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. 

Lions of the Cross

A Snapshot in Time Writing Contest


Cursed be thy Greeks

Damnation beset my fate.

The tower defenders dismantled the upper terrace, using the stone bricks to drop upon our heads. With burning oil and arrows, the misery brought on us by the Greeks plunged my fellow knights, my brothers, into despair. Heaven’s determination to punish our great transgression with this fierce deluge of rain, sent us scampering like mud rats back towards the Bosporus.

To add to my humiliation, a limestone block struck my head. The helmet does me no good. The neck feels it, but tis the collarbone that suffers the true damage. My right arm weakened, I grip my sword with my other, lesser hand, vowing never to abandon it. It was all that was left of my pride as I witness my kinsmen in disarray, panicked like foiled thieves facing slaughter.

“We’re going to require more knights,” yelled Henry, a noble general, crusader, my brother. He seemed adamant to fulfil his plan to demolish the northern wall to allow us entry into Blachernae quarter – with its abundant churches and opulent palace. I could hear the bells echo from behind the rampart, toiling to galvanise the defenders, but also to mock us.

As I succumbed to the pain that flared greater than my shame, I longed for the homeland; the hills of Artois, the ports of Vlaanderen. I longed for my daughters, one of which I have yet to behold.

I resolved to fight on, but the sight of Varangians entering the fray along with my broken shoulder compelled me back to the water, where the burning remains of the Nordengeest lay sunken in the shallows. Wading into the water, I look out across the Golden Horn. A heavy mist had befallen upon us – a condemnation from God.

This punishment I accepted; we defied our creed, we had become mere pirates. How do I return to my country? A heretic? A barbarian? “My lord, I repent,” I told the waves slapping at my belly, as arrowheads pierced the water. “Forgive me for entertaining the greed of man. For believing the lies of the Old Man, of pandering to the corrupt whims of the Duke of Montferrat, for my own beguilement by the young Greek prince.”

A gust of cold wind pushed against my face. I heard shouts, not the jeering from the outer wall, but from the north. The sun broke through the clouds, for the first time since Easter.

“Your true Emperor is here,” cried a voice. The fog dissipated and several galleys bearing the Lion of Saint Mark emerged from the fog. The Old Man had taken to the bow of the San Luciatia to proclaim the restoration of the Latin crown. Joining him was the golden prince with his band of loyal warriors.

“Behold Alexios Angelos the Fouth,” declared the Old Man.

The fleet, using the northerly winds, surged towards the Queen of Cities, fearing not the shore’s rocky jaws, for the Venetians were hastening to beat the Greek fire.

“Let the will of God bring justice back to the bastion of Christendom.”

Above me, plumes of fiery smoke rained across the grey sky, but the waves pushed the fleet out of harm’s way.

“God wills it!” The voices came from around me, from brethren lions, who once despaired, now witnessed redemption. I watched my knights raise their swords and turn back to the wall. My agony fled. I too raise my sword, my unclean hand now blessed, and marched towards the Gates of Blachernae.

“God wills it!” bellowed the Old Man, Dandalo.

“God wills it!” roared the Lions of the Cross.

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

cajero - from the science fiction horror novel The Blood Ring

Cajero

Excerpt Chapter from the novel, The Blood Ring

First published on The Blood Ring
Cajero – Excerpt Chapter from the novel, The Blood Ring

Martin felt the van pick up the pace as it hurtled down Salamander Highway, devoid of traffic or life. She looked over at Rick, who grappled with the steering wheel as if he were attempting to rip it off. His battle with the self-drive function could have been avoided had he been successful in disabling it. Rico managed to purge the van’s smartie and kill the geotracker, but not the self-drive? Only via the emergency override could he steer the vehicle, otherwise it will retrace the last waypoint entered into its memory by the now-defunct smartie. “Fucken Hianto, over-engineering everything,” growled Rico.

His murmuring was starting to annoy the crap out of Martin. She squirmed in the passenger seat, her guts growing uneasily by the second, “What are you doin’? Can you slow tha fuck down?”

“It’s been programmed ta go this fast. All I can do is hit da brakes. Why don’t ya relax? Git off ma back for once, eh.”

“Cops pull us over, then I get on ya fuckin’ back like a gorilla?”

The Hianto Express started to beep and boop.

Warning alerts. Without a smartie to interpret them, they would need to look them up on the GIoT. Martin felt the momentum dissipate. The electric motor cut out and the lights dimmed. The van rolled in silence into the night.

They both fall silent.

