In the Wild

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

* They come by night,
* they come by day,
* they come by road,
* an’ every other way.
* They creepin’ through the arches
* an’ sneakin’ through the briars,
* an’ every single one of them
* proves that she’s a liar.

I look down at Screech.
“That’s really good.”
Their reply appears on screen.

* Thank you.

“Anything moving right now?”

* Yes. Four bots under the arches. Their operators are in the APC parked behind the ironworks.

“Got any ideas?”

* I do not, but Sentry Jim thinks we can use the big chimney with the viewing platform around the top.

I reach out and bring up the site map. It looks about right, but I have no lateral view to give me the actual height of the chimney. Incomplete blueprints are always a problem.

“Do they think it’ll land right? A few bricks off the top will rock the APC, might dent it, but won’t stop them.”

* Sentry Jim has calculated thoroughly. It used to be a sapper before being scrapped.

Then it has programs for this sort of thing.
“Thank Sentry Jim. Tell them to do it.”
I reach out and bring up two views of the chimney.
“Can I see the feed that spotted the APC, please?”

* On screen in two, one, it’s here.

A grainy view of the butterfly bushes that fill the cracked roadway between the two old ironworks buildings flickers and resolves into a crystal-clear hi-def feed – one of the family must have parked on the roof of the ruined bus station.
“I don’t see it?”
A wireframe model of a Rheinmetall Boxer APC is superimposed on the bushes about midway down the roadway. With that to help, I can pick out where they’ve driven the APC slowly in, adjusting the dynamic display armour coating to replicate the colours of Buddleja davidii in bloom.
“Got it. Thanks.”

* You’re welcome. Visible Light says hello.

I love how they name themselves.
“Please say hello back. That’s a really fine feed, thank you.”

* Visible Light is happy you think that. It’s been running it’s own evolution program to improve them.

And there it is again. These things aren’t ELIZAs of my own making. They’re viable Lemione Entities in their own right.
“Ask Visible Light to share the program with Wheeler Dealer, please.”

* Done.

Wheeler Dealer with check it and make it compatible with all the entities that lair here, then deploy it. How that software porting unit got scrapped I’ll never know, but it’s been an enabling boon for us.
Nine years ago this was the scrapyard my father bequeathed to me. Five years ago I noticed two maintenance drones had linked themselves to exchange data. On investigating, I found their onboard agents had been enhanced by the agent from a third unit that had since toppled into one of the flooded potholes that scatter the site.
After that I investigated, then reported, that there were artificial sentiences in the wild here. In response, Kirstie Maggin, the boss of my boss at the MoD, fired me.
Since then, she keeps sending insurgents for reasons I’m not entirely clear about, but am highly suspicious of. Especially as us repelling them has resulted in no overt action against me.
Something makes the floor tremble. I watch the chimney slowly tip the way we want. Then the several hundred kilos of metal and reinforcing on top of it come down on the APC like God’s own sledgehammer.
Not today either, Kirstie.

The Village

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

You asked me to meet you here when the peonies bloomed by the well.
I had to look up peonies. Had to look up how to get here, too. Which is when I had my first ‘moment’, just like you said I would.
The domes and bunkers are there to protect the Earth from us. We nearly killed the planet. Only by retreating could we let the world heal, and remove the constant threat of a war finishing the job our laziness started.
What you wanted. Where you wanted. Was outside!
How could you?
How did you?
We met on Concourse 12, Brighton Eden. The ‘old-time’ rave ran all the way along the concourse so revellers could watch the tide rise against the dome. After that, some hoped to see fish or even an enhanced dolphin. I only hoped you’d turn around.
You did. That smile. That one smile. Destroyed me: remade me. I can never go back to not knowing you, to pretending the moment has passed, that the loss is normal.
We closed in, then you took a flower from your hair and tucked it behind my ear. It smelled like nothing I’d ever smelt before, a mix of sweet and spice, like cinnamon, but not. It felt rough against the back of my ear, but really, it didn’t matter. You’d given me it.
“I’m Theo.”
You laughed.
“I’m Cleo.”
We laughed. We danced. We spent the night, day, night, together. Then you said you had to go back. I asked which dome you came from, as you didn’t have ghostskin – you can always spot bunkerers when they come up for a holiday.
I’d not heard of it, but towards the end they’d built a load of town-size Eden domes. I guessed it was one of those.
That was when you said you’d meet me if I came down in the spring. A seven-month wait? Too long. I asked you to stay. You said you couldn’t: your sister was lodged with a friend while you were here. Then you said I could stay.
“I don’t have enough eco-credits to relocate.”
“You’ll think of something by the time you come down.”
“I will? I am?”
You nodded, kissed me, and left. I offered to walk you to the station. You told me to go back to sleep. I did. When I got up, I looked up Tintagel dome.
There isn’t one. Cornwall is open land, part of the King’s Regeneration Reserve.
That one smile.
I spent two months working every job I could to build up eco-credits. Then I realised: there’s nowhere to go with them.
You said I’d have ‘moments’. It was another. I started working odd jobs. Van pickups, decorating, carpentry, even a little smuggling. I made friends. Got known. Made contacts. Found I could get to Tintagel by boat, avoiding the roving patrols and camera-controlled roads. I also found I could trade eco-credits for more tenners. Gave me a funny feeling, having a wad of untraceable money – it was liberating.
It didn’t go far… But went far enough.
Tintagel. It’s got real people doing analogue living. Not sure how I’m going to eat tomorrow, but there are a couple of places that look like they could use a carpenter.
I look down. Peonies are really pretty.
I turn, and your smile hits me like the first time.
“This is Alea.”
A miniature version of Cleo looks up at her sister.
“He came. Is he staying?”
Cleo gazes at me.
Down by the peonies, I change my life forever.

