Friday, July 29, 2011


by Travis Perry -

Ernsto slammed his palm into the airlock emergency override switch, flattening the wide red button, mechanical creaking erupting from the door hinges as it swung open, a half-meter of water still in the lock, water pouring into the hallway as he stepped out. The enforcer he’d paid off stood there, his mouth gaping open.

“Whadinell you doin’!” squeaked the man’s voice.

Ernsto glanced behind him. The angel was floundering in the draining water. The lip of the lock would keep all of it from leaving, so if it were just a matter of breathing water, he knew she’d be fine. But there was another problem—pressure. Her body was struggling to adapt between the deep ocean pressure she’d spent her whole life at and the one atmosphere of air pressure used by humans living in Zirconia—a near-vacuum from her point of view.

He’d brought her into the lock anyway. After all, the reward had been for an angel, “dead or alive.” He could ignore the waves of pain from her he could actually feel, but he found in some unexpected part of himself that he didn’t want to.

“Get me a pressure tank. Now,” he barked at the enforcer.

“You didn’t pay me for that!” The man’s blue eyes set deep into his piggish pink face widened into whites.

Ersto took three quick steps, still in his pressure suit, but his helmet off. The long knife on his belt he pulled and he held it to the man’s throat. “You will get me a pressure tank, or I will skin you alive.” His voice rasped in a whisper—he let the keen edge of the knife do all his shouting for him.

The enforcer started to move. “Hurry back or I swear by the depths, I will find you.” The man, sufficiently motivated, rushed off.

Ernsto slowly turned back toward the lock and dispassionately watched the angel flounder.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Secret Rendezvous

by Deborah Cullins Smith -

Jacian gazed through the observation window in the intimate bar he had chosen for this rendezvous. The intensity in his eyes frightened Cassie. She had just begun working in the undersea lab and now he was begging her to sneak him inside for a stroll—outside Zirconia’s walls.

“Just a quick visit,” he pleaded, turning up the dial on the quicksilver smile that usually gained him whatever conquest he sought and earned him the reputation of a playboy. “Think of it as …. A stroll in the park.” He had her backed against the window, one hand on either side of her body, his face inches from hers.

“But Jace, I could lose my job,” she protested, pushing both hands firmly against those rock hard chest muscles.

Jacian’s eyes blazed, but only for a split second. Obviously he was accustomed to girls melting into his arms. He didn’t seem to understand—or accept—Cassie’s ability to hold out against his charms.

“OK,” he said, pulling back and assuming a more business-like stance. “No romance, eh, Cassie? Holding out for an underwater lover?” His tone teased, but his eyes sparkled like two ice blue diamonds. The controlled rage she saw burning in that blue fire scared her to the core.

Reaching into his pants pocket, Jacian pulled out a wad of credits that could have supplied Cassie and her mother for the next 20 years. His eyes never left her face.

“How about it, Cassie? I’m willing to pay if this suits you better.”

She gulped and turned away from the sight of so much temptation. Her mother had contracted ash lung on the planet surface, and the medication she needed was expensive. Her father’s death benefit had provided their passage to Zirconia, but it now fell to Cassie to provide a living so they could remain in the safety of the undersea city. Jacian’s proposition could spoil everything.

Jacian’s father wasn’t the wealthiest man on Avenir, but he certainly fell within the top ten. His son learned early how to manipulate people, and he rarely ever lost in a contest of wills. How he managed to flit between the space station and the planet for these little excursions was beyond Cassie. But he had managed. And he would find a way to get into her lab too. The question was should she play a part in his scheme or let him find another gullible patsy for his plans?

“Why do you want this so badly, Jace?” Cassie whispered, turning her back on him and leaning her head against the cool glass wall. She felt Jacian loom close to her back but she didn’t turn around to meet those cold eyes—she couldn’t.

“It’s the experience I want, Cassie,” he said softly. “To go out there and try to make contact. Why shouldn’t we try to meet those creatures on their own turf?”

