Wednesday, November 30, 2011


by H. A. Titus -

This was the thirteenth door he'd knocked on.

Reeder took a deep breath and rapped the door with his knuckles. He knew that the wizards could hear him. He could hear the knocks echoing around in the hollow space behind the door, just as it had behind all the other doors.

As he waited for an answer—not that he expected one, there had been no answers at the other doors he'd tried—he looked down at the square of folded paper he held.

Galileo, Wizard's District was written in wiry, slanted letters.

"No address, no directions—serve him right if I up and dumped it somewhere," Reeder muttered under his breath.

He looked up, prepared to knock again. A thick brown face fringed with a static-y mop of yellow-white hair stared at him from two inches away, if that.

Reeder yelped and jumped back.

The man's fingers twined around his arm and jerked him inside the room. Reeder flinched as the slamming door brushed his heels.

The wizard poked his face close again. "Got a message for me?"

"You—you're Galileo?"

"Wouldn't have opened the door if I wasn't," the old man snapped.

Reeder thrust out the letter. The wizard grabbed it, stuffed a handful of credits into Reeder's hand, and shoved him back out the door, nearly taking off Reeder's nose as he slammed it again.

Reeder stared at the acid-splattered metal. "You're welcome."

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Personal War, Part 1

by Travis Perry -

Rolf reached inside his jacket for his weapon, too late. Ernsto shot the needle gun into his neck, through the carotid. Nasir, much faster than Ersnto suspected, drew his plasma blaster and fired.

Ernsto had already leapt forward into the doorway at the front of Wizard Hobson’s quarters when the hot plasma passed his back. Without looking, he squeezed off five needle shots behind him as he charged toward his room.

Plasma bolts hurled past him and a searing burn engulfed his left shoulder. Normally he would have picked a spot with good cover and held his ground. But he couldn’t, not with Hobson somewhere nearby.

Run, had said the angel into his mind, run, she said, revealing Rolf and Nasir’s thinking—this time, they intended to kill him as he walked past, his usefulness finished, as was hers. But he’d never been the type to run—and there was no way he’d let Hobson have the angel.

He charged past the pressurized aquarium that held her on the way towards his room and its hidden weapons. The angel’s eyes were wide and frightened, her ray-like wings tapped the glass in her distress. No, no, don’t kill, her mind told him.

“Sorry babe,” he shot back as he exited her chamber.

“Ernsto!” The voice belonged to Hobson. Something informed him if he looked back he’d lose his will to fight. Whether it was the angel that told him this or his own mind, he knew not.

He sprinted into his small room and slid shut the door by pressing the yellow button on the right side of the frame. He held his thumb to the pad for his print to lock it. Next he flipped the knife hidden in his right sleeve into his hand and stabbed the control panel, penetrating its thin aluminum face three times, hoping the door servo would never operate again.

His key for the lockbox he jammed into the slot and threw open the box. Within seconds he used the tool to open his hidden panel in the wall, the hiding place for his weapons.

His eyes searched and saw…nothing. He reached his left hand into the gap and felt nothing.

A slow chuckle came in through the room intercom. “Ernsto, my lad, did you really think you could hide a weapons cache from me? In my own private section of Avenir?”

Ernsto didn’t answer. His stomach balled into a knot.

“Now be a good lad and fix whatever you’ve done to the door and come on out. We need to sit down and discuss this rationally, man to man.”

I’d rather die first, he thought, eyeing his sleeve knife and hoping this time the wizard knew exactly what was on his mind.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Worse Than Ash Lung

by Kaye Jeffreys -

Jereth scraped corrosion off the terminals on Lessie's scope with a wire brush. Wind blasted the windows of the circuit office with a constant shower of ash and grit particles. The glass rattled but held against the onslaught.

Lessie sat down at the table across from him in the service room. "Why are you here?"

