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We Bury Our Own

“Brother Micah has fallen. And it’s your fault.”

Preceptor Adam jabbed his finger into Gabriel’s chest. Gabriel fought the urge to snap it. He was a mere sergeant, and the preceptor was as human as he was. No man of the Order may raise his hand against another human, not for something as trivial as this.

And, more importantly, Adam was right.

“I accept responsibility,” Gabriel said. “I shouldn’t have signed off on his solo patrols.”

“We have the two man rule for a reason, Sergeant Gabriel. We are men, not angels. None of us are above the rule. Not even for someone like Micah.” He snorted. “Especially for someone like Micah.”

Again, the preceptor was right. Among the men he had served with, Micah was the best. He could go alone into the mists, become one with it, and return unscathed. He boasted often of his exploits, and took pride in them.

And pride was the first sin, the cardinal vice that led to the Deluge and the Second Fall of Man.

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The Artifact

Relief would come in just a few days. Captain Miles Mason wasn’t looking forward to it. He knew what it would mean. It would mean he and his team had failed. Failed, like the six teams before them.

Mason lifted another of the mykor tubs from the excavation pit and turned to ­carry it to the sorting station. The sunlight made it difficult to see the way. He turned a dial on the side of his suit. ­The screen across the front of his helmet instantly darkened. His vision improved.

He surveyed his surroundings. Thompson and Clark were working the excavator behind him. Up ahead, Neicroft, his second in command, was tapping the screen of her autodater, logging each tub that entered the sorting station, assigning it a bar code, printing and slapping the little, lined stickers on their sides. Inside, Watson and Coleman would scan them when they began sorting through their contents and then again when they finished. It was a smooth operation.

Still, no one was feeling good. The temperatures had been high the last several days, even for Hadon. Mason was still amazed that a planet that was nearly desert everywhere could have seasons. He remembered with longing that time months ago, when winter temperatures were as low as the mid-80’s.

Lately, the cooling systems on everybody’s suits had been struggling to keep up. They’d all be taking more breaks lately, retreating to the living quarters to strip off their support suits, shower, and get a few breaths of oxygen that didn’t come through the little vent in their helmets.

The certainty of failure haunted them all. For 350 days, they had been on this blazing planet, searching for any sign of a civilization long gone. Fifteen more days, and their tour would be up, and they would all go down as one more team who had failed to produce even the tiniest bit of evidence.

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Zombie Jamboree

New York City’s first zombie on record walked onto the train platform at Queens Plaza at 6:43 in the morning. Nobody noticed the zombie for one reason: it was a fresh zombie, and thus indistinguishable from the rest of the commuters shambling onto the platform during rush hour.

After five minutes of waiting, the zombie grew restless. It looked around for a snack. It locked onto 43-year-old Wilma Behraine. She wore the brightest, most garish pink suit, and enough charm bracelets that she sounded like sleigh bells at the slightest movement. As far as the zombie’s thought process was concerns, it could be summed up as “Ooooh, shiny.”

Wilma only had an ominous feeling before the zombie’s hands grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled at her. She reflexively had an arm up when the zombie lunged to bite her. The zombie ended up with a mouthful of metallic charms. She kicked it in the stomach, knocking it back. It staggered, blinked, then roared.

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The Dragon’s Teeth

Master Sergeant Jacobs arose in his tomb, ready for duty. He scanned the inside of the subterranean bunker with radar, lidar and IR, noting the lack of any intruder or breach in the wall’s integrity. Chemical analysis indicated the presence of no foreign gasses, and the standard neon-argon gas mixture was uncontaminated by any rogue microbes or nanotech. Standing up in the armored stasis coffin he mentally gave the signal to bring the bunker tomb fully online.

He looked around with his new eyes. Infra-red, light amplification, full spectrum analysis, X-ray, radar, and range tracking and direction finding were all available with full telescopic detail. It would have been overwhelming were it not identical to the neural overlays of his reconnaissance old helmet with which he had trained, back when he was still alive. Now, he was able to able to take in the information faster with his quantum brain. Rather than it seeming to be less dense information, the rest of the world simply seemed to move slower, though.

While the bunker powered up around him, he reviewed his own internal diagnostic information. The  quantum computer that composed his brain was functioning at several times the speed his mind had in his former life, and the full archive of planetary maps as well as tactical battle data were intact. His micro-fusion torus in his chest was running flawlessly, and should function for centuries of normal activity, and weeks of combat. Already, it was diverting extra energy to superconducting loops to provide extra hours of energy in case his fusion “heart” shut down. His bones were each a single super-covalent molecule with interlocking orbitals, the same material used in armor-plating. That structural strength was needed to anchor the nano-scale superconducting magnetic strands of his muscles each with the speed and power of a rail gun accelerator. He could break the speed of sound with ease, and strike faster than a shock-wave could propagate though metal, shattering most armors.

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The Dreaming Wounds

It was a game when we were children. “Your Grandmother has the Third Eye,” Mum used to confide, when we young enough to believe that all her words were gospel. “She can see ghosts.”

“Everywhere?” my brother would always ask, already sceptical. He would grow up to become a scientist, to my Chinese parents’ veiled disappointment, a doctor in qualification only.

“Sometimes people leave the world with unfinished business,” Mum would reply, pitching her voice low, pretending to look left and right. We would shiver in delighted horror.

“I don’t have the Third Eye,” I would murmur, forever made resentful at having been born normal. Thanks to our childhood fascination with ghost stories, I spent nearly a decade of my life pathologically afraid of sleeping against a window with my neck exposed, after our oldest cousin told us a ‘true story’ about a cursed strangler’s hand that crept through open windows to murder the unsuspecting.

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