Tuesday, April 29, 2014


I’m half-sleeping on the couch, listening to simulated nature when Dar comes home. He does his usual short pause, no doubt scanning the entire room and me as well, then comes over to the couch and extends a limb from his chassis to poke me in the stomach. I open my eyes, then pause. He has his projection up over his body, which he almost never does in our rooms unless he feels the need to punctuate comments with shrugs and the like. The projection looks entirely human: early 20s, mechanic with solid muscles, rough hands, a ready smile. His real body under it is a cylindrical shape on treads with limbs inside it, mind transferred into that a long time ago after an accident destroyed his body beyond repair.

I’ve become so used to the real him that I pause in turn. “Changed your projection and want some advice?”

“No.” He shakes his head and begins to pace in front of the bed, the projection entirely masking his treads as he moves back and forth. “I talked to Brin. She told me you told her to talk to me, but that she would have anyway. Maybe would have,” he adds. “She told me about the kind of weapon she was meant to be, for destroying entire starcruisers.”

“And?” I say as I sit up, stretching.

“And other things, Orien. A disruption field disrupts other fields. Including real gravity, not just the artificial kind. If you have the splice at the strength she does.” Dar bites into his lower lip. “I met someone with that once before; they almost killed me without even trying. Took out an entire starship, then a second one, and were finally cut apart from a distance by projectile weapons. Humans are so busy being scared – of hingari, or transfers like me – that it’s easy to forget just what can be done to a person. What a person can be turned into.

“Sometimes I think that’s why transfers still get made, you know. The technology has never improved: you take a brain, put it in a non-human body. For some reason it’s never worked with cloned bodies, and no one’s fixed that. We wonder about that, in the community. Privately. But it makes us an easy target, an old one: here is the human turned into the other. Fear them!”

“Dar –.”

He reaches down, presses a hand to my mouth, the limb under the projection cool and firm. “The hingari are alien, Orien. Seriously and entirely alien. But people are still scared of transfers because otherwise you’d have to look at what humans can be turned into. What can be done with an unlimited budget, a pliable genetic donor and a complete lack of ethics. Brin could disrupt power to an entire Docking Station once she matures. Maybe even a galactic-class ship.” He draws back and smiles, thin and bleak, a smile I’ve never seen on his face before. “And that’s nothing.”

I stand, reach out a hand and run it down the side of his projection gently. “Nothing?”

Dar licks his lips, then abruptly flicks the projection off, his face pale in his viewscreen as he stares at me in silence. His gaze flicks away from me in it.

I give him a gentle poke in his chassis. “You’re saying she could be dropped into the atmosphere of a planet, then? It has been done in a couple of wars I know of, but the cost isn’t that effective, not compared to terraforming equipment used on the atmosphere.”

“You’re still thinking too small,” he says, little more than a whisper. “Even Brin is. Even whoever made her is. When we splice people, we alter brains and bodies both. We change the way the mind functions. And we can put the mind into a transfer. Into a body tougher than mine. And you drop them into a star, and they disrupt light.”

“Making a star go nova.”

“Still too small.” He doesn’t move at all, viewscreen flicking off. “Increase the amount of people like Brin you transfer. Supernovas, link it together, the disruption spreads out. Light burns across space and goes out and everything falls with it.” His laugh is short, sharp. Choppy. Almost mechanical. “Sometimes I think the hingari have walled us away from most of hyperspace for our own good. For the sake of the rest of the universe.”

“Dar.” He doesn’t move. I step closer. “I never thought of that. But you think you’re the first person who has, transfer or human?” His viewscreen flicks on, his face a puzzlement. “Humans aren’t monsters, not even the worse of us. Or the best. There are limits to what anyone would do, no matter what they wanted. Brin was raised to be a weapon and ran away. I became a medic. You – are you.”

He gulps, then extends six limbs and wraps them tight about me. I hug him in turn, as hard as I can, feeling things shudder a little inside me. “If you don’t let go,” I finally murmur, “you’re going to break at least some of my linkages and have to fix me.”

Dar lets out a small laugh, lets go.

I grin and give his viewscreen a flick of a finger. “And that, right there? That is why the light will never burn out. Why we’ll never go as far as we fear we can.”

He grins in turn and gives me a light smack with a limb; I set other questions aside, flex a hand and begin to poke his chassis, sending small charges of energy that lead to surprised yelps and what follows is soft, private and creates a light all its own against the darkness of memories.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Failed truths

The problem with no longer having to hide every day is that you forget you do need to hide every day. Or at the very least not stay in the quarters that the security chief has assigned to you. I’m almost at them when a door slides open into the hallway behind me. I spin, snapping an impact staff into my hand and it is yanked out of my grip almost before I have time to register it, a hand driving into my chest and shoving me hard against the wall.

I feel energy behind the blow, technology in the arm I can ruin with a single thought. Some people have genetic traits to be beautiful, to win wars, to heal wounds: I disrupt energy: I can shut down signals to almost any system, which includes the human brain, and definitely synthetic limbs. I almost flex the talent out of my body without thinking but the other person has already stepped back and is handing the impact staff to me. And I know them.

I blink, take a few deep breaths and hold the field inside. My control isn’t good. I’d disrupt every system on the floor, which includes both life support and gravity. I can survive longer without life support than some, but I do need it. One reason Dar has been trying to get me to focus it, to understand how the field works. To make a weapon like me more and less dangerous at the same time.

I’ve only met Orien a few times. He lives with Dar, a medic with a good chunk of his body as synthetic limbs after some explosion on a battlefield. That much I knew, but he moves faster than any medic I’ve ever heard of and doesn’t seem at all worried that I might fry his systems here and now.

“You’re not shielded against me. Not like Dar is.”

“I know.” Nothing else.

I take my weapon back, put it away. “I could have fried you.”

“Dar said he’d been training you; I trusted that.” The medic smiles, and it would be disarming except for the speed at which he’d disarmed me.

“So this was a test?”

Orien shrugs. “If you like. I was curious. I also have some advice for you.”

I draw myself up and glare at him, which seems to have no effect at all. “Advice.”

“Everyone needs some, sometimes. You gave Dar some good advice about us.” I say nothing to that; I have no idea what relationship they have, how a human and transfer get on. He’s human, Dar is a human mind in another body, a chunk of technology on treads. I’ve made it three weeks into knowing him without thinking about how they do anything, and I aim to keep doing that.


“So I thought I’d repay that,” he says with a small smile that seems to imply he knows exactly what I’m thinking. “Dar has a very high security clearance, but everyone has blind spots. He knows you had one parental unit, and that they died. He hasn’t looked into it. I did.”

I say nothing to that. I had expected Security to do this, if anyone did. Not some medic on their own.

“I asked security to let me handle this,” he says as if my mind is an open book. “They knew you were a danger – everyone knew that – but no one had done the math. And Dar, well, people talk about transfers and how alien and horrible it must be, how so few survive. But those that do survive need little, and don’t think about money like the rest of us. He knows a splice like your parental unit made is expensive. It’s not a common trait, but it’s cheap enough to splice because it is far, far too dangerous to splice into someone more than once.

“Because you disrupt yourself every time you use it. The basic use: doors, small gateways, is entirely normal. The splice was folded into you over a dozen times, with other splices allowing you to survive use of it, to survive situations using the trait would put you in,” he says, ticking points off on his fingers. “Your body produces the disruption field, can even absorb other energies and convert them, and the disruption ripples out. So you needed to be able to survive floating in vacuum for an indefinite period of time, to say nothing of moving through it unaided if you effectively murdered an entire starship.”

“Splices mature with the body.” It’s not much, but it’s the only thing I can think to say.

