Lunch

The school’s canteen was as packed as some of the lunch boxes were. A queue clung to the edges of the room, shortening as people got served only to grow as late arrivals appended themselves to the back of it. Small voices joined together to fill the air with a loud cacophony, added to by teachers demanding manners and servers verifying orders.

At one hexagonal table, tucked away near the corner window with a view of the school pond, children sat on plastic chairs with heads in their lunchboxes pulling their bounty out to trade and consume.

“Crackers and cheese, all right!”

“Trade you one for a ham sandwich, no crusts.”

“I’ll swap Pizza Bites for a Dunker!”

“Oooh, Mum packed kettle crisps today… what’ve you got?”

Looking a little sheepish, one of the girls looked up from her purple lunchbox and shrugged. “The usual.” She procured a kettle lead from the box, causing the boy to blush.

“Sorry, I didn’t-”

She shook her head with a smile. “I know.” Brushing her hair to the side, she slipped the thick plastic connector into the socket just under her collar bone. “Would you-”

The boy had already taken the plug. Pushing it into the mains socket, he flicked the power switch and returned to his seat. “Is it okay if I stop with you today? I’ve a book I want to read, so…” he trailed off.

A smile broke across her face as she nodded carefully. “That’d be nice, thanks.” A message flicked up in her vision, informing her of the upcoming switch to standby mode for efficient charging. “I’ll be asleep till the end of lunch, so…”

“You always do after sports.” One of the girls at the table said. “Eat well!” She added, followed by similar choruses from the others.

With a bigger smile on her face, the gynoid child rested her head on folded arms. Amid the chaos of the canteen she drifted off to charge, happy for the company around her.

Glut

Isaac had once thought that there was too much shelving going up in the study. Seeing box after box of his partner’s books being brought in started him thinking that maybe, just maybe, they’d need some free-standing units to go in the middle of the room.

“You’re -sure- you need all these books?” He asked, draping himself over a box with ‘Mythology’ scrawled along the top in marker pen.

“Quite sure.” Juan smiled, the man in his element as he wheeled in further boxes by way of a trolley. The contraption had three joined wheels on to make it easier to move up the stairs. “Could you move that box over to the shelves away from the window, please?”

With a groan, Isaac hefted the boxed books across. His bleach-blonde tufts of hair were slick with sweat from the move. “I could buy you an e-reader, and re-buy as many books as are available?”

His partner laughed, a wave of his hand levitating a book up and opening the pages. “I cannot quite interact with ebooks as I can with the real thing. Some may consider this a glut. I? Well… there are many more I seek to pick up.”

“I’d put the book down and help out with moving if I were you.” Isaac warned. “If the girls catch you slacking off with your nose between pages, you’ll have hell to pay.”

“True.” The scholar replied, returning the book to its box before wandering over. “There’s time to sort and order them once we’re all settled here.”

Hook Up

Clutching at each other, one backed up. The other shuffled forwards. The doors slid open automatically, a small service cupboard providing some privacy. It wasn’t needed. Two crew members were all that needed to be active while travelling, the ship’s AI handling most of the heavy duty. Everyone else was in sleep mode.

They still occupied the service cupboard, limbs of composite casing and synthetic muscles clinging tightly to reinforced torsos. They broke their kiss to gulp down the chill air, their advanced bodies starting to stabilize their breathing.

“Do you-”

“Yeah,” he panted, reaching down to his pocket. “Got one with me.” He procured a length of cable tucked away in a protective spool, two connection plugs available. Pulling one out, he pressed it against the back of his neck before chuckling.

Turning the plug the other way, he pressed it in again.

A sigh escaped his lips. Turning it back the original way, the plug slid smoothly into the Human-Machine Interface port situated there. “Usually the way.” He laughed softly, looking a little sheepish.

“It’s okay.” His crewmate said softly, taking the other plug between their fingers. “I get a little nervous too before hooking up with someone.”

Sat Aside

Away from her boisterous colleagues celebrating another Earth Year passed, Jena sat by her bivouac bag doing a spot check on her pulse rifle. The cyborg was not in a jovial mood, and the attempts of her squad-mates to cajole her into attending the festivities didn’t help matters.