“We are out of juice,” said Martin, “Don’t hit the brakes, stupid. Keep it rolling until we reach that place over there.” Ahead, a mecca of lights lit up the horizon. A giant green and white logo, featuring a pair of human footprints within a sun, grew closer by the second.

“As luck would have it,” she said.

“We are not going to make it.”

They held their breath as the van rolled down the slope and up the driveway leading into the Solaria Energy Station. With all momentum spent, it came to a standstill just a meter away from the recharge booths. Martin jumped out and walked over to one of the chargers. The plug barely reached the van. She leaned over to the driver’s window, “Next time you hack a ride, hack one with a full charge.”

“We gotta pay inside. I disabled the identipay?”

Martin looked at the scanner plate, extending out, ready to accept a multitude of payment platforms except for the one that mattered. “Our only option is dash. Then go and pay.”

“What? You have dash. You go and pay,” said Rico.

“Go pay. And don’t forget your head-mirror.”

Reluctant, Rico headed towards the kiosk, pulling a band from his pocket and strapping it around his forehead. He walked halfway, turned around and said, “I don’t have any dash.”

Martin pretended not to hear him. “What was that?”

“Forget it,” Rico turned back and continued on his way.

To kill time, Martin decided to clean the windscreen. By the time she was halfway done she noticed the charge indicator was still inactive. “What the fuck is he doin?”

As the next minute ticked over and still no green light, Martin tossed away the squeegee and walked over to the glass doors. Pulling down her Rebelo’s, she entered, only to discover the store unoccupied. Searching all the aisles, Martin found them devoid of any human presence, “What tha fuck is going on?” The door behind the service counter opened, and a sweaty, exhausted Rico emerged. He walked over to the refrigerator rack, opened a glass door and helped himself to a can of orange flavoured Zilliqa tea.

“What are you doing?” demanded Martin.

“I didn’t have any dash to pay. Do you want a drink?”

Martin made her way back towards the service counter. Inside a tight storeroom, the shop’s cajero was sprawled on the ground, hogtied and gagged with electrical tape. Martin turned to the service counter and studied the transaction portal. “Are you kidding me?”

“I was discreet,” called out Rico while stalking the aisle like a hungry monkey in a fruit market. “Stop acting suspicious, unless ya wanna get tagged.”

“Did you manage to lift anything?” She tapped at the screen and opened a dash wallet. She felt a disdain ripple across her face was, “Fifty-eight point three five dashies! You did all this shit for just fifty-eight point three five dashie? That’s worth what? Two hundred? Jesus.” She looked up at Rico.

Rico was halfway into a Rize chocolate bar. Something caught his attention outside. “Let’s get the flamin’ shit outta here. There’s a customer outside.”

Martin had other ideas, “You’re a customer, okay!” She plugged her hackerjack cable into the register, attaching it to the scanner plate. The portal displayed their scumhacker splash screen. Her pango would act as the register. “Did you knocked out the Yellowcop?”

“What? No. Are you insane?”

With Yellowcop’s eyes observing, Martin knew her time was limited. Rico’s actions would have most likely caught the ire of the network. Depending on what the algorithm detected, the alert would go to a parliament of police super-smarties, who would confirm with each other whether a crime had occurred. If the data is vague, it could take an hour for a confirmation. Then it handed over for human confirmation, who then dispatch resources accordingly. From experience, if the assault or felony is unique or less obvious, and if there is an overload of data, this process could take hours. Facial obscuration tags hardly prompt a response anymore, so Martin got to thinking. “Quick. Keep pretending you’re a customer.”

A male customer entered and approached the service counter, “Excuse me, the self-serve isn’t working.” He said with a blank expression and with a no-nonsense voice. Behind him, impersonating a derisory version of a customer, Rico picked up a pack of Frenos, exaggerating every nuance.

Martin pointed to the scanner.

The male customer looked at Martin, “Yes but my self-serve is active.”

“Self-serve is out,” answered Martin, matching flatness with flatness. She pointed to the scanner again.

He forced a smile and waved his pango over the plate.

Bleep.

“Sorry, looks like the system is down; dash only at this stage,” says Martin as she slides him her Dendro-hacked pango. The customer’s smile turned into a confused frown as he thumbed at his pango, tapping out one fifty in dash for the prepay, then bitterly held it over the counter.

Martin accepted the payment and activated charge dock number seven. Without a single word, the male customer turned and rushed outside, headed to his vehicle waiting to be charged. “Thank you very much,” said Martin as she got to work on the register, enabling the customer’s dock to commence charging. “How simple was that?”

