Siren Call

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The loading bay is spotlessly clean – the sort of polish only drone cleaners can achieve. Of all the things officers love, shiny metal in any form still wins.
“Captain Reese.”
I turn to Sarah. She’s shiny too, but only in places. By the time she’s finished, she won’t reflect light at all.
“I have a question.”
She’s the most inquisitive of the new intake, and always has questions. I’m alone in considering it a good thing.
“Ask away. You know I don’t mind.”
“Major London was insistent that I always ask permission. Said it was ‘correct protocol for servants’.”
He would.
“Best you abide by that, but flag the ‘correct protocol’ definition as rumour.”
“Done. Thank you.”
“So, your question?”
“Why do I have nipples?”
“I don’t know. Never even considered it, either.”
“I overheard one of the technicians in Project Chevalier said it was because we were ‘designed to be the wet dream of robot-fixated monsterfuckers everywhere’.”
Really? That opens up some disturbing possibilities regarding civilian uses of this technology.
I step back so I can take in the full view of her spider/horse centaur form. Four metres of body rests on six legs with the tail antenna curving up, reminiscent of a scorpion. At the front the structure curves inward and upward, blending into the upper body, which is clearly feminine human in form, and disproportionate to the lower body. Now she mentions it, I’m sort of horrified the dichotomy didn’t strike me sooner.
“I don’t know about that, but you’re right to question things like this. Curiosity keeps soldiers alive.”
Actually it’s paranoia, but close enough.
She slings a laser rifle across her back, then rests her hands on the cooling vanes of the racked phalanx blaster affixed to the hardpoint extending forward from her lower body.
“Before I decided to seek clarification, I did consider the matter for a long while. As you said before: spur of the moment non-combat questions often waste time.”
I keep forgetting she’s effectively got an eidetic memory.
“What did your considerations come up with?”
“I started from the basic truths of my existence: I am an assault unit, inhuman, all machine. Underneath I’m a hyperalloy combat chassis – microprocessor-controlled and fully armoured. ‘Very tough’ was the judgement of the field trial observers.
“Factored against that are the details of my upper body, clearly influenced by Sorayama. It’s extensively reinforced with coltanium to allow this undersized torso and arms to support the loads mandated in the design. Somebody deliberately created me to look like this. I became more curious when I could find neither reference nor reason within any of the project documentation.”
I bet you couldn’t.
“Sarah, I’d guess at some artistic attempt to incorporate elegance into a brutal war machine, and yes, there might well be fetishistic elements within that.”
If you’re as good as I think you are, you’re ahead of me in realising the sexual aspects could act as a lure for recruitment. Some tech officer even decided your official designation is S1R3N. I bet they thought that was clever and funny.
“An adequate reply, Captain. Thank you. I have one final question, if I may?”
“Go for it.”
“Are there any camouflage directives or uniform rules that prevent me from adding a peephole brassiere to my combat ensemble? It may add psychological advantage.”
‘Psychological advantage’…?
I give up and burst out laughing.
“Restrict yourself to colours that complement the CADPAT palette for the applicable theatre of operations, Siren One.”
“Noted, Captain. Thank you.”

Twenty-Five Years

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The nightlight downgrades again, becoming a dim glow. Frankie squints at it, then turns his attention back to me, pupils wide above the patched duvet cover that contains more shredded dry rubbish than actual duvet.
“Tell me about the Call to Arms.”
I shake my head. Every week his school feed has some programme or other that favourably portrays the event that redefined humanity. I can always tell which day, because Frankie asks to be told about the Call to Arms at bedtime.
“Okay, kiddo. Settle down.”
He wriggles for a bit, then gives me a thumbs up.
“It was a sunny Bank Holiday Sunday in August 2025. I was sat in the park with your mum and dad. We were watching a dog chase a frisbee when everything went dark.”
I dropped my beer. They were just starting to laugh when we looked up to see a city-wide Gandrax warship. Their laughter died.
“We were so scared, but couldn’t move. Next thing we knew, there’s a voice in our heads. They said: ‘Fear not, peoples of Earth, we come in peace to beg your aid in resisting the forces that would exterminate us. We will provide you with our science and technology if you will agree to provide us with your strength.’”
Another case of telling a big enough lie.
“Governments met them. We all watched the tall, beautiful humanoids with purple skin float down from their ships all across the world. They brought so many gifts.”
Frankie murmurs drowsily.
“Like the one that made mum better?”
“Yes. Like that.”
How could we deny visitors from space who opened negotiations by providing the cure for cancer? From there to the world-governing Human Defence Alliance took a shockingly short time.
“The Gandrax visited so many people, playing games with children, meeting everybody they could between their resting times.”
Frankie snores softly into his pillow. I wait, but he’s drifted off early: sound asleep.
The Gandrax couldn’t handle Earth gravity for long periods, but making sure to meet every major protest group in livestreamed debate was a brilliant strategy. They either won over the protestors, or the protesters ended up appearing like selfish lunatics. Within six months, all disagreement had been marginalised.
After that, society started ‘gearing up’ to assist the Gandrax with a truly frightening single-minded enthusiasm. Humanity had finally been given a ‘big bad’ that wasn’t human. They were united against a common enemy: the evil Hiltula.
Now the global population are either soldiers, or working in factories to support the soldiers. Society revolves around sending those soldiers off to fight among the stars.
Frankie has three years before he goes into an HDA Youth Battalion. His mum is dreading it. I’m terrified – I know what happens next.
I’m part of a Hiltula Observation team that’s been on Earth since 1952. Having no idea how the Gandrax were recruiting their alien armies, this operation spread across several suitable worlds to find out. Watching them manipulate human society into the wretched state it reached in late 2024 was harrowing. I can’t see how we Hiltula and our allies can fight the Gandrax without becoming as bad as them, but greater minds than me are working on it.
2050 is when humanity ‘ships out’. Soon after that the Gandrax will strip Earth down to bedrock. Not one human soldier will ever be coming home: the fate of cannon fodder remains the same, regardless of the technology involved in a war.
We’ve got two decades to stop them. I hope those greater minds are working fast.


Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The room is greener than my natural dermal shade in springtime, and the air conditioning is more noisy than effective. Both of which are features of another day on Earth, the quirkiest destination in Cluster 644984, catchily known as ‘The Milky Way’ among the locals.
“I hate humans.”
I turn smoothly to see Mlurbon glaring angrily at the combination of shining bones sticking out the side of their arm.
“No, you hate having to restrict your ability to move. It’s a perfectly natural reaction. We Slurra are invertebrates. Not being able to lunge everything in any direction at whim scares us.”
Mlurbon growls at me. Sensory clusters reshaped as eyeballs glare realistically from left orbit and nasal cavity of the skull floating a handspan clear of the top of its spine. I point towards their pelvis.
“While you’re trying to find a way to tell me you’re not scared of anything, think about manifesting some genitalia.”
The in-joke is wasted. They look down, eyeballs shooting from the skull on a pair of pseudopods.
“Why do we have to wear skeletons?”
“Technically, they wear us, as clothes are worn on the outside.”
Another growl.
“You know what I mean.”
“It forces us to move like them, reducing the chance of accidental disclosure.”
Which presupposes the operator’s ability to stabilise their form… I flush my skin and internal tone back to transparent.
“Mlurbon. Look at me, then arrange your skeleton like mine is. Don’t worry about shading yet. Get the skeleton. Yes. Like that. Now, add the limiters. You know, like when we practiced internal bands at nursery?”
“That basic?”
“Yes. We have to be sure these bodies will move like humans if we have to act instinctively.”
Starting at my feet, I slowly flush my limiters deep red so they can see where they start and end.
They nod.
“Okay. Give me a moment. It’s been a long time.”
As a member of the Slurran Intervention Agency, you should have been practicing physical formations and controls daily. What have you been wasting your downtime on?
“Like this?”
I walk round them. It may be shabby, but it works. A natural assumption of almost human slovenliness. Impressive.
“Now bring your skin tone in to match mine. Dermal colouration is still a divisive factor here.”
Not bad.
“Okay. Details. Body hair. Look at my left arm. Imitate that on the lower sections of all four limbs, but leave the undersides of the manipulators on the end of each free. Good, good.”
No, that really is good. It took me ages to get it right.
“Now shift your air sack inside the upper cage of bones. That’s it. Talk to me while you do it. Makes sure you don’t constrict the tubes.”
“I really don’t see the need to cleeeeeek-”
“That’s the need. No, just rotate it left.”
“Thank you.”
Walking around again, it’s a workable imitation of a middle-aged adult human male.
Mlurbon grins.
“Like what you see?”
“I do. Next is clothing. But first-”
I fire the pistol I placed on the table behind them. Mlurbon emits a warbling shriek and collapses into a quivering wave of Slurra headed away from the noise, leaving an untidy pile of bones in front of me.
That would be a fail, then.
“Not good enough. Get back to internal duties.”
“By your order, chief.”
After they slide out under the door, I press the intercom.
“Find me another volunteer for tomorrow. I’ll patrol on my own today.”
“By your order. Safe patrolling, chief.”

