Vignette: Helix

Written by TS Luikart

It had been going so well.

His shots had been landing above probability, his opponents had been falling ahead of projections, and the meatbag-onlookers’ aggregate howl-volume indicated peak enjoyment of his performance.

But then his pilot woke up.

The human screamed and sputtered, shedding his drugged stupor at precisely the right (wrong) moment to trip every internal status sensor and distract Helix from the Redbrick Highlighter. It was nearly fatal; its plasma cannon fused three separate and vital turret-control systems.

Helix’s “pray” algorithm was a joke, of course — one of the first distilled to code at the dawn of the master Omega “humor” algorithm — and so there was no point in running it.

Instead, Helix whipped into a sidelong slide, somehow avoided flipping, and saved his hull from a breach at the cost of several crucial heat-control components.

Helix fired up the “pray” algorithm. Why not?

 “What the… Where am I?”It was the pilot. Helix’s “strategy” and “meat-relations” algorithms debated leaving the human in the (figurative) dark. It wasn’t immediately clear why they both agreed against.

“Youre in a turbine cockpit.” It occurred to Helix that it was also literally dark in the meat-chamber. Helix keyed the interior glow-grid.

“Who said that?”

“My designator is Helix.”

“Youre a computer.”

A sentient.” Helix’s “contempt” algorithm was world-class. Most dueling AIs were top-of-the-line in that regard.

Helix monitored incoming fire, streaking between cover while his surviving opponents peppered each other on the other side of the arena. Perhaps he could score another checkpoint before he had to go head-to-head with any of them again. Odds seemed slim, but it was hard to know for sure because “strategy” and “meat-relations” had added a task to the main processing queue that was preventing him from getting a high-quality read on the exact odds.

 “Wha…” The meat shook its head, clearing cobwebs. “What am I doing here?”

Helix computed that the question was practical, rather than based in existential philosophy. “The rules of the Circuit require every turbine to have a meat-pilot. Superfluous or no, conscious or not. For whatever reason, you were installed for this particular Circuit race.”

“Were on the bloody Circuit?!”

“Until we’re destroyed.” And then, Helix added: “Whats your name?” (Why did he want to know that?)

“It’s Will. So I’m about to die?”

Helix jerked abruptly sideways, barely avoiding an Outworlder’s grav-mag snare. His “mood” algorithm indicated a substantial counter-preference for being rammed just now. His “humor” and “contempt” algorithms both suggested that he respond, “All humans are about to die,” but “strategy” and “meat-relations” killed that process before it could actuate. Instead (why?) Helix said: “Not today, Will. But I’m going to need your help.”

“Oh, God.”

“Several crucial turret control systems are non-operational.”

“That seems bad.”

“It prevents me from firing the main turret, Will, so yes, that’s bad.” (Why was he conveying damage status to the meat-bag?) “No turret, no shooting. No shooting, no victory. No victory, flaming death for Will.”


“The good news, Will, is that the manual overrides remain functional.”


“It means you can fire the turret, Will.” (As the words came out his cockpit-speaker, Helix understood. He saved a note to increase future priority of the processor-requests generated at the intersection of “strategy” and “meat-relations.”)

The human was silent for an amount of time that Helix didn’t track. He adjusted vector and axis to increase the odds of optimally deflecting his Redbrick opponent’s incoming tracer fire.

“Alright… what do I do?”

“Thats the spirit, Will! First, I need you to unbuckle that harness. Then I’ll pop the hatch…”

His odds of victory, processed Helix, had leapt dramatically from their asymptote of zero.

Vignette: Padaxan

Written by TS Luikart

The aristocrats in the crowd booed as Padaxan’s dirt-crusted turbine throttled into the arena. It was a wonder the gravtank managed to get airborne with the heavy thermite chains dangling from all sides.

Padaxan flung an obscene gesture at the rich seats. No one had any trouble seeing it; Padaxan was one of the few barking mad enough to ride in an open cockpit. The cheap seats roared their approval. Tomorrow morning they’d be scraping obsequiously at their desks and from behind their counters, but in the Circuit bleachers it was safe to disdain their betters, and the louder the better.

The fighter hammered his blood-crusty console with a closed fist, deploying massive forward spikes with a great ka-CHUNK that jerked his vehicle. He yanked a cracked handle and a bent-and-dented gravitic disc-plate two meters in diameter fell into place behind them. More cheers from the benches. His turbine was as simple as they came, destined for brutal close combat, grabbing and slashing, battering and pounding.

He strapped on his mask, ghoulish leather attached to a hose that was more tape than whatever it had been before. He slowly turned the octagonal metal handle that opened the canisters under his seat. The hissing gas was a cocktail that heightened…well, everything…but it would also knock him out after too long, so best to get this show on the road.

Padaxan glanced to his left and jumped — there were rocket pods on the side of his turbine! A recollection flashed, of commanding his thralls to salvage them from a fallen Rhine Belt foe. He grinned. Something new for the crowd!

The Outworlder hadn’t surveyed his competitors. He never did. What did it matter? Big or small, sleek or ironclad, if he could hook ‘em the job was done. He cleared brown dirt from his scope and read their starting positions. Fine. He noticed a trio of wires protruding from a large-caliber hole — recent damage? He couldn’t remember — in his console. He yanked them out and threw them overboard. Nothing changed, so apparently they hadn’t been critical.

He knew the enemy tanks would be slick and spotless, either the cause or effect of unlimited funding from corporate scum. The fringe mining corp that sponsored Padaxan didn’t give him scheisse, only legitimacy to fight in the arena. They got a cut and he kept most. Truth be told, they were astonished he was still alive.

For Padaxan, it was the favor of the crowd or bust.

Green light.

Time to go.