Friday, March 30, 2012


by Jeff C. Carter -

Lancet leaned over the dragon on his floor and gave it a sharp slap, sending a twang buzzing into the air. He stabbed and pulled at its strings with his thumb, index and middle fingers sending notes flying faster and faster.

Once, this instrument had been made of wood, ivory and tortoise shell. As it was passed down through the generations these materials had become increasingly worn down, rare and forgotten. Now the instrument was reinforced with iridescent bug shells from Eclectia. It was still beautiful, but the gradual decay and loss sickened him.

Lancet flicked the strings and let his frustration vibrate through the body of the instrument. He was playing an ancient song with a sparse, jangling rhythm. He loved this music for the silences between the notes as much as the notes themselves. He often sat for hours at the window of his spacious chambers, playing while he watched Sheba hanging in the sky and Eclectia spinning below.

The koto was sometimes called a ‘dragon’ for its resemblance to a giant beast from distant legend. His mentor Beebe had once said it was an excellent meditation on how to rule. He could command the dragon with just a few fingers at the right time and place, although the occasional slap produced a pleasing sound as well.

A gruff voice barked from a speaker on the ceiling.

“Lancet Palmar the 8th, please tell me you are being fashionably late and not just playing that damned koto again.”

Lancet stopped his plucking and rolled his eyes.

“Good evening, Councilman Moab. Please, do remind me which charity this is.”

“Save Avenir’s Orphans,” Moab replied.

Lancet hunched back over the koto and played a few discordant notes.

“Ah, now I remember why I abstained. I do not want to save Avenir’s orphans. I want them to stop wasting our precious oxygen,” Lancet said.

“Well until that comes to pass you need to suffer through these charity dinners with me. I’ve sent one of my men to escort you. Don’t dawdle.”

There was a chime at the door.

“Enter,” Lancet commanded.

A security guard fell through the doorway in a bloody heap.

A tall old man in a hospital gown strolled into the room and smiled. He held up a bloody hand and waved.

“Hi boss!”

Lancet flew forward and jammed his fingers towards the man’s eyes. Before he could connect, a single blow sent him reeling.

Lancet crashed to the ground, crushing the ancient koto with a painful sound. The lunatic loomed over him, eyes and teeth gleaming with reflected starlight.

There was a sudden pop!

The attacker collapsed, streaming blood from the back of his head. Lancet saw Moab’s escort in the doorway, finger still on the trigger of his Shinpu.

“Who was that?!” the escort said.

Lancet had no idea. He tried to recognize the intruder’s face before it was masked in blood.

The escort holstered his weapon as he entered.

“Are you okay, sir? Should I call--”

The lunatic’s eyes flew open and he jumped up. He grabbed the escort and wrenched the man’s head violently around.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Last Fight (Part II)

by Greg Mitchell


Dressler opened one eye. The other felt tight. Swollen shut. Crazy’s dead. Would he be next?

Boots clanked on metal and he drew his head up, feeling it pound—full of thoughts, but not his own. He saw Trebs circling him, wiping Crazy’s blood off his knife. The killer bore no satisfaction on his face, in fact very little recognition that he’d murdered a good man at all.

{Welcome, believer}

“Trebs,” he muttered. “I’m gonna kill you…”

When Dressler wavered to weak feet, he realized Trebs had not addressed him. Beyond the killer, through the front viewport, Dressler beheld a crimson-colored fleshy mass, adorned in writhing tentacles. Large suckers from one giant appendage were fixed to a corner of the glass. A single baleful eye held him in place. Dressler’s mind pulsed and swelled. He gripped at his temples, gnashing his teeth.

{Welcome, believer}

“Why…do you call me that?”

{It is what you are} the Beast thought to him.

You’re the angel?”

{Your kind must name everything}

Woozy, Dressler got out through grit teeth, his heart burning from betrayal. “Why did you bring me here? My daughter’s cure—”

“Don’t let the fish look fool you,” Trebs spoke up, and Dressler wondered if he were somehow hearing what the “angel” was speaking to his mind. “This thing is the real fisherman.”

He would kill Trebs. He’d settled that in his mind now. He’d killed a man before, out of anger and booze. He’d never killed clear-headed, but for Trebs, Dressler knew it was worth a try.

“You got me down here,” Dressler spat. “Why? What now?”

{Your faith feeds me}

Dressler massaged his forehead, the throbbing blood vessels there, and thought he might pass out. “Faith…what? I don’t…I don’t have faith.”

{No? Wasn’t it faith that led you down here?}

“You lied to me.”

{Faith is faith}

A deep chuckle rumbled from Dressler’s throat, passing his clenched teeth. “You went to all of this…why? For a snack?”

It was Trebs who answered, “Do you realize how many people it’s lured down here? The angels up top, they try and keep this place sealed up, to keep guys like this from getting out. The angels, they can influence your mind—project thoughts, Dress. But that’s not the only tricks they got. They can siphon thoughts, too. Emotions. Memories. Good ones, or bad.”

Dressler leveled his good eye at the monster outside the viewport, seething in contempt for the creature that had toyed with him, dangling Edilyn’s life before him as bait.

Trebs continued, “All that anxiety you got for Lyn, it was like a beacon to him!”

{Your misery called to me}

“So, I’m the delivery,” Dressler snapped, cutting hard eyes at Trebs. “And what were you, the delivery boy?”

