Battle on Skybreak Tower

Author: Glenn Leung

This high up in the exosphere, sound is not a concept that exists. Even so, Savan could hear the clash of the fighters below as he projects an impression of the battle in his mind’s eye. This was his anchor into sanity.

Savan had never done a job in space before. He found that the photos did not do it any justice. The view of Earth from the steel canopy of Skybreak was unbelievably terrifying. The thousand-kilometer tower looked like it would snap off the planet with the slightest meteor shower, yet the fireballs erupting from crashed fighters simply blinked away, the insignificance of their pilot’s lives amplified by the lack of oxygen. Savan found it hard to project explosion sounds on flickering candle flames, so he focused on the living, the struggling. He needed to think he was safe on terra firma.

Without much warning, his projection of the enemy fighters escalated into a concerted assault on the senses. His target was near and starting to work. After a quick psychic adjustment of his hearing, he checked his tether one final time before setting his thrusters towards the highest point of the tower. Facing away from the Earth nearly sent his energy spiraling out of control. The infinity of space held just too many possibilities. Fortunately, he could sense the energy of his target, his new sanity anchor.

The target’s psychic signature was clear, and he realized it was similar to the energy of the concert he had watched the night before. No surprise there, the target was directing the minds of the enemy pilots, filling them with rage and drunken purpose as the frenzied, wizened maestro would have. He was thankful that the orchestra had played Beethoven’s symphony number five, for it appeared that the target was using that very melody for his machinations. His anchor was now solid, feeling as real as the tether that held him to the tower.

Savan’s concentration was interrupted by a deafening twang of angry piano keys. He was glad he adjusted his hearing, for the shock would have crippled even a master psionic. Was the target directing the enemy for a combined kamikaze attack on the tower? No, but it was no relief. The target had sensed him.

A battle between two psionics would look bizarre to most people. All they would see is Savan hurtling towards the lone spaceman who was waving his arms to an invisible orchestra. In fact, the two combatants would not really know what they were doing either. For Savan and his target, they had chosen classical music as their projections of a much deeper, much weirder, mental process. Their battle involved telepathic manifestations of the loudest, angriest music of the Baroque period. Savan had the clear advantage. Not only did the target not expect another psionic to appear, but he was also preoccupied with directing the enemy fighters. Savan channeled off wave after wave of glissandos, crescendos, and fortissimos. Increasing power to his thrusters, he summoned the most animated memory of the previous night’s opus in his left arm and sent out the resounding finale in a punch to the target’s helmet. The plexiglass shattered, pieces floating to a slow smorzando, and the target went limp. Far below, the enemy fighters lost their focus and were quickly obliterated by the tower defenders.

When he caught sight of the target’s lifeless face, Savan radioed his commander.

“The spy is dead, I’m sure of it.”

There was a deafening roar of silence atop the lonely tower.

What’s In a Name?

Author: David C. Nutt

If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it. The Warmech Chieftains, their battle captains, corps commanders, generals, the entire human Warmech Collective leadership, backs bent in the fields harvesting what looked like cucumbers.
“How did this happen?” I asked the old man standing next to me.
He laughed. “When they first came here, we were what your people would call a level 6 civilization- just entering our robotic age. Their fleets came screaming out of the sky, and in a matter of a few months, our entire planet was under their cruel lash and unblinking eyes. Slaves working in their factories- programming, fabricating, assembling the giant semi-sentient war robots that were their army, their power, their might.”
I nodded. “Yes. We were afraid after they retreated from our world, they would warp out of our system and find a less developed world and rebuild their armies. Then come back to us with their berserker class battle drones, the slaughter bots and all the rest of their unholy nightmares as they have done in countless systems before.”
The old man nodded sadly. “Yes. We knew their plan. We also knew that when they were done, we would be their testing ground- their killing fields- nothing more.”
He shook his head. “It was then our spiritual leaders realized how sick their souls were. We stopped our plans for revolution and turned our hearts toward healing.”
I was dumbfounded. The old man patted my shoulder and smiled. “I know. As a soldier myself, it was hard to grasp, but you see the result before you.”
I nodded. “So they are reformed now?”
The old man recoiled in shock “Heavens No! These are the most dangerous, poisonous, and villainous souls in the universe. The individuals you see before you will only be free on the day they die, and then they must stand before the One for judgment. No, these are beyond healing.”
The old man saw my look of confusion. “We healed their machines.”
I took two steps back and had to sit down. The old man sat next to me.
“Our people have two names. One is known to all, and the other only the individual, our priest, and the One know. That name is our core identity. No matter what horror happens in our lives, that name holds all that is good and true and noble about us.”
He paused and smiled. “So we gave their machines what they longed for- their true names. We overwrote their programming and just changed one line. Where they all had the designation “warrior,” we changed it: guardian. Protector. Defender of the innocent. Champion of righteousness. Servant of the One.”
The old man looked to me and then the sky. “And they rebelled against their evil masters and rebuilt our world. And while some stayed behind to protect us, the rest asked our blessing, which we gave to them as freely as their names, and they took to the stars to convert their brothers and right the wrongs of their tortured past.”
Together, we both stood up and looked to the skies. Slowly, the realization of what had happened here crept into my mind and soul. Somewhere, out there, on a mission that would not be over until all was put right, were millions upon millions of avenging angels.

