Monday, May 30, 2011


by Kat Heckenbach -

Gavin stood next to the wizard—gotta stop thinking that…he says he don’t mind, but if I slip up and say it out there he could get busted—who wiped his hand on his already smudged lab coat. Thick, black bangs hung in his eyes as he peered into a bubbling test tube. And he keeps tellin’ me I need a haircut.

The table in front of them was covered with odd-looking equipment that whispered with ticks and whirs. Shiny steel and tarnished brass competed for dominance between modern technology and—what’s that word Ave told me once…oh, yeah—Victorian.

“Dr. Spiner, tell me again why you use this old stuff? It looks archaic.”

The man peeked out from behind his bangs and gave the strange smile he always did when Gavin used words for older people.

“Newer isn’t always better, son. Especially when you’re studying things of such antiquity.” The wiz—scientist winked and looked back at the table, then reached for a spindly metal contraption without further explanation.

Antiquity was the kind of word no one but Ave would use when speaking to him, at least not without patting him on the head and giving him a dumbed-down definition. But Dr. Spiner had trusted him to understand. Gavin bit his lip to stop the grin that wanted to push his cheeks out with pride.

And then, as he climbed onto a stool for a better view, he realized Dr. Spiner had used another word no one had ever spoken to him before. A word that made his eyes burn pleasantly with tears.


Friday, May 27, 2011


by Mary Ruth Pursselley -

Celia banged the door shut and threw her shoulder bag onto the bottom bunk. The bag bounced and two of her books slid out.

“Don’t slam the door; you’ll get us both in trouble,” said her roommate, Valla, sitting cross-legged on the top bunk and scribbling in a notebook.

“Sorry.” Celia ducked and flopped onto her bed, her legs draped over her book bag. Today was Railway third, and there had been no meeting with the school’s superintendent, no official notice saying she’d been expelled for lack of funding.

That meant Celeste had paid for her to stay here another semester.

But she didn’t want to stay here another semester. She liked art class—she thought she might like to be an artist eventually—but the rest of the classes were dreck and the teachers didn’t know anything. Sea Life and Ancient Earth were the worst classes of the lot. Every sentence was prefaced with “it is thought” or “it is possible” or “many believe” or “some have speculated” and nothing was ever nailed down to solid facts.

Celia wished Celeste hadn’t made her come here. She wished she would let her go back to Adagio. She wanted to be with her sister, even though she was mad at her. She’d been mad ever since Celeste left her here three Foundings ago...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Anchor to the World

by H. A. Titus -

Pieter Kinsrol sat on the catwalk, looking wistfully down at his ship, the Anchor. He’d always liked that word. Something firm and strong, to hold you fast. The ship was his anchor, holding him fast—otherwise, he might have set himself adrift a long time ago.

The sound of feet pinging along the catwalk made Pieter raise his head. A girl in a tattered jumpsuit came to his side, sat down, and started swinging her legs.

“Hello,” she said. “Why aren’t you in your ship?”

“Two years of probation. They haven’t installed the electronic sensors yet.”

“I was wondering what sentence you got. They wouldn’t let me into the courtroom to hear. Not even to testify. Guess no one likes hearing the truth from an orphan.”

He remembered seeing this girl as he handed out food.

“So why’d you do it?” She turned her face up toward him.

“Do what?”

“Smuggle. You’re rich, so why did you have to smuggle to feed us?”

Pieter chuckled wryly. “How did you know I was rich?”

“You look it.”

Pieter sighed and rubbed his face in his hands. “I started smuggling cause I was bored. Better than getting addicted to drugs for a rush. In the marketplace one day, I saw an orphan beaten because he tried to steal food. I felt ashamed, because I had enough money to feed all of you, and I was keeping it to myself.”

“Well, thanks.” The girl stuck out her hand. “I’m Cara.”


Cara’s heels made thudding noises against the catwalk. “Y’know, if you still want to help the orphans, you could make ‘em a school, where they could learn jobs so they wouldn’t have to steal no more.”

Pieter looked down at her and saw a familiar light shining in her eyes. He remembered seeing that own light in his reflection’s eyes, as he stood at the window above the docking bay as a young boy, watching the ships.

“Well, the only thing I’m good at is piloting ships. Maybe I could teach that to the orphans. Why don’t you come tomorrow, and we’ll talk about it some more?”

