Full Metal Grandma

Paul Alex Gray

Story image for Full Metal Grandma by

H ouston’s a mighty fine city. It’s a damn shame it’s getting nuked to dust in sixty minutes, courtesy of the alien rift shimmering over the shattered spines of broken skyscrapers. Two arcing pillars swirl purple and amber, easily a mile high, like lightning frozen in the sky. They’re growing fast. When they connect, they’ll open a passage for hordes of invading Kestezai alien scum.

A mandatory evac order went out two days ago. The cash-strapped military did what it could to take away Tier 1 citizens. Enter Ryft.io, a startup that swooped in like a vulture, sensing profit to be made. I’m a Ryftr, a gun-for-hire following the company from rift zone to rift zone, kicking alien ass and saving any rich Tier 1 citizens too stupid to get away early. Two weeks ago, it was Seattle. Once this place is gone, I’ll make my way to the next city and do it all again.

I realize my figure silhouetted by the rift would make for an epic photo, so I send my cam-drone up. I activate the LED symbols on my purple battlesuit—machine guns, puckered lips, alien skull and crossbones—and hold my X87 Exterminator bolt rifle across my shoulder in a classic Ryftr pose.

The pic is epic. I run an auto-filter, giving it a grimy look, and mark it x o x Full Metal Grandma in the corner before uploading it to my fan-channel.

“Sure you won’t come with me, Jenny?” says Destructicus.

My fellow Ryftr’s heavy battle armour is blackened in places by hits he’s taken from Kestezai pulse cannons and grenades. He’s customized his gear with scary looking spikes—Destructicus is a fan-fave, but his real name is Randy and he’s from Omaha. He used to be a trucker back before that profession went extinct. A good man, and he’s saved my bacon once or twice.

All us Ryftrs are the same. Most have grey hairs. Everyone’s got something in their past they regret. Broken marriages. Cut off from family. Bankrupt. Drugs. Drinking. Convictions. Jail time. Everything. We’ve all made mistakes. I sure as hell made more than a few. There’s a photo in my pocket—truly! an actual photo, not just a file—of a little girl who keeps me going. Her mother won’t let me see her, and that’s fair, I suppose, but I make sure to send Ryftcoins when I can.

“Stick with me,” I say to Randy. “There’s still a bunch of rich assholes here. Super surge bonus. We could clean up.”

“Sorry, Jenny, too risky.”

A whine of engines tears over us as a Ryft.io shuttle sweeps down. Dust swirls as it comes to a halt. It’s an old model, patched up here and there. The company wouldn’t want to risk losing new tech if the nuke comes a little early, so they’re sending the junk they can write off as an accounting expense.

“Be safe, Jenny,” Randy says. “Don’t stay too late. You got people out there that care about you. May not seem that way, but they do.”

“I’ll be fine.” I force a smile. “You take care, Destructicus.”

He salutes and the Ryft.io shuttle engines rise in tone as it moves up, zipping out west.

I check my weapon. It’s a good one, rented direct from the manufacturer. I’m getting late on my payments though, if I don’t transfer some Ryftcoins soon, it’ll lock up and a repo drone will take it from me. I’m also light on ammo, just eight bolts. I weigh up my decision, then put in a request for ten more, making the payment of 90 Ryftcoins. I get a message that the delivery drone is inbound and soon enough I see it drifting over the carnage.

A message heralds its arrival.

Share your passion! Post a vid-selfie promoting

Ammodoro and receive a bonus 10 bolts

That’ll come in handy. I nod and the drone swings in front, its recording indicator on. I pop open my helmet-visor—the marketing types like human faces—and put on my peppiest voice:

“Houston’s a mighty fine city, and I hate to see it ripped apart by rifts. I’m here to kill some Kestezai scum before the biggest ever Texas barbeque, and the only way I’ll do that is with Ammodoro bolts. Perfect for blasting rat brains!”

The cam cuts to a loading icon, then a green tick animates. The drone drops two bolt packs into my hand before zipping away.

I check my Ryft.io feed, skimming through the gigs. The small human-shaped icon in the bottom left flickers, its count dropping as other Ryftrs bail, catching rides out of the blast zone. Destructicus should’ve stayed. They’re all missing out on the potential to make some serious Ryftcoin, but they’re also greatly reducing the risk of being annihilated in a concentrated nuclear strike, so there’s that.

