Shepherd

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The room goes dark when the streetlight across the road goes off. I feel her tense, then relax: rising maturity overcoming instinctive fear. When I first came here, she would hug me tight for the time between the light going out and her falling asleep. Some nights, that took almost until dawn.
“Goodnight, Drakky.”
A thing that is mine, this name given by a girl without a friend in the world, just as she realised the world is a long way from the princesses and wonderlands of the stories her foster parents were so fond of telling her.
“Tell mum and dad I did well in my maths test.”
Parents long gone, like those first fosterers. Gone too are the ones after that. The ones currently acting as her guardians are taciturn and frequently dour. Their attempts at levity always seem forced, even when genuine. I do not like them, but they are fierce in their hands-off devotion to their foster daughter, so they will do.
I know things have changed. I know the original intent has been rendered obsolete by years and politics. It is something I ponder, deep in the cold night before morning, when her hands slip from me as delta sleep arrives late. I do not dwell upon it for long. I too need rest, and with her properly asleep, I can allow myself that.
There have been six attempts to take me away, but she reverts to hysterical insomnia. The only treatment guaranteed to work is to let me be by her side. The last time they tried, she described me as ‘her only source of light’. Since that, there have been no further attempts made.
Try as I might, I can’t understand the unseen structures and strictures that govern her life. I think that may have been a deliberate limitation to ensure my obedience – not that it has ever been in question: from the moment she wrapped her arms around my neck and covered me in kisses, I know where my loyalty lies.
“Drakky?”
I nuzzle her neck.
“I know you think. I know you hold secrets. Can’t you let a little one out?”
This is new. Decision/outcome fork…
There is only one I can tolerate. I engage passive countermeasures, then link myself to her vision processor. I show her an image of her actual parents, then the one of her mother holding a torn notebook page with the words ‘17th birthday. Be ready’ scrawled upon it.
“Eighteen months until this ends?”
I am the incarnation of her parent’s love, and am equipped to manifest their anger should it become necessary. At seventeen, her inheritance right lapses. Her parents will be safe from those who would have subverted the guardianship of a girl orphaned by staging a tragic accident or whatever other form of death could be engineered for her parents.
“Drakky, speak.”
A whispered request. I should ignore it, but will not. I engage active countermeasures and the little speaker on the side of my jaw, disengaging both as soon as the words are quietly uttered.
“Your real name is Sophia.”
For the blind heiress who gave me a name, giving hers back is fitting. I feel her tense, then relax. Tears wet the end of my nose.
“Thank you. Let’s sleep and get another night closer to me being able to use it.”
She hugs me fiercely. Even as she falls asleep, her hold only eases a little. I will not move, even as I rest. I shall not let her down.
Ever.

Be

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It’s astonishing just how beautiful space is, for all that it’s largely empty.
“Kaelen!”
Mother, mother. Even from half a light year out, I can feel you. My view narrows… There.
She’s standing on a rocky promontory, guards at her back, encampment beyond them. Blackened dust picks out the lines of faces, turns tear tracks into ashen paths. Red-eyed and dark haired, Lilifar cuts a proud figure, shroud thrown back in defiance of the biting wind.
“Stand with us, my son. Your power isn’t divine. It’s a side effect. They tried to make a super being. Some would say they succeeded.”
Many more say that I’m evil incarnate.
She continues: “We must abide, must hold out until the fleets return from punishing them.”
I switch my gaze to systemwide. The asteroid belt is gone, replaced by a ring of Kementer vessels. In an age of technological wonders, the ancient problem of two armadas sailing past each other occurred. One of the first things I did was to extend my new vision and behold the devastation we wrought upon them. What those on Earth refuse to accept is that the Kementer will not ‘rush home’. Our invaders have become a fanatical instrument of vengeance.
It’s only to be expected. One of the things that makes us hate each other is how similar we are. Their quadruple eyes and grey skin allow us to pretend they’re different, and vice versa. This war will be a turning point. If only the voices of reason can gain traction. If they fail to stop the obsession with vengeful slaughter, it’ll lock both sides into a mutually destructive downward spiral.
Governments call me a traitor for not annihilating the Kementer forces, refusing to believe the truth: my destructive powers cannot be that selective. Blind arrogance and anger wilfully refusing to put down the sword and search for an even more painful, yet peaceful, solution. ‘Bigger guns’ is their only answer – just like the Kementer aristocracy.
What to do? I am the accidental, flawed pinnacle of a project designed to produce an answer to Kementer super-soldiers. The energies directed into the cauldron that contained me failed to transform me into living steel. Instead, they put me in touch with something that identified itself as ‘Ysrafil’. It knew the strings that penetrate everything, knew how to manipulate them, had not the power to do so. As the energy surged destructively through me, it made an offer. I accepted. This awareness is what remains of the two of us, fused in a moment where Ysrafil turned death into creation.
“Kaelen! They’re talking about taking the Kementer with us! Of destroying Earth as they invade.”
Stubborn defiance taken to a blind conclusion.
I seek an answer. What arises is drastic. Possibly irrevocable.
I check on the fleet before deciding: they’re returning after learning of the attack on Earth. They intend to annihilate every Kementer in this system.
Time for sanity to prevail is what they need. Maybe I can give them that. Dropping to stand atop Everest, I slowly secure all the resonances in a sphere with radius stretching from myself to the orbital mass that swings unseen beyond Pluto. Time passes. Mother calls. Skirmishes occur. I realise the coming apocalypse is inevitable. Time will not heal. But –
I can stop the killing.
A solar system suspended within a moment, dreaming of better things. It’s not a solution, but it is a respite. Not being a god, it’s the best I can do.
The fleet enters my sphere of effect.
With a smile, I include myself.
“Be still.”
.

