Super-able

I watch them perform, running on the track and jumping in the field, and I cannot help but think ‘I can do better.’

But I cannot.

When I asked the coach if I could perform, he blinked at my proposal and then barked a short laugh. His face was incredulous until he saw I was serious. He coughed uncomfortably, humming and haring as he tried to explain himself.
“The Olympics is about human performance at its peak.” He said weakly, eyes darting left and right.

“So I’m not human, is that it?” I hissed, drawing myself up with arms crossed over my chest. I could feel the bunches of synthetic muscle fibres in my arms and legs tightening up, anger in my mind flooding the microprocessors that controlled my limbs with rapidly cancelled commands to lash out.

His face fell, cheeks losing colour as the blood retreated away from the possibility of being spilt. “I- I didn’t mean that, I mean that… well, you couldn’t compete in the paralympics you know. That’s for the disabled. And the Olympics are for the able-bodied. And you? Well…”

I stared with hard eyes at him, watching sweat bead on his forehead, a nervous trickle fleeing down the side of his face. His Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat as he gulped air in to fuel the next sentence.

“You’re super-able. I mean, the cybernetic legs you have would easily smash the world record, but that puts you at a huge advantage over the other, non-enhanced athletes.” The coach said apologetically, words accompanied by a weak shrug of his shoulders.

He was right, of course. I’d done the events in practice at the lab where my new limbs were developed. One hundred meters in five seconds. My legs carried me at forty-five miles per hour, my reinforced spine holding my pose perfect and my computer-linked brain sending corrections to the co-processors that regulated my gait and stride. I didn’t even break a sweat.

“I know you want to do your country proud, but… maybe in a few years, when there are more like you able to compete, and you can have your own games.” The coach smiled, perhaps even a little sincerely. “Until then, all I can say is watch and practice hard.”

Maybe one day, I’ll be able to compete. The nations of the world will see me perform at levels above and beyond that of non-cyborgs. Until then, my audience is the technicians and scientists that rebuilt me to be something more than human, watching with proud eyes as I run faster, leap higher and throw further than ever seen.

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– 0 –

“Polo?” SDI Carl North offered the pack to his partner, DS Linda Roberts. The pair were sat in her Ford Mondeo, the engine having just stopped.

“Maybe later.” Linda replied, drawing her keys out of the ignition.

Carl popped the circular mint in his mouth and tucked the pack back into his jacket. “Best take a look at this. Wouldn’t want our victim to go anywhere.”

“If he went over that cliff, I don’t think he’ll be walking anywhere.” Linda replied, slipping out of the car. The local police had already set up a cordon and were speaking to witnesses at the small beauty spot on the coast near Hastings. She watched her grim-faced partner wander over near the edge of the cliff to where a small white dog was sat on its haunches, peering across the ocean. He sat down besides the dog and petted its head. With a sigh, she went to find the officer in charge.

She found her nursing a cup of tea by a police van. “DS Linda Roberts,” she introduced herself, “My Partner, SDI Carl North’s over by the scene of the crime.”

“SIS are here?” The policewoman blinked. “I’m not sure why.”

“You know what SIS are like, they’ll jump on any case that interests them. What’s going on? Much of what I heard was rather sketchy.”

“I’m betting suicide or stupidity.” The woman in charge replied. “We’re collecting witness statements at the moment, but we’re getting a lot of consistent information. Male, mid-thirties. Rucksack over one shoulder, bouquet of flowers in his hand, some people are saying he had an MP3 player going. Just walked straight towards the edge and off it, not a single reaction from him, even as he fell.”

“What’s with the dog my partner’s… doing I don’t know what with.” Linda said with a sidelong look, Carl busy petting and fussing over the furry mutt.

“We’ve got animal control coming over soon to collect it, belonged to the man apparently. Was biting at his trousers and barking as the man walked over. It’s got a collar on, no leash though. If it’s been chipped, we might be able to get some more information on the man.”

“Alright, I’ll go relay that to SDI North. Thank you for your time.”

“No problem, take care by the edge. It’s a long drop.”

“Fool.” Carl said as she approached.

“Excuse me?”

“Not you. This one.” He said with a gesture over the cliff.

“Well, they suspect suicide or an accident, so either way it’s a fair word in some people’s opinions.”

