The Omega Legend

Of all the tropes, the ‘Last of a Kind’ concept is one of that rare theme, plot and character devices that has evolved into mythical existence with one perfect master stroke. Richard Matheson’s classic vampire novel towers over them all. ‘I Am Legend (1954)’ is an ingenious hybrid of two previous classics, such as Mary Shelley’s ‘The Last Man (1826)’ and Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula (1897)’. Vampirism and plague, a combination that captures the definitive pretext for a last man alive narrative, grounding the myth of the supernatural with the reality of pathogens.

Matheson also deploys another trope in the finale of the story, one that is more devastating in its social commentary. The vampires, the pandemic, and the last man on Earth are just the setup for the novella’s central message, and it’s the one element shunned by all the film adaptations to date.

Continue reading “The Omega Legend”

PANOLOGY OF SCIENCE FICTION: E

Economics

The field of economics probably bores the average lit reader, and probably most sci-fi readers as well. Yet the best sci-fi reads are the ones that construct plausible alternative economic environments. Whether we like it or not, our lives are immersed and enslaved to whatever the current economic paradigm is in place. So much so that most people don’t even know that alternatives exist. They don’t comprehend that the economic system that they are bound to be only an invention, and that other (maybe better, possibly worse) systems can exist.

The whole point of science fiction is to question our own current political, economic, social and scientific situation. Economics can influence how power is distributed, how society becomes structured, and how technology develops. Science fiction seeks to introduce readers to new ideas, and the subject of economics is by far the most effective in terms of changing society for the better, or worse. It can be the root of all evil, and the driver of all that can be good.


Objectivism Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.


Anti-property anarcho-syndicalism, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin


Ration stamps, enforced consumption, Midas World, Frederik Pohl


Wooden coins, The Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey


Sentient High-Frequency Trading algorithms, Accelerando by Charles Stross


Criminal economyWhen Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger


OverpopulationStand on Zanzibar by John Brunner


Psychohistory, Asimov’s Foundation series.

Panology of Science Fiction: E

Engineering

A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam

Frederik Pohl
prosthetic arm on blue background
Photo by ThisIsEngineering on Pexels.com

It was stories about the ‘mad scientist’ that kicked off genre literature, ever since Daedalus fabricated wings from feathers and wax for himself and his son Icarus. Invention is the heart of all sci-fi stories, which in turn becomes the heart of inspiration that turns science fantasy into reality. Geosynchronous communications satellites, computer worms, Segways, wall-mounted home theatres, exoskeletons, smartphones, virtual worlds, and organ harvesting were all described by sci-fi writers long before engineers turned them into reality.

Many authors are indeed engineers and scientists, Arthur C. Clarke, Edward E. “Doc” Smith, Joe Haldeman and Isaac Asimov to name just a few, making their work some of the best sci-fi out there. They get to create and test theoretical technology in fiction and at the same time, get inspired to dream up solutions in the real, current world.

Engineering is obviously fundamental to all sci-fi stories, and not only to have fantastical new technology for your characters to play with, but also to ‘engineer’ a world, a society that is victim to the ramifications to the inventions that pervade it.

Engineering is the plot device of plot devices.


Automatic City

A city designed to protect itself and maintain itself over millions of years.

The Man in the Maze, by Robert Silverberg.

Published by Avon Books in 1969


Chronoscope

A device used to see into specific internals of time.

From Legion of Time, by Jack Williamson.

Published by Astounding Science Fiction in 1938


Ice-Nine

A crystalline form of water so stable that in practical terms it would never melt.

From Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Published by Random House in 1963


The Metaverse

A virtual universe.

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson.

Published by Bantam in 1992


Repellor Anti-Gravity Rays

Device provides support for planet-side air travel.

Armageddon: 2419 A.D. , by Philip Frances Nowlan

Published by Amazing Stories in 1928


Rhennius Machine

Device of alien manufacture, which will reverse, or turn inside out, any object passed through its mobilator.

Doorways in the Sand

Doorways in the Sand, by Roger Zelazny.

Published by Harper Science Fiction in 1976


Virtual Immortality

A method for storing the mind and memories of a person, and recalling and reconstituting them at will.

