Monday, October 31, 2011


by Travis Perry -

***Today we celebrate our 100th story! Can you believe it? And we're celebrating with an all-new look designed for us by Mike Rogers. Here's to the next 100! And now, on with the story :) ***

In the chamber with the pressurized angel tank, Ernsto shuffled toward Wizard Hobson against his will. The feeling was not so much his legs disobeying his orders as the part of the mind controlling his legs no longer seemed to be a part of him.

Hobson’s eyes were green-blue, he realized as drew close enough to peer into them. And then in a blur he threw his hands against the wizard’s throat.

Hobson gagged and his eyes bulged in surprise, but an instant later Ernsto found the control of his fingers no longer belonged to him. His arms dropped to the side—limp, like they were dead.

The wizard coughed and rubbed his throat. He laughed hard, as if all were a joke, but an angry glint lit his eyes. “You have very quick hands, my boy. And a quick, violent will. I was not able to detect your intent before you struck. If I had, you never would have moved a muscle.”

As if to prove the wizard’s point, his thought to bash the old man’s nose with his forehead left him feeling numb in his neck and back. He couldn’t make any movement at all.

“How?” he uttered. He’d intended to say more, but the paralysis that gripped his body hindered his mouth.

“How do I control you? Simple, my dear friend. Chemical compounds, mind-enhancing compounds which I’ve discovered from my studies of the angel cerebral cortex. This one isn’t my first…not even my first live one, but the other live one I captured, one I took myself when I was a much younger man, I moved into a pen under the sea, isolated, but still connected to the ocean. He called for help, mentally of course—after two days the facility was assaulted by hundreds from his tribe. I barely escaped with my life. But even more importantly than my personal survival, I retained the knowledge I had gleaned, knowledge I’ve been adding to and using it for decades now. All wizards use knowledge derived from angels, but I assure you, with all due modesty, I am the greatest of them all.”

“What…?” rasped Ernsto.

“What do I intend to do with you? Or the angel? Or both? I’m not quite sure what you mean. You see, I should be able to know, since I can enter your mind. But I don’t fully—which simply is further proof that there is more work to do, more discoveries to be made. In spite of all I have learned from the tools provided by the angel brain, in spite of all the corners of the human mind I’ve learned to tap into, I still struggle to do what they do with ease—communicate complete thought to thought. I wondered for a time if perhaps the human brain were simply incompatible with such a form of communication. But you, my boy, you give me hope!”


“Why, because you communicate with the angel. Or better said, she communicates with you. That’s why you enjoy being with her, even though you do not admit to yourself that’s how you feel. It’s because she touches your mind. I think,” Hobson chuckled, “she’s trying to heal your ‘sickness’ of violence…how quaint!”


“Ah, now. Now I get to experiment with the link that has sprung up between the two of you. That’s why I haven’t simply shut your mind down, by the way, or reoriented your will. I need to test you in a more natural state.” Hobson turned to the cyborgs, “Strap him to the table.”

Flat on the table, the two cyborgs finished with Hobson’s command, Ernsto felt his body return to his control. Not that it helped—the straps were tight and strong.

The wizard had opened the box. It contained some sort of advanced drill, with a very fine bit surrounded by thin clear tubes. The bit whirred in the air as the professor pressed a button. “For brain tissue samples,” he explained unbidden. “First you, then the angel.”

No, no! he heard her mind say from the pressurized tank.

As the wizard moved the drill closer to the base of his skull, Ernsto said through gritted teeth, “If you do this, you’d better kill me. Elsewise, as soon as you let me go, you’re a dead man.”

“Oh, I imagine this experiment will last weeks. You and the angel don’t die until after that. But I promise to wipe your memory of this moment. Tomorrow, you won’t even know any of this ever happened. You’ll think it’s just another well-paid day on the job. I’ve already done it to you twice.”

Great, he thought. He set in himself a determination to remember every detail.

I’ll help you, said the angel into his mind.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Word Carrier: Publication

by Walt Staples -

In the silence of the chapel, the muted roar of the blowers was noticeable as they ran on “high” to handle the smoke and soot from the unusually large number of candles burning to either side of the altar. The Rite of Publication was one of the few times Brother Marius, the abbey’s life support engineer, allowed such abuse of his air-handlers.