Trebs smiled, opening his mouth to answer, but the Beast cut through.

{He is the entree}

Trebs quickly closed his mouth, swiveling to face the monster. “What?”

{You have pain, too, human. Fear of your father. It drives everything you do. It always has}

“Wait, wait!” Trebs waved his hands, stepping closer to the glass. “We had a deal! I was supposed to bring you Dressler and more!”

{I healed your body by stimulating your mind. Stopped your bleeding. Sped up your body’s natural restorative properties. Your life belongs to me, to do with as I see fit. Your faith has fed me, human, but I find it lacking. I am done with you now}

“Wait!” Trebs commanded once more, his voice shrill. At once, the seam in his leg that the bug had inflicted days before—the wound that would have, should have, cost him his life—opened up as though someone had pulled a zipper on it. Blood cascaded down the grievous rip and Trebs collapsed, gasping in pain and fear. “No! No, no, no!”

Dressler closed his fists, finding that, when once he held nothing but hatred for the bug hunter, now he felt pity. Undone, Trebs passed out from shock, and died in silence.

{He was but a tasting. Your faith is much stronger. I will gorge myself on it. Or…}

Infuriated, and feeling increasingly helpless to do anything about it, Dressler ventured, “Or what?”

{I could dine on your mind all at once, or feed off your pain a little at a time, allowing you to continue in your pitiful existence. Better yet, perhaps…you could fulfill the other human’s role…bring other faithful to me. Offer their minds to me in your stead and sate my thirst}

Images of Edilyn flashed before his eyes. When she was born, crying and naked and vulnerable, needing him to cradle her in his arms. Protect her from the terrible world she’d been born into. That’s all he’d wanted to do—save her life to bring some purpose to his own.

{Return to the surface, human. I will fulfill my promise and heal your daughter. You can live out the rest of your days with her…only do not forget our arrangement. Bring me others with strong faith like yours. Feed my hunger}

Edilyn would be safe, while Dressler would be damned. A monster, dragging jelly rollers into the ocean, to the consumptions of their minds—their very souls.

But Edilyn would be safe.

“No,” Dressler said, praying his daughter would understand. He wouldn’t be there to explain it to her. He would be long dead by then, unable to tell her that there were things worth fighting for. Worth dying for.

Edilyn was worth dying for.

But the destruction of this leviathan was worth more.

I’m sorry, Lyn. Don’t forget your old man.

{What are you doing?}

Dressler hopped over the back of Crazy’s empty chair at the deck, his hands hovering over the strange consoles. He’d never piloted before, but he only needed to know enough to charge. Following the instructions the best he could, flipping a number of toggles, Dressler finally powered the sub to life.

{You can’t run from me}

“Not trying to.”

In the process of rummaging through controls, music blasted through speakers. More of Crazy’s “hip hop”. Something called “Power” by K-West. He didn’t know if K-West was a great composer of ancient days or not. Dressler didn’t know much about culture. Didn’t know much about a lot of things.

He’d done the best he could.

Dressler pulled back on the yoke, arcing in the water. He felt the monster roaring furiously in his mind, but he pushed it aside. His brain hurt, swelling with rage, blood running out of his nose. The Thing was ever-present in his thoughts, drowning out his own, but he focused on Edilyn. Her laugh, her smile, her hand in his, her arms around him.

Tentacles snapped, slapping the sub. Glass cracked, alarms screamed, and sparks and hissing steam shot out of paneling. Dressler ascended higher and higher, then slammed against the yoke as one of the alien arms snatched his propeller. The sub lurched hard to the right and he was thrown from the seat, crashing to the floor next to Trebs’ lifeless body. Poor Trebs. All talk, and too dumb to know when to shut up.

Dressler picked himself off the floor and slid back into the seat, juking the sub, breaking loose of the tendril.

{You will not escape}

“You don’t seem to get it,” Dressler huffed, wheeling the sub around, aiming his viewport at that single glaring eye. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Reaching across the console, Dressler cranked the music up, its thumping beat moving in time to his heart. He grinned, eyes squinting back tears—

—and flooded the throttle.

The beast grew larger in the viewport as Dressler plummeted hard and fast. He screamed, cried, shouted, and laughed all at once. A female automated voice warned him the ship was in danger of exploding, and he was glad for it.

“You wanna feed on my faith? I hope you choke on it!”

The Beast screamed in his mind, as the ship pierced the eye. Dressler heard a pop, a sizzle, and was thrown backwards when the cockpit exploded. Water punched through the glass, carrying him away as the ship tore apart, carrying him into black oblivion.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Liars and Thieves

by Kaye Jeffreys -

Jaren reclined on his bed. Neenah batted at Jaren's toe with her paw then stretched herself out with a long yawn and let her head flop over the side of the bed. Jaren looked back at the forms on his note screen. There was so much to fill out before becoming a full citizen of Avenir.

Neenah jerked into a crouched position and stared toward Jaren's bedroom door. She bolted from the bed to hide under the desk.

Father was home.

Jaren concentrated back on his forms.

The door to their appartment opened. An unfamiliar growling sound entered with Father's heavy footsteps. "Jaren, we need to talk."

This could not be good.


Father set a cage on the carpet in the front room. A small dog chewed on the bars from the inside as it growled.