Jereth glanced up then focused again on cleaning the innards of her scope. Lessie wore that serious look of hers. He was in for it. She doesn't let go of an issue until her questions are answered.

"Stop ignoring me, Jereth Davis. Why are you here?"

"To help the less fortunate." He blew dust from the prongs and examined them closely.

"Don't lie to me. Your heart is not in this."

"Why are you here?" Jereth scrubbed at the last few deposits of corrosion and blew again.

"Don't change the subject."

He put a new power pack in Lessie's scope and replaced the cover. "Why do you think I'm here?"

Lessie leaned back in her chair. "The Tyrant?"

"Avenir is not big enough for both him and me." Jereth set Lessie's scope down and slid it across the table to her.

She picked it up and looked at it without seeing it. "So why landside? Why not undersea?"

"He has too many connections undersea." Jereth tapped his leg with the wire brush.

"You'd risk Ash Lung and a whole lot of other things rather than deal with your father and his connections?"

Jereth set the wire brush on the table and clasped his hands on his lap to keep from fidgeting. "There is no dealing with my father. Not directly. Not through any of his connections. He's not like your parents."

"I know."

Jereth shook his head. "No, Lessie, you don't know. Because if you knew, if you really understood, you wouldn't ask how dealing with him could be worse than Ash Lung."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Peacekeeper: The Darkness Within

by Walt Staples -

“Sonny, this can’t go on.”

“Why not, Ray?”

“It’s not right. You can’t do things like that.”

“Don’t see nothing stopping me. Besides, why get upset now?”

“Look when it was a transient here or there, I didn’t say anything.”

“You got that right, Ray.”

“But now, children?”

“What do you mean, ‘children?’”

“Sonny, I know what you do, what you think. I know you’ve been watching them. Waiting for one to be alone. Just waiting.”


“It isn’t going to happen.”

“And who’s gonna to stop me, Ray?”

“I am.”

“Ray, put that down. You don’t want to do this.”

“You’re right, Sonny, I don’t. But it has to stop. And if no one else can do it, I will.”

“Ray, can’t we talk this out?”

“We two have been talking since I can remember. It stops now.”



“Who took the initial call, McGee?”

“Hennesy, enforcer from Section 4, Peacekeeper.”

“Bug pistol; he wanted to be sure.”

“Yes, sir. Sure makes a mess.”

“Wondered how long it would take.”

“You know the victim, Peacekeeper?”

“Yep. Arnold Sol. Pretty famous over at Forensic Psych.”

“How so, sir?”

“The most classic MPD case on Avenir.”


“Multiple Personality Disorder, McGee. He only had two, but what made him a classic is they, the two personalities, were aware of each other.”

“What do you think happened, sir?”

“According to the door logs, nobody in or out.”

“No, sir.”

“Guess he lost an argument with himself.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Creature of Words

by Jeff Chapman -

A rocksnout slithered over the rocks on the eastern lip of the Zircon trench, a rift in the ocean floor that plunged for kilometers and yawned to a kilometer at its widest point as it zagged along the edge of the continental shelf. Four legs on the rocksnout’s underside ended in four-fingered feet that gripped the rocks on which the female rested while she pumped water through her mouth and over her gills. Her mottled black and brown body tapered for two meters from a wide, flat snout, one meter across, to a forked tail only centimeters wide. Three dorsal fins rose from her back and a pair of pectoral fins jutted from her sides. Bony crenellations that mimicked lichen-encrusted stone covered the top of her snout and at its tip three luminescent tendrils wiggled with the current.

The eyes on either side of her snout took in the smallest specks of light and tiny holes arranged across the underside of her snout picked up the electrical impulses of beating hearts. She was ninety seasons old and ready to mate for the first time. She heard the low thrumming of a male somewhere in the deep ocean night. She picked out the subtle variations of tone and rhythm in his thrum, a rocksnout’s version of speech. She responded. She called herself Thrawto.

