Mirror Shards: Volume Two
Mirror Shards: Volume Two
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An Augmented Reality Anthology
BEWARE! Between these pages, thirteen tales about augmented reality lie in wait to steal away your senses.
Go on the hunt for poachers in a dangerous mist. Use your powers of reality-shaping to steal eternal life. Create a piece of art that embodies the soul of its muse. Find love in the data-memories of a ghost. Attend to your spiritual mind while your mortal body is in danger. Follow alien ley lines on another planet searching for the truth. Remember, when you step inside these pages, use all your senses, because you never know what lurks beneath...
- Augmented Reality
BEWARE! Between these pages, thirteen tales about augmented reality lie in wait to steal away your senses. Go on the hunt for poachers in a dangerous mist. Use your powers of reality-shaping to steal eternal life. Create a piece of art that embodies the soul of its muse. Find love in the data-memories of a ghost. Attend to your spiritual mind while your mortal body is in danger. Follow alien ley lines on another planet searching for the truth. Remember, when you step inside these pages, use all your senses, because you never know what lurks beneath...
Intro Into Chapter One
Intro Into Chapter One
Ghosts in the Mist
By Annie Bellet
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Annie Bellet is a full-time speculative fiction writer. She holds a BA in English and a BA in Medieval Studies and thus can speak a smattering of useful languages such as Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Welsh.
She has sold fiction to AlienSkin Magazine, Digital Science Fiction and Daily Science Fiction Magazine. Her short work is available in multiple collections from major e-book retailers and her first fantasy novel, A Heart in Sun & Shadow, is available now as both an e-book and in trade paperback. Her interests besides writing include rock climbing, reading, horse-back riding, video games, comic books, table-top RPGs and many other nerdy pursuits. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and a very demanding Bengal cat.
I’d taken the job as a ranger on the planet Varuna because the Interplanetary Exploration Corps gave me no other choice if I wanted to remain employed. They’d dumped me at the station in the Chalice and somehow even with my hot temper and dislike for authority, I’d managed to stay on for half a decade.
Part of it was the Chalice itself. The valley was unique to anything anyone had found anywhere. Surrounded by an almost perfect bowl of craggy mountains, the deep crater had its own ecosystem fueled by the chemical mists that shrouded it. The Mist was produced by the fern trees but a whole world of strange creatures lived within, some, like Gaval’s lemurs, were harmless. Others, like the almost mythological ghost lions, were not.
When I close my eyes, I can still see Ajax, the man who saved my life and helped make Ranger Station Northwest a home for me. His grinning face, the laugh lines deep in skin only a shade lighter brown than my own. He’d shown me how to use my Tracker Lenses, how to trust my instincts in the Mist, how to respect it without being too afraid to go into the pearlescent, alien world inside the boundaries of the Chalice.
Ajax had spent nearly fifty years as a ranger guiding scientists and researchers inside the Chalice and keeping poachers out of it. He was the only one I knew who’d seen a ghost lion and lived to talk about it. Not that he talked much. When I’d asked him what it was like, he’d just shaken his head.
“Like flying,” he’d murmured with a secretive smile. “Like facing God.”
When IPEC had given him notice of mandatory retirement, he refused to leave.
When they insisted, Ajax had walked into the Mist, without tracker lenses, without a filter mask. I’d searched for days, until the new station leader, a hard-ass named Leon, had grounded me pending psychiatric evaluation.
I’d found no trace of Ajax at all.
I was sulking in my bunk when Oscar, our monitor tech, pinged me on the intercom. I’d given him an order not to disturb me unless he was on fire, but we were the only two people left in Northwest, so I tried not to bite his head off and instead made my way down the narrow corridors from quarters to com.
Oscar sat in his wheelchair in front of the mess of wires, screens, and other technological stuff that just looks like a disaster to me but which Oscar controls and monitors like a six-armed god. He’s only got the two arms, and no legs anymore, but the perimeter of the Chalice in our wedge is his bitch.
“Two perimeter relays just went offline,” Oscar said.
“What? Where? I thought Leon’s team was taking care of that.” Taking care of it and leaving me behind. A pang of grief threatened to break through the simmering anger and I clenched my jaw, focusing on the array of monitors like they held a secret map to sanity.
“It’s the other side, not where Leon and the others are.” Oscar’s face was guarded when I finally turned my head and looked at him.
“That’s weird. Two relay malfunctions in a day? Did you notify Leon?” I spit out that last part. He was the station leader.
“Yeah. He says since you’re here alone that we should hold tight and they’ll deal with it when they return.”