Jaren's stomach hollowed out. "What's the dog for?"

Father had that smirk on his face. "This is Boris the Cyber-Mutt. Isn't that a funny name?"

Jaren didn't feel the humor. "Why is he here?"

"He's programmed to hunt down pests, especially unwanted cats."

"Neenah is not a pest. She's Jereth's cat." A shiver ran through Jaren.

"Jereth stole money from me and you won't tell me where he's gone. I will not pay to feed the cat of a thief, first born or not. And I certainly won't support a worthless cat when my younger son betrays me to protect a thief. "Father bent over and put his hand on the latch of the cage.

Jaren made a bold face but could find nothing inside to back it up. "I told you, I don't know where he went."

"You are lying." Father opened the cage. Boris shot out like a missle toward Jaren's room. A blur of brown and white, barking wildly.

"Stop! I'll show you his note." Jaren tapped his note screen to bring up Jereth's letter.

Neenah howled and then shrieked.

Jaren shoved the note in front of Father's face. "He went to Zirconia, see? Call off your mutt."

Father pushed a button on the side of the cage.

The barking and screeching silenced.

Jaren bolted to his room.

Boris trotted past him with blood on his mouth and scratches on his face.

Little drops of blood stained the carpet by the desk. Jaren kneeled on the floor and reached under the desk for Neenah. A lump hardened in his stomach.

She hissed and scratched him. "I'm so sorry, Neenah." Jaren leaned back and pulled a blanket off his bed. He used it to shield himself against her claws as he fished her out. He gently wrapped the blanket around her as she fought against him. "Let me help you." He gathered her up and raced through the front room.

"This could have been avoided if you had told me the truth." Father stood with his arms crossed and victory in his eyes. "You know I hate liars and thieves."

Jaren stopped at the door. He turned. "You hate liars and thieves? Then you should hate yourself." He looked down at Neenah. Her struggling weakened. "I hate murderers."

Friday, March 23, 2012

Visit Home I—Video Feed

by H. A. Titus -

A loud chime startled Reeder from his nap. He sat up, his heart pounding wildly, staring around his living space with eyes stretched wide.

Another loud chime from the screen on his desk.

Reeder shook the sleep from his head and lunged for it. He tapped the screen and his video-call feature popped up.

"Call from 'Mom'," the computer voice said smoothly.

"Answer call." Reeder patted down his hair with one hand and pulled the chair closer to the desk.

The call window opened. His mom's two-dimensional face stared out at him. Dark, baggy circles hung under her eyes, and he realized that she had more gray streaks in her dark brown hair.

"Hello, Reeder?" She squinted at the screen. "Is this thing working?"

He usually chuckled at her technical cluelessness, but this time it stuck in his throat. The feeling of something wrong just pervaded the screen. "Press the video button, Mom. You must have turned it off again."

She rolled her eyes. "I did. There, I can see you now. How's work?"

"Fine. Busy. Lots of people seem to trust human messengers more than cyborgs or computers nowadays."

She nodded, her eyes drifting away from the screen. "Any friends yet?"

It was a constant worry of hers. She always told him he never had enough friends, that she worried when he stuck to himself.

Reeder changed the subject. "How's life on the farm?"

"Peachy keen," she said, a false note of brightness in her voice.

Reeder groaned. "Don't lie, please?"

She bit her lower lip. "Danyel has been…acting up."

His older brother? A chill ran down Reeder's back. It was never, ever good when Danyel 'acted up'. "What did he do this time?"

"He's just sick, Reeder," she whispered. "So mind-sick."

Bile rose in the back of his throat. The way her eyes dropped, the way her voice tensed…

"Mom, what did Danyel do?"

"He stabbed a stablehand." Her voice cracked. "The man lived, barely."

Reeder swallowed. His stomach heaved. He thrust the chair back from the desk and ran for his closet-sized bathroom. He made it just in time.

Danyel's second murder attempt. Reeder sat back on the floor, cradling his head in his hands, spitting to get the foul taste out of his mouth.

Why had the demon chosen his brother? Why had it been Danyel? Why not some other random guy?

"Reeder? Reeder?"

Reeder stood and wobbled back to his desk.

His mom bit her lip. "I need you to come home."

He almost threw up again. "What? No way!"

"Please? The doctor I spoke to thinks that he needs those he was closest to. She thinks that perhaps you could pull him out of the mindsickness."

Reeder shuddered. "I'm not going near that possessed creep again!"

It hadn't been the violence so much. That had come later, after he'd left. But the memory of Danyel's hollow, smoldering eyes following him everywhere, boring into him with malice every time his back was turned, was enough to give Reeder nightmares to this day. Three years later.

His mom glared at him. "Reeder, he's not possessed. Stop acting like a child. We need you!"

Danyel was possessed. Everything that Reeder had heard, the whispers and rumors floating through the halls of Zirconia, confirmed it. He didn't want to go back up to the grit-filled red landscape, to risk Ash Lung, just for a brother who hated his guts.

But he still loved Danyel.

"Okay, Mom. Okay. I'll talk to my boss and let you know."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


by Kat Heckenbach -

Piper found nothing wrong with being called a servant, because she found nothing wrong with being a servant. And she could deal with the older woman’s attitude. She’d surely dealt with far worse.

But tears stung her eyes because those hateful words had come from Nik’s mother.

His mother.