I scan the gigs, making my own calculations. Stay or go. The bounty for retrieving civilians flares up. Only one Ryftr’s sticking around.


Three thousand Ryftcoins for any Tier 1 civilian rescued. I could really do with that sort of money. My loans are piling up, I just had to upgrade my battle-suit on credit. No battle-suit means no civilian rescues, and that means the heavies will come after me… after they’ve remote disabled my weapons, of course.

A gig pops up at a just about realistic range. I accept and a notification appears in my visor:

Connect to Ryft-Stream to share your heroism.

Earn an extra 400 Ryftcoins as well as tips

and gifts from the Ryft.io community.

I bite my lip, my finger hesitating above the AR button that floats before me. The 400 is nothing, really, but a good performance can mean a lot of viewers and the potential for big Ryftcoinage. Then again, the community is full of trolls and weirdos… last time I live-streamed, they kept goading me, calling me a femmo-soldier wannabe. Like they’d dare say anything to me IRL. I’d kick their asses.


I take a deep breath and agree to stream. I don’t have to pay attention to what the douchebags say. A new drone whirs in, hovering before me, its red capture light glowing. A countdown appears on the tiny screen and I get ready to talk.




“Hey Ryftr fans! It’s me, the Full Metal Grandma, your favorite gladiator-for-hire, coming to y’all from beautiful Houston.” I open my arms wide and the drone auto-pans, taking in the scenery of destroyed buildings and burned out cars. “As you can see, the city’s had better days. I hope y’all are rootin’ for me. Army ship’s sailed, and there’s a tactical strike inbound to take care of that rift.”

The drone pans, but it stays close to pick up my voice.

“Fifty minutes. Think I can rescue some civs?”

I glance at the feed, watching as the comments pour in.

It’s not bad. Words of encouragement and Ryftmoji, even a few tips topping up my Ryftcoins.

Couple of idiots, but not the majority.

I break into a run and the drone follows silently, its tiny red eye watching me.

Time to put my ass where the money is.

Orbit-sml ><

I push the battle-suit faster, careening up the wreckage-strewn streets so quickly I think I’ll fall. My Ryft.io app guides me towards the apartment building where the civ’s meant to be. I had to backtrack after a mini-earthquake caused by the rifts shook the ground so hard that a four-storey apartment building literally collapsed and blocked my path. Took me ages to climb over a pile of rubble to get around it.

I came to Houston once, years ago. Family road-trip. Back when I was still part of the family. We stayed in a little motel with a pool, drinking beers, eating takeaway pizza. My daughter wearing little floaties, jumping in again and again, squealing with delight till she came out goose bumped blue and fell asleep cuddled up in my arms.

Thinking about it now seems like someone else’s memory. It kind of is.

Now Houston’s about to disappear from the map, another casualty of the rift invasion. I think about what’s on the other side, try to imagine the world that the rat-aliens hail from. A lot of people think they messed it up with pollution or war or something, so they’re coming here. Like our planet’s doing so hot.

We tried talking to them, when they first showed up. But these aliens didn’t wanna talk. They just want to kill.

I’ve heard that a new rift is opening near Minneapolis. If I survive this, I can get up there, make some more coin. I even saw that one’s been detected in Italy! Maybe I could make a vacation of it!

Paris would’ve been nicer, I always wanted to go there. It got nuked last month.

Maybe I should stop thinking about bullshit and focus on the job.

I’m running seriously low on time, but I keep my demeanor upbeat as I keep streaming for my audience. “Textbook FUBAR!” I growl into my mic. “Seventeen minutes till the area’s shutdown… Think I’ll make it?”

I keep my eyes on the prize—the shelled-out apartment building at the top of this subdivision—as I listen to my suit autovoice the comments.


This rift shitz better than any game

Let’s watch this old bitch burrrrrrrrrrrrrn

Ryftmoji are filling the stream as my audience grows. An RPG. An APC. A bunch of spinning Ryftr logos. They auto-deposit, taking me close to 5,000 Ryftcoins, almost as much as this gig is worth with the surge. I make a payment to the bolt-blaster company and get a little thank you message. I might be running low on time, but at least no drone’s going to take my weapon away!

My heart’s pounding. Micro rifts have started popping up, the little ones that advance Kestezai troops come through ahead of the real deal. I move careful, scanning for trouble. I can see the Buffalo Bayou river below. It was never pretty, but now it’s just a stinking vein of trash and junk, oozing slowly out to the gulf.