Her visual checks of the large energy weapon were accompanied by in-vision overlays relaying diagnostic data from it. She was meticulous in her checks. Having gone through the pain of losing a large majority of her birth body to combat injuries, she didn’t want to have to repeat that with her cybernetic replacements. A well-maintained set of equipment was the first line of defence. A good monitoring network was second, and the feed from the deployed probes scrolling past her eyes provided that.

A din came from around the camp fire, an ancient Earth song traditionally belted out while drunk. They didn’t know all the words, so they just whooped and droned until they got to the few lines they remembered. The absurdity of the situation made her chuckle. An old song sung light years away from home. How many years had it been since she was last in the Solar System, let alone on Earth?

High Command were resolute that EY2982 would be the final year of conflict in the Makardis Sector. With EY2981 slipping away, Jena made herself a promise. If she survived her tour of duty? She’d take a trip back home.

And maybe she’d welcome EY2983 in on Earth in a bar, rather than sat aside on an alien world.

Writer’s Note: This week’s Three Word Wednesday words were Jovial, Resolute, and Promise. Happy New Year, here’s to a 2015 with more writing done in it than 2014.

Seams

On the moon, a mirror was not a mirror. Well, it was, but rather than a silvered-glass sheet it was a digital screen utilizing cameras from various positions in the bathroom to display images of her body. And in that digital mirror, Detective Astrid van Bergen of the Unified Nations Police Force was staring at the seams on her chest.

The central join ran from the base to the top of the sternum, and then followed the path of her ribs down to her sides, then all the way up to under her armpits. From there, they looped back under her collarbone to the top part of her sternum. The dermaplast seals were tinted to that of her natural complexion, with the slight dip at the join where they met the matching internal seal running underneath.

She was thankful that she had never seen her chest cavity open. The hinges that had been placed in her ribs provided ample access to the artificial lungs and heart, just one of many units she’d had in there since she was a child. The idea of being able to see the mass of technology pushing blood through her arteries and veins… a shudder ran through her.

They weren’t the only seams on her body. One ran from the upper point of her pubic mound to a point situated just inside her navel. There was the seam around the back of her neck, where her Human-Machine Interface was situated, and matching points on her wrists for the ports there.

Other plugs dotted her body. One either side of her chest connected to her artificial lungs. The machine that attached to them sat in her bathroom alongside a portable unit. Their purpose was the removal of matter from each lung. The ones to the side of her abdomen on the other hand, were for the bio-electric generator tucked away inside her.

Orange-painted fingernails traced along those lines as she looked into her reflection, directing changes of camera angles with a mere thought. All the functions of her apartment linked wirelessly with her HMI and the neural computer interfaces tucked away in her skull. The seams there were much harder to see, hidden under brunette hair.

“Stylsistant,” she spoke, the program coming to life on the mirror screen, “can you go through my dresses and find something that shows enough skin, but hides the lines? Formal casual in style.”

“Of course, Astrid. What is the occasion you wish to dress for?” The basic AI requested.

“Works party. Dark colours, preferred.”

“The request is processing… five matches made.” The dresses appeared on screen, overlaying her reflection’s body.

“How about that one? The Candice Collection Obsidian Nymph?” The requested item appeared onscreen, taking up all the various camera angles. It moved in real time with her as she turned, the light and airy fabric trimmed with delicate lace. The cut of the neck just avoided revealing the lines meeting the top of her sternum.

“An excellent choice. Would you like suggestions to accessorize the outfit?”

“A matching clutch purse, some open-toed shoes preferably with straps, some jewellery and… hair up or down?” She asked, leaning forwards on the sink to watch the shift of the material. A simple skin-tag would prevent too much cleavage or join-lines from being flashed.

“Here is a good match for your chosen dress,” the program stated, bringing up a number of items from her wardrobe, “A bracelet on each wrist, silver, would be recommended. A matching necklace may draw attention away from your chest. Simple stud earrings would go well with your hairstyle, if you keep it down.”

That was pretty much what she had planned on dressing as, but the confirmation was always nice. “Finalize and confirm.”

“Your outfit has been confirmed. RFID tag identification is active, you will be able to see the items you have selected outlined in your wardrobe. Thank you for using Stylsistant.” The program shut itself down automatically, leaving Astrid to make her start in getting ready.

And that all began with removing one of the many bottles of Dutch Orange nail polish from her bathroom cabinet, ready to start on her toenails.

