn’t thought of that. It’s not like we can ask them, though.”
She’s right. The Ecofleet is still underway, Alcubierre drives sending us toward the eighty-six destinations most likely to tolerate Earth fauna. Until the drives are shut down, each vessel of the fleet is isolated. Even after that, the distances involved will hamper communication. According to some theories, the Earth we try to communicate with may never have known us or may not even have evolved homo sapiens.
“Duty calls, dancing man. I’ll be back in a few thousand ticks.”
She vanishes, leaving an echo of a laugh.
I switch the enviroscape from lounge to Kingley Vale. A friend dragged me there just before we departed. My reluctance yielded to slack-jawed awe as I beheld great trees and primal landscape, the last protected place in the UK, home to the relocated Stonehenge, serene under the biggest Eden dome ever built. Thankfully, I had capture gear in my daybag, so was able to snapshot the place for my personal envirolib.
It’s here I find my peace, a longing that provides no solace. It’s here I understand the increasing number of voyagers who refuse to exit their personal enviroscapes.
We’re humanity renewed, escaping catastrophe and mortality, taking our vision to the stars in great arks, each filled with the seeds of a whole new Earth. Eighty-six strains of humanity will grow from this scattering, guided by the digital host that brought them forth. A wondrous future created by the genius of man.
I don’t think I’m the only one who hides away to cry virtual tears that never hit the ground. We left Earth, righteous and smug about getting to live forever while growing our world anew.
To live forever. There it is. I have eternity to look forward to, yet all I want to do is rest my palms against an ancient tree in a valley forever lost.
Lizzie appears next to me. She looks about in sad-eyed wonder: “Every now and then, I realise full spectrum capture was inadequate.”
I whisper: “He was right.”
“What?”
“The man who showed me Kingley Vale was some variety of pagan. I gave him a hard time about that. The last thing he said to me was something I laughed at. I wish I hadn’t.”
“What did he say?”
“‘It’s not the land that belongs to you, it’s you who belong to the land. You can’t convert another planet to be Earth.’”
Lizzie takes my hands.
“He spoke the truth. All we can do is remember why we yearn and guide our branch of new humanity to do better. Make sure they know they belong. Let them become caretakers as well as a civilisation.”

My Sweet Death

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The airlock used to be palatial. Now the four-metre walls are coated with sickly golden crud: the exudations of a million desperados.
The bouncer is vaguely human. He waves at us: “Leave your weapons here.”
Pointing to an upturned crate next to the inner door, I grin at Ella: “Stay.”
The bouncer looks puzzled. Ella shrugs and thumps her backside down on it.
I smile at him: “Ando Morre.”
He presses the ‘open door’ panel: “Whatever.”
Inside is a typical portside speakeasy. I look about. Weather forecast: stormy with outbreaks of violence.
“Ando, you woeful excuse of a man. Come to do me a solid, brother?”
Definitely come to do you something, chum.
“Parchment Dan. Just the being I didn’t want to meet.”
Yet.
His skin rustles as his face splits nearly in half, letting out a belly laugh. His crystalline teeth glow yellow.
It’s not a pretty sight: “I see you’ve had your head replaced. Is gaudy and tasteless in this season?”
“Ando, if I wasn’t in a good mood, I’d have you diced.” He waves toward a pair of grey-suited guards: cybereyes burning red above lime green ties over pink shirts.
I nod to them: “Matching outfits. Lovely.”
They glower.
“Now you’re being rude. I think I’ll settle for what you net as bodyparts. Boys? Organ salvage this specimen.”
Already? I was hoping for a drink before things turned ugly.
A set of knuckleblades open my armour and my side. Damn, these guards are fast.
“Told you.” She sounds cheerful over our link.
I duck a double cut that crops my hair way too close to my scalp.
“Ella!”
The airlock door glows white, then disappears. A wave of blistering heat blasts across the room – slower than she who caused it.
The cyborg on my left is limbless before he hits the floor. The cyborg on my right brings a gun up, only to lose it along with that side of his torso. I can’t even work out how she did that.
“Ando, what the- Glark! Umodruuuuuuuuuu…”
Dan’s shiny head rolls past, teeth shattered.
The gunfire is incredible. Automatic weapons, both projectile and energy, blasting away.
Silence.
Peering from under my crossed arms, I see why it all missed. Ella was the only one shooting. Having dealt with the threats before they could respond, she spent the rest of the time cutting the kanji for her designation into the wall behind the stage: ‘3774’. The calligraphy is beautiful. Clean strokes, parallel curves.
“That’s outstanding.”
She drops the smoking guns and turns to me with hands clasped behind her: “You mean that?”
“I do. The way you shadowed the bullet holes with consistent char patterns is art.”
My adopted daughter bursts into tears. Smiling and crying, she runs into my arms.
“Love you, slowdad.”
I tap her on the head: “I’m only slow compared to you. I could have taken those cyborgs.”
She looks up at me: “You’re bleeding all over the floor.”
The bad ones only hurt when you notice. I have to sit down. Ella grabs a medibot from behind the counter and sets it on me.
I grin: “Maybe only one of those cyborgs.”
“Next time, I’ll do the guards and you take the boss. No more going in first so you can be cocky.”
There’s real concern in her eyes. My girl, the killing machine, has become so human. They said it couldn’t happen. Which means I can’t let her down. After all, I only get to show off because she’s so dangerous.
“Okay.”
She hugs me until we hear my ribs creak.

