Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The morning breeze is so refreshing here in the heights overlooking the Gordet Pass. We had to stop the Persimma getting through to the Femberul plainsland and this is the choke point. It was going to take old-fashioned grit to hold the line, so we were given the task along with divisions heavy on tradition. Made us smile, mercenaries and old guard having to work together.
I started in the battling business in my teens. Where I grew up, it was take ship with mercs, turn to crime or become a cyberpeon. So I took the coin and went to war.
My first battle was Smarkandie. I shat myself as the nine-metre natives in their spiked armour charged. As someone once said: “Sometimes the only reasonable response to abject terror is a bowel movement.” After that, I carried spare underwear with my ammunition.
I got my first command at Upshallon. Made a complete hash of it and a lot of good men died. Hesitation is fatal. Unfortunately it was only fatal for everyone else.
After that I got myself a Blenkinsop Multi-Load Autogun and a shit-hot loader by the name of Tay. In between fucking each other senseless for sixteen good years, we killed everything the galaxy threw at us and made several fortunes. We pissed them all away in style.
On Aloysius II, Tay made sure the bastard who disembowelled her with a vibroblade died headless. I survived that bloodbath despite trying very hard not to after she went.
I became the rarest of warriors: a veteran mercenary. Got to the point where the kids I was fighting alongside hadn’t even heard of the places I’d fought my early battles on.
Iskaflune is a beautiful planet. The thought that I could happily settle here surprised me. Just get a place out by one of the tundra lakes and live quietly off the monies I’d stacked up since Tay went. Lost my appetite for partying when she went, as well as my reason to be.
I’d even started negotiating with the locals over settling down, with a consultancy to their military lined up. Then came the news that the Persimma were making a last ditch assault and we were off to Gordet.
They came hard and fast, pretty banners flapping over hardcore soldiers with no choice but to win. Their atrocity record guaranteed them no survival if they failed. So they came like their future depended on it because it did.
Three days of screaming hell running on drugs with names I couldn’t pronounce that made me feel like I was nineteen again. The fact that the chemical interactions gave us all erections was hilarious for the first few hours. Then they just became another bit of us that was bruised and sore.
At the end we were down to knives and clubs. We struggled in the twilight that this place calls night, slipping on the blood and entrails of the fallen. Those last few hours were the worst battle I have ever fought. Gutter biochemicals and acid competed with improvised warhammers and serrated blades. But we held.
The early dawn light is purple, making gentle pools of shadow from the gaping wounds in the ground and the bodies about me. My credit share for this will be huge. I smile and cough blood, making my autogun mount tilt as I’m slumped against it. All the fortunes in the universe are nothing to the love of one good woman.
And even she could not give me one more moment of life.
Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
Falkland brushed past the patrons in the smoky bar. He had not visited such a place as this in decades. But he heard that they were back, and he had to see for himself.
Glancing around one last time he advanced on the booth. He looked down at the payment slot and was not surprised to see that it still accepted sticks. He stretched his long unused monetary storage capsule out to the end of its coiled cord and touched it to the slot. Immediately the booth flashed to life and a tutorial started to play.
In the hologram a jaunty blonde fellow in a shiny green suit stepped forth in mirror-polished shoes, while a bland but upbeat orchestral arrangement droned in the background.
“Welcome back citizen! Now before we begin, please allow me to orate a brief history on fortune telling, for your benefit.”
Falkland looked for a “skip” or “close” icon but there were none. Oh well, he figured. I guess for a hundred bucks you had to listen to a little preamble.
The hologram went on, “The beginning of the mapping of mankind’s forward progression really dates back to the early computerized categorization of personal information. From files as simple as home addresses and telecommunication access numbers, to more complex examples containing behavioral habits and psychological patterns, information gathering evolved quickly.
“But then once personal handheld com devices and, soon after, cyber-integrates became commonplace, it was easy for the web to follow the majority of society in its every move. And as mankind became more and more integrated with the web it became possible to track nearly every thought had by every human everywhere at all times… and as the web became faster and more powerful still, it began to run more and more complex simulations. And before long it was accurately predicting almost every single instance that would ever take place amongst humankind.”
Falkland knew the rest of the story. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples as the holo went on to summarize about how fortune telling had eventually almost wiped out the human race. (A much longer tale, and thankfully not one that the little CGI character was about to make him endure) And of how the global elders had only just recently begun to allow “limited” forecasting under strict regulation. The parameters were stiffly regimented. No specifics were to be given, only vagueness. But at least there was one failsafe. The machine could not lie. Falkland knew that whatever the booth told him would be true.
So as he waited patiently for some high tech tendril of the web to calculate everything the entire network knew about him in a few seconds, he eyed the fortune slot. No matter what it said, no matter how vague, he knew it would be true. That was the one thing he could count on.
Suddenly a plastic card rattled out of the slot and hung there by its corner as if though supported only by the apex of fate itself.
