ROE

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Let me get this straight; The slum kids were tagging you with paintballs of bioluminescent gel, so you took the decision to lift our forces into orbit and firestorm the planet?”

“Yes sir.”

Major MacLachlan looked up from the miniscule desk in his tiny office aboard EMFS Bad Moon at the soldier who filled the rest of the free space. He leant back as he activated the disciplinary recorder and the officer defence system before continuing: “Why did you commit such an atrocity?”

“It was not an atrocity. It was the only reasonable response, sir.”

“Really, Strike-Lancer Peters? I am all ears and so is the recorder. Take us through the reasons why we are currently orbiting the biggest crematorium in history.”

“The children of Hesta had taken to ‘counting coup’ on occupying forces. This was tolerated even when they switched from paint to biolumins, despite the latter compromised our cloaking, making us vulnerable to insurgent snipers.”

“Agreed.”

“Since the United Planets intervention, we have been ordered to strictly obey their directives and rules of engagement.”

“Again, agreed.”

“Under ROE, I cannot take direct action unless fired upon by insurgents with weapons of Class C or better. I cannot respond to threats less than that without issuing three verbal warnings. However, being painted by four or more biolumin blooms is recognised in UP directive ninety-four as giving an eighty percent chance of fatality from first hit, thus preventing me from proper response by being dead.”

Major MacLachlan smiled and gestured for Peters to continue.

“As such, under UP directive one-fourteen, quadruple biolumin bloom is a pervasive threat to my health. Out of one hundred men deployed at my base, seventy-eight had received at least four biolumin hits. Therefore the level of danger is calculated to be epidemic according to UP directive two-ten. As epidemic danger is an indirect threat, it has to be met by containment rather than direct action. I queried orbital for statistics and was informed that at the moment I received my sixth biolumin bloom, sixty-eight point four percent of our forces worldwide were painted in a similar way. This meant that a clear epidemic threat was spread across three continents. UP directive sixty-three defines a pandemic as being an epidemic that has spread across two continental landmasses or more. When that information was revealed to me, it became clear as to the only response possible to save our forces from this deadly threat. I requested that all records and information be crystallised for UP scrutiny, then issued a Class B pandemic withdrawal alert in accordance with UP protocols. After that had been actioned, and in record time may I add, I consulted with UP delegate A.I. Hiroshi twenty-oh-one as to the correct way to address a threat of this nature. It responded that such a pandemic was obviously beyond remedial measures and as such should either be left to burn itself out or sterilising measures had to be applied. As UP directive eleven states that occupied territory cannot be abandoned for more than four hours, the burn-out option was obviously contrary to ROE, so I ordered a Type Six wipe, sir.”

Major MacLachlan sat and stared at the ceiling before responding: “Are you telling me that you have committed a war crime by adhering to United Planets protocols?”

“Question, sir: How can it be a crime when the body that regulates warfare mandated my decision by their own rules?”

Major MacLachlan looked directly into the untroubled, guileless blue eyes.

“That is a question they will be debating for decades to come, I suspect. Dismissed.”

 

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Raiders of the Fourth Wall

Author : George R. Shirer

Serefina and I barely managed to get the hatch closed before the first of the crew caught up with us. We’d barely secured it when someone started pounding on the other side, making all kinds of dire threats.

Exhausted, we sank down to the floor of the small cabin, our backs to the hatch.

“I hate Jules Verne,” gasped Serefina. “If I ever meet him on one of these jaunts, I’m going to punch him in the balls.”

I didn’t mention the fact that we wouldn’t be in our current predicament if Serefina hadn’t snapped the bloody captain’s neck. What was the point? Plus, I didn’t expect much better from her. Serefina was here as part of a prison-release scheme.

I pulled out my pocket watch and flipped it open. “We’ve got five minutes before the snapback.”

“Think the hatch will last?”

“If not, you get to go nuts,” I said.

She grinned and dug beneath her skirt, producing the knife she’d taped to her inner thigh. The submarine crew hadn’t searched her as thoroughly as they should have. Probably because she was a woman. Idiots.

“At least I got the plans,” said Serefina. She patted her horrendous brooch, which concealed a state of the art camera. “Think they’ll be happy?”