I summon the app and re-check the gig. Target civ is close—and damn if it’s not some rich kid, paying a full 24x bounty! I’ve got hardly any time left, but if I can find the brat and get out with him, I’ll hit jackpot. Seventy-two thousand Ryftcoins! I ain’t seen that kind of money in years. I could easily pay back the battle-suit, take Randy and a few other Ryftrs out for one helluva party, maybe even rent a night in a micro-hotel with a bathtub.

And still send most of it back for my granddaughter.

Oops—my viewer count’s gone down, what with me quiet and all thinking about shit. “Where the hell is this kid?” I say into my mic. You have to stay engaged, talking all the time, whether you’re running through burnt out hellscapes, shepherding residents into Ryft.io shuttles or shooting bolts into aliens.

Check that building, Grandma.

Bitch gotta get her money!!!! LLOOLLOLOLOLLL

Forget the kid, you gotta bail. Shitz gonna get HAWT!!!

“Some of y’all think I’m in this for the Ryftcoins,” I say as I stomp towards the building. “And that might be true.” I kick open a door and see a flicker of movement, switching my suit to thermal vision. “But as it happens…” I peer over the edge of a couch “…I’m actually a nice lady that truly cares.”

The boy’s there, cowering, all covered in dust. He looks a mess, probably been freaking out wondering if he’s going to get killed by Kestezai or merely blown to smithereens.

“Easy son,” I say, reaching my hand down. “I’m here to get you out.”

“OMG!” he yells and leaps up, wrapping his arms around me. I haul him upright, the hydraulics of my suit grinding as I check the counter. Nine minutes till shutdown.

“All right, all right,” I say, eyeing him up. He’s not a boy, almost a man really, maybe sixteen. Green hair and metallic implants in his skin make him look a bit like a snake. What’s with all the kids trying to look so weird these days?

Holy sheeeeeeet! Dat Boom$lang!

Dat boi woulda been REKT without Grandma

I pop my visor. “You a streamstar?” I ask.

“I am! I’m Boom$lang, you must know me! Oh, shit, oh, you saved me! I wish I had my stream-gear. I got chased by some aliens, then I lost my stuff. Hey, can I get on your stream?”

“We’re kinda short on time, you know?” I say, guiding us outside. I summon the app and order a shuttle, accepting the extra fees and voluntarily adding a super surge to get a shuttle moving fast.

Boom$lang’s dancing around, hopping right beside me. He’s buzzed as all hell, but he keeps motioning at me. I do a quick namesearch and my eyes go wide.

This kid’s got close to six million fans, he’s a true star.

“Hey, let’s do that stream,” I say, and he smiles like, Yeah, you found out who. “Just quickly mind, I want to keep my eye out for the shuttle.”

“Sure, sure!” he says, hopping and playing with his hair. “Come over here, let’s get the rift behind me. I mean us! Okay, go.”

I sync with his account and activate a joint-stream. “Howdy folks,” I say with a cheesy smile. “They say you should save the best for last, and the Full Metal Grandma always brings the best. Take a look who I found a couple of minutes to midnight.”

“Heeeeey! Boom$lang here, coming at ya from beautiful Houston, woot-woot!” He waves, then throws some fingers that mean nothing to me. “Now I know you Slangers told me it was a bad idea to come down to Houston in the middle of a rift flare—Boom$lang, don’t be cray! Boom$lang, stay home and stream for us! Boom$lang, you’re too pretty to die! I know, I know, but I couldn’t resist, I wanted to see it up close! It’s so shiny! So, anyway, the craziest thing…”

He prattles on and I keep a steely gaze, make like I’m scanning the terrain as photogenically as I can, but really I’m listening for an update on the Ryft.io shuttle.

Grandma’s gonna be REKT!

Bye Boom$lang, you gonna BURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRN booooy!


Despite the trolling our view count’s exploding, and with it extra Ryftcoins roll in. Ryft.io tells me the shuttle’s coming from the east, coursing in low, and I watch out for its light.

We’re down to three minutes and I’d sooner be out of here.

The rift pillars are almost touching.

Then a light appears south of the rift, growing brighter. The shuttle.

“Woot, woot!” Boom$lang shouts. “My ride’s here!”

There’s a sudden flash to my nine o’clock, and I turn as a rat-alien steps out of a micro rift. The Kestezai are ugly things, eight feet tall with grey skin like they need some vitamin D. They’ve got long narrow faces with beady red eyes. They wear battle suits with a hole that lets their slimy-scaly-gross prehensile tales reach out. This one is already aiming a heavy weapon.