With a swish of her tail, she glided over the ocean floor. It seemed odd to swim, to fly over unbroken fields of sediment. She spent most of her life crawling over rocks on the wall of the trench, searching for caves and crevices that afforded a lair to wait for prey to investigate the glowing tendrils at the tip of her snout. There was no room to swim in the caves and it was not wise to swim in the depths of the trench.

Thrawto swam for hours until hunger gnawed at her stomach. Something glowed on the horizon to her left, a gathering of the bright, winged ones, she assumed. Their accumulated light would blind her and she would not eat them. They passed their thoughts and meant no harm.

She sank to the bottom behind an outcropping of rock encrusted with the browns and greens of sea lichen, a favorite of the grazing fish on which rocksnouts thrived. Thrawto nestled in the silt to wait.

A heartbeat, large and strong with an unfamiliar rhythm, approached. Thrawto tensed, ready to attack or flee or hide. Tremors rippled through the silt. This creature crawled over the ocean floor, a lumbering target.

It emerged from behind the rocks in front of her. An odd creature, she thought. A pulsing stream of bubbles rose from its bulbous head. A single, glowing eye stabbed the night. A hump protruded from the creature’s back and a limb emerged from each corner of its body. No wings, no webbing, no fins or tail. Thrawto readied to strike. She had eaten stranger animals in the trench.

The creature leaned toward her, peering at Thrawto’s worm-like appendages with its single eye that emitted a shaft of blinding light. Her eyes squeezed shut on impulse. In perfect coordination, her legs pushed and her tail snapped. She shot forward, grabbing a lower appendage near the body, hoping to sever the limb and immobilize the creature before it fought or fled. Her jaws worked from side to side and her rows of serrated teeth cut like a double-edged saw. The flesh tasted strange and no sweet blood flooded her mouth. It grunted and thrashed and slapped her bony snout, but amid the screams, she heard sounds and rhythms repeated.

“Kazzeee. Kazzeee.”


Thrawto relaxed her jaws and the creature fell away, flailing its arms, trying to swim most ineffectually. No blood fumed from the jagged wounds in its hide. How curious. A storm of silt enveloped the struggling animal and snuffed its light. Thrawto gave a kick with her tail and left the odd creature to its fate in the deep ocean night.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Gettin’ Crazy

by Greg Mitchell -

“That him?”

Trebs led the way through the clatter and chatter of Maddie’s Pub. Dressler trailed behind uncertainly, nodding a friendly “hello” to the madam of the bar. She was a mother to all the rugged workers who came here after hours and Dressler usually spent a while visiting with her, but today Maddie would have to wait.

They were here to save Edilyn.

At Dressler’s question, Trebs answered, “Yeah.”

In the corner of the pub, a bear of a man sat alone. He had an old prospector’s hat on his head, a pair of dark green goggles over his eyes, and a great bushy white beard covering his cheeks, chin, and the better part of his chest. Presently, his head was leaned back against the wall, his mouth agape. A foul odor emanated off his gargantuan bulk and flies buzzed around him.

He didn’t appear to be breathing. Dressler hesitated. “He’s . . . not moving.”

The two inched closer to the old man. Not a snore escaped his lips. His chest did not rise or fall. No, this isn’t happening. Dressler worried. We need him to save my daughter. Dressler reached one hand towards his throat, intending to check his pulse. “I think he’s dead . . . ”

“Nope,” the man barked, sitting straight up, suddenly alive. Dressler jerked his hand back, startled. “Just playin’ dead. Tryin’ ta keep the lowlifes away. You the guys got a job for me?”

Dressler shared a hesitant look with Trebs, but his partner simply nodded with a knowing grin. Trebs seemed a lot giddier since his brush with death and the angels of the seas. He had a perpetual glow about him these days that Dressler had to admit was a little creepy at times.

“I need someone to take me below,” Dressler said, still standing.

The burly man raised his goggles and eyed the bug hunter suspiciously. “Let me guess. Angels, huh?”


