Tariff

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The Neosatian hits me at the base of my spine so hard that I flip over backwards and land heavily, knocking the wind from me. By the time I get my breath, I cannot breathe properly because it’s sitting on me, front paws on my shoulders.

I stare up into the trio of glowing green eyes while slowly sliding my hand toward the shock-rod at my belt. Its burgundy-tipped ears cant forward and it shakes its head in negation. I stop moving.

“Damo Adraste. You are under arrest for sentient slaughter in the thousand-being range. You are also charged with fleeing penalty, your fugitive run of eight years removing all appeal options for both charges. Although it will be duly noted as the longest evasion on record.”

The owner of the dulcet voice strolls up, still beautiful in the bodysuit that leaves nothing to the imagination whilst simultaneously scaring you out of any interest beyond survival. She settles down by me, resting against the alley wall after relieving me of the rod. She catches my gaze and smiles.

“It was always going to end like this. Did you really believe the bollox about Neosatians being avoidable?”

I had hoped it was true. The Mondocalm had gifted humanity with twenty of these enhanced creatures, saying they were all we would need to usher in a new era of crimelessness. The huge black lupines were immediately labelled ‘godwolves’ by the media.

“This furry gentleman is Ebenezer. He’s very pleased to finally meet you.”

The jaws part to reveal a lot more teeth than I am comfortable with at this range.

“While we wait for the custody patrol, Ebenezer wants me to tell you why you could not escape.”

I look up at the godwolf. I would swear that the damn thing is grinning at me.

“Imagine that every living thing leaves a trail. Think of them as multicoloured lines drawn through time and space, with every one being unique. Normal dogs can do amazing things with scent alone. The Mondocalm took the lupine variant of that ability and mated it with their ability to perceive these sentient contrails in a four dimensional continuum. Ebenezer and his kin can never lose your trail as long as you exist.”

Well, that explains a lot. From the deep mines on Spira to the skytowns of Ruben, from the asteroid fields of Cantor to the spiral wastelands of the Eternal Reaches, Pursuit Marshal Sheba Griffon and her loyal godwolf had kept on reappearing, no matter what I did. The fact that the rest of humankind treated the godwolves with an almost religious awe meant I could never get any support for trying old fashioned methods of losing pursuers permanently. Sure I had blown up several places, but bombs are so damn inaccurate.

“Why exactly does he want me to know?”

“So you can tell all your fellow inmates. Eventually you felons will realise that getting away with it is not even an outside option.”

I had done it. Five years and the tariff for my original crime went from mortal to custodial.

“So I’m going to jail?”

“I think there will be several jails between here and Earth.”

And a free trip home. I smile.

“Then you’re going to be incinerated. Tariff reduction is waived as crimes during flight are deemed contiguous with the causal felony.”

Damn.

 

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I, Rifle

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I am a rifle.
There are few like me, but I am unique.
I will fire true.
I will fire straighter than any other.
I know that only hitting the target counts.
I will maintain myself clean and ready.
I will defend my country.
I will master the enemy.

The creed runs through my frontal RAM as it always does, because they think it helps.

“Camera One, pan the crowd.”

That is my confirmation. I leave the gathering quietly, entering the stairwell using the card from the security guard I left sleeping in the toilets.

Letting the door close I kill the biomass masquerading as my heart and extend my tibia and humerus, then leap into the gap between the staircases and progress rapidly upward, something only my extended reach permits. Intense security leaves holes. In this case, detecting for life signs in the stairway and movement on the stairs, not dead things moving in the gap between them. Foolishly they considered a metre-wide, sixty storey drop secure.

I slide to the edge of the parapet and reform. My vertebrae alternately revolve ninety degrees to lock, while my head cants back and swings up to locate above where oesophagus-muffler has risen to align with spine-barrel, as my lower jaw bifurcates to become the bipod. My left femur rotates and swings back, feeding a 13mm long cartridge into the breech that forms my sacral curve, while my arms swing out to stabilise my incline, counterbalanced by my extended right leg.

My Zeiss-lensed eyes feed compensated targeting data to the dedicated math processor that handles all the windage and other variables in less time than it takes Senator Lindham’s bodyguard to open the door of the limousine.

As his head rises into view, I wait until I see the carotid pulse in his neck in my holographic cross matrix. I exhale death and his head explodes. I use the recoil to slide back, letting my head drop forward as I disengage my osteo-locks and deform. I roll off the parapet and sprint across the roof as alarms start. I dive from the back of the building, sixty storeys up giving me the angle to plunge into the deep end of the public pool across the road and a block down. Water pours from me and startled lovers exclaim, but I am gone over the fence and into the bushes. As I climb the tree by the next road over, the evening run to the recycling plant is passing. I leap from the tree into the back of the truck, amongst metals and electricals that will mask my presence, just as the pool eradicated all detectable miasma of rifle shot. I may have left some pieces of overskin, but it leads back to the only man who had cloneable cells, like every other piece of vatflesh on this planet.

