Friday, September 30, 2011

The Window

by Grace Bridges -

Ave crept along a Level 14 service corridor, and hoped she wouldn’t meet a cyborg. Unregistered persons were not allowed in service areas, and she didn’t like being chased any more than the chip-controlled humans liked chasing her.

Ave came alone, slipping away from the small children who liked to cling to her, so she could move quietly above all else. Perhaps this time, too, she would reach her goal, a curiously-built gangway that led nowhere except to a true anomaly—a window.

It was the only place Ave had ever looked Outside. She’d pestered the wizards to tell her what was out there. Now she could recognise the various objects visible depending on the station’s spin: Eclectia, sometimes close and ominous, or distantly seething; Sheba and Quatermain, with their shifting seas of molten rock; the great Whale Star, and its distant Twin.

She reached the final junction and looked left and right—no one was about—so she scooted across into the niche, only to scramble to a halt before a towering man-shaped silhouette. Gulp.

“I won’t hurt you,” said the giant.

Ave calmed her breathing and moved around to the left so the light from Outside fell on him. “Who are you?”

He spread his hands as if it pained him, and Ave caught sight of the power mop leaning against the wall behind him.

She drew in a sharp gasp. “You’re franked!”

“I am a servant.” He turned his face to her. In the Whale’s light reflecting from the ring section, she could see the battle in his eyes as with all cyborgs—he hated his programming. But this one was different. He hadn’t chased her off, for starters. That small rebellion alone would be earning him a splitting headache right now.

Ave wrinkled her brow. “How...?”

“My wife.” He forced the words out, wincing, defying the silence stricture. “Also a servant. Must...must care for her.”

Ave nodded. “You must love her very much to be so strong. What’s her name?”

“Enya.” A light came into his eyes as he gazed out the window, and it wasn’t just from the Whale Star. “My Enya.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Spark of Hope

by Mary Ruth Pursselley -

Celia tucked her left foot under her other leg, trying to get comfortable on the rigid bench in the lecture hall. The professor marched onto the platform in front, and the class grudgingly opened their books.

Celia smirked and reached discreetly into her book bag. Eclectian History was always torturously dull; that was why she came prepared. She slid an art book from the library out of her bag and opened it over top of her history book.

“You’re not worried about exams?” someone nearby whispered.

“Yeah, right.” Celia replied as the professor welcomed everyone to ‘today’s exciting lecture’. He sounded excited alright, droning on in a nasal, monotone voice about the guest he was pleased to welcome…

Wait a second—guest speaker? That was a change of pace, at least.

“He has dedicated his life to the study of Eclectia’s history, excavating remains of our early civilizations.”

Celia perked up.

“His findings are among the most significant contributions to history museums on Avenir, as well as the Christchurch museum and our own Zirconia Museum.”

Celia sat forward and scanned the lecture hall, looking for the guest. A cluster of students blocked her view to the right, and since she couldn’t see anyone unfamiliar elsewhere she assumed the guest was sitting past them. She wished the professor would hurry with his introduction.

Finally, he held out a hand and smiled—well, Celia could imagine it as a smile if she tried. “Class, please welcome Mr. Robin Corpsman,” the professor said, backing away from the podium.

Celia’s heart stuttered as the guest speaker took the platform. He was much younger than she had expected—probably only fourteen or fifteen Foundings old—and he was tanned, rugged, and rakish. Celia wasn’t the only one who noticed, either, judging by scattered whispers from her female classmates.

“Well, your professor said it: I’m Robin Corpsman—you all can call me Robin—and I’m an archeologist.” His voice was a pleasant baritone.

Celia propped her chin in her hand and listened intently for the entire hour as Robin talked about his work collecting artifacts across Eclectia’s surface. He and Celeste were in the same line of work, but he was obviously making way more money than she was, and living a far better life. He was practically a celebrity, travelling and giving presentations at different museums. He had even been invited to the Avenir to speak, while Celeste lived planetside in misery, fighting just to make ends meet.

Celia wondered... what would it take for Celeste to get into Robin’s position?

The end-of-class bell interrupted the question-and-answer session at the end of Robin’s talk. Celia knew she’d never fight her way through the bevy of girl classmates in time to talk to Robin before she had to be in art class, but she had to find a way to talk to him before he left Zirconia.

He’d brought her a spark of hope that maybe she and Celeste could be together again. No way was she going to let him leave and take that spark with him.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stony’s World: Apocalypse Preempted

by Walt Staples -

Bishop Cosgrove stared into the mirror as he shaved off his signature split beard. “Tommy, you must understand, I’m not doing this for me, but for all the others.”

Tommy Rathman looked at the man he had followed for the last several years in confusion. “But why, Bishop? Why just disappear? I mean, yeah, the prophecy was wrong, but—“

The leader of His Love Fellowship cut him off. “Tommy! I wasn’t wrong! The prophecy wasn’t wrong!” He swallowed, smiled, and continued, “The calculations were incorrect; that’s all.” He turned back to the mirror. “After all, God’s time isn’t our time.”

“But why should we have to run away?”

Bishop Cosgrove glanced at him, then back to the mirror. “We’re not running away. We’re merely…taking a hiatus.”

“We’re still leaving Avenir. We’re still going out to the ice stations without telling anybody.”