“You one of them jelly rollers? This some kind of spiritual thing to you?” Before Dressler could answer, the man banged the table, carrying on. “Used to be a time folks stayed away from those critters. Now every Tom, Dick, and Harry wants to take a box a’candy down to them squid heads and learn about ‘em.”

“No,” Dressler corrected. “That’s not why I want to go.”

The scruffy brute swatted at one of the flies hovering by his nose. He snorted and glared. “Then what is it yer after?”

“I was . . . invited.”

“By who?”

Dressler shifted uncomfortably. “By them. The angels. They want to cure my daughter. But, I need a tub to take me down there. Trebs says you’re the best pilot.”

“Ha!” The man threw his head back, roaring. “The best. The cheapest, you mean!”

“That, too. I don’t have a lot of money, but if this saves my kid, whatever I’ve got is yours.”

The pilot snickered a bit more. “Angels don’t often take too kindly to our kind poking around in their habitat, invite or no. It’d take a crazy man to drive you down there to the deep to find ‘em.”

Dressler nodded. He knew the risks. But Edilyn was worth it.

The other man looked him up and down, but Dressler remained determined. “Will you take me?”

After a moment’s pause, the pilot stood to his full height; the hairy ogre was more monster than man. He swelled his barren chest, looking down on the two tiny mortals that sought his help on their foolish quest. At last he thrust out a hand the size of Dressler’s face, offering a shake. “Call me ‘Crazy’.”

Monday, November 14, 2011


by Travis Perry -

Rolf and Nasir smiled at him as if they shared a secret he didn’t know. Ernsto did not, could not, let himself get annoyed by them.

Days ago he’d figured out that those two doorknobs were not the source of his problem. They were not the ones causing the blanks in his memory. They were not the cause of the angel’s terror.

Hobson was the enemy, of course. The wizard’s friendly confidence gave him away.

Ernsto strolled by the door guards and waved, letting a friendly slowness pass over his face. The guards had both been raised on Avenir…they were predisposed to think someone from “down under” was a simpleton, an ignorant rustic. He let them think that—it served his purpose.

He supposed the insight into these men had come to him from the angel. He found in himself, more and more, that he longed for the information and understanding she gave him.

He entered his cubicle of a bedroom. On his person at all times he carried the only key to a lockbox. The box contained a curved tool and a signal jammer. The signal jammer he turned on, in case there were bugs or unknown video dots in the room; he placed the tool between tight fitting wall panels and cranked to the left. A portion of the aluminum wall sagged forward.

Inside the wall he eyed over his collected inventory. He added to it his latest two acquisitions. A pair of flash-bang stun grenades found their places among homemade explosives, a plasma blaster, tranquilizer gun, projectile pistol, and three razor-sharp knives.

Ernsto sealed the panel and suppressed his emotion of triumph. Soon, old man. Soon ‘nough you’ll know exactly how I’m feelin’.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Pilot

by Edward M. Erdelac -

Arden Pacoy was heavyset and dark-skinned, obviously annoyed to have been pulled out of pre-flight checks to sit and wait in the dim, rusty interrogation room when she should have been earning her daily bread.

As soon as Inspector Considine entered, she said, “What’s this all about? I’m due on the flight deck in fifteen minutes.”

“Put a lid on it, Ms. Pacoy. You didn’t complete your pre-flight. Your company’s already bumped you. We’ve got all the time in the world.”

“Is your office going to compensate me for time lost? I’ve got a kid to feed…”

“You’ll be lucky if you fly again.”

“Why what’s this about?”

“Tell me how you know Almer Croix.”

She blinked, then shrugged.

“Never heard of him.”

“Well he’s heard of you,” Considine said. “This morning he tried to blow up one of the habitation rings. He demanded safe passage to Avenir and picked your name off the flight duty roster as his preferred pilot.”

“It was probably random!” she exclaimed.