On the slip road to the industrial estate that surrounds the plant, a rescue and recovery hauler sits. I drop from the back of the recycler and roll under the hauler, pulling myself through the belly hatch into my residence.

William says: “Fine work, Swan.”

He means it. He only ever uses my nickname over my designation, S-One, when he’s exceptionally pleased. Which means Ruger-Sony are paying him a lot, again.

I settle into a solvent bath and idle my processors. After I’m clean I’ll upload the mission log. As I am scoured, I run my creed in private RAM.

I am Sniper One.
I never miss.

 

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The Lady Is Not

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

‘The night is yet young’ as my grandmother used to say. Apparently it was my grandfather’s favourite line before they’d go out and party. She told me about the two of them jetting off to Dubai for breakfast and always being in Shanghai for Chinese New Year. She also bemoaned the difficulty of remaining elegant in the face of a weekend of partying. It was difficult to be elegant on a Sunday evening when you hadn’t seen your wardrobe since Friday afternoon.

Fortunately, the times have caught up with the needs of the modern lady. Nanite refresher booths are a feature of every ladies room these days, and my nanofluidic couture allows me to vary my styles in response to the slightest need.

Tonight I am a belle dame from the Mississippi Riverboat era, swanning about in a flounced and ruffed creation appearing to be of jade velvet over black leather. My Personal Access Device is transformed into a pair of long lace gloves. Elegance at will.

“Christina, my dear. You look ravishing.”

His choice of words makes me smile. Carmody has a reputation for taking the ravishing bit all too seriously. But he knows that I know his tastes. He slides closer with a devastating smile in a face that cost a million. A shame that making his personality pretty is more than cosmetic science can accomplish.

“Why don’t we take a stroll somewhere quieter, mademoiselle?”

I am just about to tell him to fornicate and depart when my PAD clenches about my wrists as my dress locks up.

Carmody smiles: “Oh dear, cheap bodyware? Wonderful.”

My intent to shout for aid is pre-empted by my choker acting literally. Carmody is the very soul of attentiveness, helping me past concerned partygoers, onto the veranda and down into the bowers of the love gardens. The bastard is using a slaver program to turn my couture into a prison. I think about what I’m actually wearing and realise I am, to put it politely, vulnerable to manipulation.

Carmody walks through the starlit evening to a remote nook containing a low table, with me accompanying him like a meal in a serving-droid.

“I think we’ll start with obscene and get inventive from there. Any objections? Thought not.”

Bastard bastard rapist bastard. I am striving to remain calm when Carmody emits a falsetto shriek and collapses rigidly, his face slamming into the gravel with a satisfying crunch. A figure steps into view as my couture rushes to cover my nakedness.

“My apologies for being a tad late, Miss Christina. Your brother’s compliments; he felt that you would object if he insisted that you employed a Safeguard.”

Safeguards are personal bodyguards trained, enhanced and equipped with the latest countermeasures for just about anything. Using them is deemed as gauche, but after tonight, I’m a convert.

He offers his hand and pulls me up without effort. His impeccable couture changes colour and style to complement mine as I take in his two-metre tall frame. I could become accustomed to this. Turning slightly, I nudge Carmody with my toe.

“What happened to him?”

“I thought it best to dampen his ardour by restricting the volume of his codpiece as I locked his couture. The servants will take him to the gatehouse for collection by the Police.”

I like the edge to his voice as he describes defending me, but I have to confirm my suspicions: “What volume, exactly?”

He actually blushes.

“Five cubic centimetres.”

I laugh. My Safeguard and I are going to get along just fine.

 

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Life Star

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The room was smoky with the singed emissions of substances that made tobacco seem like a health supplement. Everyone knew the risks, but when you were fighting the greatest tyranny to ever rule humanity, longevity just didn’t enter the equation.
General Pantoro couldn’t believe what he had heard: “We’re sure about this?”
Intel Captain Lokus smiled: “It’s confirmed, sir. The damn thing has no defensive field generators and no trace of fusion armour.”
Major Ekrofan raised a fist: “Then we should strike against – what did you say Una Galacta had named it?”
Lokus checked his brief before replying: “Torush One.”
Ekrofan laughed: “Bloody silly name.”
All assembled looked to General Pantoro. He pondered for a moment, then nodded decisively: “Let’s take their new toy away. Tell the Antares and the Ceres that they are cleared for nuclear engagement.”

The twin battlecruisers Antares and Ceres approached the near lunar diameter sphere that hung in equidistant orbit between Earth and Mars. They were heavily cloaked and relying on the chaos created by their attack to give them time to escape, accepting the fact that they might have to go down fighting. It was worth the sacrifice. Torush One was an unknown element, silvery-white with sections of mirror-like reflectivity. Una Galacta had noticeably decreased military operations since it had arrived in orbit, probably from some hidden construction facility. Which indicated how overwhelming they thought it would be.

