Author : Nate Swanson

Guns are truly simple things.

Think about it. More then a hundred years before we were airtyping away while being ferried about in tracks with no drivers, people were happily butchering each other with fully automatic firearms. No electric lights, but belt fed machines that spat hot death

Pistols are even simpler. Metal, maybe a little wood or plastic, a little propellant, a little lubricant to make sure everything doesn’t seize up, and bang.

Now getting a gun, that is a bit tougher. You can get one from a fabber, of course, provided you have the permits, don’t mind a built-in recorder, and get a bluetouch lock. Doable.

Getting one that isn’t traceable to you, that doesn’t have a safety recorder, while somebody is hunting you, now that is difficult.

Ducking in to a office on the 12th floor, I hoped the dazzle I tossed into the surveillance system is still working. It should have glitched everything after McGooen unloaded on my team so I could escape, but who knew what he was doing to scrub the system.

I slap two finger onto the bluetouch pad, establishing a link between the fabber and my phone, resting in my pocket. The list of things the fabber could make scrolls down my HUD, none of which are sidearms. None of which, in fact, are much good to me.

Now, fabbers have two types of security systems built in. Either local, where the fabber itself has the list of approved products, or external, where it checks with a server up the feed on whether it should pump out what you’re asking for. This is a GE 43K, so its got the former. This means it’s got a list of approved products, and a list of parameters, and it’ll only make something that’s on the list or meets the parameters. Pistols are decidedly not, and decidedly do not.

But it’s a machine, and machines can be hacked. I just need to modify the approved list.

I don’t have a copy of the key for the secure stack of the fabber. But I do have a copy of the maintenance suite for GE K Series Fabbers. Which includes, wonder of wonders, a password utility reset.

Which means 30 seconds of hacking, in the most rudimentary sense of the word, and two minutes of assembly, and I had a gun.

Now let’s see who does the hunting.

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Author : Seej 500

The technician placed the oxygen tube in Walt’s mouth. “Pure oxygen will make you feel kinda high, she smiled, but we’ve found the reanimation process is a little smoother that way than if we just gave you air while we flooded and activated the tank.”

Walt knew all this. He’d read the booklet they’d given him. Walt grunted as he nodded, unable to speak now the respirator was in place. Next they’d put the sedative drip in a vein, he’d remove the paper gown, climb into the tank, they’d pump in the suspension fluid, and begin the Stop.

People got Stopped for all sorts of reasons; cheating death was just one of them. Once the process had been perfected, it had become commonplace over the past few years. People now did it to avoid the boredom of long journeys (some particularly rich people did it to avoid even short journeys), to wait for the value of investments to increase, or to wait while a distant lover made the long journey to Earth. Groups who called themselves Bears even got Stopped over winter because they didn’t like the weather.

The body-temperature fluid steadily filled his tank, tinted blue from the dissolved electrolytes, and Walt stared ahead at the opposite row of tanks, waiting for future Stoppees. Afternoon sunlight spilled into Medium Duration Tank Room 17 as he pondered what it would be like in a century when the technicians spun down the Perpetual Power Source. As the fluid finally filled the tank, he smiled. An adventure into the future. The timer counted down the last few seconds of real-time.

Then the lights began to flicker.

Some of the earliest Stoppees had complained about this when they were recently revived. Neurologists and biochemists had all concluded it was simply a quirk of the brain as it Stopped. It certainly didn’t seem to have done any harm, and they said it only lasted a few minutes. Walt had meant to shut his eyes, forgetting in the excitement.

And then someone appeared in one of the previously empty tanks opposite Walt.

And then another person in the next one along.

And the next.

And next.

Walt wondered if he was hallucinating.

He tried to move, but was paralysed; the sedative keeping him still during the activation of the Stop.

The flickering grew dimmer over the course of a couple of minutes, but just when he was hoping it would end and the Stop would be complete, it began to get brighter. And it cycled like this, brighter, dimmer, then brighter again every few minutes.

He hung there, suspended, as time dragged on. After what must have been at least an hour and a half, the opposite row of tanks jumped a metre backwards. Then two dark rails appeared in the floor and, over to the right, by the wall, was… something. It was sat on the rails and looked like some kind of lifting equipment, but, somehow, it kept going out of focus. Blurring.

Suddenly, the opposite tanks disappeared. Red light briefly filled the room, then darkness for a few moments. Walt would have sighed if he could. This was finally the Stop.

