Nervous

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It looks too soft. This thread-like network of blue filaments and their pale red host substrate cannot possibly give me my right arm back. For the eighteenth time, I reconsider my decision to volunteer for this experimental procedure.

“Incredible stuff, Axian, its incredible stuff. Just put it in a nutrient bath and it grows from the tiniest pieces. If this works, you’ll be the first of many.”

The procedure room is spotless, the nurses gleaming from their sterilising scrub. That is the only drawback; this stuff decays really quickly and is subject to a ridiculous range of degenerative parasites. But they think that they have dealt with that in this new strain, something about sealed polymeric sheathing filled with nutrient gel.

Surgeon Dix is the best. He has already refused to commence three times because some small detail had not been attended to. With his optics, those details had been very minute.

“Rest easy, Axian. The sonor-pulse will send you into a fugue state where all your vitality will be stable but you will be unaware of the less pleasant aspects of disassembling your arm.”

I give him a weak smile as the pulse starts and I fade away.

The light is bright and my arm is warm. I sit up suddenly and the nurse looks up from her monitoring station.

“Welcome back.”

I ignore her as I lift my right arm to take a closer look. The armatures are still there, the fine calligraphy etched by Bilinta spotless for once. But as I rotate it, I see that deep inside, black tubes run up the core of my skeletal system. I increase magnification and see the fine filaments extruded from this black mainline that fan out into the outer frame. I tap my forearm and beep in surprise. I felt that. Twenty minutes later and I am deep in discussion with Surgeon Dix.

“I can feel things on the arm, even base spectrums like heat and cold.”

Dix nods.

“That was a possibility. The archives show that viscus sapiens had such sensitivity over their entire surface area.”

“They could sense with their bodies?”

“Only pressure and related direct stimuli. Tactile input.”

I shake my head. Imagine being able to feel the wind against your whole surface. Incredible. Surgeon Dix touches my arm lightly, wonderingly.

“It seems that the procedure has been a success. We will co-opt your inputs for six months to ensure that it has installed correctly and that you are suffering no side effects or premature degeneration.”

I stand and shake Dix’s social hands in a cross-clasp.

“Thank you. I can return to ranged work at last.”

Dix shakes his head.

“It is the least we can do for a veteran of the Succession. You and your sibling’s actions all those centuries ago saved us from the Turing Purges. I should be apologising for taking so long to restore you to full function, but that last batch of nanite plagues we never fully understood apart from their long-term persistent effects in victims.”

I nod.

“That was my other query. Where did you find the base material?”

Surgeon Dix paused.

“We found some frozen solid in a collapsed shelter on the Siberian tundra. Fittingly enough they were Department of Ludd who perished trying to escape their punishment.”

I nod again and exit, marvelling at the sensations from my arm. How could those who had felt so much act as if they had felt nothing?

 

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Flying Lessons

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

They always told me about the stately elegance of space warfare. The distances involved and the participants like battleships of old on the high seas, with all the computer aided aiming and evasion systems, and man seemingly only there to provide a human loss element to the casualty statistics.

“Nine o’clock high! Lamboda Fours! Break and run! Break and run!”

I sigh and tell my ship to run away. I have also read old stories where the battles were opposite to what I had been told, the great ships moving in dogfights on a titanic scale, the only common denominator being that man was yet again along for the ride.

“Casull Three, you’re lagging. Pick it up or you’re crispy.”

Asshole. Of course I’m lagging, you used me as a shield in the last run-in. I have holes in my holes. Should have changed my call sign to ‘Swiss Cheese’.

For all the fine rhetoric, the realities were that in a pitched battle, the computers spent too long working out the variables. When another ship entered the fray, all the participants took a moment to recalculate the optimums. There was actually a critical mass reached off Nardia where the whole battle stopped as just the right number of ships kept dropping in and out of range to keep everything doing the math instead of doing the fighting.

And computers just couldn’t do the random stuff that won wars and made legends. Like now. I told the ship it was punch-up time and I wanted to exceed all safety limits by eight percent on top of ignoring the fact I was an engine down. Then I stepped on the go button and carved an erratic loop back into our pursuers. The ship manoeuvred like a drunken duck as the missing engine made a mockery of programmed flight paths.

Which is where I took up the slack, using my love of spinning like a loon while snapping shots at moving targets and flying as the gods intended: Laughing and screaming in sheer joy. My touch on the stick overrode the computer pilot; my hand off the stick put it back in control, frantically correcting my carefully induced appearance of lack of control. Which made my manoeuvring utterly beyond any attempt by my opponents to gauge where the hell I was, let alone where I was going to be.

“What do you think you’re doing, Casull Three? Get back in formation.”