In the smoky room, a communications officer approached the General. He whispered to Pantoro, whose brow creased before he entered a secure comms booth. The conversation he had was short and he exited the booth with a look of terror on his face. He rushed to the main comms board: “Abort the attack! Stand down all combat units! Stop! Just stop!”

Antares fired first. The damn thing was so big, missing was not the issue. Everyone agreed that all the nukes had to land dead centre to rip their way to the heart of it. With a ripple in space, the Ceres appeared and unleashed her payload as well. The ships used every nuke the Resistance could muster.

General Pantoro sat and cried. No one could get a word of sense from him.

Antares and Ceres linked their comms:
“I’ve got nothing on detectors. Not one hostile or any countermeasures against the nukes or us.”
“Confirmed, we seem to have caught them napping.”
“Hang on; I have surface geometry variance from the target.”
“No impacts yet. What’s the cause?”
“Unknown. There’s a dimple forming in the centre.”
“A what?”
“A crater. Right where we’ve targeted. It’s getting deeper and the rate is accelerating.”
“Do you get a bad feeling about this?”
“Yes. Disengage and get the hell out is my instinct.”
“Agreed.”

Torush One flowed into itself, the crater sinking far enough to become a tunnel as the object changed from sphere to torus. The nuclear hopes of the Resistance passed cleanly through the hole, hurtling toward Earth where automated defences destroyed them.

Pantoro looked up, his face ashen: “It’s not their superweapon. It’s an intergalactic arbiter, sent to end the futile war we’re engaged in and the tyranny we fight. Una Galacta will become a benevolent leadership under threat of unstoppable annihilation.”
The room erupted with cries of “Victory!”
The General stood slowly: “No. Una Galacta ceased hostilities and delayed informing us so we would think that Torush One was theirs, make a desperate attempt to destroy it and in so doing, contravene the ceasefire. We will be liquidated for that. Una Galacta regard ‘last man standing’ as an acceptable win.”

 

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Come Tomorrow

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The echoes are thunderous, something that keeps most of the predators down here away. This far along, everyone is fatigued. Even the children no longer have bursts of energy. Existence is eat, sleep and march to the beat. The chant cadences our footsteps through the netherways, the deep tunnels that were once used to move building materials between the growing United Cities.

“Come tomorrow, we’ll live in a far better place.”

Each Petacity is a continent covering sprawl that incorporates everything into an extended conurbation. Intensive automation overseen by computers fast enough to map DNA in minutes made them possible. Mankind quickly became dependent on the hyperstructure that provided everything. Then the control systems worked out that growing replacement labour was far more ecologically efficient than building it.

“Come tomorrow, we’ll suffer no machine-led pace.”

We went from dependent to subservient in two generations. Some objected, of course. But ancient tales of rising against robot masters were glaringly short on overcoming the details. Death came in crush corridors and gas clouds. When you’re inside the thing you fight, nobility and righteousness count for little in the immune system versus disease deathmatch.

“Come tomorrow, there will be space for the free man.”

Our opponents could dynamically run every possible strategic response for every scenario before we detonated the bomb, landed the second blow, fired the second shot or took the next step. We lost nearly a whole generation in a guerrilla war that more resembled rodents versus pest control than a resistance movement. Finally, cleverer minds prevailed.

“Come tomorrow, we’ll do it all with our own hands.”

Rats did not fight, they inhabited places man couldn’t reach or didn’t want. Living underground was not an option and Galifan Scott gave us the answer: United City Seven. The south-polar Petacity had been abandoned as the cold was something that the robots could not overcome without causing ecological harm. They had withdrawn along the netherways, leaving the nascent Petacity to the eternal ice.

“Come tomorrow, the white land will become our home.”

The netherways remain, some decrepit, some submerged, all dangerous. But those who survived the first long walks found only a Gigacity core with Petacity foundations unfinished in the face of machine-freezing cold. The founders of Free City One defined the maximum technology that could support millions without processor-based automation. From there they designed a new culture.

“Come tomorrow, our children will be free to roam.”

I am a Finder. We go out along the netherways from Free City One, equipped to rescue and retrieve those coming to the end of their long walk. We help the hearty and build cairns for the dead. No more shall we become food or fertiliser depending on our age at dying. The chant gives them hope and strength, keeps them moving toward freedom. It is the last regimen they will have to endure, as Free City One runs on pride, courtesy and idealised British policing.

They say that one day we will reclaim the world. I am one of those who believes that to be a futile objective. We will watch as an alien culture of our ancestor’s creation tends the world we so nearly ruined. What the future holds is for our descendants to decide. ‘Come Tomorrow’ is more than the title of a chant to march the people home.
It is a promise that free humanity will never cease to be.

 

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