“I know. You’re not at that potential yet. If you were, nothing Dar or I could do would have stopped the security chief from having you killed.” Orien smiles then, thin and strange. “I don’t know what that’s like, living as you do. But Dar does, in ways large and small. There aren’t many medics with my particular skillsets around.”


“Dar tends to be drawn to people – or draw them to him – if they are unusual. He’s never had normal friends – some would argue that the mechanics he’s worked with count, but I know mechanics so I wouldn’t – and that colours his view of normal, Brin. To him, you’re no different than probably a dozen other people he’s met who were turned into weapons. But if you break his trust in you, he will walk away. He hasn’t pushed you, because that’s not his way, and he hasn’t worked out just how much money was spent to create you simply because it would never occur to him.”

I say nothing to that.

“You can tell me. You are going to have to tell him.”

“I murdered my parental unit.”

He snorts at that. “No kidding. You are here on your own, a living weapon without a handler.”

I focus the field, let a fraction of it out. Enough to cause the power to blip, enough to make him wary. It’s small and cheap, but I need something. “I’m not telling you their name. Or who they worked for. I want that to die and be forgot.” It sounds silly, but I push on: “I killed an entire starcruiser in the Ashel quadrant because – because it was that or be used to do far worse things. I don’t know how I made it to the Duli systems. I ended up planet-side. Somehow. Snuck onto a supply ship, ended up here.” I’m hugging myself and I didn’t mean to and I can’t stop it. “The starcruiser I cut power to fell into a sun, all lives lost on board. There were no other starships around.”

“Ask Dar to check into it if you want,” Orien says, soft. Not moving closer, not moving away. “What did they want you to do in the Ashel system?”

I shake my head, say nothing. Some things I’m not sharing, not with a medic. People think of a disruption field and they think technology, and artificial gravity. No one thinks of real gravity, of moons. And planets below them.

He just gives me a long look, then turns and walks away. “Whoever taught you how to defend yourself did so poorly. We can talk about that later, if you talk to Dar first.”

I just enter my quarters and close the door by way of reply. Better silence than the truth, however long it can last.
Once, long and long ago, there was a mountain. It was not the tallest in the world, nor perhaps the most dangerous, but no snow ever capped its peaks and there were animals who lived on the mountain that lived nowhere else in all the wide world. But this is true of all places and did not make the mountain famous. The guru did, for everyone know the wise old hermit lived atop the mountain and it was said he possessed a mighty wisdom and was wise beyond years.

And so the pilgrims, travellers and tourists came to the mountain, though the way was long and hard. The nearest village was some ways away and one had to disembark from vehicles in it and make the rest of the journey by horse, donkey and by foot. In the village there lived a kindly old lady who would tell people to end their journey there, that there was nothing for them to seek, that the seeking was the sought and, further, that the finding was the found. But still they came, and so they went.

At the base of the mountain there stood a small hut, and in it lived a plain old man who sold maps detailing the paths up the mountain. Some were easy and slow, others quick and hard, and he said few survived the mountain. People paid in food and stories for the maps, those who didn’t get a map never making it back down the mountain at all. Those who stumbled back down the mountain would emerge days later, shaken and exhausted.

They would talk of wild beasts and pitfalls, and some would say that there were traps that could only be made by a human hand – for nature could not be so cruel – and the old man would make food from the provisions they had given him, feed them all and gently direct them back to the village. All went home, and none met the hermit of the mountain.

Until one day. The woman who came to the mountain with her family had been once before as a child. She had survived being pulled along halfway up a mountain, and survived again this time under her own power, though her husband was greatly wounded and the rest of their party shaken and battered. She waited, the woman, only all the others had returned to the village before she turned upon the old man.

“You have given maps for years, and those maps have allowed many to survive the mountain.”

“They have,” the old man said, for he was quite agreeable.

“I met you once before, and in those years you have not aged a single day.”

“This, also, is true.” The old man sipped a tea that was merely tea. “There are few who need what a wise man can offer, and a hermit who wishes to be one should be left alone – is that not a wise lesson that the mountain teaches?”

The woman paused. The old man’s smile was not as soft as that of the old woman in the village, but she saw the same humour in his eyes. “The old woman in the village. She was the same I met when I was a little girl.”

“She is. She tries to turn people away as a favour to me. I am the wise old hermit,” he said, and there was little save exhaustion to the words. “But my wife is wiser still, and no one comes to see her wisdom as they seek out mine.”

“Oh,” the woman said, and nothing else at all.

“Quite so,” the hermit said, and gently pushed her on her way. “My wife and I live far apart, and it is how we have lived together for so long,” he said by way of wisdom, and the woman left the mountain and walked long back to the village.

She did not seek the wise woman, merely gathered up her husband and their friends and went home.
If the woman ever sent any others to the mountain, the story does not relate.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

unshaken faiths

The furniture store is all high-end antiques, with enough alarms and security to make banks reconsider their own security systems. It does not matter to me: I am a magician, the oldest one in all the world, and I walk through a world that feels almost wholly false to my reality. Other magicians are real, and few things realer than that. What magic I hold has long since fallen inside me, become a fulcrum and balance both. I can no longer tell where it ends and I begin: I have not known this for some time. All other magicians spread their magic into the world; I can no longer do this. And yet I persist, for reasons so old even I do not know most of them.

I was the first wandering magician, so very long ago. I am not sure I had a human form then, but that could be fancy more than truth. I pay attention to those who wander even now, trying to see if any others will become what I am. How they will avoid it. If they can do so. The wandering magician of this era has wandered for ten years. I am not sure he can stop, even if he wants to. But he has allies, friends. Companions, which is rare for any magician to acquire. Magic demands much and leaves room for little else in its wake.

He has stepped through a mirror in the store, moved beyond the world and into the places that dwell behind mirrors. Because creatures from Outside the universe that seek entrance to our worlds do not always use simple means, do not always hide in places where it is easy to find them. The mirror he used is unremarkable to look at, but so is the boy who sits cross-legged in front of it sucking on his right thumb.

He is pale and thin, and passes for younger than ten when sucking on his thumb. Even to my eyes, to my magic, to everything I am, he is human. I know he is not, and from far Outside the universe, but Jay hides his nature with a skill that worries even me. Not being noticed by security guards or alarms is a minor thing for him. He sits, studies the mirror, and waits for the magician to return. They are bound together by promises and magic, but I have never seen him sucking his thumb like a small child would. And so I wonder. And so I act.

“Boy.” Jay turns, blinks and stares up at me. If he is surprised at my being here it doesn’t show at all. “I see you are afraid.”

He follows my gesture and starts, pulling his thumb from his mouth and just glares up at me. “Not of you, Mary-Lee,” he snaps, sharp and defiant.

“You think you could stop me from breaking this mirror?”

The boy stands, faster than anything human can move. “He’d thtill return and find me,” he says firmly.

“Because you are bound together, yes. You think it is beyond my power to hide that?”

Jay grins, and the grin is huge and happy. “I can hide any bindingth,” he says proudly. “And he would thtill find me becauthe we are friendth!”

“Such faith, and in a magician at that. And yet your body betrays you.”

The boy just stares at me blankly.

“You were afraid.”

“I’m alwayth afraid,” Jay says, stating it as a simple fact. “And I’m thcared he might be hurt or take a long time to make it back because he hath before and I don’t know how to go help him if he ith hurt and that’th all. Tho you can go away now.”

I pause. The boy – creature – does not move. “You seem more comfortable with your lisp when when last we met.”

He flushes a little but doesn’t move. “And you haven’t changed at all.”

“How clever of you to notice that.”

He just grins proudly, my sarcasm missing him entirely.

“And if I break this mirror?”