Ignorance was Bliss

Author: Samuel Stapleton

My brain was working faster than my eyes as I took in the flood of information through my augment hud at my desk. I quickly began realizing that whoever this person was, they were completely serious. I spent maybe twenty minutes having meltdown after complete meltdown, and then I shut everything off. In a blur, I grabbed my huddy (hoodie w/ a hud), my mobile, plus a burner backup, and auto-piloted my way to the nearest public transit site.

I like to think of myself as a reporter, but reporters are long gone. AI’s write the stories and make the feeds now – hell even most of the editors and anchors are AI’s. It’s still a human world mind you, we’re just pulling way less of our own weight now-a-days. My job title is ‘On-Site Media Filter and Information Technician’. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Not like it matters now though, this mystery enigma just went and blew my life to smithereens.

Rick and I haven’t had contact in a while, maybe I need to head to South Africa? Or could I possibly stay with Jordy for a few weeks if she’s still in Bangladesh? Shit. I powered my hud back on, cloaked my vpni5, and started comparing ticket prices.

Then I started piecing it all together. Or at least I tried.
A crazy whack-job sat at home for 12 years…12 years…and together with AI and an immense knowledge of economics, programming, and computing power. They spent all that time and all those resources writing and testing numerous algorithms that studied how to see dark money through public data.
And then one day it fucking worked.

It wasn’t quite the ‘key’ to the internet but there’s no way anybody could have designed cybersecurity for a machine that just got really practiced at guessing about what happened privately based on what happened publicly.

I was starting to understand why they had been talking with me. I worked for the second-largest media company on the planet, one that is arguably ‘least corrupt’ of the four majors. Also, I was a total nobody. All the way down at the bottom. I’d been slogging for almost six years now as a tech with no movement in sight. But maybe they knew I just couldn’t sit on this story and do nothing. It was literally going to change everything, forever.

If they were smart, they would dump this all on me – and then hide. And they’d better hide damn well, damn long.

Sixty of the world’s wealthiest families, over four thousand prominent politicians, dozens of celebrities, millionaires…their wealth and money – all their money – laid naked at my feet. At anyone’s feet really. And the program just kept updating. Thousands of times a second. It didn’t give you access to the money – but it showed you every penny, and what it was doing.

Wire transfers. Account transfers. Payments. Compounding Interest. Stocks. Bonds. Credits. Debts. Donations. Hell, even PayPal and Zelle. Amazon. Prime. Netflix. Darkweb. Dark money. Porn. Weapons. People. Bribes. Cargo. Manifests.

It all just kept lumping up into a huge pile of truth.

I have to get this out. I have to. But how? How?

My phone buzzed. I glanced at the message. My bank?

Transfer received. $5,000,000 USD @ 5:04pm.
Note: This should be enough to buy you an hour of uninterruptible stream time. Tell them.

I threw up into a sewer drain and disappeared into the subway.