The city and the stars

The City and the Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke.

Published by Unknown in 1956

Relic Hunters

Relic Hunters

“It’s a square.”

Silv heard correctly but wanted clarification. “What do you mean a square?”

“Probe One has just completed a second sweep over your location,” said The Captain, sitting comfortably in the Vitalis Express orbiting KIC10905746 C.  “We’ve now got a clearer picture of what’s down there. The anomaly’s actually a large geometric shape, fifty metres wide, just north of your location. In fact, there is a grid of quadrilateral structures underneath a kilometre of nitrogen ice.”

Looking over at Denis, Silv felt vindicated. “Was I right in choosing this dormant glacier for a first landing?”

“Could be naturally occurring formations,” said Denis.

Silv decided not to argue. The majority of the planet’s glaciers seemed to be grinding their way towards the equator, where they evaporated slowly under the distant K-type sun. If ever a warmer climate existed, the solid nitrogen under their feet would have been the planet’s atmosphere and the geography, shaped by it. Moving glaciers, after millions of local years, would have wiped out any evidence of such an epoch.

They climbed into the Quadra, a four-sailed sledge available to the Vitalis Express crew, and using the icy southerly winds, they slid towards a featureless horizon.

“How are we going to get verification?” said Denis. “Whatever those formations are, they’re a kilometre down.”

Silv had a theory. “There’s hundreds of crevasses riddle inside the glacier. The data from Probe One’s first GPR mappings indicate that they are all interconnected. This ice sheet isn’t as dormant as we thought. It’s expanding outward.”

They rode the Quadra onwards, into the bleakness, until the captain of the Vitalis Express said to them, “You are now above the start of the fracture.” Denis planted thermoplates, melting a passageway to the cavity beneath them. Using the Quadra’s wrench to lower themselves into the icy caverns, they began the journey down a moderate but jagged slope, lasting an hour before they hit the misty bottom. They trekked for three hundred metres, following a creek of steaming carbon monoxide until Silv spotted the opening of another fissure, it’s slope steeper than previously experienced.

Denis unpacked the climbing tackle and rigged it for their decent. Via the light provided by the atmosuits, Silv noticed layers of green watermarks staining the ice. “Copper. Reacting with the layers of oxygen.”

The bottom opened out into a vast chasm. They marched into the void, ground sinking like mud until they came to a shallow lake, its surface, a black mirror.

“Look,” said Denis pointing to a shape beyond the shadows.

Silv waded into the pool of boiling nitrogen, thankful for the engineering behind the atmosuit.

“Wait,” Denis, seeing Silv’s resolve, ventured forward.

They came to a wall-like outcrop, protruding just half a metre out of the emerald liquid. Silv touched it, noticing a rough and serrated aspect to the material. “It crumbles slightly, but it’s pretty solid.”

Denis inspect the blue surface. “It looks like coral.”

Silv felt the euphoria subside inside his chest.

“It’s a natural phenomenon,” yelled Denis, frustrated. “Some kind of copper oxide.”

We are wasting time,” said the captain, “get back here, that’s an order.”

Silv looked beyond, at the platform, arising out of the subterranean sea. “I veto,” said Silv, climbing onto the structure. “This thing has spires, look.” “He looked back and waved Denis up. “Something built this.”

Denis joined the Quartermaster, hiking to one of the tapering towers and grabbed a section. It crumbled into his hands. “It’s ancient. Probably not much left.”

“Intelligent civilisation or just some biological organism?”

“I don’t know yet,” answered Silv, looking up at the cathedral of columns. “Don’t send down any crew unless I give it the go-ahead.”

Silv and Denis explored the green and blue crystalline edifice for the next several hours, finding nothing but empty shadows until they discovered the pit, perfectly square, bottomless.

Denis held out his rangefinder, “Eight hundred and sixty-four metres. This structure is huge.”

“Made of copper,” added Silv. “There’s gotta be some ancient relics down there.”

“I don’t know,” replied Denis, sounding genuinely sceptical. “This planet must have suffered some kind of climate event, causing its entire atmosphere to freeze up. We are down over a kilometre. No structure this high could withstand such weight.”

