Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
After Grandma died, Grandpa settled into being the selfish octogenarian teenager he had always been under the veneer of wisdom and mischief. When his body started to fail, he didn’t notice for a while as he played so much. Eventually we had to intervene to save him from himself. Today, he’s viewing his new home, one fully approved by Decade Eight and thankfully affordable.
“But they don’t even have a megabit network interface!”
Give me strength, Grandma. How did you not throttle him with the power lead from his vintage PS4?
“Look; the room doesn’t have a vari-pos screen and the armchair is unpowered.”
At this point, a bright and distractingly bouncy nurse in a blue-green skinjob under her transparent nurse’s suit enters the room. Grandpa’s eyes go saucer-wide, like the first time he’d seen Ellen without the modesty panels in her daysuit.
“Challene Deathblade?” He sputtered.
With a megawatt smile she crouches by him and Ellen, my wife, has to look away from the intimate view provided as Grandpa leans forward to get a better look.
The nurse in cosplay bodypaint has a dazzling smile and her cleavage is seemingly bottomless. “You’re a fan? Oh great. I’m outnumbered by the Empire players.”
Grandpa looks ready to cry. “I used to be a mercenary guild Reptiliad, but I’m useless without enhanced play.”
I know that Grandpa, you spent our inheritance on neural accelerators to compensate for your slowing reflexes. The painted but fundamentally nude nurse leans close and stage-whispers: “Why do you think this place looks so ordinary? We put all of our investment into wireless care. Everything you need is available from dropdown menus, we monitor your body state all the time and prevent more than we have to fix. Plus it gives us a multi-hundred gig bandwidth to parallel you with a fully persona’d neural assistant.”
The look of stubborn non-cooperation on Grandpa’s face vanishes like a switch has been thrown. Ellen doesn’t see because the male counterpart of bouncy nurse has entered the room. Her eyes nearly suck this red-skinned Adonis with brown tattoos clean out of his suit. I need to get her out of here before comparisons with my blatantly ungym rounded padding are made.
“When can I move in, ‘John Carter’?” Grandpa’s voice is querulous and Ellen catches my eye. The advice from the Octogenarian Gamer network had been spot on.
“I see you’re persona non-abode due to mandated residential care, so you don’t actually have to leave, sir. You can scan your flat from here and eyetag everything you want brought over. I’m Doctor Evander Morgan. It’ll be a pleasure and honour to host a veteran gamer like yourself.”
Doctor Morgan’s voice is businesslike, but his pecs flex slowly and I see Ellen’s eyes widen.
Grandpa smiles for the first time in forever. “Do it. Adam, Ellen, you can leave me here.”
Morgan looks at Ellen and smiles. I see the flush spread down the back of her neck.
“We’ll need one of your family to drop in a couple of times to finalise the details. Challene; sorry, Nurse Burton will see to getting ‘Grandpa’ bedded in and implanted.”
Ellen steps forward. “My husband’s very busy right now, but I have no problem coming in when you need me to.”
She smiles straight at Morgan’s chest and I decide that work be damned, whenever she comes to ‘see Grandpa’, I’m coming too.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The speaker hums as the decoder scans for the encrypted channels that the Chendrin use. I know I shouldn’t give in to this ghoulish need to eavesdrop, but I cannot help myself.
“Seventy-four. Seventy-four. Anything on your sweeps?”
“Negative, command. Nothing except asteroids and bits of the last twenty-nine ships sent to find out what happened.”
The Chendrin are a superior race, when judged by their own opinion. They consider us intergallactic upstarts who should remain within a few AU of Earth until we learn respect for our elders. As you can guess, Earthers didn’t take to that idea. So the Chendrin started interdicting us. Pretty soon, it was a war. Problem is, now they’ve stomped our colonies and fleets, they have to prise us from the little outposts and marauder stations. Not that they have worked out the difference yet.
I run a marauder station. I have a whole asteroid field that spans one of the main supply routes for the battlegroup resident in our solar system. I spent a year setting up after I got here, then the fun started. Since then, the Chendrin armada have not received any letters from home. Or anything at all.
“Command, we’re coming up on the wreck of the Cladrana. It looks like it took a pair of direct hits from something with a half-kilometre diameter impact field.”
“We’re sure the Earthers don’t have pressor field technology. It must be something else.”
That’s right, kiddies. The Cladrana played tag with a pair of asteroids and lost. Time to cause an accident. I press the red button.
“Command, encoded burst transmission just rec-“.
The message fragments as the Cladrana explodes, her drives, armoury and anything else that could go bang wired to do just that.
“Booby trap! Taking evasive action to exit vicinity!”
“High and fast, Seventy-four. Rise above the asteroid field.”
