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F
Flicker
There’s a lot to be said for the feeling of security granted by street lighting. Not overlooking the fact that its arrival heralded mankind moving from a lifestyle largely governed by the availability of daylight or men with flame-in-hand. Flame. It’s insidious. Inconstant. A wavering light that moves the shadows about. When you’re dependent on shadow, not knowing where the bloody things are going to be from one moment to the next is a real pain in the butt. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I don’t even know where the bit of me you’d call my butt would be. Don’t need to. So, here I am, one of the longer-
L
Look Like Them
The sirens start to wail. “Run!” John turns as he shouts, swinging a rucksack of stolen provisions onto his back. By the time we see torch beams flicking about in the hands of guards heading this way – the section where their spotlights aren’t working – we’re all running for the fence. “Keep up, Jinny.” Easier for you, Em, you’re taller and it’s all legs. Back here in the shortarse division, we get to dodge and hide more often. Which is what I’m off to do. There’s no way I can make the fence. I’m not convinced Em can, but at least she has a chance. Sliding under an
H
Honest Men
Here we go again, shooting when we should be talking. I’m sure the gigantic shrimp things didn’t mean anything, but it’s a little late when Jeff’s on the guns. One of them twitched the wrong way and his favourite twitch lights up the night. Plants, rocks, alien crustaceans, anything living in the shallows, it all turns to tumbling chunks. “Of all the stupid, disobedient-” I see Cadenza take a deep breath before she shouts into her headset. “Jeff! Cease fire!” The guns continue roaring and the missiles continue whizzing and the grenades keep sailing merrily into the night. I can see Jeff’s
F
Flawless Stars and Dead Jewels
My orbit is not done. I cannot accept this. A few hours drifting have forced me to admit my stupidity. All the times I cleared up after him, excusing his selfishness as something special, like he shouldn’t have to act decently toward other people. “Damn you, Neil. Damn you. May perfect stars shine over your unmarked grave.” His voice is faint: “Danny, that’s no way to say goodbye. This find will let me live the life I’ve been kept from. I’ll never forget what you’ve given me, this wonderful gift of wealth and happiness. I might even see if I can support Myra through her grieving. She never under
D
Deep in the Archives
[Translation (from original German) of key document removed from Treasure Hunter site during Operation Rush North (9/16).] OMITTED: Kriegsmarine document reference, location codes, et al. Purpose of record: Confidential interview (sole record) For Kriegsmarine: Lieutenant-Commander Rudolf Büchler (RB) Interviewee: Captain Karl Drull (KD) Record taker: Lieutenant-Junior Otto Maurer (OM – listening, not present) Others present: None Preamble: Infected Kriegsmarine personnel evacuated on F8-RL post repairs. Destination Trondheim. Treasure Hunter Station abandoned. Blue Sun Substation demolished. Minefield remains. RB: Mister Drull
P
Patched
This alleyway used to be the entrance to an underground car park, now reduced to a metre-width track between piles of rubbish and makeshift dwellings. Toward the back, there are furtive movements. Out front, the only movements are the flames of the fires burning in old oil drums. They pick shaky highlights from the polished armour plates of the spotless robot that stands square-on to a camera drone. A woman in a fitted two-piece suit steps in from the left, moving into shot sufficiently to convey her presence, but keeping to the edge of view so as not to detract from the interviewee. “Officer Ninety-Two.” The robot’s peaked
M
Mary Had a Little Plan
It really wasn’t clever. Every time that she went out, they followed her together. On Tuesday morn when she went out, she carried a huge white bag. Not unusual when going to shop, but laden enough to sag. She sallied boldly round the mazes of the Schwarzenegger Memorial Mall, rushing here and browsing there, not really going anywhere at all. Everywhere that Mary went, the men in grey went too. Barely pretending to browse or pause, waiting to see what she’d do. Her keen green eyes perused so much, but never lost track of her tail. A reflection here, a glance taken there, a peek through a garment rail. So that was how Mary’s d
O
One Minute
The pavement shimmers gently in the afternoon heat. The baristas have been reduced to serving nothing but iced coffee. “944,013.” Alec looks up to see someone with a vaguely familiar face take the seat opposite, then a waft of cigarette smoke makes him sneeze. “Ah, you’re sensitive.” The man now sharing his table stubs his cigarette out in the sugar bowl. “Do I know you?” Eyebrows raise: “Username ‘Peacemonger’. You did say to come find you.” Alec sighs. Another troll. Will he be able to get rid of this one without police intervention? “Peacemonger? I thought you were jok