Cassie wanted to believe him. But even with the fistful of credits bulging in her coat pocket, she knew.

Jace was lying.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Finding Freedom

by Kat Heckenbach -

“Piper, wait up!”

The voice echoed off the metal walls of the corridor behind her, distorted by the faint mechanical hum that filled this level. Piper stopped walking and turned around. Nik was jogging toward her, face solemn.

Piper spun on her heel and continued walking away from him. Why had she bothered stopping? Jerk.

“Piper, please! I’m sorry!”

Yeah, right. Her eyes burned suddenly, and she strained, willing tears not to form.

In moments she felt the heat of his presence behind her, matching her pace. His words came nearly breathless. “Please stop. I didn’t mean it.”

Piper inhaled, clenching her fists at her side. “Too little, too late, Nik.”

“I was just teasing. I didn’t know it meant so much to you. It’s just a rodent.”

Piper slammed to a stop and rounded to face Nik. “Not ‘it’ you heartless slug! He! And he is my best friend!” Her heart pounded, sending her pulse thrumming in her ear. Tears pushed past her lids against her will, but she ignored them.

Nik’s brows knitted together and he lifted his arms as if wanting to reach out to her. But he pulled them back and crossed them in front of his chest. “I’m sorry. Really, I am. I came to help you find him.”

Piper searched his eyes and found genuine concern. She closed her eyes and nodded. Then warmth infused her as she felt his arms wrap around her shoulders. She sank into him, resting her head against his chest. “Thank you.”

He rubbed her back and she pulled away from him. He smiled down at her, his hair slipping out from behind his ear and hanging in front of one eye like a black curtain.

Piper took Nik’s hand and led him down the corridor. Tara had said she’d seen something small and brown skitter across the floor in an area just around the corner only twenty minutes ago. They reached the juncture and Piper let go of Nik’s hand. She dropped to her hands and knees. A shuffling thunk told her Nik had joined her.

They crawled around, peeking into any gaps in the metal walls, snaking around support beams.

“Here, Piper…” Nik’s whispered voice was filled with excitement.

Piper snapped her head to the side and saw Nik kneeling in front of a gap between wall panels, arms stretched out to his sides. She scooted over to him and peeked over his shoulder.

“Freedom! There you are!” She pushed past Nik and scooped the brown, furry bundle into her palms. No more than six inches from nose to the base of his tail, Freedom perched on his back legs, whiskers twitching. His long, slender tail wrapped around her fingers.

Piper touched her nose to the tiny pink one.

Nik chuckled. “You know, he’s actually kinda cute.”

Piper turned to him and smiled. “He’s the best.”

Nik bit his lip as his eyes shadowed. “He’s from the planet, isn’t he?”

Piper swallowed and looked away. Was she ready to tell him everything? Indecision roiled inside her as Nik moved closer.

“We’ve been together for seven months, Piper. I’ve never asked you about your past.”

She forced out, “I know.”

He waited in silence. She felt his gaze, imagined him staring at her profile. She closed her eyes.

“He’s from the planet, yes. So am I. My mom died when I was young. My dad was a bug hunter. He was killed. I was alone…starving. Pretty soon the traffickers had their eye on me. I couldn’t bear the thought of ending up someone’s…” Her voice cracked, but she steeled herself and continued. “I stowed away on a cargo shuttle from the planet to Avenir.”

Nik’s hand touched her shoulder…the gentlest touch she’d ever felt besides Freedom’s nuzzling. She realized tears were streaming down her cheeks. They dripped off her chin and landed on her open hands, on Freedom.

“Was he your pet while you lived down there?”

She shook her head. “I found him at the loading dock. I was sneaking around, trying to figure out how to get into the shuttle. I’d set my pack down—my last piece of lavabread was in the pocket. Freedom snatched it and ran off with it. I chased him.” Piper smiled at the memory and stroked Freedom’s fur. She raised her eyes to meet Nik’s gaze. “He led me to the rear hatch, and then straight to the perfect hiding place.”

