Fiction

Here’s What Happens

There is life after death, and it’s horrible. Sorry to spoil the surprise, but everyone deserves to know this, really. Since civilisation’s beginnings we’ve tried to explain what happens to consciousness after death. The simplest and most likely explanation was also the most frightening; nothing. Nothing at all. Blankness, a void of sensation you wouldn’t even be present for. No one really wants to embrace the idea that once your heart stops beating and the brain starves of oxygen, then that’s all she wrote. No brainwaves, no electrical impulses, no sensation. Nothingness.

So we devised all kinds of reasonings and fables to offer ourselves some glimmer of hope. Heaven, Hell, reincarnation, anything was more appealing than the idea of non-existence. But the truth was worse than oblivion, if you can believe it.

The ‘Earth Project’, if you want to call it that, is effectively battery-farming. The Archons, those conscious powers of nature, force and time which exist in all places and forms, needed sustenance. The forces of this universe operate in a way much like what you think happens in the deep sea; small fish eat smaller fish, then are eaten by bigger fish, on and on. In the great Cataclysm which we choose to see as the Big Bang, the cosmic singularity burst apart and what had been an inconceivable All to which there was no ‘outside’ or ‘other’ was suddenly forced to adjust to something new; disparity. Suddenly, the All was split into Many, and there was no true equality. There were newly formed beings and consciousnesses with their own identities, strengths and weaknesses. Some were bigger and more powerful than others, and found themselves suddenly at the mercy of Time, a wholly new concept. They aged and withered, but could stem the flow of entropy via the consumption of other forms and powers, and so the strongest in this new pantheon devoured those who were weaker, on and on.

Eventually, with the passage of Time, which few seemed able to get used to, there were no weaker souls left in the divided cosmos. A small collection of unimaginably vast and powerful presences lorded over the cold space and the heat and matter which dotted it. None were capable of moving against the other without opening themselves up to attack from another, and with all of them aware that they were entirely matched in strength and omniscience, it was a stalemate. Perhaps if one had eventually consumed all the others then the universe, as we see it, would have returned to it’s original unity. But this did not occur.

These ‘Archons’ hatched an idea, each realising it at the same time and aware that the others must have done so as well. They worked together, for the first time, and made the world as we know it. They pooled their collective power and formed a world situated perfectly in the comfort-zone of a healthy star. They seeded the world with a small portion of their own power, and this became Life. In time, this Life developed a kind of advanced consciousness, as they anticipated.

The Archons were starving, you see. Unable to feed upon each other anymore they were beginning to atrophy. They understood that without fresh energy they were destined to fade, and they would have to embrace the Nothingness that we so fear ourselves. And so they began to farm, and we are the crops. Upon birth we are each blessed with a kernel of that initial spark which brought forth life on this world, and as time passes it matures. Our society and development act as a kind of greenhouse, that spirit growing into a unique and bright flame. We marinate in our collective experience of ‘Life’. And then, when our physical frames wither and fail, when our bodies are no longer able to act as vessels for the burning and titanic force of spirit and soul that threatens to burst out of us, we ‘Die’. The kernel, now massive and ripe, rises out of this ecology and returns to it’s original source, the Archons.

And they eat us.

Can you conceive of it? The white fire within, the one thing that remains within you even when everything else about life changes, the inner sense of being and experience, in the end it’s just a kind of cosmic nourishment for powers greater than you can imagine. Are you offended? Does the idea upset you, that everything that ever happened to you was effectively the cultivation of greater nutrition and flavour? Well be upset. Get mad. The chickens our species sends to slaughter every day aren’t happy about their situation either; do you care?