“Not what I meant. Polo?” He offered the pack again, as well as something else.

Linda looked down at the item pressed into her hands, then the dog, then off the cliff. “Carl, what the hell is this?”

“I said already, Linda.” Carl said, sucking air through the hole in his mint. “Fool.”

Author’s Note – Just a snippet today, but it came about after finding and sorting through my Rider-Waite tarot deck. I do love the artwork, from the Minor to the Major Arcana. Don’t ask for a reading though, I’m useless at it.

Last Chance Station

Author’s Note: Having a little experiment with something today, a bit of a radio-play style.

Female Operations Announcer: The current time is 0600 hours Station Standard Time. The downcycle period of low power consumption and activity restriction is ending. Farside Station is currently entering midcycle mode.

Male Operations Announcer: The current time is 0700 hours Station Standard Time. The Commissary is now open in the 1G sector for breakfast.

Male Operations Announcer: This is the 0800 alarm call for all upcycle shift workers. Please report to your sections for briefings and operation reports.

Female Operations Announcer: The current time is 0900 hours Station Standard Time. Farside Station has entered upcycle mode. All down- and midcycle restrictions on activity and power consumption have ended. Please be mindful of sleeping downcycle workers in the residential sections of the station.

Commander Jarvek Emmerson: Clare, could I have a word with you?

Operations Captain Claire Itashi: Of course, Commander.

Jarvek: My office?

Clare: Sure thing.

<Sound of doors sliding open and shutting, twice.>

Jarvek: It’s nothing serious, or official for that matter, so don’t worry. Take a seat.

Clare: Yes, sir. And thank you.

Jarvek: You seemed a little down during the briefing today. Distracted. I just wanted to make sure everything was alright.

Clare: My apologies, Sir-

Jarvek: You can call me by my first name, Clare. ‘Sir’ makes me feel older than I am.

Clare: Force of habit, S- Jarvek. It’s just… we’ve got a ship coming through the jump gates today for final checks before start making their jumps into uncontrolled space.

Jarvek: Ah yes, the SCV Johannesburg? Another colony and exploration vessel, should be arriving at 1400. What about it?

Clare: My daughter’s aboard it, she’s First Assistant Xenobiologist for the Johannesburg mission.

Jarvek: I didn’t know that, I’m surprised you hadn’t mentioned-

Clare: We didn’t part on the best of terms, Sir. So I’ve been dreading any meeting, and…

Jarvek: Worried about her as well?

Clare: Of course. How many ships have we seen jump out that way since we were established here?

Jarvek: Today’s will be number forty four.

Clare: And how many have we heard back from?

Jarvek: That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, Clare. Some of these ships have years to go still before they reach their designated areas of interest. And not only that, but their sensor array and data report information bypasses us completely, beamed directly back to Sol Command for interpretation. We’re lucky that they even bring us supplies and parts on their trips.

Clare: <Sighs> I know, Jarvek, but…

Jarvek: I’ll put it simply for you. We are going to need your help today in Operations to get that whale aligned and docked with us, without another SCV Tripoli incident. So I need you to be on top form and giving it your all before we can hand this over to Engineering, Medical and Science Sectors. After that’s done, you can go and see your daughter, if you want. Or you can hide in aeroponics and if she comes looking for you, I can play ignorant.

Clare: That would be helpful, Jarvek, but are you sure you can spare me?

Jarvek: I’ll get someone to pull an early or late lunch break for you. As for what you’ll do? That’s something you’re going to have to work out for yourself, I’m afraid.

Clare: Thank you, Sir, and it’s appreciated. Is there anything else?

Jarvek: Unless you have anything to add, no. Head back to your post, Clare, I need to speak to Delgardo over in Engineering, I’ve had more complaints about the water pressure in the showers in Residential Block C.

Clare: Yes, Sir.

<Doors open/close.>

[Scene]

Welkin

The trip up the tallest building in the city gave him time to think, the whirring of the mechanisms on the lift forming part of a steady background noise to set his mind to work to. When the King asked for the Ultimate Defence of the Nation to be removed from storage and brought to the palace, there was no questions about why from the Vault Keeper. The only expected and permitted response was ‘Yes, your Majesty.’

