Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Cara sat on a catwalk, the shadows obscuring her as she watched the smuggler unloading his ship. She’d noticed him last night, handing out bread to a few orphans in the marketplace. He looked nice, so she’d followed him so she could get a look at his ship. She wouldn’t have dared with some of the smugglers, but this man she trusted as much as she could trust anyone.
His ship was a newer model, sleek and pristine. If she ever got her hands on a ship half as good as this one, she’d be happy.
It wasn’t quite fair, she told herself. She liked flying. When she was five Foundings old, she’d snuck on board a trade ship for a round trip to Zirconia and back. But, being an orphan, she’d never be accepted in a flight school, even if she had enough money to pay for the classes.
Maybe this guy would give her lessons. He’d handed out food, hadn’t he? That was more than any of the other smugglers, or even the honest merchants, would do. It was strange that he would care about the orphans, yet disregard the Peace Council’s laws.
Footsteps echoed in the corridor. Cara stood up and leaned over the railing. Three Enforcers strode down the row of docking bays toward the ship. She looked back at the stack of boxes. The smuggler had gone inside.
She bit her lip. Did she have time to warn the smuggler?
The smuggler ducked out of his ship just as the Enforcers reached his stack of cargo. They stood facing each other for a moment. Cara could see the smuggler’s face, his blue eyes calm, his muscles relaxed. Didn’t he understand what the Peacekeepers were there for?
One of the Enforcers finally cleared his throat and spoke. “Pieter Kinsrol, you’re under arrest.”
Pieter. So that was his name. Cara expected him to make a run for it, or dart back inside his ship and try to escape. Instead, he nodded and spun around to receive his handcuffs.
Cara gently slapped herself. Had she just seen what she thought she’d seen? Who in their right mind would just let himself be arrested?
As the Enforcers led Pieter away, Cara jogged along the catwalk to keep up. There had to be a way to help him. And by the Whale, she was going to find that way.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
by Walt Staples -
The final break in the case.
I take a sip, the bourbon anesthetizing my tongue.
Our anniversary—26 years.
She lied to me—it was her all the time.
Everybody lies to cops.
Level in the bottle slightly lower.
The light through the bottle glows amber.
My oath to uphold the Law?
Swish the alcohol around in the bottle.
My vow before God?
…to have and to hold…
Slide the bottle back and forth on the table.
I will discharge my duties with integrity…
I take another sip.
…for better, for worse…
Almost a dead soldier.
I will act justly and impartially…
“Hello, Homicide? Let me talk to Clater.”
Bottle into the disposer.
…until death do us part.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Jax crouched behind the rock, sweat dripping down his back. His hand twitched around the spear held tight against his shoulder. The familiar click-click was getting louder quickly; the bug was close.
He stiffened and adjusted his grip on the spear as he anticipated the appearance of the beast. When it sensed his presence, it would rise up on enormous black legs, giant pincers threatening. But the triangular section of tender underbelly would be exposed—for one critical moment. Jax breathed deeply to calm himself.
Nothing had quite prepared him for the life of a bug hunter. Back home on Avenir he’d been a businessman. Suits, ties, meetings with people of power. People with the kind of power he wanted, so much so that he’d been willing to do anything…
Even putting his family in danger.
Then that morning came. The enforcers barreled through his front door, and Jax was dragged out of his home, hands and legs shackled. The anger in his wife’s eyes had hurt. The fear in his children’s eyes had nearly killed him.
He didn’t have to think twice about the offer from the government. Tell all about everyone he’d been involved with, every detail of their crimes, and be set free on Eclectia. His death was faked to take his accomplices off his trail. Of course it meant giving up his family, but it ensured their safety.
The clicking intensified, jarring Jax out of his thoughts. Every muscle in his body tensed.
A roar erupted from the other side of the rock. Jax counted, one, two, three… He jumped to his feet and aimed as the creature reared up. The spear left his hand, arced over the rock…whoosh…and lodged into the exposed flesh. The giant beetle screeched and dropped straight down, shaking the earth beneath Jax’s feet.
He stared as the beautiful, dying beast twitched, its legs curling and scraping the rocky ground. Then he lifted his gaze skyward, tears burning the corners of his eyes.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Ernsto Mons slid the fifth mini-torpedo into his bandolier, laid out on the stained mattress in a cheap hotel in the deepest part of Zirconia. His weapons included the guided torpedo launcher, wickedly sharp hooks attached to duraflex netting, ten sonic stun grenades, a tranquillizer gun loaded for underwater use, some of its tips poisoned and some not, and a steel curved knife nearly big enough to qualify as a sword. His gear also included his armored dive suit, specially designed to allow him to face the high pressures at depths of six kilometers. But that was stored in the third storage cell on the right from the nearest airlock into the city, the one at the very bottom, one little-used due to the incredible water pressure and complete blackness of the depths outside.
He fingered his five platinum coins—these would bribe the enforcer at the entryway. The other twenty-five were for him to keep, with twenty-five more when he delivered his prey to the wizard up on Avenir.
