Gertrude opened her eye. It was dark, and all she could hear were a few quiet groans of pain. Her head throbbed, and she felt the warmth of blood trickling down her temple. Flickering to life, her artificial eye switched to night vision, revealing the carnage of the crash landing. Everything that hadn’t been tied down was strewn in pieces throughout the ship. An ugly gash had been ripped into the military grade plastic windscreen, but it had withstood the impact largely intact. Despite it being night, the warmth of the atmosphere seeped into the ship through the gash.
“Are you alright?” Drusus asked the cyborg. The ship’s power had died on approach to the planet and she could see the Murovian fumbling with his buckle.
She leaned over and unfastened it for him. “I’m going to have strap-shaped bruises, but otherwise I’m fine. In future, could we have landings without a 50G impact?” she asked.
He smiled. “Glad your eye’s still working. And your lungs.”
Not to mention my heart.
All around them crewmen were groaning and struggling to free themselves from their seat straps. Gertrude found hers had been damaged by the force of the impact and couldn’t be loosened.
Time to give my hand a test. Continue reading
As a rule, George Paleologus hated the Christmas party. Pretending to like people whom he knew solely because they shared a workplace was loathsome. But this party was different, because, as far as he was concerned, the cause for celebration was not some carpenter’s birthday but his own promotion. Besides, he had a little business to finish off. It had only been four months since he joined HexBank, London’s foremost boutique bank for the magically inclined, and he was already executive vice warlock. At this rate, he’d be running it by next Christmas.
The floor numbers drifted by, until the lift reached the seventy-seventh storey and its doors opened. It was usually where they entertained idiot sorcerers with more money than sense, but on Christmas Eve it hosted HexBank’s festive frolics.
George stepped out of the lift and raised his hand in greeting to the three dozen other attendees. Most of them returned the gesture, and he made a mental note of those who did not. All were human, more or less, save Barry, the chief of security. A pair of deep gouge marks above the doorway betrayed where the minotaur had forgotten to duck sufficiently.
Chief Executive Warlock Julius Andronicus wandered over and handed him a glass of nectar.
“Thanks,” George said, taking a sip. “I’m surprised Barry’s here. Can’t say I’ve ever seen him before.”
Julius nodded. “Aye, he usually dwells in the security HQ, monitoring the cameras and eating intruders. Can’t stand the place myself, it’s a bloody labyrinth. Come on, I want to have a quick word.” Continue reading
Coffee was not the same. It tasted just as good, but she couldn’t feel it warm her once she swallowed and it coursed down her artificial oesophagus. Brasidas and Drusus were briefing those selected to fly down to Naxos in The Sun Dancer’s mess hall. The twenty pirates who had been picked sipped coffee and smoked sabketh whilst they listened to their leaders. Gertrude was sat far from the purple smoke, on a table with only Sarah Wellington for company.
“Naxos is in dark space,” Brasidas explained. “The Elthurians charted it immediately prior to their extinction, and when the plague came knowledge of its existence returned to obscurity.”
“You want us to go to a damned plague planet?” Nicephorus interrupted.
Brasidas glared at the crewman. “It’s not a plague planet. The Elthurians never established an outpost there. Ask another stupid question and I’ll have you serve a shift in engineering.”
The other crewmen laughed and slapped Nicephorus on the back. Brasidas’s words had provoked a scowl on Nicephorus’s face.
“What’s so bad about that?” Gertrude whispered to Sarah.
The blonde pirate raised an eyebrow. “You haven’t met Primus yet?” Continue reading
The twenty hexapod robots, twin pulse cannons still trained on Gertrude, Brasidas and the others, began scuttling slowly towards the compound. The War Dogs shepherded the human pirates through the massive black gates. Gertrude was the last one inside, and the gates rumbled shut behind her.
“Lord Ump’gomptar will receive Captain Brasidas,” one of the War Dogs stated in a robotic voice. “The others shall remain here.”
The robot that had spoken turned around, a prolonged process on its six legs, and led the captain away at walking pace. The remaining mechanoids shuffled a little closer together to fill the gap it had left, and continued to surround Gertrude and the others.
“Is this the normal welcome you get?” she muttered to Drusus.
If he was concerned, the Murovian did a good job of hiding it. “More mechs than usual, and we’ve never had an escort down to the ground before. Something’s rattled the Ralgo.”