Bede and the other Manuscripts stood shoulder to shoulder as they faced the main celebrant, Bishop Guash. The usually dyspeptic prelate actually seemed to be in fine fettle and to be greatly enjoying himself, as the occasional smile escaped his Excellency’s bulldog-jowled continence. As an acolyte on his right handed him a lit candle, he sobered. “My sons, you have been called to one of the highest callings in Mother Church—that of Bible. Know you that you carry God’s Word to and among his children—all of his children. You may not force yourself on others, but you must be ever ready to open yourself to any who wish to hear God’s Word. It is not an easy calling that you follow. The evil one has used fire in the past to try the destruction of God’s Word. This flame is to remind you of what you may be called upon to face…and what you may save souls from by your efforts.”

Each Manuscript held out his left hand. From left to right, the bishop passed the flame under the outstretched palm. Bede sucked in a breath as the flame reached Antonio, the Ignatius Manuscript on his left. His stomach muscles tightened as readied himself. He would not show a sign! Not before his parents, up from Eclectia. Not before Brother Charles Maria, his second teacher. Nor before Brother Eustis, his first teacher, who, Bede was convinced, watched from a higher plane. There was an instant of burning pain, and the flame passed on to Tommy, the James Manuscript, to his right.

Bishop Guash handed the candle to the acolyte on his left. His face broke into a huge smile. “My sons, today you are no longer Manuscripts, but are Published Bibles. From this point on, you will be known to all by your personal name, and that of your version.” He made the sign of the Cross in blessing over each of them in turn. “Go you hence and serve all.”


In the infirmary, Brother Kadfell, the abbey’s medico, asked, “With or without, Douay Bede?”

The Bible smiled at him. “Without, Brother.”

The other nodded. “As you wish.” He set the hypo to dispense the first-aid spray without its anesthetic component and sprayed Bede’s blistered palm. The choice of each newly Published Bible was a secret Brother Kadfell would keep. It was a choice that by tradition was not discussed with anyone.

Outside the infirmary, Brother Charles waited for Bede with a frown. Bede took in his erstwhile teacher’s expression and his heart sank. His assignment had been decided. He had hoped to be assigned to a mission among spacers with the priest he would be paired with. From Brother Charles’ face, he knew it was bad. Probably a mining settlement on either Sheba or Quatermain. He consoled himself with the thought that if it did turn out to be Sheba, at least he could visit the abbey on occasion. He took a deep breath. “I take it that my assignment has been decided?”

Brother Charles nodded grimly. “Yes, I’m afraid so.”

Bede braced himself. “Where?”

Brother Charles answered in a voice of doom, “Thou art assigned to the Spacers’ Mission.”

Bede blinked. Had he heard right?

Brother Charles leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. “You know, you might want to close your mouth before Hubert or one of the other cats decides to go rat hunting in there.”

It took Bede a couple of tries to get enough air to ask, “Why didn’t you just say so?”

His teacher grinned at him. “Because I was afraid you’d try to swarm up me and slobber all over me.” Putting the lie to his fears, Brother Charles threw his arms around the Bible in a bear-hug. “Congratulations, boy. You worked hard for it and you’ve earned it.” He held Bede at arms’ length. “You’ll do us proud.” He raised an admonishing finger. “But only in a proper non-Seven Deadly Sins meaning of the word. Understand?”

Bede beamed back at the big man. “Yes, Brother. I’ll remember. When and where do I go?”

Brother Charles dropped his hands and folded them within his sleeves. “The where is the Spacers’ Mission Mother House on Avenir, sort of neutral ground, as it were. The when is a couple of days from now; after all, it would be a bit rude to skip dinner with his Excellency and the rest of the abbey tonight.” He cocked his head and squinted one eye. “Besides, you left off the most important part of the question as far as your future success goes.”

The Bible raised his eyebrows. “What’s that, Brother?”

“The who. You’ve been matched with Father Oaku Mary, T.O.R.”

“What’s he like?”

His teacher shook his head. “Don’t know, really. His records look okay and he’s fresh-caught like you. His Ordination was day before yesterday. I guess you’re going to find out first-hand in a few days.” He changed the subject. “Let’s go find your folks. I suspect your mother probably wants to maul you some. I hear their parish priest sprung for their fare?”

