I Give the Guns

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“You have to understand. He is an exemplar of all that is godless in our society. He and his ilk will lead us down the road to perdition.”
I reached out and lifted his chin with a finger.
“What will you do afterwards?”
He looked confused.
“Afterwards?”
“There has to be a ‘next’. So many dedicated men fail because of a lack of ambition.”
I felt his trembling intensify.
“Carson. Reagan. Maybe McCartney. I’ll go on to get all the rest, God willing.”
Such irony.
I gave him a gun.

“He’s going to set them free! How can any decent man even consider such insanity? After all we stood for, after all we sacrificed and surrendered, I thought at least he wouldn’t betray us like this.”
I pushed the bottle his way. He nodded in thanks and refilled his glass.
“What will you do?”
“It’s not will, it’s an imperative. I must stop him to save the nation that will emerge from this hellish fight with itself.”
“You have a plan?”
“He’s at the theatre tomorrow night. He’ll be vulnerable in small company. It’s my best chance.”
Petty ideals, but amusing.
I gave him a gun.

“Ilya says it’s all a façade. He’s going to drag the world into a war so terrible we may never survive. His own people know that. They’ve got some ex-marine set up to do it, but his position is useless. There’s a spot by the Book Depository that would be ideal.”
I nodded, as if I had some care as to his reasoning.
“And?”
“When their guy fires, I can get a better line and be gone while they hunt the source of the echo, which his shot is bound to do. They’ll perjure themselves hiding the fact they couldn’t catch the real assassin. Help me stop him. This guy is lying to the people.”
The deceit was not where he thought it was.
That’s when I gave him a gun.

“My homeland must be freed!”
Not drastic enough. I waited.
“Unification is the only way. We must have independence. The archduke has to go. In the chaos that follows, my people will win through.”
That’s what I wanted. His being young enough to avoid the death penalty was a bonus. Incarceration of such a famous radical could have spawned many useful things, had an event of the kind I sought to start not come to pass.
So I gave him a gun.

Those are my favourites. If ever there was a device more suited to evil, yet so often promoted as a tool for good, I have yet to find it. A gun will serve the backhand from on high. I am a being with wealth, refinement, and no need of introduction. My work is precision itself. The game is agreed: one man, one gun. One of the players I gift will bring down your lamentable civilisation.
Time – and firepower – are on my side.

Revelation

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“You’re a killer, Jorn. What you’re doing out here? Everybody whispers about it.”
There’s only so many precautions you can take when you’re planning escape routes. Eventually, you will arrive somewhere others know you want to be.
“Why, matey? We were the finest special ops team. They used our missions as tutorials, man. Tutorials!”
Another fact of military life is that you spend your time hoping to meet soldiers who magnify your skills, and for you to do the same for them. The team gestalt is exhilarating. Betraying it is usually unforgivable. Right now, I’m hoping for a miracle.
“Jorn, mate: you’re done. The rest of the company are scattered across this wasteland. I click once and they’re headed this way, covering every escape option you can think of along the way.”
Tino’s already clicked. This is a delaying tactic. My record of escaping has started coming with bodycounts that make even hardened killers and their masters nervous. I see him quickly tap his belt. His comms have gone dark and he doesn’t like it one bit. Give him his due, he doesn’t show me anything other than that.
Time to try.
“Funny thing about Escalanza, Tino. How we had so many go off mission and never understood why?”
“They stopped enquiries after you vanished.” He flicks a finger up. “You found out!”
Four years. It’s taken him four years, and confronting me, to put that together.
“What do you know about the Nineteen Realms, Tino?”
“All the magic crap from kiddy cartoons and fantasy books rolled into a comfy blanky for tree-huggers, headcases, and cowards.”
There’s the heart of the problem. The revelation about the faerie worlds sent mankind into a collective epiphany of denial. Decades later, they’re still trying to erase the hated reality.
“So why are they still hunting Professor Wong? Why are you still stomping across worlds that seem empty, yet kill hundreds? Why do the MIA counts keep rising?”
I see his brows furrow. He’ll either talk or engage.
His elbow flicks outward. We trained for weeks to get the ‘nought to kill’ time down to quicker than most people can react. The enhanced projectile comes from his open-ended holster at nearly twice the speed of sound. It stops eight millimetres from my face.
She does so love giving me a scare.
“Tiny death,
screaming ore,
fall to nature,
and exist no more.”
The lilting refrain comes from the air to my left. The projectile turns to glowing dust and drifts away on the wind.
Tino staggers, eyes turning glassy. Bastard trick, overriding a man’s own body.
“Mathrey, we need to be gone. They’ve puppeted him.”
He vanishes. A tiny creature of midnight hues appears before me, hovering like a hummingbird on wings of molten silver.
“We knew they would. He was your friend. Their best chance to get close.”
Sick betrayal ending a loyal career. Gods damn them all.
“Where did you flicker him to?”
She rests a tiny hand on my eyebrow.
“To the puppeteer’s fortress in the sky.”
That should get their attention. Nothing like your own human bomb arriving in your command centre to make you cautious.
Two squads of former Earth special forces appear about me, each member with one or more specialists from the Nineteen Realms as partners.
“Mathrey, let First Envoy Kresdall know that I waive my objections. The only way to stop this, and to save the Twentieth Realm, is to save the humans that infest it from themselves.”
“That which Earther politicians call an ‘intervention’?”
“No, Mathrey. We go with honesty, as always. This means war.”

