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Mirror Shards: Volume One

Mirror Shards: Volume One

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An Augmented Reality Anthology

Explore the edge of augmented reality in thirteen tales from thirteen fantastic authors. When the digital world collides with our real one, bringing all its problems and benefits, mankind will have to relearn what it means to be human.

In this glimpse of possible futures, you will go on the hunt to track down a fugitive on the other side of the known Universe. Learn the price of ubiquitous knowledge, or find peace and understanding in the absence of it. Dive deep into the ocean to avert a kidnapping using only the tools at hand. Experience new realities underwritten by an alien love of entertainment. Find hidden truths contained within our smallest gestures. Hide something so valuable, it would drive a man to crime. Or find that sometimes, what it doesn’t hide is what endangers us most.

Main Tropes

  • Augmented Reality
  • Anthology
  • Sci-Fi


Explore the edge of augmented reality in thirteen tales from thirteen fantastic authors. When the digital world collides with our real one, bringing all its problems and benefits, mankind will have to relearn what it means to be human.

In this glimpse of possible futures, you will go on the hunt to track down a fugitive on the other side of the known Universe. Learn the price of ubiquitous knowledge, or find peace and understanding in the absence of it. Dive deep into the ocean to avert a kidnapping using only the tools at hand. Experience new realities underwritten by an alien love of entertainment. Find hidden truths contained within our smallest gestures. Hide something so valuable, it would drive a man to crime. Or find that sometimes, what it doesn’t hide is what endangers us most.

Intro Into Chapter One

by Alex J. Kane

 About the

 Alex J. Kane lives in the small college town
of Monmouth, Illinois, a black hole from which he may one day escape. In the
meantime, he holds a day job as a bank teller while pursuing a B.A. in English
and writing speculative fiction. His stories have appeared in various journals
and anthologies. Visit him online at


You wake to find
yourself in a cramped, foul-smelling capsule spacious enough for one. After
coughing up congealed phlegm and bronchial surfactant, you stretch your arms
and legs, roll your neck, and glimpse the artificial world beyond the escape
pod's porthole.

The Niven habitat El Mirador stretches out before you:
a pearlescent band filled with verdant earth and vast oceans, its distant
pinnacle arcing sunward to the point of near-invisibility.

A ping flashes in
the corner of your eye; then highlights your destination, and marks it with real-time
ETA and proximity data.

Two blinks, in
rapid succession.

The pupil-centric
indicator in your field of vision hovers to continue
on present entry vector, and winks green.

You rub the coarse
sleep from your eyes, and wonder just how long it's been since you were put
into cryo. Has it really been twelve years? Thirteen? Does the mission still
stand, after all this wakeless time?

Pulling up the
contract shows it was last synced with Astralum Corporation's database just
over a month ago.

Valid. Incomplete.

You're still their
dog, still on the hunt.

Just a highly
intelligent, highly dangerous animal, as far as the suits on Earth and the
inner colonies are concerned. The Lagrange points, they probably snicker from a
coward's safe distance, befit an engineered killing machine like you.

All that wild

The megastructure
outside the pod draws nearer, but no red fireball licks at the pod. Not yet.

You catch sight of
the flaring solar mirrors that regulate temperature and sunlight. The
telescopes and lasercomm relays that speckle the vacuum all about the station
like a swarm of winged insects, each pointing toward its own assigned in-system

Memories come
flooding back like the vague recurrence of some long-forgotten dream.

A name: Tzitzi.

Something about
irony, flowers and a dead language on some plague-ravaged precolonial
continent. Life prior to that of the mercenary huntress. Prior to purpose.

Untold debt, still
waiting to be paid. Ah, you think. That's what this bounty was all
about. Yeah. Getting that shit paid off so I can buy my freedom. Clear my
fugitive status, maybe even have fifty or sixty thousand credits leftover.

Except that you
know this one gig won't be enough. There will have to be more. You might go to
sleep for months, or years, but debtorship doesn't ever freeze. It just

You think, Someday.

Inside the ring's
atmosphere, now—beneath the kilometers-high outer walls. A glow of rushing heat
and fire. The rattle of air resistance.

Another name: Sol
Mendoza. Your mark.

You pull the
ripcord overhead; a practiced, reflexive action. This isn't the first time
you've had to crash-land one of these half-assed excuses for a spacecraft.

Drag-fins snap out
into the air behind the pod, reverse thrusters firing their explosive
single-use rockets in a quick blast. The pod lurches sickeningly, and you
stiffen in spite of yourself.

The ground below
grows closer, closer...

Optical sensors
overlay topographical data upon the visible terrain, and the craft's autopilot
compensates for a level impact. To minimize damage; to the pod, to you.

A flash of
forested green, and then the world falls dark.


