Ansatz

Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

Most of them come at night. They assume that their objective would be easier to complete while the target was fast asleep, so we increase security at dusk: three guards outside of the bedroom door and two inside, and another dozen on patrol. Sometimes they have bulletproof clothing. Sometimes they have guns that can burn a hole straight through a body. Our scientists spent weeks analyzing them, but we can’t replicate the battery. It’s unfortunate. Technology like that would be useful on the front lines.

Some of the travelers are scrappy, with banged up equiptment that looks older than they are. From their actions, we assume that they are rogue. They bring their wallets, and based on their ID, most of them date from the 2700s. The other ones, the ones with polished weapons and uniforms, carry no identification. From the manufacture dates on their equipment, we’ve determined that they come from the late 2600s. Words and names are written in Chinese, but the ID cards say America.

At first, this caused concern.

We’ve tried to predict our future based on their existence. We will win the war. Victors don’t make assassination attempts. We know that at some point in the 2600s, the American government realized that their program would be unsuccessful, and the remaining equiptment fell into the hands of private citizens. We know that China and America share military secrets. We can find no trace of Japan, so we assume that they lost their war.

We haven’t shared this information. If they have a protection force similar to ours, they’re keeping it to themselves. If they don’t, we can assume no attempts have been made on the Emperor’s life.

Our greatest concern is assassination in the years before our division was founded. However, the Leader remembers no unusual events, and his ancesteral line was unaltered. We’ve theorized that another group of temporal soldiers protected him then, but left it in our hands once he rose to power. Our records would be invaluable to future generations, and eliminating us would wipe those records from existence.

We haven’t been able to interrogate them. The soldiers who aren’t killed commit suicide in seconds, and their bodies disappear in a flash of light. The rogues’ bodies usually remain, and autopsies have revealed significant changes to their biology. Implants made of an unidentified material. Evidence of advanced surgical techniques. Unfortunately, we can’t use this knowledge to our advantage without the equipment to properly analyze it.

With every attempt, our efficiency increases. Assurance of victory raises morale, and every dead traveler is proof that the Leader will not be killed.

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Meteorological Engineering

Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

Eric Hayton was not happy. In fact, his unhappiness was palpable: it could be seen in the four empty coffee cups on his desk, in the disgust with which he regarded his wall of monitors, and mostly, in the overfilled ash tray positioned on the corner of his desk. Smoking was illegal in the colony, but if he didn’t get this weather bug sorted out, he would have bigger things to worry about than a misdemeanor fine.

Almost a century ago, the first wave of emigrants suffered through perfectly stable weather. Although the colonists were expected to enjoy a sempiternal spring, the lack of seasons only reminded them that their world was artificial. The Monarch system, written a decade later, swept the programming awards and was immediately put into use. It projected the weather for an entire imagined planet, then used the colony’s temperature and humidity controls to match the weather for a hypothetical longitude and latitude. Because it was self-reliant, the only people who studied it were eccentric techno-anachronists and third year programming students. Even Eric, the colony’s chief meteorologist, hadn’t read the output in years. It was stable. Reliable. There had never been problems before.

Judging by the two feet of snow outside of Eric’s window, there was a first time for everything.

“Linz, can you put on another pot?” he called as he gnawed on the end of his stylus. He’d run out of cigarettes a few hours ago and run out of sleep twenty hours before that, but for now, his coffee reserves were holding. It was his responsibility to track down the bug, but introducing new code to the Monarch system was dangerous. Sure, he could stop the snowfall with a few keystrokes, but since the simulation built upon itself, one clumsy move could cause floods and droughts for centuries to come.

“After this round,” Eric’s daughter called from the other room. Through her headphones, he could hear the muffled sounds of her video game. When Lindsay appeared with a fresh mug of coffee, he gestured to the largest monitor and a tap of his stylus froze the code in place.

“You see anything there?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “It’s self-correcting though, right? It should work out the kinks in a week or so,”

“We don’t have a week or so,” Eric said. He picked up the mug. “Everything’s shut down. The whole colony’s snowed in.”

Lindsay shrugged uneasily. “We only started learning Monarch this semester,” she reminded. “I barely know anything. Are you sure you didn’t leave yourself logged in at a public terminal?”

Eric shook his head. “Aside from the computers at City Hall, his is the only machine wired in to the sim.”

“I guess it’s just a natural bug, then.” Lindsay wrapped her arms around Eric, giving him a quick hug before turning back to the living room. “Good luck,” she added.

Lindsay closed the door behind her and pulled on her headset as she dropped onto the sofa.