“Yes, bugherds don’t make a lot, so Father Mack came up with it. Said only that it had to do with a penance.” They turned the corner.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Meeting at Maddie's

by Kaye Jeffreys -

Gritty wind is hard to breathe, even through a face mask. And boots are heavy to walk in. In fact, you don't really walk in them. It is more of a trudge. And Jereth trudged down the street in Adagio. Once he arrived at the pub he pushed against the heavy door and went in.

"Shut the door," some lady called from behind the counter. That must be Maddie.

Jereth did as she said then moved the goggles from his eyes to his forehead and removed the mask from his nose and mouth.

A man at one of the tables stared at him. Jareth turned away and found his own table. The man was familiar but Jereth didn't take a second look.

The man got up, threw a coin onto the counter and left.

Jereth didn't sit for long. The door opened again and two people walked in. Lessie spotted him immediately, "Jereth!" she ran to him and gave him one of her famous bug hugs.

Her eyes were red and her face smudged, just like everyone he'd seen landside. "I can't believe you are here. I'm so glad to see you."

Jereth smiled. "It's good to see you." Then he turned to Carter and extended his hand, "And you too."

"Jereth." Carter shook his hand but kept a guarded expression.

Lessie put her hands on her hips. "You better have a good reason for abandoning the cat I gave you."

"Neenah? She likes my brother way better than me." Jereth pulled out a chair for Lessie.

Lessie sat. "Yeah, right. Jereth, you look great."

"I wish I could say the same about you." Jereth motioned for Carter to sit by Lessie.

"After a while you'll look like us. Are you ready to get grit in your eyes and nose?"

"I already have it in my teeth." He wasn't kidding.

Lessie laughed. "That will teach you to keep you mouth shut when you breathe."

Then it hit him. He remembered who the man was.

"What is it?" Lessie put her hand on Jereth's arm.

"Nothing." Jereth glanced at the table where Jax sat moments ago.

"Liar. You look like you've seen a ghost."

"Maybe I did. Some guy I know from Avenir was in here."


"So, he's supposed to be dead."

Lessie shrugged. "Probably just someone down here who looks like him."

"Probably." Jereth grimaced. Too bad he wasn't smart enough to fake his own death. Then he wouldn't be looking over his shoulder for his father's thugs.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ale O’Clock

by Grace Bridges -

Eleon McManus loped through the lush open area of Zirconia’s sector B3. The curved window to his right formed a sky beyond, which glimmered with occasional schools of fish in the murk.

Passing a fruit tree, he longed to snag an orange. But these plants passed down from Earth were too rare, and he didn’t want the Enforcers to chuck him in the slammer, not when he had some time off tomorrow.

He slipped through the last of this sector’s forest and reached the stairs to the residential pods that overlooked it. After climbing up to the third level, he swung onto the walkway that rattled with his steps. He paused a moment, then raised his hand to a buzzer.

Half a minute later, the door unsealed with a whoosh and Gryphon Sylt looked out. “Mac! Sight for sore eyes. Come in!”

Eleon passed through the thick rubber-rimmed frame into his friend’s abode. “How’s life, Sylt?” He peered at the other man’s haggard face. “What’s going on?”

Gryphon shrugged, a wild, flailing maneuvre. “System’s down again. All the history’s inaccessible. And I have no apprentice to help write down what’s in my head.”

“Can’t the system be fixed?”

“It’s not graded as essential. There’s not enough spare manpower from the IT department.”

Eleon didn’t know what to respond, so he wandered to Gryphon’s kitchenette and poured two lavabush ales from the plastic barrel in the coolstore.

Gryphon sighed. “Maybe they’re right. Maybe it doesn’t matter, as long as we survive.”

Eleon pushed a glass into his hand. “We’ll lose our identity if we don’t remember where we came from.”

“Oh, I’m writing down what I can, never fear. It’s not a lost cause. Only almost.”

“Well then.” Eleon lifted his drink and the two clinked together. He took a sip and grimaced at the slightly bitter taste. “Here’s to happy writing!”