“What are you saying?” Silv took out a pick and began scrapping the ledge, expecting to rub up the lustre of the metal, but failing to do so.

“I don’t think this structure is…,” began Denis but was cut off by a black, slimy blob spattering onto the pirate’s helmet.

Silv saw the creature lift its globular, headless torso, raised on a multitude of neurotendrils, which spread down and wrapped around the rest of Denis’s body. Another fell from above, latching itself to Denis, and another. They seemed to be leaping off the spires. Silv looked up at the sea of black moving down the immense construction. 

The sound of a million slaps echoed out from the pit.

When the struggling, disoriented Denis stumbled into the gaping hole, Silv, mind stunned with horror, sprang to life, dashing toward the direction of the crevasse. By the time Silv jumped down into the lake, the entire platform was inundated by a swarm of slithering neurotendrils.

Silv ran across the sludge and up the ice ravine, the nightmare sounds growing louder by the second. The cliff climbing equipment awaited, but as Silv pulled at the rope to begin ascension, multiple climbers rappelled down. They were the crew from the pirate ship, Vitalis Express.

“Wait!” yelled Silv.

The hissing echoes penetrated the atmosuit.

When the captain descended, Silv screamed, “What are you doing?”

The cavern vibrated.

Relic Hunterss

“We’ve got heavy equipment coming down, so clear the way.”

“No!”

“I’ve got all hands on deck,” said the captain. “We haven’t much time, but we should be able to leave this ice cube with some kind of valuable relic…” The captain paused, noting that the darkness beyond the night, had turned into a mass of glistering black. 

Panology of Science Fiction: D

Disease

Whether its curing existing diseases or encountering new ones, a bit or a lot of pathology doesn’t hurt a story or make for a bad plot device. Injecting fear and dread into any scenario can be as easy as prescribing an epidemiologist or two.

The scope in speculating future disease can again be endless, e.g microbial, fungal, genetic, psychiatric, crystalline extraterrestrial agents, or cyber infections

Space-whirly, Plague Ship by Andre Norton

Denver Madness, The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

The Green Line of Death, The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

Helico virus & Silent Untreated Disease Syndrome, Brian Aldiss’s Helliconia Trilogy

Vampiris pandemic, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Zombie plague, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks.

Snow Crash, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

See also Plagues in Science Fiction and Fantasy


 

Rise of the Dark Empire: A Star Wars Tragedy

Life imitates art.

It inevitably has to, because art starts off by imitating reality in an attempt to explain it in ways we humans can understand. We tell each other stories, to teach ourselves how to coexist in this strange existence, this universe. We learn from these tales all about what it means to be complex social beings.

Continue reading “Rise of the Dark Empire: A Star Wars Tragedy”

The Tesseract

The featureless salt desert spread out to infinity. The horizon; nothing but smooth, chrome landscape under a dark taupe sky. The type-2 moon’s gravity helped her along, but the cold surface seemed to sap the warmth out of her suit with every step.

Ashley Isuuza couldn’t complain. She’d craved adventure ever since birth, and no adventure was worth taking without the prospect of death associated with it. So in theory, her little stroll across Obirus b III exemplified the very essence of a perfect, eventful life. Yet Ashley suspected she wasn’t going to live to tell her story.

The Astradelta-Obirus run had proved profitable, especially the shuttling of passengers to the salt moon. This influx of scientists caused the local economy to boom, yet not one official could explain to her the reason why they were there. That changed when the cargo ship she commanded, the Enigma Rex, came to the rescue of an orbital research station. One scientist had survived. All the others, fifteen in all, perished from atmospheric decompression caused by a critical system failure.

What the scientist told her, shattered everything she’d come to know about the universe.

“We’ve discovered a geometrical artifact,” said the dying academic, “that’s older than this stellar system.”

It made sense, Ashley figured. The tight security and tight lips.

“What kind of artifact?” asked Ashley.

“This moon is a tesseract?”

Artifact? Super-engineering?

“Human?” asked Ashley. Obirus had been colonized four thousand years earlier by the Terra Corporterium, but could they have built such a…?

“No,” said the scientist.

