I was serving in Baxon just north of Hescher, guard-dogging a queue of first responders heading into the riot zones, and John caught my eye. Her beard caught my eye. Some troublemaker flaunting the rules, I thought, or a guy sneaking in under cover of audacity, thinking the Womens Volunteer Corps was a good place to get laid. If that was the case, he was looking to get roughed up, and it was my job to oblige.
When they inform you the birth will take place on a mutually acceptable research vessel, you nod and smile as if it was your choice all along. Because smiling and nodding is what you’ve been doing since the beginning. Because this is bigger than you. Because at least this way it feels like you’re being honored and feted instead of herded and controlled. Mr. Kagawa, courteous and diplomatic by profession, does his best to make it all seem like a request.
They got Becker out in eight minutes flat, left the bodies on the sand for whatever scavengers the Sixth Extinction hadn’t yet managed to kill off. Munsin hauled her into the Sikorsky and tried to yank the augments manually, right on the spot; Wingman swung and locked and went hot in the pants-pissing half-second before its threat-recognition macros, booted late to the party, calmed it down.
Living in Commerce City, odds are you’re going to get caught up in something someday—pinned down in the crossfire of some epic battle between heroes who can fly and villains with ray guns, held captive in a hostage crisis involving an entire football stadium, or even trapped by a simple jewelry heist or bus hijacking. When my turn came, I got stuck in a bank robbery.
Kate took the hatbox to the dining room table, lifted the top, and removed the items: a glass brooch, a wood carving of a beaver, an empty perfume bottle, a blue silk scarf. It was the photograph she picked up: four by six, black and white, but well preserved beneath glossy finish. A man and woman stood in front of a small, red-bricked house—this house, but minus the coniferous shrubs and mature trees, it appeared different. Bleak almost, the coziness that had lured Kate and Shawn absent.
The derelict ship ward was in an isolated section of Outsider space, one of the numerous spots left blank on interstellar maps, no more or no less tantalising than its neighbouring quadrants. To most people, it would be just that: a boring part of a long journey to be avoided—skipped over by Mind-ships as they cut through deep space, passed around at low speeds by Outsider ships while their passengers slept in their hibernation cradles.
Tain held a pistol toward me. The black gel of the handle pulsed, waiting to be gripped. “Better take this,” she said. I shook my head. “I never use them.” We sat in an unmarked police cruiser, the steering wheel packed away in the dashboard. Tain’s face was a pale shimmer in the cool blue light of the car’s entertainment system. “Your file says you are weapons trained.” “Yeah,” I said, “I got one of those cannons at home, locked in my kitchen drawer.”
Gesta waddled through the lobby of the Charenton Hotel Mars, masking his revulsion as best he could. The whole place had that cheesy charm that humans had so adored. Mindless plants grew in containers here and there. A large excavation filled with water, a “swimming pool,” lapped gently at the edge of the registration slab, giving off a faint trace of chlorine. Not enough chlorine to intoxicate, but it did give the air a pleasant tang.
Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0
You take a shortcut through the hydroponics bay on your way to work, and notice that the tomato plants are covered in tiny crawling insects that look like miniature beetles. One of the insects skitters up your leg, so you reach down and brush it off. It bites your hand. The area around the bite turns purple and swollen. You run down a long metal hallway to the Medical Clinic, grateful for the artificially generated gravity that defies the laws of physics and yet is surprisingly common in fictional space stations.
At night, the hot zone was patched with drifts of soft pastel light. Violets and indigos; dark reds, translucent greens. Jellyfish genes for luminescence had been used as markers for tweaks in the first genetically modified organisms, and that tradition had been adopted by alife hackers. The colours were tags, territorial claims that pulsed and twinkled like spring blossom in an alien and verdant land.