Friday, October 21, 2011


by Kat Heckenbach -

Mary leaned over the rail of the crib and kissed Jacey’s tiny forehead. The peach fuzz along the baby’s hairline clung to her skin, damp with sweat, but her angelic face was completely relaxed.

“If only your daddy could have seen you.” Mary gazed at Jacey in wonderment over the features that looked so much like Jax. A perfect replica, even down to the arch of her eyebrows and the dimple that played in and out on her left cheek as she smiled in her sleep.

She sighed and left the room. The kids would be home any minute and she hadn’t even figured out what to cook for dinner. Granted, having an old friend stop by had been a worthy excuse. She smiled as she sorted through the conversation she’d had with Tomika, recalling how good it had felt to talk to someone about Jax without feeling like “the criminal’s widow.”

As she walked across the living area, chill air hit her skin. She stepped toward the environmental control panel next to her bedroom door, but as her gaze passed the open doorway she froze. Something silvery glinted on her nightstand.

What is that?

She crept into the bedroom, chills running up her arms. Atop her journal lay a triangular piece of metal. It looked like a knife.

No, as she got closer she realized it was too wide to be a knife and had no real handle, but it looked deadly sharp. She reached the nightstand and sat down on the edge of the bed, tears burning her eyes as she read the word “Mary” carved into the metal in Jax’s signature scrawl.


She slid from the edge of the bed and landed on her knees, her hips sinking until she was sitting on her heels. Her hands found their way into her bangs and her torso rocked back, forth, back, forth, tears streaming her cheeks and dripping from her chin.

Jax….Oh, God, thank you…


The door to Maddie’s pub slammed behind Jax as he exited. His head swam from too much ale. It had been an unusually good haul today—but as his dust-encrusted boot caught on a rock and he stumbled to regain his balance, he wondered if maybe he’d celebrated a little too hard. But celebrations were something that came few and far between for him. Most days he was happy just to be alive.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


by Travis Perry -

The job the old man gave him to do was ridiculously simple. Pick up some a container of special material, no questions asked. Show the forged papers on the way out of the mail hub and as needed on the way back, delivering the package straight to the angel’s chamber.

It was so simple and trivial Ernsto could barely believe he’d been assigned to the task. Hobson might as well have sent one of the cyborgs for something like this. But a lot of the work he’d done for Wizard Hobson in his weeks on Avenir belonged to that category. Trivial, but well-paid. As if he wants me around, even though he’s got nothin’ for me to do…which made absolutely no sense.

The job went off without a hitch, as expected, except after he rode the stainless steel cargo lift up to the executive level. The governor’s staterooms lay off to the left and other ministers had quarters to the right (Hobson served as Minster of Ethics, of all things). Ernsto showed his papers to the enforcer at the elevator and carried the box made out of processed bugshell toward Hobson’s. Before he’d gotten more than ten paces from the checkpoint, he heard the elevator open again and a young voice behind him.

“You there, do I know you?”

He turned around with deliberate slowness. Behind him stood a fresh-faced enforcer with a crisp new uniform, with the silver emblem on the right side indicating Governor’s Service. His name tag said “Salsar.”

“Don’t think so,” answered Ernsto slowly. Moving slow was always a good way to face a lawman for the first time. It tended to put ‘em at ease…

“Your face looks familiar,” said the enforcer.

“I get a lot of that. I resemble Stensin, governor before last.”

The enforcer squinted at him, visibly wondering if that were the reason. “Your papers, please.”

He showed the forms and studied the face of the young enforcer examining them. This one showed no signs of bullying—a true believer in the occupation of law enforcement. Would almost be a shame to kill him.

“Everything seems correct. Please pardon my interruption, Mr. Jons.”

“No trouble at all, officer,” he answered.

Within moments he’d passed by Nasir and Rolf at the door, who still resented the way the old man treated him better than them. Once past the entry the sense of terror and distress stabbed at him, like knives in his eyes. The angel’s distress pierced him. He barely realized that his pace picked up—he nearly ran into the angel’s chamber.

Hobson, assisted by a pair of cyborgs, used multiple manipulator arms within the pressurized tank to press the angel down to the tank floor, while ratcheting down straps of some kind tight into her flesh.

“Ernsto, dear boy!” The wizard’s smile spread his mouth wide, but his eyes were dead and lifeless. “Bring the package here, my lad.”