It had been forty-one years since it was last removed. The Vault Keeper had an idea as to just why it was being retrieved now, relations with America as tense as they were, but that was neither here nor there.

The elevator doors slid open to reveal a summer sky as clear a blue as the finest sapphire, with wispy clouds drifting lightly along the low breeze. Below ran the warren of twisted streets and vast parks that formed London, the populous calm and setting about their business with due deference to the strongly ingrained work ethic they had been taught in school. The Keeper lingered a few minutes to watch as he mentally prepared himself.

“Sky and Space,” the Vault Keeper’s voice boomed, “Earth and Water, Sun and Gold, Moon and Silver. I announce myself as the Vault Keeper to these vast skies that basks over all of the Empire from East to West, North to South. Great Welkin, the Sky Vault of the Monarchy, I bid entrance in the name of the King. Will you permit me passage?”

The question hung in the air over London, before the breeze picked up. Those wispy white clouds were buffeted about towards the top of the building, coalescing into steps leading to a massive archway, double doors open just enough for him to get by. With a steady pace, he ascended the flight of stairs and stepped inside.

Excalibur waited for the Vault Keeper, the sword of legend being extended towards him hilt-first by an ethereal hand. He bowed before taking it, sliding it into the scabbard he had been given just before his departure from the palace. As the tip of the sword touched the bottom of the scabbard, the Vault Keeper was whisked away by the magic of the Royalty, leaving the clouds to part and resume their former activity.

“Vault Keeper.” The King intoned with a polite nod of his head.

“Your Majesty.” The Keeper bowed. “I have reclaimed Excalibur, as requested.”

“As I can see, Vault Keeper. As such, for the time being I name you Sword Bearer, in addition to your other duties for the Empire.” The King decreed to both the man and the court. “And with all possible haste we are to depart for Stonehenge. The American Republic grows bold after their invasion of Canada. We must rally the defences, both ancient and modern.”

“As you will, your Majesty.”

Hungry Bear

Juliet Crosby was happily playing in the den at her parent’s house when there was a knock on the sliding doors. Looking up from her sheets of A4 paper and well-used crayons, she let out a little gasp as she saw a bear peering in at her, paws around its eyes so it could peer inside. She waited, a little unsure what to do. After all, bears weren’t supposed to be in town. They had caves to sleep in and trees to climb and honey to eat.

The bear shuffled back a bit and pointed at its eyes with its sharp claws. It then pointed in at her, before pointing at its mouth.

“Are you saying you want to eat me?” Juliet asked.

The bear nodded and repeated its gestures.

“I don’t think I want to be eaten.” She replied, sitting up and putting her hands on her hips.

The bear shrugged and repeated those same gestures again.

“Mom!” Juliet called out. “There’s a bear at the window, and he’s saying he wants to eat me.”

“He is, huh? Well, say the same thing right back at him. That should scare him off, and there’s no way a bear can get in the house.” Her mother called back. Looking up from his paper, her father chuckled.

“She has such an imagination, doesn’t she?”

Juliet mused on the advice given by her mother, and looked at the bear. She pointed at her eyes with her fingers, then the bear, and finally at her mouth. The bear, blinking in surprise, managed to look rather sad as it sat down, rubbing its paws against its belly.

The bear, hungry as it was, was just a bear. And Juliet was a wilful girl, so she pointed at the bear and then made shooing motions. “No food for bears here. Go see Dillan, he lives at 524 on the street. He stole my hair scrunchy at lunch yesterday.”

The bear nodded, before making the eating gesture with a hopeful expression in its eyes. It was hungry now, and it didn’t feel like walking.

Taking a moment to scribble on one of the fresh sheets of paper, Juliet made a sign proclaiming the house to be ‘no hungry bears allowed’ with a rough drawing of a bear encircled by red with a similarly red line striking through it. Heading to the sliding door, she set the warning notice down for the bear to look at.

With a rumble from its tummy and the back of its throat, the bear shrugged its massive, furry shoulders and padded off out of the garden. As it reached the back gate, it turned to face the girl one more time, pointing at its mouth. Juliet shook her head with arms folded across her chest, before pointing away from the house again. Its head hanging low, the bear padded off on heavy paws.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Juliet went into the front room.

“Did you scare the bear away, sweetie?” Her father asked.

