Bleeding Edge

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Space glittered as if strewn with crystals, millions of fragments ranging from a few kilos to hundreds of tonnes reflecting the distant sun. Colonel Defarris turned from the screens, right hand waving in frustration as the left raked his hair back.

“Stop me if I missed anything: Twenty centuries ago, the planet of Salarden was united under a single leader. He decided that the use of range weapons weakened a warrior’s resolve and instituted hideous penalties for owning anything capable of killing at a distance. That has resulted in an interstellar nation that considers any race using ranged weapons inferior.”

Captain Reonid nodded. “Correct.”

“That’s FUBAR.”

“Not really, sir. It’s just strange to us. Their culture hybridises the British chivalric model with the codified society of feudal Japan. The military caste call themselves Ledarnin. They are masters of a new form of interstellar combat.”

Defarris deadpanned: “Space-fu?”

Reonid smiled. “Stilettos.”

Defarris looked horrified. “Transvestite knights?”

“Not shoes; knives.”

“What?”

“The Ledarnin went into space and had to find a new way to melee without breaching what had become a racial psychosis. They started with forms of jousting, then as technology advanced, their ships became their lances.”

Defarris spun and pointed to the screens. “Are you telling me that space-knights charged the Sixth Battlegroup?”

Reonid sighed. “They call them Sunderlaw. Imagine two stiletto blades mounted at ninety degrees to each other. Where the crosspiece would be is the cockpit. The hilt is where the engines are. The ‘blade’ is made of an incredibly dense alloy and is a hundred metres long. The cockpit is housed within enormous armoured shock-damping mechanisms and the engines are immense. Their commanders each have ridiculous cityships called Bowcastles. Each one has a complement of pilots sworn to dedicated service. Wars are settled by chosen champions, fighting one-on-one. The duels take days or minutes, depending on who makes the first error. The skills required to impale a cockpit or disable a drive are precise. The ships of the Sixth Battlegroup were nothing more than slow targets to them. Our energy weapons are useless against the alloy of the Sunderlaws and our shields cannot cope with huge objects travelling that fast; in normal space, there is nothing faster than the mark eleven Sunderlaw.”

“We have armoured hulls!”

“Our definition of adequate armour will need revision. There is vidmon of a Sunderlaw going through the ‘Vanquisher’ bow to stern without slowing appreciably.”

Defarris choked out: “That’s a kilometre. Good god. We’ll have to stand off and bombard Salarden.”

“And only kill non combatants. Their entire military caste is based in Bowcastles and there are hundreds of them. The bigger ones are damn near the size of our Moon.”

Signalman Talloe ran on to the observation deck, message pad in hand.

“Sir! Flash from Earth!”

Defarris took the pad, keyed it and paled as he read out the opening paragraph: “The Bowcastle ‘Dawnheart’ has appeared and deployed two thousand Sunderlaw inside Mars’ orbit. The Lords of Dawnheart have informed Congress that they will perform a ‘Glory Strike’ on Earth unless we recognise the sovereignty of the Salarden Empire.”

Reonid checked the glossary: “That’s using Sunderlaw as manned meteors. They have the speed and weight to penetrate atmosphere with multi-kiloton impacts.”

Defarris sighed. “We are ordered to stand down. Negotiations are underway.”

Reonid looked out at the sparkling remains, his voice sorrowfully quoting an ancient memoir: “When sufficient crosses cannot be found to mark our fallen and blades are at our children’s throats, let the battlefield remain unmarked, for we did not fight. We were massacred.”

 

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Fine Line

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

My father always told me that there was a thin line between bravery and stupidity. Just like genius and insanity, it frequently comes down to time, place, outcome and who’s doing the judging.

Right now, I don’t need to check with any judges. This is stupid and insane. I am hanging, angled head down, from a kilometre length line woven from graphene, carbon nanotubes and synthetic spider silk. I’m naked under the sightbender bodysuit and the anchor points at my waist, knees and shoulders have been carefully needle-pointed through the suit and superglued to my skin, which has Kevlar weave bandages reinforcing those bits. Did I mention the stealth gel between skin and suit? I don’t sweat or anything right now and will die in about forty minutes if I’m not hosed down.

All the high-end sneakery is to place me above the target without being detected by some very thorough and murderous security. This piece of lunacy was suggested by yours truly in a moment of drunken insight a week ago. Well, what I actually said was: “We need a flying chimp with a spear to pop that dome.”

All I have to do now is use the carbon fibre composite bow to shoot the molecular-point diamond-tipped arrow through the forty metre diameter dome a hundred and twenty metres below gently swaying me.

The Thodmuk come from a deep subterranean culture and are methane breathers. After their initial assault, they adapted the Purbright mine complex as it has the right composition and depth to contain a pressurised methane atmosphere. This one arrow could change the course of history.

Ignoring the pains and the view, I nock and draw smoothly to my cheek in one movement as my father taught me. Relax, sway, aim, breathe in, breathe out, sway, breathe in, breathe half out, hold, sway, release –

*

I wake up a month later after they transfer me from the immersive healing vat to the silken hammock. All I remember is being a comet, hurtling through the sky, leaving a trail of incandescent me.

