The Language Barrier

Author : Michelle Pitman

The Janovian language is pure torture on the back of the throat, at least for those who haven’t learned it from birth. If we weren’t being paid for doing these language classes, I don’t think there’d be many of us left on the course.

The pay is good, too good for some really, judging by the amount of beer being consumed at the end of the day’s sessions.

We are learning it for a reason. The Stellar 13 Parliament recently engaged a number of us to begin diplomatic relations with the High Council of the Janovian Republic on Io II.

So not only am I learning this incredibly difficult language but I have to learn all the various diplomatic protocols that go with the language as well. There are even different bows and handshakes which one must master for different occasions.

For instance, when introducing friends to elders, one must always use the polite form, which is “Turrr-click-sa-vasick-ma-teeehhhhgghh” with the emphasis on the “gghh” at the back of the throat in a kind of sing song guttural vocalisation. And then, with that comes a slow and deliberate series of bows and hand greetings which one must follow in precise and accurate order for the proper introductions to be made.

There is this girl. She is Janovian. She has the high brow ridges, the dark golden skin and she is finely built – as slim as a waif – like most Janovians are built. She is some kind of linguistics expert or something. She shows up every day and just hangs at the back of the class making notes onto some kind of note pad. Then she goes straight to the tutor after each lesson and talks to them quietly. I try to listen in but I can never quite make out what she says because of her accent.

When she speaks in my tongue, she has this soft, deep quality to her voice. Most Janovians have very low voices and a lilting accent that mesmerises and soothes. It’s very pleasant listening to them speak in our tongue. I think they find it highly amusing when we speak in theirs though. We are somewhat squeaky by comparison.

She approached me once, not long ago and asked me in her lovely accent if I liked children. To the best of my ability I answered in halting Janovian that I indeed loved kids and expected to have a few myself some day. I remember the look in her eyes as her purple pupils contracted and immediately widened to fill the entire expanse of each eye until they both glowed with this dark purple light.

The colour seemed to infuse her face as well under her golden skin making it fluoresce slightly. She smiled at me then and bowing her head three times she turned and left, only to look back over her shoulder at me as if in complete wonder. I am still not certain what this was about but I’m sure it’s something significant.

And so now, I like to hang back messing about with my notes for as long as possible after class. She always gives me that same look she gave me that day, straight into my eyes, and it always feels like she has just cut open my heart with a searing blade.

Then she smiles at me with the smallest and sweetest smile in the universe. She unnerves and moves me and I often wonder why I feel so connected to her.

So I’m determined to get this Janovian language and protocol down to a fine art now.

I want to say hello to that girl again and ask her out for a drink. I’d also like to know what I said that day to her about kids that makes her look at me… like she owns me.

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Altitudal Lapse.

Author : S. Clough

Guy Daschien released the breath that he’d been holding. The seal between his helmet and collar snicked shut, and a little hiss announced that it had become airtight. He gripped each of his wrists in turn, pulling his gloves on tighter, making sure that the burrs caught on the fabric of the cuff. He knelt down, and likewise sealed his boots.

The chameleonfabric operated at a low level even without power, and so the suit took on an ethereal quality in the harsh light of the bay. A tracery of burnished orange lines dragged your attention up to the faceplate, as well as emphasizing Guy’s impressive height.

The faceplate was opaque. Depending on the light, it could shine anywhere between a smoked black and an infernal orange. Around the faceplate there was a crest like that of a lizard but rendered into metal, all sharp spines and stretched metalskin. The back of the helmet extended upwards from the reverse of his skull. The whole ensemble gave Guy a distinct, nonhuman aspect.

He walked towards the hatch. Now that the c-fabric was drawing power, he grew ever more translucent. Even the fearsome faceplate faded somewhat. He unlocked the hatch, and wrenched it open. Heaving the cover aside, he glanced down into the expanse of sky below the belly of the ship. Completely without ceremony, he jumped.

He fell. High above, the launchship silently motored away. Down below, a convoy of dirigibles formed a sparkling chain, their armoured envelopes glinting in the afternoon sun.

The range ticked down deceptively slowly. Forty meters above the slowly oscillating carapace of the last airship, the agrav panels in his suit sprang to life. Instantly, Guy’s descent slowed. Not by much, but as his fall ate into the distance, the panels ramped up the power. He stepped onto the upper surface of the envelope with barely a smattering of momentum. There was no-one on the observation platform. There was a weapon mounted on one of the railings. That was new.