“We’ll find out soon enough.”

My pocket watch chimed. Foxfire danced across the corners of my vision. We stood and Serefina clutched my hand.

“I hate snapback.”

There was a flash and a gut-wrenching sense of dislocation. The pair of us staggered against one another. Opening my eyes, I saw the director watching us with an amused expression.

“Bad timing, lovebirds?”

Serefina snorted and pushed away from me. We were back in the real world, surrounded by the hum and throb of the Fforde Machine.

“Perfect timing,” I said.

The director didn’t bother asking for details. He’d get them in the mission report. Instead, he simply held out his hand. “The plans?”

Serefina removed her brooch and handed it over. “All there. The complete technical blueprints of the Nautilus.”

“Well done.”

“Will they even work here?” I asked. A lot of Fictional tech didn’t work in the Real.

The director shrugged. “Not our concern. We’ll turn the plans over to the client and let them find out.”

He turned away and Serefina’s guards descended upon her, to escort her back to her cell.

“When’s the next job?” she asked.

“Soon,” said the director. “We’ve got a client interested in the cannon from La Voyage Dans La Lune.”

Serefina grinned. “I’ll have to brush up on my French.”

She looked so happy, I didn’t have the heart to tell her the film had been inspired by more of Verne’s works.

 

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Departure

Author : Ian Hill

“Fifteen minutes until departure.” came the monotone voice across the Metastation’s many speakers. Four figures walked along the dark main tunnel that stretched for miles in either direction, their phosphor flares illuminating only a small portion of the vast cylinder.

“Departure from what?” wondered one of the figures aloud. “We’re already in space…”

“Probably just a glitch in the programming. Nothing to worry about, Mills.” came the voice of a female.

“This place is amazing. What do you think, Davis?” said the apparent youngest of the group, Private Coulter.

The final figure, Lieutenant Davis, spoke up. “It’s nice, I guess.”

It was more than nice, in fact. The circular tunnel was impossibly large and bore many monorail tracks along its sides which were multi-tiered and housed scores of buildings. A wonder of modern engineering.

“The Keitl always go a bit… overboard.” said Corporal Mills, motioning at the immensity of it all with a gloved hand.

“Hey, Coulter, why do you thi-” began the female, but was cut off abruptly by the sharp report of a piece of metal falling to the floor.

The four soldiers dropped their flares and crouched with their backs to each other in a defensive posture, poising their rifles at the darkness.

“I thought you said no one else was here, Captain.” said Davis.

“I did.” replied the female Captain simply, lighting a new flare. Another blindingly white light erupted from her left hand and she tossed it with all her might to where the sound had come from. The beacon sailed in an arch and landed with a clatter dozens of yards from the group of soldiers, revealing nothing of interest.

“Ten minutes until departure.” came the voice again, making them all jump.

“Alright, we have to keep on moving. This place is decades old, some odd sounds are to be expected.” said the Captain, standing up from the formation shakily.

The four began to move again at a slightly faster pace towards their ultimate destination, the control room set into the side of the tunnel a few miles in front of them. After walking a few hundred more yards down the metal tube the metallic intercom came again.

“Five minutes until departure.”

“Okay, that’s really strange.” said Private Coulter, sweating visibly. “Why would someone set a looping audio clip of a count down on an abandoned Metastation?”

“Don’t ask me.” replied Mills in a bored tone.

Another sound came from behind the group, a metallic pounding.

“Yeah, there’s something in here.” said Davis calmly.

After a brief hesitation the Captain gave the order to light all the flares and set up a defensive line. The noise grew louder and was now intermingled with some electronic screeching.

“Three minutes until departure.”

The soldiers crouched again and clicked the safeties off of their rifles. “Are we cleared to fire, Captain?” asked Coulter.

“Whenever you see something, shoot it.” she replied with a nod.

The flares simmered and popped while the noises grew closer to the squad. A brief flash of metal caught the Captain’s attention and she fired a short burst from her weapon to ward off the creature.

“More over here!” shouted Davis, who was firing his weapon without pause.

Eventually all four of the soldiers were emptying magazine after magazine into the unseen crowd of beings pursuing them.