The newly shorn bishop turned and placed his hands on Tommy’s shoulders. “Look. Tommy. It would be devastating to the belief of my flock…our flock, if everyone saw that the faithful had not been assumed into heaven.” He thought for a moment and continued, “Now, probably most have been. It’s just not noticeable in the population because so few follow the true path—my path—our path.”

“But—“ Tommy began to protest.

Bishop Cosgrove released his left shoulder to raise an index finger. “Now, hear me out. For some of us, the time apparently isn’t right. For you and others it may be that more preparation is needed on your part. For me, I’m afraid that I must stay in this realm to continue preparing more to receive their reward, as much as I wish His plan was different and I could leave this world of travail. But, one must make sacrifices and die to oneself if one is to faithfully follow the Spirit.” Bishop Cosgrove dropped his hands and turned brisk as he pulled on a top, “Okay, the ship for Ice Station Zebra departs Lloyd Line’s docking station L2 at 23:00. Now, that’s on deck 18.” Rather than his usual fuschia clericals and collar, he dressed in a nondescript workman’s travel suit. “Be there with only one carryon at least thirty minutes before to go through boarding. Remember, just what you can carry in one piece. Leave everything else behind—in fact, it would be best if nothing looks missing.” He flashed Tommy loving grin. “I’ll see you tonight—remember, 22:30 or so, Lloyd L2.” He left the suite.


Tommy wandered down the main community corridor in a fog. Was this real? Was the prophecy false? Was Bishop Cosgrove a liar? He shied away from the next question in the sequence--is God a lie?

He noticed he was outside a church. The sign read “1st Baptist of Avenir.” On impulse, he went in. The church was empty and quiet. He sat in a pew near the door. What should he do now? He thought about his options. He could be at the docking station tonight and go with Bishop Cosgrove and the others and—what? Live a lie the rest of his life? Try to find a job and put up with the derision of everybody for the rest of his life? Or just end everything and cut his pain short?

A hand was on his shoulder and a friendly voice asked, “Need an ear?”

Tommy turned and found himself facing a man with a gentle smile. After a moment, he recognized the man. He was the enforcer who lived down his residence corridor, Stony Oreman. Instead of his gray uniform, he was dressed casually in a wildly patterned luau shirt. He asked the enforcer, “Is there something wrong, Enforcer?”

Oreman grinned. “Not that I know of. I’m off duty and you don’t appear to be in commission of a crime. No, you just looked like you needed to talk to somebody.”

“Do you go to church here?”

The other shook his head. “No, actually I go to Calvary United Methodist. But this one is closest to my apartment. I come here to think sometimes because it’s usually quiet on weekdays.” The burly enforcer grinned again. “With a wife and five kids, you appreciate quiet sometimes.” He turned serious. “Now, want to talk? I listen pretty good.”

Tommy regarded him for a minute or two. He shrugged--what did it matter? “I think somebody lied to me.”

The enforcer’s expression was mild. “The prophecy?”

“Yeah. You heard?” Tommy looked down in shame as he waited for the laughter.

Stony nodded, “Yeah, it was hard to miss with it splashed over the media for the last couple of months.”

Still looking at the floor, Tommy shook his head. “I just don’t know what to do.”

Stony leaned back and interlaced his fingers in his lap. “Well…basically you pull up your socks and get on with your life.”

Tommy smiled bitterly. “Easy for you to say. You’re not going to be laughed at for the rest of your life.”

Stony put his interlaced hands behind his head and grinned. “What? You’re the first person in history to screw up royally?” He shook his head. “Son, you ain’t the first and you certainly ain’t going to be the last. No, everybody manages to do it at sometime or other. Most of us more than once.” He dropped his hands to the back of the pew on either side of him. “As far as the laughter, yeah, you’re going to have to put up with it for a little while. But pretty soon, people’ll be chasing after the next wonder, and the only ones bringing it up will be the jerks, and like the poor, we’ll have them with us always. The big thing is to learn from your mistakes.” He laughed. “And I must have a doctorate, I’ve made so many.”

Tommy sighed. “I can’t believe the fool I made of myself.”

Stony tipped his head to the side. “Oh, you had a lot of help doing it. So did a lot of others.” He leaned forward. “Look, the trick is to not fall for the same thing twice. If it’s a matter of religion, I’ve found the best thing is to go back and look at the original manual.”

“What? The Bible?”

Stony shrugged. “Whichever one matches your beliefs, Bible, Torah, Bhagavad Gita—whichever. In this case, I think, ‘But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only,’ covers the situation pretty well.”

“He and a bunch of the others are leaving tonight.”

The enforcer smiled. “The Bishop and his coterie? Yeah, we know about them beating feet for the Oort Cloud. They’ve broken no laws that we know of, and the creditors will be taken care of. The Law has no interest in him or his flock.” He looked at his watch. “Well, the wife should have dinner about ready, if the kids let her. Why don’t you come along? There’s an extra chair.”

Friday, September 23, 2011

Equipment Malfunction

by Kaye Jeffreys -

Reece scratched at the porous rock with his pick ax near the top of Red Rim. He took a deep breath through his gas mask then let the air weeze out through the valves. In the distance Black Rim smoked and rumbled sending vibrations through the entire mountain. Blue Rim spewed molten rock in a plume of red-orange toward the heavens. Reece chipped at the rim stone again. He hated sweating in the oppressive heat just to be skunked. The Lady in Red was being stingy with her jewels.

Brett had to be doing better. He always did better. Older brother, more experienced, more patient with the tedious work of seek and find. He had a way with the Lady. She saved her best diamonds for him.