That is the last Command will hear from Seventy-four. At flank speed it rises, collecting a terribly advanced thin cable sheathed in stealth wrap. Each end of that cable is firmly attached to a small asteroid. They work out what is going on faster than any so far, then target the asteroids to give them just enough of a push to miss. I watch as maintenance luggers start work on severing the cable.
My turn: I hit the blue button and countermeasures reduce their high tech to ornamental lights for a while. Said while being long enough for the real shipkillers to plow into Seventy-four like a pair of titanic sledgehammers. A pair of 550 metre diameter asteroids with five metres of stealth coatings and a lot of engines will do that.
Oh, that has got to hurt. Seventy-Four just became forty-one and thirty-three.
Threat broken, I release the drones from their hangars deep within another asteroid. They’ll finish up anything that’s warm or beeping then return to base. Meanwhile I can go for a juice pack and a piece of cake, then indulge in a shower and some sleep.
After that, it’s scavenging the pieces of Seventy-four while waiting for the next target or targets. No matter. I have enough traps rigged to take a dozen vessels at once, plus multiple concealed silos to dispense anti-voyeur nastiness against any ships who won’t venture into the asteroid field.
I have every luxury that twenty-five salvaged Chendrin freighters can give me. I have every weapon too. But I also have human ingenuity and no reason to quit. They will lose a fleet for every second it took my family to die when they cracked the domes of Mars.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
John’s my next door neighbour. He’s growing into a fine specimen of xenorchis caucasia. By the look of the scalar development that has absorbed his ears, his head will blossom in about a week. His body is mottled cream and purple, with his extremities shading to a beautiful jade green where they sink into the soil and the wood panelling of his house.
His wife took the kids and fled when he first mottled up. I hear that she’s the beautiful xenorchis negrosa on the Longbridge roundabout. Don’t know what happened to the kids, but infection of both parents gives a ninety percent chance of the children becoming xenomycotina, the fungi that are essential for these xenorchids to germinate.
As for John, I can’t do anything. The religious and legal status of the florated is still a hotly debated topic amongst the few of us who remain Homo sapiens.
Two years ago, we picked up a formation of six vessels as they passed Pluto, travelling faster than anything we had previously seen. By the time the information flashed around the warning systems of the world, they had entered our atmosphere. The world braced itself for momentous events, but all the vessels did was split up in the upper atmosphere and circumnavigate the globe a dozen times before departing rapidly, leaving nothing but a web of intricate contrails that faded before they left the solar system.
It was three months before we realised what they had done. We presume they were doing what they always do, a fast pass to allow them to unload millions of litres of water containing hundreds of millions of spores into the upper atmosphere. The reasons for said remain a mystery.
The spores made their way to earth through precipitation and on the outer skin of anything that passed through the upper atmosphere. Global distribution meant that containment was impossible. It also meant that the predictions of anarchy in the event of a global pandemic were largely circumvented by everybody blossoming at once. Any creature is a viable host. Adaptation seems to depend purely on mass. Elephants, whales and the few other examples of megafauna are moving masses of growth with the underlying creature apparently adapting to its newly symbiotic existence. However, smaller creatures are consumed entirely. Anything under forty kilos is reduced to one of the many subspecies of germination supporting fungi, anything over becomes a species of xenorchid. There are as many species as there are hosts and the only protection is the amount of certain minerals in the host body. Survivors ingest dangerous quantities of potassium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and molybdenum in a daily regimen that is adjusted on a near-weekly basis as further research results come in. Those results also tell us that most flora on earth are now toxic to humans; an unfortunate side-effect, we presume.
As to what happens next, we have no idea. Eighty percent of Earth’s fauna are infected, including ninety-three percent of humanity. We don’t know if any of the resulting xenorchids are edible. Which raises a whole new ethical dilemma. Should we eat what were people if they are the only safe food? Will we be vulnerable to infection from ingested material?
Unfortunately we are agreed on the fact that we will have to confront these issues and a host of others we haven’t fully realised yet. This is not about winning. It’s about surviving.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
OUTCOME: PERPETRATOR FATALITY
INCEPT: 230336 Emergency call made from D40F38CB17: “Help. He has a gun. And a knife. And my daughter.”
RESPONSE1: 230619 LEU on scene.
RESPONSE2: 230728 Call for Policeman.
‘Call for Policeman’. Three words that define my life. Enforcement at all levels has been automated for over four centuries, yet the continuing need for discretion when dealing with humans resulted in real Policemen returning to duty three centuries ago. Machines cannot cope with the diversity of human actions, the nuances of emotion and expression. Lethal force had been applied too many times in minor situations, when decision trees bifurcated their way down to a guaranteed result that actually did more harm than good.
In my first life, I put nineteen years into the police force. On a rainy day in 2043, I was gunned down by a teenager with an assault rifle after intervening in a petty dispute over who controlled the drug distribution rights for a playground.