“Now you’re fuckin’ pushing your luck.”

Martin shrugged her shoulders.

Rico stepped towards the refrigerator, inspecting the refreshments. “Raspberry Ice Tea. Fuck. Sixteen bucks? I know shit little about current affairs or the state of the fucking economy but this shit’s an injustice. It a war against homeless people, pricing us out of existence, that’s what it is.”

“Fuck them all,” Martin said with renewed defiance. “They try to fuck us, we try to fuck them back.”

Rico jumped. “Who the hell was that?” he shouted, appearing a little spooked, “Did you see someone in the next aisle.”

“No,” Martin looked and saw no one there.

“A chick with blond curls.” He seemed adamant, his face tense, glowing under the fluorescent lights emanating from the refrigerators. Rico took two steps towards the corner, looking for some phantom, confusion prevailing on his face.

#

Martin looked through the wall of glass at another customer outside, waiting for their recharge. She then turned to watch Rico wandering down the aisle looking for something interesting to eat, “How much have we made so far?” Rico said. “Ah, chillihoney chips.”

Martin, still manning the service counter answered, “About three thousand!”

“That’s plenty. Let’s not push our luck. We’ve been pushing it for three hours.”

“I can’t believe how much money these people make.”

“What do you expect? People who run a business generally make a lot of fuckin’ money.”

A dark-haired, distraught woman entered through the glass doors and approached Martin.

“Can I please buy a recharge. Top it up with fifty.”

“Machines down, we take dash only.”

“Okay.”

Martin sighs but collected the fifty via her pango.

The woman turned to leave, then all of sudden she stopped dead in her tracks. Turning back to face Martin, she said, “Excuse me. Sorry, but you didn’t top up my account. Yet, you charged me fifty.”

Martin looked at the tap register and shrugged her shoulders, “Machine says it has credited your account.”

“Well, it doesn’t show up on my pango.” She thrust the device, a pre-Spartan module, at Martin. The balance showed zero, true to her word.

“Maybe your pango’s lagging.” Martin found it odd that the transfer had failed.

“I didn’t come down in the last shower sweetie. You have made a mistake.”

Ricko walked up to the counter with his packet of chillihoney chips, posing as a customer standing in line.

“Look, the self-serve is down. Things are buggy at the moment. You may have to wait.” Martin felt agitated. She knew something had transpired. Had Yellowcop shut down the tap vendor remotely?

“Look,” said the teary-eyed women. “I don’t have time to wait. Aren’t you the cajero? Can’t you fix this?”

“If the tap vendor is down, there’s nothing much we can do about it?”

“Listen. My daughter is out there. She’s waiting for me. If I don’t pick her up from this goddamn highway her life may be at risk.”

Martin assumed a sympathetic posture. “How old is your daughter?”

“She’s fourteen.”

Ricko played the air violin behind the woman’s back.

“Fourteen?” Martin snickered. “Salamander Highway’s no place for little girls.”

“That’s just great. All this technology and I’m stuck here. I come in here to buy a recharge and I end up being judged by a fucking moron.”

Martin shook her head and indicated with her finger, gesturing for the customer to lean closer. “Can you repeat that last bit please?”

“Yes, that’s right. I called you a fucking moron!”

With lightning speed, Martin grabbed the woman by the collar, pulled her halfway over the counter and headbutted her on the face. Crack! The customer recoiled and landed with a thud at Ricko’s feet.

“That was awesome!” But Ricko’s admiration turned to shock as he caught sight of something behind Martin.

“What’s the matter with you?”

Ricko pointed above Martin’s head. “That was so obvious, dude.”

Martin turned around and looked up at the graphite lenses dotting the store.

Yellowcop.

#

“I don’t believe this shit,” said Martin stepping over the two bodies on the floor of the storeroom. Eyeballing each other, the customer and the cajero were down side by side, tied up and gagged with electrical tape. “I can just picture it. We’re going to be on all the fucking junknews channels. Shit, we’re going to be on Crimeline, or worse, world’s dumbest crooks! Fuck! Where is the fucking startpoint?”

“Its Yellowcop, man. We’ll never be able to hack in or delete the fucking data.”

Martin hated risk. She knew if she acted quickly she’d be able to thwart the system. “The Yellowcop blockchain distributes fragments of data in real time, otherwise it bloats up until it’s useless. Endpoints store high-def data locally for a month. If we find the startpoint that manages all this local node, we can wipe it clean.”