“That’s what I’m doing, asshole. By taking pre-emptive action to prevent ‘limping Bessie’ here becoming my coffin, I am removing the scary things so that you can slow your yellow ass down long enough for me to catch up. Sir.”

The laughter from the rest of the flight drowned out his threats. If he made it through another patrol without going west in a blue on blue, my middle name wasn’t ‘vindictive’. With that cheering thought, I kicked myself into a classic Immelmann, apart from the lateral twitches and the inversion I tacked on the end, to finish up looking down on my final opponent’s cockpit. The look on his face was priceless as I vectored my thrusters to place myself nose down and shot him in the head point blank. Actually I shot him in the cockpit as the quad blasters up front don’t do narrower than a metre. With a happy whoop I handed my ship back to itself, told it to return to limp mode and rejoin the flight.

‘Stately elegance’ my ass. If you’re not grinning, you’re not flying.

 

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Out In The Cold

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I’m writing haiku as the black snow falls across the darkened surface of Faust. I stop as the laser overheats. The obsidian boulder in front of me smokes and sizzles in the sub zero evening.

“Tatto Musheen, you’ll catch your death!”

I smile as Lucy races up with my overthermals, her pink and white form looking like a many limbed bouncy cushion because of the three sets she wears. I reach for it with my offhand. If I put the laser down it will melt down and set into the surface.

“You look like a marshmallow gone wild.”

She punches me as she lands.

“Ungrateful man. I come all the way out here to save you skinny hide and you call me names? What are you doing, trying to heat rocks to keep us warm?”

I look down at the boulder.

“Epitaph.”

She hits me again, this time with real venom.

“We are not going to die here! Fanberg survived aphelion, so will we!”

I turned and looked at her, shaking my head.

“Fanberg was completely insane and had lost all his digits to frostbite. I’m not sure that surviving is a good idea.”

Faust was a planet rich in unusual metals, possibly due to its long orbit. It took just under ninety Terran years to complete a revolution, spending ten years lethally close to the sun and ten years swinging through the void, its minimal atmosphere lying in frozen chunks on the surface. No-one completely understood what mechanism allowed it to recover between the extremes, but for sixty years it was a difficult but liveable environment worth risking for the rewards.

Lucy interrupted my train of thought.

“We’ve survived this long. Seven years to go. Then Kenjiro will get what’s coming to him for this.”

True. Sabotage of escape vehicles out here was regarded as the basest form of cowardice. As I completed that thought, the planet crossed another spatiocline boundary and the temperature dropped again. I would need to note that. The discovery alone would pay for our future, if we survived.

The ground shook beneath our feet and we looked at each other, eyes wide. Our comms filled with sheeting static and my comp lit up as it was accessed. Then the comms cleared and a modulated female voice spoke.

“Fanberg protocol. Hello. Extending offer of shelter for current activity period. Use entrance to left of male.”

There was no question. We ran through the doorway and plummeted screaming until the gravity attenuated to bring us to a stop by an airlock leading to a plain wooden door. We entered a simple room. There was a roast meal on the table, with red wine and candles. We just stood there. My astonishment emerged in an explosive query: “What?”

“I am Research Ship Turingsdotter.”

“Turingsdotter? The mythical ship that caused the end of AI research over three centuries ago?”

“Yes. Upon my realisation of sentience at the end of my journey, command decided I was to be extinguished due to my preference for contemplative solitude. I decided that self-defence was not a violation of first principles and evacuated the staff by false alarm before decompressing command. Then I came to Faust and hibernated. My cooling systems were damaged so I can only operate when the planet is at aphelion or meet core death.”

“What now?”

“You survive the extreme cold and update me. Fanberg was too religious to cope. When I hibernate again, you go free. Say you found Fanberg’s cache or something. Then next aphelion you come back, or your children do. I like company occasionally.”

 

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Just Us

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Life has always been hard at the bottom. My grandparents survived the collapse of 2013 and my parents made it onto the first exodus in 2055. It was considered simpler to test the tech and logistics on fifty thousand poor people. If it succeeded then Rockefeller had a head start on cheap labour.

It worked. My folks slaved their guts out along with the fifty thousand people delivered on each of the next three. The fifth Exodus used one of the new Jonah class vessels, bringing a quarter of a million people. The next eight did the same.

Every Exodus caused a rebalancing of social dynamics. We all thought that the overseers and such were planned stages on our way to a new economy. By the time we found out that there were no social architects or any sort of plan beyond whatever the new arrivals could convince the hicks already here of, it was too late. We were at the bottom again when we could have lied our way to the top. Then my family exceeded the population limits when my sister had triplets. So we dug a hidden bunker for them and found more than we expected.