How had a woman like that raised a guy like Nik?

He stood beside Piper, arm tight around her waist. His eyes were narrow slits.

“She is not a servant, Mother,” he said in a hard whisper. “She’s only here covering for one of the waitresses who called in sick. She’s a chef!”

His volume increased and his nostrils flared. “And not just a chef. Your favorite. That ‘culinary masterpiece’ you were raving about the other night—she created that recipe!”

Heat rose to Piper’s cheeks at the pride in Nik’s voice. Pride in her. She chewed the corner of her lip, leaning into him.

The woman’s eyes widened as she sat at the table, hands wringing the cloth napkin. Her jaw moved as if she were about to open her mouth, but her lips stayed together. Her gaze flitted back and forth between Nik and Piper. And then she placed the napkin in her lap and looked down as she smoothed it with fingers ringed in sparkling gems.

“Well, a chef is a different story indeed.” She cleared her throat, and lifted her head to look at Piper as if nothing had happened.

Piper felt Nik stiffen.

“You have completely missed the point, Mother.”

Nik slid his arm from Piper’s waist and reached down to grab her hand, then tugged her away from the table.

Piper stumbled behind him until they’d passed the next table, then ground to a stop. “Nik, no.”

He turned to look at her, anger flaring in his eyes. “I will not spend another moment around that woman.”

“She’s your mother.”

He huffed and stared past Piper’s shoulder. “She’s so judgmental. Even if you were a waitress, she had no right saying that. I’m sick of it. She may have married for money, but I intend to marry for love.”

The floor seemed to sink out from under Piper’s feet, and she gripped Nik’s hand tighter to steady herself. Okay, he said marry, and he said love, but he’s just speaking in general terms…it doesn’t mean me…Piper pushed the bubbles of thought to the back of her mind. There was time to think about that later. She closed her eyes.

“I haven’t seen my mother since I was six. I barely remember her.” She opened her eyes. Nik’s face had softened. She gently brushed his dark bangs aside, and held her fingers against his jaw. “You only get one mother.”

He gave a half-smile and nodded, then pulled her into his arms. “Okay, I’ll go apologize.” Then softer, “But if she keeps it up, you have my permission to poison her food.”

“Stop it!” She pushed him away and smacked his arm. Then she turned back to the table.

Nik’s mother glared at them over a pinched nose and twisted lip as if she smelled something offensive.

Piper inhaled and squeezed Nik’s hand. She tilted her head toward his and whispered, “I may take you up on that.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

Academic Question: King in Check

by Walt Staples

Walt left this life on March 14, 2012. He will be sorely missed here at Avenir Eclectia; we have several more of his unpublished stories scheduled. This one is perhaps the strangest of his submissions here, but shows that twisted humour of his...

“Your move.”

Abram looked up from the psychosociology periodical he had been perusing. His bishop was very much in danger from the knight. “Hmm, decent, Mclean.” He regarded the board for a moment, then his bishop slid over one square of its own accord. He raised his journal again.

The biology instructor stared at the configuration of the pieces, then smiled. “Ah. Pawn takes knight.” One of the pawns began to waddle forward. “No, not you. The other one.” The pawn stopped, managed to look embarrassed as only an out-of-place playing piece can, and stepped back as the proper one waddled over to displace the offending knight. Mclean held the deceased knight between thumb and forefinger. “Abram, you’re holding up the game.”

The psychokinesis instructor surfaced long enough to note the proffered game piece, pluck it from his opponent’s grasp, and set it down beside his other lost pieces without bothering to touch it. He scrutinized the chessboard for a few seconds and said, “Concede.”

As the pieces, both taken and untaken, waddled to their proper starting positions, Mclean remarked, “You know, Abram, if you paid a bit more attention, you’d win more often.”

Abram nodded as his white queen’s pawn slid two squares. “Yes, probably. But when would I do my reading then?”

Doctor Professor Erschreckendmann, known to most as “Doctor E,” entered the club and arrived at their table. “Ah, I see you’re using Mclean’s board this time, Abram.” He leered at the biologist and hooked a thumb at the chessmen. “Have you got them housebroken yet so they don’t void themselves at awkward moments?”

Mclean sighed. “No, I still have to be careful with the timing when I feed them.”

Doctor E nodded with questionable bonhomie. “Good, good. I’m sure you will have them trained in short order—though at the moment, they seem to have you well trained.” He changed the subject. “Have either of you gentlemen seen His Majesty about?”

Abram glanced up at the alchemy instructor. “Who? Pomphee? Haven’t see him here today.”

Mclean smiled wickedly. “Perhaps he’s hiding from you.”

“No, that generally happens after I’ve seen him,” the small man said, distracted. He turned and strode off, hands clasped behind his back, apparently lost in thought.


Doctor E stuck his head in the door and greeted the department head’s receptionist, “Mistress Bright, is your master back yet?”

She smiled. “No, Doctor, not yet. Are you sure you don’t want to leave a message for him?” Like many, she wondered at the green lights that glimmered in the shadows cast by his enormous eyebrows.

He ran a finger over his huge mustache in thought. “No…” He smiled at her. “T’would probably spook the quarry.”

“I could send a few of the gnomes to look for him.”

He pulled at his lower lip as he considered. “If I don’t kick him up by tea, I may ask you to do so.”