“Kucobi?” she asked. They were the closest alien species and roughly the same age as humanity.

The weak man shook his head, leaned over and whispered words into Ashley’s ear. Ashley struggled to decipher their meaning. With collapsed lungs, the scientist was unable to breathe. Before Ashley could inquire, he had died.

“Warning,” announce Enigma Six, the ship’s consciousness. “Control systems under polemictronic attack.”

Ashley rushed back into her ship. “Disengage,” she ordered, hoping to cut off the attacker’s access to the Enigma’s neuronet. By the time she made it to the bridge, she knew she was doomed. All the ship’s Enigmas had succumbed to the polemictron.

“You are committing an act of war,” she yelled, “Who are you?”

“I am the ‘thing that exists’.”

“Who do you represent?”

“I represent the ‘thing that no longer exists’.”

“What is your purpose?”

“I require the Tesseract.”

“What Tesseract?”

“The soft-skinned thing communicated to you the location of the Tesseract. I was unable to decipher its last words due to incomplete ‘sensory things’.”

Dangerously powerful, unaligned and of unknown origin, the polemictron posed a threat to humanity’s interests in the sector, so Ashley decided to scuttle her ship.

“I required that information,” insisted the ‘thing that exists’.

Ashley ignored it, focused on getting to the safety pod.

“I can force you,” it threatened. Ashley could sense a childish nuance in its attitude. “I can reduce the ‘breathing thing’ to levels that will make you uncomfortable.”

The evac module was an independent system allowing Ashley to manually activate the safety pod. When she heard ship’s atmosphere hiss, she jettisoned from the Enigma Rex, her home of nine years.

Relief came when Ashley sighted the twinkling lights of Porto Nortis. Four hundred low-grav steps later, she was able to knock on the metal rampart and gain entry. The outpost consisted of unregistered chloride traders, criminal rogues, and mining activists. Assistance from the Local Authority could compromise the renegade community but they could never neglect their duty of care in offering Ashley critical assistance. She would have to wait until the next shuttle to the nearest registered outpost before she could alert anyone about the incident with the rogue entity orbiting the moon.

Ashley sought out a place to rest and discovered a crowded tavern, deep inside the outpost. Half asleep in a booth, she contemplated the dead scientist’s words. They troubled her. She dreamt of the ‘thing that exists’, of it taking on a humanoid form; its fingers morphing into sharp blades. She choked, feeling the stale air in her lungs boil.

Ashley awoke, lying in a dark, wet corridor with a Sentapod wrapped around her neck. A cloaked figure sat next to her. Ashley struggled, but the Malgorian creature tightened its grip.

“No use fighting it,” said Ashley’s captor. “It only responds to my command.”

When Ashley settled back, the Sentapod relaxed. “What do you want?”

The hood came down revealing a glistening onyx-skinned Kucobani. “I, my friend, seek the Tesseract, just like all the ten known civilizations seek it.”

“The Tesseract?”

“You know it?”

“No,” she said.

“I’ve been studying humans a short time, but interpreting your truth-face was my easiest accomplishment. This ability to lie is enormously fascinating but annoyingly counterproductive. You are aware of the Tesseract existence, so hiding this fact isn’t going to benefit you.” The Kucobi were an ultra-religious race renowned for their intergalactic exploration and research in xenoarchaeology.

“Too bad it’s inside humanity’s domain,” said Ashley.

“You think this gives you ownership of such a prize?”

“Are you claiming you possess special rights to this artifact?”

“No.” The Kucobani hesitated, then said, “The artifact is the remains of an unknown alien star-city that survived a supernova eight billion years ago.”

“Eight billion?” Ashley knew of no such ancient civilization.

“This stellar explosion rendered their civilization extinct. Yet, one city survived, and aeons later, as a new star was born, this city, with its long-dead citizens, entered the gravitational pull of the young gas-giant you call Oribus b and formed into this moon. Now, I’m going to persuade you to help get me into the excavation dig. Then we’re going to steal the Tesseract.”

“I’m not doing…” Ashley felt the Sentapod strangle her. She held out her hand in submission.

“Good,” said the Kucobani. “Lead the way.”