Reece glanced over at his brother.

Brett knelt on one knee and grasping his mask.

"Brett?" Reece called through the comlink.

His brother didn't answer.

Beyond Brett, Dad stood up and surveyed the work area. Venting volcanic gases warped the view and caused static in the link. "All teams in." Stisttt, "We have a malfunction."

Reece attatched his pick to his belt and climb over the jagged rocks toward his brother. Dad came from the other direction.

Brett slumped as they approached. Dad and Reece hoisted his arms over their shoulders and carried Brett away from the rim. They crunched brittle rock and stirred ash as they selected stable footing away from the noxious gases.

"We have to get him off this mountain, fast," Dad said calmly to the entire team. And then, "Rose, you'll get to the multirider before the rest of us. Fire her up. We gotta get to First Aid," stistt, "maybe have to transport to Last Stop."

Reece adjusted his hold on Brett. "What about the offering?"

"We will bring it back later." Dad's breath labored through his mask.

"Should I break off and take it to them alone?"

"Absolutely not. Brett's health is number one priority. We will deal with the offering when we know he is safe."

Or dead, the thought popped into Reece's mind as the floor of his stomach dropped away. He pushed the thought away and continued distracting himself with, "Will the Nomads accept it later?"

"We will deal with that when the time comes. Keep focused on getting Brett to safety."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


by Travis Perry -

Elsa studied the grim face of her pastor, Elihu Simmons.

“Elsa,” he said with the raspy wheeze of the early stages of ash lung, “You know I don’t get paid hardly a thing by the congregation, that I hunt bugs to make my living, just like you.”

She stood at the entryway to his cave. He leaned on the chiseled doorway as he spoke with her, looking down at the ground, his face tinged with red, framed by his ash-flecked beard and graying mane of hair. His gaunt wife in the room behind him cast uneasy glances her way.

“That’s why I haven’t asked you before now, Preacher. I know our church isn’t rich—we’re lucky to have a church at all in this place. The rich churches build their universities and cathedrals but don’t do anything for us—”

“Give ’em credit,” he interrupted, “They send travelling ministers on a regular circuit. And give out things. Like old clothes and such—”

“But you live with us. You’re one of us and share our troubles. That’s why I’ve always respected you, Preacher. That’s why I’ve been a faithful member of your congregation. And never asked you for any help…until now.” Tears clouded Elsa’s eyes.

Simmons cleared his throat, still looking down. From somewhere behind his wife a baby began to wail. “Sarah,” he said after turning his head back. “Please fetch all the bug legs we’ve got on the shelf. I can always go back out for more.”

His wife’s eyes showed the whites of her astonishment, but she arose without a word. In less than a minute she was at the doorway, handing them over to Elsa in a rough sack woven from the long fine bristles that line the legs of powder bugs. The sack held six scrawny legs.

“Thank you so much, preacher. God bless you,” sang Elsa.

Pastor Simmon’s face flushed a deeper red. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t give you more, Elsa. Very sorry. Would you like to come in for some tea?”

“No thank you. Have to get back to feed the grandkids! They haven’t eaten in three days.” On an impulse she kissed his cheek. The pastor’s face somehow looked even redder, glowing like the ruddy sunshine during a dust storm. His wife first was astounded, but then she smiled—perhaps because she saw no threat in a woman more than twice her age.

Elsa turned away, striding back toward her home. She knew there wasn’t much meat in these half-dozen gangly legs. But it was more than a day’s worth, which was more than she had any right to expect. For the Lord had taught the disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Monday, September 19, 2011


by Kat Heckenbach -

Tomika sat on the couch, knees bent, calves tucked under her. She leaned back and released a sigh as she stared at the object in her palm.

Despite numerous scratches, the metal spearhead glinted in the overhead light. Its edges were chipped and worn, but the tip was honed to a point that had nearly gouged Tomika’s hand as she’d pulled the spearhead from the chunk of beetle meat she’d brought home from the market.

Most of the scratches were merely evidence of use. All but the name etched in the center of one side.


A common name. Too common to mean anything. Except the way it was written… in all capitals, with the “A” made from one fluid stroke so that it looked almost like a star. The same way Mary’s husband Jax wrote the “A” in his own name. Tomika had seen it enough times on Jax’s artwork—carvings done on polished squares of beetle shell—to know it couldn’t be someone else’s writing.

This changes everything.

Jax was supposed to be dead. So how was there a spearhead with his wife’s name on it sitting in her hand?

A spearhead…

Beeping snapped Tomika out of her thoughts. She lifted her head and looked at the vidscreen on the far wall. The name “X. Chambers” flashed in the corner of the screen. Tomika tapped her finger against her leg. If she didn’t answer, Xavia would just keep calling. She leaned forward and dropped the spearhead into the basket sitting on the coffee table so it wouldn’t be visible to the camera, then sat back up.

“Answer,” she said.

Xavia’s image appeared on the vidscreen. “Tomi, why haven’t you called? I thought we were meeting for lunch today.” She sat cross-legged in a hoverchair, a gold anklet flashing reflected light as she tapped her foot against nothing.

Right. Lunch. She’d forgotten. “Sorry, Xav, can’t make it today. I’m not feeling well.”