Jay’s grin vanishes. “I’d try and thtop you,” he says, and there is nothing not serious in his voice. “And we’d fight and people would notithe me and I don’t want that and you don’t need to to thith. Pleathe?”

I pretend to consider options and his thumb slips back into his mouth. Jay sucks on it nervously, waiting. And there is nothing beyond it but that: a nervous habit, no doubt something the magician has caused.

I reach out and pull his thumb free, the boy flushing bright with shame despite trying not to. “I have no desire to fight a child who sucks their thumb.”

“Tho go away,” he snaps, yanking his hand free and shoving his thumb defiantly back into his mouth.

“The wandering magician did this to you. Damaged you.” Nothing, but the boy goes still a moment. “Do you not wonder what damage may happen next if he draws on your potential again?”

“Yeth, but I trutht him,” Jay says, and there is no faith to his words but hard certainty I am not sure even the magician could break if he wanted to.

“So you do.” And the game seems small next to his desperate bravery, to his willingness to fight me and be noticed no matter what it might cost him. I nod, and turn, and walk away, leaving him to sit back down and wait.

No one has waited for me in a long time. Not in the way the boy waits.

Somedays I think no one ever has.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Different faiths

The shuttle left an hour ago. I have yet to move. I should be moving. I accepted a job in maintenance – as a change and to help a stowaway – and there is never a shortage of repairs needed on a Docking Station. The list of items docketed for me to work on with Brin has been growing steadily for a couple of hours. I should be moving. I continue to stare where the shuttle was. I don’t have my projection up. I should. It would be polite. But I can’t bring myself to care that people are staring at me.

I am pretty sure at least one person I know says hello. I don’t notice, they don’t press it. Being a transfer has advantages: when you don’t have a projection up over your body of a normal, human-you, they see you for who you really are. In my case it’s a cylindrical shape on treads with a viewscreen on the top: 360 degree vision, when I want it, my ‘face’ visible in it to whoever I am talking to. Right now it is turned off, and I have all my limbs inside my chassis. The shuttle that left the Docking Station will return in 6 local days, 4 hours and 21 minutes now.

An impact staff poking me in the side gets my attention 12 minutes later.

“Hello? Station to Dar? Anyone home?” Brin says, offering up another poke. All hesitant, keeping herself a few steps away from me. She’s in her late teens, victim of a parental unit who decided to get creative in making their progeny into a weapon: her body can produce a disruption field capable of shutting down most any system it comes into contact with, if only for a short while. It doesn’t work on me, mostly because I’m very well shielded – you would be too if a basic EMP could murder you, and a disruption field was far beyond that – but she still keeps a few steps away in case it goes off without her controlling it.

“You didn’t turn it on.”

She snaps the staff closed and pockets it. “I was about to. You are late for work. I know I’ve only known you for a week, but you don’t do late without telling people. And apologizing. And working overtime after it. And probably feeling guilty for days. So?”

I head toward the elevator that leads to the lower levels faster than I need to.

Brin keeps up, saying nothing until we get into antigrav lift. “Look, I know I’m not good at any of this yet. I can help see when something is breaking, but you’re doing all the work fixing it and –.”

“It’s not about that.”

“If you’re not mad at me, why is your viewscreen off? I’ve never seen you do that.”

I flick it on, look at her. She looks back, waits. “Orien headed off to a course. Medics have to do those every so often: real autopsies of various traits, splices like you have. Learning what new and weird things people have. All of that.”

“So?” I say nothing, teeth digging into lower lips in the viewscreen, feeling my face flush. It gives too much away. “He’s gone on a trip and that happens, right?” she presses.

“He might not come back. He could – stay away. Change. People do that. I used to work on vehicles. Now I’m doing maintenance. Change happens.”

“That –.” Brin snaps her jaw shut and stares at me as we exit the lift. “You’re one of the first transfers. I’ve looked you up on the infoweb and you’re old and you’re worried he’s going to leave you?”

I head down the hallway. I don’t turn the viewscreen off, as much as part of me wants to.

“Dar.” I stop. Brin comes slowly around to stand in front of me. “We’ve passed one docket we should have looked at already.”


I check the infoweb, move back down the hallway and extend two limbs up to a ceiling panel. The lighting systems are always failing but the Station can’t get high-end ones or people take them apart and scavenge them for parts. The docking bays proper run on modern tech, the station itself sometimes ten years behind, with apps and linkages filled with enough errors that it must keep the head of maintenance awake at night wondering if someday the entire Station will just split in half or something.

I jiggle connections, snap it back into place, note data on the docket. Brin is in front of me, not moving.

She snaps a hand out to a doorway to the side; it opens to reveal an unused living space someone has been using to store a few old power cells. “In here. Now. Please.”

I enter, she follows and snaps the door shut behind us.

“I don’t know you. You don’t know me and I’m not old and I’ve never been properly in love because people run away when they find out what I can do. And have done.” Brin licks her lips. “I dated two years ago, for almost a month with a regular human. No splices, synthlimbs, no weird traits. From one of those ‘get back to Earth’ groups who thought I was norm-human too. It went beyond kissing, I lost control of – of me. Disrupted his brain. A brain is a system, is signals, is energy.” She doesn’t look away, trembling. “I don’t know what it did to him. I ran away. You think he’s going to do that?”

“No. Orien isn’t –.” I fall silent for a few moments, trying to find words. People say transfers aren’t human at all, but we can still fail words, fail language. Fail ourselves. “He’s not the kind to run away. He was a soldier before he became a medic. I’ve been with transfers before. Other transfers, for a time. But no regular human who wanted to be with me, not really. I keep waiting for him to realize it’s not going to work. For people to ask if he’s with anyone, him to explain it to them. To realize what they know.”

“Do you want him to go?” she says softly.

I shake my head in the viewscreen, but it’s not enough. “No.”

“But you’re the one who said, ‘Brin, if you think you’re a weapon that’s all you’ll be.’ If you think what you have with him is going to fail, then isn’t that the same thing?”

“It – I don’t know,” I say finally. And I don’t.

“Why don’t you want him to go?” she says, softer still.

“Because he’s my friend, because I care for him, because – because I would have waited there for his return, if you hadn’t come and got me. I care about Orien more than I do work, and I haven’t felt like that about anyone in a long time.” I gulp audibly through my vocal interface. “I’m terrified he’s going to wake up one day and go ‘what am I doing?’ and leave and it’s going to hurt so much but I can’t bear to do it first, to let him go, to-to-to...” I break off.

“What if he doesn’t? I’ve asked that, about Raoul. What if he’d been able to accept that my zapping his brain was an accident? What if he’d wanted to stay with me anyway? I ran away so I’ll never know at all. You love him, then?”

“Yes.” She doesn’t hear me until I say it a second time.

“Does he know?”

“He better.”

Brin blinks, then bursts out laughing at that and I can’t help but join in a moment later. “I think – I think everyone has to be told that, or they forget. Because everyone is worried, about who they’re with. About the other person waking up sane when love isn’t sane at all? You have to tell him you love him. Again. And again.” She almost pokes me in the viewscreen, pulls her finger back. “And have faith in him, that he’s as – as conflicted inside as you are – and thinks that is all worth it anyway. That what you are together is worth it.”

“You’ve thought about this a lot, then.”

She nods. I don’t point out she could probably find this Raoul easily through the infoweb, or I could do that if she couldn’t. I send a command to the door, which snaps open, head back into the hallway.

“What’s the next docket?”