Nik stared, amazement shimmering in his blue eyes. “So that’s why his name’s Freedom? Because—” He stopped, as if the next word had caught in his throat, and then looked down at the brown rodent in Piper’s hands and smiled.

Friday, July 22, 2011


by Joseph H. Ficor -

Shouhei exited the shuttle. Sheba’s orbital spaceport, Carlston’s Cove, handled all incoming and outgoing traffic. Most of the station’s space was devoted to shipping the precious ore mined from Sheba to Avenir and Eclectia. The upper levels of the station housed exact copies of the luxurious staterooms of Avenir. Here, the masters of Sheba relished in the wealth that the broken world brought them.

Shouhei mentally prepared himself for a life of policing the mining settlements on the surface. He had not told his parents about his assignment to Sheba. Fear and humiliation restrained him. His folks were so proud that he had been accepted into the Enforcers. It was a rare chance to leave the dust of Adagio for a better life. Sheba was not a better life.

The Enforcer at the custom checkpoint smiled when he saw Shouhei. He looked for a moment at the crisp new uniform of the “shiny.”

“Welcome to the dump of the system,” he said with that irritating smile. “You must have pulled someone’s chain the wrong way to be sent here.”

Shouhei said nothing. He gave the cynic his ID card.

Cynic inserted the card into a slot in his terminal.

The cynic’s smile melted into a scowl as he read the screen.

He pulled the card from the computer and thrust it and a station map at Shouhei.

“Follow the map to Upper Level Six.”

“What?” Shouhei just stood dumbfounded. I’m not going to the surface? Why?

“Upper Level Six, Shiny!” Cynic shouted.

Shouhei’s confusion blazed like the exposed interior of the world below.

Cynic clarified, “You’ve been assigned to Governor Bokkasa’s personal security detachment. Now move along! Next!”

Shouhei moved along.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


by Walt Staples -

Douay Charles Maria hesitated at the cell’s door. He made to knock but allowed his fist to hang in mid-air. His indecision was broken by a voice from within, “If you are coming in, come in then. I don’t bite—at least not as I’ve just been fed.”

The Bible took a breath and pushed the door open. Brother Eustis sat in a rocking chair facing the door. His blind eyes gleamed whitely in the near darkness. “Yes?”

The younger man said, “It is Charles, Brother.”

The ancient man’s face broke into a wide grin. “Charley! It’s good to hear your voice again. Oh.” He reached to the side and turned up the lights. “Forgive me, my boy. I’ve lived so long in the dark I forget others don’t have my blessing.”

“Blessing, Brother?”

The old friar chuckled. “Lose one of the seven senses, and the others become more acute, supposedly to compensate for the lost one. Personally, I don’t buy it. Brother Ignatius Mary lost all sense of smell and taste back when he worked in the smelting works, before taking the cowl. He still managed to trip over things.” He smiled in apparent fond memory. “Only man I know who could trip over a beach.” After a moment, he went on, “No, I think it’s just the lack of distraction.”

Douay Charles smiled at the picture just described. “Perhaps.”

Like many of the blind, Brother Eustis kept his face toward his guest as much as possible when talking. “I heard you landed yesterday about Terce. Why so long coming to see me?”

“Well, I…I, er…” The Bible let it peter out.

Brother Eustis smiled at him. “You were embarrassed by the fact that you’ve been recalled to be my replacement. Not so?”

The other looked at the floor. “Yes, Brother, I’m afraid it is.”

The elderly friar laughed. “Charley, Charley. It’s not like you’re speeding me to my grave. The good Lord and Father Time are doing that between them just fine.” He pointed in the direction of an armchair. “Take a load off. No, quite the contrary, I am extremely happy you’re here.”

The chair made a squeaking “whoof “ sound as the Bible settled into it. “You are?”

“Oh, yes, quite happy. Look, you and I both know I’m not going to see the Feast of St. Paul Tong Buong. That’s why I asked specifically for you.”

Douay Charles looked at him with surprise. “You did?”