Semiconscious and
howling in agony, a good twenty-four hours or so pass. Meantime, a calculated
spectrum of probiotics and autonomous nanobots in your bloodstream works
diligently to seal the breaches in your dermis, nourish your hungry cells, and
replenish the fractured regions of your reinforced skeleton.

Fueled by
adrenaline, you manage to hurl the canopy open and gaze out at the world that
encircles you. You reach for the edges of the ruined capsule, and pull at your
own weight to heft yourself upright. Wincing, straining—

You're still far
too weak to stand.

Try as you might
to fight it, another blackout seizes you.


The nearby village
settlement of Faribault
sits low at the riverside. Concrete walls skirt along its borders, to keep the
inhabited region from flooding. Scattered houses dot the rocky hills in the
distance. Smoke and industrial filth curls skyward from the mess of belching
factories on the edge of town opposite the river.

Wind turbines face
upstream, their dizzying spiral dance supplementing the hydroelectric
generators that jut from the floodgates. Churning, whining, tossing foamy

This limitless
data clouds your vision like so much eye-pollution, so much noise. Your
cerebrospinal implant interfaces with the colonists' own network, and suddenly
everything you'd ever care to know — more knowledge than any individual could
possibly retain — is made accessible.

Is made your

No possessions, no
citizenship on this world or any other, and yet even the impoverished exile can
reap her fair share of the intellectual commonwealth.

"Okay, Sol,"
you whisper to yourself. "Where are you hiding?"

You strike out
walking, headed for the settlement.

A tap of the
touchpad tattooed along the inside of your wrist summons a list of recent
queries. With an affirmative blink, the OmniWare device nestled in your brain
stem seeks out any available intel on Mendoza's
whereabouts via the town's surprisingly vast remote databank.

His identification
sphere spawns in the air in front of you, immaterial but manipulable.

You spin it this
way and that, perusing his personal history with a few flicks of your index

This data is all
public, but it beats the hell out of strolling into the pub and questioning the
locals. This way, it's probably reliable.

Date and place of
origin, last logged pass through customs, phenotypic profile, blood type,
neural uplink make and serial number.

Last known
location: unavailable.

You pull the
luminous sphere open, and examine the slivered facets of its interior.

All around you,
folks are stepping outdoors from their rickety wooden homes to take a look at
the outsider who's just wandered into town. Unbidden, untrustworthy. Fingering
at the air like some insane mystic.

they silently sneer.

Save for some of
the men, of course; some of them are craning their necks to ogle you with lusty
eyes despite your alienness. Beneath your leather duster, the bulge of your
breasts is still partially visible. Doubtless you're immensely welcome in Faribault, if these men
have anything to say about it.

Striding on,
pretending not to notice the curious eyes all about you, you head straight for
the regional law office.

Inside the ID
sphere, a single document catches your attention. You scan it hastily, and
simultaneously pull your hair back into a messy bun.

You think, Now
this is interesting.


Headquarters. El Mirador Outpost.

The young man at
the receptionist's desk is hunched forward, nose-deep in a tattered paper book.
He doesn't notice you looming over him, not until you draw a breath and clear
your throat.

My name is
his name tag reads.

You simply ignore
the phantom cloud of information that hovers next to his head.

sorry," Jaryn gasps. "Hello. How can we help you, Miss—?" The
boy slaps the book closed, sets it aside, and taps at the glass panel on his

A hologram flowers
to life in the space between you, and his expression betrays supreme confusion
when your face registers zero matches in the system.

Doesn't matter." You say, "I'm looking for a Solomon Mendoza. Goes by
Sol. Heard of him?"

the boy mutters. "Mendoza..."
His dull eyes focus on nothing in particular as he seems to consider the name.
Then he calls up a population master list, waves his way through thousands of
names before pausing to ask, "He the guy who went missing?"

You sigh. Then, "What?"

"Yeah, hate
to be the one to tell you, but if this is the same Mendoza, I heard something a few years back
about an incident quite a ways upstream from here. Guy broke into a company
storehouse and sabotaged a bunch of expensive farming machinery, maybe stole
some too. Had help, I think, but he was the one in charge of the whole ordeal.
Heard someone pissed him off, but clearly it was uncalled-for."

"And then...?"

"Then he
supposedly just fell off the grid. Must've tossed his tablet in the river and
took off. Something."

Speech analysis
indicates he's telling the truth.

Meaning, of
course, that Sol doesn't have a wetware implant installed any longer. He's all
flesh. Which suits a barbarous outcast like him, you think to yourself.

In the pockets of
your coat, your hands curl into tight fists. The boy, Jaryn, appears not to
notice that you're shaking with fury.

The idea strikes
you that this maybe isn't the best place to whip out a pair of submachine guns.
Effective stimulus or not, they can't make Mendoza materialize right in front of you.

"Any other
incidents involving him?" you ask, slowly leaning over the counter.

"I don't
believe so."

