Footnote to War

Author : Graham T. Swanson

Move.

Somewhere inside the soldier’s brain, a neuron crackled and died sending a signal to a limb incapable of receiving, or doing anything about it had it actually done so. He had long ago lost all link or power to the armor’s motivators.

Move.

It didn’t hurt. He was thankful for that, at least; the simulacrae hadn’t lied. The problem was the stasis. The inability to do anything. Imprisoned within your own body, knowing the exact nano count (you’d been drilled in it since the day you got your Aegis) and knowing that you were going to die.

Waiting.

Move.

Another neuron fired. Another moment passed, and the broken figure in the emeraldine armor remained a still portrait beneath the blazing sun. Around him, the calcisand swirled in a new, violent gust of wind, scratching at the glazed surface of the armor ineffectually. Outside the Aegis, that might’ve killed him.

Plenty of time to wait. He listened as best he could for the telltale howl of a stormkicker wind, and fought down the panic rising behind his eyes.

That which we believe in, we are capable of. That which we are capable of, we do.

You are a Protector. Your will becomes your law. You are a Protector.

Move.

Another neuron fired. Another moment passed.

And then he did hear a sound. Loud, arrhythmic, the clatter of bone on bone. A sound that broke even his neurochemically enforced calm. An enemy sound. Instinctually, he listened for the soft following thump of the massive feet. Another half of his mind chanted an Our Father as the three-meter shadow appeared at the crest of the dune, four feet moving in cadence.

It was hurt, its tiniest weave betraying that fact. He wondered what it wanted here. He’d heard the stories, that the Vraakan ate the dead; seen the films. Maybe that was what it wanted; maybe it was a survivor, seeking last sustenance. He took morbid pleasure in the fact that that scared him less than the idea of being buried by a stormswept dune, covered over like a footnote. A footnote in a war whose story was filled with them already.

The great figure approached him. From beneath the black-lacquer crags of its armor, stretched across its mighty, demoniac reptilian form, he could see the dark-hued blood flow in rivulets over the red-grey scales. It was breathing heavily, harshly. He glimpsed the huge, ugly wound that would kill this enemy.

The xeno, the enemy, hadn’t come to feed. They’d come to die.

One massive enemy arm gently circled his ribcage and brought him up,cradling him like a mother with her child.

Firey eyes locked with his, and he realized their femininity somehow. A baritone whimper rumbled from her throat as she set herself down where he had been. When he didn’t respond, she whimpered again, pitifully.

She wanted a companion, was all. She didn’t want to die alone. He nodded, moving.

Afterwards, they died together.

They died warm.

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Technical Knockout

Author : Stin

Final round.

Just don’t get knocked out.

Just keep on your feet.

You can do this, you need to do this. You need this win.

CRACK!

He’s too fast. I can barely touch him. It’s not fair, they shouldn’t be allowed to fight like this, they have too many advantages, how’s a guy like me supposed to keep up with a machine like that?

It’s not fair. He’s bigger than me, there’s more too him, but he moves around like he barely weighs a pound. I don’t even see his fists move sometimes. I just feel the gloves and then

CRACK!

Too fast…way too fast, and what a wallop. What did they used to say? “He hits like a Mac truck”. This guy hits like a space freighter coming out of a jump. Damn Roboxing officials. They’re supposed to screen for this type of thing, we’re not supposed to be getting

CRACK!

Killed out here. There goes my eye. I’m half blind. The ref has to stop the fight now, or my corner? Someone stop it, look at my EYE for crying out loud.

Never mind the eye. Just keep moving. Just wait until the bell. Just don’t get knocked down. Stop letting him hit you, put your guard up!

CRACK!

I can barely lift my gloves, my arms feel so heavy, my head droops, and everything feels like it weighs tons. How am I supposed to be able to fight like this?

You need the money. You know you need the money. Money is essential. Money buys things you need and then maybe once you have the things you need and you get out of debt you can get back to training, and then if you train enough you can beat monsters like the hulk in the corner.

It’s not like you need to win, we both know you aren’t going to win, just

CRACK!

Don’t get knocked out, that was the bet, don’t get knocked out…

Don’t

CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!

I feel my jaw unhinge, I feel my legs give out; my arms are like wet towels, before I know it I’m on the mat.

And then I hear it: “BOXOTRON 77681 is down! Winner by Technical Knockout: Joe ‘The Circuit Breaker’ Granger!”

I can hear the human laughing in his corner, the crowd goes wild, I’m going to be in the shop forever after this. More debt. My other eye shuts down and I hear my corner say: “Put him on the slab. Damn 77k series aren’t worth the metal they’re made of.”

I wish I could disagree.

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Cyber Love

Author : Dane Richmond

The media fanfare had died down after the first few months. It had been amazing at first but it gradually made the transfer to annoying and then overwhelming. Now years later the paparazzi were gone along with their fame. There was the occasional photographer when she and Marc went out. She could feel sympathy from Marc. He said he didn’t miss the attention but she knew he did. He was upset and distracted—he must not have gotten the promotion he had hoped for. She decided to make him a special dinner and wear that teddy he loved.

They made history when they had the empathy chips implanted nearly 5 years ago. It was revolutionary at the time, if they hadn’t had the public behind them they could have gone to prison for violating the Anti-Enhancement Laws, but they had been so in love then that they didn’t care; they wanted to be so much closer. The chip had worked, all of the emotions that the other felt were transmitted via a satellite uplink. They had proven all the critics wrong: knowing exactly what he was feeling had caused some arguments, if he was looking at another woman, but it had brought them so much closer, knowing that even when they were arguing he still loved her.