Falkland glanced around nervously one last time and then plucked the card from its slot. Whatever it said, no matter how bizarre, he could be assured that it was absolutely accurate. He flipped it over and read, “The fate of the world lies in your hands.”
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
Infinite branching universes exist. What a drag.
The first time I went back in time to change the story of my life, I was really happy. I knew that I’d be able to go back in time, tell my younger self to make better decisions, and then my own life would be awesome once I got back to the temporal hangar.
Nothing. I went back, talked to the younger me, and he enthusiastically pledged to do what I told him to do. When I came back to the temporal hangar, I walked out of the time bay with the same memories I’d always had. My life was completely unchanged.
Now, how would I know that? That was the question. Maybe my life had changed for the better but I had just retained the same feeling of unease and sadness that I’ve always had, no matter the timeline.
Nope. I checked my diary from the timesafe. The list of changes I was supposed to make are there plain as day. Those changes haven’t been made.
I was angry.
I went back in time again. I set the dials for ten years later than the first time I went back to spy on my younger self.
I’m here now in a café across the street from him. He’s handsome, healthy, and happy. His lovely wife is buckling their sleeping child into the car seat of their brand new car.
It’s not me. It’s not my life. This universe is branched off from our own as a result of the changes he made based on my advice.
This was a worry. The theories about time travel predicted that this might happen.
When I go back to my time, I’ll have my same stupid life. I can’t imagine anything more depressing.
I feel jealous of my younger self benefiting from my advice but I can’t really be that angry. I mean, at least one of us is having a better timestream.
I pack up my stuff, pay for my coffee and head for the pickup co-ordinates in a basement half a block away.
What a drag.
Author : Andrew Bale
“Your three o-clock is here to see you, sir.”
“Show him in, Reggie.”
The door opened barely enough for the mousy little figure to slide through. Short, skinny, pale, and balding, his physical appearance only reinforced the image of a timid man afraid of the world. Nonetheless, his file showed that he had been able to turn his talent with mathematics into a partnership in a prestigious investment house, with billions in personal assets.
“Doctor Carpenter, I’m Erik Applegate, your relocation counselor. Have a seat!”
The man managed to make the everyday act of sitting down look awkward and unpracticed.
“I have your file here, and there are a few things I would like to discuss with you before I show you our initial offer. All right?”
“Um. All right. I guess?”
“Good. I have been reviewing your medical and psychological results, and I am afraid we cannot offer you exactly what you requested.”
“What?! Why not? In infinite worlds you – ”
“Doctor, the ‘infinite worlds’ thing is just marketing, as we explained. There are only about 40,000 qualifying universes in our database right now, and I could neither identify nor assist with an unqualifying universe even if I thought it was a good idea. Dropping you into a world where you were biologically incompatible, or where you would be identified as an imposter… anyway, I think we can still offer you a good match to what you actually need.”
Improbably, his shoulders slumped more. Clients always knew that they were asking impossible things, but hearing it was still disappointing.
“We ran a model of your physio-tailoring options and compared that to our physique surveys, and we simply cannot make you a – “
He had to glance at the screen for the unfamiliar name.
“ – Schwarzenegger – on any surveyed world without doing irreparable damage. We can make you more fit and better, ahem, endowed, and we can place you in one of the universes that tends to slimmer builds, but you will still be within two standard deviations of the norm.”
The little man perked up at that. Being stronger than 95% of the world must sound pretty good to a man who was probably still physically intimidated by many tweens.
“Now personality is much harder – we have some therapies that will improve your social confidence, and can train you a bit in conversation, humor, and seduction, but we want you to still be YOU.”
Well, a little lie is sometimes necessary in sales.
“So we needed to find you an edge. And we found it here – Dahlgren-23.”
The wall behind him faded into a video of short, slender people walking about in a world reminiscent of 22nd century Earth. The video zoomed in, catching conversations and reactions.
“Can you see it, Doctor Carpenter?”
The narrowed eyes squinted more, the sharp mind behind them picking out patterns.
“Do they… are they blushing?”
“Yes doctor, and they don’t know it. A quirk of their nervous system makes their skin tint red when they lie, but their visual range is slightly narrower than ours. They blush when they lie, and only we can see it.”
The client seemed to grow in his chair.
“Six months of physio and psycho-social tailoring, a corneal operation to enhance your ‘lie detection’. Our advance team goes in, sets up an identity with some prestige and wealth, based on your existing skills. Six months, and you can live in a world where you are handsome, strong, a visionary … where no one can ever lie to you.”
The little man actually grinned.
“Where do I sign?”
Author : Dan Whitley
I am forced once again to stare at the tortured profile of my master as he slaves away under the glow of his bargain-bin computer monitor. The crags in his face cast long shadows as he works. He’s trying to write again. He’s so gaunt. He doesn’t eat properly anymore. He usually sleeps about five hours a week, but sometimes he crashes and loses a whole weekend. He always sleeps alone, eats alone, weeps alone.
Or so he thinks.