They tell me that’s not delirium. When I shot the dome, it ruptured savagely, and ripped some power conduits. Sparks and high pressure combustible gas resulted in a plume of fire jetting a kilometre into the sky.

I was a hundred and twenty metres up, remember? The plume blew me away. To the limits of my line, anyway. Which snapped. Fortunately I was glued to it, so the western winch anchor defined the radius of my arc, which terminated in a lake just under half a kilometre away. The hard water effect should have killed me, except I was completely relaxed: unconscious from the seventy percent burns inflicted by the flammable stealth gel under my only slightly flame retardant suit. I’m going to be in agony for weeks, but if the line had held I’d be a crispy speck dangling over the smoking crater where the Thodmuk used to live.

I’m going to be decorated for bravery when I have skin all over. The bloke who came up with the plan is being hailed as a genius.

Like I said. Results and judging. Because my opinion of him and the Thodmuk opinion of me are a lot less complimentary.

 

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Marooned

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It’s been ten years since the Humanis Confederacy swept the Roekuld from the Spiral Arm in a rebellion that no-one thought mankind capable of. In six months we undid the defeats and treacheries of fifty years. Victory was absolute and mercy forgotten.

We. Sadly. My blood is tinged with green and I can read thoughts within eight metres. I am a Rho-Ka-Mismeja, elite of the Absalon Rage, premiere commando of the Roekuld. I trained for five years to join humanity. Underwent six months of irreversible surgery, losing a half metre in height and a digit from each appendage. But the ‘man’ who joined the harvest labourers in Barron, a small town on the frontier world of Fettya, had the rugged features and hefty build that marked the nomads of the mountain ranges. My willingness to work and drink got me accepted, and after the winter I moved to Dellaban, the capital city. Command knew there was something major being planned. I had barely been accepted into the resistance when that something became the end of my race.

I spent a year as a homeless drunk, risking the minimal chance of detection. Only a small group of humans pursued the ‘shadow company’. The rest thought that we only existed in wartime myth. A year later I had become a vagrant when my remaining comrades commandeered an armoured freighter to strike at the heart of the Confederacy. I saw their final broadcast, all vengeful fury and bared teeth. They were blasted to dust and humanity celebrated the end of the Roekuld. I was alone, yet never regretted being too drunk to answer the final call to join them.

Three years later I returned to Barron, welcomed back like a prodigal son. Two years after that I had become the town smithy, with a profitable sideline in unusual jewellery: unusual because it used designs from my disintegrated homeland.

Early one dawning I was staggering home when a thought hit me: “You smell like a hebegraf.”

I spun round too fast and fell in a heap, opening my eyes to see a pair of grey eyes framed in a mass of tawny hair. She raised a hand so I could see one of my bracelets on her wrist.

“Your work made me cry. To see Lethdargil scrollwork again was something I never expected to do.”

I lay there as shock chased the hangover away. The smell emanating from me became all too clear. I smiled. “I remember hebegraf smelling better. Apologies, I thought myself alone.”

“I am Atanel of Palameen.”

Images of that vast, lush tropical delta spotted with small communities came to mind.

“Bushlarl of Lethdargil.”

She smiled. “The mountains bred another metalworker?”

“Family trade. Here I am Bush.”

“Atane.”

While I washed, she made breakfast and we spun to each other, the affinity of thought sharing healing us in places we had thought unreachable.

“I was wallowing when the last call came. I was the only one to refuse and had to waste half a year out of my mind so they could not find me. Then I wandered until I saw your bracelet. That was a year ago.”

She appeared in the doorway, mugs of steaming broth in hand and a faint smile on her face. “Shall I be your sister or first love?”

“First love, please. The drinking was only partly to forget. It also kept Barron’s marriageable women at bay.”

She laughed. I knew then that we could share, finding a refuge in each other’s mind while Barron became a comfortable place to slip unnoticed into extinction.

 

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Train Train

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Thundering down the kaleidoscopic tunnel at point four light and all’s well. Got a cold vodka sliding down to join the steak and chips delivered from the catering car as I look over to where old Max is interfaced to the drive arrays. The screens show that the drives are lime green across the scales. Not even straining.

I flick the broadcast switch and pass the news: “Fems and Gens, we are now riding the fastest man-made thing in all creation.”

We’re due to arrive at Stevenson Station in an hour. It’s in free space, as the wormhole generators and deceleration matrices work better the less gravitic influences they have about them. I’m looking forward to the look on Corvanto’s face as we pull in a full hour ahead of his much vaunted express.

Max slaps me on the head and points to where an urgent message flag is lit. I’m meant to be handling the peripheral boards while he has his hearing, taste and smell slaved to the drive arrays.

