Back to the Weapons

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

As the battle collapsed into bloody massacre, I paused and looked at the sword in my hand as violet blood hissed and evaporated in acrid clouds of blue smoke. The brutal simplicity underlying the centuries of field testing sang through my mind until my breathing slowed and the sterodrenalin pumps shut down, leaving me with only one heartbeat again. I turned and walked through the blood-seared streets of what had been Brighton, up the hill to our raid camp at the old racecourse. A few moments privacy; so precious.

They came from the far away, looking for a new world to conquer. They watched for centuries then worked on us for decades, sowing doubt, fear and resignation via media manipulation and a series of global wars, recessions and ecological disasters. By the time they actually showed up, Earth was in a sorry state and the population in some parts nearly feral. We were disorganised, factionalised and ready for something. The saviours from beyond descended, ending our mass murder capabilities with technology that seemed like magic. They were hailed as the precursors of humanities’ golden age by those they had bought, unwittingly or not.

After ten years, they struck. Mankind became a commodity and the bleak ephemera of occupation blossomed across the continents. We had no guns, no bombs, and no tanks. We had melted them down to build beautiful cities to mark the era of peace at last.

My father was a sword maker, an anachronism in that new enlightened world. He contested that with words I can still hear now: “A sword is more than a weapon. It is the ultimate expression of individuality, an art form so practiced that all that remains is finding new materials to express it in.”

While the world was scrapping the architectures of war, Dad was making swords from the new materials provided by our visitors. When the day came and their technology shut down or turned toxic everything that had been created using those materials, he found that forging had destroyed the essence that allowed them that control. From that moment, his forge in the wilds became the only light of freedom for a long, dark time.

I’ve been fighting since I was six. My enhancements went in at puberty. That was twelve years ago. They want our planet so badly that they have to try and claw us from it piece by piece. They just cannot understand our intransigence as they are so developed that personal combat is alien to the majority of them. Funnily enough, those of them that become adept at melee invariably join us.

My thoughts are disrupted by Captain Thomas’ call from outside my bivouac;

“Forgemaster Illaren! We are ready.”

I sigh and close the etcher. My memoirs are a piecemeal hobby. But I open it again to close the chapter as it should be, with another quote from my father: “They may have studied us for decades, but they didn’t learn a damn thing about mankind.”

 

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Triage

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Life shouldn’t be this easy to take. Flick a switch and listen to the muted swoosh of a section spitting its atmosphere into vacuum. Of course, it’s not so easy for those losing it. The agonies of the dying beat against my mind and reduce me to retching spasms.

Two days ago I returned to the Eden Range to find we had been taken over. I do not know which of the twenty-five thousand colonists was the mule, but the Klansaard Wyrm is difficult to detect when it has wrapped itself around the spine and ossified its redundant body. The colonists would have been unaware of the creeping horde that the single host liberated into the ducts. Thankfully the Klansaard need living hosts, otherwise I’d have to pilot the ship into a sun to ensure the infestation was destroyed.

Hosts are distinguishable by a very upright posture and a marked aversion to retinal scanners. They don’t know about the primary marker. Any psionic in contact with a host will ‘hear’ an ‘echo’ on the thoughts of the host, where the Klansaard is controlling its puppet with so much subtlety that the host is rarely aware until the paralysis sets in.

“Danny! Danny! Don’t do this, we can get you help!”

That’s Captain Amelia Thurrock. She was my lover and encouraged me to get formal training for my mental abilities. It seems so wrong that her encouragement is the thing that means I have to kill her and she will never know why.

As soon as I came onboard, I felt the echoes within all around me. I clambered out of my travel gear but kept my biosheath on, preventing any entry for baby wyrms. Then I made my way to one of the emergency stations that all ships have since the Infestation of Apella a century ago. I have the command codes and after authorising myself and sealing the station, I contacted the Second Fleet cruiser that had brought me here for advice. The conversation that followed was wracked with sobs and crying on both sides, but in the end, there were only going to be deaths. We cannot afford to take chances.

Except for me, who is guaranteed clean but will be quarantined for six months anyway, no-one on the Eden Range can be permitted to live. At least my prompt action has saved the ship from destruction. The thing I will never forgive myself for is having to do this section by section. The death agonies of the whole ship at once would turn me into a vegetable.

Recovered at last, I straighten up and flick the next switch as my tears rain down.

 

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Safety First

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“The view from here is mighty fine, it sends a shiver up my spine.”