Xavia leaned forward. “You do look rather puny. Was it the meat you bought? It was bad, wasn’t it? I tried to tell you…the stuff they sell down on that level is poor quality. The higher the level, the higher the quality—you should know that by now. It’s why we pay what we do for these apartments. Next time—”

“Listen, Xav, I’ve got to go. I’ll call you later. Maybe we’ll do lunch tomorrow. Say hi to the girls for me. End connection.”
The vidscreen shut off just as Xavia’s mouth opened. Tomika raked her fingers through her hair, and pulled the long, black tresses forward over her left shoulder. She smiled as she thought of Xavia’s words. Yep, Xav, the meat was bad…

A spearhead.

Jax was alive, and bug hunting. Which meant his death had been faked. It was the only explanation. Why hadn’t she seen it before? Jax was the first to be arrested, and then every last “business partner” of his gets busted. He must have made a deal. A deal that meant banishment from the station to the planet below—leaving Mary with three kids to care for, and another on the way, all thinking he was dead. Tomika didn’t know how the girl had handled it.

Or…did Mary know?

Tomika jumped up from the couch and plucked the spearhead out of the basket. She grabbed a towel from the kitchen, carefully wrapped the spearhead, and slipped it into her bag.


Tomika’s footsteps echoed off the metal walls of the curved corridor. The electric hum of Avenir’s core didn’t travel to Tomika’s upper level, but she could detect it faintly here on Mary’s. She stopped and placed her thumb on the scanner by Mary’s door. Her heart pounded, and she fidgeted with the silver ring on her right hand while she waited for Mary to answer.

The door slid open. Mary stood in the entryway, a sleeping newborn in her arms.

“Tomika, wow. When the vidscreen showed it was you at the door…”

“I know—it’s been a while. I’m sorry. I should have called first.” Tomika shifted her weight. What was she doing? She couldn’t have had worse timing. “I’ll come back later…”

“No, it’s fine. Come on in. Jacey will be sleeping for a while.” Mary stepped back to make room for Tomika to enter. Tomika followed her inside, the door sliding shut behind them. They took seats in hoverchairs facing each other. Mary began to rock hers.

Tomika smiled. “Jacey…what a pretty name.”

Mary lowered her gaze to the sleeping infant and ran her fingertips over the peach fuzz on the top of Jacey’s head. “I named her after Jax, of course. It’s not fair that he never got to know about her.”

“You didn’t tell him?”

Mary looked up, tears welling in the corners of her eyes. “I was planning to…the night he…” She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed deeply. “He was supposed to be coming home that night, to await trial.”

Tomika stared at Mary. The unfinished sentence…the night he…echoed in her mind. Would that last word have been “died”—or something else? Disappeared. Left. Did Mary know the truth? Was she simply upset that Jax was sent away before she had a chance to tell him, or did she really believe him to be dead?

Tomika struggled for a way to find out. It had been a few months since she’d last seen Mary, their friendship decaying in the wake of all Mary was going through. Tomika’s own life had gone on as usual, and the rift that formed between them seemed impossible to repair. Her mind refocused on the spearhead in her bag.

This changes everything.

Mary wiped her eyes and pulled Jacey close, kissing the tiny forehead. “She looks just like him.”

“I bet that would make him happy to hear,” Tomika said.

“It would.” Mary laughed. “He always griped that none of our kids looked like his side of the family—as if my genes had somehow taken over. Well, he finally got his way.”

They talked about everything, including Jax, but the conversation never took a turn toward anything Tomika could use. Still, their hoverchairs eased closer as they continued to talk, and the rift in their friendship seemed to shrink as well. Soon, Tomika’s chair was touching Mary’s, and she stared down into Jacey’s face.

“You want to hold her?”

Tomika looked up and smiled at Mary. “Yeah…actually, I do.”

Mary shifted her chair around to face Tomika and eased Jacey into Tomika’s arms. The baby’s head lay in the crook of Tomika’s elbow. So small, so soft. Innocent.

Jax had not been innocent, but apparently he’d done the right thing in the end. Tomika wondered how Mary felt, either way. If Mary knew Jax was still alive, did it make her angry that he’d given up his family?

Tomika mustered her resolve. She needed to find out…but how? She looked at Mary, who’d leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. Mary’s eyes fought to stay open.

“Mary, why don’t you go take a nap? I’ll sit here with Jacey.”

Mary glanced down at her watch. “Well, there’s still some time before the kids get home from school. Wake me in fifteen minutes?”

Tomika nodded. Mary slipped out the hoverchair and smiled down at Jacey before disappearing into the bedroom. As soon as the door slid shut behind Mary, Tomika stood. Jacey nestled securely in her arms, Tomika walked through the living area and scanned for anything lying around that might clue her in to what Mary knew.

The apartment was neat, with just enough mess to show that kids made their home here. A stray toy lay on the floor, and the outer wall was smudged with little fingerprints. Tomika stepped in front of the wide porthole on the far wall of the main living area. Stars twinkled through the misty glow of red light that reflected from Eclectia, although the planet itself wasn’t visible from this side of the station.

Tomika turned and gazed around the room once more, eyeing open surfaces. She told herself she would not snoop…not really…no opening drawers, no peeking behind cabinet doors…

She walked toward a desk that hugged the wall next to Mary’s bedroom door. Sleek squares were stacked on top—but as Tomika reached the desk she saw that they were carvings made not by Jax, but Mary’s children. She let out a sigh and leaned against the wall. Jacey wiggled in her arms, smacked her tiny lips, but didn’t wake.