“I had to make a sign telling it to go away, but yep!” The little girl proudly announced. “No hungry bears allowed here!”

Book Strong

“Oooh look, here comes yet another Elf.” A particularly brash human snorted, shoulder-barging the slender, blond-haired elf as he passed. He laughed as the elf righted himself and bowed his head to the man.

“My apologies for walking into you.” He spoke with a soft, musical lilt to his voice, eyes downcast. His mannerisms not only drew more laughter from the man who had hit him, but his gaggle of friends who loitered with him in the quiet streets.

“Well, I don’t think I accept, Elf. I think I need some compensation.” He stated, holding his hand out. “I bet you’ve got all kinds of treasures on you that you could pass over.”

“And there’s not a lot you can do about it either, your wicked magic is forbidden in the city, Elf.” Another man, emboldened by the prospect of treasure, spat.

The Elf looked between the four men and let out a weary sigh before drawing himself up tall, his features changing from a meek look to one of resignation for the troubles humans could cause. “You are correct,” he began to speak as he removed his glasses, slipping them into a protective case, “in that I cannot use magic. If the four of you seek to persist in this foolishness, well, I cannot be held accountable for any injuries on your part.”

“Oh shut up! Come on, let’s rob this tall streak of scum and get out of here!” The initial aggressor barked, before swinging out with a bodyweight-packed fist.

It was a simple feat to step back with the grace of a gentle breeze, before a vicious swing of the elbow drove the side of it into the man’s nose. As the man tumbled splurting blood from his crushed nose, the elf stepped forwards with several tightly practiced strikes, fists and palms striking crippling spots to fell his attackers into inaction. As the last of the four fell with arms wrapped around his chest, the elf let out another long sigh.

“Humans, you fixate on just one aspect of us, ignoring anything else in the hopes of grasping some comfort in this dangerous world. I leave you with your lives and your possessions intact. Be thankful of that.”

With that said, he turned on his heels and continued walking, resuming the more meek stance of the scholar as his glasses returned to perching on the bridge of his chiselled nose.

In the neat confines of his room, the Elf’s hands fondly traced the heavy tomes of arcane knowledge resting on his desk. Hours of his life had been spent pouring over them and the information contained within. They were like old friends now, travelling everywhere with him on his journeys across lands elven, human, beast and beyond.

Taking one in each hand, he moved back to the centre of the room to start his days exercises, going through repetitions of each lift with the books in place of weights. His old friends gave him strength in more than just mind.

Reliquary

“So, that’s why they call you Reliquary?” Pilgrim asked as The Reliquary closed his ribcage with steady, strong force from his hands on each part.

“That is correct, Pilgrim.” Reliquary replied, his voice soft and serene compared to his brutish bulk and war-scarred skin.

“May I ask how it got there?” The young Pilgrim asked intently, offering the larger being a hand up from where he had knelt to show her the holy object.

“Of course.” He beckoned for her to sit, instead of taking the hand up. He smiled as she knelt opposite himself, eyes full of attentiveness. Reaching for his pack, he took out a wooden flask and drank deeply from it before starting his story.

“In my youth, I went by another title. They called me Heartless, and with my fellows Hopeless, Fearless and Loveless we roamed the land, bringing havoc upon settlements and countrysides. I was in my four hundredth year when, in our rampage across the Continents, we met one of the Virtues in our path. He was Compassion, and he stood with arms wide open between my cohorts and our destination, the gates to a rich city called Prosperity.”

“I’ve heard of it, yes. Please, go on.”

“We attempted to strike him down, but Compassion just stood there, radiating the aura of his being towards us. Through his nature, he understood what drove us and was able to scare off my allies, leaving me alone with him. He smiled at me, and asked a single question. ‘Why are you so, Heartless?’ My response was that when I was but a baby, Thief stole from me to give to a child born in his village missing what I had. Nodding in understanding, he reached into his chest and gave me part of his boundless life in the form of the Compassionate Relic.”

“And named you Reliquary?” Pilgrim asked, having dug a scroll and piece of inkstick out of her satchel to write notes with.

“No, I named myself that. And so I took to wandering a more peaceful path, speaking to all who might wish to know more, or need more of compassion. Is there anything I can assist you with, Pilgrim?” The muscular man asked.

