Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer
Oreska saw the world in numbers. He saw, below the fabric of existence, the harsh grid of mathematics with which everything could be described. He had shown an aptitude for manipulating numbers at an early age, so it had been decided that his atypical neurotype should be encouraged. Through an intensive training regime, Oreska’s facility for numbers was turned into an obsession, and from there, into an neurological imperative.
He found it a strain, sometimes, to deal with typicals. Like the nobody in the suit sitting across the table from him. The interviewer was your standard corporate drone. Average in all respects, and a neurotype so bland it could send you to sleep.
“I think we here at the Exchange will have a place for you, Savant Oleg. We are slipping behind our competitors in the physical sciences. We have the research facilities, but insufficient minds to analyse the data.”
“What areas are you researching?” Oreska feigned interest. That always seemed to get you further with the drones.
“I’m authorised to inform you that we’re conducting research into strangelets and microblackholes, as well as certain more tangible areas, such as drive theory. Naturally our research interests are far wider than this, but I’m not permitted to disclose anything more”
“Naturally. What percentage of your current staff are atypes?”
“In physics, we have a ratio of approximately one to twenty, atypes to typicals.”
“And my inclusion would make it?”
“Exactly one to twenty. Would you come this way? I’m told the second part of the interview is ready for you.”
The interviewer led Oreska through the complex, down two flights and stairs and through one airlock. Silently, he ushered him through a door marked with the two-dimensional shadow of a hypercube.
The room Oreska found himself in was relatively small. The walls were smooth and white, with a plastic sheen to them. They were covered in text; numbers, letters, and mathematical operators. The equations surrounded him. Involuntarily, Oreska slipped into mathspace.
The transition was as smooth as ever. The walls slipped away, along with his sense of self. The equations glowed hot and bright. Slowly, Oreska began to shift them, conducting a few exploratory transforms. And it clicked — he found the error buried in the numbers. The variables stretched, shifted, and settled into place. The modifications practically radiated ‘rightness’. Oreska stepped backwards, shaking off the arithmetic hallucinations.
A pen was thrust into his hand. Rapidly, Oreska made the required alterations.
“How long was I out?” He asked. The splinter skill originally knocked him out for hours. Self-discipline helped, but he still sometimes lapsed into a math-thrall.
“Twenty seconds, Savant.” The interviewer had gone, replaced by a taller man. Oreska’s face recognition was sketchy at best, but this man he knew. Professor Lantar, head of the Exchange.”Interesting solution. Please report to the reception for your identification and lab assignment.”
Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer
“Time?” Cal called down to Peter from his perch on top of the ruined building.
“Five more minutes, give or take,” Peter shouted up to him, “Molly has never been particularly punctual.”
They were waiting about two klicks outside Ironworks. A rusting metal sign informed them that they were welcome at the ‘Perceptible Science Development Center, Beta West’. Calder was exploring the intricate peaks of concrete, looking for wildlife. Peter was standing just by the main road that ran directly to town, pacing around impatiently.
The shadows had lengthened considerably before they heard the rumble of Molly approaching in a borrowed four-tonne truck. The truck was one of only three functional vehicles in town. It had cost them a lot of cash and far too many favours to get hold of it for the night. If Peter’s plan didn’t pan out, they’d be in debt for a few months.
Molly parked the truck carefully, and waved from the driver’s side window. Peter hopped into the back, and dragged out the reel of cable they’d found. He quickly hooked it around the hitch on the back of the truck, and pulled it out into the debris field. Cal helped him to secure the end of the cable to the largest rubble fragment. They wove it between jutting remnants of the building’s steel substructure, and pulled it tight. The truck’s engine roared, and they quickly cleared the worst of the detritus away from the centre of the ruined building.
Under a thick layer of dust was what they’d come looking for. Cal swept the worst of the dust away from the small, circular panel set flush with the ground.. Molly brought three packs out from the back of the half-track, and Peter threw the last small bits of concrete away from where Cal was working. Cal was growing increasingly frustrated with the panel. It was studded with buttons, and he was entering combinations from a notebook, but with no obvious effect. Peter shined a torch over his shoulder. Cal punched one last combination, and was rewarded by a thick ‘clunk’. Nearby, a large metal panel had sunk about a centimeter into the ground, and was slowly grinding to one side. Molly peered down the newly-revealed hole. A ladder was attached to one side. The beam of her torch illuminated a floor, roughly ten meters below.