She tells me, and I pretend not to notice how grateful she is I didn’t ask questions. I trust Orien. I’m trusting Brin a little. And they’re trusting me and it’s all a kind of faith and I can only hope it will be worth it. I send a message to Orien. Three words. No more. And then focus on work again.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Finding Jewels

I am not slinking through the lower levels of McLan Docking Station, but this is mostly because I can’t slink. Humans can: my projection fakes it, being a human male in his twenties with muscles earned through work and the rough hands of a mechanic who gets their hands dirty snapping inkages into place. I’m under the projection, the real Dar, a transfer of my brain into a non-human body after an accident. I’ve survived longer than most transfers, my body a cylindrical shape on treads, limbs stored inside my chassis, a viewscreen at the top with my projection-face visible to interact with others when not using the projection.

I don’t have any actual weapons to deal with people who decide the universe needs less transfers in it. Orien and I almost have fights over that sometimes. Medic or not, he thinks it is better to be armed; I have memories of what happens to transfers with weapons. What people do to them. If I defend myself, all people remember is a transfer killing humans, how some of the early transfers that were little more than people thrust into machines and sent to kill enemies of nations. I’d die, stories would spread and things would be harder for the other transfers out. Orien says he doubts other transfers feel the same way, but it’s how I feel.

I’m on my rest day. The Station insists we take those and Rodun – the head of security – pointed out I’d been to less than ten percent of the station in five years. Docking bays, quarters, meeting rooms. I didn’t waste my time pointing out that most of what McLan had to offer isn’t anything I can use at all. Rodun suggested I take in the lower decks. Without telling me why beyond that ‘jewels exist in forgotten places’. Which was probably code, though I had no idea what for.

The lower decks exist between the engines that hold the docking station in place and the vast chambers storing elements and solutions that powered food replicators, chargers, and kept the station itself existing. They’re small, cramped and the cheapest places to live on the station. Eyes watch, and other organs and sensors as well. People make sure I am past them, continue about their business. I am almost certain this isn’t what Rodun meant by ‘jewels’ but I don’t much care. I find hallways I can get down easily, slip through accessways. Make a point of noting anything that needs to be fixed and sending flagged messages to the maintenance crew. Partly because the idea of not doing so is wrong, and also because it will make Rodun twitch a little.

The person who ends up following me isn’t trying to hide; I find an empty corridor to wait in that has two exists from it. The follower is female, wearing a stitched-together stealth mesh. It takes her ten seconds to round the corner, and in that time I do a deeper scan, filtering out the stealth mesh and trying to make sense of energy patterns. Technically it’s not possible to filter out steath meshes entirely, or to scan someone at the genetic level due to protection laws; I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands over the years and paranoia breeds useful skills.

I poke the infoweb carefully, framing queries and sneaking searches in under them. Her name is Brin; biologically and legally sixteen. One parental unit, deceased; stowaway turned scavenger on McLan, born with a genetic splice to disrupt energy. Uncommon but not illegal; she has it spliced into her at least a dozen times, with other traits and splices designed to allow her to survive using it. And enough of a field stored inside her to disrupt an entire spaceship if she had to.

Brin stops as she rounds the corner, blinking at me under the hood. She looks ordinary enough: short dark hair, no obvious traits visible on her skin or under it, no weapons close at hand. Not that she needs any. “You’re with maintenance?” she asks, soft, keeping an eye out for anyone else.

I don’t move. “I’m a mechanic. I was told I needed to see more of the station. I can get them a message, if you want?”

Brin studies me, eyes narrowing. I have no idea what she can see, or what she knows about me in turn. “I want to know why you’re using a projection, if you are really a mechanic,” she snaps.

I consider options, then kill the projection. She jumps back half a step, eyes wide. “A-a transfer?”

“My name is Dar. And yes.”

“I should-should go,” she stammers. “I could hurt you.”

I smile in the viewscreen. “You could tell me what you wanted first?”

She shakes her head, scrambles back further.

“I don’t mean you harm, Brin,” I say, and her eyes widen further. She hasn’t told me her name, and fear washes through her. Followed by the disruption field lashing out from within, killing ever power source for three corridors. Even emergency systems. Lights die, Life support shuts down. Gravity fails.

I extend grips from my treads, digging into the floor, and move toward her as Brin bobs in the air, clearly taken aback by what happened. I doubt she’s ever cut loose before without thinking if only because shutting off life support in an area you are in is foolish. I extend a limb into the wall as the last of the disruption field dissipates, drain a few of my power cells to jumpstart repair modules in the walls.

Brin hits the ground with a surprised sound, gulps in air and shivers against the cold. She stands as I move closer, but doesn’t try another disruption. Or to run.

“We shield ourselves against EMPs of any kind, even to your extremes, or I would be dead. And I scanned and looked you up on the infoweb as you rounded the corner, before you ask.”

“But I have a stealth mesh,” she says in a small voice.

“I have a lot of free time on my limbs.” I extend three, wriggle them, pull them back into my chassis. “And I didn’t survive as long as I have without being cautious. And careful.”

“But if you scanned me. I can disrupt more than just that,” Brin says. “Maybe strong enough to kill you.”

“Careful is also boring; I’ve been informed I need to be less boring.”

“But if people realized what you are,” the girl says slowly, “they’d destroy you.”

“People aren’t that scared of transfers anymore,” I snap, feeling more than a little miffed.

Brin just looks confused. “That’s not – that has nothing to do with it. I’d be set for years if I sold you for parts. Scrap dealers would pay a small fortune for even half the apps you must have inside your body.”

I blink in turn, rather glad I don’t have my projection on. “I never thought of it that way.”

“You’re really lucky I found you then.”

I turn my body in a slow circle to take in emergency lighting, the distant sounds of systems grinding back to life. “I am, am I?”

Brin flushes at that and says nothing.

I stop in front of her. “You could tell me why you wanted maintenance now.”

“I’m a stowaway,” she whispers. I say nothing. “I can break things. But I can see breaking things, too. Leaks in systems, energies off-kilter. I could help maintenance fix things.” She looks away. “I’m a weapon and I don’t want to be just that, no matter how stupid that sounds.”

I skim the infoweb, hunting public data quickly, send a few requests to relevant parties. There are a few protests – mostly because I am very good at my job – but perhaps not as many as my ego would like. I ignore that, turn my projection back on and extend a hand from it, placing a limb into it and reaching down to squeeze one of her hands.

“I’m working in maintenance as of four seconds ago and I could use someone who knows the underbelly of the ship to help me. The security chief owes me at least one favour for sending me to find ‘jewels’ and giving you clearance will be it. All right?”


“We are not slaves,” I say quietly, “not to our own splices, traits or skills. Not even to fate.”

She licks her lips, then nods, squeezes my limb and follows me down the corridor. “Is it okay if I call you Dar?”

“It is my name. So yes.”

She ignores that. “Thank you? For being a jewel, too?”


“For being nice, when you didn’t have to be at all. To me?”

I continue forward slowly, wondering what kind of jewels Rodun had intended me to find, if he’d known Brin was here all along. I doubt the security chief will ever tell me, but I have an ally who can disrupt systems and I might be able to make his life quite interesting the next time he tries to trick me. All in all a very good rest day; with luck they won't make me take one again for some time.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


“You’ve been dead a hundred years and never once ran into demons before?”

I shove myself against the door as a human with something wholly Other inside them slams into it. Demons can remove the limits humans put on flesh and bones; I’m a ghost made solid – long story, not important – and I’m far stronger than the deathly-thin kid I appear to be. I hold the door. Barely.

Charlie is pacing the storage room, the god inside her burning in her eyes. I eat ghosts; I can’t do much against demons. She eats gods, which as near as I can tell means she can get rid of the demons.

“Met demons often, have you?” I snap, shoving my back harder into the door as it shudders.

There are eight people outside with demons inside them, and we just happened to enter the corner store as they finished sacrificing a pigeon for something. Charlie flexed the god inside her, a monster from under beds and in closets, all claws and teeth and the things shadows are scared of. It gave us time to make it past them and into the their storeroom as two other demon-held people were coming in the front door with bags and cleaning products to remove the pigeon stains from the counter.