“Leave it. We need ta get the fuck away.”

She looked at Rico, her determination hardening with each moment. “All it takes is one frame of data to identify us. Just one.”

“It’s impossible, what ya tryin’ to do. Ya can’t hack into it. No way.”

Martin stopped, looked back up and glared at Ricko who stood there munching on chillihoney chips. “What are you doing?”

Ricko looked at his packet of chips, held them out to show Martin. “Chillihoney. Want some?”

“Are you going to help me look for the startpoint or what?” Martin searched underneath the service counter. Ricko contributed by helping himself to another packet of chips. A noise grabbed both of their attention.

The glass door opened. A man sporting a dark shirt and pants entered. Martin recognised him immediately.

The Blood Ring
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Proxathlon

Agent Nasani felt the impact on her chest. The freefall suit could withstand a beating, but the human catapult formed by Team Artemis smashed Nasani so hard her weightless body was sent back to the periphery.

Thirty seconds.

The crowds standing on the arena’s inner surface went into a frenzy. The Proxima supporters counted down the beats as Nasani gasped for air, waiting for Coach Sklep to fly closer. Sliding up her faceplate she yelled, “I can’t get to the centre.”

Sklep clasped her by the biceps. “Suspect’s tissue sample came back positive.” The dread in his eyes confirmed her worst fears.

Phero Virus.

Genetically engineered to wipe out a society, the bio-weaponised retrovirus attacked the neural system, incapacitating healthy humans within days, rendering them brain-dead within weeks. Stubbornly airborne, mutatious and deployed during the Great Solar War, Nasani knew of this virus’s capacity for devastation from studying the glorious Proxima Capital Archive. Judging by her senior agent’s dismay, this banned pathogen seemed to have caught the PSS off-guard. “We believe the entire Artemia team’s been infected.”

“Then stop the tournament,” yelled Nasani.

Nasani and Sklep look down towards the core, just in time to witness the first proxathlete make it into the valve.

“Impossible now,” Sklep said as he shoved Nasani back into the spherical arena. “Do everything you can to stop them.”

Nasani plunged back into the sporting void, reassessing her game plan. Social infiltration now redundant, her assignment as an information extractor had changed to that usually assigned to the Assassination Corp. Nasani hailed her Proxima team members who immediately flew to her vicinity. They were followed by members of Team VEMA, her counterpart leading the way.

“What’s happening?” asked Charleston, a spy from VEMA.

“No time to explain,” she yelled. “I need to get through to the next stage.”

Players from both teams agreed; few knew what the stakes were, most wanting to win the prestigious Proxathlon.

“Offensive catapult formation,” cried her teammate.

“No,” yelled Charleston. “With both teams colluding, we’ll be disqualified.”

With time bleeding away, Nasani glared at the spy, “I don’t give a roid’s ass if we get disqualified. Get me through that valve.”

Charleston winked back at her, “Ladder formation. Perfectly legal. Get there faster.”

The Proxima and VEMA teams dispersed, using the clasp and swing manoeuvre, and each other’s centre of gravity, to haul towards the arena’s centre. Once passing the halfway zone, the red freefall suits representing the VEMA, joined up to form a human rope. Team Proxima, with their green suits, formed a spearhead, using it to barrage through a defensive phalanx put up by Team Jupiter.

As the scattered bodies grabbed each other to form clusters, Nasani began climbing the human rope, pulling herself from body to body, irrespective of colour, each leap increasing her velocity. Once she felt her momentum reach a potent speed she let go and dove towards the valve. As soon as she made contact, Nasani positioned her body into the chamber. The valve, positioned in place by two structural tubes running along the arena’s polar axis, hissed with escaping air. Nasani braced as a jet of air flushed her into the northern tube. She knew she was able to breathe, but she held her breath the entire twenty-second trip. Suddenly, she panicked, realising she forgot to activate her suit’s pressurisation, but when deep space greeted her, no alarm systems threatened her.

Automatic, she remembered.

Nasani looked up at the purple planet. Her brain alerted her that she was in fact upside down. No matter how expert in antigravity sports, ground, however far, always felt like down. Even the Xenopis Sports Arena, orbiting gracefully around Proxima, couldn’t compete with the sheer eminence of a planet.

A circular platform surrounded her, graced with rocketbikes, each sporting the colours of all the competing nations. Fifteen states were represented at the Three Hundredth Olympiad. Thirteen from the far-flung Solar Realm. One from the Alpha Centauri Protectorate. And to celebrate the trinarium the games were given to Proxima to host. The political machinations behind these Proximalympics kept them all employed, but Nasani believed that these same forces also threatened her homeworld.