“I take it back, Peter. You’re less full of yourself than I initially estimated.” Molly mused, staring into the hole.
“Who’s going first?” Cal asked brightly, shouldering his pack.
“I will…” Molly responded, slowly.
The three friends climbed down the ladder in silence, the light from their torches dancing on the walls of the shaft. As Molly stepped off the bottom of the ladder, into the corridor adjacent, there was an audible click. Every third ceiling tile began to glow faintly, illuminating a long corridor.
“There’s power.” Peter stated. “Some, at least.”
“We’ve hit the jackpot,” Molly laughed, “there must be so much good stuff down here!” She hugged Peter. “You’re brilliant, know that?”
Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer
Kema Port. Hot, dry and dusty in general; the uncomfortable atmosphere an unavoidable side-effect of the equatorial location of the port. A walled city, surrounded on all sides by sand and rock, Kema is unforgiving. However, Kema the city is inextricably linked with Kema the spaceport, and by extension with the transfer station in orbit above. And so, linked into the rest of the continent by a maglev grid, Kema throngs with traders and pilots and mercenaries.
Inorian was feeling conspicuous in his standard-issue jumpsuit with his standard-issue tote bag, and slightly uncomfortable in what he perceived to be a standard-issue body. The beguilingly attractive tech that had woken him up and explained that it was baseline human, little different to the one he’d left on the near-earth habitat when he’s signed up for the colonies. It had dozens of little fixes, of course, and was in better shape than the one he’d left behind, but it was him. They’d even made sure that they’d got his face right. The pamphlet in his bag had told him of all the different adaptations his new body could take, and that feelings of dismorphia were normal, and would pass in a few hours.
Feeling very much like a cookie-cutter person falling off the end of a production line, he walked out of the arrivals terminal.
And into Kema’s biggest marketplace. For the first few minutes, he just stood there, letting the crowd flow around him. Every so often, he saw a flash of another standard-issue jumpsuit, but the majority of the throng were dressed in styles totally alien to him. There were rows of stalls everywhere, nothing more than wooden tables covered with racks of food, clothes and electronics. Most had awnings, but some didn’t, and you could barely move between them for the press of bodies or hear yourself think for the shouts of the sellers or the offers of the traders. It was intoxicating.
Slowly, the crowd began to resolve into individuals, rather than just an overwhelming mass of bodies. Inorian began to notice types and subtle repeating variations amongst the people: the adaptations that the pamphlet had listed for him. Photosynths wearing next to nothing, relaxing on rooftops, doing their ‘chlorophyll thing’. Diminutive, pale anaerobes dodged through the crowd, signing to one another and to the stallowners.
Shining metalotolerants practically screamed for attention;the most obvious ones looked like they’d been electroplated in silver and gold. Ino saw one or two caked in rust and grease, looking like walking industrial accidents. Uplinkers walked beside robotic ‘pets’, tethered to them by an interface cable. They directed the movements of heavy lifters and loaders, lending the machines a grace and subtlety that Ino had never thought a machine could be capable of.
“What’s your name, new fish?” A girl with a gleaming arm and a shock of black hair had peeled off from the flow and was grinning at Inorian.
“I’m Ino. And fish?”
“I’m Scout. Pleased to meet’cha.” She looked him over. “Fish means newbie. Colonist. Fresh out the vat. I’ve got a couple of hours to kill: d’you know your way around yet?”
“Nope. I was-“
“Awesome!” Scout reached out and grabbed Ino’s hand with her metallic one. For some reason, he was surprised at the warmth of her touch. “First things first, let’s get out of this crowd.”
Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer
The subject of this image has a real name, but by custom, he uses a ‘messenger-name’: Jay. He’s moving on foot. The ground is broken and rough: with no road, he had to leave his vehicle behind. It’ll be one more day before he has the first in a series of syndications at mining enclaves and towns nestled amongst the mountains.
He’s wearing a bag over a long coat. The resolution of the image is just good enough to make out the individual characters of the public encryption key stitched into the material of the bag. The view from the electronic eye-in-the-sky shows Jay surrounded by a light haze: a mess of wireless signals and RF echoes. Bright panels on his coat betray the slabs of solid-state memory where his primary archive is stored.
