The Art of the Sky

Author : Sam Clough aka “Hrekka”, Staff Writer

“What’s that?” Cal asked, gesturing to the ornately patterned box resting on the mat in the centre of Petra’s cabin. His passenger had a southerner’s skin, and the wrist spurs that showed her to be a Kadian, a native of the desert.

“La boîte de ciel,” she murmured, then paused, and looked up at him, “my sky-box. I am razir.”

“Skyhacker,” Cal breathed, examining the box more closely. It was a solid block of metal, fifty cents on each edge, the sides ornately inlaid with organic patterns. The top of the block was dominated by a giant circular dial, demarcated like a clock face, with sixty fine graduations. A disc of metal with a single indicator sat within the dial, and at its centre was a hole that would take a large, cylinder-style key.

The Razir — or more popularly, Skyhackers, were the only group to ever find a functional ’emergency weather controller’. Anyone with a telescope knew full well that the morning stars that encircled the planet were artificial satellites, and most scientists assumed that they had something to do with the very predictable weather patterns which covered the continent. Most of those same scientists refused to credit the claims of Raziran weather control — but most aviators worshipped razir as gods amongst men.

“Come see,” Petra beckoned him over, and fished a large key from the pile of clothing spread across her bunk. She knelt down by the box, and Cal copied, kneeling opposite her. She took his hands, wrapping them gently around the key. The key snicked into the hole, a tight fit.

“Eeks co-ordonnez.” She twisted the key, and the dial clicked round to thirty-five. A light pressure, and the key clicked lower.

“Egrek co-ordonnez.” She twisted the key again, this time setting the dial to thirty. Once again, she clicked the key lower, and twisted it to ten.

“Il pleut. It rains.” She smiled, and pointedly clicked the key down yet further.

She set two final digits, then rapidly pulled the key out.

Cal, realising that he had been holding his breath, slowly exhaled. The box remained where it sat between the pilot and his passenger, as inert as ever.

“Did it work?” Cal asked, slightly disappointed at the anticlimax. Petra shrugged, her limited english obviously exhausted. Unhappy with himself for getting so excited, Cal returned to the dirigible’s controls. The sky had been clear blue, to the horizon, now outside the shadow of the dirigible’s envelope, clouds were forming.

Petra had entered the cockpit behind him. He glanced at her, and saw her warm expression.

“L’art du ciel.”

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Hold Hell at Bay

Author : Sam Clough aka “Hrekka”, Staff Writer

When I was sixteen, they gave me the viruses to force my body to adapt to the heat. The process was…painful. It’s the most pain I can ever remember experiencing. Nerve and muscle and bone, all being stretched into new shapes, all at once.

The first virus was a super-splicer. A giant thing, packed with retrofitted transcriptases. It rewrote portions of my DNA and edited out the junk, and did it fast enough that my body didn’t have a chance to reject the new cells. By the time my immune system could react, my entire body held the new code. Including my immune system, which was upgraded significantly.

The second virus forced new connections to develop in my mind, making my new body match my self image, and filling my memory with knowledge about my capabilities, and about the mines.

The last virus rapidly killed the first two. That one hurt a lot.

They said that the changes would help to hold hell at bay. That they would make the conditions in the deep mines bearable.

That was a half-truth. The hab suddenly became terribly cold.

I was taller and thinner. Crests of bone ran down my back and along my arms, webbed with blood vessels to maximise surface area. My core temperature was ramped to three hundred and thirty three degrees, same as ambient for the deep mines.

The hab was maintained at two-nine-eight. Fine for baselines, but it left me shivering and numb whenever I visited, and I never wanted to stay long.

The revolution wasn’t my idea, but I welcomed it with open arms. We stole coldsuits from the overseers, and made our own. We broke in at midnight. We killed the executives and the guards. We forced the virus down the throats of the doctors. We made certain ‘modifications’ to the hab’s environmental systems, to make it feel more like the mines.

We destroyed the stock of the final virus. Without this to check them, the changers became contagious.