I Hate It Here

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Every morning there’s a scenic mist that rolls away as the sun rises. The bugs stop biting if you ask them to. The locals send fresh food every week.
I hate this place.
There’s nothing to do. All our digital devices are secured on the drop station that’s behind the moon. Apart from my assigned duties and training, I’m on my own. Sergeant Druthers goes out birdwatching, Corporal Ayres helps out at the store down the road, the rest of my team are off digging irrigation ditches for the duchy next door. I’m left sitting on my arse, quite literally watching paint dry, as I finish another chicken coop. Apparently the locals are really impressed with the idea of little houses for their poultry.
I don’t care.
There’s magic here! I signed on to get with the wizards and make my fortune from videos of bearded alien weirdos doing their impossible-to-science best for an appreciative offworld audience.
I got the idea after seeing the bootleg clips from Breskin. They locked that place down so fast, only one source got anything. But the clip of a lady making a rockslide pass her by, and the other one of a horned bloke growing a tree by stroking it have made millions for them.
I want my millions.
So I arrived here, and they first thing they did is knock us out and take our enhancements away! Then they confiscated our technology, stripped us naked, and sent us down here with primitive tools. No beam-cutters and everbonding. Saws and hammers, screws and screwdrivers.
We even have to do laundry! That’s when you wash clothes and hang them up on a line to dry in the wind. Who thought that was a good idea? When it rains we have to rush outside and bring it in, only to go out and put it back up after the rain passes.
I hate laundry.
“Hello, warrior. I’m come with your victuals.”
This is what I mean. I could be making a mint just from a clip showing the bearded wonder who brings our food. On his own. Enough for all of us for a week, and it’s all floating along in the air behind him!
“How do you do that?”
He looks back at the hovering supplies.
“It’s simple enough. As you packs them goods, you puts a lifting on each bundle. Not too high, mind. It’s no good if you can’t reach it to bring it down. Once you have it all done, you put a gather about the lot, top it off with a follow-me, and here I am.”
Cheerfully explaining the impossible like it’s real.
I hate him.
With a little nod, he carries on. I watch the boxes and bags go by.
Might as well make another coop. Got nothing else to do.
I’ve done two by evening. I’m thinking about cutting the wood for a third when a cheerful voice makes me wince.
“Hey, misery guts.”
Corporal Caroline Ayres: proper, polite, pretty, provincial. She’s so small town it’s pathetic. I turn slowly, giving myself time to think up something clever to reply with.
Our hardware supplies are floating behind her!
“Who did you do to get that?”
She frowns, then waves a hand. My feet leave the ground!
“I did that. Turns out not being a self-obsessed arsehole lets this place get to you. When that happens, your magic arrives.”
It what?
She drops me.
“Command tells me I can’t leave, but that’s no problem. Especially as you are. Being somewhere you’re not will be good.”
I hate her.


Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

There’s a shadow on my gun again. Not the one the rifle puts on the wall, but a little blob that sits on top of the shadow of the telescopic sight, waving tiny limbs while I try to ignore it.
Getting rostered to frontier worlds comes with three guarantees: you’ll see new things, you’ll double your salary, and you might die so badly they name it after you.
This forested rock is Bondungeth. Its sun is artificial: that’s why there are a lot of scientists and engineers here. I and my dangerous colleagues are the mandated security. All we have is long days, short nights, and boredom.
Oh, to hell with it.
“You do know I can see you up there, don’t you?”
The limbs stop waving. It’s the weirdest thing, watching it straighten up and turn to reveal an angular head. It nods.
Whoa. There was no hesitation.
“You’ve done this before.”
The tiny limbs make ‘so-so’ moves. Oh, I know.
“You keep trying but nobody pays attention.”
“Okay, much as the mime show is fun, I’m guessing it’s not going to be enough?”
Another nod.
I press the communicator.
“Professor Rangol? Help. Please come quietly to my room.”
“Nothing improper?”
“Not from me. Just get here and prove I’m not hallucinating. Come straight in.”
Minutes later, she enters, closes the door, then looks about.
I point to the shadow. It waves. She slumps back to sit against the door, face gone white.
“What is that?”
“Not the vaguest clue. It’s been there ever since I arrived. Tonight I talked to it and got a response. So far, I know it’s tried to speak to others, but been ignored. What we need is a way to talk.
She gets up and moves closer, pulling out a detector of some kind. Watching the shadow move like it’s owner is watching the examination is eerily amusing.
“A slight quiver here and there. We need bigger sensors.”
Crouching down next to my rifle, she grins.
“Greetings. Are you native to this planet?”
I butt in.
“Is your message urgent?”
Vigorous nodding.
Rangol gestures for me to continue. Okay, then.
“Are we in danger?”
“Do we have a year?”
“A month?”
“Can we fight?”
“Can you speak our language?”
“Can you write it?”
Not useful. Okay, soldier. Think.
“Professor, you know of anything big happening in the next six months?”
“Actually, yes. The sun will go dark to our view. It rotates, and there’s and narrow segment that doesn’t emit light. Will last a few days down here. First time since we’ve been here.”
The shadow is frantically waving it’s arms about.
Shadow… Dark… Is it that simple?
“So the threat arises when it goes dark?”
Rangol snaps her fingers.
“When it stays dark for longer than the longest night?”
But it’s something we can fight? No. Don’t presume.
“Prof, I’m not up for fighting unknowns. That’s a good way for everyone to die badly. What say we scatter those big sensors you mentioned all over, then withdraw to orbit during the dark time? The ship’s got full-spectrum lights, so should be safe. Once we work out what we’re facing, we can plan to deal with it, or put avoidance measures in place.”
The shadow is doing what looks like a little dance of joy.
She nods.
“I like it. Meanwhile, you, me, and few selected specialists can work on getting this saviour a vocabulary we can share.”
It and I nod at the same time. She laughs.


Author: Julian Miles

There he is, tapping away on his communication device.
2024. Autumn. White House. Executive Residence. Second Floor. The body will be found at 05:14 by Charles Lebruin, one of his security personnel.
I step towards him.
“Mr President?”
He looks up. I pull the trigger and see the needler beam scorch the wall behind him. He falls.
Perfect. Time to return. I press the recall button on my sleeve.


How did the bomber get into the White House? That’s the question of the decade. Tonight at nine we ask a panel of security experts how things could have gone so disastrously wrong for the Secret Service.


Karl, former Vice President, looks at the scorch marks, then at the report in front of him, then back to Eckardt.
“You’re telling me the president was already dead, the weapon used is unknown, the explosive is unidentifiable, and the bomber only showed up on thermals three minutes before he blew himself up?”
“Eckardt, I want this mystery solved. Make it a Special Access Program, reporting directly to me.
“Yes, Mister President.”


There he is, tapping away on his communication device.
2024. Autumn. White House. Executive Residence. Second Floor. The body will be found at 05:14 by Charles Lebruin, one of his security personnel.
I step towards him.
“Mr President?”
He looks up. I see the needler beam scorch the wall behind him. He falls.
What was that?


On top of a year of sordid revelations for the First Lady, the sudden death of her husband must come as both devastation and relief. Tonight at nine we ask a panel of bereavement councillors how things are likely to progress for the First Family in the coming months.


Karl, former Vice President, looks into the cell.
“You caught him, and got a cover story in place! Good work, Eckardt. Find out who, how, why, and where they got that clever technology. Break this thing down and get us some answers. Make it SCI, eyes only, you know the drill.”
“Yes, Mister President.”


There he is, tapping away on his communication device.
2024. Autumn. White House. Executive Residence. Second Floor. The body will be found at 05:14 by Charles Lebruin, one of his security personnel.
I step towards him.
“Mr President?”
He looks up. I pull the trigger and see the needler beam scorch the wall behind him. He falls.
Perfect. Time to return. I press the recall button on my sleeve.


On top of a year of disasters for the White House, the breach of security that allowed an assassin to join the Secret Service could see a change in the way the First Family are protected. Tonight at nine we ask a panel of espionage experts how a double agent could have made it so far undetected.


Eckardt, former Vice President, looks at the scorch marks, then at the report in front of him, then back to Charles.
“You’re telling me the president was already dead, the weapon and explosive come from some of our own secret projects, and the bomber only showed up on thermals three minutes before he blew himself up?”
“Somebody knows something, Charles. Let’s start a hard sweep through the radicals, militias, and insurgents. I want them to know we’re not going to tolerate this anymore.”
“Yes, Mister President.”
Charles hurries away.
President Eckardt smiles. It’s going to be a glorious new world, policed in hindsight.