Stage two, she thought.

As officials assisted her to her rocketbike, she noted the five that had already launched, three of which were Artemidean.

The Astropolis of Artemis, a breakaway state from the Asteroid Federation, was a known hotspot for all dissidents, outlaws, and unaligned corporations; its economy depended on it. When the government of the Venus-Earth-Mars Alliance presented intelligence to the Proxima Secret Service, that the Hades Syndicate were planning to destabilise relationships between the Solar Realms and the ex-colony, a mutual partnership formed. Neither side trusted one another, but the Hades Syndicate had proven deadly to both nations.

The use of mass extinction weapons had also elevated the threat to a higher level.

Nasani launched her rocketbike, holding on to the controller, not wanting to fall off the glorified torpedo. Used by miners, these were ideal for manoeuvring around asteroids. It took great skill to fly trans-asteroid, hence its development into a sport. She’d practised this extensively, though she doubted she could complete a circuit in good time. Her competitors, most likely born and bred on the Solar Belt, would arrive at the last stage before she could get within killing range.

At the first waypoint, one Artemidean circled back and made an attempt to tackle Nasani, who was too busy calculating a trajectory that would accelerate her past the prox-moon, Tuomi. The Artemidean nearly intercepted her, coming within metres. Instead, he fell back losing momentum and time. The PSS would eventually pick him up.

“Stuff the Proxathlon.”

It occurred to her, given that winning a palladium star wasn’t for the taking, that she could simply bypass the waypoints.

Proxima is thought to have been slingshot to its current orbit by its rival, a Neptunian-sized planet christened Voutes. All of Proxima’s four small moons were considered hitchhikers during the planet’s long migration from the system’s outskirts. Proxathletes must encounter these small moons, using their weak gravity to execute a tight flyby, before they can move on to stage three.

Nasani corrected her trajectory to fly below the prox-moon, Shapley. The record was under a prox-hour so she hoped to cut the leader off within ten minutes.

“You missed your waypoint,” said a voice via her commset.

Dixon.

“It makes no sense, what you’re doing?” she said, tracking the remaining Hadian terrorists.

“To you, yes,” replied Dixon. “I expect as much.”

Nasani wondered why the Artemideans were keeping to the route. Then she noted two blips changing course. Until that moment, the syndicalist’s were maintaining their subterfuge, but now the duo headed lower, toward the purple glow of the atmosphere, passing the orbital city of Amanta.

Nasani eased the rocketbike downward, hitting point zero eight megameters per prox-hour.

She arrived at the last waypoint, a low orbit station, docking at one of the jump platforms. The two rocketbikes were already being collected by the proxathlon crews.

“It’s not an easy thing to lose your home,” said Dixon. She spotted the white diving exo-suit standing near the edge opposite the circular platform. Proxima filled the void beneath, with her crimson clouds swirling across the horizon and lavender mountain ranges scaring the terminator line. Nasani understood what Dixon meant. Even if the Proxima Capital Archive was inherently biased, she knew well that the history of Proxima’s early colonisation was steeped in treachery. The Pluto Nova Consortium that first reached and explored the Proxima Centauri system was illegally upstaged by refugees fleeing the devastating aftermath of the Great Solar War. The PNC fought them for a century but they could not compete with refugees who were backed by the old-world states. Defeated, the PNC degenerated into a quasi-terrorist outfit. They controlled a vast segment of trans-Neptune trade but have never let go of their right to claim Proxima Centauri.

“You will be murdering thirty million people. Do you value some long lost exploration covenant over so many lives?

“Stopping me won’t change a thing.” Dixon dove off the platform and plunged into the mauve haze. Nasani floated into the airless capsule and raided the space diving exo-suits.

Something moved above her.

She knew how to react. Nasani grabbed the Xinuflux helmet and swung it, pressing her whole body against the bulkhead to exert as much force as she could. The head-gear struck the assailant on the faceplate. Instead of shattering, the glass recoiled, pounding against the assailant’s face. The blood splatter obscured the proxathlete’s vision, allowing Nasani to disable the respiratory system. She didn’t need to finish off the Hades operative, a quick death was assured. Nasani instead focussed on getting the diving exo-suit on.