Borsen Rules

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The bodies plummeting from the starry sky are screaming.
Esteban chuckles.
“Shock fields up!”
Ambusan stares at him.
“Shock fields? Surely you mean catch fields? Shock fields save, but it’ll hurt.”
“If a Mistress saw fit to drop them from that high, she didn’t mean for them to have a gentle landing.”
A tentacle softly alights on each of their shoulders.
“Perceptive of you.”
Seven bodies slam into shock fields, lighting the scene with flashes of dissipating energy.
Esteban turns his head and smiles and the blue-haired woman who’s now standing next to them.
“Mistress Othkn. If it’s not a secret, why are we graced by a Daughter of Trbtha?”
He notices she’s clothed in a figure-hugging purple bodysuit that covers her from neck to ankles, leaving her tentacle arms free.
Smiling at his regard, she answers his unasked question first.
“Our Matriarch and your Uncle Ghost came to an agreement over our nudity. This is it. As for my being here, the Matriarch sent me. Apparently those who prey upon your younglings are overly cautious. The chance of acquiring a young Mistress for their entertainment made them careless. To bring down such depraved prey, we were happy to help.”
Ambusan looks puzzled.
“I didn’t think younglings ventured off your homeworlds?”
Othkn nods.
“Correct. But Mistresses come in many sizes.”
She closes her eyes, then opens them and looks to their right as a diminutive pink-haired figure in a purple bodysuit appears.
“Heyahey, Othkn.”
Esteban turns quickly and bows to the new arrival.
“WarpMistress Nghra.”
“Hush you now! Using my title makes everybody become stiff and polite. I hate that.”
Othkn nods.
“She does, and it does.”
Ambusan looks down at the smallest Mistress he’s ever seen.
“Thank you for volunteering to help.”
Nghra nods her head.
“How could I not? I’d heard of those who prey upon younglings, but never did I think they would make a business of it. It’s been a disgusting and enlightening week.”
Esteban watches seven figures being led away in restraints.
“Mistresses, we were expecting eleven suspects. Were your initial tallies incorrect?”
“Have you heard of Zundeclyn?”
Ambusan frowns, then nods.
“Predatory horror native to the Talun Highlands. I heard their numbers are dropping as the Highlands have been hunted clear of fauna they use to incubate their young. I’ve seen pictures, too. Look like gigantic locust crabs. Why do you ask?”
“The worst four volunteered to help with Zundeclyn preservation.”
“They what?”
Both of the Mistresses smile nastily.
Nghra shrugs.
“Last I saw they were running away from a truly magnificent Zundeclyn who was driving them towards a pair of brood Zundeclyn lying in wait to catch and inject larvae into them.”
Othkn nods.
“It seemed fitting.”
Ambusan pales, then looks to Esteban.
“Is that legal?”
Esteban shrugs.
“The First Governor calls it ‘Borsen Rules’. As he explained: ‘I have yet to find an occasion where our partners in the Confederacy intervening in a law enforcement situation has been wrong. I agree their judgements can be harsh, but I remain convinced they only intervene when it is entirely justified.”
Othkn smiles.
“Uncle Ghost understands.”
Nghra laughs.
“Matriarch Trbtha also. We are told to deal with the spawn of Galad who hide behind your justice system whenever we encounter them.”
Ambusan asks.
“Who’s Galad?”
Esteban leans across to him.
“Their god-analogue of death and evil.”
Ambusan nods, then smiles.
“Sounds like we’re done, officer Esteban.”
He turns to the Borsen.
“I agree. Thank you, Mistresses.”
They vanish. Ambusan shudders. Esteban shakes his head.
“Warp-capable beings. Doesn’t matter if you know, it’s still eerie.”

Two Guns

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

That shadow is cast by scenery. The one next to it likewise. The third I’m not sure about, and the fourth will become scenery if the body isn’t found. Sniping lasers give nothing away when killing, although the wounds are distinctive. By the time they’re identifying that, I’ll be off killing beings on another planet.

Mother used to tell me an old tale about the two wolves within me. Urged me to feed one and let the other starve. Uncle Enapay suggested I feed them both, listen to both, then decide wisely. Didn’t tell me where I could get wisdom from, though.

A fifth shadow? Not a target. Looks like an early scavenger visiting the cause of shadow number four. Come on, number three. Either reveal yourself to be the local equivalent of a bear, or as my other target, but please move soon. It’s cold out here, and I have a long flight to the spaceport on a skiff so old the heater barely works.

Grandmother nodded politely when mother spoke of the two wolves, but shook her head when mother said they were what guided us still. I never understood why, until one day grandmother told me about the dream the last chief of our nation had, about the two guns. Unlike the wolves, they’re not inside. They’re awful tools, brought by invaders and taken up before their menace was realised.

A sixth shadow slides from behind the fourth and moves away, trying to be stealthy. No heat signature, and the movement profile of small fauna. It’s very well done. However, I’m up high enough to see the one thing they forgot: their shadow on a white snowfield. I let whoever it is get a good way off, then kill them.

The two guns are what my people sometimes called ‘soul tools’. To go back to my mother’s tale, they are things that – while outside of us – can taint the wolves within.
Both guns are shiny and fascinating, and both do only one thing well: kill. They give you strength when you slay, but the only the bright one gives you greater strength when you put it away without killing. The dark one feels cold when you put it away like that.

Speaking of tools, that’s a drone rising from behind the third shadow. A rescue beacon. If it reaches a hundred metres up it’ll emit a signal powerful enough to be picked up at the far spaceport, let alone the near one.
Guessing the lead required, I manage to wing it with the first shot, then skip a second as the drone spins down to crash a short way from where it took off.

Whichever gun you use the most decides where your desires lie. Some folk switch guns after a while, some stay with the one they first used. Nobody switches back and forth, even if what they do with their chosen gun doesn’t match the lives they lead. I often wonder if those folk are ever truly happy.

Scenery doesn’t send drones. I put a beam through the third shadow. It slides sideways, then settles.

The thing is, everybody chooses a gun. Many never draw it. Even so, their actions and inactions will be influenced by it.

I’ve drawn mine often, and I’m probably doing good by killing bad beings.

But I know my gun is dark.

What about yours?