The interior of the compound was almost as sandy as the desert beyond the walls. Bleak and featureless grey stone boxes were the only buildings within the compound. They rose only a few storeys high, and, to her surprise, there were no more than half a dozen. The walls encompassed an area large enough to accommodate a town, but the lack of structures meant only a few hundred people could live there. Continue reading
It was Eclipse Day, and Archer Grey would become the first man in Nereid history to witness two total solar eclipses. Frankly, he couldn’t see what the fuss was about. The moon passed over the sun, everything went dark for a little while and then it returned to normal. Anyone damned fool enough to be staring up without the right spectacles on would go blind, but there was precious little entertainment otherwise.
That was one of the few perks of being ancient. He could moan and grumble and nobody could tell him to shut up. They could try, but as he commanded the family fortune and had known every one of his surviving family since they were mewling babies, they invariably failed. And he had much to grumble about. His children had died, three to old age and one to stupidity. Swimming in the height of summer and expecting the jellyfish of Nereus to leave you alone was the act of a fool. In Kayleigh’s case, the act of a dead fool. Most of his grandchildren ranged from tedious to despicable, though he did enjoy the ever-increasing resentment they felt towards his stubborn refusal to die. Over a hundred years old, and still he clung on.
Until today. Because today was the perfect opportunity to kill himself.
Archer’s mansion was built on a mountain so high it was always night, hence its name: Darkness Falls. Eighty years ago he had ordered a wing built equipped with photoelectric roofs that could become completely transparent at the touch of a button. In truth, he enjoyed the stars, but the real reason behind the construction was to amaze guests, whether visiting dignitaries or impressionable young ladies. Continue reading
Brasidas was waiting for her at Nephros.
“Congratulations on your first kill for The Sun Dancer,” he told her.
She tossed him the maldrive and resisted the urge to test her steel fist on his bloated body. Killing him would be easy, but the ship was in the middle of nowhere and she doubted a crew of pirates would let their captain’s death go unavenged.
Gertrude had no idea where her quarters were, but the thought summoned a diagram of The Sun Dancer in her ocular implant. She was surprised by the ship’s size, and took a moment to examine it. In addition to cargo holds, the mess and crew quarters, The Sun Dancer had not one but two bays for smaller craft. Her mind drifted to where her quarters might be, and an arrow appeared on the plans, guiding her through the narrow, pipe-lined corridors to the cabin she had been allocated.
The cabin was sparsely furnished. A mirror which doubled as an old-fashioned 2-D television was the only decoration. In the locker were two changes of clothes, and the chest of drawers contained a tablet. To her surprise, it also contained what appeared to be several white gold ingots as long as her finger and two flawless sapphires. Uncertain whether they were meant to be hers or belonged to the one-bed cabin’s previous occupant, she swiped the lot. Continue reading
She opened her eyes, and the whole world was different. Her ocular implant depicted a clinic painted in psychedelic hues of deep purples and bright oranges.
Reminds me of the time I tried coral mushrooms.
“Shal ma’kreeth?” Doctor Dubrovnik asked.
Before she could express her confusion a line of blue text appeared in her field of vision.
LANGUAGE IDENTIFIED: J’Karyth.
MESSAGE: How are you?
“I think I’m ok,” she answered.
“Any difficulty breathing?” When she shook her head he nodded. “Good. Each lung cost a bloody fortune. I’m going to activate your artificial limbs, which might feel a bit odd. You can sit up, but don’t try standing until you feel able.”
Her left arm and left leg suddenly tingled with sensation. They felt almost as if they had fallen asleep. She sat up and saw her arm for the first time. Not even the smallest effort had been made to normalise it. The limb wasn’t even painted to resemble flesh, let alone covered with synth-skin and implanted with genuine follicles. Brute bare metal studded with plastic nerves made no pretence of humanity.
Gertrude awoke, and screamed.
A stranger, a doctor, she guessed by his old-fashioned white coat, slapped her twice across the face.
“Keep your damned mouth shut,” he told her.
Heavy leather restraints around her wrists and ankles prevented her retaliating, but her neck was free and she could make out the fact that she was almost entirely naked. Thankfully her slightly singed underwear had been left on, though precious little was left to the imagination. Blazing fire had twisted and corrupted much of her flawless skin into a ruin of burns. Strangely, the tortured skin on the left side of her body did not hurt at all. In fact, she couldn’t feel a damned thing, unlike the right, which a draught had caused to come out in goosebumps. There was, however, a persistent stabbing pain inside her chest, and she felt short of breath.
“What’s my prognosis?” she asked the doctor, trying to keep calm.
“You’re screwed.” Continue reading