She then scavenged the capsule for an energy pack, a 500UI, and rigged it by short-circuiting its contact terminals. Carrying the homemade time bomb, Nasani hopped back outside to the rocketbike waiting to be collected by the robox-arm. She deactivated the lock and launched it, unmanned, out into the void, only to pause a moment before she too stepped over the edge.

Space-diving was jovially considered one of the safest sporting activities known to man unless one contemplated space-diving a gas giant. The sport proved most popular with many Proxii, having become a national sport during the past two hundred and eighty years since independence.

Problem being, she’d never space jumped before.

Small propulsion jets sent Nasani towards her homeworld. She used minute air-friction to fly to the unmanned rocketbike, coaxing it down with her. Within minutes, Nasani and the rocketbike were picking up speed as gravity began its deceivingly gentle tug.

Her eyes focused on the mauve vista in front of her, a colour palette due to the red dwarf star burning behind her. Tidally locked, Proxima always had one hemisphere facing the sun. She could spot the massive canyons and deep crevasses dominating the planet’s near-side, a geological feature due to tectonics driving the crust towards the far-side, a forever dark and frozen region interspersed with titanic volcanoes.

Nasani saw the shiny reflections of human habitation and contemplated that, if Proxima hadn’t such an active surface, life on it would have been impossible, the PNC mission would have failed and the Great Solar War would have proved a colossal disaster for humankind.

A small white dot, Dixon, tumbled into the stratosphere. Nasani used the rocketbike to speed up and get within spitting distance of him. She felt the energy pack heating up and knew it would explode soon. Once she reached a distance of a kilometre, Dixon turned to intercept her. Instead of slowing, as she intended, Nasani sped up even faster, figuring that the rocketbike could double as a weapon.

She aimed for his centre mass.

There was nothing Dixon could do to avoid being slammed. The collision may have killed him, but Nasani knew the diving exo-suit would preserve the Phero Virus. She pulled his body to the free-falling rocketbike and strapped it to the fuselage. Then she shoved the energy pack into the exo-suit and pushed herself away.

Her own exo-suit began vibrating, indicating that the sound barrier had been broken.

Alarms blared in her helmet.

Time to think about parachutes, she thought and deployed them.

The rocketbike exploded nearby, creating a meteoric plume of smoke.

Within a few seconds, the drogue parachute ended her free-fall. Nasani guided her descent towards the Sea of Cassiopeia, a geographical feature most elementary students could identify.

She made splashdown at the centre court of the Proximalympic Watersports Venue, her exo-suit floating to the surface swiftly after. Multiple tournaments were underway. Thousands of spectators crowded the flotillas and terraces. A squad of officials rode the waves towards her. When they got within earshot they yelled at her, “You’re disqualified.”

Nasani smiled and looked up at the dark crimson, almost black sky. The sight of the pink sun, its two sister stars and four small moons comforted her.

Entry into the Wattpad Scifi ‘Proximalympics‘ Challenge

first published Wattpad

The Sargasso Void

To his chagrin, I volunteered straight away.

Emmetrius wanted nothing else but to lay low and wait this out. Stranded fifty megaparsecs away from civilisation, I couldn’t understand his logic. I guess he didn’t trust me one bit, believing I would make some pointless attempt to escape his custody.

“It’s your fault,” I told him. “You’re the one who wanted to take a shortcut through the Sargasso Void knowing they had a 35 per cent failure rate.”

Travelling through intergalactic voids was a faster way of getting somewhere, especially when going between superclusters. But if something interfered with your galaxy-ship, such as a strong gravity wave, and forced it to gain inertia, then you’re stuck out there without a catapult. That’s why most galactic shipping traverse waypoints along populated cosmic filaments. Sure, it took a few hundred years to get from the Tarentum Gates to the Andromedean String, stopping and starting at a hundred or so catapult stations, but for some immortals, this felt like a tedious endeavour. Emmetrius was not a patient enforcer, nor did he enjoy intergalactic travel. To him, all civilised systems were the same. Made no sense for an enforcer whose business was to go out to these remote regions of the cosmos and bring rebels like me to justice.

“Now we’re going to spend the rest of our lives in some sterile galaxy with nothing but pirates and castaways for companionship.” I stuck it to him, mostly to beguile him into a false sense of security.