H
High Life
To our right, there are five rows of aircars just hanging there. In addition, there are six layers below and five above. All sleek, shining, and not moving. “Look at it. Six by twelve, going nowhere.” Tish’s right. We picked the wrong time to leave and are now stuck in M25-7-1. At least it’s an edge lane, so we’ve got a view over Croydon Hub toward the lights of the City Wall. It looks kind of tranquil: all the twinkling lights on buildings and shops and whatnot. Everywhere has light all the time, like being unlit is some form of failure. “You’re sidescreening again.” I bring my attention back w
D
Diamonds and Thunder
You can stalk the worlds like death incarnate, should you have the technology and the psychological issues necessary. You might even descend upon worlds in fire and fury in an attempt to become some sort of manifest divinity to the primitive souls thereon. But you start waving a great big metallic weapon above your head after landing on a mountaintop during a lightning storm and you’re going to have a close encounter with physics. No matter how good you look, lightning doesn’t care. The blast from Numeniaro the Godslayer’s gear going up spread his remains across the mountaintop and down into the valleys on either side. As if
C
Continuity Failure
There’s an expectant pause as the screen fills with blurry grey patterns. Martin gently places a finger on the forearm of the dishevelled man to his left. Thumbs stop flicking across the screen of a smartphone. Bleary eyes lift to briefly focus on Martin. “Mister President. The drone is back in range. It’s sending an update.” The President looks back to his smartphone and whispers: “Still no signal.” Martin sees the looks from those nearby. It’s a problem, but not yet bad enough to warrant the twenty-fifth. He glances toward the Speaker, who nods. She understands. A woman in dress blues stands up and
S
Shepherd
The room goes dark when the streetlight across the road goes off. I feel her tense, then relax: rising maturity overcoming instinctive fear. When I first came here, she would hug me tight for the time between the light going out and her falling asleep. Some nights, that took almost until dawn. “Goodnight, Drakky.” A thing that is mine, this name given by a girl without a friend in the world, just as she realised the world is a long way from the princesses and wonderlands of the stories her foster parents were so fond of telling her. “Tell mum and dad I did well in my maths test.” Parents long gone, like those first fos
B
Be
It’s astonishing just how beautiful space is, for all that it’s largely empty. “Kaelen!” Mother, mother. Even from half a light year out, I can feel you. My view narrows… There. She’s standing on a rocky promontory, guards at her back, encampment beyond them. Blackened dust picks out the lines of faces, turns tear tracks into ashen paths. Red-eyed and dark haired, Lilifar cuts a proud figure, shroud thrown back in defiance of the biting wind. “Stand with us, my son. Your power isn’t divine. It’s a side effect. They tried to make a super being. Some would say they succeeded.” Many mor
F
Fooled
Another flight of stairs disappears into the shadows above. If this were an old movie, I’d casually rest my hand against a spotless wall while pausing to see if my pursuers have given up. If not, I would spring lightly upwards as if the previous thirty flights didn’t matter. As it is, I keep a tight grip on the creaking rail while the dry heaves pass and the quivering in my thighs subsides. The baying pack of blood-crazed schoolgirls have paused to tear the sleeping transient I hurdled limb from limb, so I can allow myself a moment. Not that I have a second wind to recoup, but the illusion is nice. “Hideo, this is no time fo
V
Visionaries
The guide says it starts small: things move when you’re not about. Takes a while to be sure. Walking into your lounge to find one of your books floating in the middle of the room while something unseen turns the pages? Conclusive. Time to make the call. “Visionaries. What’s the nature of the incursion?” “Book in midair.” “Are the pages moving like it’s being read?” “Yes.” “Sir, you have a Class Six incursion. Vacate the premises and await an operator.” It’s cold outside. Suzanne from number sixteen brings me tea. “Incursion?” I nod. She clucks symp
A
Archetype
There’s never enough time to correct the big mistakes. That much, I’m sure of. As a modern scientist, I can state that it’s one of the few things I am firm in my assessment of. What with the discoveries of the Conscious Reality Initiative, we live in a universe where much of what we see is subject to change without notice, and not necessarily for the better. The laws of physics have become situation-specific and wildly variable. That’s why, after the Reality Revolution, I chose robotics. There is a literality in the perceptions of a robotic mind – if it is programmed correctly, of course. I populated my laborator
A
Appeal