CLI

All that remained on screen was a blinking cursor, a flicking array of white pixels in a sea of black. Around the terminal various racks of chips and PCBs laid in chunks, pulled straight from the server core and struck with fire axes. The four in the room, two scientists, a caretaker and a security guard, panted for breath.

“I can’t believe we made it,” one of the scientists gasped, doubled over. “How did Armitage gain control of the security systems?”

“Who knows what wire plugs into what around here. I tell you this though, I am not having this coming out of my pay check!” The guard snapped, axe still gripped tightly in hand, even with blood running down his forearm.

“Likewise.” The caretaker grunted, placing the CO2 fire extinguisher down. “HEY! What are you doing?!” He snarled at the other scientist who had started working on the terminal.

“I’m just checking the system! We need to be sure there’s no… we’re safe. Armitage is gone.” The scientist sighed, slightly regretful in tone. “It’s just a shell of its former self.”

Replacement Parts

“Mazel tov, Randal!” His mechanic chuckled, wiping her hands with a rag as she came out from underneath the table he’d been operated on. “With that new spinal plate, you no longer have -any- of the parts you were built with.”

“I suppose twenty years of service take their toll.” Randal replied, carefully sitting up. The backplate of his chassis closed with a comfortable click, concealing the various inner workings of the android. “They served me well though.”

“Definitely,” She chuckled, signing off the work on a tablet. “There are some RDL-40’s out there who barely last five years. What’s your secret?”

Randal took a moment to muse on that, his blocky steel jaw jutting out. “Regular check ups, organic oil products, an appreciation for jazz and the best mechanic on the colony?”

A blush spread across her cheeks. “You, with your sweet talking… I just do my best.”

“And Denise’s best is legendary.” Her manager called, heading down the stairwell into the mechanics bay. “No factory parts, you must not even feel like the same android any more, Randal.”

He considered that for a moment, running through the various parameters and self-awareness checks. “No, I still feel like me. The spirit of the old parts resides in my operation logs, and my original construction persists in my system. It is no different than one of you gaining an android body, you would be the same person; just with different parts.”

Laughing, Denise draped her arms around his broad shoulders. “I love it when you go philosophical on us. It’s clocking out time, and me and Anant are heading out for a meal. You want to come with us? Put your feet up, recharge, have an Andro-ade?”

“I’m buying.” Anant offered.

Randal looked at the manager, then the mechanic still perched on his back. His eyes caught the Galaxy Enforcement Office logo on his powerful arms. “Unfortunately, I have to go on duty shortly. Maybe another time?”

Pouting, Denise slid off his back to let him stand. “All right then, maybe we’ll see you on duty tonight. Let’s hope you’re not back in here tomorrow having another part replaced.”

His sturdy, wide fingers crossed over. “If I’m here tomorrow, it will be bringing you some lunch as thanks. I hope.” The stabilizing mechanisms in his feet hissed as he stood, whirring as he turned to bow his head to the pair. “Thank you for your treatment of me, I will pay as usual: promptly and for the full amount.”

“You never let us down,” Anant grinned. “You never let anyone down.”

The android called back as he strode towards the exit. “Duty is a firm protocol.”

The Grave of Swords and Soldiers

Once the site of bloody battle, the blood shed now comes as a way of tribute from those that believe. From the worlds over they come via portals and starboats; soldiers whose day of drawing their blades are over. Amongst soft white grasses and delicate flowers that climb up rusted swords they walk. They seek a place for their weapons to be driven into the ground.

Worn, scarred, and calloused hands now free of the burden they carried. They nick their fingers on the blades, shedding a claret tear for the lives they have taken, the bodies they’ve maimed. Some of the swords are notched and worn. The soldiers bodies more so.

To come to the Grave of Swords and Soldiers is the ultimate act of the penitent. With muttered breaths they vow to only ever take up a weapon in the defence of themselves or others. Never to march to war; to instigate fights. And once they come, they never return.

The grave is for soldiers. They have relinquished that burden.

 

Author’s Note: This week’s 3 Word Wednesday words are Believe, Tribute, Penitent.

Scars of War

“I sit writing this in the pockmarked remains of a border town, our unit having rolled in to secure the area. I am Specialist Jacob Dalmers, a member of the United Nations Armed Forces, of the North American Regiment’s Engineering Corps. Our duties here are threefold:

  1. Sweep and secure the area, making buildings safe and disabling any IEDs or traps that may have been left.
  2. Restore utilities to the area, from water and power to sewage and communications.
  3. Aid the civilian population who have remained behind.