And then the room disappeared, replaced by blinding light. As Walt looked out, he finally understood. He watched the tattered remains of Medium Duration Tank Room 17 in front of him, and the war-torn landscape beyond, being steadily repopulated in stop-motion by plants as the years flashed by. Saw the flickering was the Sun rising and setting. And he wondered if there was anyone left to set him free.

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Author : Liz Lafferty

Max Fraser banked his craft hard right. Two blasts lighted the interior of the cockpit and caused a ferocious rip as his navigation blinked off for two eternal seconds.

He gripped the manual control levers. The muscles in his shoulders knotted. “Come on, darling!”

A smuggler’s worst enemy: Pirates.

They wouldn’t get the Crown.

Max was the hardest working smuggler in the galaxy and he’d just bagged his biggest prize, but those damned offworlders had another thing coming if they thought they’d get their hands on it. They’d intercepted him as he’d past Jupiter’s Titan moon. If Earth would guard their solar system, he wouldn’t have to dodge would-be thieves every time he had a cargo worth some money.

Another blast shot past him and exploded off port.

He pictured the cargo, strapped in, surging against the restraints built into the walls, floor and ceiling, keeping the pallets secure. Normally, he’d use every trick in the book, but not this time. This time he’d needed cunning and agility and the best modified Firewing flying. Reckless bravado and firepower might get this cargo damaged, and he wouldn’t take that risk.

The profits would be huge when he sold. Well, he wouldn’t sell all of it.

The lumbering cruiser had more firepower, but didn’t match his speed in the turn. Max laid in coordinates. The ship slipped quietly into zone, feeling as if the universe hung in an unmoving balance while he transferred into near invisibility. Likely, they’d pick up his fuel signature. Once he got to Cullo, he’d ditch to the highest bidder and head home.

“Captain Fraser,” the computer said, “a transference beacon followed you through the zone.”

“Neutralize it.”

The flashing light indicated the computer calculated firing range. “There’s a problem, sir. A stagnation bomb is attached to the probe.”

“No! Do not let that thing attach to the shell. Evasive.”

Damn. If the probe attached to the outer hull, he’d have less than ten minutes to return to regular space and bring the ship to full stop. He’d be a sitting duck waiting for the pirates to catch up.

His visions of retirement and the Altus Prime beaches faded.

“What can we drop to stop that thing? And do not tell me the cargo.”

“Calculating, Captain.”

Max could see the incoming beacon as it flashed on the tracking screen. Even as the Firewing zipped and jagged, the incoming probe gained.

“Based on the size and speed of the probe, it will attach to nothing smaller than thirty cubic feet. Calculating inventory. The aft guidance system. The galley refrigeration unit. Either of the wing cannons-”

“Or one cargo pallet.”

“You told me not to include the present consignment, sir.”

“Shut up, Cecily.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Continue evasive.” Max unbuckled. He had ten pallets. He’d have to dump a tenth of his cargo.

On unsteady feet, he got to the cargo bay where he grabbed at the security straps wrapped around the nesting shipment. Unfastening one precious pallet, Max slid a booster underneath and with the press of a button, the pallet hovered. With one hand he pushed it toward a jettison bay. He’d never cried over the loss of cargo, but almost felt the need.

“Bottom’s up.” He scuttled the cargo and with the whoosh of a vacuum, the pallet of Crown Royal dropped into space.

“Probe attached.”

“Blow it up,” Max said. The snaking sound of the missile was loudest in the cargo hold. The recoil minor.

Max lifted a toast to himself. Always buy the first drink, but never throw the first punch. “To hell with that.”

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Author : K Clarke

I wasn’t the first to be twinned, of course.

They did it first with a woman called Adrienne Deuxfois, in France. There were all kinds of protests, and the government wanted to make it illegal, but before long CEOs had begun using twin bodies to work and vacation at the same time, and sports champions had seized the opportunity to train with an exact equal. But it was when the military realized they could double the number of warm bodies under their command without recruiting a single soul that governmental opposition melted away overnight. By the time I could afford it, the process was hardly even controversial anymore.

That didn’t make it any easier.

The twinning itself went by, for me, in a blink. They put my body in complete stasis, stopping every cell in time. A full scan and catalogue was fed to the 3-D printer, which replicated each individual molecule in my body, down to the contents of my stomach. If the body wasn’t exactly as my brain had left it, the process wouldn’t take. Nine and a half hours later, they linked my old body to the new and dropped me out of stasis.