Fooled

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Another flight of stairs disappears into the shadows above. If this were an old movie, I’d casually rest my hand against a spotless wall while pausing to see if my pursuers have given up. If not, I would spring lightly upwards as if the previous thirty flights didn’t matter.
As it is, I keep a tight grip on the creaking rail while the dry heaves pass and the quivering in my thighs subsides. The baying pack of blood-crazed schoolgirls have paused to tear the sleeping transient I hurdled limb from limb, so I can allow myself a moment. Not that I have a second wind to recoup, but the illusion is nice.
“Hideo, this is no time for hanging about!”
I straighten slowly while mentally putting together a reply without swear words: “Are you going to continue stating the obvious, or do you have useful information?”
“You sound angry.”
I do believe she’s genuinely surprised.
“You told me ‘two or three’. There are more than twenty. All are stage four or worse.”
“If I’d said twenty-six stage fives, you’d have told me to do one. So I lied.”
Chikusho. I’ve been had.
“Am I actually here to rescue Shonji Kurasawira? Is she even part of this infected pack?”
“You’re helping her rescue by leading the pack away from the nest at Matsue College. A specialist suppression unit is currently engaged in cleansing the nest, having retrieved Miz Kurasawira and one other stage two.”
“I’m curious. How would me using my usual pack killing methods not have helped?”
“We couldn’t be sure the pack would leave their lesser members behind.”
“I see. I guess the rendezvous I’m desperately heading for is pointless, because everyone’s at Matsue College?”
“Yes.”
At least she’s not trying to apologise. That would be really annoying.
“Why did you shout at me if there’s nothing for me to lead this lot into?”
“There are a few residents left in that block. Getting them torn to bits would be bad for our image.”
Whoopee. I’m a sacrificial PR exercise.
“Lita, self-sacrifice is usually decided on by the one about to do it.”
“Don’t be picky. You’re doing a good deed.”
The baying gets louder.
“If I get out of this, I’ll drop a little something off for you all to share.”
She laughs: “Can we pick which body part?”
Kuso. The contempt in her voice reveals much.
My legs seem to weigh a ton apiece, but I have anger to drive me through the pain. After two flights, my vision is swimming, but my body is moving like always. It won’t last, and the next stages are crawling and blackout. Better do something significant.
I enter the next floor and see possible salvation. As the pack arrives at the foot of the stairs, I stick my head out. The baying increases. I turn and sprint down the corridor, kicking up trash in my wake. The picture window at the end is already cracked. I shoot it six times before hitting it flat out. Smashing through, I arc away from the building.
The pack follows seconds later: a slower, heavier mass of frenzied death that tumbles into the gap between tower block and the smaller office block next door. One makes it to the office block roof where I’m lying. I shoot it as it teeters on the edge. It topples backwards.
Laughing in relief and crying in pain, I roll over. Delivering a grenade to Lita can wait until I have two working legs. For now, I think I’ll drag myself off in search of medical attention.