I laugh at Kara’s ditty as it arrives. Nothing but the truth, even out here. My suit keeps me spread-eagled on the side of cannon four as it thunders along with its seven brothers, sending the Espiritu de Sanctii further from the remains of my home.

“How’s things, big guy?”

“Sweet as, babe. Just hanging around waiting for the boys. Good view, rockin’ rhythm, best seat in the house.”

Canopus fades from view in the drive-flare as I finish my sentence. I had been top ganger at Wenceslas Station, the only man for the tricky job of checking the fuel couplings on the Vatican flagship. It had all been going well until a distress call from a convoy activated the ‘expedite rescue’ sequence. Not one of the holy orders had thought to obey the procedures for hard-lock maintenance, so the ship had obeyed the clarion call and lit out to the rescue at emergency speed while the crew got their asses in gear.

Wenceslas Station had taken a level two decompression when the ship tore loose. They were just scrambling to contain that major atmosphere breach when the station took the brunt of a full-bore eight cannon overburn. I watched in numb horror as eight thousand people died in a chain detonation that scattered fiery pearls across Canopian space. The ship did not deviate from its path.

I had just finished checking cannon four when the burn started. The violent lurch activated my failsafe magnetics, which combined with the fact that I was standing at ninety degrees to the thrust vector meant I slammed down onto the hull over drive number four that had been beneath my feet. My safety array became a prison. While we continued to move and the station beacon was not found, the array kept me stuck like a barnacle to a keel. Kara is forward and half a rotation separated from me. She had been in the tube between airlocks when it happened. Her magnetics had plastered her face down mere metres from the ship’s airlock.

“Dave, what are we going to do about this?”

“Tell your suit to seek supplementary power to maintain emergency state. It should probe and find an external maintenance panel to get you juice and goop.”

“Done that. What next?”

“Tell your suit to ready emergency hibernation measures with realspace restart.”

“Actioned. Why?”

“Because at some point this bastard is going to dive.”

Dive being slang for entering drivespace. Consciousness cannot not tolerate that without experiencing sanity’s equivalent of a blancmange being hit by a sledgehammer. Driveships have suppressor fields to stop crew meltdown. Those fields are for internal passengers only.

“Oh crap.”

“Not a problem. We get to doze for a bit and wake up somewhere new.”

“Sure?”

“Promise. Plus we get to be famous.”

“Why would we – ”

Reality tore into spinning curtains of impossible colours and my suit reacted just fast enough. The lights went out.

*

“Dave!”

My mouth tasted like the green greeblie from the back of beyond had done something unspeakable in it. The lights were too bright and I had a pounding headache.

“Quietly, woman.”

Kara whispered: “Why would we be famous?”

I looked about the medical suite. There were several people in Canopian Ranger uniforms standing around with witness recorders. I grinned at Kara.

“Because no-one has ever survived doing something that insanely stupid.”

She hit me hard and low. Apparently she only kissed me after I had passed out, the rotten cow.

 

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Dry County

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Imagine a frontier settlement from any decent cowboy film. Then substitute troops of the Galacta Navir for every cowboy. Make the planet it sits on something beyond arid and set the humidity to nearly zero.

Welcome to my world: Rumbleday; the planet under the Clervoy Orbital Refreshment Facility. A mean hunk of dust and rock under a pitiless sun that has only one real moon and twenty-eight fake ones.

I’m Paladin Anderson Brent and I’ve just woken after returning to town from a trooper’s disciplinary hearing late yesterday. The Galacta Navir likes to keep its troopers keen: Inter-battlegroup rivalry is encouraged and the “Cleansweep” bonus scheme adds a lethal frissance. It also means that off-duty rucks are invariably messy.

It’s ten before fourteen on a thirty-nine hour day and the chime of the mainline is an unwelcome interruption of my sleep-in. At least Arty sounds unhappier than I am: “Tabitha just called from Galadriel Port; the elites of Chevalier de Anjou just landed.”

“Okay, Arty. Looks like Chantilly is in for a high rolling week.”

“Anderson! I told you a week ago. Chantilly is full of Fils de Maginot elites!”

Now the folks out here have an unwritten agreement with local command: troops from rival factions never refresh in the same hemisphere. That goes double for elites. While the old adage about being kept in cages and fed raw meat is only true of aardfangs these days (and they don’t get refreshed, they get shot), it is a useful gauge for the mentality of elites.

Just then, my priority line beeps so I put Arty on hold.

“Paladin Brent. This is Paladin Deems. I’ve had to send the elites of Martelons de Lille to Chantilly as the elites of Kriegsturm rolled into Orleans.”