“If it was random he would’ve asked for any old pilot. He demanded to see the duty roster, and asked specifically for you.”

“Well, I don’t know him….he might’ve been a customer.”

“A customer? Aren’t you a company pilot? Your only customer is the people who own your ship.”

She pursed her lips.

“You’re taking side jobs?”

She nodded slowly.

“So you flew cargo for Almer Croix?”

“Not specifically for him. The way it works is, people pay for cargo space on my supply runs.”

“Does the company know you’re renting out space on their freighter?”

“I have a kid to feed, like I said. Besides, the space I leave for independent cargo is negligible. It doesn’t detract much from the company runs.”

“Would they see it that way?”

She bit her lip.

“What was the cargo?”

“I don’t peek. That’s part of the arrangement.”

“Even if it’s high explosive detonite?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “No, I never take suicide cargos. That’s my stipulation.”

Considine studied her face. She had blanched at the mention of the explosives. She was scared. It was obvious.

“Why would he ask for you?”

“I don’t know! I swear! Because he’d dealt with me already, I guess.”

Or maybe because had he gotten on board her ship she could’ve delivered him to somebody sympathetic on Avenir, no need for a transmission that they could’ve intercepted.

“I’m willing to believe you didn’t know what you were hired to deliver. But I want to know who your contact on Avenir was. We know the detonite went missing from a shipment bound for Sheba from Morgenstar Munitions. But we don’t know who lifted the detonite in the first place. It’s likely the same person who delivered it to you on Avenir.”

“I don’t know his name.”

“Could you pick out his face?”

“I don’t know. But he had on a Morgenstar cap.”

Considine pushed back the chair and stood. He took out his pack of cigarettes and offered her one. This was a break. There was a slim chance the perpetrator on Avenir was just wearing a Morgenstar cap. They weren’t exactly the height of fashion. More likely the man who’d delivered the package to her was the same who stole it. If he was an employee of Morgenstar that would make sense. If he was an employee he’d be on record.

She took the cigarette and put it in her lips quick so he wouldn’t see her hand shake.

“I’m going to hold you here just long enough for you to go through some pics. After that I’ll release you.”

“What about the company?” she asked, leaning in to take his light. “Are you going to report me?”

He lit her and then himself, sucked in the fishy smoke and blew it through his nose. She was just one freighter pilot trying to scrape by on a pittance.

“You’ve got a kid to feed,” he said.

She closed her eyes.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Don’t thank me, Arden. If you’ve lied, he’ll be an orphan.”

He went outside without another word, letting the hatch clang behind him. The cigarettes didn’t go with the canned air. He dropped it and ground it out with his boot.

“Any luck?” asked Galveston.

He’d asked Jelly Galveston and Brendermyer to stay suited up for the time being, watch the prisoners. The other Enforcers had gone back to their day jobs.

“Yeah, Inspector, can we go home? I’ve got a gig tonight at the Starboard I gotta get ready for.”

Brendermyer worked as a comic there.

“I’ve seen your act, Brendermyer. You’re in no rush. You stay here and guard the door. Jelly, let’s go see if Croix is ready to talk.”

“Come on!” Brendermyer whined as they went off to the hyperbaric chamber where Croix was decompressing.

“How about you, Jelly? Got some place to be?”

“Nossir,” said Galveston. “My brother can hold down the dock while I’m on duty.”

“Good. Put it in a call to Morgenstar Munitions on my authorization and have them send a transtat of their personnel files. Males only. When it comes in, see that Ms. Pacoy has a chance to go through it.”

“Yessir,” said Galveston, going off.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

High Country - Gubee: Griper's Clinch

by Walt Staples -

Delbert Meeks couldn’t see them, but he could feel the eyes. He knew they’d been watching since he’d landed the hopper. He surveyed the settlement, Griper’s Clinch—nothing extraordinary, just the usual High Country village one would expect to see up on one of Eclectia’s plateaus. The enforcer snugged his ash mask as he took inventory; a couple churches, three—maybe four—taverns, a Palmer Company trading post, and six houses—two prefabs and the rest “hobbit-holes.” He decided to set out for the trading post first, figuring that the Palmer employees, or at least the factor, probably wouldn’t be locals.