“The fuck they will.” I took a deep breath as Oscar flinched away from me. “They’re on the opposite side of our wedge. It’ll be hours before they get back. I can get to the down relays in a couple hours by hoverbike. I’ll go take care of it.”
“Leon said. . .”
“Fuck Leon. Besides, he only forbade me from going into the Chalice. The relays are on the edge.” I threw Oscar a tight grin and turned away.
“Jana,” Oscar said softly. I turned back. “Be careful. This feels like poachers to me.”
I shrugged and left to get my gear, but I agreed with him. Yet, the relays were well hidden. A poacher finding and disabling one was possible, but two? Almost simultaneously? Or, if Oscar’s suspicions were correct, multiple relays on opposite sides of the Northwest wedge? They’d have to know our procedures, where the boundaries were, all sorts of inside information. I shook my head. This had to be coincidence.
I ignored the whisper of Ajax’s voice in my mind telling me there are no coincidences.
It felt good to be out in the fresh air again. The station perches on a rocky outcropping overlooking the Chalice, the swirling Mist below like an opaque mercurial sea. The high sides of the bowl are covered in a petrified fern forest. I wove my hoverbike through the silent stone trees, blinking tears away as my eyes adjusted to the tracker lenses. I left my mask off, the air here was clean and the oxygen content gave me a little buzz I enjoyed.
I didn’t intend to go into the Mist. I would fix the relay boxes if I could and then return. It had been nearly three weeks since Ajax disappeared. No one could breathe Mist for weeks and survive. I shoved away thoughts of Ajax and focused on the drive. It was early yet in the long day, the sun just coming over the jagged rim of the mountains.
I had almost reached the point Oscar had designated as a good place to climb down to the first relay when a glint caught my eye. That was all the warning I had. I slammed on the brakes as a bolt from a laze rifle ripped through the front of my hoverbike, slagging the engine and sending me spinning off into the rocks.
I hit the ground hard and rolled, scrabbling for cover, then lay very still. In my earpiece, Oscar was calmly repeating his plea for information, though I could sense his desire to scream at me to respond.
“Jana, come in. Jana. Report.”
Peeking out of my hiding place behind the bole of a petrified tree, I scanned for movement. Nothing. Whoever had shot at me seemed satisfied I wasn’t a problem anymore.
I pulled up my filter mask and seated the subvocal mic against my throat, activating the sensors. Rolling my sore shoulder, I took stock. I’d live with a few bruises.
“I’m okay, Oscar,” I murmured, my lips barely moving behind the stretchy, skin-like mask. “It’s poachers, at least one.” And they’d been waiting for a ranger to come investigate, known the route I’d take to get to the relay.
“I notified Leon. You’ll have to sit tight until someone can come get you. Don’t engage, Jana.” Oscar added, probably repeating what Leon had told him.
Don’t engage. Just sit here while the poachers went into the Mist. They were after Gaval’s lemurs, of course. The lemur fur was worth a fortune with its high density, velvet softness, and unique glittery, translucent color. I wondered how many lemurs the poachers could get in the hours it would take anyone to reach me and didn’t like the calculations. They’d be long gone before anyone got here.
“I’m going after them,” I said and then shut off my com link.
I crept back to the wreckage of my bike and found my tranq gun. The thick darts had enough knock-out power to take down a grown man in seconds. I also still had my boot knife, another one of Ajax’s teachings. I checked the fastenings on my suit, sealing the neck to keep the water vapor from soaking me. Then I activated my tracker lenses, blinking as the world went from the muted browns, golds, and greys of the petrified forest into the black and white world the lenses showed. It would be different once inside the Mist.
I picked my way down toward the wall of shifting iridescence where the Chalice Mist started. Disturbed stones showed where the poachers had entered but looking around I couldn’t see their vehicle and didn’t want to take time to search more thoroughly.
I took a deep breath as I stared up at the towering wall of Mist. It was only about fifty feet high here at the edge, but that was enough to feel small and alone against it, enough to give me the impression of moving beyond a known world and into a place where I wasn’t in control. Beyond this wall, I was at the mercy of my training and the software and hardware in my lenses and filter. Beyond this point, I wasn’t the dominant species.
Of course, neither were the poachers, and they didn’t have the advantage of the research and science that went into my lenses.
I stepped into the Mist, letting the warm, thickly damp air close over my head. Immediately, my lenses started processing information. Without them, visibility would be about five feet, maybe less in places. With the lenses, it’s thirty or so as they filter and process the reflected light from the shifting mist. As I moved further into the Mist, ducking under fern fronds from the thick trees, the tracker lenses picked up the pheromone trails of various animals, lighting up my vision with colors.
