One Man’s War

When the blood ran off his hands the war was over, and he turned his eyes to the vast, burning wasteland that marked his wake. He sighed and wiped the dead from his face, the gristle and blood falling inconsequentially onto the crimson soaked earth.

It was time to go home.

He stared at the horizon, a statue slowly sending shadow spreading with the sun’s descent. Then he ran, pounding steadfast past corpses, leaping nimbly across the eviscerated, hurtling on the tips of his toes as an avalanche of putrefying meat and rusting paraphernalia of war filled his field of vision, sending nanotech bullets into the hordes of over-ambitious scavengers tearing at the decay, reeling himself up a sheer cliff face as highly militarised alien technology silvered through the effluvia below, loping through the healing country past the bursts of wildflower and dancing insects that push from the vibrant grass, falling in a dream that shakes him awake on a cold cave floor, brushing his fingers ecstatically on the rippling wheat rolling on to the horizon that flashes as the sun sinks from view.

The thatched cottage, luminous in constellation light, sent out waves of warm heat and scent. He sank to his knees, the long strobe of days heavy on his flesh and soul. His eyes filled with the light. His voice was hoarse as he yelled at the golden vision that seemed magically there, his leaden legs finally propelling him forward to embrace her in a whirling hug sparkling with tears and litanies of love.

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The Exile

As he watched the neon exhaust of the ruined jetbike recede into the darkness, dragging its mutilated, half-deceased occupant, Grendel knew the halcyon days were over. He turned and walked into his cave. He entered the river that burbled near its mouth, evaded  the defense system of electronic moray eels and fire barracudas—he was never sure if it was to defend against intruders or to keep him contained—before emerging onto the pebbled shore of a looming cavern kilometres away. Dripping, he approached Mother’s monstrous bulk. Her resinous hide crawled with cables and boulder sized transistors. She was all he knew, her organic contours a constant in his half-remembered memories. The cooling system hummed in the chill darkness, efficiently venting the waste heat into the desert bordering the foothills. It wasn’t always desert there. He shivered, stroking her gently throbbing surface. He had suckled at her breast for so long, wires running from his mouth, his twitching eyes vacant with tears of  luminous quantum foam.  She was warm to the touch. Grendel took his hand away. It was time to go out into the world once more.

They came, a single police unit at first. He disposed of them easily, and enjoyed the sight of their burning cruiser trace the dawn before its miniature nuclear reactor disintegrated in a flash of white heat.

They sent more, this time a special weapons and tactics unit. Nobody survived and their armored hovercraft, being more resilient than the average vehicle, simply smoldered at the end of long furrows of raped earth.

The military deployed next, in tanks and Human Enhancement suits. The tanks lumbered up to the mouth of Grendel’s cave and sent salvo after salvo of armor piercing rounds. The HE-men leaped ahead and tunneled into the rock with their magnificent transmorgifying suits. Some affected drills, others made great spades of their hands and dug through the granite. Grendel grinned at the challenge, but was sorely disappointed. He appreciated the exercise, anyways; his long dormant muscles needed stretching, limbering. He danced amid the bullets, an acrobat, ballerina, and contortist. Saliva ran in gobs from his adrenaline laced laugh. A tank erupted, punctured by one of the suits. He crashed two HE-men together and watched their ruptured nanotechnology consume each other. He tossed  a suit easily into a neighboring mountain, watching in pleasure the ensuing landslide. Grendel surveyed the ruins and wondered how far it would go.

Jets. Scores of them erupting from the sky like a mad horde of hornets. The space around them crackled with pinpricks of light that elongated into long trailers of blistered atmosphere.  Slipstream missiles. Grendel felt wounded. They were using outdated technology on him. He shrugged, waiting for imminent impact before launching into the air. He skipped and hopped on the slender bodies of the missiles, flinging himself to the next just before they burst into scorched sky. He zig-zagged his way onto the jet of the nearest convenience, hurtling for hundreds of meters in freefall before sinking his hands into its titanium armor. The canopy, torn from its place, shot past, the pilot’s insect-like helmet reflecting his outstretched hands and Grendel’s laughing visage.

As the skies rained with ruin, Grendel’s jet hit mach 5 and entered the European Commonwealth. The jet was outfitted with the latest nuclear fuel cell and ammo teleportation technology, giving him virtually unlimited mobility and firepower. He was still laughing when he left Europe burning and set his sights on China. He was having too much fun. Grendel’s self-imposed exile was over and the world would weep for it.

Run and Gun

Neo Reno, once a crusty hunk of rock orbiting a blue star, glittered with decadence.

It was everything Las Vegas of Earth endeavoured towards, but could never become. It was the resort center of corrupt politicians seeking to lay down their lying smiles to rest and of the skewed celebrities who could afford to trash hotel rooms day after day. The place bristled with large men wearing immaculate two piece suits who murmured to themselves, their eyes losing focus as they accessed security networks. The bodyguards numbered from two to four for every personality that docked.