A muffled noise carried through the wall. Tomika pressed her ear against the hard, polymer structure and listened.


She bit her lip and closed her eyes. Tears burned behind her lids. She eased one hand out from under Jacey, shifting the baby’s weight so she stayed secure, and reached up to wipe the tears away. Her elbow bumped something sticking out from the wall, and Mary’s sobs came louder and more clearly. Tomika opened her eyes, stifling a gasp, and looked at the button she’d hit with her elbow. Of course, the intercom.

She reached out to turn it off, but her hand stopped mid-way when she heard Mary say Jax’s name. It came out muffled, but this time as if her face were pushed into her pillow.

“Why, Jax? Why did you have to leave us?”

Tomika held her breath, hand still poised in mid-air.

“I miss you, Jax…I miss you so much….”

Tomika swallowed and then snapped the intercom off. Jacey began to squirm in her arms, and Tomika turned and walked back to the hoverchair, where she sat and rocked until Jacey settled down.

Moments later, Mary’s bedroom door slid open. Her eyes were red, but tearless. She smiled weakly. “Is she still sleeping?”

Tomika nodded. “Yeah, but only just. I think she wants her momma.”

Mary smiled genuinely this time and walked over to Tomika. She eased the baby from Tomika’s arms. “Ah…not momma she wants. More like a new diaper. Wait here while I change her?”

Tomika shook her head as she stood. “No, I should be going. Xav is pretty peeved at me for skipping out on lunch today. Maybe I can catch the girls before they leave the club.”

“Well…” Mary shifted Jacey to one arm, then reached out and touched Tomika’s shoulder. “I’m so glad you came by. Next time, don’t take so long.”

Tomika wrapped her arms around Mary and the baby. “You bet.” She let go and backed up. “Now go clean up that little peanut. I’ll let myself out.”

Mary bobbed her head in a slight nod. “Thanks.” She turned and walked toward the children’s room. The sound of Mary’s footsteps told Tomika she was far from the open door. Tomika crept into Mary’s bedroom, where she pulled out the spearhead and unwrapped it from the towel.

She set the spearhead on Mary’s nightstand.

“He misses you, too, Mary.”

With that, she left Mary’s and headed back to her life. But today had changed everything.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bread and Water

by H. A. Titus -

Cara peered through the crack that led from her hidey-hole to the marketplace. Orphans, hunters, and merchants scurried around the large area, giving no sign that they'd seen her worm into the pile of broken beams.

Another night safe. She sighed, snuggled down in her pile of rags, and pulled her one whole blanket up to her hips. The space was just big enough for her bed and a wooden crate of belongings, but she preferred it over the shared rooms at the orphanage.

Cara reached into the crate and gingerly pulled out the book she'd found in the Anchor’s cargo hold. The leather cover crackled as she opened it to the first chapter.


She read through several books with odd sounding names like Exodus and a really boring section called Numbers. She skipped ahead and found Judges, a book with some weird stuff in it, like a guy getting a tent stake pounded through his head.

That's gross. As she paged toward the back of the book, she tried to remember when she'd learned to read. Most of the orphans couldn't read or struggled to sound out basic words.

She'd been able to read when she was five, she knew that. She remembered standing on the street corners and reading the marketplace signs for fun while she waited for her dad to come collect the money she'd gathered from pick-pocketing that day.

At least, he'd said he was her dad. Cara shivered and turned a chunk of pages. A line in red caught her eye and she paused to read it.

"Will you give me a drink?"

She backtracked. A teacher named Jesus was traveling through a place called Samaria when he met a woman by a well. As they talked together, Jesus told her about this water that could give her eternal life.

Now this was interesting. Lots of people wanted eternal life. She kept reading.

Several chapters later, she found a story where Jesus talked about being the 'bread of life'. How could bread and water give life? How could a man be bread?

With a buzz, the lights in the marketplace dimmed. She shut the book and looked out. The stalls were shuttered, the street deserted. Must be midnight.

Cara put the book in the crate and plopped her head on her pillow. Just as well. She needed to sleep on what she'd read tonight.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Word Carrier: Anticipation

by Walt Staples -

“Okay, Bede, what’s the problem?”

The young manuscript looked up from the potato he was peeling. “Pardon?”

Brother Trout, the abbey’s cook, stood hands on hips, one of which still held a ladle. “You’re paying far too much attention to your duties. Normally you’d be bored out of your mind stuck here on kitchen duty. Now, what’s eating you, my son?”

Bede looked back down at the potato and peeler. “I’m sorry, Brother. I was just thinking about what it’ll be like out there.”

The Corpulent friar set the ladle back in the stock pot and wiped his large scarred hands. “Nothing wrong with that, boy. Every manuscript wonders about that.”

Bede began peeling again. “I just wish I knew where I’m headed. Which church I’ll be the Bible for.”

Brother Trout chuckled. “Yes, and there’s a seminarian on Assisi wondering the very same thing. Which church he’ll be pastor of, once he’s ordained, and what his Bible is going to be like.”

“Where is Assisi at the moment, Brother?”

The friar was silent as he did the calculations in his head. He pointed upward and just to the right of the hanging rack of pots. “About there, Bede. They’ll be transiting the plane of the ecliptic sometime around Michaelmas.”

The manuscript gestured in the direction of the asteroid with the peeler. “You were at the Abbey of Francis; what’s it like?”