“One minute until departure.” came the intercom again, but no one heard it said over the sounds of weapons fire.

One after another the flares burned themselves out, leaving the four in complete darkness with the unidentified attackers.

The Captain was sure that her squad was gone now, afraid and cold she attempted to control her breathing. Directly to her left a queer synthesized voice spoke quite clearly. “Thank you for flying with the Keitl. Have a nice day.”

 

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Best Friend

Author : Bob Newbell

“Shuttle now clear from mothership. Beginning de-orbit,” said Commander King as he studied the holographic display on his control panel. Captain Rex, seated next to him, looked up at what remained of the SS Stalwart. When she’d left Earth’s solar system almost ten years earlier, the Stalwart had been a massive asteroid fitted with an antimatter mass driver engine. Having used the bulk of the planetoid as reaction mass on the long voyage to the Alpha Centauri system, the once enormous vessel was now scarcely larger than a good-sized meteoroid. “Ten years,” said Rex. “Ten years,” echoed King.

The landing craft began to shudder as it entered the atmosphere of the second planet out from Alpha Centauri A. Commander King monitored the displacement of the shuttle’s ablative heat shield as the ship dropped toward the surface of Alcenatu, the informal name the Stalwart’s crew had given to Alpha Centauri A Two.

“It shouldn’t be us. Not just us, I mean,” said Rex as he watched a curtain of fire through the view ports, the shuttle’s ablative armor wearing away as the vehicle tore through Alcenatu’s atmosphere. King said nothing for over a minute. Finally, he looked up from his instruments, turned to Rex and said, “I believe…this is what they would have wanted.” Rex stared in silence, his face colored red by the wall of flame flashing across the shuttle’s small windows. “They destroyed themselves,” said King. “No matter how much they tampered with their genetic code over the centuries, they could never eliminate their own lust for violence.” “If it weren’t for their genetic tampering,” Rex replied, “we wouldn’t be here either.”

The shuttle’s braking thrusters kicked in and the firestorm engulfing the vehicle quickly dispersed. Through the forward view ports, a surreal landscape of rolling hills covered with yellow vegetation presented itself. King piloted the shuttle toward a clearing that looked like a suitable landing site.

“We were their best friends,” said King, never taking his eyes off the control panel. “Since they’re gone, it’s right that we’re doing this.” The words “Weight On Landing Gear” flashed across the holographic display as the ship’s engines shut down.

“I miss them,” said Rex. “We all do, Captain,” replied King.

Rex donned his spacesuit and entered the shuttle’s airlock. Shouldn’t he have some historic words to say at this moment? He couldn’t think of any. The outer airlock door opened and Rex walked down the steps and set foot on Alcenatu’s surface. He walked several meters from the ship until he came to a spot that seemed to meet with his approval. He dug a shallow hole in the dirt, the shuttle’s cameras capturing everything he did. At last, the words came to him. “For all Mankind,” he said into his space helmet’s microphone as he dropped the Ceremonial Bone of Colonization into the hole and quickly covered it with dirt.

It would take over four years for the audio and video of the historic moment to knife across the gulf of the interstellar void, leapfrogging across the 200 relay satellites the Stalwart had left in her wake as she had crossed over four light-years of space. When the transmission arrived, it would set tails wagging from the Mercury outpost to the Oort Cloud Archipelago. But Rex didn’t need to wait for howls of approval. He already knew he’d acted as a best friend should. He knew he was a good boy.

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The Goddess of War

Author : Mary Ann Back

Dr. Klatua wasn’t dead – yet. But ten minutes into my session, the only thing keeping me from killing him was the Heja Root I’d smoked earlier in space dock. He was a typical Martian, four-foot-ten, reptilian green with scales here and tentacles there. His voice was shrill and warbled like an Aldarian Loon.

“Bibi, Earth women have a hard time adjusting to marriage here on Mars. What you’re feeling is completely normal. Embrace those feelings. Own them.”

“Maybe you didn’t hear me right. I said my husband, Ashat, wants another wife; two wives – at the same time.”

“That is his right as a Martian – Mormon hybrid, Bibi.”

“But he’s invoked Rune-Pfar!”

“And how does that make you feel?”