A small bell tinkled cheerily as he pushed open the inner door of the trading post’s ash porch. A fat, red faced, redheaded man bustled from a back room and called out heartily, “Yes, sir, and what can we do for—“ He stopped short as his eye fell on the star on the rawboned visitor’s chest. He swallowed and spoke the eternal enforcer greeting, “Is there anything wrong, Enforcer?”

Meeks unhooked his mask and regarded the man from a pair of cool, colorless eyes. “You the factor?” When the other nodded, he continued, “Meeks. I’m investigating Fitzroy’s death.”

The factor relaxed. “Help you any way I can, Enforcer. Valentine Choker.” He cocked his head. “Something to drink?”

“Do you have some coffee?”

Choker grinned ruefully as he shook his head. “Too rich for people’s blood around here. Got some tea made.”

“That’ll do, thank you.”

The factor ushered Meeks to a rough table and returned with a tea-cozy encased kettle and a pair of large cups emblazoned with the Palmer Company’s rampant stag beetle. After they raised their cups to each other, blew on the tea, and sipped, Meeks got down to business, “I figured I’d start with you since, by your accent, you’re not local.”

Choker smiled, “And being an outsider, I’m more likely not to have a cricket in the fight.” He chuckled. “Yeah, makes sense. I’m from Christchurch. Three more years and I get a bigger posting.”

“Pretty rough, huh?”

The factor took a sip and looked thoughtful. “Well, the people aren’t bad—in fact they’re a pretty nice lot, to tell the truth. I like them. No, more the loneliness and boredom. I see the same twenty-some people day in and day out. They’re good people, like I say, but I’ve nothing really in common with them.”

“How about Fitzroy?”

Choker shook his head with a smile that was more a grimace. “Brandon Dawkens Fitzroy was a real piece of work.”

“How so?”

“He had the ability to tick off every person he met, at least here. I suspect, after the doctor slapped him, his mother probably hauled off and swatted him just on general principles. One majorly dislike-able man, the Administrator.”

Meeks empted his cup and extended it for a refill. “What’d he do?”

Choker did the honors. “He was going to fix things. Make things work better. Even when the things weren’t broke. He was pestering everybody. Telling 60-year-old bugherds how to milk bugs, where to pasture them, what to do about Ladybirds. Wouldn’t have been so bad, but it was stuff they’d tried years ago and found didn’t work. Got so’s people quit going to church just to avoid him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Every Sunday, he’s up trying to tell Reverend Charles over at the Methodists the proper way to preach and pointing out mistakes with his theology.”

Meeks quirked one corner of his mouth in an almost smile. “He was Methodist, then?”

The fat man shook his head. “Not that I know. Wasn’t a Catholic either. Father Arnwulf shoved him out St. Boniface’s door; probably would have picked him and thrown him off the front porch if his Bible hadn’t grabbed him and held him.” He shrugged. “Near as I could tell, the Administrator wasn’t much of anything. At least he seemed to always have a sneer when such things came up in talk.”

“So, he made enemies,” Meeks observed idly.

Choker threw back his head and laughed. “That trail’s going nowhere, Enforcer. While Fitzroy was meeting his maker, Father Arnwulf was dying and his Bible, Ignatius Paul, was nursing him.”

“What’d he die of?”

The factor shrugged once more. “Ash Lung, like most. And before you ask, Reverend Charles and I were carrying supplies over to the rectory for them.”

Meeks cocked his head. “Rectory? I only saw the Administrator’s prefab and the one next to the—I guess—Methodist church?”

Choker took a last sip of his tea. “The Catholics use the nearest hobbit-hole to their church as a rectory.”