The cook leaned against the counter and folded his hands within the sleeves of his brown habit. “Not all that different from here actually. Gravity’s a bit less because of the slower spin. That‘s why retired religious are sent there when they’re unable to get around.”

“What else?”

“Well, the Jesuits have their observatory there because it gets them up out of the dust and gunk down on the plane.” He thought a moment. “I was there the same time Father Patrice was there. Me a novice and him a seminarian—“

He was interrupted by the arrival of Hubert, chief of the abbey’s cats. The tiger tabby walked over and laid a deceased rat at Brother Trout’s feet and sat back in expectation. The human beamed at him. “Very good, Hubert! Thou art truly the master of the hunt.” He leaned over rubbed the cat’s head and back. The resulting purr was diesel-like. As he straightened, he spoke to Bede, “Would you please dispose of the spoiler of grain while I give Hubert his reward? And mind you, wash those hands when you’re finished, young sir.”

Bede grinned and went for the cleaning equipment. As he used the tongs to drop the rat in the recycler, he thought about what it would be like to be a Bible out on his own. Probably a mining camp somewhere on the backside of beyond. Or one of the underwater habitats. Or—he paused as he washed his hands—space! He and his priest on a roving mission, going from spacecraft to spacecraft as requested.

“Someone looks like the kitten who got into the cream pitcher.” Brother Trout broke his train of thought.

“Sorry, Brother. Woolgathering.”

The cook smiled at him. “As long as it wasn’t a near occasion of sin, I shan’t worry about it. Now.” He pointed at the stool on which Bede had been perched. “Potatoes.”

The manuscript grinned and sat down. Picking up a potato and the peeler, he said, “Yes, Brother.”

Monday, September 12, 2011


by Travis Perry -

Ernsto fidgeted in the line. He remembered when moving goods up to Avenir used to be a lot easier. But then the Anti-smuggling Acts had been published...

The pressure tank next to him, roughly the size and shape of a coffin, but rounded and made of burnished steel, was mounted on a robotized wheel cart. The line he stood in was for commercial passengers with oversized luggage.

Some part of his brain picked at the word “CUSTOMS,” which had been newly embroidered in bright letters across the armbands of the enforcers standing in this designated section of Zirconia’s upper deck. Somebody must’ve pulled that out of an ancient dictionary somewhere. The word meant nothing to him.

“Next!” said the voice and he stepped forward, the robot cart following him with the tank as he’d programmed it to do. “Papers please,” said the man in his sharp new black-and-white uniform.

“Sure,” said Ernsto, handing over actual printed paper, not digital, not bugshell, supplied to him through a contact of his wizard benefactor in Avenir. The enforcer’s eyes widened at this rare form of official documentation.

“Well, sir,” he said, “All is very much in order…you may proceed.”

“Hold it, Smit!” barked the supervising peacekeeper, stepping toward them. He was not in any kind of uniform, but his badge hung prominently from his belt.

The peacekeeper snatched the papers out of his subordinate’s hand. “Gabril Jons, is it?”

“Yes, sir,” said Ernsto, attempting a smile.

The man evaluated him from his toes up to his face. “You look a lot like the image capture I’ve seen on that smuggler Ernsto Mons.” He glared straight into his eyes, looking for any sign of inappropriate response.

“I’ve heard people tell me that a time or two before,” he muttered. “Can’t say as I like it bein’ accused of criminal activity. I’m Gabril Jons, general merchant, just like the papers say.”

“I think you and your cargo need to be scanned,” said the peacekeeper.

Of course, that would never do. The scan would reveal the presence of the angel in the tank, illegal to transport. And it would also show the weapons hidden under the loose merchant’s shirt Ernsto wore.

“The papers don’t allow that.” He enunciated carefully, “This cargo may not be exposed any extreme form of magnetism or ionizing radiation. This is a special delivery to Wizard Hobson in Avenir and has been pre-inspected. Just as the papers say.” Even as he spoke he was calculating. The peacekeeper and enforcer near him he could kill before they’d realized he had hidden weapons. But the two behind would have time to react, to maybe pull an alarm of some kind, if not actually fire back. And there were more enforcers at the scanning station and the commercial shuttle itself, along with surveillance devices. Plus plenty more on the upper decks of Zirconia. His chances of escaping them all seemed slim, no matter how many he killed.

But he’d known “Forcers” his entire life—he’d known from experience that many of them joined up just to boss others around, to make themselves feel powerful. When given the chance, they could be cruel beyond belief. He was not about to fall into the hands of those dregs—he’d rather die first.

That wizard said it was all arranged!
He was angry at the old man. And with himself for having trusted anyone.

The needle gun in his sleeve he’d set up to fire by orienting his arm and squeezing his armpit just so. He turned to the peacekeeper, arm in place, ready to kill. “But officer—”

And then a powerful emotion swept over him, interrupting his plan in motion. It was a deep calmness, slapping away his rage with a shocking coolness, like getting hit on the shore with a sudden surge of the ocean. He gasped.

It showed in the eyes of the lawmen that they felt it, too. Deep, sudden calmness. They probably didn’t know where it had come from, but he knew. He recognized the presence behind it. It was the angel in the pressure tank—she had sent this emotion.

The peacekeeper, calmed and perhaps beyond that, perhaps influenced somehow, took a second look at his high-class forged papers. “I’m…I’m sorry to trouble you, sir. Officer Smit was right. Everything is in order. Please proceed.”