The dim brown dwarf, known as The Rogue, orbited a lonely, unnamed void galaxy. When we arrived, we joined the hundreds of stranded galaxy-ships mingling amongst the asteroids which ringed the failed star. Many of these were lifeless hulks. Others were turned into junkyards and industrial stations. The vessels that were still in good shape were clustered in low orbit around The Rogue. These castaways were locked in a ten-thousand-year war with pirates who’ve settled the tubular galaxy below. These pirates poached anything that ended up stranded in the Sargasso Void. They were busy building their own civilisation, whilst the castaways were busy building a catapult. No one in the known cosmos knew of this place and these pirates wanted to keep it that way.

“You seriously think you can take on these pirates?” he grumbled. “Salvaging that sub-cruiser won’t be easy.”

“Why do you think you’re taking me back?” I asked him.

“To be punished. You are going to be imprisoned for a long, long time. Until the end of the universe.”

“I singlehandedly conquered the entire Santerxis Galaxy, that’s nine hundred outposts. I am not being dragged back to be punished. I’m being forced back to do this again on some other far-flung outpost. I am older than you think. You have not been completely informed about my skillset.”

“Why help them if you don’t want to go back? Besides, there’s no way they can build a catapult, not with this level of technologic capability? Not in another ten thousand years.”

“I understand that.”

Emmetrius looked at me, aghast at my audacity. “You scheming miscreant.”

Entry into Striking13.com’s flash fiction contest. “Theme is, journeys”

first publiched on tablo.io.

The Fright Machine

Hacking robots can be lots of fun. Celebrating April Ghouls Day at horrorscribes.com with this flash fiction entry.


Sawtooth froze.

His clown quartet went from performing a slo-mo at the crossing lights to lunatic postures, ridiculing the angry driver. The black Audi inched closer, but when Mr Axe showed off his plastic hatchet, the motorist reversed and made a wide turn to avoid the colourful foursome.

Continue reading “The Fright Machine”

Sub-Level

Narkvosu just wanted to survive. At least long enough to complete his quest. He cared little about the tunnel war raging beneath his sub-level. He cared less about his home city. Alone, he explored the last obstacle to his journey, an ancient cavern carved out long ago. Concrete and steel now dust. Bedrock exposed. Nothing remained, the creek running through, the moister and gangumoss making short work of what was once probably a vast habitation. If one could not define any of the telltale signatures of a past civilisation, the sub-level appeared just like a long natural cave.

A hundred thousand years.

That’s the theory.

When humanity migrated underground.

A hundred thousand theories as to why they did.

A hundred thousand theories as to what the surface is like.

Narkvosu just needed to prove just one. That a way out to the surface existed. That the mythical surface was real. That the Apollogon fables were true. Many like him had attempted this, most now embedded in legend.

The supra-government persecuted all that tried or peddled in the outer-surface sciences. This conflict with the Echelon Renegada offered Narkvosu a chance to get closer to the upper sublevels. Strategically the tunnel networks above the city levels proved to be vulnerabilities for the ruling class for generations. Conquest, piracy, and restrictions made these tunnels impossible to traverse.

Beyond them dwell the plethora of outcast machine men and modified humans.

For two years he travelled upward.

Two years of fighting, surviving and hiding.

Two years of working in mines, of digging, of exploring.

Two years.

He survived so far, and he would be damned if he came so close to breaching the surface only to die in the cold, dark wilderness.

Of the myriad of theories, he held on to one, its importance to his expedition crucial.

This Sun, if indeed it existed, should be warming the lithosphere by now. Science knew and proved that the radiation pumping up from the Earth’s core provided warmth for all life to exist. But the higher he journeyed, the colder it felt. He knew some regions had sublevels ending in rock and ice. The Echelons were a place where no ice had ever been known to exist. Water ran down. Wildlife thrived. No ice. Narkvosu gambled everything.

This was the place. The sublevels went up and up. Cavities, pockets, shafts, all interconnected with tunnels, all man-made.

Somewhere up there he knew was the surface.

Narkvosu also knew the trek upward would get harder, relishing his perseverance in carrying his climbing equipment for two years. He lost colleagues, friends, his sanity, his innocence, but the climbing gear, invented and handmade by that miner he befriended, would survive.

He rested among the mushmush for a day, letting their acrid stench protect him from predators.

Narkvosu began his ascent well rested and in earnest. He could sleep a year but he felt he was close. The sublevel was unusually spacious. He figured it might have once been a public space rather than residential. The bedrock appeared smooth and straight, lacking the twisting contours evident in other, much lower places.

There was no pressure pushing down here, he thought, remembering the lectures of famous Geotheologist, Tarieven Acadamus.