Ernsto grinned to himself. "Like you said, old man. One angel comin' up your way—dead or alive."
Sunday, March 20, 2011
“Captain to the bridge! Captain to the bridge!” Chris Nakamura tried to ignore the canned announcement as he watched the target slowly cross the plotting board. He heard the hatch dilate and sensed Meg, his wife and captain, dropping into her command seat.
“What have we got, Chris?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Not sure, hon. It’s on a closing course and masses about 80 kilos.”
She cupped her chin in a Meg pose of furious thought as she read the target’s changing coordinates. “What’s it squawk?”
He shook his head. “No reaction to interrogation. It must be natural.”
“Do we need to shift orbit?” There were few things merchant captains hated more than expending reaction mass to change from their optimum economy orbit. One would think the credits came out of their personal accounts. In the case of the family-owned tanker Tau Ceti Maru, this was literally true.
Chris tapped on the data plate set into his seat’s arm and answered, “George says no, dear.”
The redhead smiled sweetly at him. “Be a pussy cat and run the numbers anyway; you know how much I trust that computer.”
He mock-scowled at her. “You, woman, are either a Luddite or Captain Bligh.”
A chuckle behind them was followed by a gravel voice, “I’d say a mixture of the two; though, considering the captain’s open boat voyage, there are worse things a spacer could be called.” Uncle Onslow strolled forward, scratching his hairy belly. It was agreed among spacers in Avenir’s system that Onslow was someone’s uncle—it was just that no one admitted kinship. It was also agreed that he was a very fine, if unorthodox, ship’s engineer. The fact that he passed up a number of sweeter offers to sign on the tanker was put down to his natural contrariness.
Meg eyed his wet hair and beard. “I take it we disturbed you at a bad time?”
The fat man grinned down at her. “Three days sweating over that devil-spawned auxiliary burner and just as I gets into the mister, I hears, ‘Captain to the bridge”—oh, aye, lass, ye might, maybe, say that.” He hitched the towel a bit more securely around his waist. “But more yer’s problem; I’m used to the stink.”
Chris asked, “Any ideas, Unc?”
“I don’t suppose ye’ve looked at it?”
Chris frowned, “Look?”
Again the chuckle. “Aye. Look, see, open a window and stick yer head out and feel the vacuum blowing through yer hair, lad. Otherwise that over-expensive optical telescope is so much ballast.”
Chris colored. He hated it when he got a case of the “dumbs.” He powered up the instrument. Twenty seconds later a red and blue strobe appeared against the star field.
Meg asked, “How close will it pass?”
“Actually, considering our velocity, it’s more like how close we’ll pass.”
Meg reached over and gently bapped Chris on the back of the head. “Whichever, husband.”
“George and I both say about point-two-eight klicks. It’s in our shadow.”
Onslow snorted. “Close enough to wave to him as he goes by; though…I doubts he’ll be in a mood to wave back.”
Chris looked around at him. “Who?”
The old man grinned and tousled the younger man’s blond hair. “As a regimental color sergeant I had the honor of decking and drinking with often said, ‘Wait for it, lad.’”
Minutes later, the target moved into the sunlight. Husband and wife both gasped as the human figure appeared. Oddly, though it sported the red and blue strobe, it didn’t display the bulk one would expect with an environment suit.
Onslow rumbled, “Kinder, meet Beach Ranks. Say hello, Beach.’”
Chris and Meg looked at each other. Meg broke the silence, “Ranks? You mean the Deck 14 cannibal?”
The big man’s voice was grim, “That be him, all right. I strapped the reaction unit and strobe on his back me self.”
Cris asked in a hushed tone, “And then you spaced him?”
Uncle Onslow slowly shook his head. “Nay, not me. The peacekeeper in charge of the investigation. It be hair-splitting I know, but…there ye be.”
Meg looked back at the screen. “Isn’t there supposed to be a transponder?”
The chief engineer nodded. “Aye, supposed to be. Must be on the fritz. Ye’ll want to report it as a hazard to navigation.”
Chris quietly asked, “When was he—was it done?”
Onslow thought for a moment, then answered, “Thirty-three standard years ago he left planetary orbit. Another half century, he’ll reach the sun.”
Meg shivered. “A long flight.”
The other scratched his belly once more. “Aye. But then, he’s got all the time in the cosmos.”
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Eleon McManus hauled on the ascent lever and threw his vehicle into reverse at the same time, then leapt to the comms unit on the other side of his cockpit and hit the emergency relay together with the tsunami warning button. If he felt the tremors out here in the sea, there could be danger for the land and settlement.
Alerts sent, he returned to steer his submersible. He had been moments away from committing to the docking maneuver when the sea had begun to shudder. Now at a safe distance, he throttled back from the reversing movement and waited to hear back from the harbourmaster.
Meanwhile, his ascent had continued and now the head of the sub broke the surface and a thousand droplets ran down the curved window. Eleon peered out at the harbour buildings, now too far away to make out any movement. He reached out and touched a control, and engines whined as the sub spun to face the open sea. If a wave was coming, he should face it for the greatest safety.