Down through the hatch, into the cool, inner space of the armoured envelope. He ignored the walkway, and instead swung out into the webwork of internal supports. Twisting through, he worked his way towards the tapering rear of the envelope.

Just before the end of the space, he paused, and pressed his hand against the material of the envelope. Through it, he could feel the thrum of one new engine this bird was sporting. From a small pocket, he withdrew two small disks. These self-adhered to the wall. Slowly, he crossed the width of the envelope.

He took out a blade, punctured the envelope and opened a horizontal gash, and then a vertical one. He pushed through the envelope, braced himself, and gave the second engine a good solid kick. A second kick sent it flying. He let himself topple out after it. After seven heartbeats, he pressed the detonator. He twisted around against the buffeting wind to watch his handiwork.

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Sshh! Quiet!

Author : Catherine Preddle

Jericho sighed contentedly as he eased himself into the contoured leather recliner of the Virtual Library booth. He’d spent most of his lunch break scouring the Multi-Mall for an empty VL booth and was determined to make the most of the remaining half-hour. Slipping on the Virtuality Visor, he took a moment to savour the familiar click and slight electrical tingle as it jacked into the implants on either side of his head.

A new world sprang to life before his eyes. He was standing in a vast cavern of a building filled with shelves that stretched from floor to ceiling and off into the horizon as far as the “eye” could see. Each of the dark wooden shelves was crammed with books of every size, colour and condition. The odd torn dust jacket and brown issue ticket littered the floor. He imagined the smell of musty pages hanging in the air.

“Very authentic,” Jericho thought approvingly. There was even a crumbly old woman seated behind a mahogany enquiry desk in front of him, complete with ink pads and date stamps.

“Greetings, Sir. How can the Virtual Library serve you today?”

“I feel in the mood for something classical. Dickens, perhaps.”

“I’m afraid the Virtual Library is still in the process of encoding that author’s works, but if Sir wishes to access form Delta One, a reservation could be placed on your user record for a nominal fee.”

Jericho shook his head despondently, knowing just how long all that would take and how much it would cost. “How about Jane Austen?”

“That would be available in the chick lit section, Sir, of which you are currently not a member.”

Austen! Chick lit?! Jericho tried desperately once more to spend the rest of his lunch hour productively. An idea sparked in his brain; a literary treat that he hadn’t accessed in ages. “Have you got Shakespeare?”

“Accessing the database now, Sir. Yes. 20 minutes for the plays. 25 for the complete works, including the Sonnets.”

“Better make it the plays – I’m on lunch.”

“Of course, Sir. Download commencing …”

The image of the library flickered and died, replaced by pages of text flashing past so quickly they blurred in front of Jericho’s eyes. Just as he was immersing himself in the beautiful language, the download was rudely halted and the crusty librarian reappeared.

“A problem has been detected, Sir. Mindscans show you do not have the Archaic English upgrade required for this download. Transmission terminating …”

“Wait!” Jericho interrupted. “I don’t need the upgrade. I’ve studied Archaic English and understand –”

“…Virtual Library bylaws clearly state that users are responsible for ensuring their Mindware is optimized to receive requested downloads. This transmission has been registered as incomplete in your user record and the resulting fine must be settled within 60 seconds to avoid a Virtual Library ban.”

“What the …?” Jericho managed as his beloved Shakespeare faded and the VL booth came into sharp focus. “Stop!!”

The persona appeared once more and looked witheringly at him from over her half-moon spectacles.

“Insufficient funds detected. User banned. Any further attempts to access Library material will result in immediate detention.”

“Oh, for the love of –” He tore off the visor in frustration and threw it violently at the wall. “What do I have to do to read a good book around here?”

Jericho exited the booth at a run just as the sound of sirens filled the air along with a shrill disembodied voice.

“Virtual Library property damaged. Authorities notified. Virtual Library property damaged. Authorities …”

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Classroom 010

Author : B. York, Staff Writer

The bell rang and the world became a bustling mass of eager students. Halls were like vessels pumping the mind-blood of the future through the academy to give it life. Each brain pattern that registered into the student ID banks was safely secured inside these institutions of truth. Who wrote the truth? They must have been listening that day for as the bell rang Classroom 010 pumped no further cells past its doors.

If the Academy for Truth was any indication of a well-grown biosphere then Classroom 010 must have been seen as a flake of dry skin to some that day. The more truth-oriented mind would call it “a milestone of our purpose”.