“Who lives in the others?”

“Other than Dad Gesler, nobody at the moment. They’re usually used during marketing and shipment by the buyers and the flight control crew. All the bugherds and their families generally stay at the taverns.” He shook the kettle and set it down.

Meeks set his half-filled cup on the table and slowly rotated it with the tips of his fingers. “So if the clergymen and you didn’t kill him, how did Fitzroy die?”

“Accident—like we reported.”

The enforcer leaned across the table. “What kind of accident?”

The factor sighed and spoke as one not expecting to be believed, “Fitzroy, in spite of warning from just about everyone he came in contact with, went down Wazzo’s Gulch and the Gubee got him.”

“The Gubee?” Meeks voice was flat. “What’s that?”

Choker looked down, then back up at him. “I don’t know. None of us do. People go down that collapsed lava tube and just die. In ones, twos—hell, the five Sullivan brothers and their uncle Mort went down and something killed the lot.”

“Why did Fitzroy go in there?”

The other shook his head. “No one knows.” He paused, then grinned sourly. “Or…will admit that they know.”

“Uh-huh.” Meeks looked the other in the eye. “So, how did you recover the body?”

The redhead returned the taller man’s look steadily. “We used the rescue drone. Nobody flesh and blood goes down in there anymore. At least, not anybody intelligent.”

Meeks changed the subject. “What’s Gesler like?”

The factor snorted. “Dad? Enforcer, if anyone around here will tell you the truth about anything, it going to be Dad. Man’s a buzz saw.”

“How so?”

The Palmer Company man grinned. “Couldn’t care less where the chips land.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Offering

by Kaye Jeffreys -

Reece moved his goggles down from his forehead to cover his eyes and searched the horizon again. "The wind is picking up. Soon we won't be able to see. Do they know we are here?"

"Yes." Dad crouched down and rested his hand on the ground.

"What if they don't come?"

"We don't go back up to the Rims until we make the offering. Don't worry. They're here." Dad stood and brushed dust off his hands. "More than usual."

"Is it because we were late with the offering?"

"More likely because of the nomad you saved from the spider."


"Come with me and keep your mouth shut."

Reece followed Dad down the hill to the meeting rock.

Several dozen mounted nomads crested the opposite hill and stopped.

A single bug with two riders broke away from the rest and descended to meet them. They reached the rock first and dismounted.

Dad put up his hand in silent greeting. The rider, Senjab, did the same. His smaller passanger stood behind him to the side, her head bowed and face covered with a veil.

"Is all well?" Dad asked.

"All is not well." Senjab pointed at Reece. "Your son touched my daughter." He motioned back toward the girl behind him.

"Dad, I didn't--"

Dad put up his finger.

Reece shut his mouth, bit his lip, and breathed hard through his nose. Why did he stop to help a nomad?

"This is a serious charge." Dad spoke loud over the wind but remained calm.

"Sanja has become a shame to her people and must be cast from us."

Sanja, so that was her name, the little liar. She stood, head bowed and speechless. The wind whipped her garments about her.

"What can be done to resolve this?" Dad clasped his hands behind his back, stepped back with one foot, and turned so that he didn't face Senjab square on but at an angle.

"She must join your people through marriage to your son."

Reece's lip escaped his teeth. "Dad!"

Dad held up his finger again and gave Reece a sharp look.

Reece put his hands on his head and turned his back to them. Stupid Nomads and their stupid, stupid laws. He should have left her to be spider food. An immediate sinking feeling hit as his insides rejected the thought. He took a deep breath. He had done the right thing and could have done nothing else. He would rather face the consequences of doing a good deed than disappoint the One who loves all.

Dad said in his even tone, "Will you receive our gift and may we continue to mine Mt. Olympus?"

"Things between us will not change if you also take Sanja because your son has shamed her."

Reece turned back around and stared at Senjab. Were the streamed accusations really necessary?