Gods will loom over you, leering and writhing in anticipation of their meal. That’s all you ever were. Tendrils which formed the universe plunge into your very essence with no concern for your consent. Your memories are torn away, like the crisp, juicy crackling which shields a freshly-roasted pork belly. They smack their lips on your hopes and fears, sucking the marrow from the wealth of your experience. You’ll fight and struggle, they all do. If anything the Archons like it; a final bit of resistance sweetens the meat and adds a spice to your dreams. And all of this happens so slowly… They like to take their time, to ensure that absolutely everything about you is consumed and converted into fuel for their own existence, so much more significant than yours as to inspire dreadful, star-shattering laughter upon comparison.

There is nothing you can ever do to prevent this. Your soul will be eaten, and all your memories and experiences will eventually be reduced to crumbs on a plate which spans the deepest abyss of space. You don’t return, you aren’t reborn. Eventually that initial fear of our species is made true; oblivion and nothingness. You simply have to endure the experience of being torn apart over millennia, knowing beyond doubt that there is absolutely no escaping any of this.

I suppose you could spoil their meal with suicide. You’d be giving them much less to feast upon, were you to artificially shorten your ripening. But you wouldn’t even be able to enjoy their frustration; your ability to perceive it would be gobbled up in short order.

So if you are spiteful enough to wish some kind of pain upon these unimaginable titans, then pray for war. Do everything you can to herald a nuclear armageddon, because only the complete devastation of all that lives on this ‘world’ will end their meal. And as the second suns rise from silos and burst in the twilight sky and the air grows fast and hot as the blast wave approaches you, ready to reduce you to immediate ash and cinder, rejoice in the knowledge that you have hastened the death of the universe.

Non serviam.

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Fiction

Breach

 

rig

The chopper-drone was already on the roof when I reached the top of the stairs. I hadn’t heard it approach, but I suppose that’s the point of a stealth vehicle. The side hatch swung open for me and I stepped in awkwardly, sitting in the only unoccupied seat between the soldiers. As soon as I was buckled in the door came down again and we were airborne; at least that’s what the display screen up ahead told me. There were no windows in the chopper and no sense of inertia, so for all I knew we were still on the landing pad or plummeting to the ground.

As we left the city airspace the display ahead changed to various images of our destination, an oil-rig approximately 40 miles offshore. The solders around me didn’t seem to react to it; they looked indistinguishable from one another, identical armour studded in identical LEDs with identical helmets, thick metal plating covering the entire head except the mouth and nose. There were no LEDs on the helmets. Some consultant probably made a ridiculous amount of money telling the military that soldiers with inscrutable expressions were scarier. Inside the helmets the soldiers were probably shown a digital recreation of everything in front of them with additional readouts displaying useful info like the structural integrity of buildings and objects, remaining ammunition, enemy strength and equipment intel, etc. I realised then that the display up ahead was probably playing inside their helmets, meaning that the screen was all for my benefit. I didn’t pay it much mind though; I knew everything I needed to already.

The offshore rig was not a rig at all but instead the exterior front of a subterranean detention-slash-R&D facility. If that makes you a bit nervous then I suppose you’re paying attention. What we were heading into was the one thing scarier than a military blacksite: a military blacksite which has ceased communication with the outside. The soldiers around me were part of Phobos Division, tasked with dealing with messy situations the state didn’t really want civilians, or worse, corporate entities learning about. My presence on the mission was not in keeping with Phobos protocol, but they lacked anyone with my expertise and a rapid response was necessary.

The display suddenly announced that we were only a few minutes from landing and some of the soldiers around me started to flex as much as their armour and fastenings would permit. Suddenly the light in the chopper went out, seconds before the hatch opened once again, flooding the chopper with twilight and salty air. The soldiers were already up and moving, with one behind me putting a hand on my shoulder and pushing me forward, keeping me safely within the formation. The landing pad, indeed the entire upper deck was deserted save for us, and after a brief perimeter sweep we moved forward to the entryway. This would be my first task for the day.