The Mist doesn’t blow away or change much at all. The creatures that live within it, so the scientists theorize anyway, navigate less by sight or even sound and more by smell and pheromone sensing. Over six hundred species of insects, birds, amphibians, and mammals have been catalogued so far by pheromone trail or unique vocal signature. My lenses have all this information and can pick up the traces of anything that has crossed my path in the Mist within the last couple days.
Tracking humans in the Mist is more difficult, but even we leave traces that hang in the Mist. My lenses highlighted those in dark blue, but I found only a tiny hint as I moved deeper into the Chalice. The poachers had covered up their bodies well. I tracked the old-fashioned way, hunting for broken fronds, footprints in the composting loam of the forest floor.
I found traces of two humans. They didn’t have much of a head start on me, but I was slowed by my desire for stealth. Their laze rifles wouldn’t work well in the Mist but the poison dart guns they used on the lemurs would kill me just as dead. If I were going to drop them, I’d have to do it carefully.
Traces of yellow lit my vision, signaling recent lemur activity. The house-cat-sized creatures were the most common mammal in the Chalice, living on the large millipedes and other crawly insect life. Two varieties of python and a fox-like creature were their dominant predators, along with, of course, the possibly extinct ghost lion.
Dripping water and the occasional bird call were all that disturbed the thick silence of the Mist. Then, as I looked up from a footprint, I caught movement at the very edge of my vision. A man, crouching by the bole of a mist fern, his shape a dark blue relief against the swirling grey.
I brought my tranq gun up, ignoring the pained twinge in my shoulder. Fern leaves and the dark shapes of trunks obscured some of my vision, but I had a clear line to the crouching blue shape. I took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger.
The man, and it was definitely a male, cried out as the thick dart hit him. He stumbled forward and then fell over.
My sensors picked up movement and rustling to my left a scant second before my natural hearing caught the noise. I twisted, cocking the gun to cycle in another dart. A dark blue shape came at me, his own gun raised. There was no time to aim. I squeezed off another shot, missing as he dodged behind the trees. I loaded another round and moved toward him.
He came at me quickly, leaping from behind a wide trunk and swinging his gun like a stave. I blocked with my own rifle and threw him back, kicking out, my boot connecting with his knee. The force jarred my leg but he went down with a yell, dropping his gun.
This close I could see his face, light eyes behind goggles and a filter mask that was probably a cheaper version of my own. No one outside the rangers had access to the tracker lenses and the software to go with them, thank heavens, but there were goggles and lenses that could help cut the odd glare of the Mist and programs that could track the lemurs’ strong pheromone signature. It was always a war with those who had enough money and desire. With what a single lemur pelt would fetch on the black market, it was worth the risks, apparently.
“Stop,” I yelled. “You are under arrest for poaching and trespassing.”
The man snarled and drew a knife, staggering to his feet though I saw he favored the leg I’d kicked. He came at me faster than I expected and I hadn’t time to take a shot and put him down. I caught the knife swipe on my rifle, metal scraping hard plastic, and tried to kick him down again, aiming for the same leg.
He recovered from my block and slashed downward, his blade slicing into my suit before I could snap my leg back. I felt the sharp bite of the knife pricking my skin but the pain was just fuel. I threw my rifle into his face and grabbed his knife arm as he shifted to block. My weight came down on him, pulling us both to the ground, and we wrestled for control of the blade.
Then, with a scream that echoed the cry my heart had made when I read Ajax’s email that he was going into the Mist forever, the man stopped fighting. The hot scent of blood crowded through my mask and my lenses' first aid program was trying to tell me my leg was bleeding and required attention.
I crawled off the man, leaving him gasping and clutching the knife in his chest. My first aid program helpfully told me his lung was punctured and he had less than a half hour to live. Light froth, probably pink but showing white in my modified vision, spilled over his lips as he gasped.
I pulled a skin patch from one of the sealed pockets on my suit and slapped it onto the cut on my leg. The cut was superficial, my first aid program didn’t even think it would need stitches, but now that I wasn’t fighting for my life the stupid thing burned like hell.
“How did you know where the relays were?” I said when I could breathe again.
“The… what?” the man gasped.
“The perimeter alarm things,” I said. Inside the Mist, only very short range communication technology would work. We had perimeter relays set up like a fence just on the edge of the Mist to warn us when someone crossed into the Chalice. Knocking out two relays left a hole in the fence. But the boxes were tiny and well camouflaged. Without the location in my lenses, I’m not sure I could have even found one.
“I need help,” the man whispered.