Again, truthful.
The kid's got no idea that on at least one in-system habitat, Mendoza is suspected — undoubtedly guilty —
of murder; that the bastard routinely displays alarming sociopathic
as the AstraCorp
network puts it.

With a flourish
you stride back out into the warmth of El Mirador's reflected sunlight, en
route to the wilderness that sprawls for kilometers upstream.


Waypoints mark
concentrations of human presence in your path, which are few and far between.
Trees like the mythic redwoods of old Earth tower all about, forming a canopy
that drowns the soil underfoot in shadows. A cool wind follows you. There's the
occasional cawing of a bird, but relatively little animal life to be spotted
for hours at a time.

You come to
realize that those winking green triangles off in the distance are your only
beacon of hope.

They mark your
progress, of which you'd have not even the vaguest sense otherwise.

They give you the
drive to keep on, even as your stomach aches with hunger and your bones grow
weary of the pseudo-gravity pulling you down.


Along the way, you
access Mendoza's
ID sphere for further study. Holovids of his last known public dealings,
three-dimensional renderings of his face, and even full body scans. Local
police logs of his habitual patterns.

The only reason
you're on this backwater station is to track down Sol and spray him with a
lethal dose of smoking bullets laced with paralyzing neurotoxins. And all the
while, the smug bastard's walking right alongside you, a ghost of his past
reality committed to digital memory just so he can taunt his pursuer.

salt-and-pepper hair thinning to a high widow's peak. Cold green eyes, skin
tanned dark by a working man's hours spent in the sun.

A wide, toothy
grin as he swipes his credit chip, mouths "Thanks, asshole," and nods
a solemn goodbye to the cashier at a general store somewhere in the territory.
This one's a nonevent.

In another, this
time a police surveillance record, Sol is leaning toward a young woman sitting
beside him at a diner. They're finished eating, knocking back a couple of
drinks, and he goes in fast for a kiss. His questing hand slips out of sight
beneath the table. She backs away and wrinkles her nose at him in disgust.

He slaps her,

She reaches up to
touch her cheek with trembling fingertips, disbelieving. Tears glisten in her
eyes as she slips out of the booth and flees, visibly mortified.

Doesn't take long
before you decide this is all you need to know about the man whose life you're
hoping to end, and wave the shattered AR sphere and its contents away.



Nothing to hear
but the wind in the trees, now. The river must be a day's trek away. The
darkness carries with it an autumn chill. No solar mirrors visible up in the
sky; only the faint light of the stars.

An indicator
flashes, pointing toward something new it's just detected.

Following the
blinking yellow marker, you come upon an abandoned camp site. A kindling burns
in the center, putting off the lovely aroma of burning wood. Its embers have
died down to a dim orange-red glow, but the heat it emits is a welcome
surprise. You sit down on a large log beside the fire, and soak in the warmth.

Your implant
brings up an optional chemical analysis of the burn, and you blink

The fire's only a
couple hours old; at least since its flames were last fed firewood.

Curls of smoke
waft heavenward from another fiery glow: the tip of a cigar at your feet.

You pick it up,
sniff at it. Put it to your mouth and take a deep drag. The smoke burns your
lungs and steals your breath. You cough, heave the tasteless puff back up, and
hawk a wad of smoky mucus into the dirt.

You think, Well,
that's fucking gross.


A quick search of
the station's all-encompassing network confirms that the cigar is your mark's
brand of choice. He's a tobacco smoker, all right. Before coming to El Mirador,
he bought them by the crate, like the military does.

Traces of ammonia
in the air form a trail leading toward Mendoza's
safe house in your field of vision each time you force yourself to inhale the
pungent byproduct of his cigar. You're just following his stench; chasing his
filth through the woods while his own digital ghost leads the way.

I'll take that
AR with the scope,
Sol says to some faceless gun merchant. Four boxes of
ammunition, if you've got em.

Countless sales
receipts: for sidearms, signal flares, an inflatable mattress, pieces of attire
warm enough for living outdoors.

An order for
credit line termination, per colonial law.

So you know he's

Hell, any moment
now a bullet might pierce your skull. Game over. But you've got a debt to pay,
a life to buy back. Meantime, this lawless bastard Sol owes the authorities his
freedom, at minimum; ideally his life.

Like so many, he
isn't worthy of the air in his chest.


The next town you
hit, where Mendoza's
cigar smoke trail vanishes, is little more than a way station. A stop along the
wheel that just keeps turning, pouring its infinite river on downstream.

Dawn breaks on the
horizon, its golden light halved by the glittering band of El Mirador
stretching skyward all around you.