The soldier up front made a token attempt at typing in the access code and was faced with predictable rejection, but I was already stepping up beside him. I extended my hand to the blue holographic pin pad and waited to see it. Sure enough, a grainy orange projection of code appeared behind the pad, and I idly considered that this was the second display today that only I was seeing. The code was bulky, tangled but brutally comprehensive, and for a moment I worried if just maybe I’d been a bit overconfident in accepting this job. But then something shifted. Something was behind that knotted ball of overwhelming text, something conscious, apprehensive. If I could just… just… ah. There. There it is; a solitary unit of green, utterly and obviously sentient. I pushed at it and the knot loosened. The green one darted back into nothingness, and the orange code faded away.

“Again,” I said, and the soldier input the access code once more. This time the pad turned green and the steel door before us slid open with a pneumatic “schuk”. We moved inside. The lights were still on, but no one was home by the looks of things. A reception desk stood unoccupied, next to it was the contraband-detector one had to pass through in order to proceed through he false facility and into the elevator downwards into the true installation. The soldier up front silently indicated the detector then held his hand up: there, but not yet. Then he pointed at the terminal on the reception desk: here first.

I stepped around the desk, for the first time since boarding the chopper not surrounded by the soldiers, and looked at the screen. The signing-in software of the fake drilling corporation was still up, which was unexpected. According to the reports I’d been sent, in the event of a lockdown the base security algorithms were supposed to jettison superfluous programs in order to concentrate on what was undoubtedly a more important situation developing below. The dummy corporation’s software was supposed to be among them. I disregarded this oddity and concentrated on the system before me. I let my mind relax and waited to see through the veil. Ten seconds passed and I was worrying again, trying not to think about the soldiers staring at me blindly. After a while the orange started to bleed in, but slower now, like molasses. In time it burned as brightly as it always did for me, and I started to peer across it for the links to the detector next to me, looking for it’s secret fatal function.

See, the base hadn’t purged. Upon deciding that the situation below was beyond hope, that stability would never be restored and that that which was concealed beneath was now sure to eventually breach containment and reach the surface, the security systems were programmed to utterly ignite the contained atmosphere within. Then flood it, drain it, then ignite it again. Only after this total destruction of any and all things contained within would the facility broadcast the All-Clear and end the lockdown. This facility had been in lockdown for six days now, and no broadcast reassuring those listening that the situation had been resolved, one way or another, had been received. It demanded investigation, but this particular blacksite was a special case. Outfitted with a unique cybersecurity suite which could only be directly accessed via terminals inside the base, the operation had demanded the services of someone like me.

Not to go into too much depth, but my skull contains a fortune in wetware and access programs. By just looking at a computer I’m breaking the law in every country and on most colonies. But I’m a bit of a special case, and maybe I’m owed quite a few favours, so maybe I get a pass on a fair few instances of unauthorised access and maybe I’m permitted to earn a modest income utilising these expensive tools I never asked for. Maybe. It’s hard to describe what I’m seeing when I access a system, but colours stand out pretty well; I just feel around with my eyes and I know what’s doing what and how to manipulate certain functions.

This facility had a hidden arsenal of traps to pick off any who attempted to take a look around during a lockdown. Or any who were surface-side when the doors slammed shut. It was very noteworthy that we had yet to encounter a single body or sign of havoc, as if everyone had been below when the lockdown occurred, even those without clearance. Right now I was trying to access the contraband-detector and disable it’s hidden function, which our reports had informed us was a fatal electrical field which activated upon passing through. But when I found the quiet little string of code trailing off to the detector, it showed no signs of activation. As far as I could see, the field was off. I relayed this to the soldiers and they looked back at me impassively. One of them took a magazine off his hip and slid it through the detector; the alarm flared loudly, making me jump, but nothing else, no electric. The screen in front of me flickered to show a non-permitted item had passed through, and the orange code tried to melt out of view.