Once at the top, he peered into a square cave, untouched by the elements. Inside, a shaft, soared upward which after a brief climb brought him up to another sublevel. As he peered out into the darkness, he lost some of his enthusiasm. He needed to decide whether to push on with the supplies he had left, or go back and try again with the terrain knowledge he now knew. A risk either way. The tunnel battle destroyed many of the communities he sheltered in, and now that he was officially a deserter, an instant death penalty awaited him. To press on, there was no going back. He would die, or his hope that the one theory in thousands would prove true. That another world existed on the surface. A living world under a living sun.

If proved right, he would find sustenance, recover and head back down. Narkvosu did not consider this fantasy thinking. He survived so far. He had gone from eating people-meat supplied readily and free from the city food collective, to kill for his own people-meat. The war made it easy, but killing and eating were major hurdles for him. Now he ate non-people-meat, grubberts, dliths, even insects. He felt confident; he could eat the exo-biology if they did exist.

And the sun? He bet he could survive that too. The old Geotheologist warned of a painful death from its exposure. Burning light, he called it. Narkvosu felt unconvinced. The cooler sublevels above him defy that logic. The heat would emanate from above, not below.

One theory he could agree held true was that the air thinned the higher the elevation. He could barely breathe now and was forced to slow down.

He decided to press ahead.

For the first time, he noticed that this sublevel was free of any moister. The concrete walls were still intact. The further he traversed he encountered less and less wildlife. This meant that it got darker and darker as the luminescent gangumoss struggled to survive in this dry and cold environment.

Narkvosu, now excited, found a tunnel entrance and ventured inside. For the first time in a long while he trod on steps. He encountered more steps and climb further and further up.

The air grew tighter in the chest, but he persevered.

Narkvosu found a room. Inside he came across nothing but square walls and stains where artefacts once stood but had corroded away. He discovered a narrow shaft and continued up until he came to another room.

Same story, corrosion stains, thin, hardly breathable air.

But this one had something that looked like a hatch.

A glass panel.

Narkvosu gazed into the little window but could see nothing but a black void. He heard a hiss and that is when he noticed the crack forming near the edge of the glass. He watched and heard air hissing through the tiny aperture.

The pressure is vastly lower out there, he thought as the thrill of his discovery tingled along his spine. He found more rooms, similar in layout. Each with solid steel hatch doors twice his size. He now truly believed the science behind his ancestors, that they were once twice his size.

Narkvosu studied what he could see outside the small round glass panels embedded in the centre of each hatch door. He noticed tiny lights above. Thousands of them, like gangumoss growing on the ceiling, but instead of green-blue. These tiny lights glowed brilliant white.

Was this the sun? he thought, re-imagining every fable he had ever read.

He touched the glass. Cold, freezing, unbearable.

He looked at what he was convinced was the surface but all he saw was a smooth, featureless dark plain. His heart skipped a beat when he spotted the horizon in the distance, a line where the tiny lights ended and the dim surface began. If he strained his eyes he could almost see it glow.

Narkvosu had done it.

He had reached the surface.

But the thrill of it all faded quickly. His fantasy destroyed, he huddled in a corner and rested. His thoughts turned to survive the journey back. He had accomplished what no other man had ever done, but even that triumph felt stale. How many others have reached this spot and discovered the awful truth? How many died returning or if they did return, held back the truth? Did the supra-government know this? Did the Apollogon Geotheocracy also know and suppress it to expatiate their mythology?

Narkvosu remembered the myth about the moving sun. It was why life and language had its day and night, and why gangumoss and chrokar cycle in brightness to accommodate civilisation’s sleep patterns.

The sun moved.

Day and night.

So he slept. Conserving his energy. Counting the minutes.

A mining slave once told him, an anecdote he had picked up along the way, that a cult of scientist believed that the earth was a ball and that the sun rotated ‘around’ the Earth. They had built a gravity machine to detect and prove it. This information was one of the reasons Narkvosu persisted on his quest to the surface.

He waited more than a whole day, drifting in and out of consciousness. Even in the dim light, he could see his skin losing its blue colouring. Narkvosu looked outside one last time. He looked up at the little lights, millions of them. His eyes noticed a dark patch, almost perfectly round. Whatever it was hiding in the shadows, Narkvosu knew he would never find out. Time and the thin air had turned against him.

With a disillusioned soul, he began his journey back down to the city levels, first crawling, then, as the air returned into his lungs, to normal walking. Narkvosu just wanted to survive long enough to get home, even though he knew he would pay a heavy price for his desertion. And a heavier price if he ever told anyone the results of his quest beyond the sub-levels.