Ernsto found himself stepping forward.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dangerous Jobs

by Kaye Jeffreys -

"Are you hungry?" Dad stood in the door of Brett's sleep cubicle. "Gordy made chicory millet soup, good for lung health."

Brett propped himself up, "It smells good. Bless Gordy."

"You can eat a little?" Dad handed Brett the metal bowl.

The soup still steamed in the warm bowl. "Food is starting to sound good."

"You gave us all a scare." Dad sat down next to Brett's bed.

The savory broth and wild vegetables tasted good and went down smooth.

Dad stroked his chin. "Kellie doesn't look like she's taking it well. She looks worse than you do."

"She told me she's not burying another husband. I'm not allowed to die before her." Brett saluted like he was an Enforcer.

Dad saluted back, showing his white teeth in a mirthful smile. "Like we have that much control."

"I told her that I'd be ready to go up to the Rims soon."

"The Clinic lady said it would take time."

"Don't listen to Lessie. She's from undersea and doesn't know how things work up here." Brett shook his head as he remembered the scolding he got from Lessie in the circuit office.

Dad leaned forward. "This time I'm listening."

"But Madame Bleu was showing off for us. Did you see the fountain she shot up?" Brett spread his fingers and reached for the roof of his sleeper. "She was telling us to come visit her next, that we wouldn't be sorry if we did."

"We aren't cleared to go back up yet." Dad crossed his arms and leaned back.

Brett suspended his spoon in front of his mouth. "That's right, the offering."

"Tomorrow, Reece and I will send up a flare and meet with them."

"What if they don't accept it?"

"Then we will go back to what our ancestors did."

"Hunt?" Brett's stomach became queasy. "Isn't that dangerous?"

"Playing Rim Roulette isn't dangerous?"

"It doesn't seem as dangerous as prospecting." Brett set the bowl of soup on the shelf next to his bed. He could no longer eat with the sour feeling in his gut. "Reece got in some good practice the other day with that spider."

Dad took a deep breath and covered his eyes as though he didn't want to see something. "Reece got lucky. He saw the spider first."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rockstars: All That Glitters

by Walt Staples

Someone once said you can tell a field geologist’s environment suit from a miner’s by the smell. While in both, sweat overpowers the other normal suit stinks—halitosis, machine oil, and urine—there’s also the whiff of erudition. Whoever said it must have been a field geologist, because it’s a cinch nobody else would.

Oolite-Head Marx and I were working the north slope of Quatermain’s core caldera. Head got his nickname from two things; his head is shaped just like an egg and his was the biggest discovery of oolitic hematite on the south caldera slope.

What’s oolitic hematite?

Look it up, Ace. That’s why you lug that computer around on your wrist, ain’t it? Can’t watch porn all the time.

Anyway, as I was saying, the two of us had been dirtside for about a five-day when we’d made camp the night before. Next morning I’m dragging my butt out of the bubble--we were carrying one-mans because we’d had to leave the hopper eight klicks back down slope while we yomped all the field equipment up to the bluffs—and there’s Head staring through the theodolite at the bluffs. Head is not a morning person so naturally I had to say, “My, getting dedicated in our old age aren’t we.”

Without turning around, he stepped to the side, gestured at the theodolite and said, “Shadup and take a look, funny man.”

I stooped down—Head’s shorter than me—and looked through the eyepiece. About 200 meters down from the edge, something gleamed in Eclectia’s bounce light. “Interesting.” I straightened up and looked at Head. “Do we set up the laser?”

The Whale was below the horizon so we didn’t have our filters down. I could see him chewing the end of that mustache of his. “We could…but if it’s noble, we just gonna put a hole in it.”

“Could be pyrite.”

He nodded. “Could be but…” He let it hang for a minute. He cocked his head and squinted one eye. “Just don’t feel right for fool’s gold.”

Head’s famous for his “feelings.” But, considering he’s right about 80 percent of the time, you listen to him.

With a bit of dread, I asked, “So we go down and drag the laser back up here?”

Head put his fists on his hips and looked at the ground for a moment. Then he looked back up at me. “I’m agin it for the same reason you are, Roy. I’m just as lazy as you are an’ it’ll blow the whole day. Though there is another way…” He leered at me through his visor.