I had closed my eyes in the stasis chamber and open them, seconds later, in the recovery room. Both of us –of me –are lying close together, tucked up in the same bed to minimize the visual discrepancies between us –me and me. A tangle of wires run from skull to skull, linking my brains until they’re strong enough to hold the connection for themselves. I turn to look at myself and am rewarded with a sliding double image of the room, one of them featuring the back of my own head. I sit up, both bodies moving with perfect synchronization. As if on cue, a nurse comes in to check on me. Her eyes are distant –half her mind is elsewhere. When I speak to her, both my bodies vocalize, two voices expressing one thought.

I spend a lot of time watching the TV on the far wall, learning to focus two sets of eyes at once. In the outside world, the Embodied Narcissists continue their campaign to be allowed to marry themselves. On Judge Judy, a man’s multiple personalities have each claimed a body and are suing each other for legal autonomy. My favorite is the opera singer performing a live duet with herself.

I continue to live two lives in parallel, matching motions with myself. Long ago, in high school, I played the flute, and I remember the work it took to memorize the finger positions, recognize the mark for each note, keep the airstream tight and steady, learn to adjust the tuning for temperature and humidity, all while keeping one eye on the conductor. But somewhere, after years of practice, the dots on the page became the movement, the steps in between seeming to vanish, and music happened. Now, in this hospital room, I lay my hands flat on the meal tray and concentrate. Twenty digits, side by side. Two brows furrow, two jaws clench, two hearts pound, but with agonizing slowness, on the far right, only one finger rises.

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Going Up

Author : Helstrom

Lousy food, filthy lodging, and a loan to pay for my trip up the skyhook. It was a bad deal by any standard, but I’d taken it. If you were born on a Venus colony, there were only three places to go: down into the atmosphere, up to the space stations, or sideways to one of the other colonies. I’d chosen up – it had better exit opportunities.

Now I was upside-down, insofar as you could call it that in free-fall, stuffing dunnage bags behind a cargo container. It was amazing how many ways people had tried to make square blocks fit into round holes over the years. This container was hexagonal, for some unfathomable reason, and making it fit into a semi-spherical cargo bay next to cubic ore pellets was no small task. Worse, I had to figure out the mass distribution on the fly, because this ship’s captain was apparently such a cheapskate he didn’t have his own cargo master. If the distribution was off, the ship would wobble during burn and the trip to Earth orbit would become both uncomfortable and expensive.

Joe’s voice cracked into my ears: “Don’t get yourself wedged in there. Too close to chow time for me to come pullin’ ya out.”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry. You hired me because I’m small.”

So small, in fact, I wore a rigger’s harness over my spacesuit to keep it from billowing out in all kinds of unflattering and dangerous ways. ‘One size fits all’ said the optimistic label in the collar; and under it, courtesy of one of the suit’s previous owners: ‘duct tape and rubber bands not included.’

“Nope. Hired you ’cause you was the only son of a bitch what would take the job.”

Speaking of cheapskates, Joe’s picture should probably be next to that particular entry in the dictionary. He hired out most of the longshoremen at Eltoo Station and achieved stellar profit margins by cutting every corner he could and a few more besides.

The crane handed in the next container. Triangular. For Christ’s sake.

After a ten-hour shift and the obligatory one-hour exercise designed to strain your bones, stretch your muscles and race your blood, I was wracked. Before going to sleep I sat myself down in the Eltoo Saloon with a cup of barely potable moonshine. To my surprise, I was joined by a man I didn’t know who brought a couple of bottles of decent Earth-import beer to the table.

“You Joe’s longshoreman?” He said, “Packed the Galloper today?”

“I am,” I replied, and took the beer, “And you are?”

“Zeke Klein – Galloper’s my boat.”

I smiled – folks didn’t often say thanks, let alone bring a beer for the occasion: “Here’s to a job well done then, eh?”

Zeke didn’t smile. “Not as well as it might have been.”

I shifted in my seat: “Look, if there’s a problem, I’m sure Joe…”

“With a cargo master of my own. Seems to me you got an understanding of packing. Work hard too. Finish that beer and I’ve got an offer for you.”

Lousy food, filthy lodging, and a loan to pay off Joe. It was a bad deal by any standard, but I took it. If you worked the dock on a Venus station, there were only three places to go – down to the atmospheric colonies, up into interplanetary space, or sideways to another station. I chose up.

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