The air goes crump as the shuttle takes a shell in its side. Smoke billows and it wobbles a bit, then straightens, still moving towards us.

Was that our ride?” Boom$lang asks, and I can hear the fear in his voice now. Probably not the look he’s going for with his stream, but the reality of an impending nuclear explosion’s obviously hit him.

“Down!” I hiss as the alien turns our way.

Boom$lang goes face to the floor as a shell zooms above us, roaring past the cam-drone—by the surge in comments I can tell it was close. I get to my knees and aim. The Kestezai comes into view, and I let a full clip of bolts out, feeling a kick of satisfaction as its head explodes in a bloody pulp.

“OMG! Like, OMG!” shrieks Boom$lang and starts raving to the stream, slapping me on the back. My throat’s dry and I’m suddenly craving a hard drink even though I ain’t had one in years.

She’s kickin’ ass till the end, Granny, you’re the true MVP!

No way they’re making it out in time

Nice knowing you, FMG, you were my fave Ryftr.

The shuttle swings up, engines whining, smoke spilling but it still seems operational. As it spins to a halt, I see one side is all ripped open and one engine’s out, smoke puffing from the other. The robot signal comes through choppy:

Single passenger only. Auto

departure in fifteen seconds.

Boom$lang’s gawking at me, but I’m staring past him, out west. I know the warhead’s probably already been launched.

Just one rider.


There’s no way out from here. Well…

The rift sparkles behind me, the pillars almost touching. Already the space between them is shining brighter, a blurry light masking some space behind it.

Maybe there is another way out.

“Showtime, Boom$lang,” I say, hoisting him up. “Get your ass on that shuttle.”

“What? But what about you?”

“Shut up and go. Get out of here! And look after yourself.” I practically throw him onboard. “No more dumb shit! Stop coming to see rifts! Y’all should make something of yourself, and you…” Tears well up in my eyes, remembering this whole thing’s being streamed. “…you be good to the people who love you. Now get outta here!”

“Grandma!” he shouts, but the shuttle’s already screaming away.

Grandma, you’re my hero

Such a sacrifice!

Granny!!! Oh no I’m so sorry

There’s twenty million viewing me live, twenty-five million. This is the big-time. Global celeb level. The Ryftcoins tinkle in so fast it’s like a waterfall of cha-ching. I summon my smart-wallet, direct it to transfer all funds to my daughter’s account. Every last one.

A warning chime sounds, my suit alerting me to the news that there’s sixty seconds till the warhead impacts.

“Well folks, I guess this is goodbye.”

I turn to face the rift, shouldering my weapon and walking tall, getting the drone to record from a low angle so I look huge and silhouetted and super baddass. I get up close and reach out and touch it, a tingle tickling my fingers.

A few weeks ago I shared a couple of beers—okay, maybe more than a couple—with Destructicus, and we talked about what might be on the other side. He joked that it couldn’t be much worse than here. Why not be the first to find out?

The drone comes up close, focused on my face. I can see the capture of myself through my visor.

“Sorry to disappoint all of y’all that wanted me dead, but I’ve got some place to go. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll see me again!”

Behind me, the dying light of the day is little more than a red smear on the horizon. That, and a burning white star, growing brighter by the second.

I know what I’m doing is stupid. I’ll probably die instantly, or I’ll make it through and the gravity will be super strong and crush me flat, or I’ll land right in the middle of a rat alien party and they’ll tear me apart.

But then, there’s a chance.

There’s always a chance.

And that’s better than dying here.

I pump my X87 Exterminator, winking at the cam-drone. “See y’all on the other side!”

I take off, running towards the rift, shouting my final message.

“Full Metal Grandma out!”


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Paul Alex Gray

Author image of Paul Alex Gray Paul Alex Gray writes linear and interactive fiction starring sentient black holes, wayward sea monsters, curious AIs and more. His work has been published in Nature Futures, Andromeda Spaceways, PodCastle and others. Paul grew up by the beaches of Australia, then traveled the world and now lives in Canada. On his adventures, he has been a startup founder, game designer and mentor to technology entrepreneurs. Chat with him on Twitter @paulalexgray or visit www.paulalexgray.com.

© Paul Alex Gray 2021 All Rights Reserved

The title picture was adapted from an image by StudioStoks.

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