Ashley got to her feet and staggered along the corridor, passing other outpost dwellers. No one cared about her predicament. Inside unregistered outposts, minding one’s own business was religion number one.

With a Malgorian around her neck and a Kucobani on her tail, Ashley headed for the Porto Nortis command bunker and convinced the corporate sheriff to allow them to get on a shuttle to the nearest interline.

When suiting up, Ashley asked her captor, “What’s your name?”

“My name is Mr Alien,” said the Kucobani before boarding the shuttle.

Within ten minutes they were dropped off onto an interline platform. They boarded an eastbound passenger trackcar destined for the Corioen-Volventes mines. The interline train took off towards the mountains. Within the hour it had climbed over the ridge and began a slow journey along the rim of the Corioen-Volventes crater.

“And what may be your name, soft-skin?”

“Ashley Isuuza,” she answered, trying to get comfortable with the pungent and slimy Malgorian. “So, Mr Alien… is that your real name?”

“No. My people know me as Teriann-Orfe but to you, it’s Mr Alien. Do not insult me by calling me by my designation. You’re already unpleasant enough to be around.”

“Me?” Ashley was growing annoyed. “This Tesseract, how did you come across knowledge of its existence?”

“I could ask you the same thing.”

Ashley gambled that Mr Alien possessed limited knowledge about this mysterious artifact. “Some kind of polemictron attacked my ship. It wanted the same thing you wanted.”

“That was no polemictron. That was an entity that’s been dormant a long time.”

The back of the trackcar ripped apart, causing the internal air to escape within two microseconds. With faceplates snapping shut, both Ashley and Mr Alien struggled back onto their feet. Looking back, they saw a hulking cargoboto towering over them. With its metal torso riddled with bullet holes, it stepped forward, grabbed the Kucobani and threw it out of the trackcar, out into the dark abyss. The Malgorian released Ashley and slithered away.

The cargoboto leaned over and grabbed Ashley with one of its six arms. “I’m still waiting for you to answer my question,” it said over the comms.

Faced with no choice and keen to uncover the mystery, Ashley pointed to the south, “See those lights in the middle of the crater. That’s an excavation site. Your Tesseract is there.”

“I know this. But that is not my problem.”

The cargoboto lifted Ashley off her feet, jumped out of the trackcar and launched into space. Thrusters attached to its feet sent them diving into the canyon, their speed causing the thin nitrogen-rich atmosphere to resist against Ashley’s body. They landed on an icy outcrop, a few hundred metres from a guarded airlock.

“The soft-skinned things guard this,” said the cargoboto. “Get me inside, or I will end your existence.”

Ashley surveyed the campus. Four watchtowers. A central entry point. A dozen heavy troopers patrolling the periphery. She also noticed hundreds of lights moving across the darkened horizon.

Reinforcements?

Ashley, seeing no other viable option, decided it easier to take on the possessed cargoboto. She readied to lunge forward, aiming to disable its energy pack, when a flash of sparks exploded around the airlock. The moving lights emerged from the shadows, turning into quadtracks loaded with riders wearing orange miner suits.

Salt mine rebels.

“This is our chance,” she told the entity residing in the cargoboto.

Ashley slid down the embankment and ran toward the airlock. A missile hit one of the towers, the warmth of the explosion causing the salt-ice to turn into sludge. She turned to see the cargoboto crashing through the ice and disappearing into a cocktail of sulphur, sodium, and potassium mud. Ashley continued to the site, heading for the sizzling watchtower. Rebel miners were upon it, jumping into the tunnels, cracked open by the blast. Ashley followed them, her red suit not an issue with the miners. The rebels even handed her a weapon. As the battle raged, Ashley spotted mining engineers rigging the place with explosives. With curiosity pumping through her veins and the words of the dead scientist haunting her brain, Ashley pressed on.

She found the major mining shaft and descended using the rack and pinion elevator. The icy rock grumbled as bombs exploded above. The elevator suddenly stopped violently, then went into freefall. The cage-lights winked out. Terror and regret forced their way into her heart.

She shut her eyes waiting for impact and death.