“Once before.” Charlie says nothing else, but there is something grim and private under the words. “I was very lucky to survive it.”

“You eat gods; Demons are lesser. So?” I press, wincing as something sharp drives into my back, the wound sealing a moment later. I don’t have flesh and bone like humans do, but I can still be hurt.

“They’re too deep inside for me to get them out without killing the hosts.”

“We can tell them we work for the government. That might stop them.”

She blinks, her eyes the only light in the store room. “Since when do you get sarcastic, Dyer?”

“Since a demon stabbed me in the back with a machette a few seconds ago. I can’t hold them out forever!”

Charlie swears softly and pulls out her cell phone, punching in a number. “I am going to regret this so much. Hi. Yes, it’s me.” She winces, pulling her ear away from the phone.

“You finally called,” a boy’s voice yells from the other end of the line. “I’ve been calling you for montth! Even Honcho wath getting worried and he doethn’t get worried and we’re your friendth and I’m fine!”

I’ve never heard the word fine yelled like a challenge before. I don’t think Charlie has either because she stares at her phone, then puts it back to her ear. “We can talk about this later, Jay. I have demons I need help with. Is he around?” She pauses. “I know magicians don’t like to use phones, Jay, but we need help.” She growls. “I’m helping someone, okay? It’s government stuff but not the bad kind. Will you hurry up!”

Whoever this boy is, he’s done more to annoy and rattle Charlie in under a minute than I’ve done in four months. I don’t know whether I should be impressed or scared.

Charlie taps a foot on the floor. “Yes. Yes, I’m fine. Demons, inside people. I can’t remove them alone, my friend is with CASPER. He deals with ghosts, and – right. Okay.” She sets her phone down on the floor in the middle of the store room as two demons drive into the door.

I push back; I can hear chanting on the other side, in languages not meant for human throats to utter. I snap out banishing phrases in Enochian that cause the demons to flatter a little, more in surprise than anything else; my accent is quite good.

The cell phone smokes and a man steps out of the air above it. He looks human, in his twenties, with brown hair, eyes, unremarkable build. The kind of person you could drop into an office building and no one would ever notice. He smiles crookedly, shoving hands into jean pockets. “I can make your phone relay all the insults Jay is shouting at you, if you want?”

Charlie just glares at him, but I notice the god inside her has faded, claws flowing back, its presence no longer something cold and ancient pressing on the air. “Demons.”

“Ah, yes.” The man turns, and his eyes aren’t bland at all as he studies me, staring at me, into me. Through me, it feels like. “Dyer, I imagine?”

“How did you –?” Charlie says before I can speak.

“He is a ghost who eats ghosts and is barred from the grey lands,” the man says gently. “Word gets around.” He doesn’t raise his voice, but the words are everywhere at once, without and within me at the same time, echoing into and off each other in the air. “Demons. You know me. You know what I can do. Leave the hosts before I get cranky.”

There is silence in the grocery store, then the sound of bodies falling to the ground unconscious.

“You know them?” I say, my voice thin even to my ears.

The magician grins at that, and it takes at least five years away from his eyes. “Not at all; I have no idea which magician they even thought I was. It worked, though.” He stretches a little and cracks his knuckles. “If Jay had known it would only take a few demons to lead to a phone call, he’d have likely found some and sicced them on you,” he says to Charlie, who actually blushes even as she glares at him.

“Call him soon,” the magician says, and there is no power behind it, but there doesn’t need to be. He turns and smiles at me. “I’ve heard stories about you; we should meet sometime,” he says, and the phone flickers and the magician is gone again, somehow stepping into it.

“Magicians.” Charlie picks up her phone gingerly as smoke trails off of it. “You’d think he could use a phone as a gateway and not drain the battery.” She smiles strangely. “Or maybe he’s saving me from talking to Jay for a little while.” She puts the phone in her pocket and turns to me. “I think we need to get to a bigger grocery story and forget about this place.”

I pull the door open, stepping over unconscious people, checking pulses to make sure they’re okay. Charlie walks over to the door, flips the sign to closed and just waits for me.

“So,” I say once we’re outside, seeing Charlie brace herself for questions out of the corner of my eye, “what you said to the magician: that was true?”


“That we’re friends?”

“We have been travelling together for over three months, Dyer.”

“That’s work. That’s not the same as being friends.”

“Oh.” Charlie laughs at that. “I honestly never saw it that way. Anyone who can put up with me for more than two weeks is a friend in my books.”

I shake my head at that, wise enough not to laugh with her, and just walk back toward our vehicle. Demons. Magicians. Boys with lisps who can drive Charlie up the wall. It’s going to be interesting piecing this all together, but I suspect a magician might be helping me with that.

My phone buzzes as we enter the RV, showing a new contact added. The name ‘Jay’, and nothing else. I close the notification and check Yelp for the nearest large grocery store as if nothing happened at all.

burning through history

The invitation to meet with the station chief of McLan Docking Station isn’t something anyone on it can refuse. The current chief is Sora and she’s been the station chief longer than I’ve been here. I’ve never met her and never wanted to: you only meet a station chief in person as a mechanic if you do something flat-out amazing or awful and I’m not the kind of person to want fame. My quarters are small: a transfer doesn’t need much, after all. In my case it was mostly space to pace about on my treads while thinking about things. I’ve almost finished cleaning up for moving in with Orien when the message hit over the infoweb.

I listen to it twice to make sure its real and ping Orien with a copy and ask if he’ll come. He replies asking me to meet him outside his quarters and to keep my projection turned off; nothing else. McLan has gone through a hiring phase recently, so I’ve been keeping it up most of the time. People see Dar and its a mechanic in his twenties with an easy smile, not a transfer; not a cylindrical shape with treads for legs, limbs coming out of my chassis as needed and a viewscreen with a ‘face’ for ease of interaction. I don’t like keeping the projection always up because it feels like I’m lying to people, but enough people know what I am to tell newcomers anyway.

Orien is waiting outside his quarters when I arrive, his synth limbs registering stresses. All of his limbs and some of his torso are artificial, after a bomb: no one would know it to look at him. I frown in the viewscreen, scanning a little deeper into his apps and linkages. “You ran here.”

“This isn’t a casual invitation, Dar.” Nothing else, as he heads down the corridor to the officers-only lifts.

I take the hint and follow in silence as we find the right lift and head up to the officer’s levels and eventually a meeting room. There is no visible security in the hallways, but I don’t scan to check for what must exist. Orien just nods for me to enter first, trying not to look worried. I enter the room to find it is full of baffles: I couldn’t scan anything in here even if I wanted to. The only visual interface I have is through the viewscreen, aural systems limited to basic human, vocal systems at least untouched. Everything else is blocked.

The only inhabitants of the room are an Adjudicator I don’t know in a far corner, the security chief of the station whon I known is named Rodun, and the station chief herself, the latter two studying a viewscreen of overlapping star systems. I enter, stop, and start when Orien gives me a push from behind to move closer to them. He moves beside me without a word, nodding to everyone in the room.

“I do not recall authorizing anyone to join you,” Sora says. She is tall and solid, her appearance designed to be unremarkable and not noticed, her voice calm and bland. You wouldn’t think she was a station chief to look at her, which is entirely the point.

“You didn’t not do it,” I mumble. “And he’s a friend.”

“Ah, yes.” Rodun is a tall, burly man with a cold smile and colder eyes; he draws attention like predators tend to, even to me. “I believe I briefed you on that.”

Sora blinks, then just nods. I’m glad I don’t have my projection up, since I would be blushing furiously. I know my face is in the viewscreen alone; Orien is just still and quiet beside me. We’re moving in together. People talk. It’s complicated.