With a prophetic sinking feeling, I knew just what he meant. I shook my head in defeat. “Yep, you did it last time. My turn again.”


I checked that the spider silk cable would run free and that the hoist was properly anchored. The old rock hound joke runs that if it’s not, you’re the first to know, the recovery party is the second, and the coroner is the third. I don’t buy it. The insurance types seem to show up pretty fast.

I looked over the edge. In geology, you get used to looking off heights or you go into some other line of work, like pastry chef. Head was small as he looked back up at me from the theodolite about 100 meters from the cliff base. “Okay, Roy, I’ll tell you when you’re in the crosshairs.” The Whale was up and drowning out the bounce light from Eclectia, so we left the theodolite pointed at the location of the glimmer. Head would coach me to the spot.

I pointed the laser rangefinder at the foot of the bluff. The reading came back 643.81 meters. I did a little math in my head. If the hoist has 800 meters of line and something goes wrong, that means I can still dig a 156.19 meter hole in the ground. I hate those Jernigan hoists, they kill too many people. But, when you’re just starting out…

I checked my rig and turned my back to Head. “Okay, starting down.” I swallowed and stepped off. The overhang at the top meant I was dangling about a meter and a half from the buff face on the way down. All I had to do was stop lowering when Head sang out that I was even with the spot and shoot a sample. The sampler bit is rocket powered so there’s no kick to screw up your equilibrium and set you swinging. You might get the feeling that there’re a bunch of us idiots doing this sort of thing.

I tapped the “slow release” button and fell like a stone. Like I say, I hate Jernigans. I managed to say something pithy like, “Holy--!” before the reel seized up. I hung there for Lord only knows how long, trying to talk myself into opening my eyes. Instead, I decided to try to think up some better last words. I’d gotten to “Cry not for me, beautiful maidens of…” when something slapped me on the lower leg. Head’s voice was gentle between gasps and pants in my earphones, “Roy, open your eyes. It’s okay.”

I peeked out of one, then opened the other. I was hanging maybe two meters off the ground. “How do you know my eyes were closed?” My voice sounded shaky in my ears.

I couldn’t see Head’s grin through his filter, but I could hear him still panting from the run. “Because mine would be, son.”

I climbed the rest of the way down. “Now what? That motor’s got to be burnt out.”

Head plucked a pair of ascenders from his belt. “Can’t go down, so you go up. My turn--you go watch through the theodolite.”

Anyway, that’s how Head and I made the “Crappy Jernigan Strike.” He was right, it wasn’t pyrite. The gold assayed out at 18 grams per ton. Ever since, we’ve used a Haman Hoist. Like Head says, “Hey, use the best you can afford.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


by Fred Warren -

I would show Rose Maylie in all the bloom and grace of early womanhood, shedding on her secluded path in life soft and gentle light, that fell on all who trod it with her, and shone into their hearts.

Smith’s palm light flickered, and he knocked the device against his knee to restore its pale glow. The energy cell was failing. He’d need to steal another tomorrow, but it would last long enough for him to finish. He flipped the final page in his tattered copy of Oliver Twist.

Kate brushed away a few bits of litter, sat down beside him on the floor of the corridor, and leaned back against the wall, wrapping her skirts around her legs, her breath fogging in the chill air. “Moppets are tucked away for the evening, and the guard’s posted.”

“Thanks, love.”

She peered over his shoulder. “Thinking on Ave again?”

“How did you know?”

“When she’s on your mind, you read that last chapter over and over again. Surely you’ve memorized it by now?”

“I want to remember her as she was. Kind, sweet, and sensible—if I’m the Artful Dodger, she was Rose Maylie.”

“And yet you parted ways. You’ve never told me why.”

“She fell ill. Fever, pain, delirium. After she recovered, she began going off by herself, down to the deepest levels of the station. She told me she’d had a vision—there were angels on Eclectia, and they’d chosen her for a great mission. She needed to stay as close to the planet as possible so she could hear their instructions.”

“Is that all? Hardly the most eccentric behavior we’ve ever encountered.”