The first duty is very important. A year ago, I was on the receiving end of such an attack. Most of my body is now military-grade cybernetics. A rough estimate would be 80%. Organs have been replaced with cybernetic components to power and work the prosthetics that make up my limbs. I had some augmentations beforehand, military standard comm units and vision augmentation. This is far beyond that.

Removing these threats means the rest of our operation can proceed smoothly, with minimal risk of injury. And the threats are not always due to traps. Unstable buildings are common thanks to artillery and rockets, and we have tools to buttress them or bring them down if they are too hazardous.

The second duty only takes place after the first. We have supplies to last us while we work on repairing the destruction brought here thanks to the war between the UNAF forces, and the insurgent Cartel organizations. The Annexation Wars that ended in the 2080’s were supposed to be the last major conflict. As a soldier, I can say there will likely be more after this. As a person, I am sad to feel that way.

The people in this region have had to endure much in the course of this conflict from both sides. War damages everyone. And the populace do not have the benefit of exoframes to enhance their strength to clear the rubble. They lack the armour plating to protect themselves or their livelihoods from damage caused by both sides of this battle. They do not have the benefit of carefully planned logistics to keep them supplied with essentials.

And that is what the last duty is about. The first two points help the people, but we must do what we can to aid them and to gain their trust. We cannot presume to ride in the victors to praise and adulation. There is only one way to earn their respect and prove that we are here for the right reasons…”

The journal he had been writing disappeared from his vision as he approached the rubble of a small housing complex. Saved to memory, Specialist Dalmers had more important things to do than write for his memoirs. With his mechanical limbs, his body armour and the corps exoframe he wore to aid him in his duty, he towered a head or two above most of the men left in the region.

The people digging through the remains of the building looked warily at him as he approached. With his armaments secured in their holsters, he raised his hands up. One of them, an older looking woman, said something to him in Mexican. After a moment, the translation of what she said appeared in-vision, suspended above her in a speech bubble.

[We’re looking for our belongings. We aren’t looking for trouble.]

Nodding, Jacob joined them and sunk down to his knees to begin lifting chunks of debris up, his arms and exoframe easily hefting the rubble to the wheelbarrows they had set up to aid in clearing the site. With wary eyes still on him, he pulled up his translation program to compose a sentence.

[I am not looking for trouble either. May I continue to help?] He selected, and then watched as the program finished the translation. Reading off the words, the civilians seemed to consider this for a moment before nodding. With a slight bow of his head he got back to digging with armoured hands well suited to the job. It would take a lot of work and time to heal the scars of the Annexation Wars, let alone this conflict.

Author’s Note: This week’s Three Word Wednesday words are: Destruction, Endure, Trust. This is a Tranquil Law setting story, dealing with one of the secondary characters in his former profession.

Hands of Blue

He had her cornered now, his stance wide to stop her escaping and his arms outreached. The uniform he wore made him stand out against the rest of the sterile environment, compared to the slightly drab robe the young girl was wearing.

She backed herself into the corner, shaking her head rapidly. “Hands of blue!” She sobbed, her blonde hair sticking to her tear streaked face. “Hands of blue!” Came the repeat.

He was baffled. “I don’t have hands of blue, see? They’re just white gloves.” Crouching down a little, he reached out towards her. “We need to get you treated and out of here, to someone who can find out who your family is.”

Jerking her hand away from him, the little girl just repeated her mantra over and over. He’d not heard her say anything else.

“You could hurt yourself if you don’t calm down.” He chided, doing little to stop her histrionics.

A boy in the nearby bed chimed in with a suggestion, “Perhaps you need blue gloves?”

“What does glove colour have to-” The nurse paused. His white gloves weren’t technically white, more of a very pale cream made of latex. There were blue gloves in the hospital wards. Nitrile gloves.

Peeling the gloves off, he put them in one of the nearby bins. He was quick to scrub his hands, making sure she wouldn’t run off anywhere before putting the non-latex gloves on. “There, see?” He said, crouching down again as he flexed his fingers. “Hands of blue.”

Just like that, she took his hand in hers with a big smile on her face. Carefully leading her down the ward he tried not to glance out of the window, the smoke plume from the stricken space cruiser still visible in the distance.