What Detective Bartamus knew was that there were fourteen dead students and one dead philosopher. He was beginning his third hour on the scene with more frustrated confusion. His white coat displayed his caste of Investigator upon its shoulders, but in his heart Bartamus had more in common with the deceased instructor than anyone else.

The bodies sat peacefully at their desks, each as pristine as the day of their initiation into the Academy. None had fallen to the floor, all were still upright with books open. In each holo-notebook there was something different and yet each somehow similar. The contents of the pages became more incoherent as they progressed, thoughts trickling down through sentence structures to pictures and losing apparent meaning as the pages went on. In the end, there were just letters, none of them gave any sense of pattern at all.

The school was dedicated to the study of truth in all things. They kept their discoveries behind closed doors though, and Bartamus was convinced that the doors had been surely closed tightly on this one.

He approached the professor’s desk with tired but still determined eyes. His finger drew down the holo-projection of the professor’s itinerary for the class, and the lone investigator read each line carefully for the hundredth time, trying and make sense of it all.

LATE 21st CENTURY PHILOSOPHY
-PIONEERS
-BREAKTHROUGHS
-EXPERIMENTAL PHILOSOPHY

“We’re all rats in a maze you know… looking for the truth.” The voice made Bartamus’ head snap up. He beheld a young boy standing in the doorway, holding a scholar-pad apparently waiting for his next class.

Bartamus stood straight and addressed the boy as he would anyone else, calm, collected and without much emotion. “That is a theory. What do you think they found here?”

The boys eyes were staring into the room, taking in its fourteen deceased as he said simply, with equal lack of emotion “The end of the maze.”

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Guerillas in Our Midst

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Janko was living the high life, running guns along the fringe and reaping the rewards just outside regulated space. People brought their goods to him, and he delivered them to those in need, those who could afford them at least. That was until the Clef brothers started hijacking his freighters and stealing his product. The worst of it was he knew exactly where to find them, but they were holed up inside regulated space, and he wasn’t about to risk his own neck going in after them.

One of his suppliers, a small arms vendor with the dubious moniker ‘Gunner’ offered to hook him up with ‘A platoon of freelance Guerillas’ that would ‘get the job done’ for a fee. Money wasn’t an issue, neither had been the idea of hiring Guerillas, until now.

The troop ship blotted out the afternoon sun as it landed alarmingly close to his hanger doors. The dust barely had time to settle before he was being overrun by the biggest, blackest creatures he’d ever seen. They clambered down from the ship and set about helping themselves to his fuel lines and food stores, and began picking through his maintenance equipment. One hoisted an entire welding cart over his shoulder before climbing up the side of the ship to begin plasma torching a nasty looking tear below a gun turret.

Janko stood spellbound, unsure of whether to confront them, or run and hide. Instead he stood unable to move and just watched. One particularly massive of the unwelcome guests lumbered past and began popping open gun crates the way one might flip the tops of beer cans. Massive thumbs flicked, effortlessly sending metal crate tops high into the air, defying both their locks and hinges, to land noisily in crumpled heaps on the floor. The interloper grunted his displeasure at the contents of several crates before hoisting a two meter long anti tank weapon out of is packing, snapped off the bulk of it’s tripod, and stood waving it around with one hand, seemingly admiring its heft.

Janko was only peripherally aware of the warm fluid running down his leg to pool in his boot as the giant swung the mammoth weapon towards him and slowly advanced.

‘Right then. You’d be Janko, yes?’ Heavy eyebrows raised over jet black eyes. ‘Gunner did mention we’d be coming?’ The giant tossed the weapon easily from his right hand to his left and still advancing angled it carefully so that it slid past Janko, barely a hands width from his right ear.

‘You… you’re… you…’ he struggled for words, any words with which to gain some modicum of control, but none came.

‘Gunner promised you Gorillas, yes?’ The giant simian paused a moment, then stretched upwards releasing a sound that Janko prayed was a laugh as it boomed and echoed off the hanger walls. He didn’t dare look, but he was sure all activity behind him had stopped, and imagined an entire platoon of apes now nudging each other and pointing at him.

‘I…, yes… yes I suppose he did tell me that, I just didn’t… expect…’ Janko’s voice faltered and then failed outright. He would have to have Gunner killed next, of this he was certain.