A large unpainted
vehicle trundles by on two sets of thundering treads, headed out of town. The
sudden squawk of a bird on a rooftop overhead startles you, but you stifle your
reaction and keep walking.

says a little girl standing in the road. She grins, toothless, her ocean-blue
irises gleaming in the sunlight.

there," you say. Then, "Do me a favor: Go inside and stay there,
kiddo. Something bad's about to happen out here." You press a finger to
your lips and make a shushing sound.

She does as
instructed, and you let go a held breath. Relieved.

At the sound of
her slamming the front door, you start back toward the center of the village,
where several horses are tied in wooden stalls outside the general store and
the handful of automobiles in sight all have the Astralum Corporation logo
emblazoned on their sides in flaking, rust-scarred paint.

Then another
sound, a metallic crack, stops you where you stand, and with a pivot of the
heel you're facing back at the house where the young girl entered.

The long barrel of
an assault rifle is aimed right at your face.

From behind its
large infrared scope, a fat old man leans forward to get a good look at
you.  Gray hair, thinning to a high
widow's peak. Dull, icy green eyes. Leathery dark skin.

Sol Mendoza.

Aged, but not
enough to declare him nonthreatening.

A jagged scar runs
down his cheek, starting at the corner of his left eyelid and disappearing into
the shadow beneath his stubbly chin. His old eyes glint with a quiet intensity.


you say, only it's not a question.

The child appears
again, clutching his pant leg from behind. He shakes her off, tells her to go
back inside; she obeys.

"My little
niece says you scared her, offworlder," Sol says.

And you say,
"Did I? Just wanted to make sure she didn't see anything that might haunt
her the rest of her life, like me killing you. Like seeing me throw your limp
body into a burn pile."

"This old
man?" He cackles.

You say, "Oh
yes, Sol. Proper payment for your crimes is long past due. You want peace, you
shouldn't go around murdering AstraCorp employees and destroying their

You say,
"You've jeopardized this colony enough times. Now it's your turn to fall
face-first in the dirt. Sorry." You offer a shrug of mock sympathy.

There's that grin:
wide, toothy. A few teeth are missing, but the devilish lines in his cheeks and
the crook in his brow haven't fled. Only deepened.

"Pardon me,
stranger, but you seem to forget which one of us is staring at a rifle pointed
right between her eyes." Another insane cackle, and he wipes a hand across
his mouth.

"The people
in this town appreciate you jabbing that thing at anybody who happens to walk

He grunts.
"Girl, the people in this town know to mind their own affairs, to keep
their noses out. They know better than to cross me. You ought to take
heed of their example, you want to get out of this place alive."

You smile,
satisfied to be getting a rise out the old man. "I think you'll find I
don't need your advice to survive. You always underestimate your enemies,

"Not this
time, I'd wager." Mendoza
bares his yellowed teeth. "This time, I think I've found me just another
loyal dog come all the way up here to die. For some damned corporation, don't
give a damn about its own save for what they can exploit. Yeah, I'd say so.
Another loyal dog."

You dive sidelong
for the copper soil, reaching into the folds of your duster and pulling out the
pair of Xing-Barron submachine guns you keep holstered below your underarms.
After a momentous roll, you rise to your feet.

With a deliberate
squeeze of the triggers, a spray of gunfire erupts from both muzzles.

The explosive
cacophony of all those tiny sonic booms.

You keep your head
low, strafing as you fire.

The light of a
hundred flaring bullets as they burst free into the air, riddling Mendoza's
ragged flesh and tossing up ribbons of blood in their wake.

He doesn't even
get a chance to aim his rifle.

Instead, the life
is flowing out of him like so much wasted potentiality, drowning the earth in
an obscene pool of shining crimson as he slumps to his knees, and then
collapses backward. He's heaving labored breaths, coughing up blood that
streaks his face and drips to further soak the dirt.

You holster your
weapons, and cross your arms.

Sol's young niece
pushes the front door open, and a middle-aged man, probably Mendoza's much younger brother, steps out
behind her. There are tears in the child's eyes as she hobbles down the stairs
toward her uncle's motionless body. When the father on the porch gives no sign
of confrontation, you give him a grave look, then turn and stride on.

In the nothingness
before you, you summon the command interface of El Mirador's impressive
lasercomm array with a few practiced strokes of your index finger. A rough 3-D
rendering of the Niven habitat fills the space in front of you, and you prepare
a voice recording to send out with the beacon.

The transmission
will take months to reach the security contractors who sent you here, and a
great deal longer than that before they arrive on-station to extract you. Until
then, there will be plenty of time for exploring the luxuries of false liberty:
whiskey, campfires in the wilderness, fishing for sport. Home-cooked meals, if
you're lucky. Learning to smoke cigars the proper way, if you're feeling
extraordinarily bold.

All this just to
kill the time, and maybe even learn what it feels like to be human.

Before once more
you wake to find yourself in a cramped, foul-smelling capsule spacious enough
for one. Falling toward a new world; seeking out a new target.

Before you're unleashed to hunt

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