“Six galaxy-class craft are converging on a star system relatively close to Earth,” Sora says crisply, the map changing in time with her words. “We have been placed on high alert along with every other Docking Station. We are not being told why, nor what they intend. All we know is that a craft named Hope’s Chest dropped out of hyperspace and the ‘greeting’ for it feels more like an interception.”

“Oh.” My voice is very small, even to my ears.

“There is almost no data on Hope’s Chest on the infoweb. We believe it was removed some centuries ago, but my people were able to ascertain you have accessed said files in the past. We need to know what is going on. Please.”

“I –.” I lick my lips in the viewscreen. It almost flickers off against my will. Orien presses a hand to my chassis, saying nothing. Steadying. I extend a limb into his hand and feel a little better. Less alone. Less me. “There were three of them. Hope’s Diamond was destroyed in friendly fire – aka blown to pieces by someone who didn’t like it existing. Hope’s Reward and Hope’s Chest were sent through hingari space during the so-called first peace in the war.

“As far as I know, we’ve never been able to penetrate hingari space and find out what lies beyond that. Hence the wars with them, since we can’t get past them in hyperspace and expanding in real-space is taking a very long time. That’s broadly correct?”

“It is,” Sora says.

“Okay. The Hope-series were made to sneak through hingari lines. There was that brief period where people who became transfers became part of the engine of star ships, being an intelligence to help guide them but people being paranoid about them caused a few to self-destruct and it went badly. The Hope’s – all of them – were made and crewed entirely by transfers. Less space needed, more efficient designs, and they didn’t give off normal signatures so it was figured they could punch through hingari space and out the other side. If more than the three were made, it wasn’t made public knowledge at all. That one has come back is – I don’t know. Anyone who knows about this will be asking a lot of questions.

“Did the hingari let it return is it a trap, what are the crew and how many survived?” Sora says.

“Did it appear in an inhabited system by chance,” the security chief adds quietly.

“That, yes.” I let go of Orien’s hand and begin to pace nervously in front of them, rolling back and forth on the floor. “Because six galaxy-class ships are going to fire on it and burn Hope’s Chest into nothing along with an entire inhabited system. They’ll be too scared not to. ”

“You can’t know that,” Sora says.

“I’m a transfer. I know how people react to us. But it’s not about that: it would be even worse if it was humans aboard Hope’s Chest. The response, I mean. The hingari have technology far beyond our own, so what lies beyond them? Are they protecting us against something they themselves are fighting? We don’t know. There are limits to what can be done to my body, realistically. But a human body is a different story entirely in yours eyes. Pure potential, most of it likely untapped.”

“Weapons,” the security chief says grimly.

“And they’re going to blow it up. If they can.” I move back beside Orien, stop. “They could have turned the transfers into ambassadors, and we’ll go and murder them without even seeking to ask questions because fear is going to win out. Because it always has.”

“Because it has to,” Rodun says. “We can’t very well let some unknown threat back in, even if it is one of our making.”

“Thank you. Both of you,” Sora says. “Hope’s Chest has been broadcasting a request for a parley to every Docking Station and starcruiser. We can do nothing for them save to reply, to offer apologies. To hope that it might be different, if the other craft returns later on. I will send them a message, and hope it is something. I will watch it burn, because we should not look away. You may go now.”

“But –.”

“You do not need to see this, Dar. I would rather you did not.”

The security chief says nothing as the door slides open. I leave, with Orien close behind. We make it back to his quarters in silence. Orien seals the door as I stop in the middle of the room. My projection isn’t capable of bleeding, or of tears. I don’t turn it on. He just wraps his arms about my chassis in silence and holds me as I rock back and forth on treads and make soft, wordless noises.

Somewhere, the past is burning. Somewhere, a future that could be will never happen. And I all I can do is mourn in private.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Boy and Fox: notes

And there is Bess, half-homeless and all hard choices, a blade sharpened by the world and not yet dulled by friendship or trust. Where Boy fled his life, she walked away from hers. She did not run, and that is her strength, but she hates herself so for not cutting ties entirely, for not being able to break free of family. She is anger and angry and there is no power to that but she is not enough yet to know this. She lashes out at a world that will not break, for not being what it promised, what all the TV and stories ever promised and her mom drowns the world in pills, her father in business meetings and affairs conducted with the same emptiness as each meeting. Their lives are voids Bess cannot fill, and resentment runs between them all like dead electricity. Their names are Jason and Samantha and Bess will never call them anything else

In Pressure Cooked

The Seeker SK4209 is a galatic-class military destroyer. The kind that has no business at the civilian-sanctioned McLan Docking Station. Not that they could be bothered to care, or even to explain how their spacecraft had become damaged enough to barely limp into our Station. The Seeker takes up half the docking bays, leaving McLan scramble for space to fix it and to also service the regular civlian craft who would be paying us for fixing their vehicles, loading and unloading supplies and doing everything else a Docking Station does. Not that the Seeker wouldn’t reimburse the station, but it would take time and during that time we’d be running at a crippling power loss if we weren’t careful. So everyone was scrambling like mad, and that included the mechanics.

Transfers aren’t allowed to work on military craft. A human whose mind is inside a body that isn’t human is not to be trusted. Its not law, but it is custom and tradition so old it might as well be law.
When you’re a cylinder (with arms inside it) on treads with a viewscreen ‘face’ on the top, you’re not human. It made the crew of the Seeker twitchy, so I’ve had my projection up over my body for weeks now: a human-me, the Dar I would have been if I’d lived into my twenties. There had been an accident when I was eight; I was one of the first transfers into a non-human body, and now one of the oldest. Most don’t last that long, all told. I have.

I’m left trying to do the regular work on civilian craft with a third of our normal crew and anyone that any craft or other Station can spare. Not that we have the time to train anyone we get properly, but a body is a body and hands are hands. We’ve given out so many access codes to various apps and linkages – along with major systems of McLan – that we’ll need to redo every passcode once things return to normal. This is barely an issue on anyone’s radar right now. Thinking on that and a dozen other things is half why I missed the first two pings from Orien through the infoweb insisting I come to his quarters.

He’s a medic, my best friend on the station and has his own charging station in his quarters since all his limbs are synthetic after an incident with a bomb. He’s also one of the only people I let get through no matter what I’m doing. He pings me three more times while I finish making sure two apps are properly linked with a system; I manage it without too much trouble on the second try, distantly worried it took me the second try, and he pings me again. I make farewells to the other mechanics on duty and take the restricted access tunnels to his quarters. I have access, thanks to Orien, but I rarely use them. But I’m in a hurry today, like every other day of late.

He is standing just inside the door when I enter and points to the left, where the door is open to a small side-room with a half-dozen charging stations. It is excessive, but they’re also a backup system in case of damage to one of the main systems. I hurry over, flexing limbs out of my chassis and hook myself into the station, shutting off my projection with a deep sigh of relief: the constant drain on my systems was starting to take a toll and it feels good to charge for more than ten minutes at a stretch. So good I slip into the rhythm of the energy flowing into my body and drift for almost three entire hours before pulling myself out.

I disengage, shutting the station off and am halfway to the door when Orien’s voice catches me.

“Dar.” He’s sitting at his kitchen unit, eating a meal of fried greens and meat. “You didn’t even register that I was here.”

“I need to –.”

“Over here. Now.” He says it in his medic-tone, not his friend one at all. I go over, stop in front of the table. He puts down his knife and fork and walks over, then bends down and presses one hand into my side. “You have a dent here.”

“Coupling mechanism last week, I –.”