On a Sunny Afternoon in Kentucky

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The sign on the small shack reads ‘Booth 7’. The gate next to it is a long steel pole with heavy chains hanging down.
The uniformed man looks unimpressed, in the way that gate guards have honed to perfection in the many centuries since guarding gates became a vocation.
“Department 51. Fifty… One? Like Area 51?”
The man sitting in the car blinks sweat from his eyes and sighs.
“Something like that.”
“So you’re here to see what the boys and girls brought in last night?”
The man in the car stops blinking. Sweat rolls across his glassy eyeballs as he stares at the guard.
“I wasn’t aware of anything of significance being discovered where that aircraft came down, soldier.”
The guard salutes. Another trait honed by gate guards since time immemorial is the ability to know, without question, when an odd-looking stranger trying to get in is actually so powerful he or she could bring all sorts of trouble down upon them.
“Sorry, sir. I’ll still have to call it in, sir.”
The man in the car nods.
The guard picks up the handset and punches a button.
“Colonel Edwards? Sayers, Booth Seven. I have someone from Department 51 demanding entry, sir.”
He listens for a moment, then puts the phone down, steps out, and walks the gate open. The driver goes by without acknowledging him.
After closing the gate, he re-enters the booth. His partner looks up from the screen she’d been pretending to work at so as not to get involved.
“Sounds like you dodged that right.”
He heaves a sigh of relief, then raises a finger.
“Funny how the Colonel didn’t ask for the bloke’s name.”
His partner pauses, then snatches the handset from the cradle.
“Line’s dead.”
They look at each other, grab their rifles, and dart round to the back of the booth.
“Where’s the line go?”
“We’re at the end of the spur that strings the booths together. It runs from Booth 1 to the base along the side of the main access road.”
“You stay here.”
He watches as she grubs in the earth until she pulls a cable into view. With a grin, she heads off along the fence, dirt spraying as the cable comes up. She disappears into the distance.
A fair while later, she comes sprinting back.
“The wire’s been cut! Our end is spliced into a line that runs out towards the woods beyond the fence. Our radios are dead, too.”
He grips his rifle tighter and looks about.
“What in tarnation is going on?”
The orange and blue flash of the base disappearing in a sphere of crackling energy is all the warning they get. She dives behind a weed-covered concrete divider left behind after resurfacing work on the road. He stands there and watches.
The blast tears him from his feet. His flailing form disappears over a low hill. She braces her back against the divider, willing it to hold. Heat sears exposed skin and chars clothing.
After what seems an age, she rolls to her knees and looks towards the base. A cigar-shaped turquoise object rises from the pall of smoke that shrouds what remains. It hovers, swings about, then accelerates away towards Edgewood.
She lifts her radio and switches it to a general military channel. It clicks and hisses reassuringly.
“Break-break. This is Private Mally Clarke at Camp Fitzgerald. Lone survivor, declaring security breach and disaster state. Emergency, emergency.”
While waiting for the helicopters to arrive, she decides on what will be left out of any reports she makes.