I had filled in the ‘Revive to Serve’ form thinking it was a joke. I’m not laughing anymore. This is my fourth tour of duty, each one lasting twenty years or until I am killed.
Last night I got the call and made my way to the thirty-eighth floor of Cityblock Seventeen. In Dwelling Forty, what used to be called a family-sized council flat, Mister Stevens had consumed his post-work alcohol ration and augmented it with several grams of something that apparently turned his world into a paranoid hell in which his family were out to get him. So he defended himself. He knocked his wife out with a home-made squeezegun before stabbing his son and the first LEU to arrive before barricading himself in the bedroom with his daughter. The fact he’d managed to scratch the LEU showed how far gone he was.
It was clear from the ranting that he had left the rails completely. He would return tomorrow, all grief and remorse. But for tonight, he was a chef beyond redemption. If he hadn’t grabbed his daughter, the response would be contain until sober and then fine him. As he had a hostage and was out of his mind, I had to try and talk him down.
I am equipped with body armour and full data access, nothing more. If I want physical intervention, the Law Enforcement Units on scene will apply it.
I spent two hours talking to him, hearing how his profession is no longer rated as such due to vending being available for all and no-one wanting to pay for the personal touch. He was angry and sad, seeing the end of his vocation. He’d mortgaged everything to keep his restaurant going, his family’s comfort secondary to the need to keep cooking.
I tried. I always do. The evaluation headware that monitors my effort and mental state flashed an ‘out of options’ decision after ninety minutes. I kept going for another thirty. Then he sliced his daughter’s arm and clipped an artery. I saw his smile and realisation dawned moments before the response to life-threatening injury caused the LEU accompanying me to burn a hole through his skull. Within five minutes, the organ salvage unit had whisked his body away to pay his debts. My data feed told me that his corpse value was enough to pay them all and allow his family to live comfortably for a long time.
Nearly nine decades of service across three centuries and I still see desperate love expressed as ‘suicide by cop’.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The drill slides sideways like it’s got a mind of its own, so I straighten up to lift it clear of the crystal. My vision blurs and I pause to gauge which of the two reasons applies. With a bark of laughter I realise it’s the good option: too much rum.
“Hey Andy, you slackin’ again?”
Milt’s unbelievable, able to track the world around him like a sober person.
“Not enough blood in my alcohol system, ya fruit. I’m declarin’ snacktime. You in?”
“Goddam, boy. You goin’ nine-oh-one on me?”
That’s the medical code for saturation, when your body cannot metabolise enough alcohol to keep the Fenden at bay and let you work.
“Not a chance. I did half a bottle too soon is all.”
“That’s the problem with Jamaican. You should switch to Russian.”
“It’s got no flavour, Milt. If I’m going to pickle my ass, I’ve gotta have somethin’ I can savour.”
“You always did read too much and drink too fancy for a jeweller.”
“Bugger off. I’ve got cold hog and fresh kiwis; last chance.”
“I never said anythin’ bad about your goo-er-may eatin’ habits, boy. I’ll be there afore you have canvas up.”
I grin as I turn and use the drill to punch a post-hole in black rock. Sure enough, I’m just swinging the awning up onto the pole when Milt appears and grabs the far side. In a few moments we’re cross-legged in the shade savouring meat and fruit. From where we are, you can see the company enclave on the horizon. Between us and them lays the glittering expanse of the lowlands, shining like the treasure it conceals. Randell is a pretty planet, the vast crystalline plains reflecting whatever light is about, day or night. Under the plains in striated crystalline clumps is the wealth of the universe, the purest of which make any optical device better and the least of which make women feel appreciated.
When the company opened up the digs, they franchised the ‘jewellers’ and supplied the drugs that make our bodies inedible to the Fenden, the translucent gas things who just love having a human for dinner. Bloodmist outbreaks were a problem initially; when Fenden gorge and get amped up on warm human fluids, they group together and go into a slaughter frenzy. Made mining almost impossible until some doctor discovered that certain chemical additives make humans taste bad. The company had us jewellers over a barrel until Marty Grufe discovered that being pissed up was just as effective. You could buy two months supply of spirits for the price of a one-week shot of the company’s patent protector. Pretty soon, the only sober people on Randell lived in the company enclave. If you’re outside these days, you’re either drunk or dead.
Milt slaps my shoulder and points. In the middle distance, a ruby cloud whirls by. I wonder who we lost today. It’s easy to get so engrossed in a rich lode of gems that you let your regular swigging go. Do that for a couple of hours and you get to be edible, which is always fatal. Every jeweller has a few Fenden nearby, just waiting for him to get careless. That’s why smart jewellers pair up: to live long enough to enjoy their earnings.
I lift a bottle of rum and raise it to Milt. He lifts his vodka bottle and clinks it against mine.
“Here’s to the gems an’ the booze never runnin’ out.”
“Damn straight. Sláinte!”