He’s just one of a whole series of messengers: they tie together the continent, ferrying the all-important message archives from one isolated region to the next, through territories that are too dangerous or too unpredictable to lay cable. Message latency is generally measured in days, but security is absolute.
We return to the subject just after one of his syndications. Apparently at ease, relaxing with an intoxicant on the terrace of a guesthouse on a mountainside. As well as the syndication, he has also taken on more than the usual number of personal messages from the miners and farmers of the area, and is seeking solitude. Many messengers exhibit these behaviours, including the intoxicant dependence. Some are far more severe than others. Jay has a relatively mild habit, which is one of the reasons he was chosen for this experiment.
Messengers are interesting because there is statistically significant factor of difference between them and all other social groups under study. They display certain shocking similarities to one another, with no reflection on their region of origin. Messengers display a wholly unnatural obsession with security and authenticity. This is harnessed for the public image of their syndicate, a fact that they trade on, but this obsession invariably extends beyone a purely professional interest.
The second subject is one of our operatives, teleoperating a shell. Naturally, we have chosen an attractive female shell for this test, as we have judged that it will significantly increase the stress factor. Naturally, the shell is not a real messenger, but is merely a good fake. Her equipment is of the same specification as Jay’s, and her public key has a forged signature. We call her ‘Clara’.
Other combinations of this scenario have been carried out. When a non-messenger is introduced to ‘Clara’ (or the male equivalent, Cal), interaction is normal. They don’t question the identity of this person, but attempt to ‘get to know’ our operative, intrigued by the exotic persona and the popular romanticisation of the messenger lifestyle. When a messenger is introduced to our non-messenger version of Clara/Cal, the reaction of the messenger varies wildly: some express disinterest, others actively attempt to exploit the mythos of their position for personal gain.
Upon introduction, Jay and ‘Clara’ exchanged pleasantries, and some superficial comments about their syndication routes. ‘Clara’ left the terrace, in order to buy Jay a drink: she left her bag, and therefore the forged signature on her public key, with him. Immediately she was out of sight, he scanned the key. His eyes went wide with panic.
Hidden under his jacket was an edition of the famous ‘messenger gun’.
As ‘Clara’ stepped back on to the terrace, Jay shot her.
Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer
The Locus is the focal point of our operation. It exists for a period of one year, at the south pole of the nascent earth. That year is constantly recycled: we’ve been in operation for twenty-four years, subjective. Geologically speaking, we leave just before life shows up. After our first accident, and the creation of the beta timestream, we frameshifted to treating millenia as moments. Just to be safe.
We draw personnel from all six timestreams now, but back at the founding only the alpha stream existed. Well, that’s a lie, but a useful one. The other streams probably did exist, but we just didn’t know about them. We’ve got more scientists than field operatives here at the Locus, and arguements can get quite heated as everyone defends their pet theories.
The first accident was right when we set up here. We misjudged our recycling period and ended up leaving a crate of assorted garbage out in the cold. Almost immediately, our gear went nuts, claiming to have picked up an alternative set of destination co-ordinates.
Turns out that can of garbage was found at some point in the seventeenth century, and the broken electronics contained within were enough to accelerate development towards an information society by about eighty years. Naturally, we tried looping back on ourselves and cleaning up the garbage, but it made no difference. The beta stream was there to stay.
The gamma stream was created intentionally by one of our researchers, to see if it could be done in the lab. He didn’t have permission to do it. We looped back to stop him, and suceeded. But our gear still had access to a third timestream. Gamma is regressed: the scientist managed to stop the industrial revolution before it happened.
Delta and epsilon were all accidents of one sort or another, mostly made by gamma personnel during training.
Zeta was my doing. There’s a long-running joke that everyone kills Hitler on their first solo soujourn.
Delta’s Hitler was the worst. He succeeded where alpha’s Hitler failed, and ended up smashing both Russia and the United States.
So I killed him, and in doing so, I created Theta. Killing Hitler didn’t create a peaceful timestream. It didn’t stop the war. Killing Hitler killed everyone. Mutually Assured Destruction suddenly didn’t look all that mutual anymore, and the sky burned.
The Locus authorities threw me in a cell: one day, recycled forever.
They won’t kill me for it. They made that abundantly clear. I have to serve six billion life sentences, subjective.
They tell me that they’ll keep me alive for as long as they can.