“She became obsessed. Before, it was just me, her, and the other orphans, living one day at a time, getting by. I hoped...I even dared to plan for the future. Our future, together. After the fever, she started talking like a revolutionary, saying things needed to change, humming that idealistic old colonial hymn everywhere she went. We argued. She took the half the children to wherever she goes to commune with the angels.”

“I caught a glimpse of her a few turns in-station from the passenger terminal last week, sending her moppets to beg, same as us.” Kate shrugged. “If she’s planning a revolution, I think she’ll need larger soldiers.”

Smith sighed and slid the book back into his pocket. “The children still worship her, even the ones who stayed with me. I’m afraid one day she’ll lead them all on some foolish crusade to right all the wrongs of Avenir, protected only by their pure hearts and her angels. She’ll get them all killed or turned into little wind-up dolls for the aristocrats, just like Wallace said.”

Kate surveyed the filthy, corroded corridor. “She’s a mite older than you—perhaps the weight of responsibility weighs heavier on her shoulders. Can’t say I disagree about things needing to change around here.”

Smith shook his head. “The only way to save them is to help them survive to adulthood and steer clear of the gangs. They may have to work the mines or hunt beetles, but they’ll be able to make their own choices and fend for themselves. In the meantime, a few...the smart ones, the pretty ones, the lucky ones...might become Olivers and find themselves a real life where they’ll never be cold and hungry again.”

“Fewer ladies or gentlemen of means venture down here each Founding. I think we frightened off a couple of likely marks during our last raid. Poor timing, that.”

A soft whistle echoed down the corridor, followed by two more, louder each time.

Smith stood up and dusted himself off. “Poor timing all ’round. Blasted Enforcers picked a fine night for a random patrol. Wake the babes, Kate. Two levels down, four corridors outward ought to be enough.”

She scurried away as Smith began to gather their few possessions. And what of us, Ave? he wondered. What will our fate be?

No matter how many times he read the ending, the Dodger landed in prison.


Monday, October 10, 2011


by H. A. Titus -

Reeder kicked a stray red pebble across the waiting area. It skittered over the uneven metal floor and under the railing into the docking bay. A few seconds later, he heard it plop into the ever-present puddles of water that the pumps never seemed to siphon out. The plop echoed around the empty metal cavern.

He was about ready to go look for customers elsewhere when he heard the loud, hollow click that indicated a ship had come into harbor. A whine of old hydraulics, and a loading disc came up through its tunnel, a small, dripping ship nestled in its middle.

Small meant private, and private usually meant no messages because they could afford to use the 'nets. Still, there was a chance. Reeder watched the passengers disembark and make their way up the ramp to the waiting area. Two men. One young, with expensive-looking clothes and a carefully disheveled, devil-may-care attitude. The other was older, with grimy-looking hair and clothes and red-rimmed eyes.

Probably a grit-breather, Reeder thought.

The young man blew past without even looking at him, but the grimy man stopped and held out a square of folded paper.

"Can ye take this to the wizard Raminoff?" he asked.

Reeder cringed. He hated delivering to wizards. Hated going through the labyrinthine passageways of their quarters in Zirconia, hated trying to find the right wizard's study, hated seeing them with their potions and bubbly pots and the steamy feel of the air that made your skin itch.

But he hadn't earned anything so far today, and there was his brother to think of.

Reeder took the message. "Two creds."

"The wizard'll pay. Scurry off, now."

Great. Reeder sighed and scurried off.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Due Wages

by Travis Perry -

Ernsto sat in the darkened room with the angel, counting his stacks of platinum coins. The pay was good, there was no denying that. And it wasn’t as if the work was hard.

She watched him from the tank, her dark eyes glinting with reflected light from her own white bioluminescent body. The tentacles attached to the back of her head hung down almost like hair and her ray-like fins were spread wide, like wings, making her look especially angelic.

“But you’re not an angel really,” muttered Ernsto. “You’re just a big fish, a smart one.” He didn’t feel fully convinced. He fingered a platinum coin, feeling the cold hard weight of it.

Why? floated into the back of his mind. The more time he spent with the angel, the more he could swear he didn’t just know her feelings—he could hear her thoughts. He glanced up at her but didn’t offer any answer to her question.

The door slid open, revealing Wizard Hobson, smiling as broadly as ever. “There you are! You certainly do like spending time here, don’t you, my boy?” The man deliberately ignored the angel recoiling away from the surface of the glass, balling up at the back of the tank.