“Mac?” crackled from the speaker. “Reckon we felt that same time you did. All personnel now sealed inside our building, and they’re closing the watergate now.”
Eleon let out the breath he’d been holding. It might be an everyday occurrence in the life of every person on Eclectia, and a freight driver in particular, but he had long ago decided humans weren’t built to take the stresses of a violent seismic planet like this. But it’s not like they could up and leave—even its breathable air was a miracle in the unimaginable expanses of hostile, lifeless space. He was lucky to have secure quarters in the undersea city of Zirconia, built to withstand the greatest quakes.
He flicked a switch to take a little more water into the ballast tanks. On the outward journey still, he had no cargo for stabilisation. By now the rock valley leading to the settlement of miners and hunters would be sealed to a height of a hundred metres, the huge metal doors sliding out of their slots carved in the cliffs on each side.
His friends in Adagio would be okay. Eleon faced the oncoming wave and asked the whales to keep him safe.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The sight of the boy huddled in the corner stopped Spiner in his tracks. If he were caught following up on the illegal experiment…
He slipped behind a support column. He couldn’t chance anyone seeing him, not even a homeless child. But pity tugged at his heart as he watched the tattered urchin pull scabbed knees to a skeletal chest. Tears streaked through grime on the boy’s cheeks. Spiner leaned his forehead against the cool metal beam.
“You can come out, sir. It’s okay.” The boy’s voice squeaked mouse-like. He couldn’t have been more than seven years old.
Spiner stepped out into the corridor and walked softly toward the boy. He knelt down as the boy wiped away tears with the back of his hand. “Are you hungry?”
The boy nodded but didn’t meet Spiner’s gaze. “I won’t tell anyone you’re here, even if you don’t feed me,” he said.
“I appreciate that.” Spiner reached out and brushed a string of blond hair away from the boy’s eyes. “You know what I am?”
“A wizard, sir.” He lifted his head, eyes wide. “I’m sorry, I know you don’t like being called that, but I mean no disrespect.”
Was he only seven then? Such a big word for a little boy.
“No worries, kid. I’ve no apologies for my beliefs.”
“I believe, too,” the boy said. “I-I want to learn.”
Spiner studied the boy’s face. Intelligent eyes. The eyes of a survivor. He whispered, “You’d like to be an apprentice?”
The boy’s “yes” was barely audible.
Spiner leaned in. “Let’s go. Food first, and then some lessons.”
One corner of the boy’s mouth tugged up into a half-smile as hope sparked in his eyes.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Tennant gained the rim of the lava sea with a final crunch of his boots and paused for breath. He never tired of this moment, giving colour to his otherwise dreary life: moving from the sealed habitat on the broken planet’s regularly curved surface, to this, literally the end of the world, where the sphere had cracked into craggy, uneven halves.
He turned his face straight up and beheld the other major remnant of the cataclysm, a huge sky of lava that threatened to fall on his head. Swathes of rubble danced around it and in the gap between Sheba’s halves.
He blew out a breath, fogging his faceplate, and returned his gaze to the task ahead, fighting vertigo. Tennant glanced at his partner, then stepped forward from the volcanic grit into the maze of scaffolding at the edge of the abyss.
Iridium ore: the “batteries” of Avenir, partly present in the crust of the more habitable planet Eclectia that now loomed beyond the incredibly distant horizon ahead.
They attached their harnesses and turned to back down the first ladder. The Avenir station glinted there in the bright light of Ceti 94, and off to the right he spied the lesser glow of its distant twin star before the rock blocked his view.
They reached the tunnel entrance and unhooked themselves in turn. Tennant allowed himself one last, long look over the wild and ever-shifting sea of lava still miles beneath them, before he spun and entered the mine to begin another long shift.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Cool, smooth metal met Ave’s fingers as she slid down the wall to sit in the corner. No one would bother her here in this obscure corridor—not for a while, at least. She concentrated, and felt the distant, almost intangible vibrating of the station. Its comfort calmed her, and she hummed to herself, head down, hair shutting out the world and thoughts of Smith. A good kid, but they were both too young—only fourteen Foundings.* And the children—the beggars, the poorest of all beings, who didn’t even have a claim to parents—they looked up to her. She must do right, and not be distracted by an obsession for love, as heady as it was. The time was not yet come.
Ave recognised the tune she hummed, and smiled a little: her name-song, and that of the colony. “Arise, Avenir Eclectia; be strong, Avenir Eclectia. Stand firm, Avenir Eclectia; live on, Avenir Eclectia.” A rousing anthem that gave her the tingles. Her first carer had given her the name of the entire colony: Avenir, though she went by Ave. She placed her hands on the floor, felt her connection to the huge space habitat and the presence of the planet below, and hoped she hadn’t hurt Smith beyond repair. He’d understand, someday. Wouldn’t he?
The beings on the planet called to her and she rested in their mental embrace, sensing only the living station through the cool, smooth metal.
Click here for the Eleon song she is humming!
*A Founding being every 15 months, her age is close to 17.5 Earth years.