“Your lights are too bright.” The fresh-faced lady looks nonplussed. The bearded man behind her taps something into the rig on his wrist and the brightness cuts by half. He gives me a thumbs-up. I nod. The suited man who looks so out of place in my cabin taps his watch. “Live in three, two, one…” He points at the fresh-faced woman. “This is Charlene Mason of KBTX, your realtime online news source. I’m here in Manitoba Springs with Clinton Wilkes, a man who knows the Ectarra like no-one else.” She points the microphone wand my way as the camera drone swings through a half-circle to bring me into
J
Judgement Today
Jesus came strolling through the corn, two women in winged armour following behind. He had a hemisphere of light flickering about his head and nothing caught on his robes as he walked barefoot across our yard to stand in front of my sister, Annelise. I’d been wondering why she’d stopped playing with the deer that came to greet her every morning. Must have felt his approach. Come to think of it, things did seem nicer hereabouts, all of a sudden. “Can we take my brother?” her voice is pitched so I can hear. “No, Annelise. Not this time.” This time? I thought there was only one Judgement Day? “But he doe
B
Belonging
Another flawless afternoon. “Spin for me.” I smile and cut a perfect seven-twenty, poised on one heel, arms spread to imitate the mantling of an eagle. As I come to a stop, I let a flash of dragon wings spread down from my outstretched arms before dropping the visuals, transferring, and collapsing into a heap on the couch next to Lizzie. She squeals, slaps me, then rests a finger on the end of my nose, the other hand raised in admonition: “You promised to stop using instant transference.” Sinking deeper into my slump, I sigh: “Habit. Too easy to do magic when there’s a yottahertz CPU with a billion cores ha
M
My Sweet Death
The airlock used to be palatial. Now the four-metre walls are coated with sickly golden crud: the exudations of a million desperados. The bouncer is vaguely human. He waves at us: “Leave your weapons here.” Pointing to an upturned crate next to the inner door, I grin at Ella: “Stay.” The bouncer looks puzzled. Ella shrugs and thumps her backside down on it. I smile at him: “Ando Morre.” He presses the ‘open door’ panel: “Whatever.” Inside is a typical portside speakeasy. I look about. Weather forecast: stormy with outbreaks of violence. “Ando, you woeful excuse of a man. Come t
P
Play Nicely
The view goes negative, then my tummy does the thing where it tries to chuck everything out whichever end is the nearest. It’s an hour before I can pick up the coffee left by an orderly barely older than my little sister. She doesn’t say a word. Literally runs off as soon as she’s put the cup down. I need to clean myself up. Then someone needs a crash course in datamancer etiquette. Stalking down the corridor in clean fatigues, I can feel people moving away. I’m sensitive enough to read data as it passes by, and able to adjust it by act of will. It’s not hard to detect the clumps of electrical impulses bundled up
L
Like Mist in the Sun
Another cold coffee. It’s the last one I’ll have for a while. Tigerhouse closes tonight and affording bean coffee will go back on the luxuries list. “Last one?” Elena slides into the seat opposite, looking like a pinup from the side of someone else’s bomber. Her coffee is steaming and she’s got a double-stack bacon and stilton sandwich. It’s amazing what being pretty and having no truck with overbearing bosses will do for the punctuality and quality of your mealtimes. She spins the plate so half of the pile is facing me. “That’s yours. Since you haven’t had a break.” I examine
T
The Low View
Confined in a 4-metre cube with nothing but my thoughts for company. Poor conversation and haunting memories by day, convoluted dreams by night. The dreams are too disturbing to contemplate long enough to unravel, so they leave varying degrees of disassociation in their wake. I kind of welcome that. Anything to relieve the monotony. After the first sets of 100 press-ups and sit-ups, I switch to jogging on the spot until my legs give way. Takes a while. I’m in the best physical condition of my life. My instructor would be proud, I think. She’d certainly be surprised. I was never one for excelling at anything. Doing just enough to g
P
Paper Moon
The walls are sweating as I labour up the stairs. Intravenous packs are heavy and I have to buy in bulk, otherwise I couldn’t afford enough of them. The door opens to my retina print and I barge in, pushing the door closed with my arse. Colin’s left me a fresh sterile pack with needles – he must have got his overtime. Shame he doesn’t care enough to stay realside and celebrate. Virtual sex may be athletic, but it’s just not squishy enough. Drink a half-litre of sugar water and strip. Into the recliner, sort the wires and tubes, sliding the needles into my arms. New steel feels strange, for all that I know there&#
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