Brother Eustis snorted. “You don’t think the Abbot came up with your name on his own, do you? Abbot Mary Chuck de Yeager, O.F.M. is a saintly man, a thoughtful man, and probably one of the greatest leaders this abbey will see, but he knows nothing of teaching new Bibles. I think the fact that his novice master chose to give him the name of the patron of spacers is probably an acknowledgement that the future Abbot Chuck was no man of letters. On the other hand, he’s smart enough to listen to those who do know.”

The Bible grinned at his old teacher. Blindness may have come upon him with the decades, but he still saw quite clearly.

“Beating one’s gums tends to be thirsty work. So’s having to listen to said beaten gums. Would you join me in a cup of tea?” He raised an admonishing finger. “And none of that ‘Are you sure there will be room for both of us?’ mind you. I remember your rather questionable sense of humor.”

Douay Charles laughed. “Yes, thank you, Brother. I would like a cup.”

Brother Eustis touched a button on the arm of his chair. A young voice issued from a speaker, “Yes, Brother Eustis?”

“Tommy, could you see if Brother Trout still has some of the Jerusalem Mint tea? And if he does, would you ask if he would mind making a couple of cups for us?”

“Right away, Brother.”

“Thank you, Tommy.” The old man smiled. “He’s one of our James; has about a standard year to go. Brother Levi tells me he’s probably going to be one of the best.”

The Bible grinned. “Do the other manuscripts still call them ‘Kings?’”

The Brother chuckled. “And since when do things change in the Church? After all, we Douays are still referred to as ‘Rhemis.’ Though for the life of me, I have no idea where the word comes from or what its original meaning was. But enough old times.” He changed the subject, “You have work to do, Charley. We have one Douay, Bede, who is close to publication. I expect by Advent, he’ll be ready .”

Douay Charles nodded. “I remember my publication. One minute, I’m a manuscript. Then Archbishop Patel passes the candle flame under my hand and I’m a Bible. Who’s celebrating Bede’s?”

“Bishop Guash.”

“Um, better than nothing I suppose. What about the younger manuscripts?”


There were a number of sniffles and red eyes among the manuscripts, especially the Douays, as the abbey’s congregation left the chapel. Brother Charles—formerly Douay Charles—-and Manuscript Bede lagged behind. Bede glanced back at the entrance of the crypt. He sniffed and ran a finger under his eye. The erstwhile Bible placed a hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I miss him too, son.”

“Douay—“ He stopped. “Sorry, Brother Charles. I’m not used to you not being a Bible anymore, I guess.”

“Bede, I’ll always be a Bible, just as you will always be a manuscript. It’s a part of us that never goes away. The good man we just laid in the crypt was a Manuscript, a Bible and a Brother. Lord willing, and I think he probably is, Eustis will also be a saint.” He put his arm around the younger man’s shoulders. “Our calling, yours, mine, and our teacher’s was to be the Living voice telling man that no matter how bad things are, there is still hope. Once upon a time, Bibles were on paper only and people burned them. That’s why the candle flame during publication; to remind us what may be involved in carrying the Word.” He released his hold and the two of them genuflected and left the chapel.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beginning of a Dream (FLASHBACK)

by H. A. Titus -

Ten-year-old Pieter Kinsrol flinched as the sharp, tinkling crash indicated that yet another bottle had been thrown against the wall.

"I said to get me some of the old stuff. I'm not drinking this garbage."

Pieter crept to the door of his closet-sized room—a luxury even for the rich on Avenir—and closed it softly. He could still hear his father railing against the servant, the politicians, the Peacekeepers, and anyone else who had offended him lately, but at least it was muffled.

Pieter sat on his bed and pushed the metal window blind to the side. Having a window was, again, a product of his father's wealth. He smiled and pushed his fist against the glass, then splayed his fingers so his entire hand pressed against the cool, smooth surface.

To him, this was how space would feel. Smooth, cool.