Cara’s eyes sparkled as she nodded and rose to her feet.

As he watched her dance away, Pieter felt a warmth of satisfaction in his chest. Maybe he had more than just the Anchor to hold him here now.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Maddie's Pub

by Grace Bridges -

Hinges creaked. Maddie glanced up in time to see a bedraggled huntsman drag himself inside. He kicked the door to ensure the rubber seal took properly.

Good. She didn’t want more wind-borne ash in here than was absolutely necessary. Only the newbies to Eclectia’s harsh land would leave any door or window open. She’d trained her regulars well.

Maddie turned back to the open fire, fueled by scrubby brush—the only stuff that grew here. She poked at the meat stew in the cauldron, and its pungent aroma released into the room. She frowned. If only she had a potato to put in it—that would make a dish fit for a wizard. But no wizard had ever set foot in her establishment, and potatoes only grew in the underwater gardens—out of reach for any grit-breather unless he was filthy rich, but the rich folks didn’t live here. Here, they had to make do with the bitter leaves and seeds of the lavabush—both for bread and ale—and the third-grade meat plentiful in a hunting village.

She ladled stew into a bowl and made her way between the tables to plunk it before the hunter. “Here you go, Jax. Good hunting today?” He stared blankly at the food for a moment, then nodded with the weariness of one who had shot a giant beetle and hauled it back to town. Maddie knew that look very well. She gave him a friendly whack on the back, waited till he let a small smile slip out, then headed back to her kitchen across the room.

The earth rumbled and the building shook, its flexible mortar and light pulpblock walls absorbing the shocks. Maddie clutched at the counter to prevent herself from falling. Her guests looked up from their meals. The quake settled and the murmur of conversation started up again.

Maddie bowed her head for a moment before going to pour a lavabush ale for Jax. She thought she might need one, too.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Joseph H. Ficor -

Shouhei Fiko stood proud with the other recruits in their crisp gray uniforms. There were twenty-four in his graduating class. The last six weeks had been a nightmare, but this moment made all of the sweat—and blood—worth it. Soon, he would receive the single chevron that marked his transition from Enforcer Recruit to Enforcer First Class.

Enforcer Command Chief Romero stood in front of the recruits. “Recruit Platoon 74R. Attention!”

All boots clicked together as one. They were a well oiled machine. Romero had seen to that. These were the successful candidates who had excelled where thirty-six of their comrades had washed out. Shouhei was proud to be among the ones who had finished. His parents would have been proud, but they could not make the ceremony. They could not afford the trip from Adagio to Avenir. He knew that they were here in spirit.

Peacekeeper Colonel Pietrov personally pinned the chevrons on each recruit.

After all of the chevrons had been given, Shouhei joined the others in reciting the creed of the Avenir Peacekeeper Corps:

“We swear by the honor and blood of the Founders
That we will faithfully execute our duties
As Enforcers of the just and righteous laws of Avenir.

We will carry out our duties with honesty and honor.
Deceit and greed will be far from us.
Death before the dishonoring of the Corps.

On our honor and that of our forefathers, we swear.”

Romero then turned to the former recruits. “Recruit Platoon 74R, Dismissed!”

The voices—and caps—of the recruits rocketed to the ceiling of the assembly hall.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In Your Staterooms

by Jim Tesla -

I really don’t care what they call me: butcher, baker, bug-steak maker. Who’s to say the crunchy carapace I lance and drag for miles isn’t worth it? They who eat its contents and live? Use its remains to make shelter or medicine?

No, they look at their fat little children and thank me. Their fat little children with their spider-hair clothes. If only they knew…

“Tane, bring us more scorpions; higher prices paid.”

“Tane, some government fat ass’ wife wants a caterpillar rug.” A caterpillar rug, for gosh sake?

“When can you get those fire ants, Tane? We hear they’re great marinated and batter-fried.”

And Tane, when will you lasso the Whale Star and drag it down to us? We want a night light to comfort us while we sleep on our soft-pillowed beds.