“Like I could end up dead!” A bronze figurine of Mensuc, the Martian goddess of war, mocked me from the coffee table.

“It’s true, Rune-Pfar is dangerous but Ashat has given you no choice. Accept your fate, Bibi, whatever it may be. With acceptance comes peace. ”

“Seriously? I’m paying you $250 an hour and the best you’ve got is ‘it sucks to be you?’

“Such a willful and impertinent creature you are! You have never assimilated into our culture. Human nature clouds your judgment and blinds you to the truth. You pay me for counsel and so I have given. I can do no more. Leave me.”

“Assimilate this, Moron!” I grabbed the figurine of Mensuc, hurled it through the air, and nailed him in his nardroids. Oddly, I felt better.

He cupped himself with a tentacle, glared at me through the tears welling in all four of his eyes, and scrawled ANGER DISPLACEMENT in bold letters across my chart.

“I see that!” I said, snatching the figurine on my way out of his office.

Halfway back to space dock, the distant thwack of a slamming door and a quavering curse reached my ears.

“Die Earth bitch!”

So much for psychobabble.

*

My star runner was a Condor XL, cerulean blue, and fully loaded with holographic G.P.S., antimatter hyper-drive, and fine Corinthian leather. It was one of a kind, like me. From Earth, also like me. Not so long ago, Ashat found us irresistible. We sat frozen in space dock, waiting for me to stop crying. Damned tears.

I glanced at the figurine riding shotgun in my jump seat. I wasn’t sure why I’d stolen it. The real Mensuc was a hard core bad ass, strong, and certain – everything I needed to be. And she’d have smacked the crap out of me if she saw me crying. Maybe that’s why I brought it along. I needed a good smack now and then.

I lit a spliff of Heja Root and inhaled so deeply it swirled inside my soul. Screw Rune-Pfar and screw Ashat. If my destiny held danger, it would be a danger of my own choosing – and not the whim of a Martian hybrid who knew nothing of love.
I nudged the Condor into open space and gradually set her free. Mars and Ashat disappeared into the black abyss of the wake I left behind. A boundless blanket of stars stretched before me like a lighted path to freedom. At the end of that path lay the Novarian Frontier. It seemed as good a destination as any. I slipped the Condor into hyper-drive.

Mensuc and I had worlds to conquer.

 

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Order of Service

Author : Josie Gowler

Twenty years of war. The couple sitting in front of me are younger than I was when I became Captain. Officiating wedding ceremonies is one of the supposedly pleasanter responsibilities of my job on this starship. But how can I do that with a clear conscience, knowing what I know? It’s more purgatory than perk to me. Usually it’s funerals that I conduct.

“Are you sure?” I ask them. The question carries with it the weight of three deceased siblings, two dead parents and a tetraplegic husband.

They gaze, devoted, into each others’ eyes. Untouched by tragedy, so pure, so unscarred. “We’re very much in love,” she says.

Like that makes any difference. Did I ever, ever believe that life was that simple? I do remember believing that the war would be over quickly; I even rolled my eyes when the Admiral told us to expect it to last a couple of years. How hard can it be, I thought, to gain the right to live how we choose in our own corner of the universe? Big place, after all, lots of room to share. I frown. “Love doesn’t protect you against a smart bomb.” The words come out of my mouth as soon as my brain has formed them. But I don’t regret saying them, not because I’m Captain and I can say what I like, but because it’s something that they need to think about. Then again, if the girl replies with ‘better to have loved and lost…’ I’m just going to have to slap her.

“We’ve talked about that,” the fiancé says, with a firmness that surprises me, and him, by the look on his face. It’s the first time he’s spoken. “Love isn’t limited to now. It’s not affected by space and time. One of us may die – one of us will die – but there’ll still be love.”

There’s a long pause while we all absorb what he said. It’s even silenced his intended bride. I scratch at the thick scar running down my jawline. Well said, kid. Love and pragmatism. I sigh. Give them their ceremony, their ten minutes of happiness. Before I have to make the hard decisions. Before I have to send the husband or the wife off to die in some hopeless battle half a galaxy away.

Eventually, I nod.

Hope. Someone has to have it.

 

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