He smiled at her. “Don’t let him hear, but I’m beginning to be a bit concerned.”

“Do you think there’s something seriously wrong?”

He shook his head. “No, I shouldn’t think so. It’s like having one’s key in the wrong pocket. I just don’t like things out of place; especially Pomphee.”

There was a hiss as Doctor E passed a large potted plant in the hall. He stopped and examined it. A pair of bloodshot blue eyes peered back at him. Pomphee’s voice hissed at him, “Don’t give me away. Please.”

“Give you away? I’d never think of such a thing, Pomphee. Why, your bodily elements would bring at least 23 credits on the open market.” He paused. “Though, I suppose, now that I think of it, you might fetch more as a teaching cadaver.” He leaned closer. “You are hiding and that’s not a man-eating plant?”

“Yes, I’m hiding,” the department head hissed back.

Doctor E straightened. “Oh, good. I’ve always been very bad at botany.” He regarded the blue-eyed plant. “I don’t suppose you’d care to tell me what you’re hiding from, would you?”

“Professor Henpartie. She thinks I’m ‘cute.’”

“Can’t say as I know the woman all that well other than she’s known as ‘Queen’ Mim; I don’t get over to the Literature Department all that often.” He smiled sadly. “Though I must admit from the evidence of what you say, she obviously might be a case for Doctor Professor Schadenfreude over in Psychiatric Re-manipulation.”

Pomphee’s hiss became cobra-like, “Will you stop being funny and help me?”

The alchemist looked at the plant askance. “Did you just admit that I’m funny? Besides, why me?”

There was a sigh. “Because…because you make things happen.”

Doctor E crossed his arms and stroked his mustache in thought. “So the point of the exercise is to lower your ‘cuteness’ factor.” He came to a decision. “Okay, come with me to my lab.”

“But she might see me!”

“No, I think not.” He shook his head. “I doubt she’d be able to be absent from the aroma of silverfish and binder’s glue that long.” He gestured at the plant. “But, if it makes you feel better, by all means, bring your friend.”


Pomphee looked at the capsule suspiciously. “What’s in it?”

Doctor E assured him in a coaxing voice, ”It’s perfectly safe. Just fructose, an enzyme for catalyzation, a touch of tri-methylinidole, tri-hydroxybutyric acid—“

The department head shrank back in terror. “Acid?”

The alchemist shook his head. “It’s not going to hurt you.” He switched to wheedling as one would a recalcitrant 150 kilo child. “Come on, Pomphee. Just take the capsule and your woman troubles will be over.”

The big man turned the suspicious look on Doctor E. “How do I know you won’t poison me?”

The little man beamed his most beatific smile. “Pomphee, I promise you as your most ardent enemy, I am not going to poison you.”

The department head looked at him searchingly. Then accepted the capsule. Doctor E handed him a glass of brown sparkling liquid. “What’s this? Is this part of the process?”

The alchemy instructor shrugged. “No, just Dr Pepper, I figured you needed something to wash it down with.”

“Oh.” Pomphee relaxed, popped the capsule in his mouth, and emptied the glass.

Doctor E was watching his watch four minutes later when the head of the Materials Department began to sniff. The alchemist took an exploratory whiff and stepped back two paces. Pomphee continued to sniff as he looked in all directions. He turned red and asked, “Oh, dear. Is that me?”

Doctor E clapped his hands and, smiling, said, “Pomphee, I now declare you un-‘cute.’”

Without the courtesy of a knock, the lab door flew open and a tall, gangling, purple-haired woman strode in. “The receptionist said she thought—Oh! Norquist! There you are!”

Pomphee paled and replied forthrightly, “I, ah…er…uh, you see—“

Suddenly an odd expression crossed her face. She snuffed, as opposed to sniffed, first in Doctor E’s direction, then in that of her balding Lord Byron. Her pupils went to pin-points as she began to hastily back out the door. “I, I…really must be going. Lots of papers to grade you know, and all that. Tootles.” She slammed the door.

Pomphee gave a satisfied grunt then turned to Doctor E. “Er, how long is this, er, my condition going to last?”

The alchemist took another step back. “By my calculations, approximately six more hours.”

The department head was horrified. “I can’t see people like this. And I can’t possibly go home to my wife in this condition. What will I do?”

Doctor E put a handkerchief over the lower part of his face. His voice was muffled as he said, “Do what any normal intelligent creature would; hide in your office and read journals.”

Friday, March 16, 2012

Test Results

by Edward M. Erdelac -

It was morning when Considine received the call from the ZMB. He didn’t bother picking up. Whatever the result of Croix’s scan, he wanted to hear it on the spot. He showered, dressed, picked up a stimgulp from the shop at the north junction of his habitation ring, walked to the ZMB facility, and smoked.

The fish were roiling above his head through the observation bubble in the central axis, but he barely paid any attention. He’d lived in Zirconia six years now. Most of the time he forgot the city was underwater. It really wasn’t that different from living on Avenir. Oh, a little dingier, but really, the air was less stagnant, and there was a better class of people down here. Not in the traditional sense of class, but in the one that mattered.

The Zirconian Medical Bureau was a blazing white bank of pods and corridors that stood out starkly in its contrast to the rest of Zirconia. He went in, and found the receptionist, a cyborg woman jacked into her flat, monitor-less desk terminal by a hardwire running from her left eye port.