“I’ve only got time for one more run,” a static-laced voice said. “We’ve got to finish tomorrow’s codework.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Lindsay said,with a glance to the closed door. “School should be cancelled for at least another week.”

“I feel bad saying it,” another guildmate grunted, “but we’re damn lucky this bug happened when it did. Gives us some time to catch up with that guild on Reki 5.”

Lindsay’s avatar joined the rest of her guild at the digital battleground. “Let’s show them what we’re made of.”

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Long Division

Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

“You haven’t changed a bit,” Aja said, though her eyes avoided her sister’s face. Saj noticed the hesitation, noticed the way Aja’s bangs (gray and black, like soot-streaks on the walls of a bombed-out Akari factory) hung thin, revealing a forehead creased only with the lines of age. Saj’s hair was short and black, the standard military cut, and the slashed-circle brand of the soldier caste was glossy and pink above her eyebrow.

“How would you know?”

“You still look like you’re sixteen.”

“I’m nineteen. And I’ve changed a hell of a lot.”

Saj’s voice was tight, somewhere between the tone of a defensive child and a fierce adult, but there was no conflict in the duality. Saj kept her head high, her expression arrogant and indifferent to the curious stares of the few other teenagers in the café. None of them were branded. The caste system had been eliminated twenty years ago, when Saj was seventeen and light years away in the dying months of the war.

“You’re a doctor now,” Saj’s eyes remained hard on Aja’s face. “A plastic surgeon. Is that what happened to your mark?”

“Don’t do this, Saj.” When she frowned, her face looked like the wrinkled crust of the ice moon of Omnaki. Aja would never see that moon. No Salal would ever see it again. “The war is over, now.”

“Your war.”

“Our war.”

“The only people who shared that war with me died in the massacre on Soulon 5.” Saj’s expression was stony, and her dark eyes had narrowed into slits. “This isn’t my home. This is some world that you made, you and the rest of them, after I went away.”

Saj stared at her sister’s hands, which seemed even more alien than the leathery flesh of the Akari. Liver spots, wrinkled skin, fingernails painted mauve. It was hard to believe that they’d shared a womb, nineteen or sixty years ago.

“There’s a place for you here,” Aja whispered. “I’ve been saving. You can live with James and I, and go to University. We can get rid of your brand.”

“This isn’t my world,” Saj repeated. “And no one’s touching my brand.”

A cold silence fell over the café, and Saj realized she’d spoken too loudly for the enclosed space. She pushed herself up from the table and it creaked at the force of her muscular arms.

“Remember the river, out behind the house?” Aja said. “Where we used to swim in the summer?”

“You’re older than Grandma was.”

“We built a raft once, to see if we could float away from the colony.”

“If I’d drowned, you would have been firstborn,” Saj snapped.

“And I would have gone instead of you.”

Aja’s voice was calm, but Saj pushed away from the table and whirled, her boots squeaking against the floor as she stormed towards the glass door.

“I’ll wait for you.”

“You’ll be waiting for a damn long time.”

“I’ve been waiting for sixty years.”

This time, Saj hesitated, her hand on the doorknob. She stared back at her sister, something indefinable flickering behind her dark eyes.

“Come home,” Aja said.

Saj gritted her teeth and turned away. “I don’t have a home.”

She slammed the door before shoving her hands into the pockets of her jacket and tightening her fingers around her cellphone. Its directory was empty, aside from Aja’s number and the Social Service Center. She wanted to break it, to watch it explode like a photon grenade, but she didn’t move. Saj was cold and tired, and she didn’t know what to do next.

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Frozen

Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

“You won’t like it there,” Rajani’s brother said. “People go crazy like that, so far from the sun. There’s science behind it. I saw it on the forums.”

Sam’s avatar hung on the screen throughout the call: himself at twenty-one, tanned and grinning as he reclined in a white plastic chair. His UV goggles had been shoved up into his dark hair, and she recognized the backdrop of the mainland relocation center behind him. The photograph was half a decade old, now. Samir was an account manager for a software company in Dhaka.

“I’m not going to go crazy, Sam,” she said with a tired but affectionate sigh. Rajani leaned back as far as her small control chair would permit her and folded her hands behind her neck. “I was a janitor on Mercury, remember? And a receptionist in the Hilton Luna.”

“But the sun was always there, Raj. You just had to travel a couple hours to see it. And an ice moon? The Eskimos used to go nuts, do you know that? Pibloqtok, they called it. You’re not cut out for a place like that, hon. Come back to Bangladesh.”