This world would burn. He had made sure of that for over two years. Spending the day as the placid banker, passively and dumbly crunching numbers, he moonlighted as a vigilante, surely, patiently outfitting the small planetoid with a network of explosives. Components of his gun came in the spacetransit mail, unobtrusive miscellanies, which he constructed with painstaking detail and patience; grinning through cigar smoke, he had clicked in the last piece and made the final adjustments to the teleportation mechanism last night. He was itching for action. He was sick of the rich sonsabitches. He would go out with a bang.

His legs blurred as he moved inexorably towards the center of the city, leaping over scorched vehicles, grappling the sides of structures, hurtling the chasms between buildings, his gun pouring burning casings which made his biceps sing with delicious pain. The clatter of his gun and the soft jangle of casings falling hotly to the asphalt was the lullaby with which he put his enemies to sleep. A seasoned veteran of war torn tours, Mack Razer sucked on his cigar and did what he did best, killing. His cannon, the model Infinity Series no. 2, housing a miniature teleportation device that fed ammo from a 100 square kilometer warehouse facility several light years away, provided the illusion of limitless firepower. It was a ballet of bullets, a danse macabre, its rapt audience also unwilling participants.

He had to begin ahead of schedule. A routine infrastructure search, which he normally subverted with faulty paperwork, turned up one of his projects and investigations were pending. He didn’t mind. He missed killing. It would not be apparent to the outside observer, but he was prudent, even thrifty, with his bullet count; each shot served a purpose. He dialed the Infinity into scatter-shot and swarmed with pleasure with the maximum destruction he rained down with every satisfying thud! of a trigger pull. They shot at him. He turned them into pink mist. They tried smiling at him through weasel words. His bullets chipped teeth and painted the walls with bone and gristle. They tried to reason with him, waving great briefcases leaking currency. He burned them with napalm from his very special gun. Then they tried harder to shoot him. He drew a swath of pain and destruction through great many blocks, and the blood ran between the burning cars. His objective loomed ahead, an giant erection that stabbed the horizon.

It now towered above him and he found the time to glance at his chronometer. He had to hurry. His carefully engineered act of terrorism was set to go off in minutes. His hands blurred into his vest and whipped behind his back as he plunged into the hatch. Napalm mines. They would buy him some time. Dull concussions rocked the ship. He programmed coordinates that would bring him to a geosynchronous orbit just outside the blast radius. Just a minute before it was ready to go. Fucking standard warm up procedures! Too bad it wasn’t fitted with interstellar drives. He could have taken it out-system.

He looked at the chronometer again and checked the onboard system. Shit. The exterior cameras showed soldiers with rocket launchers. His escape would be cut off. What the hell, he liked dramatic exits. He set the ship to autopilot and burst out of the ship, unsheathing the ceramic samurai sword he had stolen from the corpse of the Japanese Ambassador—who had no bodyguards and put up a hell of a fight—and jammed it hilt deep into the ship’s hull. He strafed the thin lines of vapor that streaked his way into a chain of distant firecracker light, all the while idly admiring the ruin he had visited upon the city. A dull shudder groaned in his bones, and he laughed as he squeezed a final victorious burst, grabbing the sword.

The rocked evicted New Reno with a slow urgency on a trail of blue plasma and he dangled from its hull spitting warm red-orange fires like a baby comet. His skull grinned through his flesh and his gun melted away into ball lightning. He was still laughing, his vocal cords vibrating with the heat of escape velocity. He needed to lose some weight anyways. He was getting fat from pushing cash.

His body was a cocktail of nanomachines: the skin was capable of withstanding great extremes of temperature and was covered with an organism that protected against immersion or vacuum; the bones were nanoceramics, flexible with rigid strength, and if a juggernaut of a force should splinter bone, it self-repaired; its organs self regulated, and although its default was homeostasis, their processes could be consciously controlled; muscles were nanostructures which allowed for extrahuman strength and performance; the respiratory system consisted of standard absorption from the atmosphere, but if sources of oxygen were cut off, the lungs would manufacture oxygen from the water in the body, or the skin from the environment; food sources were standard as well, with an emphasis on protein consumption, and as was the case with the lungs, the body would use remaining tissues to provide nutrition. He regenerated limbs and organs at a rate that was proportional to the supply of raw materials. In effect, he was almost immortal. If worse came to worse, he would just shrivel up like the ancient Pharaohs, only he would wake up after the end. They could just cut out his brain and throw him into a new body if there wasn’t time for regeneration.

With his remaining eye he watched a white hot bloom erupt from the core of New Reno with tranquil grace, then fade into a dusky pink swirl. He felt like Rembrandt. It was not his masterpiece, but it wasn’t too bad. He was rather proud. He had decided not to go into the ship. He felt cooped up these days. Two years in one place was too long, dammit! Besides, although he had a helluva lot of beans and broccoli for dinner the previous night, he hadn’t accumulated enough intestinal gas to break inertia. He shrugged, stretched out in the vacuum and crossed his arms under his head, content to merely drift. His superiors had his signal, and would be along.

He closed his eyes.