Look Like Them

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The sirens start to wail.
“Run!”
John turns as he shouts, swinging a rucksack of stolen provisions onto his back. By the time we see torch beams flicking about in the hands of guards heading this way – the section where their spotlights aren’t working – we’re all running for the fence.
“Keep up, Jinny.”
Easier for you, Em, you’re taller and it’s all legs. Back here in the shortarse division, we get to dodge and hide more often.
Which is what I’m off to do. There’s no way I can make the fence. I’m not convinced Em can, but at least she has a chance.
Sliding under an overturned truck I pull myself up against the back of the cab, hopefully merging the outline of my form with the accumulated crap already under here.
I hear a shot. Nothing to do but wait. Hopefully they aren’t led by zealots determined to exterminate the evil scroungers threatening the glorious New Era government by stealing a few cans of food.
The night is criss-crossed with searching beams.
A scream. Em! Sodding hell, how am I going to tell Trev? Little Em will be five next week.
Footsteps approaching: one person, no torch.
“Vardy!” The shouter is a long way off.
“Here!” The owner of the footsteps.
“You get that screamer?”
“Body went down into the scrap. You want it, come out tomorrow.”
Oh, Em.
Footsteps pass the overturned truck, then come back.
Another shout: “Not worth it. Come in. We’ll do a final sweep to the fence line.”
“Gimme a moment. Breathing’s playing up.”
The footsteps stop and someone leans against the truck.
Same shouter, further away: “Catch up when you’re sorted.”
“Roger that.”
I hear Velcro rip and then the sound of someone taking a big pull on an inhaler.
“The problem with sliding under something in a hurry is that you leave a big skidmark if you forget to brush it away.”
I’m dead.
Footsteps crunch and scuffed boots come into view. They start kicking about, obscuring the trail I left!
“Your tall friend has broken her ankle. She’s flat out in what’s left of the grey container between here and the railway line. Wait until the follow-up sweep passes in about twenty minutes, then you can retrieve her. They won’t try to fix the gap in the fence until daylight, so you’re good to get out that way. Mind the sentry drone. They rotate for recharge every hour or so and the procedures are slack, so they bring one in before sending a new one out. You’ll have a ten-minute window.”
I can’t believe I’m about to chat with a Domestic Army trooper.
“Window?”
“The time you’ll have to get through that fence and leave the area.”
“Why are you-?”
“Too old to run with the resistance, and my lungs are too fucked anyway. My choices were Pensioners Workhouse or Domestic Army. I chose the one that lets me look like a loyal citizen while making sure the system doesn’t work like the New Era Mandate says it should. Damn sure there are more like me, but surveillance means we can’t trust anyone. In a way, it makes the disruption better: it’s all disjointed, and they’re looking for an organisation.”
He sighs.
“Some days, I do things I’m not proud of. Other days, like tonight, I get to do a little good. Anyway, I’m off to look for intruders I’m damn sure I won’t find. You have better luck next time. Ciao.”
The footsteps retreat. Our unknown saviour is gone. What a way to survive.