That confirmed my suspicions about the bizarrely elusive orange code; it was trying to evade me. Which meant it knew what I was doing. It must have become aware of me at the door pad and had been trying to complicate itself to outsmart me. This had a number of implications, all unsettling: first, there was an AI in the network. There was a strict ban on the development of artificial intelligences within security suites; too much hazard, too much potential for sudden, inexplicable bloodshed. After the Guangdong Tragedy fourteen years ago several international and intercorporate treaties had been put in place, with punishments so severe that even the skankiest outfit wouldn’t dream of wading through that sludge, even this one.

Secondly, the AI was able to perceive me in turn. I couldn’t even explain this one: the way in which I access systems is by no means boilerplate. It’s a very specific platform, likely one of a kind, calibrated specifically for me to best be able to perceive and utilise it. When I access a system I’m basically putting it through a filter so that it appears in a way my systems find legible; for this AI to be able to react to what I’m doing to it, it must be able to detect the way in which it is being perceived, which seems impossible. While it’s trying to hide from me, in it’s own way it’s addressing me.

Communicating.

This shouldn’t have been happening. Whatever this place was working on or hiding below couldn’t have been so important as to justify the creation of such an impossibly sophisticated AI for security use; this kind of thing could bring down a nation if it ever went public. Which led to another suggestion, a clue as to exactly what kind of research they had been performing downstairs, the fruits of which appeared to have escaped containment, only to find itself landlocked on a fake oil rig with no networks to piggy-back onto back to… land.

The chopper.

I burst back out into the evening air, the shouts of the until-now silent soldiers echoing after me, in time to see the chopper-drone ascend and turn back to the mainland. Snapping to work, the world suddenly darkened around me, traces of millions of lines of code beginning to glow orange on the surface of every circuited object around me. In seconds I noticed that the radar dome to my right was in fact a disguised anti-aircraft weapon, one designed to shoot down investigators (or runaways) prior to the All-Clear being given. The chopper was designed to go undetected to such systems, but with the use of my suite I was able to manually grasp the controls and…

I was knocked back by the explosion, the flaming husk of the chopper cascading from the sky. The force of the blast shook me out of my suite and into the harsh light, but not before I saw the green malevolence dart back to the rig and latch onto one of the many bristling arms of networked software on board. It was back with us, and we were stuck here with it.

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Fiction

Detective Cordite’s Personal Notes – Neo-Luddite Violence

Sadly predictable violence at the Technofetishist Rally earlier on today. Six dead, dozens injured. All accessible drone feeds and witnesses show a crowd of Neo-Luddites protesting the rally, though miraculously for our era we haven’t yet managed to piece together who threw the first blow. The Technofetishists are howling for blood; they want these cavemen found, beaten and tossed into space. Though for the most part in breach of no laws on the books, the Technofetishists are forever seeking some kind of validation from the larger population. No one really cares about them; you’re free to seek spiritual and personal satisfaction however you choose, provided you don’t hurt any non-consenting parties. But the Technofetishist death-rate is noteworthy, with dozens of citizens getting themselves caught in complex-yet-evidentially-alluring machinery every year. On top of this, the average citizen is unable to afford the kind of clinic who stand a chance of achieving their trans-humanist ideals in a capable, sterile environment. I’ve seen enough hookers with badly-calibrated pneumatics whining from their exposed, scratched chrome hips as they lean down into a John’s window to last a lifetime.

The Neo-Luddites are always spoiling for a fight, and the Technofetishists give them all the justification their backward code of ethics requires to okay beating the decadence out of a few kids going through some complex identity issues. Their mission statement is as predictable as their methods: Fallen is Babylon, humanity is unanchored, we’ve lost sight of what makes us blah blah. Their solution to the existential crisis arising from universal technological permeation and acceleration? Smash the looms, back to the caves, etc.

The State’s been attempting to plant agents in the Neo-Luddites for a few years, but they’re a difficult group to spy on; very insular, hard to approach. You need to show real dedication to the ideal of a tech-free landscape, shunning all possible technology with vigor and instead attending to the practice of… I don’t know, lifting things up and rubbing sticks together? It isn’t difficult to have an agent pretend they hate technology. The difficulty stems from preventing them from buying into it. Once you’ve managed to get into the trials of admittance, you’re cut off. They last for weeks, and you’re to live with other prospective Luddites. Everyone is watching everyone; there’s no chance to smuggle technology in or communicate with your controllers. It’s the perfect environment for weeding out plants. And once you’ve got your mole identified you get to choose; neutralise, or convert?