I hop from my seat and hit the read pad: MATRICES DAMAGED BY UNSCHEDULED OVERSPEED ARRIVAL AND TOTAL LOSS OF MALLARD TWO AT POINT THREE-ONE LIGHT. FLYING SCOTSMAN TWO MUST ENTER MATRICES UNDER POINT ONE-FOUR LIGHT OR RISK OVERSHOOT.

Overshoot? A slight understatement for becoming technicolour mince smeared across two star systems. Corvanto had obviously only partially succeeded in his industrial espionage: he got the accelerator plans. The greedy fool had implemented them without thought for the ability to stop several thousand tonnes travelling at double the speed rating of current catch matrices. I slide into the seat next to Max and slap the auxiliary interface cap onto my head.

“Max, we’ve got a problem. Corvanto’s express just tore up the sandpit and buffers at Stevenson as it smeared. We have to come in under point one-four.”

Max nodded: “Point one-four? They’ve had to switch arrivals to the old catch matrices. Our decelerators are only designed to resonate with the new units.”

Oh yeah. Forgot that little complication.

“I’m open to suggestions, Max. You’ve been riding star-locos since they first pulled out. If anyone can stop us becoming fractal patterns on infinity’s cloak, it’s you.”

“Your confidence is touching. Really. Now go and tell the luminaries to sit down and strap in while I think.”

I had just finished when the Scotsman shuddered and creaked. A big, unhappy, metallic groan that vibrates your bones. Things this big just do not do that, especially in the midst of wormhole transit! I leap across and slam the interface back on my head.

“Max!”

“All under control. There’s going to be more noises, but don’t worry.”

“Worry? I’m about to spontaneously pass kittens.”

Max smiled. “Then we’ll have three firsts to declare on our arrival.”

“Okay, give. We’re going too fast to slow down in time using the usual drop-off. The matrices at Stevenson cannot hold us. What have you done?”

“This loco is a streamliner. Each car has drive arrays, instead of putting big grunt up front and pulling the carriages in its wake. Simply put, the rear cars are now trying to go back home instead of forward. I’m keeping the stress margins under eighty percent and adding cars to the reversal as the hulls accommodate the stressors. I calculate we’ll enter the catch matrices at point one or less. I don’t want to push the impact loading after stressing the hull in strange ways.”

“That trick could make big decelerator matrices redundant.”

“I know. I had the idea decades back, but no-one would let me test it.”

 

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Run Like Hell

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

How does hell run? If it’s moving as fast as your legs can carry you without thought for obstacles or turns, then I’m doing it. Bruised from hitting lamp posts, walls and other things that help you turn at full pelt. I’m bleeding and half-blind but so far I’m ahead of it.

It? Sorry, I have no other words to apply. We led this scientific field for years, having used the one thing our competitors did not: we looked back at the Victorian inventors and went through their work with a granularity never before applied. We used our research grants not for the latest technical advances, but to pry long unseen manuscripts from private collectors.

[ Please excuse the pauses in updating this blog, but the concentration needed to hurdle or scramble around things means I have to resync my headwear after each lapse. ]

We found a notebook written by Tesla, something thought to be non-existent. In there, we found the missing pieces of his wireless electrical field work, along with some vague notes regarding his decision to abandon it due to ‘unexpected phenomena’.

So we got busy and pretty soon had the bugs ironed out, or so we thought. In a world where access to webinfra was key to getting anywhere, having the power to run your latest device is essential. Mobile gadgets have been on the bleeding edge of battery technology for years. Our little (re)discovery meant that you could use them all, anywhere where a Colorado Field was operating. We named it after a Tesla test site, yet never noticed that he ensured all tests after the first were always staged far from population centres.

So after a couple of demonstrations, we had investors and media attention. That led to the usual safety and licensing rigmarole, but we had enough funds in discrete places by then to sidestep the slow grind of authority in the accepted ways. Sunderland offered us the best incentives and had an established technology base. It only took a year to establish broadcast towers, several of them built inside the old box frame electrical pylons, giving us plentiful power and established security perimeters at minimal outlay.

Media attention was focussed on this innovation, so we scheduled the startup for just after dusk on a Friday evening. People could party all night and update the world and their less fortunate friends in the newly battery-free city of Sunderland as enhanced reality projections lit the streets.

The bulbs flashed and the cameras panned as the Minister for Energy pocketed his expenses, made a speech and flicked the switch. The lightshow was everything we had predicted. The hum faded to silence as predicted. Then the screaming started.

Tesla’s phenomena had been transient and caused nausea with rashes on prolonged exposure. We amped the field up by a thousand percent and distributed it over ten thousand acres populated by a quarter of a million people. The phenomena we manifested were full blown entities, composed of charged particles and attracted detritus around a core that originates from somewhere I have no idea of. Some reports put the initial manifestations around graveyards, which makes me think of non-scientific explanations that terrify me despite my scepticism.

If you’re still seeing feeds from Sunderland, trust me when I say it’s worse than it looks.

I insisted on the control room having a manual kill-switch. That room is three blocks away and I am sure the phenomena are aware, somehow.

Signing off as I need to concentrate on running like hell.

 

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