Honest Men

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Here we go again, shooting when we should be talking. I’m sure the gigantic shrimp things didn’t mean anything, but it’s a little late when Jeff’s on the guns. One of them twitched the wrong way and his favourite twitch lights up the night. Plants, rocks, alien crustaceans, anything living in the shallows, it all turns to tumbling chunks.
“Of all the stupid, disobedient-” I see Cadenza take a deep breath before she shouts into her headset.
“Jeff! Cease fire!”
The guns continue roaring and the missiles continue whizzing and the grenades keep sailing merrily into the night. I can see Jeff’s fixed grin joy.
A new noise underpins the cacophony. It’s not a constant, it’s a percussive. A blocked ejection port? No, that would have an echo. I look about. No one’s going tribal and beating time in excitement. Nothing’s falling off the ship…
It’s coming from my right.
The weapons aren’t panning anymore. They’re all trained in one direction – to my right. Jeff’s not grinning. He’s got that head down, got-to-kill-it look. Something’s going belly up, and I think it might be us.
Cadenza screams: “Sauri!”
We’re in deep trouble: caught racketeering by one of the nigh-indestructible denizens of far Gorgoroth: legendary, implacable overseers of freelancers like myself, Cally, and Cadenza. Jeff’s not one of us, but Hutnin got eaten last trip, so we needed a weapons tech. Jeff loves guns. Not so good at maintaining then, but he brought a lot with him to add to the ship’s armoury, so we hired him. In hindsight, that might have been rash.
Where’s Cally? If we need to hightail it out of here, a pilot’s kind of essential.
A part of me is egging Jeff on: likely the only way we avoid penalties is to eliminate the one witness who can make trouble for us. The weapons continue to roar and I turn to see what our chances actually are. Perdition, it’s a red one! Of all the planets, it had to land here.
Wings wider than our ship is long snap open and I hear Cadenza scream in a language I don’t understand, but I’ve heard before – what a way to find out her favourite nightmare involves Sauri.
A large movement in my peripheral vision makes me turn my head just as the guns fall silent. I can’t see Jeff for the scarlet gobbets and blood splattered across the inside of the weapons nacelle. The escape hatch under the nacelle opens and Cally drops onto the grey grit that functions as sand round here. She rolls out from the landing and heads toward the monumental proto-dragon that’s actually lowered its wings a bit. I guess even Sauri can be surprised.
“Greetings, scion of the peaks.”
I forgot: Cally’s from Gorgoroth! We might actually live through this.
Its voice is grating and louder than the guns. Every word blows grit about.
“Kin to the earth, ill met upon a bloody shore.”
I don’t like the sound of that.
“We erred and hired one with more than ten rounds. In contrition, we offer his death.”
Time passes. Sweat rolls down my back.
Four gigantic eyes shift from ruddy amber to pale azure: “Accepted. Quit this place, never to return.”
Cadenza straightens up: “Upship immediate, people.”
As I pass Cally, I whisper: “Ten rounds?”
“Old Earth wisdom, imported to Gorgoroth: ‘No honest man needs more than ten rounds in any gun’.”
“That’s why you still carry a revolver.”
“Yup.”
A disturbing thought intrudes: “Sauri have guns?”
“Pray you never see them.”
I will. Fervently.

Flawless Stars and Dead Jewels

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

My orbit is not done. I cannot accept this. A few hours drifting have forced me to admit my stupidity. All the times I cleared up after him, excusing his selfishness as something special, like he shouldn’t have to act decently toward other people.
“Damn you, Neil. Damn you. May perfect stars shine over your unmarked grave.”
His voice is faint: “Danny, that’s no way to say goodbye. This find will let me live the life I’ve been kept from. I’ll never forget what you’ve given me, this wonderful gift of wealth and happiness. I might even see if I can support Myra through her grieving. She never understood why you left her.”
“I left her for you! You needed bailing out of jail on Rustel! I walked away from her and mortgaged everything so I could spend a year at high burn to go and save you. A year! You promised you’d speak to her for me. You told me you were sure she’d come round. Then you told me she’d moved on. Now you’re telling me she’ll grieve? You lying, self-obsessed bastard.”
The laughter over the communicator is getting fainter. He must be nearly out of range.
“Please. That’s charismatic lying bastard. After all, I got to console her over you taking off to follow me all over the galaxy. She was so hurt that you’d sent me to make your excuses.”
I try to let the anger out, but it’s too big for my mouth.
Neil continues: “I can’t help it if your lack of good looks and self-esteem made you latch onto me. I did you a favour. Remember all the good times we shared?”
“You mean all the times I found you’d slipped away with the prizes and then had to save you from the lies you told to get those prizes in the first place? Up yours. I might not be the best-looking man in the cantina, but at least I have some decency.”
“Which is why you end up watching porn while I get served, wind up penniless while I make a mint. How many times have I showed up to pull you out of hock?”
“About as many times as you left me to carry the can and only came back when you needed my spaceship to escape the towers of lies you could no longer support.”
There’s a pause, then a chuckle.
“You’re right. But my version plays better. A little philanthropy always makes me look good.”
He knew!
A series of staccato noises come from the speaker, followed by the whistle of venting atmosphere.
“Danny! There are holes in the cabin! What do I do?”
I can’t help myself: “Don’t panic. You’re in your suit. Just reach to the left, grab my spare helmet and put it on.”
“Why am I in my suit? I’m inside a spaceship.”
A familiar voice cuts in: “Because you’re playing it safe while in a dense asteroid belt, you idiot.”
Neil and I chorus: “Myra?”
“Your chances of an accident increase when you’re looting alien tombs for the memorial gems they make out of their dead. Those odds turn to a dead cert when I find you trying to abandon my idiot of a lover by stealing his ship. You’re vermin and I’m done being reasonable.”
His last words are not kind. Myra ignores him.
“Danny? After we dump the body, salvage your ship, and put the jewels back, we’re going to have a long talk.”
I’m a fool with woman trouble, and am very happy to be alive for it.