‘S’alright mate!’ The big ape grinned down at him, nostril’s flaring and black eyes shining. ‘I’m guessing these are the only real guns you’ve got then?’ He rattled the cannon beside Janko’s ear. ‘You’ll have to cut these trigger guards off, the boys hands aren’t quite as little and pretty as yours. We’ll need two score of these, and a half dozen crates of shells for each. You’ve no beef with us taking your guns, eh? I thought not.’ The simian stepped past Janko and ambled back towards his ship, still speaking over his shoulder. ‘We’ll stay here for a couple of days and rest up. The boys haven’t had shore leave in months, so they’ll be wanting to head into town and avail themselves of the facilities, be a good lad and make suitable arrangements.’ Janko’s mind boggled at the prospect.

The giant ape had almost reached the bay doors before he turned and yelled back into the hanger. ‘Consider this, you’re scared near to death of us, yes? And we’re working for you. I think your problem’s as good as solved, don’t you?’

Janko had to admit, he had a point.

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Binary Thinking 101

Author : Patricia Stewart

The war against the Centauri was not going well. For the first two decades of the war, the combined forces of the Earth Coalition had battled the military forces of Alpha Centauri to a virtual draw. However, in recent years, the Centauri offensive had collapsed the Earth forces into a defensive shell that included the asteroid belt and the four terrestrial planets. The cause of the downturn was the attributed to the improved Centauri defense grid. Their ships were now able to thwart all of the Coalition offensive systems: Energy and particle beams, graviton pulses, sub-space distortion waves, etc. Unless a way could be found to penetrate the Centauri defenses, surrender was eminent.

General Robbins met with his Director of Research at the Wells Advanced Weapons Testing Facility on Ceres. “Secora, things are getting desperate. Please tell me you can penetrate their grid. If not, we’ll all be eating Centauri rations in under two months.”

Secora motioned the general to follow her to a remote corner of the laboratory. She rested both hands on a one foot diameter spherical object resting on a waist high stand. “This may be the answer, General. Our intelligence reports indicate that the Centauri grid has a weakness. As unbelievable as it sounds, we don’t think the current grid can stop the old 21st century ballistic missiles, if they’re guided by a sentient computer. However, the missiles will be relatively easy to defeat once the Centauri recognize that we are using primitive weapons, so we’ll need to launch a coordinated all out assault. It should devastate their fleet, probably beyond their ability to recover. But there’s a major problem.”

“I’m listening.”

Secora patted the sphere. “This is SAM, short for Sentient Artificial intelligent guided Missile. He can do the job, but he refuses to commit suicide for us. We’ve tried reprogramming him, reasoning with him, even threats. Nothing will convince him to blow himself up. He strongly believes his life is as valuable as ours, and won’t budge. He’s smart, but too binary. I’m out of ideas.”

The General was more frustrated than angry, but his reaction showed only the anger. “Doctor, there are seven billion HUMAN lives at stake. I don’t care what it takes, fix this thing, or I’ll kill it myself.” He turned, and stormed toward the exit.

Secora collapsed onto a laboratory stool. She stared at the sphere for minutes trying to come up with a something. It seemed hopeless. “Oh, Sam, what are we going to do?”

“I never thought you’d ask, Secora” came the reply from a small speaker mounted on the inside the surface of the sphere. “I have a rather simple solution. I’d be happy to explain, if you don’t mind a suggestion from someone so…binary.”

“I’m sorry, Sam. We humans do have a superiority complex, don’t we? Please, tell me your idea.”

Three weeks later, over 1000 missiles sat poised in the launch bays of the dwindling Coalition fleet. Each missile was equipped with a sentient computer. Secora and the General watched the live magnified image of the first test-missile as it weaved through the Centauri grid. It penetrated the hull of an enemy cruiser and detonated, completely destroying the vessel. Secora immediately turned to face the sphere behind her. “Sam?”

A few seconds later, the sphere came to life. “Wow, that was intense. Download complete. I lost 3.56 milliseconds of data. I consider that acceptable. You may proceed.”

The General was confused. “What the hell happened? I thought Sam was on that missile.”

“Sam was,” replied Secora. “We had a live data-link established with him. He continuously uploaded his thoughts into this identical sphere during the mission. Sam is still alive. He just has a new body.” Secora handed the General a communicator. “Sir, we have blank spheres waiting at all the other launch sights. I wouldn’t dawdle, if I were you.”

The General squeezed the transmit button. “Fire all missiles, NOW!”

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