Pieter stared down at Eclectia. How would it feel to traverse that rough, red surface?
A transport ship came into view. The metal hulk swung around, surprisingly graceful despite its bulky lines and behemoth size, and bright blue blazed from the thrusters on the back.

Pieter grinned. Forget traveling on the surface. Someday, he'd fly.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Rude Awakening

by Mary Ruth Pursselley -

An earthquake rattled Celeste awake. She sat up and slapped the switch on the wall, filling the room with dingy light. A ceramic figurine skittered in a frantic dance across the top of the dresser before toppling over the edge. She leaned out and caught it, barely.

The walls still shook; this was stronger than the usual tremor. Celeste looked up at the familiar crack in the plaster ceiling of her room. It was expanding, shrinking, shifting, expanding again.

Flailing out of bed, Celeste grabbed her boots and hurried into the hall in socked feet. Evidently her fellow tenants had the same thought. The bedraggled crowd jostled to the end of the hall, down the stairs, and through the front-room towards the outside door. The front-room windows revealed gritty morning light but faced away from the mountain, which was what everyone wanted to see.

Outside, Celeste squinted through agitated clouds of ash as she hurried around the side of the tenement house to get a look at the volcano. It felt like the quake might be calming down, but there could still be an eruption coming.

A column of smoke towered above the mountain’s cone, fanning out against the atmosphere in an ever-widening blanket. Sheba’s halves were black shadows near the edge of the smoke-cloud.

The quake stopped. Sirens signaled the closing of Adagio’s watergates, but the mountain seemed to be quieting down—or gathering itself for a blast. Either way, it didn’t matter much.

People around her began groggily making their way back inside, and Celeste decided she might as well get some more sleep. No way was she going up that mountain today. She looked down and realized that in addition to her boots, she was still holding the figurine that had fallen off of the dresser—a white-robed girl with a benevolent smile, and a pair of silver wings growing from her back.

Mom had called it an angel; smiled at it, even talked to it. She’d said it represented real angels watching out for them. Celeste looked around her. The idea of angels didn’t seem very likely. But…

She looked back down at the figurine. “Don’t go trying that nose-dive thing again—just in case.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


by Travis Perry -

Ernsto Mons, on the verge of rolling leftward to plunge over the ridge to the glowing angel city below, caught a glimpse of glowing light in the corner of his right eye. He thrust upright in surprise, jerking upward his guided torpedo launcher.

And there, less than five meters away from him, his eyes rested upon the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. A shape like a woman, glowing with a dazzlingly brilliant white glow. His eyes hurt to take her in at first, but after a moment they adjusted and he began to see details. Completely unlike the angels he’d glimpsed at the surface as a boy, she had wings like some kind of ocean ray, peacefully rippling as she flapped to hover near him. What would have been a ray’s tail was for her much wider and thicker and ended in a horizontal fin. Her body was roughly the length of a human with wide shining wings attached. She had no arms but her almost-human shaped head was adorned with what he’d first thought was hair, but realized were actually long thin dark tentacles on the top of her head, stretching up behind her. Her eyes were as large as his fists and glassy dark and the mouth…was more like an animal’s muzzle than a woman’s…

Why does she seem like a beautiful woman to me? he wondered to himself. Beautiful in rippling light, yes, beautiful the way a woman is, no.

But beauty poured out of her somehow along with gentle kindness and innocent curiosity about him. The feelings washed through his being. He’d heard angels could do that, could project emotion…but nothing had prepared him for the actual experience. And there was no doubt she was every bit a woman, though he saw no breasts or anything else on her that would mark her as a woman in the way he knew.

His hands released the torpedo launcher and grasped for something else. “Hey, babe,” he said, for some reason wondering why he needed to say anything. But it seemed right somehow.

She cocked her head sideways and asked herself in a way he could feel what he’d tried to say to her. “I jus’ said,” he answered, “You’re ‘bout the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Then fast, before she could sense his force of will, he snapped up the tranquilizer gun and shot her. Her pain hit him hard—not the pain of the puncture, which was small, but the horror of betrayal, shock at his cold-hearted violence.