“You have already, Reliquary.” She replied, rising to her feet and offering him a hand up. “Thank you for your time, and your words.”

 

Kebab

“So, where do you want to go for lunch?” Astrid asked as she pushed the now-cuffed criminal into the back of the police van. The information they had gathered proved correct, and old maintenance facility had been converted into a ‘crime-cluster’, comprising of servers hosting a variety of illegal information and programs, with secure tunnelling into the cluster and hefty fees to pay before access was given.

“Well,” Ameer grunted a little as he steered a rather ornery cracker towards the van with one arm, his cybernetic right arm concealed as usual underneath his great coat, “There’s a Mealworths near here, I could go for a kebab.” Noticing the face Astrid pulled, Ameer laughed. “I know you’re not a huge fan, but…”

“But what?” She asked, handing over the proper forms on dataslate to the van’s driver.

“Our first ever lunch break after I got the job, you insisted quite strongly we go to Sizzlers. Did I make any comments?”

Astrid’s face fell at that unfortunate first choice, before she nodded. “Alright, you win this one. I -did- treat you to a fakon bap though, and coffee. And moon pie, come to think of it.”

“Fakon, a non-guilty pleasure.” He chuckled, wandering back over to Astrid’s UNPF Lunar Cruiser, a meaty looking six wheeled patrol vehicle capable of operations both in domes and outside of them. While most of the activity on the moon took place inside habitation domes, there were complexes, factories and facilities outside them. “You going to drive?”

“Like you even had to ask.” Astrid replied, her exoframe whirring gently as she slid into the driver’s seat.

 

Mealworths was fairly busy with the lunchtime rush when they entered, a few people eyeing up Astrid’s UNPF protective vest, and a few more eyeing the obviously military coat that Ameer had a habit of wearing. Clean and bright, rows of tables lined the eat in section, with benches running along to provide plenty of space for people to sit. Out of food-grade recyclable packaging people tucked into sides of beans, lentils and other vegetables, croutons and bread. The ‘main’ of the meal was insects. Bowls of delicately cooked and seasoned worms, grubs, larva, and other assorted insects.

There were a few dishes that Astrid tried hard to avert her gaze from as she queued. Worms, grubs and larva she was fine with. Not quite fond of them in this form compared to their processed form used to make flavoured meat products, but compared to the man eating Spicy Space Spiders or the woman enjoying long strands of Breaded Centipedes…

“Welcome to Mealworths, what can I get you today?” A young woman behind the counter asked as they reached the front of the queue, dressed in the pale red and grey uniform of the company.

“You go first Ameer, I’m still trying to decide.” Astrid grumbled as she looked over the menu.

Chuckling softly, Ameer leaned on the counter with his ‘good’ arm. “I’ll have the Barbeque Locust Kebab meal, with edamame and three pepper salsa, black tea with one shot soy milk, one half shot sugar, and… that’s it, I think. Astrid?”

“I don’t suppose you have anything non-insect shaped?” She asked hopefully.

“Only on the kid’s menu, Miss.” The server replied apologetically, before a bright smile crossed her face even as Astrid’s fell. “But I can recommend the Mealworm One Pot, it’s mealworms, mixed vegetables and wheat noodles. It’s one of our most popular dishes with those who might not feel like trying unprocessed insect meat.”

“Fine, I’ll have one of those and a caramel machiatto.”

“Oh, two fiery red ant lollypops, too.” Ameer added, before hovering his hand over the order pad. As the RFID receiver in his palm and the transmitter in the pad authenticated, he authorised the payment.

“Excellent choices, thank you for coming to Mealworths. If you’d like to wait at a table, we’ll have your food brought over to you, so you can eat in or take away.” The server smiled, before looking over Astrid’s shoulder. “Next, please!”

“We are not eating this in my car.” Astrid muttered as they sat at a table, opposite each other.

“I wouldn’t presume we were. Tell you what, tomorrow we’ll go to Sizzlers. My treat?” He offered.

“You’re being suspiciously nice, Ameer.” Her eyebrow was raised as she spoke, eyes searching as they scanned his face. His bright smile in return did nothing to quell her suspicions.

It was at that moment that the robotic server trundled over to them, brought out to assist with the lunchtime rush period. Its extendible arms worked to place their trays in front of them, linking each dinner to the various signals it picked up from the diner. The sleek, pale red and grey machine retracted its arms and wheeled itself back to the serving station.