Senjab ignored Reece's glare.

Dad nodded once. "We will take Sanja to live with us."

"Then it is done." Senjab gave a shallow bow.

Dad handed Senjab the pouch of cut diamonds.

Senjab mounted his bug and rode away, never looking back at the daughter he left behind like camp debris. Sanja gave no visible sign that she had been discarded by her father. She stood rigid against the wind, all expression hidden by her veil. Maybe her people falsely accused her like they did Reece.

"Sanja." Dad's voice was gentle towards the girl, even over the fierce wind. "Come with us." He turned and walked back to their multirider.

Reece walked along side his father still needing to make his case, not just for himself, but for the thrown-away, little girl that followed them. "Dad, I didn't touch her. Nor did she touch me."

"We will discuss this later." Dad didn't scold, but his words were firm. "Right now we have to get out of this wind."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Stroke of Luck

by Mary Ruth Pursselley -

Celia was out the classroom door before the last bell had even finished ringing. She pulled her book bag over her shoulder and headed for the superintendant’s office. She knew he could help her, the problem would be convincing him he should. Somehow, she had to talk to Robin Corpsman.

She slowed down as she neared the office, trying to buy more time to plan, but no ideas were forthcoming. She might just have to wing it.

She was five steps away when the door opened and Robin Corpsman stepped into the hall.

Celia caught herself mid-gasp; her heart felt like it had stopped completely this time. He was right there. This was her chance!

Robin passed her without speaking and started down the hall towards the exit.

“Hey.” It was the only thing Celia could get out of her mouth in time to stop him.

He paused and looked back, eyebrows raised.

“Uh…” Celia blinked, trying to collect herself. “I was in your lecture today.”

He smiled. “Oh? I hope you enjoyed it.”

His tone said he’d already fended off all the girls he cared to today. Celia knew she’d have to make her case fast.

“I wanted to talk to you about my sister,” she said. “She’s—an archaeologist.” Basically.

Robin turned around and cocked his head. “What’s her name?”

“Celeste Harper.”

Robin frowned. “I don’t recognize it. Who’s her sponsor?”

Uh-oh. No, wait—maybe that was it! “Um… I think she’s been having trouble with that. Something about lack of interest.”

“Lack of interest?” Robin’s tone was disbelieving. “Maybe landside, but aristocrats on the Avenir pay big for Eclectian artifacts. She’s just not applying in the right places.”

There was an opening, and Celia went for it. “So… could you recommend someplace she might apply?”

“Where’s she working?”


Robin dug in his pocket and pulled out a scrap of paper. “I’ll do better than that, then. Give me her address and I’ll contact her. Maybe I can help her out.”

Celia’s hands trembled as she wrote Celeste’s address and gave the paper back to Robin.

He glanced at the address and returned the paper to his pocket. “I’ll be passing through Adagio in the next week or ten days. I’ll look her up. Take care.”

And with that, he was off.

Celia watched him go, her heart pounding, unable to believe the luck that had just struck like a bolt of lightning. She hadn’t dared to even dream things might work out like this!

Now, she just had to figure out how to tell Celeste what she’d done.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Prize Puppy

by Joseph H. Ficor -

The Governor gave Shouhei many trivial errands to run, mostly taking things to the other aristocrats of Carlston's Cove. Everyone praised Shouhei for being so favored by the Governor. The young man's discipline was pushed to its maximum tolerances every time he heard a greater-than-thou exclaim “Here is the symbol of Bokassa's benevolence” or “Here is the epitome of rich charity.”

The other members of the security detachment chose to call him the “prize puppy.”

His “cuteness” began wearing off after a month on board the station. The Governor and other higher ups started showing disdain and boredom when he came around on official business.

Fear seized him when an Enforcer Second Class shouted at him as he passed a guard station on the Governor’s level, “Hey, prize puppy! You're going to play with the big dogs soon.”

His soul forecasted ill times ahead.