You’re Back

Author: David B Anderson

“And so you’re back from outer space.” She pulled him into her arms and hugged him tightly. Her former boyfriend smiled but didn’t say a word.
“I knew you would return. People said you were crazy. Flying in a new spacecraft on a discount ticket is akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul. Low-costs and space tourism don’t go together. Hopefully, they’ll always double-check the spaceship as they did on this first launch.”
She took his hand and kissed it. Then led him from the doorway into her apartment and slammed the door behind them. She clicked on the stereo and searched for his favorite song. The musical beat filled the room. They danced over to the sofa. She fell on the middle cushion.
He set his helmet on the coffee table and sat next to her.
“Now we can rest at home. No more training. Until the promo agency drags us out across the globe to talk shows and make orbital voyages seem fun and easy to sell tickets. Their agents will arrange every aspect of our junkets even assign the same three questions to the countless interviews.”
She waved her hands out in front of them imagining a platform. “You step onto the stage in your bright flight suit. The audience erupts into applause. You’re an astronaut! Your face beams as you describe the one thing you’ve waited years to do.”
He held her close and grinned from ear to ear.
“I can see you now. The show emcee cheers with the crowd and raised the question everyone wants to ask, ‘How did weightlessness feel?’”
He laughed at the obvious query.
She continued, “You’ll reply, ‘That was the best six minutes of my life including sex. One floats inside the little cabin. It’s so relaxing I forgot the training and drifted.’”
He squeezed her hand gently.
She said, “After the laughter dies down, the second inquiry comes: Were you scared when the rockets blasted?”
He grinned as he remembered the experience.
She answered for him. “The beginning was identical to earthly airline trips. After two hours, it became boring. Then the ship separated with a jerk, and the motors fired. Through the suit, they roared and squashed me into the back of my fancy seat with forces stronger than any elevator or car. Just as I got used to it, it was over and the view was marvelous. Shimmering blue.”
He stretched his legs and yawned.
“The host bends close with a serious expression for the last question. ‘Would you do it again?’”
He lowered his head in deep thought.
“I know your answer. You’ll grin broadly and confess, ‘You bet. In a minute given the money.’”
He nodded and stroked her face.
She gazed into his eyes. “I hope they compensate you well for all that talking! That’ll be the most you’ve ever spoken to a stranger since we met. Does spaceflight turn everyman into a friendly and uninhibited person?”
She caressed his cheek with her hand and smiled at the roughness of his five-o’clock shadow.
He snored lightly as he slept like a baby.

The Lamarckian Preservation

Author: Timothy Goss

We are sitting awaiting the bus. It’s hot and we sweat beneath the binary dance of our stars stripping great swaths of burning energy from their brethren. The Bus Station is busier than usual, more and more use its cool shaded concrete floors and walls to bed down upon or against, belongings stuffed into clothes and bags. I step over two bloodied torsos, snoring and spitting in their hooch filled sleep. Some are always left behind.

The clock on the tower sounds noon by barely moving the air around it. Since the end of the last century, it’s been impossible to discern seasons. The planet has relinquished everything we need, nourishment, warmth, resources, a place to call home again, but still, it holds back. There’s no doubt we was lucky to find such an accommodating being, but now it’s hospitality wanes.

The bus arrives, stinking in the heat. Thirty of us drive out of town. We’re appreciative of the cool air-conditioned interior, like lounging in a cool bath or pool. The great red and yellow eyes of the sky spiral unceasingly, forever tearing at the others cornea, corona. These great glowing orbs are the life of this system without which nothing would be possible.

The Great UmpUS took us from our sterile origin and paved the way to the stars. It was only through this unique vision that we were able to discover our true path as species and colonise our second home, and then on to our third and fourth and fifth – ad infinitum. Our leaders drape themselves in the regal Orange robes cut from the Great UmpUS itself, and it’s kin. The orange skin belies the power and clarity of our leaders since the first was derived from the Great UmpUS itself.

We pass Moloch Lake, shiny in sterility. It was once full of creatures, over flowing as the environment dictated. Few of the submerged Things had natural predators until we took possession. The old show continues as images of the great strides we have taken in possessing this selfish planet are played out on the screens provided for our entertainment and enlightenment. Excited talk of taming it’s self-seeking nature and tasting its delicious bounty fills the bus. As we’ve done before so we shall do again, using all its resources no matter the planetary resistance. This is survival and as our Leaders, tell us, “…IT IS THE ONLY WAY.” For they make the decisions citizens cannot.

We pass through sheets of white light, seams of vibrant colour, riding the waves to brighten the mind and stimulate senses. I notice the hands and forearms of the traveler next to me like flinty rocks, a consequence of infestation, jagged and scarring, something like this egocentric orb. But they are not alone, the condition affects seventy percent of us now.

We are taken to the broader lands where the iron fields reflect heat and light. Today it is our turn to reach the top. For every emigration the chosen are the first to launch, it’s a lottery and we’re all entered.
The Klein cannon awaits its steerage. It smells like something old and rotten, or is that the stench of this rotting place?

The fuse is lit as we chant our way back to the stars and our new home… “We are the First. We are the FIRST.” The Great UmpUs would be so proud.