“You didn’t fix it. Or come by and ask me to.” He runs fingers gently over my chassis, undoes linkages and removes a few apps, part of my body, and takes them to an examination table, repairing the dent, checking a couple of subsystems and snaps everything back into place a good five minute later. I’m unable to avoid a sigh of relief from my vocal interface: being naked still terrifies, no matter how much I trust Orien.

“That took five minutes,” he says softly, and I go still at the edge to his voice. He walks back to the kitchen table, gestures me to follow. I do, stopping in front of it again. “How many days has it been since you had a rest day, Dar?”

“I don’t need to rest like humans do.”

“Like people do?”

I say nothing. He eats, waits. “Like people do. A month, but –.”

“Almost two months. You were running on empty for almost a week, Dar. How many mechanics on sleep breaks were you covering for?”

“I don’t –.”

“Three. And your own work,” he says, and doesn’t raise his voice at all; somehow that hurts me more. “You’ve been a mechanic on the McLan for almost five cycles. Dar. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone.”

“I’m not. I can do more than other people, last longer than they can: it’s something I can do, so I do it.”

“And you need to rest, the same as other people do.”

“Orien, I need to –.”

“Get back to work, because you have too much work to do.”


“And you don’t think that is why you need to rest?”

I am moving toward the exit, almost without thinking. I pause. He’s looking at me with no expression at all. I move back to the table, stop again. “You’ll seal the doors if I try and go, won’t you?”

“I don’t want to. I have that authority, but I do hope you’ll see sense first.” He begins eating again. “I have a half-hour for lunch. Relax. Talk. Anything you want, all off-record.”

“I can’t work on the Seeker because they won’t let me.”

Orien just nods, and listens. I talk for at least half an hour. If I’m honest, I’m ranting for most of the time: about the Seeker, about the mechanics we can barely train, the overcrowding, the workload and Orien for taking too long to eat his lunch by the end of it.

He finishes and smiles after. “Better?”

“We’re all under pressure. It’s –.”

“We all need to let off steam, Dar.” He reaches out a hand and pokes my viewscreen with a finger. “Even you, especially with having to keep a projection up for fear of ticking off people working on the Seeker.”

“I just –.”

“You’re not the only one who is ticked.” He pulls his finger away, snagging a cloth and makes me wait while he wipes down my entire chassis, even my treads. I’d protest but I haven’t felt clean in weeks and I can tell it is relaxing him as well.

“Better?” we both say at the same time, and share a laugh.

“I want your schedule,” I say. “Because I bet I’m not the only one in need of more breaks.”

Orien blushes at that and reluctantly sends me his entire schedule over the infoweb.

I check it, double-check it and say I’ll be back in fourteen hours to make sure he’s having at least one more meal today. I am halfway to the door before I add that he should see about charging up his own systems.

He throws the rag at me viewscreen and the door closes on his laugh sooner than I’d like it to.

I pause almost ten seconds outside, just relaxing a little more, and head back to the accessways and to work. I don’t bother putting my projection back up and almost don’t care when I pass some people from the Seeker.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Failed word searches

There are too many words in my head wanting out. (Too many others wanting to never be said.) I make my way down the hallway, ping Jaci’s room to determine they are alone, send a request. The door to their quarters slides open, the interior being enough room for a couch-bed, chair, wall-screen and even a table and high-end personal food dispenser. One doesn’t become an Adjudicator without getting some perks, after all. I stop in front of the couch, shutting off my treads. The wall is off-white blank and Jaci stands up from the couch, eyebrows raised. We’ve met a few times, since they adjudicated me. Talked. They’ve been to my place a few times. I’ve never been to theirs; I don’t go to people’s places often, but we probably are friends.

That’s part of it all. The rest spills out, the only way it can: “I just finished my shift. I almost made a mistake.”

Jaci pauses. “Mechanics do that, even transfers.”

“It’s not that. I wasn’t – I wasn’t focused.”

Jaci stares into my viewscreen. I say nothing else. They are human; I’m not, a mind placed into another body after an accident. My body is a cylindrical chassis, with a viewscreen for my ‘face’, limbs as needed, treads for locomotion. “Dar, please turn on your projection.”

I flick it on, reluctantly. The image that covers me is ‘me’ if I’d lived to somewhere in my mid-twenties. I made it well, though sometimes – like with my vocal interface – it strikes me as too well made, giving too much away. They sit back down; I add a chair to my projection and sit as well, or at least seem to. Jaci blinks, not knowing I could do that, but says nothing.

Adjudicators are good at waiting.

I squirm nervously in the chair, unable not to.

“You came to me because –?”

“Because you know Orien. From before McLan. I have a good security clearance,” I add when Jaci says nothing.

“And he is why you were distracted?”

“Yes. He wants to-to....” I fall silent, feeling myself flush, bite my lower lip. The projection can’t draw blood doing this; it’s probably for the best.

“To date.”

I manage a nod, clasp my hands together, extending limbs into when Jaci reaches out a hand. The projection can’t fool touch, but Jaci squeezes my limbs anyway.

“You can say no; Orien will understand.”

I gulp, stand, and it’s too hard. I drop the projection to pace the room, treads whirring a little as I move about it a few times before coming to a stop again in front of Jaci. I don’t turn the projection back on, pull my limbs inside my body. “I don’t know if I want to. Say no. I’ve never –.” I gulp again, louder. “It’s not that no one has ever-ever offered, but it was always the wrong time or place, or-or-or....” I break off into silence.

“It always is, in my experience.” Jaci smiles. “What do you need, Dar?”

“I was looking things up. In the Infoweb. I think I could explain things if I write him a poem.”

Jaci stares at me. “A poem.”

“I’ve never done that.”

“You are a mechanic; that’s kind of poetry, you know. You could always build him something; an app, a linkage system?”

“It doesn’t feel right. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t.”

“All right. Why do you want to do this?” Jaci says softly.

I don’t turn the projection back on; they don’t press the issue. “Because Orien doesn’t mind if I don’t want to appear human. To have the projection on. Because he trusts me to fix him and doesn’t push me even when he maybe should. About anything. I’m not good at trusting, but I think he isn’t either. But he did, and he does, and the least I can do between us doesn’t feel like enough anymore. That we can talk, but I don’t talk about enough. My world is vehicles, and mechanics, and it’s never felt too small before. But it’s starting to, and that’s partly his fault but also not a fault? And – and it hurts in a good way. All of it.”

“All right. Write that down.”

“But it’s not a poem.”

“A poem doesn’t have to be a poem to be a poem.”Jaci stands. “Now go to your quarters, write, send Orien the message. Rest. No one wants you off your game, Dar.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

Jaci just smiles and waves me to the door. I leave, feeling a little better, compose the message and sent it to Orien. I don’t feel better. I don’t feel worse. It’s enough.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dangerous friends drinking

As a Docking Station, McLan has more bars and drinking places than it does establishments to buy food at. Home isn’t much, but it is invite-only, often littered with officers who prefer peace and quiet and by unspoken consent a place where station politics are left far outside. You come to drink problems away and it is as simple as that. My problem is an old one: when over sixty percent of your body is replaced by cybernetics, it is hard to find drinks that get you drunk without disrupting your systems entirely. So I drink boost, which sends a buzz of energy through my entire body, shuts minor systems down. Rinse. Repeat. It’s like a continual series of random spasms at once good and scary because you never know what will be shut down.

It’s not illegal, not quite, and I am a medic. That makes it safe, if anyone asks. The person who slips into the seat beside me isn’t the sort to ask, mostly because they seldom have to. Adjudicators aren’t quite as reviled as true psychs (there are reasons people prefer dealing with psychbots to someone trained in taking apart the psyche) but knowing someone might sit in judgement on you tends to strain any friendship. Jaci is no exception to that rule, and gets themself spiced water.