As Ernsto moved forward toward the Avenir-bound shuttle, he wondered why in the name of all Holy-in-the-sea-below-and-the-stars-above would that angel do that for him. Why did she save my life?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Just Remember (FLASHBACK)

by Kaye Jeffreys -

Jereth crept around the corner, resting his little hand on the wall. Mommy sat on her bed in the dark with her face in her hands. Her shoulders shook. Jereth had never seen her cry before. She often stared off into space. But the child had never seen silent sobs make her whole body shudder.

He could take it no longer. "Mommy, don't cry."

She turned. "Jereth, what are you doing here?"

"Sergie brought me home early." He looked to the floor, ashamed.

"Come here." She reached with both arms. Jereth ran to her. She lifted him up and set him on her lap. Mommy always smelled sweet like the desserts Sergie made.

"Why are you crying?"

She smiled at him. A tear pressed from her eye and she wiped it away. "Sometimes I get sad."

"Why, Mommy?" He brushed a strand of her hair away from her eyes, like she did to him when he cried.

After looking at him with eyes that said, 'I love you so much,' she said with her mouth, "Jereth, I will tell you if you promise never to tell your father. He would be angry if he knew I told you."

Fear pulled on Jereth's stomach. He knew his father's anger and whispered, "I won't tell."

Now Mommy stroked his hair. "I miss my home."

"We are home."

"This is my home now, here with you. I lived somewhere else before."

"Where?" Jereth snuggled into her shoulder.

"I'm from the High Country of Eclectia."

He twisted a bead on her long necklace between his finger and thumb. "What is Ecle...tia?"

"You will learn about it in school. But if something happens to me, I want you to know about our family in the High Country."

"What is going to happen to you?" Jereth sat up. Fear tugged again.

"Nothing," Mommy's smile soothed him. "I just want you to know about our family so that if you ever want to leave this place, you can go find them."

"They are my family too?"

"Of course they are."

"How will I find them?" Jereth yawned, rested against her shoulder and twirled the bead some more.

Mommy rubbed his back. "Look for them among the Miners of the Five Rims. Can you say that? Miners of the Five Rims?"

Jereth shook his head and pressed his face into her blouse, ready for his nap.

Mommy whispered in his ear, "Then, just remember."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


by Jeff Carter -

An ominous sound rang through the cramped cockpit as the submersible fell away from Port X. Dr. Kwame Singh’s stomach trembled with vertigo and anticipation. He looked up through the synthetic diamond window for a final glimpse of the known world and saw nothing but the blizzard of shrimp feeding off sewage.

The bathysphere sank like a rock and his pulse began to race. Everything was happening so quickly. His ‘Evolutionary Theology’ had spread through a subsection of the Wizards like wildfire. Their methods were sloppy yet their results were stunning. The Syncretization project fused the remaining saints of Ancient Earth to the whales and angels of Eclectia. A less auspicious experiment ended with a group of drunken bug hunters throwing someone into a volcano to appease the goddess Pele. Evo-Theo took the blame and the Peace Council was considering a moratorium on the entire field.

A siren rang as he sank towards the point of no return. The shell of the bathysphere groaned under the pressure. The life support systems whined under the volcanic heat.

The Wizards of Avenir were on Approach, hoping to make some weak and fleeting contact with the Angels. No one knew what type of spectrum the Angels broadcast on, but Dr. Singh bet it was still subject to the physics of signal attenuation. He was determined to go straight to the source, even if that meant plunging into the Black Water.

Violent currents of supercritical fluids slammed the submersible with scorching jets of chemicals. Kwame struggled to keep his head from smashing against the hull. Sweat soaked through his clothes and he struggled to breathe the thickening air.

He wasn’t the only one searching for signals underwater, but he knew something that they didn’t know. He had learned from the miners of Sheba how to boost receiver sensitivity. A mind under great stress received the clearest signals. Something ripped loose from the sub with a shriek. The external lights imploded and the power inside died.

He drifted silently through the darkness, staring at a view bleaker than the void outside Avenir. A speck of light flickered in the distance. It flew towards him like a torpedo and it was getting larger every second. Kwame had seen holos of angels but this thing was massive and it had vastly more limbs.

The creature flared open like a supernova, fiery red tentacles shooting out to engulf the bathysphere. The walls of the sub shrieked and Kwame shrank against the hull, trapped and helpless. A throbbing red glow filled the ship. Something pressed against the window. It was a bottomless black eye, piercing him with its gaze.

A vision was injected into his mind—Rudra Tandava-Armageddon-Ragnarok! He felt the seas boil! Mile high whips of lava lashed the sky! The whole world burned and shattered into cold and merciless vacuum!

Kwame screamed and opened his eyes. The creature was gone. Power returned groggily throughout the sub. As the ship limped upwards he felt the vision singed into his mind. The devastation had felt so vivid, so real. Had he received a genetic memory of the destruction of Sheba, or a warning of what was to come?

Monday, September 5, 2011


by Mary Ruth Pursselley -

Celia heard the light thud of something small dropping into the delivery box on her dorm room door. Dropping her art book on the bed, she walked to the door and pulled out the palm-sized package. It was coated in a film of dust that came off gray on her hand. The sending address was landside, Adagio.


Celia tore the end off of the package and tilted it up. A square audio chip dropped into her hand. Celia crossed the room to the wall player and stuck the chip in the slot. Her roommate Valla wasn’t around, so she could listen in private.