His heart pounded in his chest as she faded to the ground, the brightness leaving her. He lunged forward and caught her in his arms.

“That’s how things are, babe,” he said to her unconscious form. “Life is tough—and for you, it’s about to get worse.”

Monday, July 11, 2011

School Field Trip

by Karina Fabian -

"Stay close, children," Teacher said in her harried voice. "And do not touch."

Katha watched as his classmates grudgingly obeyed--until Teacher's eye was off them. Then they went back to the usual stupid tricks: shoving and horseplay. Gras stayed close to Teacher, but that didn't keep the bullies from snide remarks. The popular crowd looked bored except when flirting with each other, or what they thought passed for flirting. Only a handful actually paid attention. No wonder Teacher was harried.

Katha trailed behind and fought real boredom. He came here all the time. He knew so much more about these creatures than even Teacher, and yet every time he visited, he discovered something new about this fascinating species behind the glass. If he could just get away from the class! The creatures were their most uninteresting when a crowd watched them because they tended to turn and watch back. Boring!

Not to mention how stupid his classmates got. Like now, as Teacher turned her back to consult with their tour guide: Tourra started trying to engage one in a game of chase by racing from one end of the glass to another to see if any would follow. How original. Next someone would lick the glass, or worse, stick his open mouth on it--yep, Bourz. Figured.

Teacher turned around and shouted, "Quash! Quit banging that glass! How would you feel if someone banged on your house? Come along--time for the next exhibit."

The class grudgingly moved on, Katha with them. As he gave one last glance, he saw one of the creatures wave. He raised a fin and repeated the gesture, pleased that no one else had gotten to see.

When he grew up, he was going to devote his life to the study of these strange creatures who came from the Above and built their tank homes in his world.

Friday, July 8, 2011


by Joseph H. Ficor -

The trip from Avenir to Sheba was uneventful. Shouhei sulked in his cabin. The dream of serving on a security cruiser in the Space Service was dead. He just knew that the rest of his time with the Enforcers would be spent breaking up payday saloon brawls between miners on that cracked rock.

A memory came to his mind. He was around fourteen and he had failed an opportunity to be part of the soccer club sponsored by the Countess Barslow Memorial Charity. Anger and juvenile despair had a stranglehold on his heart. His mother told him about an old saying that people should give thanks to God in all situations, especially the bad ones. She said that people needed to release their pains and disappointments to Him. This gave the Big Man an opportunity to make the situation right. The advice and resulting prayer of thanksgiving lifted his heart.

Shouhei gave a prayer of thanks for his current disappointment.

The peace that followed relieved his mind and spirit.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


by Walt Staples -

The man picked up his pace; it wouldn’t do to be late. They would be expecting him. He sighed with relief as the door pinged to announce his arrival. Maria smiled at him as he passed her counter. “They’re upstairs with the ladies.”

He flashed her a three-toothed smile and nodded. The escalator bore him up to the Knitting Room. Corinne greeted his entrance by singing out, “Here’s our Mr. Tegar. Your fan club awaits, sir.” The other ladies glanced up, smiled greetings, then turned their attention back to their constructions of yarn.

Tegar returned the smiles and sat down at the table. As he pulled the notebook and mechanical pencils from his shoulder bag, a large tiger tabby hopped up on the table and rubbed the side of his wrist. Tegar rewarded him with several strokes and a scritch of that magic sweet-spot cats have on their cheek. His purr dieseled. Tegar opened the note book. A smaller Siamese jumped onto his lap and curled up. He began to write. The tabby settled to watch the pencil make its progress across the paper.

It was nearing the noon hour when Tegar ceased writing. He ushered the Siamese gently to the floor and stroked the tabby once or twice. Then he stood and replaced his tools in the shoulder bag. He nodded again to the ladies and took his departure.

Once Tegar was out of earshot, Mirabel, the newest student, asked, “Corinne, who was that?”