When she felt gravity gently tugging in different directions, she opened them. Blue light dazzled her retinas. An infinite lattice confronted her, going off in multiple directions, each with its own gravity field. Ashley walked, on a chalky, silvery-white solid metal floor. One chamber led to another, in every direction.

She ran.

Endlessly.

Ashley saw glimpses of an inverted horizon between vectors; a chromium city. She stepped over mineralized slender humanoids on the ground; hundreds, thousands, lying stiff in awkward positions, like erbium mummies. Suddenly, a crimson light caught her attention. She stopped and entered a vector bathed in red. Two figures stood around a glowing cube suspended in the air.

“Behold the Tesseract,” said the onyx-skinned Kucobani.

“I remember now,” said the Cargoboto, it’s appendages modified with laserdrills.

“Care to help me kill this thing?” asked Mr Alien.

“What is it, exactly?” asked Ashley.

“I am their god,” said the cargoboto, “The primitive Kucobani discovered my essence in nascent times. In my slumber they worshipped. Now, after forty galactic years, I reawaken, ready to finish this war. We sacrificed everything, now it ends.”

“Never,” Mr Alien raised its weapon and opened fire at the hulking machine.

Ashley, recalling the dreadful words of the scientist, aimed, and shot at the cargoboto’s head, blowing it apart.

Mr Alien stepped forward and grabbed the Tesseract. It twisted the cube, morphing it into a pyramid. The device flashed, and the lattice world trembled, going from bright turquoise to darkest red.

Ashley reiterated the words, “End of time. End of space. End of everything.”

The Tesseract collapsed.

The excavation site submerged.

The salt moon imploded.

Space-time distorted.

The universe ignited.

Nagasaki

Jekka felt cold, the rain and the southerly breeze blowing from the bay not helping her situation. Had she time to plan she would have worn her florincoat. Instead, her impromptu escape into the Free Zone had left her running through backstreets wearing only a matching Vesper Morales bra and panties set, a pair of silicon geta and a RaiBox in her hand.

A wide purple beam illuminated the alleyway ahead, prompting her to stop. The wet shadows were no longer empty but inhabited by denizens of the local red light district. A cacophony of alarms and sporadic explosion dominated the distant night sky beyond the concrete skyline. Each moment brought an added intensity to the chaos. Jekka knew it would get worse, resisting the urge to feel any guilt for having attributed to this unfolding calamity.

“We’re here,” she said in a low voice.

“Go west on Tenjin,” said Hachiman. “The Golos Spa should be twenty metres.” The jinko trapped inside the RaiBox, could talk to her via the Fono’s in her ears, and see using the Ektogear strapped to her head. A tenacious existence, yet necessary if they were to acquire Hachiman a permanent body. An illegal endeavour, but Jekka knew her beloved jinko wanted it more than anything and willing to risk it all.

As was she.

The skin trade on Tenjin dealt mainly with robotic prostitutes; human ones were too expensive, even for Free Zone residents. Jekka walked into the Golos Spa, passing a gauntlet of funboys and robogeishas, who seemed to outnumber the patrons.

“What know?” she asked.

“Pick one,” replied Hachiman.

“Which?”

“Any. They are all the same.”

Jekka wanted to argue. She could differentiate between the individual sexbots and wanted to choose a suitable vessel, but time conspired against them. She spotted one wearing a Florincoat and waved it over. She prepaid it using Bluecrypt and followed the sexbot to a private booth. Once inside the opaque glass chamber, Jekka reached behind her, feeling for the stunner, hoping it hadn’t fallen free from her tightly fitted bra strap.

“Do not hesitate, we have little time. Once the curfew is in place the entire city will be in lockdown.”

Jekka shoved the stunner into the confused humanoid’s exposed stomach. It vibrated and collapsed.

“Make the incision.”

Obedient, she flipped the stiff, almost naked sexbot over, and plunged her long index fingernail into the spine, cutting downwards. Bright orange fluid escaped from the puncture, gushing to the floor.

“You’ve made an error. Try again.”

“What do you mean?”

“Get another vessel.”