The low-grade chip made the recording sound metallic and slightly twangy, but Celia still almost cried when she heard her sister’s voice.

“Hey, Baby Sis, it’s me. I thought you might have heard about the earthquake we had here this morning, so I wanted to let you know I’m alright. I think a couple buildings collapsed on the other side of Adagio, but the one I live in is real strong so don’t worry, okay?

“I hope school’s still going good. You keep studying hard, girl. The superintendents send me your reports every semester, so I know you’re doing great. Just keep it up.

“And since I know you’d ask if you could, things here are fine. Business is good, and I’m doing real well. Listen, I’m about out of time on the recording chip, but I miss you and I love you, Baby Girl. I love you tons. Talk to you soo—”

The time on the chip ran out, cutting the last word short.

Tears streaking her face, Celia slammed her hand against the wall next to the audio player.

“How dumb do you think I am, Celeste?” she snapped at the speaker, as if Celeste could hear her. “You think I’m not going to worry about you living on a volcano, breathing the ash that killed Mom?” She held up the envelope in her hand. “You think I can’t recognize a north-side address and know you’re probably living in some shack not fit for a centipede?”

She jerked the chip out of the player and threw it viciously onto her bed. If Celeste were here, Celia decided she’d slap her until her head spun.

She’d hug her next, though. She missed her too much not to.

Friday, September 2, 2011


by Ed Erdelac -

Inspector Considine called the team in at 0300.

Considine had traced the illegal sale of some mining explosives to an ex-grit-breather named Croix, but somebody had tipped him off and he was barricaded in his cabin with the stuff, threatening to blow the entire southeast habitation ring into the Boatic Trench if he wasn’t given safe passage to Avenir.

There was a negotiator cooing at him like a babe through his door com, but Croix sure as hell wasn’t going to Avenir.

At 0305 as he laid out his demands, the Enforcers had suited up on the north end of Zirconia. Haj began passing out standard-issue GTL’s and pneumatic pistols, but Wilfort pointed out Croix’s cabin pod on the outer edge of the habitation ring and laid out the standard extraction plan. No need for hardware, but Haj was trigger happy and brought his pneumatic along anyway.

At 0310 Croix and the negotiator were arguing over the details of the shuttle that would take him up to Avenir. He wanted to pick the pilot himself from the duty roster. At the same time, the team was already wet, gripping the handlebars of a six-man sea-sled and puttering the long way around the city. Haj spotted an angel, a bioluminescent ghost stroking its way across the blue-black. He tried to take a shot at it, but Galveston, the pilot, warned him not to, and backed the warning with a meaningful tap on the diving knife on his belt. He was the only believer on the team—Jelly, they called him—short for Jelly Roller, the name some called the ones who attributed divinity to the angels.

At 3:17 Croix had the duty roster and was combing it for a name he knew. The team had ditched the sea-sled and cut their external suit lights, freefalling to the habitation ring, being careful not to bang their equipment against the hull. They hand over fisted their way to Croix’s outer shell connection joints and broke out their ratchets.

At 3:19 Croix selected Arden Pacoy as his getaway pilot. Considine made a mental note to nab Pacoy for questioning and checked his watch while the negotiator assured Croix his shuttle had been scrambled on floating launchpad B and was just about fueled and ready.

3:20 Croix was pacing his cabin, getting impatient. The team could see him through the portholes, a wiry, unshaven man with the terminally dirty, red-eyed look of a grit-breather. He hadn’t lived in Zirconia long enough to shake the look yet, long enough to know about the emergency surfacing apparatus installed in every habitation pod. The automatic release controls were on the wall beside Croix’s bunk, hid by a gaudy antique hula girl lamp. In the event of some catastrophe, the controls blew the explosive bolts that held the inner titanium pod in place, and the air-filled sphere would shoot to the surface like an inflatable toy. Of course, the ride wasn’t a smooth one by any means. It was fast and dangerous and survival wasn’t even guaranteed. Even if you lived through the ascent, you still had to get to a hyperbaric chamber or your blood would bubble up in your veins. The team was doing it the old fashioned way, from the outside. They’d bypassed the safety casings and were halfway through loosening the shell bolts. Brendermeyer was moonlighting as a comic in the Starboard Bar. He started to tell a joke about how many grit-breathers it took to empty a CO2 scrubber, but the punchline was lost at 3:22.

3:22. Croix asked the negotiator if Pacoy was ready to go yet, but received no answer. Considine and the negotiator had retreated beyond the emergency airlock in the outer hall and sealed it. The team popped the last of the bolts and Croix’s buoyant cabin was released from the outer hull container. The lights in Croix’s cabin turned red and the air inside lifted it away from the rest of the ring.

“Thar she blows,” said Brendermeyer over the team’s inter-suit com as the silvery sphere of the inner cabin rocketed away from the rusty outer hull and went tumbling end over end surface-ward.

Croix was tossed and shaken like a shoe in a clothes dryer. He’d be too battered and bloody to remember his own name, much less trigger the twelve pounds of HE detonite the Peacekeepers found in the shambles of his cabin when it bobbed to the surface approximately five seconds after the team had launched it.

Considine flicked the purple stub of a cigarette off the bobbing submersible and watched the cyanotine ash mingle with its distant relatives already drifting in the hot air. The medics carried Croix below. In about two hours he’d have words with the skinny grit-breather, when he’d been released from the decompression chamber.

For now there was Arden Pacoy to talk to.