Rajani was used to her brother’s pleas, though they were less frequent and impassioned than her parents’. “The Sunderban’s underwater, Sam.”

“There are other places above sea level.”

“It isn’t the same.”

Despite the frequent cost of replacing her shuttle’s oxygen filter, Rajani fished a lighter from her pocket and lit a cigarette, exhaling towards Sam’s avatar with mild frustration. Her own avatar, displayed beside his, contained a preteen girl on a pale beach, bands of white surf curling around her ankles. Her father’s small fishing boat was tied up in the background.

“Have you ever seen ice, Sam?” she asked.

“Are you smoking in your shuttle?”

“I asked you a question.”

“Sure. I went to the ice park in Greenland a few years ago.”

“That’s not real ice.”

“It’s frozen water.”

“Not the same thing. They freeze it. I did a fly-by of Io once, a couple months ago. Nothing but black peaks and valleys, and the settlement’s lights reflecting over it.

“Sounds nice,” he said, though his tone was dubious.

“It looks like the ocean at night. The way our flashlights hit the waves when we were hunting for crabs.”

Sam was silent for several seconds. “You’re becoming an ice miner,” he finally said.

“There’s no global warming out there.”

Her brother sighed, but Rajani knew that she had won. “I can’t talk you out of it?”

“I’ll visit on the off-season,” she promised, and flipped the switch to disconnect. With a mechanical click, both avatars disappeared. Rajani angled the nose of her craft upwards, away from Earth, preparing to trade one orbit for the next.

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Social Service

Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

It was a no-call assignment, and Carson hated no-call assignments. Attempts to contact the McCaulty family through conventional mail had been unsuccessful, though he noted that the lever of the mailbox had been raised, indicating recent use. They had no telephone, of course. Carson shifted the car to manual control as they left the grid and pulled onto the gravel trail.

“Are those real cows?” Kristin asked. He nodded. Her eyes were wide.

“You’ll get used to it. Is your defo shield charged?” he asked. The car came to a stop behind a rusted-out manual pickup truck, and Carson yanked on the emergency brake. Kristin nodded and followed him up the gravel path and he looked her over one last time before ringing the doorbell.

Long seconds passed before the door swung open a few inches, and a portly woman ran her eyes over the two of them. “Are you Mrs. McCaulty?” Carson asked as he flipped open his wallet. His badge caught the light and projected a holographic image of his face.

“I got no business with you.”

“We’re here to discuss your son.”

Mrs. McCaulty squinted suspiciously. “There’s nothing wrong with Herbert.”

“Then you won’t mind us asking him a few questions.”

“He don’t talk yet.”

Carson reached for his report pad and scrolled through the relevant information. “He’s nearly five, correct?” he asked as he moved his foot into the crack between the door and its frame. “We’re just gathering information about the case.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Herbert.”

“Are you familiar with the Re-Ability program?”

“You’re not sticking nothing in my son’s head,” she said, this time with an edge of force. Mrs. McCaulty leaned against the door, but Carson didn’t let it close.

“I think you might be misinterpreting this visit,” he said. “I’m here to tell you about the federal assistance program. Your son may qualify for-”

“You ain’t sticking nothing in my son’s head,” she repeated.

Carson revealed no evidence of frustration or unease, though Kristin had tucked herself behind him with a nervous expression across her youthful face. “Re-Ability implants are no different from pacemakers or any other medical device,” he said calmly. “If he’s struggling, there’s a solution. Surely, as his mother, you’d want him to have the best life possible.”

“You ain’t-”

“I’ll just leave you with this information,” Carson said. His hand slid through the crack in the door, holding a bouquet of holo-readers. She snatched them from his grip, and he barely retrieved his hand before the door snapped shut. Carson’s frown was almost invisible as he turned back to the car.

“She isn’t going to read those,” Kristin said as she grabbed the door handle.

“You’re learning fast.”

“So what do we do?”

He slid into his padded seat and yanked the door shut with a little more force than necessary. “Level two,” he said. “Forward it under neglect and endangerment.”

Kristin gave a short nod as she slid in and pulled her door closed. “Are they going to-”

“If he doesn’t have that implant before he’s six, he’ll be permanently delayed.” Carson snapped as he threw the car back into manual and it spun. “Don’t feel sorry for her. He needs treatment.”

“Alright,” Kristin said. Her voice was meek as she reached for the console panel.

“Label it priority,” he added. The car jerked abruptly as it reached the end of the driveway and reunited with the grid.

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