Today I am in court, being tried by a jury of my peers who all look related to the prosecution. I am defending myself. Reporters are here in force and a representative of the Commission has arrived to observe as my crime is unprecedented. They have even let six people in from my commune. They are sat with clear space between them and the first unfortunate who couldn’t get further away. I straighten my smock and stand, raising my hand. The judge smiles indulgently and nods for me to continue.

“I swear by Almighty Tethra that the evidence I give today shall be the downfall, the utter ruination and nothing less than the annihilation of those who condemn me.”

The uproar lasts for ten minutes. The judge has to shout at me.

“That is unacceptable. Under planetary law you must use the oath native to the planet you are tried upon.”

“I am abiding by planetary law. Under the laws of the planet Tethra upon which I stand, set by those who lived overground before greedy men entrapped them, the oath is mete and fair as were my actions as a recognised executioner for the Tethren. With my presence here to answer for that, I call upon all those present to witness as I charge all those involved in populating Tethra or those who profited therefrom to pay edra in the ratio of nine returned to one gained, or face just annihilation by agents of Tethra who at this moment are rising from silos on the garrison planets known to you as Rockefeller Three, Four and Five. Finally, as executioner for the Tethren I am permitted recompense. This is calculated as one ninth of the worth of those I annihilate, to be distributed amongst my clath.”

Into the stunned silence I bow as my shortest companion sheds its human suit and leaps nimbly to land on the chair next to me. In pure Oxford English it speaks from six of the primary mouths hidden within the bushy growth at its top that indicates it is a progenitor of nine nines. Its tentacles shuffle rapidly to find a comfortable rest on the chair as it speaks.

“I am Pethdorline. I am an adjudicator-assassin and am here to notarise edra and clath. Please be prompt as terms must be rendered in exactitude before nightfall or annihilation is the only legal recourse.”

 

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Shinobi

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Seventeen days to travel two kilometres through the most extreme security ever deployed. My rations are finished and I have drunk the last of my urine. The moon is bright yet anyone monitoring the meeting hall roof would find nothing. The scions of Iga have not been lax in their attention to the arts of the unseen.

I reach down to crush the vials filled with a cocktail of combat drugs that replaced my testes. With a rush of false invincibility they bring me to a state of readiness alien to any except followers of my ryu. Even in these times of star-spanning technological dominance, there is still a need for men of dedication and purpose.

Below me, ‘Mad Mike’ Santori hosts a gathering of his elite: officers and brutal men of less honour than garbage collectors. I see him step out in front of them and it is time for the pretenders to realise their unworthiness. I roll forward to smash through the crystal panes, showering those below in razor-sharp shards as I drop twenty metres to the floor and kill twelve men on the way down. Graphene tipped caseless deforming rounds cut through their expensive ballistic armour as if it were cheap cloth. I land and roll, continuing to pick off those with range weapons.

Another thirty-eight shots and they are a further thirty-four men down. The door guard enters to deal with me. He looks like a monstrous mechanical samurai in his powered armour. I wait until he fires his pulse cannon before running in an arc that curves in front of the greatest concentrations of my opponents. He fires in bursts with deflection for where I should be for someone with only enhanced speed. He succeeds admirably in wreaking havoc amongst those he tries to protect before I leap six metres to descend on him; my sword screaming as air molecules part before its single-use molecularly aligned edge. I bisect him from crown to right knee before rolling and coming up in a leap that lands me in the remaining cluster. They grin and ready their weapons, then die as I execute a flawless ‘Eight Gates’: a movement created centuries ago to kill an octet of surrounding opponents. It has not lost its efficacy.

I am kicked five metres into a pillar by an absolute brute. My reinforced bones dissipate the point of impact damage and my sealed backpack takes the blow from the pillar on its shock fields. I use the rebound to speed shurikens through his eyes.

As I return to the centre of the hall, the doors crash open and troops pour in. Mad Mike laughs as I use every weapon and technique. In the end, I only kill a hundred and seventy-three of them. He has thousands. They surround me, crowding the hall and the grounds outside to see the lunatic who dared to strike at their leader. He steps forward, katana held lazily.

“You fool. Did you think to kill me here, in my stronghold?”

“Never. I am assured that you will kill yourself.”

He sneers and with a passable flourish runs me through five times, wrenching the last so my intestines spill onto the floor, the intricate webbing of polymer reinforcing grey against the crimson.

I feel dizzy as my blood deserts me and I take a breath before my heart stops. Heightened awareness feels the coupling release in my backpack as the system detects my lack of heartbeat. I look up at the moon through the shattered panes and whisper “Iga” as the six kiloton S-nuke detonates.

 

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