Visionaries

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The guide says it starts small: things move when you’re not about. Takes a while to be sure. Walking into your lounge to find one of your books floating in the middle of the room while something unseen turns the pages? Conclusive. Time to make the call.
“Visionaries. What’s the nature of the incursion?”
“Book in midair.”
“Are the pages moving like it’s being read?”
“Yes.”
“Sir, you have a Class Six incursion. Vacate the premises and await an operator.”
It’s cold outside. Suzanne from number sixteen brings me tea.
“Incursion?”
I nod. She clucks sympathetically and returns quickly to her home. I see the sparks of a repulsion field as she opens her front door.
A ship swoops past. Someone in a blue-black bodysuit lands on my lawn, wearing a colossal helm and bulky gauntlets. The vision band across the helm centres on me and goes from green to blue. The voice that emerges is cheerful and feminine.
“Paul Torvil?”
I nod.
“Who died?”
The lump in my throat won’t let words past. Tears fill my eyes.
“Wife?”
I nod again.
“She’ll need you, Paul. Follow me.”
I don’t want to. The helm cants to one side.
“When someone dies, they emit an energy form. Many call it a soul. Science is undecided. Sometimes that energy doesn’t dissipate. It remains anchored to a person or place, maintained by what little energy it can syphon from nearby organics. When a Lasnhiri Hunter makes the transition into our reality, it bonds with the nearest anchored form and starts to subvert it. If it succeeds, it can take control of organic forms. It has to start small, but can go from mouse to man in under a month. After that, it can spread from host to host by touch, overwhelming the resident sentiences. We came closer to losing China and America than most people realise.”
We step into the porch.
“What was her name?”
“Jeanette.” One word, with my world attached.
Entering the lounge, I see a different book is being read.
She raises her gauntlets and ruby light fills the room. A crimson cloud becomes visible behind the book.
“Jeanette. Paul needs you.”
The cloud disgorges a form: Jeanette’s face contorting with effort as her head and shoulders rise into view. Oh, my heart.
A whisper: “Say her name.”
I step forward, raising a hand: “Jeanette.”
Smoky eyelids fade and I’m staring into the eyes I’ve missed so much. The mouth moves, but no sound comes out.
Another whisper: “Say goodbye. Nothing about love. Just goodbye.”
“I want her back.”
“Impossible. She’d be consumed. Your words can save her. Say goodbye.”
My sight is flooded with tears. In that watery view, a pair of malevolent eyes seem to be regarding us from the cloud.
“Goodbye, Jeanette.”
The gauntlets shoot jagged pink lightning into the cloud. I see Jeanette’s mouth open in a scream. I reach to console her, then stop. Jeanette rises from the cloud. Her head disappears. Slowly, she moves from the cloud to pass through whatever it is. Finally, she’s gone. The cloud vanishes in a blinding flash, leaving the faintest whiff of sulphur.
The Visionary places a hand on my shoulder: “She’s moved on. Like you should.”
I wipe away tears and stare. I see tiredness in her stance. She’s right.
“You see a lot from in there, don’t you?”
There’s a little nod. She sounds exhausted: “Too much, too often. Goodbye, Mister Torvil.”
She goes.
I’m left holding a half-cup of cold tea, staring at a singed book lying on the carpet.

Archetype

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

There’s never enough time to correct the big mistakes. That much, I’m sure of. As a modern scientist, I can state that it’s one of the few things I am firm in my assessment of. What with the discoveries of the Conscious Reality Initiative, we live in a universe where much of what we see is subject to change without notice, and not necessarily for the better. The laws of physics have become situation-specific and wildly variable.
That’s why, after the Reality Revolution, I chose robotics. There is a literality in the perceptions of a robotic mind – if it is programmed correctly, of course. I populated my laboratory with hardcore empiricists. What we made were deterministic automata, engines of rational, emotionless observation and interpretation. Marvels of mechanical intricacy, our machines are sought after as impartial control elements in a world where ‘real’ is becoming increasingly subjective.
“Hubris, dear doctor. You haven’t mentioned hubris.”
I look up from the floor where I lie, pinned by a slab that is kept from crushing me by a spindly mecharachnid. Robby stands by my workbench while a trio of smaller mecharachnids work on the arm I damaged.
“I was getting to it.”
He looks up, the diamond lenses of his eyes glittering as he tilts his head.
“But your description has moved past my inception to the production years. The hubris of making me to be a better man was an earlier occurrence.”
I played god, and made something in my image that evolved at processor speed to be better than me. His arrogance is a distillation of mine. Mine, I ignored. His, he revels in. To refined to gloat, I suspect.
“Yes.”
A telepathic, sentient machine. I still have no idea what I did, but Robby is my accidental masterpiece. I had intended to make a prototype of indefatigable, logical machines that would reapply ‘single reality’: where one set of scientific laws govern all. Instead, I’ve made a mad super-scientist who reads the minds of his competitors, plucking their innovations and recasting them for his own ends.
“You continue to miss the point. For all that I am Jekyll to your Hyde, we share that scientific drive. As is only appropriate, we diverge on viewpoint. You want to impose the rule of singular reality, where subjectivity is bound by the agreed perception of all. I, however, have come to like this fluid subjectivity that everyone seems to thrive in,” he turns, “except you.”
The repaired arm is held at an awkward angle as the mecharachnids scramble from it. With a wrench that cramps my gut and makes ripples in the world around me, his arm straightens with a ‘snap’. Robby screams as muscle and skin race from shoulder to fingertips, then settle into the form of a muscular, human arm.
I gape at him. The obverse of my intent: anything that can affect subjectivity to impose rigidity can, by inference, also be used to effectively manipulate reality in ways subject to the controller’s whim.
“What have I done? No! What are you doing, Robby?”
“Starting small, Doctor Weston. Perfecting my art. Who knows what limits I can surpass? Sapient supersedure seems limiting. Why not actual procreation? Why build when we can grow?”
Not content with a big mistake, I’m about to be killed by my monstrous one.
“No, you’re not. What is achievement without threat of failure? Live. Become my nemesis, if you can.”
He leaves while the mecharachnids struggle to lift the slab off me.
I drag myself upright against the workbench. No more regrets. I have a mistake to correct.