“Inspector Stanlon Considine. I received a call.”

“Yes Inspector, one moment.” She blinked, her one human eyelid closing, the eye beneath flitting sympathetically back and forth beneath as the cyborg eye transmitted pages of data into her mind.

The eye opened again, lovely and brown.

“Doctor Kes is waiting for you in the Imagery Lab. To your left, six doors down. Just follow the placards.”

“Thank you.”

She smiled, her teeth chrome.

Doctor Kes proved to be the very same doctor who had tended to Croix’s cuts and bruises following his rough ride to the surface.

“Inspector, I have some exciting news this morning.”

“Exciting?” Considine repeated innocently, though he had expected some kind of excitement.

Considine proceeded to a terminal and ran his hands over the interface, calling up a colorful holoprojection in the shape of a human form, the features replaced with throbbing blobs of color and hints of a blue skeleton.

“What am I looking at, Doctor?”

“Results of Mr. Croix’s internal scan. Do you see it yet?”

Considine said nothing, but watched as the trembling doctor turned the image of the body with a sweep, tapped and zoomed in on the lower spine.

“See that discoloration there? Sort of intertwined with the spinal column?”

“No,” Considine admitted.

“Well it’s there. A foreign object. An organism. Parasitic, I’d say, that’s why he’s dying. It’s feeding off of him. Has been for some time, breaking down his immune system, sucking the pigment out of his hair even. Look at the size of it! It spans from the lower lumbar right up into the base of the brain. How long must it have been there….”

He traced it with his finger, and Considine did think perhaps he saw something, some snake-like thing spiraling up the vertebrae, pulsing ever so slightly independent of the rest of Croix’s internal workings, whatever they were.

“What is it?” Considine asked, swallowing.

“No idea, unless I remove it,” he looked hopefully at Considine.

“Can you remove it? It looks pretty well lodged in there.”

“Not without killing him. But…he is dying.”

“He’s not dead yet. How did it get inside him?”

“After I detected it, I examined him, noticed a small scar in his lower back. Much too small for this thing to pass through – that’s why I can assume it’s grown for some time.”

“But where could he have picked it up?”

“I have no idea. Not here in the city. Out in the open sea maybe, maybe even up top. I’ve never seen such a creature.”

“Any danger of contagion?”

“No. When I detected it, I held over your Enforcer for scanning, just to be sure.”

Brendermeyer. Considine smiled thinly. So he’d never made it to his comedy show, poor lug.

“He’s completely healthy,” Kes went on. “The normal MB immunizations prevent the viruses he’s carrying. Croix’s dying because this thing has sapped his defenses. He’s picking up everything floating around that we don’t even notice anymore. Every impotent bug and fever.”

“What happens when Croix dies?”

“It’ll die with him. It has no way to exit the body that I can see.”

“Is he still conscious?”

“Yes. He’s completely lucid.”

“Doctor, have you told your colleagues about this discovery yet?”

“No,” Kes said, biting his lip.

Considine nodded. New species, new medical phenom, Kes wanted people calling this thing after him. He hadn’t invited his colleagues in until he could fully study and register the thing.

“Let’s keep it that way, shall we?”

“I’m in total agreement,” Kes said with forced nonchalance.

“Where is Croix?”

“Right this way.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


by Fred Warren -

The velociraptor tore Melanie’s leg from her body, showering her in blood, heedless of her screams. Her finger convulsed on the trigger of her submachine gun, but the bullets found no purchase on the dino’s armored hide.

“Should have loaded AP rounds, Mouse. Maybe next time you’ll listen to your big brother.”

“Shut up, Carson. And quit calling me Mouse.”

“That’s Rhino to you, Mouse. Would you please hurry up and die so we can restart the level? Man, I hate team survival criteria. I could have plowed solo through this lame scenario in five minutes, tops.”

“Stupid lizard’s still chewing on my leg. Aaagh, why does it have to hurt so much? If you’d laid down some covering fire, genius, I might have made it across the clearing. Using your teammates as bait…Ouch! Ouch, ouch, ouch…doesn’t inspire confidence in your leadership.”

“Not a scratch on me. Maybe if you could learn to follow orders, you’d live longer.”

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ Carson. Ohmigosh…here it comes again.”

“Heh. Nope, no ‘I,’ just ‘meat.’”

The raptor’s jagged teeth ripped into Melanie’s torso, causing her simsuit to generate a convincing impression of her body being chewed in half. Her vision went full red, then black. “All right, that’s it. I’m logging, if only to reassure myself that all my parts are where they belong.”

“Aw, c’mon, Sis! One more run, please! I promise I’ll watch your back this time, and I’ll let you have your pick of the loot.”

“50-50 split.”



“Okay, okay. 60-40, you harpy. I should have locked you out of my circle when I had the chance.”

“Yeah, right. Who else would get your hardware upgrades for half-price and install them for free? Well, mostly free.”


“I love you too, big brother. Give me five minutes…it still feels like my guts are hanging out somewhere.”

“Your guts are right where they belong, Mel. See you in five.”

Melanie smiled. He was a jerk, but he could be so sweet, when he wanted to.