I’ll lasso your star when justice has been done. And when all you idiots wise up and realize what’s happening here, the corruption of one group and the misplaced trust of another. But why worry about that when you can sit in your staterooms and circle this planet? Your staterooms with private bars and movies, games. Or sit in your protected cities under the sea, the children close by while mama watches—beautiful mama…while beautiful mama watches, with her beautiful blue eyes and silken brown hair…

Why would you worry? We’re the hunters; we’ll find the good deal for you. Count on us to keep the food coming, the food for your healthy fat children, the food for their mama…in your staterooms…

Monday, May 16, 2011


by Fred Warren -

“What were they thinking?”

John swirled his vodka, sending the ice cubes tinkling softly inside the glass, as he gazed at Eclectia. It was a putrescent tumor of a world, spattered in ochre and rusty orange. Even the ocean was a murky green-gray, mostly shrouded in clouds of volcanic ash. It looked more like a drainage pond than a living sea.


“The Founders. Whatever possessed them to plant a colony here? It’s the most unwelcoming place imaginable.”

John’s pale, expressionless valet methodically laid three tunics on the bed for his master’s consideration. “It is the only habitable planet within several hundred light years,” he said, without looking up from his task.

John chuckled and leaned against the window. Scooping out most of the domestic servants’ gray matter and replacing it with something more…practical…did wonders for their efficiency, but little for their conversational skills. “It was a rhetorical question. Still, I would have risked traveling onward. After taking one look at this blighted rock, I would have put everyone back into hypersleep and set sail for the next available star.”

“That would have added nearly five hundred years to the voyage. Most of the colonists would not have survived.”

He stabbed a finger at Eclectia. “You call that living? Raking globs of metal from volcanic fissures? Chasing meat-beetles across the desert until your lungs ossify from breathing ash?”

The valet straightened the third tunic, inspected his work for a moment, and nodded. “There are the undersea cities.”

“Even better. Life in an aquarium, praying the next earthquake doesn’t shatter your little goldfish bowl. No, this isn’t a colony. It’s a joke. A monumental, insane, moronic joke bequeathed to us by an ancient troupe of comedians who couldn’t comprehend how pathetically un-funny it was.”

“Will you be wearing the black tunic this evening, sir?”

John walked over to the bed, lifted a sleeve on one garment, brushed the lapel on another with his fingertips, and sighed. “No, the blue tonight, I think...with the diamond studs. Something to put me in a festive mood. It’s supposed to be a party, after all.”

He returned his attention to the window, and the planet beyond. He sipped his drink. There was nothing but to make the best of it, he supposed. The Founders hadn’t left them any other option. Things could be worse. John Milton thought ruefully of his namesake, who in this time and place might have chosen his words differently.

Better to rule from heaven than serve in hell.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


by Walt Staples -

The man in the brown habit wore the battered face of a former boxer. As he shuffled, long experience caused him not to notice the tremor running through the walls and floor of the abandoned mine shaft. Sheba was just being Sheba.

The Abbot halted his silent progress down the hall of the scriptorium. He eased open the Judas slot on the door marked “Ignatius” so as not to disturb those on the door’s other side. From within came a newly cracked voice, “…In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the…” The tall, stooped man slid the slot closed.

He continued to the next cell. Its name was “Jerusalem.” This time, he heard, “…and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Though Him all things…” He smiled and went on to “Douay.”

He listened and began to frown as he heard, “…The same was in God—” A much older voice cut the younger off, “No.” It continued more gently, “No, Bede, it goes this way; now listen carefully. ‘The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was made nothing that was made.’ There you see?”

The Abbot’s forehead cleared as the first voice said, “Sorry, Brother Eustis,” and began again, “The same was in the beginning…”

He thought about Brother Eustis as he walked toward “James.” The old friar had earned a proper retirement years ago, but continued to teach the young Douay Bibles. The Abbot shook his head and smiled, old men and old hunting dogs.

As if conjured by the thought, Fezik, the oldest ratting dog, trotted by. He wagged at the human and went about his business. He and the chief cat seemed to have a competition as to who could bring Brother Trout, the abbey cook, the most rats.

At “James,” the ancient heard, “…All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in…”

He went on greatly cheered. The new crop of Bibles were coming along well. Even young Bede showed promise. By Advent, all six of the present class would be ready to go out to their respective churches. The Abbey of Francis might produce priests, but they were crippled without his Bibles. He caught himself. No! In that direction lay Pride. He whispered an Act of Contrition.