VaccinState

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The room is spotless. There are clusters of four chairs, divided from each other by transparent acrylic screens. The walls are covered in posters, white letters stark against black backgrounds.
The grey-haired woman in the chunky-knit sweater clutches her hankerchief like a child grips a comforter. She gestures to the posters and turns to the younger version of herself sat on the other side of a screen.
“Just reading those makes me want to stop you going.”
Max smiles at her mom.
“They’re designed to scare. Nobody wants to be responsible for taking a disease through, so anyone going has to be fully immunised, and current with their periodic shots, plus being screened within the last week. That’s why we’re separated.”
“But they’re so ignorant. I’m worried what they’ll do.”
“Mom, over there still looks just like over here. Same shops, same streets, same people. The fact they’ve chosen to not be vaccinated makes no change to their lives, except for disease management. That’s why we don’t allow them in, but they allow us to visit. In their eyes, we’re the cowards.”
“But that’s silly! They’re the ones who are scared of science.”
“Mom, I’m not going to have this talk again. Just like you respect the beliefs of other religions, so you need to respect these people’s beliefs, even if they make no sense to you.”
“We should have made them get vaccinated.”
“Beatrice McEldary! Vaxgenics is a banned movement on both sides, just like VXH8. Both are extremist organisations that don’t help anybody with their attacks.”
The hankerchief disappears into a pocket and the other hand points at Max.
“Just because I use your full name when I tell you off doesn’t mean you can.”
“Just because you’re worried about me doesn’t mean you can be rude about people you’ve never met. Honestly, Dolores would love to meet you. The amount of cooking and knitting the two of you would get up to is frightening to contemplate.”
“She would?”
Max nods her head enthusiastically.
“They’re neighbours, mom. There’s a big fence in the way, but they’re only a few kilometres from our house.”
“Mister Oberhaus told me his mother said it was like Berlin in her youth.”
Max nods.
“Never thought of that. I’ll have to interview her.”
“How long will you be?”
“Six weeks work, then quarantine. You’re allowed to visit me during those four weeks: I sorted out the permissions.”
Beatrice looks about nervously.
“I haven’t received a card.”
“You don’t need one. Just come down to the place. Your identity is on file. All you need to bring is your face.”
Max grins as Beatrice chuckles.
“Can’t really leave that behind, now can I?”
Her expression turns serious.
“How long will you be doing this?”
“My contract ends next year. I’ll be there for spring, but the teachers I’m training will be qualified by the summer holidays. After that, I’ll probably drop back a couple of times a year to check in and visit friends.”
Beatrice looks out the window.
“Maybe, when you go to visit, if I got my boosters, I could come and meet Dolores.”
Max blinks in surprise, then gathers herself.
“You could. We need more people to see it’s just a different ideology. They haven’t become monsters.”
She nods.
“I’m guessing it does good for friendly folk to visit, too.”
A low tone sounds.
Max gets up.
“It does. Bye, mom. See you in ten.”
Beatrice watches her daughter step out onto at a street she hasn’t walked down in five years.
“Hate needles. Love you. Time to see the doc.”

The Specimen

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The room is unadorned. No evidence of tooling; not even a scuff mark mars the bare rock. No dust, no insects. Nothing moves. This place is still. It’s uncanny. Unnerving for some.
Jeffrey Palist found it fascinating. He wiped himself down before stepping into the room with a deliberation that bordered on reverence. Taking the few steps across the downward-sloping rock surround, he walked out onto the yellow-striped grass until he stood at the centre of the room.
Fortunately, he left his drone camera on. The recording shows him turning around, clearly looking for something. He spread his hands, uttered the words “I can’t see you”, and dropped dead.
The rescue team didn’t even make it to his body. They each took three steps onto the grass and died. The second team were dressed in biohazard suits and found all organic materials on the first team had desiccated to the point of crumbling when touched.
Jeffrey’s body wasn’t desiccated. It looked like it was melting: slowly seeping into the pale earth. Any striped grass that protruded from the liquid mess was quivering.
A decision was made to leave everything in place until further research could occur. The second team were on their way back when they too dropped dead.
Six days later, beautiful flowers bloomed amidst the remains. Metallic purple, glacier blue, blood red, snow white. Petals arranged around pistils that resembled jade green compound eyes, with no visible stamens.
Five days after that, the petals drifted down and shattered. The compound ‘eyes’ were revealed to be shells, from which golden worms hatched. Those asymmetrical horrors opened rings of glossy black eyes and wriggled toward the exit. People were still panicking when Sarah Jackson noticed they were dying while ascending the rock surround. They shrivelled as they went, falling apart while struggling up the slope to escape. The pieces rolled back and sank into the pale earth.

Nineteen years later, Sarah stands next to me as we watch another batch of worms die.
“So the amount of material only affects the number of worms, not their size?”
She nods.
“The worms are all the same length, give or take a millimetre or two. None of them are more than two centimetres wide. A hundred kilos of animate organics will create twenty. A hundred kilos of inanimate organics, four. Blooming and hatching periods never change. The grass never exceeds eight centimetres in height, and is shorter toward the edges of the container.”
“Container?”
“We’ve monitored this thing for nearly two decades. The room is precisely designed to keep it alive, but nearly dormant: dependant on prey wandering in. The rock surround emits radiation whenever living material comes into direct contact. The worms are killed by a gamma burst that never goes further than thirty millimetres from the rock.
“This whole edifice is largely impervious to penetrative scanning. What we’ve found is baffling: indications that the interior of the rock sometimes exhibits liquid properties. Scanning the grass reveals a hemisphere of living material, flat side about five centimetres below the surface. It’s nearly fills the container. All gaps between hemisphere and rock are filled with the same dirt the grass grows from.”
She turns to look at me, gesturing in the direction of the room.
“This place was designed to keep the hatchery alive, but to never allow the hatchlings out.”
“You’re trying to find out why whoever built this place didn’t just kill the thing, and you don’t believe any of the ‘religious cult’ or similar theories?”
Sarah nods.
“Welcome aboard. We could be at this for a very long time.”