She groped around with her right hand, found the bailout switch, and slapped it. After her visor cleared to pink translucence, she pulled off the tri-D helmet and ran her fingers through her hair. She hurt all over. The games were fun—when she wasn’t getting stabbed, shot, torched, or eaten—but she didn’t share her brother’s obsession. There were too many interesting things to do in the real world, and there was no way she’d ever let her body degenerate into a flabby sack of lard like Carson and his pals. Slugs, everyone called them. Carson wore the name like a badge of honor.

She sighed, levered herself up from the gaming couch, and staggered to a basin set into the wall where she could take a drink and splash water on her face.

Carson was the only reason she played at all. She’d promised their mother she’d look after him the day he’d filed his Writ of Independence, after he’d locked himself into a gaming suite with two caretaker cyborgs. Now, she was his only contact with the world beyond the game servers. It helped being a computer tech. She understood the games and could do depot-level maintenance on his simsuit and interface hardware. He couldn’t dismiss her along with the rest of Avenir Eclectia as an irrelevant distraction from the virtual world he loved.

So he wasn’t lost to her. Not yet.

Melanie stretched her cramped muscles, luxuriating in the relief it granted from the ache and burn of the simsuit’s lingering effects. She owed herself a hot bath later, and that thought was incentive enough to hop back on the couch and don her helmet one last time for the day. She checked her chronograph and swore—eight minutes since she’d logged out. She swatted the login switch, steeling herself for a lecture.

Her vision tunneled, expanded, and refocused, and a flood of sensations from the simsuit rushed through her body. She was back at the rally point for Chrono Marines, surrounded by leafy, steamy jungle, the air alive with the calls of exotic wildlife and insects. A dino roared in the distance—probably a tyrannosaur. She gripped her weapon tightly and scanned the undergrowth. She was safe from attack here, but the sensory immersion was so complete, she couldn’t help feeling as if something might pounce on her at any moment.

She checked her ammo, then swapped the default magazine for a clip of armor-piercing bullets. It stung her pride, but she wasn’t going to be some overgrown lizard’s chew toy twice in one day.

Where was Carson? By now, he should have been giving her an earful for being late. Melanie keyed her mic. “Car…Rhino, this is Mouse, in position at the rally point. Do you copy? Over.”

There was no response, just a faint static crackle in her headset. “Rhino, Mouse. I’m at the rally point, awaiting orders. Please respond.”

There were two short beeps, indicating a connection from outside the game. “Mel, something’s come up. Log out of CM and jump to Conference Room Seven.” Carson’s voice was strained and shaky.

“What’s the matter? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Better than fine. I got a call from Orca a couple of minutes ago. Jumbo’s Folly just went hot.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

Escape Part 2

by Travis Perry -

“Thank you, gentlemen,” said Hobson. “If the firecrew could proceed on to deal with the blaze internal sensors say is raging in one of my rooms, I’d be most grateful. But as for this man, this Ernsto Mons, please allow me to deal with him myself.”

The firefighters moved toward the second door but the enforcers stood in place, looking confused, as if there was something not quite right with what Hobson had said. After a long moment, one said “Sure” and the lone peacekeeper in the room said, “Sounds reasonable” and then suddenly all of them murmured a chorus of agreement.

All of them except one. “No,” said a young dark-haired man in the uniform of the governor’s personal security detachment. “That’s not normal police procedure. This man needs to be arrested and processed for trial.” Ernsto recognized the young man as Officer Salzar, whom he’d met once by chance. For some reason, more than half of the enforcers in the room wore the uniform of the governor’s security detail—apparently they’d been nearby.

Hobson smiled at Salzar and gazed directly into his eyes. “Young man, I realize you work directly for the governor and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help with my personal crisis here. But I am a high government minister myself and can be completely trusted in this matter. The man is my employee; please allow me to deal with him.”

“No,” said Salzar. And then a battle erupted of sort Ernsto had never seen before. Hobson’s eyes blazed and his voice rang out words. They were not foreign or magical words; Hobson told Salzar in a torrent of words why he should relent, why he should do as he was told, why he was duty-bound to obey, but the rhythm of his speech was hypnotic and Ernsto found he could not retain in his mind anything the wizard was chanting. Salzar balled his hands into fists and stared right back at the wizard. In a low voice the enforcer muttered words Ernsto could not hear, but they reminded him nonetheless of the prayers his grandmother used to make.

He felt the angel reaching out in this fight too, somehow knowing she comforted and helped Salzar. The words from Hobson hammered on with power and Ernsto felt as if he were no longer himself. His whole being, everything about him, turned numb and he dully watched, barely perceiving, as the invisible battle before him raged. It stretched on timeless, perhaps minutes, perhaps hours.

In an instant it was over. Hobson stopped speaking. Sweat poured from the wizard’s brow and he huffed with effort. His eyes lowered to the ground.

Salzar turned to Ernsto. “Let’s go. Take the tank. I’m bringing you into custody.”

The other members of the governor’s detachment followed Salzar and all of them exited Hobson’s quarters as a group. Walking out the door, Ernsto felt an astonished sense of relief. He was still alive, even though going probably going to prison. Still alive, but better yet, free from Hobson…

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Last Fight (Part I)

by Greg Mitchell -

“Move!” Crazy hollered, his meaty fists wrapped around Trebs’ wrists. The knife in Trebs’ left hand wavered centimeters from the pilot’s gray-white beard. Dressler stood back, hardly able to comprehend the order of events. In a span of seconds, Trebs had pulled a knife and lunged for the sub pilot, just as they reached the meeting place with the angel that had Edilyn’s cure. Crazy held his own—and rightly so for he was three times the size of Trebs—but the bug hunter was nearly superhuman in power. A sweaty sheen draped over his face and his eyes were glassy and mad.