We sneered at the baselines, called them weak and cold and slow. We were the pinnacle of humanity, we said, even as we clung to the heat of planetary cores.

We fired scoutships filled with contagion and infected other mining worlds with resistant viruses. Before long there were millions of us: both freed miners and forced thermophiles ‘brought round’ to our way of thinking.

We are hot, we are fast. We are the spark of sentience embodied. We are the fire that burns at the heart of humanity. We are hell.

Let’s see the rest of the galaxy hold us at bay.

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Fishing for Disasters

Author : Sam Clough aka “Hrekka”, Staff Writer

“What are you doing?”

“Fishing for disasters.”

Proc looked up from his console and gestured towards the giant radio telescope that dominated the view from his window. ‘The ‘R-PSD’ logo was stamped across the base of the dish. Conspicuously, this was the name of Proc’s ex-employer.

“There’s always something bad happening out there somewhere,” he explained, “and I just hope I’m the one to find it first. Disasters are always big news, and I want my cut.”

“You’re insane, Proc.”

“So are you, Dizzy, so are you.”

Dizzy left him fiddling with his controls and disappeared into the other room to make lunch. She had just started to grate some cheese when she heard an ecstatic shout from Proc. Still holding the grater in one hand and the block of cheddar in the other, she wandered back over to where Proc was sitting, and leaned over his shoulder.

“What’s up?”

“Score. Asteroid fell out of orbit and smashed up a habitat over in Cygni. I’m patching to the networks: E-alpha offered me a ten percent finder’s fee on whatever I brought in.”

Diziet clapped and went back in the kitchen to finish preparing lunch. She had just found something to drink when Proc called her back to the console again.

“They bought it. My advance is already through and there’s more to come!”

Diziet leaned over his shoulder again and tapped a key to scroll through the feed. She tapped the screen over the number designating the system of origin.

“That’s not the code for Cygni. That’s…” She paused, not believing her eyes. “Oh God, that’s Beychae. What was the name of the habitat?”

Proc quickly checked.

Home At Last. There were no survivors.”

Diziet sunk to the floor and was holding her head, shuddering.

Proc’s eyes widened, and let out a small gasp, “Dizzy…your parents…I’m so sorry…”

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Uncommon Values

Author : Sam Clough aka “Hrekka”, Staff Writer

Kana took a deep breath and brought the butt of her father’s rifle to her shoulder. She tilted her head, both eyes open and focused beyond the length of the barrel. The iron foresight that perched at the end of the weapon had been cast as a dragon: the beast’s upthrust ears forming the neat ‘v’ through which she stared with intent. She had eschewed her father’s kabuto, but she did, however, wear his kikou: she had spent a long time adapting it to fit her slight frame.

She knelt on a ridge overlooking the village, making no effort to hide. It was only a matter of time until Daichi left the farmhouse. When he stepped from the door, there would be a single chance.

One shot would be all she’d have.

The rifle she held and it’s companion pistol at her belt were pinnacle weapons, comparing favourably to anything of their time. The bullet in the chamber was one of the original two hundred cast when the rifle was made.

She couldn’t miss.

Daichi left the farmhouse.

She fired and immediately ducked, thumbing a new cartridge into her father’s rifle. This was a new, cheap round: only countrymen were worthy of dying by the ancient ammunition. She braced the rifle again. Daichi was laying in the dirt, the top of his head splayed open against the ground, blood and brains mixing with the dust.

Two offworlders were scanning around the village. The first was reptilian, and the second wore a bulky space-suit, both wielding local weapons.

The rifle snapped as she fired again, and the lizardman jerked backwards, gore spraying from his gut. The space-suit located her and returned fire. Three or four shots tore into the soft dirt around her and two ricocheted off her kikou. She whispered a prayer of thanks to the armourer, and went to meet her foe.