He turned his thoughts back to their original path. Yes, he thought, six new Bibles by Advent. His face broke into a toothless grin of pure happiness. His expression sobered somewhat as he was reminded of the problem of Brother Eustis. Which of the older Douays should he pick to replace the old friar when the sad time came? He padded on through the halls of the Abbey of Jerome.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tomb Raider

by Mary Ruth Pursselley -

Celeste dropped to her seat on the loose rock and pulled the sweaty bandanna from her head. It was hot out today, but nothing compared to the sweltering suffocation inside the tunnel. Spreading her feet, she unscrewed the lid of her steel water bottle, leaned forward, and drizzled lukewarm water across the back of her neck. It trickled down her shirt and onto the ground in front of her, creating black ash mud in both places.

She swished a mouthful of water through her teeth to rinse out the acrid dust. Then she spat it out and watched it trail down the hill towards Adagio. From here the settlement looked peaceful; beyond it, the sea looked even more so. She thought of her little sister Celia, down deep beneath those waves, in Zirconia. Don’t wish she was here, she reminded herself before she could start on the familiar thought path. She’s safe there—safer than with you.

Celeste glanced at the sky. She had time for another trip down the tunnel before starset. She retied the bandanna around her frizzed, tangled hair, and clipped her water bottle to her belt. A few feet to her left gaped the tunnel’s opening. From Adagio it would look like a crater or black rock, if it was visible at all.

The tunnel’s floor angled downward through meters of volcanic ash and gravel. Decades of being compressed by gravity had made it relatively solid, but there was always the risk of a cave-in. Celeste took short steps, careful not to slip, as she made her way back to her work site. The farther she walked, the hotter it became. She was moving closer to the volcano’s heart—a thought that always made her edgy—but she was moving towards the treasure, too.

Nearly twenty meters down, Celeste’s lithium lamp revealed the first wall. Beyond that stretched a labyrinth of buildings, rooms, stairs, and passages. No one knew what the city had been called before the pyroclastic flow buried it; all anyone knew was that it dated back to the earliest Eclectian colonies.

It was a dangerous place to work, and Celeste didn’t pretend to enjoy it—though it beat a lot of alternatives. But smugglers paid well for the artifacts she brought up, and their money kept Celia safe. The boarding school in Zirconia would give her a shot at a decent, respectable life Celeste had no chance of achieving.

That was what mattered.

Monday, May 9, 2011


by Greg Mitchell -

Shuffling. I can hear him outside, trying to find me, but I’m good at hiding. A loud clatter. Something falls over and breaks on the floor. He shouts my name, like it’s my fault. Everything’s always my fault. He’s been drinking again. I don’t want to blame him. He’s a miner, trapped in the dark for hours. Sometimes days. The dark does things to you, but I won’t be like that. I’m going to grow up and stay outside, where I can see the light. I don’t care about the storms. I’ll gladly face all that grit and heat—even the coldest day—just so long as I’m free. I don’t want to be alone, in the dark.

I’m alone in the dark now. He shouts my name again. “Trebstidium! Where are you, boy? Get out here, now!

I’m alone in the dark, but I won’t be forever.

I won’t.

Friday, May 6, 2011


by Kat Heckenbach -

Mary curled forward and squeezed with every muscle in her body. Her neck strained. A scream caught in her throat…escaped as a grunt.

And then release.

The pressure eased, and her muscles slid from her bones as she rolled back until her head smacked softly on the pillow. The distant cry of her newborn daughter was barely audible over the ringing in her ears.

Movement appeared, fuzzy, in her periphery. The fuzziness cleared and became a smiling, blonde nurse, with a nametag that read Amelia.

“She’s beautiful, Mary. They’re nearly done with the scan.”

Amelia barely had the words out when another nurse strode over to the delivery table. The woman’s face stretched under the force of severely pinned-back gray hair. She slapped a printout into Amelia’s hand and stalked off.

Amelia rolled her eyes, and then gazed at the paper. Her smile broadened. “Perfect, Mary. Not a single significant genetic fault. Your daughter is going to be smart and beautiful. Your husband…would be proud.” Amelia’s voice quivered, and Mary felt the gentle pressure of the nurse’s hand on her shoulder.