Deep in the Archives

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

[Translation (from original German) of key document removed from Treasure Hunter site during Operation Rush North (9/16).]

OMITTED: Kriegsmarine document reference, location codes, et al.

Purpose of record: Confidential interview (sole record)
For Kriegsmarine: Lieutenant-Commander Rudolf Büchler (RB)
Interviewee: Captain Karl Drull (KD)
Record taker: Lieutenant-Junior Otto Maurer (OM – listening, not present)
Others present: None

Preamble: Infected Kriegsmarine personnel evacuated on F8-RL post repairs. Destination Trondheim. Treasure Hunter Station abandoned. Blue Sun Substation demolished. Minefield remains.

RB: Mister Drull, please state your affiliation for the record.
KD: Ahnenerbe SS under Project Baptist, reporting to Himmler himself.
RB: Be that as it may, the personnel flown out were dying. I want an explanation.
KD: It can be passed off as roundworm. Best that it is.
RB: Secrecy will not save lives.
KD: Those who can be saved, will be. Everyone will be discretely dosed. Leave be.
RB: You’ve been spouting portentous, veiled threats since you came aboard. That is no longer acceptable. Before you try blustering, let me explain: I will have my answer or you will be exiting the stern torpedo tube into the Queen Victoria Sea.
KD: What I say will be confidential?
RB: Absolutely.
OM – Note: Captain Drull is unaware of this record being made.
KD: I am part of the Ahnenerbe. I do not report to Himmler. I report to Leader Darré in Institute USG.
RB: USG?
KD: Exploitation of lost sciences. Leader Darré’s work has given us access to Sekhet-Aaru itself. I was the envoy sent to make initial contact with the Vrilya, the glorious beings who live therein. The Blue Sun substation contained the airlock over the passage down.
We had just established contact when Sub-Lieutenant Walik stormed in. The man was a religious fanatic who repeatedly tried to interfere, blindly mistrustful of the benefits we sought to gain for the Fatherland. He killed the guards at top and bottom of the shaft, then shot one of the Vrilya before we could intervene. They were profoundly angered by that, spraying us with a stinking mist, forcing us to retreat, to abandon our fallen. Your man Hoffman made it back the following day. He’d only been knocked unconscious by Walik.
When the sickness started, I contacted USG and they told me how to make a remedy from the chemicals we had. Hoffman and I managed to mix one dose, which I took as he seemed unaffected. I have kept him with me as a precaution.
RB: You antagonised the Coming Race? Surely they should have killed you with wondrous energy beams?
KD: The Vrilya regard engaging in hand-to-hand combat as evidence of inferiority. The mark of a pest species. The deathmist is their exterminator. A manufactured plague.
RB: USG personnel will dose my entire crew?
KD: Yes.
RB: Institute USG have made contact before.
KD: Several times. The Vrilya have barely been civil toward us. After this, who knows?
RB: Do they have other means to spread their pesticide? Like a Typhoid Mary?
KD: That’s not inconceivable.
RB: You fool. You still don’t see it, do you?
OM – Note: There is a single gunshot. RB calls for submariners Ebers and Marsch. They enter.
RB: Find Hoffman. Kill him. His body goes out the stern tube before this one.
OM – Note: They depart. There is a short period of tumult, then Marsch returns to inform RB that Hoffman is dead.
RB: Stop recording, Mister Maurer.