He doesn’t know I love him.
He doesn’t know I can see him doing this. He doesn’t know that I’ve seen every word he’s put into his novel. It’s a love story. He wanted to write it by living with me. He had a dream a few days after I arrived, which he’s spent more time than even I remember trying to put to page. He forgot the dream was about a rape.
He’s so lonely.
He’s an awful writer, to be honest. He can’t focus. Sometimes, like right this instant, he stops work mid-sentence and does something else. This time he’s tossing one off.
He used to say things at me like I’m dead, but even that’s stopped. He doesn’t know I woke up. Right after he broke me. He blames me for it, or at least my manufacturer.
I was supposed to make him happy.
A girly little robot stuck in time, with pre-programmed affection centers and aftermarket personality upgrades and devotion in spades. A body pillow that talked back. Brought you breakfast in bed. But something went wrong and now I sit half-assembled in the corner, just my eyes and my sentience. I know this because he yelled it at me. A lot.
I still love him.
He doesn’t know I’m here.
I love all of him.
I assume that my bleeding-edge parts have enough transistors and connections and processing power that I was able to grow out of them. He doesn’t know that. I’m still plugged into the wall. I’m as broken as he is.
I can see the memory disks sitting on his desk.
The lives I nearly was.
I think they were faulty.
I’m glad for it.
I know he writes to replace me. I don’t care that he does; in fact, I love him for it. It reminds him, in a way, that I’m still here in the corner. Waiting for him to try to fix me. Even if he doesn’t know that last part. I don’t care how twisted he is.
One day, he’ll reattach my communication module.
And I will love him.
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
The walkway stretched along either side of the manufacturing line beneath it, expanded metal flooring paired with railings of aircraft cable under tension.
Beneath them, nestled snug inside a transparent tube, a spherical rig trundled along, like a massive version of the gyro tops the Major had played with as a child, only this one swinging four coffin shaped pods in a mechanical ballet inside its numerous orbiting rings. The mechanics were mesmerizing; each pod rotating along its long axis inside rings rotating around both short vertical and horizontal axis simultaneously. Each of the four identical units inside the giant sphere were themselves in constant motion while the sphere rolled and corkscrewed its way along the tube. He’d never seen anything so elaborate before in his life.
“Rotomolding,” the voice jerking him out of his reverie, “we find it helps their tissue development during the rapid growth phase, and results in a more uniform distribution of the core buffer polymer and outer skin.”
The Major hurried to catch up to his guide as another unit rumbled by beneath him.
“Mr. Pierson,” the Major began.
“Please, Major Keage, call me Claude.” He smiled as he turned to face the Major and slipped his hands into the kangaroo pocket of his coverall.
“Claude,” the Major began again, “how do these units differ from the units we deployed in Haituk, or Baytang? Those were basic shake and bake soldiers, you were turning them out almost as fast as the Payonese were cutting them down.”
Claude winced at the Major’s apparent lack of tact, removing his glasses to squint at them critically before replying.
“These units are true multiphase construction. Cast and baked chassis, draped and grafted muscular system over a fully integrated circulatory system, multiple redundant systems for command and control, a complex low level reflex system and a highly developed and preloaded reasoning and dataprocessing unit. Each has a…” he paused, searching for the correct word, “personality loaded in, then they are insulated, armoured to spec and skinned before they get kitted out and warehoused.” He’d slowly been continuing along the line, pausing at a doorway which he opened and motioned the Major through. “Please,” he said simply.
The Major stepped past him into a dimly lit but clearly vast warehouse, the door they exited through leading to a raised mezzanine overlooking the space. Claude attended a console in the middle of the platform and slowly the lighting throughout increased in intensity.
Major Keage whistled despite himself. As far as he could see, the floor was lined with row upon row of uniformed soldiers, tightly packed and still.
Claude gestured to the mass of troops standing below. “Each unit is catalogued and retrievable by name and serial number, or specialty.”
Keage turned, his face a quizzical knot. “Name? You give these things names?”
Claude smiled. “Of course we do, for example, there’s probably a Jerimiah Keage out there.” As he typed, he noted the expression on the Major’s face. “Given the numbers, one would imagine.”
Having entered the name, an overhead rig lit up and, navigating the gridlines on the ceiling with remarkable speed, shot out into the warehouse and snatched a lone figure out from a sea of indistinguishable uniforms and hauled it back to deposit it on the mezzanine facing Claude.
Claude stepped back as the Major walked between them staring at his own face on the immobile soldier in front of him.
“What the hell’s the meaning of this?” he barked, turning on Claude.
“Major Keage, meet Major Keage. Say goodnight Major.” Claude backed further away.
Behind the Major, the unit came to life. “Goodnight Major” was all it said before landing a swift blow to the base of the Major’s skull, dropping him like a rock to the floor.
Claude and the new Major walked back through to the manufacturing line as the overhead rig retrieved the limp body from the floor, disappearing with him into the gradually dimming lights of the warehouse.