The chips were becoming available for widespread use. It was the new tattoo with your lovers name on it. An hour long surgery and you were closer to your spouse than you could ever hope to be naturally. Companies were advertising faster upload times and the newest one with a cell phone feature. It wouldn’t be long before the “Love Chip” was available right outside the churches in Vegas. She had thought it would always be a tool to enhance love but now it was just another money making tool for corporations. They didn’t mind that, like the tattoos, sometimes they had to be removed; they made more money taking out the chips than they did installing them.

Just as she was hoping that maybe there was a photographer outside their drive, like in old times, she felt a flash of fear and panic that lasted for a fraction of a second, it felt so entwined with her own thoughts that she didn’t have time to sort out her emotions before the flash of blinding pain.

The photographers crowded the small church, taking as many pictures of the twin caskets from every angle possible. One of the photographers approached the funeral director asking him to push the caskets together for a better photo, but was politely rebuffed. A reporter was interviewing both sets of parents, asking about the lovers lives over the last five years, post-love chip. “It’s breaking news, Marc Stevens, the first man with a love chip, gets hit by a bus and it kills his wife Jennifer! How can you not talk to me? This will halt the market on Love Chips, they killed that girl. How does it make you feel to know that because of this piece of technology your daughter dropped dead in her home?”

He was still shouting questions at the parents as he was forced out of the funeral home.

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American Golem

Author : Joshua Reynolds

They were tearing him apart. Muscle by muscle, tendon by tendon. Unraveling him like a ball of string. He screamed but he had no tongue and no sound came out as something cold and hard cut into his throat, spreading the edges of his flesh back like the petals of a flower.

Smith awoke suddenly and an empty bottle rolled off of his chest and bounced to the floor. He rubbed blearily at his face, feeling nothing, and sat up. The couch was a fold-out but he never managed to get that far before passing out. Empty pizza boxes and fried chicken buckets and styrofoam hamburger containers littered the floor of the apartment, mingling with empty bottles of booze. Cheap booze too. The best a government stipend could buy. Smith grinned humorlessly and stood up with a groan that was more from habit than any aches and pains.

After all, he didn’t have aches and pains any more. In point of fact he couldn’t feel anything anymore. Not cold. Not hot. Not nothing.

Oops. Double negative. He’d have to watch that. A sign of mental degeneration. He’d have to mark that on the chart they’d given him. Smith hunted vainly through the detritus of his life for something to drink and then gave up after ten minutes. He plodded into the kitchenette and poured himself a glass of tapwater and slugged it back. Water was just as good as booze in any event.

No tastebuds.

Life was shit.

He examined the glass. At least he could still see colors. Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to tell the exact shade of brown his water was flowing with today. Burnt umber evidently. That was a new one. He poured the rest of the water out and watched it swirl down the rusty drain. He set the glass aside, careful not to crush it and looked at his reflection in the mirror.

Average. Unnoticeable. Bland. Synonyms for the same conclusion. Plastic features that didn’t move right unless he concentrated on them, hair that didn’t grow, stubble that never went away. And underneath was what?

Plastic parts and wires. Everything human ripped out to make room for all those new machines. His bones were made of an alloy that the government had bankrupted four states to create. His muscles? Fibrous cable interwoven with neuron-optic wires to stimulate nerve memory.

Sometimes, when he moved too fast, his skin ripped.

It didn’t hurt though.

Nothing hurt.

“We have the technology. We can make him better.” He rasped, fingers trailing down the window. The glass cracked at his touch and he cursed under his breath.

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Seven Seconds

Author : Aelanna Cessara

Seven.

He only had seconds left to live. Despite all the augmentations and training that the soldier had received, the result of countless centuries of evolution and refinement in the art of war, technology could not truly ease the limit of mortality. The projectile had easily penetrated so many layers of armor, flesh, and bone, and now he was dying, bleeding from wounds that no medic could patch.

Six.

Perhaps if there had been a major medical facility nearby, he might have had a chance. But this was a battlefield, and the screams of the other wounded and dying were all around. There was no hope for this one, who had survived so much only to die on this war-torn field on a forgotten planet. There was not even a family to whom news of his demise might cause pause, no lover on a distant colony clinging to his memory, no friends who might pray for his soul.

Five.

But he was not alone. Patched into his armor, his suit, and the implants within his very brain, another entity still stirred, even as he slowly faded. This was no flesh-and-bone woman, but it was the only companion he had known in so many long months of harsh combat. The artificial intelligence had access to all his health monitors, and knew without a doubt the ultimate fate of this broken human man.

Four.

Flickers of memory pulsed through the soldier’s mind as the countless cells that made up his brain started to die, a rushing torrent of thoughts and remembered events that he could only passively watch. Washed out colors and faint sounds focused, and he could see distant and forgotten scenes long forgotten.

Three.

They were friends. She blushed as he kissed her timidly, awkwardly pressing his lips against hers, her cheeks flushed red as her brilliant eyes gazed back at him. The world seemed to slow to a crawl as she spoke those words for the first time, and he exulted in that knowledge.

Two.

They were lovers. The warmth of her body and the touch of her smooth skin calmed him as they lay together in bed. He weaved his fingers through hers and whispered urgently to her, begging, pleading. His breath faltered and his face glowed with unimaginable joy as she said yes.

One.

They were a family. She sat next to him as they watched their children play in the front yard, the sun warming their faces as the gentle sounds of laughter and joy filtered through the clean air. He leaned back and sighed happily, breathing in the scent of summer. She held him tight and kissed him again as he closed his eyes drowsily, all his pains and worries forgotten in that perfect moment of eternity.

Zero.

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