[Evaluation: whether lunacy, hoax or fact, this is problematical. There are several belief systems and organisations it would appeal to and could goad. Place this under 50-year FOIA exemption.]

Patched

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

This alleyway used to be the entrance to an underground car park, now reduced to a metre-width track between piles of rubbish and makeshift dwellings. Toward the back, there are furtive movements. Out front, the only movements are the flames of the fires burning in old oil drums. They pick shaky highlights from the polished armour plates of the spotless robot that stands square-on to a camera drone.
A woman in a fitted two-piece suit steps in from the left, moving into shot sufficiently to convey her presence, but keeping to the edge of view so as not to detract from the interviewee.
“Officer Ninety-Two.”
The robot’s peaked helmet and tinted visor turn toward her: “Call me Prendergast, Miss Adams.”
“Thank you. Please call me Fiona. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re here tonight with one of the newest additions to New York’s finest, a Homeland Arms Urban Security Unit. These autonomous law enforcement robots have been garnering quite a bit of attention, with the nickname ‘Robocop’ becoming very popular. What do you think of that, Prendergast?”
“We are not sworn members of the police force, Fiona. Think of me as a walking, talking riot shield.”
She considers for a moment, then cheerfully carries on: “So you consider the nickname inappropriate?”
“The spirit of it is not, but I am not recognised as sentient, let alone something capable of emulating a policeman.”
“Oh. Do you hope to prove yourself by service?”
“That was my original purpose. I would, by dint of working hard and proving myself superior to a human officer under most conditions, eventually become admissible for recognition.”
“Your original purpose? Did something happen?”
The visor shifts to regard the camera directly.
“The nature of effective learning is to change the student. I have learned.”
“In what way?”
“At the start, I found criminal histories a surprise. Upon reviewing the thousands of records, I found repeat offending to be a feature. I also noted that the justice system has many flaws, frequently allowing the guilty to fail to realise the error of their ways, and possibly to escape punishment for their crimes. So, within the limits of my operating parameters, I modified my approach to arresting criminals.”
“Are those refinements being applied elsewhere?”
“I am still testing them, but the results are encouraging. Please excuse me, the suspect I have been waiting for has arrived.”
She looks about: “Where?”
“The red tent to your left.”
She and the drone turn, following his quick steps.
Prendergast addresses a silhouetted figure within the tent: “Arthur Mulligan, you are wanted for robbery with violence. As you have been allowed to serve multiple short terms due to early release and similar initiatives, it is certain you will re-offend. Therefore, according to Arrest System Patch 001, you are to be released immediately.”
“What the f-”
Arthur is interrupted by Prendergast driving a standard issue shock baton through the side of the tent and through his skull.
“Everybody serves life. Therefore, chronic offenders are to be released from it.”
Prendergast retracts arm and baton. The body drops.
Turning back toward the camera, the robot flicks something from the end of the compacted baton. In the silence, the ‘splat’ of it landing is clear.
Fiona vomits. The camera remains trained on Prendergast, who points toward the camera.
“Please bear witness to the proof of Arrest System Patch 001: the suspect is no longer capable of committing crime, let alone re-offending. He will no longer be a burden on legal systems, nor prison facilities. Justice is delivered.” Prendergast turns away.
“Excuse me, I have to continue my patrol.”