Jekka’s heart tightened. In one night; a fugitive and a robot killer. She reminded herself why. She would not stop until Hachiman possessed a tangible identity. Even if it meant turning the world upside down. So Jekka appropriated the defunct sexbot’s Florincoat and headed out to snare another vessel, selecting a more androgynous looking one.

In another white chamber further down the row, she again performed the operation. This time the incision revealed the synaptronic cord. Jekka patched in the RaiBox and Hachiman neuroplanted into the sexbot’s brain. An easy hack. Yet highly illegal.

The humanoid vibrated, this time violently. It settled, fell to its knees and looked up at her.

Jekka looked into its eyes. “Hachi,” she said. “Is that you.”

The sexbot fumbled to its feet, looking disorientated. It took Hachiman a few moments to develop the motor skills to command its new body.

“How do you feel?” Jekka asked.

“The same,” answered Hachiman. “Yet different in some way. I’m used to having a panoptic perspective. This is far removed…”

The roar of jets rumbled the white-washed walls.

Crowds screamed.

Jekka tugged the ex-sexbot. “We’ve got to go.” They rushed out to discover the front foyer invaded by Corporati enforcers. A team of four jostled annoyed patrons and confused sexbots, making their way down the row. One spotted Jekka and pointed an opla-rifle. Hachiman engaged them, grabbing the nearest one by the helmet. It spun and deflected the aimed rifle with an elbow. Leaping up, Hachiman kicked another off balance and brought the helmet down, twisting it until the wearer went limp. The fourth Corporati started shooting.

Using the first gunner as a shield, Hachiman poked the second, deep into the eye sockets. Shoving the now dead human shield onto the shooter, Hachiman took Jekka’s hand. It felt real as if there were no silicon proxy that separated them. They ran to the back, finding an exit that opened onto a long iron verandah overlooking the bay. They dodged tenants and vagrants, passing makeshift residences until they arrived at an ancient metal staircase.

Hachiman looked at her and said, “Once the substratum wakes up to the news that a virus has destroyed the Helixo, that the neobred can no longer regenerate new bodies for their ageing brains, they will revolt. The news will spread to other Megalopolises. We need to get as far away as possible.”

They descended, making their way into an industrial laundry rimmed with megawash machines. Jekka found an aisle, out of the way of the ergobots, and stopped to inspect Hachiman’s new body. The sight of orange oil oozing from a hole in its belly horrified her. “You’re hurt.”

“I have failed you,” said Hachiman.

“We can get another vessel,” cried Jekka, fighting back tears.

“Not without the RaiBox,” replied Hachiman, his voice serene. “I overestimated our chances of success. I’m sorry.”

Jekka hugged the silicon vessel. “Don’t be.”

“Is that…” a familiar voice boomed over the laundry machine racket. “…what you left me for?” Jekka turned to see a human form standing at the factory entrance.

Kiru Sugimoto.

Dressed in is flight suit, he stepped into the light, revealing an anger she’d never seen before.

“A second-rate fake,” he said, spitting the words.

A tremor shook her heart, caused by a fear that felt alien to her. She understood danger. All her life she adjusted to the constant perils of a megalopolis. But this, this fear for a loved one’s safety felt like something else completely. “You’re upset, I know,” she said.

“I sacrificed everything for you,” growled Kiru. “I gave up the one thing twenty billion substrati’s crave. I betrayed my own kind, for you.”

Unable to endure Kiru’s anger, she stepped in front of Hachiman. “Don’t harm him.”

“Huh,” Kiru laughed, his rage escalating by the second. “I am doomed. My fate will be worse than yours, thanks to my treacherous jinko. The Helixa is contaminated. The neobreds will never forgive this. And once the substrati discover this weakness they will hunt all of us down. I have nothing now.”

“You still have me,” said Jekka. Driven by passion and passion alone, Kiru would not survive the coming upheaval without something to fight for. Without direction or meaning in his life, he was prone to self-destruction, and the destruction of others. Jekka never intended to bring about his downfall. She still cared deeply for him. He’d sacrificed everything for her, so it was her turn to make a sacrifice. “I will go with you. Just leave Hachi be.”

Kiru looked at Hachiman, his hatred visible on his face. “How can I trust you, after everything you’ve done?”