Mary nodded, and choked back a sob. Jax would have been proud no matter what. If only I’d had a chance to tell him he was going to be a father again.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


by Travis Perry -

One advantage to getting older is patience comes easier. The thought seemed to come from nowhere, interrupting Elsa’s rambling talk with God. “Now where were we, Lord…” but she fell silent when her eyes caught movement.

Beyond the pile of black volcanic rock that served as her hunting blind, she saw the movement in the lure she’d been waiting for. Back toward the cave. The mammothbug was about to come out.

Elsa glanced down at the wick of her bronze cannon. Its white tuft stood straight up, still in place, still dry.

Months ago her family had run out of the money required for the ammunition for their modern weapons. But she still knew how to mix black powder, keeping the cannon handed down through her grandfather’s line the only viable hunting weapon the family had.

The bug pushed its massive hairy head out of the cave, its bulbous red compound eyes glimmering in light of the setting sun. It had pulled back its “trunk,” the hairy bug-like lure it had laid out in front of its cave, which it would wiggle seductively to draw in lesser bugs, as preparation for its once-in-five-to-eight day walk outside to regurgitate the exoskeletons of its prey.

The head hesitated a moment at the entrance, as if it knew Elsa were there. She held her breath and waited, unmoving. Finally, after what seemed to be endless minutes of motionlessness, the creature the size of a small house pulled itself over volcanic rubble, rumbling out of its lair.

She gently lifted the heavy butt of the cannon, lining up the shot. The bug’s death would bring food and clothing to her little ones. But with the cannon, she had only one chance.

At just the right moment, she flicked the lighter and touched it to the wick. Thunder roared in the narrow valley as the cannon threw Elsa back.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Very Important Question

by Holly Heisey -

Three fingers tap on five in mnemonic blue light of the fazing screen. Tap tap tap. Once five, now three; Kerin Rhi left the ground, the water, and the world and its dangers for higher sights. He is smart, so he is here. Here is a ten by ten meter cabin on Avenir, walls slightly wedged, where he sits on his white couch and watches the Peacekeepers like a god. And this disturbs him.

Kerin has decided to ask an angel what angels undersea think of the Peace Council. He has decided this is smart, but to be safe, he has of course triple locked and bypassed the security protocols of even his Council line. Maybe he is a god and doesn’t know it; but it would not be good for others to think he thinks of that at all.

The screen fazes on an orange-red infrared signature, a blob among blue-green swirls from the waters below. He doesn’t know if a god-link can be made this far, but it is near Approaching, and he must try. He sits forward on his couch and squints at the screen. He is not a wizard. None in his family were wizards, how can he possibly presume to talk to an angel?

How can you presume not to?

He jumps so high he almost hits his head on the bulkhead rail and floats carefully down in this less than normal gravity.

How can he presume not to? “How can I presume not to what?”

To talk to me, stupid.

Kerin blinks at the screen, wets his lips and says feebly, “Stupid?” Stupid is one thing he knows he is not. Of course, this is not an angel; it must then be a demon. Which is almost as good. He sits forward again.

“Are we gods? Are Peace Council members gods? It often feels like so, yea, it does.”

The demon snorts and the blob of red ripples in the water. Gods. What is a god? What makes a god a god but the people who worship it? Are you worshipped?

Kerin thinks about this, his thoughts waving with the slow churning on the screen. “I am…perhaps.”

Perhaps. You mean you do not know?

“I…” He thinks some more. “The Peacekeepers look up to me, and I look down on them.”


“But I don’t know if they worship me.”

So ask them.


Ask. Them. It can’t be so hard, especially if you are a god. And if you are, they’ll want to know.

Kerin blinks. He hasn’t thought of this. It is so simple, of course. He opens his mouth…then closes it again. He leans forward to divulge his great secret. “I can’t speak to them. I am a member of the Peace Council; they can’t know who I am.”

Secrets are good. Secrets are somewhat godlike.

Kerin sits back, satisfied.

Ten decks below him on the station, the wizard Encimanion Coriander Peronnel wonders at the spike of neural activity between Avenir and a plot on Eclectia he’s long suspected to be haunted by demons. His hands track the signal in a rush--to Room Eight in Ward Two of the Rich Men’s Happy Bin. He sighs and makes a mark in his log beside “Kerin Rhi, marginally psychotic”—fifth time this month. He’ll speak to Kerin later, but now, as the signal’s already gone, he sends his scanners onward.