Of the eight attempts I know of to plant a G-Man in the Neo-Luddites, three are presumed dead and four are true believers now. The only escapee still gets jumpy around Old World tools, like hammers and saws.

The only sense of advantage we have over the Neo-Luddites is from what we perceive to be their hypocrisy; there’s no way that a group like that could be so well-maintained, organised and inscrutable without some kind of technological intelligence infrastructure. At times in the past when we’ve attended to the scene of a street brawl between the Luddites and some other gang or ‘movement’, it’s been standard procedure to let off an EMP charge or two upon arrival. Scrambles the weapons of whoever’s fighting, gives us an immediate advantage in a combative situation. Doesn’t really bother the Luddites though, as they’re fighting with bats, knives and other lethal implements that don’t require circuitry. We do, however, often find downed surveillance drones in the aftermath. All serials removed and memory flashed upon signal disruption.

I reckon the Neo-Luddites aren’t who they think they are. No one’s got any idea about the leadership structure of the group, save a few surprising influential citizens who’ve left a financing paper trail back to them. It wouldn’t be difficult to set up a kind of militia like this while remaining in the shadows above, no one but the highest echelons of command aware of your existence and leadership. Wouldn’t even need to believe in the ethos; that’s just a useful tool to galvanise the troops and ensure there’s no incriminating hard-drives, because they aren’t allowed to use them.

But then they say I’m paranoid.

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Media

Mental Diarrhea #00004 – E-Cigs

I’m surprised we never saw this coming. We have always imagined ways in which future technology was going to elevate us, to enhance the ways in which we live our lives or even just add a touch of novelty and freshness to a long-stagnant aspect of daily life.

“It’s the future, where’s my flying car?” is a phrase you still hear. We’ve reduced the media-intake experience to a digital level, and while we may bemoan the loss of ‘ownership’ in a culture which eschews physical mediums for data which we are effectively licensed, it’s still a kick that Star Trek saw it coming.

There are electronic books with ‘smart ink’ now. Headsets for fully-immersive viewing experiences. And no one needs yet another trite examination of the ubiquitous nature of the smart phone (I’m surprised we’re even using the word ‘phone’ at this point).

But no one saw e-cigs coming, and that surprises me.

I wonder, did we simply think we were going to ‘get over’ smoking before technology stepped in? I’m racking my brains trying to think of sci-fi examples featuring updated, upgraded nicotine-intake-vessels and I’m almost coming up empty. Watchmen has those weird steel balls people smoke through, though it’s still clearly smoke they’re inhaling. Metal Gear Solid 2 features new fangled cigarettes with harmless second-hand smoke. But for all intents and purposes these appear to be slight twists on an old standard. I suppose as far as we were concerned, smoking was here to stay, as bizarre a thought as that was.

Hell, in Thank You For Smoking they go out of their way to try and devise some fantastical technology which would prevent cigarettes igniting a high-oxygen environment for an upcoming sci-fi feature.

Then came the Vape Age, and things changed.

Initially, they were met with scorn. I had an old crusty punk make fun of mine outside a pub when I first got one, and people would look derisively at my metal/plastic apparatus while they rolled up and stepped outside for a fag. But then, that was the first moment where all of a sudden they didn’t seem so ridiculous. I’ve sold e-cigs, have done since they took off, and I did notice that sales shot up right around the time stepping outside the pub for a smoke was a bit of a wind/rain/ice affair.