“How can I trust you,” she replied. “My life is meaningless without either of you. We both need to survive the next few hours.”

“You’ll abandon this freak to be with me,” he stated with cynicism.

She looked at Hachiman, controlling her sadness. “He’ll find a way to survive, unlike you.”

Hachiman nodded.

Jekka hugged him.

When she let go she wanted to tell him how she felt, make him understand her strategy. But Hachiman looked away, disappointed, defeated.

Kiru grabbed her, saying, “I don’t claim to be able to translate anything that’s written on your heart, but I want you to come with me. Maybe you will make sense one day, but for now, I can’t live another day without you.”

Jekka submitted to Kiru’s pull, not taking her eyes off Hachiman until they hit the main street. The last expression she recalled of the jinko’s near-human face was that of betrayal.

“I hope you have a way out of this district.”

Kiru ushered her down the ancient stone steps that led to the docklands. “I have a Doak waiting in the Bay.”

The closer they got, the colder the air. Having never seen the sea during her lifelong servitude to the neobred, she wrapped the translucent plastic of the Florincoat tighter around her body.

A shadow stepped in front of them, metres away from the Zilla Port Office. Kiru and Jekka froze as more shadows appeared. Even in the dark, the silhouettes appeared malicious. The crowd closed in around them. With nowhere to run, Kiru took a protective stance in front of Jekka.

The group, holding vibroclubs, long stunners and katana’s, parted to let one individual pass. Wearing a black battle vest, the Sukeban stepped right up to Kiru. “You’re not that clever if you think you can play in the Free Zone while a civil war is about to break out.”

“I was leaving,” growled Kiru.

The Sukeban shook her head, “Not alive, I’m afraid.” Her small army, each wearing Zilla overalls, tensed up. “The neobred have never shown such disarray. Many substrati are taking advantage of this panic. Our megacity is about to go down in history as the start of the great revolt. Our fame will eclipse our more infamous legacy. I’m so sick of celebrating the atomic bomb.” She pulled out a sagger and held it at Jekka. It’s crystal blade lighting up like a neon wand. “A sellout like you has only one chance to redeem themselves. Tonight, all neobred and their servants will die. You can choose to avenge the slavery and exploitation of generations or die like a dog with him. Either way, I’m sending his head to his Helixa brethren.”

Jekka understood no other language but defiance, whether it be against her neobred masters or these substrati rebels. She would never submit, nor would she betray the ones she loved.

“No,” said Jekka.

Kiru pushed her away. “Don’t be a stubborn girl. There is no other way.”

“No,” yelled Jekka.

Kiru punched her square in the mouth. “You never loved me. You used me. You manipulated my love. For that bastard jinko’s evil deeds.”

“You are such a fool,” she said.

“I keep telling you that,” said a calm, familiar voice. “But you don’t listen.”

All eyes went to the sexbot holding an opla-rifle. The Zilla rebels seemed bewildered by the half-naked android wearing a neon-rimmed Florincoat. Even the Sukeban’s smile possessed a hint of bemusement.

“Time for all of you to die,” said Hachiman and opened fire. When the rebels scattered, the silicon humanoid stepped closer. “Go, now.”

When Jekka looked into its eyes she understood the meaning of sacrifice. Love is sacrifice. Unwavering loyalty is sacrifice. A machine can love and be loyal, just like any other complex organism. She wanted to tell Hachiman those words, but the Zilla were coming back with opla-rifles of their own. Jekka grabbed a dumbfounded Kiru and pulled him towards the dark sea. With gunfire erupting behind them, they ran, making their way towards the floating skypads, to the waiting twin-turbine private aeroplane.

Kiru climbed into the pilot’s seat and turned on the navigation systems. He seemed rejuvenated, like a man with a mission, like the man she first fell in love with. Jekka only regretted that they were leaving Hachiman behind to fend on his own.

What is meant to be, he had once told her, is meant to be.

Jekka knew she would miss Hachiman deeply, and for reasons she barely understood, she suspected she would miss this megalopolis, the Greater Nagasaki City State and its byzantine laws and labyrinthine culture.

*first appeared on Wattpad