Eyes fixed on the wizard, he answered, “I like the dark. The quiet is good, too. You got experiments to run?”

“Not at the moment. I just have another job for you, Ernesto.” The wizard mispronounced his name in a way that for some reason made him smile.

He had more platinum and more luxury than he’d ever had in his life. At that instant he decided he’d had enough; the time had come to go back to smuggling. He rose to his feet, a forceful “No” at the back of his throat.

But when Hobson’s eyes met his own, he found his willpower ebbing away. The wizard started speaking and he couldn’t even remember anymore what he had wanted.

Whatever the old man said, he had to do it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Peacekeeper: Housecleaning

by Walt Staples -

First voice: I take it that your investigation is complete?

Second voice: Yes, Councilman.

First voice: And your findings are?

Second voice: He’s dirty, sir. I have the testimony of six merchants that he has solicited and taken bribes from them.

First voice: What inducement did you offer them?

Second voice: That the council would take into consideration that they acted under duress in the crime. That being so approached by a peacekeeper under those circumstances would tend to be extremely intimidating.

First voice: Continue.

Second voice: I also have shop security data that the merchants surrendered that shows the peacekeeper in the act of demanding the bribes, and receiving same.

First voice: And the charges of Moral Turpitude, Conduct Unbecoming, and Betrayal?

Second voice: He is sleeping with the wife of one of his enforcers.

Third voice: Does the enforcer know?

Second voice: Yes, Councilman, he does. It is only a matter of time before there is a murder.

Third voice: Of the wife?

Second voice: No, sir, of the peacekeeper in question. My impression is that the wife is unwilling and is keeping silent out of shame, and to protect her husband.

First voice: Have you any further evidence to introduce?

Second voice: Not at this time, Councilman.

First voice: And your recommendation?

Second voice: That the council prosecute said peacekeeper on all charges, sir.

First voice: Thank you, Peacekeeper.

Gentlemen, motion to prosecute.

Third voice: Second.

First voice: All in favor?


Thank you, Peacekeeper. You may go.

Second voice: Councilmen.

Third voice: Is that the one?

First voice: You mean about turning in his wife for the murder? Yes, that’s him. A good man; God help him.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Aid Work?

by Kaye Jeffreys -

"Jereth, what are you doing here?" Kinsee stood at her door, motherly as always.

"You said to drop by whenever I'm nearby."

"I certainly did. Come in, come in." Kinsee stepped back.

Jereth walked in, set his pack on the couch, and surveyed her friendly entertaining room. Some of the best times he'd ever had were spent here with his school mate, Lessie, and her parents, Kinsee and Mitchel.

"You can stay in Lessie's room until she returns. Sit down." Kinsee sat down herself and motioned for Jereth to do the same. "What brings you under the sea?"

"Lessie finally got to me with all her talk about aid work landside. I want to join her team up there."

"Aid work? You, Jereth?"

"Yes, me. Don't act so surprised." He leaned back into the comfy sofa.

"You know that her fiancé is with her?"

"Carter? I introduced Lessie to Carter. He has nothing to worry about from me."

"It won't keep him from worrying." Kinsee shook her head then put her hand on her cheek. "Aid work? You, Jereth?"

"Aren't I allowed a social conscience?"

"You will hate it up there. It's nothing like the contained systems of Avenir and Zirconia."

"Are you trying to talk me out of helping the less fortunate? I'm serious about this, Kinsee. I've raised my own support." He patted his pack.

"I'm trying to help you understand the hazards of going landside for someone like you."

Jereth feigned mild offense. "Someone like me. You mean spoiled?"

"Vulnerable." There was nothing but concern in her voice. No judgement, no condemnation.

"The Landsiders aren't vulnerable?"

"They have built up some natural tolerances that you simply don't have."

"What about the children?" Kinsee had a soft spot. If he brought up children maybe that would make her believe him. "What tolerence do their little ones have?"

"But you doing aid work?"

"Stop saying that. You are starting to hurt my feelings. Yes, Kinsee, I want to do aid work."

He hated lying to her as much as he did his brother. But he hoped it would get him a to a place where he would never have to lie again.