The e-cig people are onto something quite special; they’ve managed to somewhat bypass the laws concerning the advertisement of tobacco products. While Marlborough can’t slap a logo onto an F1 car or cowboy-oriented billboard anymore, the vape magnates can splash out on big notices about their ‘quitting’ tools. See, that’s the primary fallacy at play here; ostensibly, electronic cigarettes exist to help people give up smoking. It reduces the health drawbacks tremendously, limits how far you need to go out of your way just to inhale some nicotine and draws your attention to the varying strengths of the available oils, encouraging you to gently decrease the potency until you’re nicotine free!

This is, of course, a tremendous lie. Quietly, electronic cigarettes have positioned themselves not just as a means of giving up smoking, but as accessories. The sheer scope of flavours available, the opportunities for customisation that an e-cig provides which you simply can’t get from standard straights and rollies. There are even competing brands (I’m a Kangertech man, myself).

I feel that I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Rachel McAdams’ character using one in season two of True Detective, but I was. And this can only be the beginning; barring some sudden, massive wave of legislation, e-cigs can only grow in popularity.

A dark aspect of the ascendency of vaping can be seen in it’s desirability and accessibility; I’ve lost count of the tweens and teens I’ve turned away trying to buy vape gear. They’re all so surprised too, most of them having been gladly served by less scrupulous traders already, many of them clutching frankly BALLER vape rigs, which I have to try and not appear envious of and ultimately give across a disapproving air.

I feel one of the ways in which e-cigs were able to attain this unexpected platform as The New Smoking is by riding the coattails of marijuana vaping, then ramping straight up into the mainstream. Not to suggest vaping bud is new; people have been doing that since someone first knocked the filament out of a lightbulb, or since the first Australian couldn’t find any rolling papers and so logically put some carving knives on the stovetop. But it has grown in popularity in recent years; I work in a headshop, so I can’t fail to notice these trends. And while traditional vapes may be currently playing second fiddle to that fickle culture’s new favourite toy, the dab rig, many were intensely interested in technology which promises to cut health risks and provide a far more intense high. I suppose it’s not a tremendous leap to assume that people would quickly link the technology to other, less legally-dicey but FAR more habit forming substances they could transmute into thick plumes of cool, sweet steam.

I was playing Mass Effect 2 the other day, and while initially it seemed like a cool character feature for The Illusive Man to be constantly pulling on a tab, it just seems kinda goofy now. Clearly they were going for an X-Files things, Cancer Man sitting in the background pulling on an endless supply of smokes and foiling Mulder and Scully’s investigations. In the past, smoke was a useful visual aid to help depict a character as shrouded in mystery, moral ambiguity and classical style. But things are different now. You can doxx anyone these days, mystery is an illusion. The old-school trappings of noir are going to require a serious rejig if technology keeps this pace, and thanks to vapour having a far less detrimental effect on your lung capacity, it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.

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Fiction

Lenny’s Perfect Hit

Lenny worked the dropping bay, and his reputation was one of a conquerer.

A J.E.C artillery platform is something you never want to wake up to see suspended above your colony. Thoughts rush through your head as a cold sweat breaks out; did we not pay our taxes this month? Are we harbouring fugitives? Have they simply decided to ‘redevelop’ this planet?

Whatever the reasons, you’re powerless. All you can do is hope to Christ that the regional government manages to square things with the J.E.C in time. There are stories that the platform has a big red LED clock, counting down to doomsday, which starts the moment it becomes stationary above your world.

These stories, though thoroughly denied by the J.E.C joint chiefs, are in fact true. There are two Doom Clocks. One in the bridge of the platform, and one in Lenny’s dropping bay.

The J.E.C is a scary organisation, and they cultivate such an image intentionally. The J.E.C, or Joint Earth Coalition, is the face of humanity in the galaxy. There’s something very sad about the name, really. Devised to present an image of unity and strength to any alien civilisations we encountered once space exploration got off the ground, we sadly never came across any. Instead, the J.E.C imposes its iron will on its own people; namely the colonists who settle other worlds, asteroids and space stations. The technology required to produce oxygen, water and consumable food on worlds which aren’t suited to human habitation is expensive, the J.E.C owning all the patents and ensuring that the levies are hefty enough to keep those who strike out away from Earth on a pretty short leash.