She pressed herself against the back wall of one of the buildings, her father’s rifle already reloaded. The space-suit began to round the corner, but drew back too quickly: Kana’s shot whipped past him, missing by millimetres. Slinging the rifle behind her back, she drew the companion pistol and edged around the corner.

Her heart leapt into her throat when she heard the footsteps behind her. Whirling around, she came face-to-face with an unfamiliar pistol and the space-suit’s flat visage behind it. She hadn’t realised how fast it would be.

“Put your weapons down. Comply.” A harsh voice echoed from the space-suit. “You have killed two innocent men.”

“And Daichi,” she sneered at the corpse, “he killed my father in cold blood. You people did nothing. This was an act of honour.”

“You are Kana Takahashi? Respond.”

“I am.”

“Miss Takahashi. Your father’s death at the spaceport was an accident. There was nothing we could have done.”

“Liar.” She hissed, stiffening her grip on her father’s pistol.

A gunshot echoed around the village, but Kana had not fired. The space-suit crumpled to the ground. Kana turned: behind her, the lizardman stood, clutching his wound and barely managing to hold his rifle. The chamber was smoking.

“They told us,” the lizard spluttered, “that honour was dead here.”

In the distance, she could hear sirens. Turning away from the bodies, she ran for the relative safety of the woods.

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If I Could Do It Again

Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer

…I’d do all the same things. Just faster.

There’s so much to see, so much to do. When I stop and think of how much time I’ve wasted – sleeping, procrastinating, unemployed and misemployed, it makes me want to cry. There are all the things I’ve seen that I’d kill to see again, and all the things I’ve heard about but never had the time to see at all. The key is speed. Don’t waste any time.

The chainstars. I absolutely have to see them. I hear that they’re an incredible sight – three distinct toroidal suns, interlinked and whipping around each other with blinding speed, photospheres bleeding across the gaps. We don’t know why they hold together but it’s just amazing to look at. And then, after that, the Medr breeding grounds. It’s in the same sector. I’ve seen a vid of them: amazing creatures. Two klicks long, with eight-hundred metre sails. Smart as sin, they are. Rumour has it that some of them use humans and antifearac as symbiotes. Weird, I know, but I would like to see if I could speak with one of those symbiotes.

Oh, oh – after that, Earth! The skyhooks and the orbital – miracles of engineering, both. And the space fountain. Antarctica’s rolling hills have been green ever since they set up the eye to bounce sunlight round there. The fountain must be a sight – almost invisible tethers, the entire apparatus puncturing the atmosphere and staying up purely on the energy of the projectiles sent streaming up full of cargo and passengers. And on Earth, too – the pacific cities. Got to see them. Maybe fly over, spend a few days. See what it feels like to be outstripped by the pace of cultural change: those floating metropolises are apparently unrecognizable from one day to the next. But I’d have to keep moving. You can’t relax when there’s so much to see! You’ve got to go faster, keep up a blistering pace. Just to stay in the human race, you’ve got to go so quick.

After the pacific cities, I’d go to the Kupier belt outside cygni-two-alpha. There’s big, big freedead enclaves out there. Utilitarian bodies driven by people centuries dead, hacking minerals from the rock. Their spidery habitats, strung between rocks, they’re meant to be so beautiful. They have culture unlike anything the living could conceive of. It’s unique and incredible and I want to immerse myself in it. Out there, in hard vacuum, there’s life so visceral you can almost breath it.

Now, am I making haste, or could it be that haste is making me?

No time to worry. Just accelerate.

Then Calypso! Calypso, oh that would be sweet. Paradise planet, like Santa Vincente, but with fewer beasties. There’s an appeal to grabbing a rokkit launcher and hunting big things with teeth, but Calypso, you just don’t care anymore. Most of the pollens are narcotics: great for export. But skydiving in those purple skies, that’s something you need to do.

But my time’s up. Life has caught up with me – and boy, is it pissed. The resurrection machines only work the first three or four times: I’ve had five. The doks said I was lucky as anything to get that last one. It’s been almost three hundred years.

But there’s so much left to do, it can’t stop here..

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