The world skews and my vision blurs in momentary fugue. We have three elites from the Garde Francais partying hard in my town. In fairness, it was one of the least dangerous options. A trio of elites from the Mord und Totschlag would have been armageddon crazy. The Garde were bad but had this flamboyant streak that led to shows of non-violent mayhem in amongst the usual carnage. You might wind up with your town repainted and needing Diogenes to find the virgins, but it was better than smoking ruins and random limbs.

I’m just reaching to reconnect Arty when I hear the distant sound of small arms fire. They let the elites off-ship armed? Tomorrow someone in Downship Protocol is going to have a procedural amendment they will never forget.

I scramble into the den and bring up the surveillance of Main Street. It’s beyond control already. Bodies litter most flat surfaces and worryingly, a couple of vertical ones. Eight vehicles burning along with two saloons. Time to dry them out. I open the crash cabinet and press the blue button.

The inhabitants of Chantilly withdraw calmly to their danger rooms as the klaxons sound. Three minutes later I power down the grid and drain down all the tavern pumps and water pipes. A minute after that, the meteor deflection field around Chantilly activates and the temperature starts to climb.

Three hours later the last elite in Chantilly keels over from heat exhaustion. We drop the field, start the grid, refill the pumps and spend a while dumping floppy elites into transports.

The early years of Rumbleday were marred by collateral fatalities. Now we can isolate each town and remove all fluid supplies. Everyone loses the will to party when the temperature hits 330 Kelvin and all the liquids have disappeared.

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Totems

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Hadrian’s bloody Wall. Originally built to keep the Picts out when the Romans finally realized my ancestors were too surly to civilise. Since then it’s been used in books and films, every damn time to keep something nasty in the North from overrunning the lovely people in the South.

I’m standing on it tonight as repair crews struggle to conjure up the unobtainable with swearing, prayers and gaffa tape. Alison and I are peering down the scopes of Bursinger S3 minimissile launchers, looking for the faster ones in the endless shuffling horde coming towards us up the M6. A six lane shooting gallery where speeding is deadly. The longer period ‘infected’, the faster it moves. An easy selection process because the faster ones are smarter too. They can organise the newer reanimates into inhuman pyramids for others to climb. It’s happened twice and thankfully we had working flamethrowers on the sections where it happened. Now we have constant monitoring and helicopter gunships. But there is always some twit who doesn’t clear the napalm zone in time and ends up as trooper flambé de jour.

“You realise that we outnumber you?”

Alison does not take her attention from her eyepiece. Her tone is conversational. I keep my attention focussed as well.

“We’ll keep fighting. Eventually you’ll run out of meat and decomposition will get to you.”

She pauses and looks over her scope into the mob before squinting down the eyepiece with intent.

“Hello Gantiur.”

Her minimissile zips into the shuffling crowd and I see a figure try to dodge before it is reduced to a shambling lower torso and legs.

“Friend of yours?”

She grins nastily.

Alison’s world was reduced to ashes by their sun doing something unexpected. They had enough warning and managed to transmit their consciousnesses intergalactically. On Earth they found compatible hosts in the recently dead. They were clumsy at first and by the time they had figured out how to control their new bodies, they were cannibalistic to repair decomposition damage to their hosts. Most never progressed past that stage. The few who did were indistinguishable from full humans.

Alison had been my partner in and out of the military. When the ‘zombie apocalypse’ occurred, we got called back. Then she died in a transport chopper crash. All we knew was that she disappeared in the Highlands and returned two months later suffering from ‘amnesia’. I spotted that she had changed and she was among the first to come clean. At first there was hatred; but eventually, surprisingly, sympathy had arisen because the Metharran plan had gone so hideously wrong.

The bestial traits their civilisation had suborned for so long manifested when linked to the memory remnants of humans, unless the human had died with an emotional bond. That enabled the new reanimate to rapidly achieve full sentience; to become a Methuman. But the loss of that bond sent them immediately, irretrievably bestial. Our mixed defence unit has pets, cars, relatives, ornaments, books and the whole range of things that full humans can become attached to. The Methuman call them Sanity Totems. Each Methuman keeps their totem near them and protects it with insane dedication. Because without it they are no better than any of the plague of reanimates that are assailing the world.

I am Alison’s sanity totem. She has had a minuscule device implanted in her head, so that when my heart stops beating for more than five minutes she will be explosively decapitated. Until then, we have a strange love to keep us warm as civilisation crumbles.

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