Should a colony fail to pay their taxes many times, or be suspected of providing shelter to ‘subversive’ elements, or in the event that said colony is simply on top of a rather valuable mineral deposit that the J.E.C desires, the bombing process begins, which starts with the clock. Generally those on the ground are not informed of how long they have; bombings happen unexpectedly and often without announcement. The only warning you receive, really, is that the platform is above your world one morning. From that moment on everyone holds their breath until it begins to slowly creep away again, or doomsday comes.

In the bridge, everything gets very heavy. The acting commander declares “Start the clock,” and a pre-decided time appears, usually twenty-four Earth hours. Everyone starts walking around a lot more stridently, backs straighten, pupils dilate and a few of the more careerist-types get a bit of a hard-on. In this time, messages are passed down the ladder to begin optical analysis of the colony surface, determine the blast zone which will ensure maximum overkill while protecting any valued assets (read: minerals). There are drills and testing runs. Constant communication with the very top brass back on Earth is kept open to ensure continued permission for bombardment. There are a lot of salutes. Supply units will begin moving the ordinance itself through the various channels of classification and testing, until it gets the green-light and is moved to the loading bay.

The bombing material itself is a highly dense radioactive element packed in a massive payload of explosive material, all encased in an armoured chassis. The effect of orbital entry removes the need for thrusting proponents. All you need to do is aim, and drop.

Eventually, it all trickles down to Lenny. Lenny works the dropping bay, the last resting place of the ordinance before it leaves the platform. There is a hole above where Lenny sits, and a hole beneath. Though the chiefs don’t approve, Lenny refers to his work station as ‘The Colon.’ The ordinance is pushed through the ‘sphincter’ above him, and Lenny aims and releases the bombardment from the platform’s ‘anus.’ Lenny’s irreverence has not made him popular with the commander. His accuracy has made him extremely popular with the J.E.C chiefs.

To some on the station, he’s an embarrassing necessity. To others he’s a legend. Whichever, both sides admit that however efficient and orderly the overall process, it all rests on Lenny. Lanky Lenny, they used to call him in the academy. Lanky, spacey, strung-out Lenny.

Eight years ago, Lenny lived a pretty different life. He sold enough smack to support his own habit until a stool pigeon shopped him and he was given a choice: twenty-five years in prison or join a high risk work crew on a five year asteroid mining operation for the J.E.C. Lenny was never really built for prison, so he took the fairly suicidal option and shipped out within a week of his arrest.

Mining asteroids is brutal work for great pay, but as a convict Lenny wasn’t getting paid, so as far as gigs went it was pretty shit. Still, the sights through the barracks viewing port were often breathtaking; nebulas, twin-suns, even the occasional black hole. It beat prison bars, Lenny often thought to himself.

One time, while mining out a rather volatile fuel-source from an asteroid belt, something went very wrong. A drill-beam hit a thick vein, and in seconds hundreds of miners were vaporised by the superheated explosion. Worse, the blast was setting off other asteroids. In deep-space mining this is known as the Worst Case Scenario, a chain event that 96% of the time ends in the total destruction of the asteroid belt and the guaranteed deaths of everyone working the site. When this happens, the chief mining ship (ie: the one holding all the valuable fuel that’s been harvested) hits emergency thrusters to get the fuck out of dodge while firing off coolant pods towards the maelstrom, in the hopes of holding back the blast long enough for the stored fuel to get to a safe distance. It doesn’t tend to work, but there’s got to be a contingency, right?

This time, Lenny was heading back from the mess-hall when the blasts started. He was thrown against the wall by the explosions, and ran to the nearest port to see what was happening. He took in the terrific destruction of the belt, millions of years old, when he noticed that while the thrusters were vainly pushing them slowly away from the blast, too slowly, the coolant pods weren’t firing. Running into the launch bay, he found it empty. The accident had taken everyone by surprise, and no one was manning the launcher. Lenny didn’t think; he just leapt into the rig and grappled with the controls he’d never used before.