Play Nicely

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The view goes negative, then my tummy does the thing where it tries to chuck everything out whichever end is the nearest.
It’s an hour before I can pick up the coffee left by an orderly barely older than my little sister. She doesn’t say a word. Literally runs off as soon as she’s put the cup down.
I need to clean myself up. Then someone needs a crash course in datamancer etiquette.
Stalking down the corridor in clean fatigues, I can see people moving away. I’m sensitive enough to read data as it passes by, and able to adjust it by act of will. It’s not hard to detect the clumps of electrical impulses bundled up in lifeforms.
“Specialist Leeson. What are you doing away from your post?” Sergeant-Major Ipswich sounds annoyed.
“I’m not at my post because it became irrelevant. I’m looking for the shitstick who gave permission for someone to let off an EMP within a half-kilometre of me without warning. Honestly, SM, I’m trying to help, but all your side seem to be able to muster is piss-taking and casual negligence.”
He grabs my arm. Mistake. He lets go and hastens away, convinced there’s a knife fight going on outside the Officer’s Mess.
Slamming through the doors to the command centre, I lean on the console next to the orderly who delivered my coffee.
“Could you get the idiot behind that EMP to come up here, please?”
She stammers. I delve into the console’s data lines and divert the tactical feed from Zone Six to a vending machine in the canteen. Unhappy shouting starts.
I raise my voice: “Which twit ordered the nearfield EMP?”
Shouting continues. I shut off the main display.
“Hey, people. Who ordered the EMP?”
A voice from behind me: “Release the data or I will shoot.”
I turn, slowly. A balding man in an overtight officer’s uniform. He’s got a lot of stripes on his chest and upper arms. He also has a revolver pointed at me.
“If you shoot me, the system crashes.”
“We’ll reboot it.”
I glance at the orderly and smile: “How long for a reboot, Trooper Barrett?”
She sits up: “About thirty minutes, Specialist Leeson.”
I look at him: “How much war can you lose in half an hour?”
He goes a little pale: “Technowitch bullshit. The interference will drop when you do.”
This man is a senior officer in the army that found, honed, and trained me. He hasn’t got a clue.
“I’m an ‘electrosensitive’ with ‘chronic hypermanipulation’. Street slang for me is ‘datamancer’.”
“Boojuns to scare the natives. You’ve just got supercomputers up your fanny.”
The f-?!
His eyes close and he drops like a sack of spuds. Behind him stands a dangerous-looking gent in baggy fatigues and warpaint: bright eyes, big grin. He cracks his knuckles.
“Excuse me, Lieutenant-General Renvers. I’m Sergeant Malc Green, one of your ‘point removal specialists’. This young lady has been kind enough to save my sorry arse twice in the last month, and is about to crawl through three kilometres of mud to fondle a cable so I can slip past enemy detectors, kill someone, and get out of occupied territory once again. Therefore, mind your fucking manners.”
You could hear a pin drop.
Malc takes a deep breath, then winks at me: “Ready to get dirty, witch?”
“Only for my favourite Uruk.”
I smile at him and restore the feeds.
As we head out, Malcolm pauses by Trooper Barrett and whispers: “Dunno ‘bout you, but I’d take the cartridges out of that revolver before he wakes up.”