“Boost?” Pale eyebrows raise. “Was your vacation that bad, then?”

“Ask Dar.” I take another sip of my drink.

“I did. He said it had been ‘nice’ and refused to talk about it further, saying he had two weeks of updates in the infoweb to catch up on.”

“And you let it go?”

“He turned off his projection and viewscreen and ignored me.”


Jaci smiles at that. “Probably wise as well. Transfers are hard to read at the best of times, and he’s old enough to know how to use that to his advantage.”

I grunt. A lot of what a psych does relies on body language and mannerisms as much as profiles. The dark days of psyches using apps to ‘read’ memories are long past but not forgotten at all. Transfers circumvent a lot of that and Dar has to know it drives Jaci up the wall. I would call it a dangerous game to play; Dar would just consider it practical to survival. He’s survived longer than any other transfer into a non-human body – the only kind of transfer of the mind that lasts – and more than one psych would love to get into his head and learn why.

“So, your turn. Two weeks on Garnet IV. With Dar. Talk to me.”

I feel a flush creep up my cheeks. I could prevent it, but not without Jaci noticing that. “Go away, Adjudicator.”

“Orien.” Jaci doesn’t raise their voice, but there is an edge under the words. Jaci knows me of old, long before I was a medic. When we both had other lives and did things neither of us are proud of. That is the the cost of our lives in this era: we can live long, if we are careful, and have at least two or three lives to our name. It doesn’t mean we should be proud of some of them.

“Jaci. Go away.”

Jaci pauses at something in my voice. Blinks. “I’m not asking as an Adjudicator, Orien. We know each other of old and Dar interests me. You know that.”

“Yes. which is why I said to go away.”

Jaci blinks, sits back, and their eyes widen a little, jaw dropping. Jaci hasn’t changed their body in all the years I’ve known them: thin, the kind of body that can pass as male or female, preferring to be addressed as a singular they or them and not caring at all that it’s outdated. I’ve seen Jaci do many things with their body, some of them quite distressing. I’ve never seen them stunned to silence.

Jaci calls up a privacy baffle about us. “You’re embarrassed. You, Orien? I remember how you held the Inkul Gulf. Hero and butcher, we called you at the trial, and you didn’t back down from either claim.”

I say nothing. It had been an ugly war, and if the Gulf had fallen at least one planet might have beyond it. I’d meshed an entire corps of soldiers together, linked us into weapon systems on craft. We fought. we even won, though few survived the experience. I’d given them no choice about joining the gestalt, abused the legal oaths to fight in the war into areas that had been made illegal since. I’d won, but no one wanted me on their side after that. Bounty hunting had led to drifting and eventually being a medic. It happens. We change or we die.

Sometimes we even surprise ourselves.

“It was a nice two weeks,” I say softly. Jaci twitches, but doesn’t throw her drink in my face. I grin. “Garnet IV is one of the only vacation worlds that actually had rooms and systems catering to transfers. He was happy and that alone made the trip worth it, until I pushed things. Between us.”

Jaci goes still a moment. I can almost see things coming together even they didn’t want it to. Even Adjudicators have limits; I don’t know if I should be pleased at finding one of Jaci’s. “As more than friends. With a transfer.”

“We did go on a vacation together,” I say dryly.

“Yes, but. Transfer.” Jaci drums the table with a finger. “How did Dar take it?”

“Dar was mostly confused and didn’t get it until near the end. He’s mostly been quiet since. I don’t think he knows what to think.”

“He won’t be the only one. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but –.” Jaci pauses. “It is mostly storylines uses in bad drama, isn’t it”

“I think love usually is. I don’t even know if it is love, or what it is. Or what Dar will let us be.” I consider another drink, cancel the order and stand.

“Orien.” I pause, wait. “You will need to do something about your blush reflex, given what people will say.”

Only that, nothing more. I smile, then, and not to Jaci, leaving the bar and heading to my quarters. I consider checking on Dar. Feel my face flushing again, and decide to leave whatever might happen next to him.


There are few magicians in the worlds of the waking or the dreaming, and fewer with every year that passes. If I had been told what would hunt me when I became a magician, what would haunt me, what it would do to the only life I’d known – I think I would have found some other path to walk. But I did not know, and the world does not need magicians any less to mend the walls between the world and what lies Outside. Magic is the smallest part of that.

I walk. The city of New Grimsby isn’t large or even new. Two elementary schools, one over-burdened highschool. It is falling apart in ways people can sense but seldom see until it is too late and streets are littered with empty shops and houses are no longer homes. There is darkness in the world as well as things lurking beyond the dark. A magician deals with things. I wander. I repair. I fix. Some would be told of what magicians do, and think it as useless as holding back the tide. But we can hold back the tide. We can draw lines in the world that Entities cannot pass, make gardens bloom and prevent them from ever failing.

It is not enough, not all the time. But we can leave the world better than we find it, or at least safer. It is enough, some days, if I do not think too long and hard on what I have done to reach the present. I focus my will, draw power from within and without, whisper words of binding that flow into the world, knitting together pieces of light and making the darkness before me a little less deep.

Jay wraps his right hand in my left beside me and squeezes, needing comfort. He looks to be about ten, all thin and pale, like a waif out of a movie. He is from far Outside the universe, bound into my service to save himself from being eaten by things far larger that he could ever be and the journey into the universe left him damaged and weak. That he trusts a magician is proof enough of that.

“Honcho?” he says in a small voice.


“I don’t like thith placthe,” he mumbles, not quite trying to tug me away from it. The lisp is a sign of the damage down to him, that he cannot even speak his own true name.

I study cement walls ringed in interlocking fence, a parking lot empty of everything save weeeds and two lone lights serving only to make the shadows seem darker still. “It is an elementary school. There is school of thought that a magician should be in every school the world over.”

“Oh. I can thee why,” he says firmly. “It’th all twithted up and-and like an ache that can’t go away.”

I grunt, pulling my hand free of his. Jay sees the world in terms of bindings and loosing, able to see bindings I never could dream of. “Did my binding help the school?”

Jay says nothing. I look down. He bites his lower lip hard.

“Jay. Did my binding help?”

“Honcho,” he says, little more than a whine.

I repeat myself a third time, threading power under the words. Jay jumps a little at that, eyes growing wide. I don’t force the bindings between us often, and not without cause.

He shakes his head, saying nothing, lips tight together.

I pause, then crouch down to eye level. “I’m not mad at you.”

Jay gulps. “Really?”

“We’re bound, me to you, you to me.”

“You get mad at yourthelf all the time,” he says.

“But not you.”

He thinks it over, then says: “The darkneth felt you coming and went deeper?”

“So the binding is a band-aid and not a real binding?”

Jay grins at that, wide and huge. “Yep!”

“And you thought I’d be angry at you for saying that?”

“You thought it had worked and it hadn’t.”

“I’d only be angry if you didn’t tell me that, Jay. Failure means I can try again; thinking I succeeded when I failed means I can’t. Got it?”

He looks puzzled but nods. I stand, ruffle his hair and turn back to the school. “There is a darkness to this place that will make the hearts of teachers harden, grow cold, become armour against wonder. That is what schools do, for so many reasons. But you are affecting the children as well, and that goes too far.”

I reach into the school, letting my will and the magic brush the walls, and loose the light I find inside. Nothing happens on any visible level, but Jay lets out a gasp beside me and blinks a few times, rubbing his eyes to clear them.



I take a breath, focus, and loose the darkness in the school as well, and then I call up the echoes of what teachers are to bind both light and dark.. As cleansings go, it takes more time and energy that I’d like to spend, but Jay gives me thumbs up when I look down at him and his pride radiates through the binding between us. Even magicians learn, though we know to hide it well.