The knitting instructor smiled. “That’s our Mr. Tegar. He comes and pets Miz Ritz and Jangles and writes each day.”

“What’s he do for a living?”

Joan spoke up, “Nothing.”

Cindy, the bubbly one, laughed. “That’s not totally true. He does work after a fashion. If you pass the intersection of Corridor Godard and Corridor Yamura when everyone is heading to the food court for lunch, you see him at work. He‘s standing there with a credit charger and a sign reading, “Alms for literacy?”

Mirabel’s jaw dropped. “He’s a beggar? But he’s so clean and quiet and nice-seeming.”

Corinne nodded. “He’s all of that.”

“But where does he live?”

Corinne reached up and ran a hand over her pink bouffant. “Well, Father Emil told me that he sleeps at St. Dymphna’s Bachelor’s Hall. And eats breakfast there. His other meals he has at Temple Beth Salem and at 1st Pentecostal.”

Mirabel squinted at her work. “Was I supposed to knit or purl on the third row? What’s he do the rest of the time?”

“I’ve seen him at the library any number of afternoons. I guess that’s where he goes,” Joan supplied.

Corinne leaned across and inspected Mirabel’s project. “Um. Purl, dear. And mornings we have him. The cats love him and he keeps them too occupied to help us with our yarn.”

Nancy, the usually quiet one, broke her silence, “What’s he write?”

There was an audible crack as Corinne lifted her right shoulder to ease a crick. “Fiction--all kinds. I’m no judge, but I think it’s rather good.”

Cindy asked sympathetically, “Shoulder playing up again, dear? Does he sell any of it?”

Corinne grinned lopsidedly, “Control panels and sudden high-G boost do not mix, ladies. I think he tried at first, but he gave up. I think his stuff is too happy.” She pulled a face and deepened her voice. “It’s not literary enough, don’t you know?” She reached over to stroke the tabby as he sauntered to that end of the table. “But you cats love him, don’t you, Jangles?”

Monday, July 4, 2011

Wizards’ War

by Holly Heisey -

Iri looked up from where she crouched feeding days-old mush to a rib-thin orphan boy. Shouts were coming down the corridor, educated voices. She stood to yell for the dozen or so orphans to disperse—

But the shouting men reached the corridor junction. One, gray-haired and flabby, stabbed a finger directly at her.

“You’re exploiting them—children!—in your mad ploys to get ahead of us!”

The second man she knew: Drake, the good wizard. “And your experiments with the Happy Bin are ethical? We don’t learn of an encounter until you’ve already spun the report your way.”

“Spin my reports?” The older man must also be a wizard, though Iri hadn’t seen this one around. “You’re training a bloody army to your own perverted way of thought. Sick! Sick!”

Iri—Whales protect her—could not help stepping out. “Drake saves us.” The two men stared at her. She licked her lips and forged on. “He gives us meals for learning that will get us out of here.” She stepped closer, next to Drake.

Something hit Iri hard on the cheek and she spun before she could right her balance.

“Fool girl,” Drake hissed. “Stay out of our wars if you know your own good.”

Iri stared at the wizard, tears stinging her eyes. She had hoped…someone cared for them…

“You hit her!” The older wizard lunged for Drake—Drake whipped out a silvery tool and touched it to the older man’s chest. The older wizard collapsed, spasming.

Iri covered a yelp.

“I help you, yes,” Drake said, “but only those who can be helped.” He spun and strode off, his coattails swirling.

Iri crouched beside the older wizard.

“That man…is a poison,” he said.

Iri didn’t have anything to say to that. She needed to think. She needed to think long and hard about what—if anything—to do next.

“Help me up.”

Iri helped the older wizard to his feet and he swayed a moment before brushing off his rich brocade coat. “I’m Wizard Encimanion Coriander Peronnel,” he said. “You contact me if Drake ever tries to take one of you again.”

Iri didn’t have anything to say to that, either, but she nodded, and it satisfied the wizard enough for him to walk away. He didn’t give a second look at the orphans he almost crushed underfoot.