From the bridge, the captain watched in horror as the blasts got closer and closer. The escape attempt was unlikely to be successful, and only now were coolant pods being fired towards the blasts. He was thinking about his wife and children when the first pod collided with an asteroid that was showing dark red cracks around its mantle, covering it in cyan coolant, thousands of degrees below freezing. The red cracks, to his shock, began to fade. He then noticed that several other pods had been fired in the space of seconds, each of them striking asteroids far outside the range of the current explosions. While against standard protocol, it seemed to be working. Whoever was manning the launcher was effectively ‘kettling’ the blast, surrounding it in a frozen cage which appeared unlikely to yield to the magnificent heat of the exploding fuel.

In the space of twelve minutes, the blast was over. Thousands of miners had died, but the chief ship and it’s bountiful payload was untouched. The crew universally began to shake with relief, some bursting into tears of fatigue. It was at this moment that the gunner stepped into the bridge; Lenny was pouring with sweat, supporting himself against the bulkhead, and his eyes were distant.

That night the captain wrote a very long report back to headquarters, which was forwarded to J.E.C Command. The next day Lenny was on a shuttle back to Earth, a soldier on either side, his criminal record having mysteriously vanished and with a spot on a massively sought-after military bombardment training course with his name on it.

In his first dropping bay post he bucked heads with the commander almost immediately. Lenny didn’t much care for his uniform, opting instead for a vest or the branded t-shirt the mining company had given him previously. He didn’t stand up straight, he was often tardy, and he was rumoured to smoke in the bay, stood before a bomb which if prematurely triggered would reduce the platform to white-hot smithereens. But his hit rate was unheard of, evidence of a rare ability for gravity-drops which no J.E.C analyst had witnessed yet. This kept him safe for a time, but the commander had Lanky Lenny on his shitlist and didn’t rest until he’d had him temporarily suspended for shabbiness.

The commander’s smugness lasted until their next drop, when Lenny’s replacement eyeballed it wrong and accidentally reduced one of the largest mineral deposits ever discovered by prospectors to useless slag, fucking up so bad that several of the prospectors survived and were able to escape, spreading word of the J.E.C’s skullduggery and tarnishing their reputation irreparably. This led to a massive swell of support for anti-Coalition guerrilla groups.

The commander was never heard from again following a visit from J.E.C Command representatives, and Lenny was quietly reinstated.

When the clock hits zero in the dropping bay, the port above Lenny slides open and a very loud alarm sounds. Slowly, achingly slowly, the ordinance lowers into Lenny’s view. Sometimes some of the younger grunts above have written messages on the bombs; DEATH FROM ABOVE / DON’T FUCK WITH THE J.E.C / A KISS FROM MASSACHUSETTS / etc. Lenny doesn’t really notice the messages, he just leans forward and places his hands against the two release switches on the port below him, which also slides open, revealing the distant surface below. Sensors track Lenny’s eyes and make minute adjustments to the angle of the bomb as he takes in the full view of what lies below.

When the bomb is in the dropping bay, everyone’s thinking about Lenny. Some people say he recites the Lord’s Prayer in its entirety. Some say he sees the face of the universe in that moment when he holds in his hands the most feared weapon in human history. Still others say he masturbates, hitting the release switches at climax. No one knows what Lenny does down there while the bomb hangs, pregnant with possibilities and sublime destructive power. But when the final alarm sounds and the ordinance drops out of the platform, everyone knows; it’s going to be a perfect hit.

Lenny sits back in his chair, the ordinance falling now, plummeting down terminally. It hasn’t even struck yet, and Lenny won’t even know when it has, but he doesn’t care; Lenny bathes in the most euphoric experience imaginable. He has finally found the perfect drug.

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