“Two reasons why.” Ameer began as he took one of the long skewers from his box, impaling five barbecued locusts. “One, you saved my ass today when that perp got the drop on me.” He admitted, before taking a bite from the kebab.

“And two?” She asked while averting her eyes.

“Eating here unsettles you more than eating at Sizzlers unsettles me. Treating you to lunch tomorrow means I get to enjoy this more today.” The former soldier smiled, before it turned a bit more wolfish. “Don’t let your mealworms get cold.”

Wake Up Self Check

Even as she dreamed, Astrid van Bergen could see the flickering outline of her heads up display as it came online. Neurocouplers and neurochemical balancers began their regular routine to rouse her from yet another sleep cycle. In stark contrast to the sunny fields of the Netherlands she had been dreaming about, chasing her childhood pet dog through swathes of long grass and tufts of wild flowers, her apartment was rather dark with just navigation lighting strips glowing softly in the darkness.

It was 0545 Lunar Standard Time, and Tranquillity Dome Seven was still in ‘Downcycle Mode’, what would pass for night time on Earth. Power consumption was reduced, services limited, and the Tranquility Engineering Corp were likely finishing up another shift of essential, off-peak maintenance and upkeep of the habitation domes. Even as she stirred under the covers of her double bed, her HUD and internal computer systems were already working through her morning diagnostics, the Wake Up Self Check that all cybernetically enhanced humans had to endure. Some more than most.

”CARDIONIX SureHeart Type 12x Prosthetic Heart status – Green. Next scheduled check up – 21 days @ Tranquil Oceans Hospital, 1615 Hours.” Her HUD reported with a little dialogue box soon blinked away. It was definitely a relief to know that her heart was working. She was very young when it was replaced due to a congenital defect, along with her lungs. She had only ever had one ‘crisis’ with it, and that had formed the basis for several dark nightmares in the past twenty-one of her twenty-four years of life.

“CARDIONIX EverBreath Type 14dx Prosthetic Lungs status – Green. Next scheduled check up – 21 days @ Tranquil Oceans Hospital, 1515 Hours.” Being able to breath was also a good thing.

“BIOGEN PHYSIOTEKA GD7 Bioenergy Converter and Capacitor status – Green. Next scheduled check up – 39 days @ BIOGEN PHYSIOTEKA R&D, 0900 Hours.” Most cyborgs charged their prosthetics overnight, the charge could hold for a week to a day depending on various factors from activity to age of their parts. When she had her new heart and lungs put in, they also added a converter to her abdomen, turning energy from food into bioelectricity to power her heart and lungs, with power to spare.

“TEKIRA Interface Industries Vigilant3 With UNPF Support Protocols Human-Machine Interface status – Green. Next scheduled check up – 81 days @ UNPF Medical Base, 1140 hours.” The final major system check was done, the HMI incorporated her augmented vision, wired ports and wireless capabilities as well as the links between her biological brain and the augmented processors and storage from the technological enhancements nested between her grey matter. It always amused her that in her WUSC, it was the last thing to be listed. If there was a problem with her head, she thought she’d pick that up very quickly.

“Your wake up self check is complete. Remember, a healthy body is a happy person! Please take good care of yourself and your cybernetics. This message was brought to you by the United Nations Health and Wellness Advocates.”

 

Unfortunate

Their faces fell when the merchandise and stationary was revealed in the shipping crates. One by one, the members of the lawn society looked amongst each other, and at the name on the various things they had ordered.

It was Mr Jefferey, society chair, who spoke first. “There must be some kind of mistake! We’re the Sons of the Soil, we decided on that!”

“I’m sure that’s what the form said when I put it in the pile to be sent off by Mr Richies.” Mr Beeston, society secretary, spoke up.

“Maybe one of the draft sheets was included, and they got this from that brainstorming session we had?” Mr Richies replied.

“In any case,” the elderly Mr Tong sighed, “it seems a mistake has been made, and we will have to delay on the regional society event until this unfortunate turn of events has been rectified.”

“Agreed.” Mr Jefferey nodded. “We are the Sons of the Soil, and definitely not the Sons of the Sod.”