“Trebs, stop!” Dressler shouted, futilely. “What are you doing?”

Trebs didn’t answer, his beady gaze directed on Crazy. Unrelenting, he leaned on the blade.

“A gun…” Crazy grunted, struggling. “Cockpit…Under the pilot’s seat…”

Dressler thought to run across the sub to find it, but acted instead, lunging on his co-worker—his guide down here into this aquatic hell—and wrapped around his arms. Pulling with every ounce of strength hard work had given him, Dressler roared, “Let go! Get off of him!”

“The jelly roller’s…snapped!” Crazy barked, his thick arms visibly shaking, giving in.

Dressler put Trebs in a chokehold and pried him off the pilot. Trebs merely flexed his trim arms, and Dressler was thrown backwards, hurtling across the card table where they’d shared drinks moments ago. He collapsed the table, dashing the ceramic mugs to the floor where they popped. Dazed, he pushed himself to his knees, feeling warmth spreading down his temple. Blood dripped from his stubbled chin, dotting the floor.

Getting his senses together, he looked back to Crazy still bravely wrestling with the knife. The ogre was on the floor now, on top of Trebs, trying desperately to turn the blade back on his attacker. Trebs never faltered, his face blank and expressionless, his eyes distant but intelligent. Like a machine.

“Gun!” Crazy shouted once more. This time Dressler did not hesitate. He clattered out of the small cabin, bouncing against the handrails, clanking down the hall, racing for the cockpit. His heart rammed hard in his chest and he thought of Edilyn.

I’m never going to see her again.

He tripped into the cockpit, falling face-first on hard metal. From his vantage point he glimpsed the simple handgun holstered underneath the pilot’s seat. Scrambling on hands and knees, he undid the latch and drew the gun. Checked to see it was loaded. Cocked it and rushed back to his friend.

Re-entering the cabin, he saw Crazy, spread on the floor.


Trebs stood over him, bloodied knife in hand, barely breathing hard.

“Dress,” he stated simply, Crazy’s life dripping off the knife’s edge.

A blossom of red spread on Crazy’s barrel chest, intermingling with his frizzy beard. The man’s eyes were cold, lifeless.


“Dress,” Trebs said once more, snapping him to.

Dressler ignored the man. Bared his teeth and raised the gun, firing. Trebs ducked impossibly out of the path of the bullet and it ricocheted off the wall deeper into the room, throwing sparks. “I’ll kill you!” Dressler screamed.

He shot again, but Trebs moved fast and leapt, tackling Dressler backwards, smacking his head on corrugated flooring. He saw stars, then only black.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


by Jeff C. Carter -

It was too quiet. Nurse Vuong had long ago grown accustomed to the constant tapping and rambling of the patients at St. Christina’s Clinic for the Neuro-Atypical, even the occasional outburst of profanity or violence. For the past two weeks her job had never been easier. The inmates had all been model patients, but that didn’t stop her intuition from screaming that something was wrong. Something terrible was about to happen.

She leaned over her monitor and scrolled through the timeline of the art therapy wall. Red handprints crawled up and swarmed over every inch of white surface. No matter how many times she had deleted the giant touch screen the patients had recreated the same pattern. They were still at it now, reverently smearing digital splashes of crimson across the large surface. Nurse Vuong punched the controls and deactivated the wall, wiping it black and clean.

“We regret to inform you that the art therapy wall is out of order,” she said over the intercom.

The patients drifted away, returning to their rooms or sitting quietly on the Rec Room floor.

Maybe she should call Dr. Loomis and tell him…what? That the patients were too well behaved? Dr. Lev was already well aware. He had been at the clinic all week and seemed delighted with the patients’ progress.

Nurse Vuong rubbed her eyes. She had been on high alert for days now and she was exhausted. She lowered the lights in the Rec Room.

“It’s time for bed, ladies and gentlemen. Have a good night.” She announced.

The patients shuffled to their small rooms in an orderly fashion. Nurse Vuong shivered. She decided to go to her own quarters and try to forget this place for a while.

The clinic was dark and quiet and still.

The vid wall flickered to life, casting its pale light into the Rec Room and onto Dr. Lev. He stood before the projected image of a dark skinned man.

“Dr. Singh, thank you for joining us again,” Dr. Lev said.

Dr. Singh nodded nervously on the large screen.

The patients slipped back into the Rec Room and gathered in front of the vid wall.

“Dr. Singh, will you tell us again about your experience under the ocean? About your vision?” Dr. Lev prompted.

Dr. Singh swallowed and cleared his throat.

“Yes, of course. I feel like it is my duty to share it.”

The patients stared up at the large face, waiting.

“I saw the oceans boil. Everything in the water died. There were tidal waves the size of mountains that erased everything from the face of the planet. The volcanoes all erupted at once, even places were there hadn’t been volcanoes…” he said.

Smudge, one of the bigger patients, began to rock back and forth excitedly.

“The sky was on fire!” Smudge shouted.

A small boy stood up and screamed.

“I can see it!” he said.

The patients all joined in, chanting along with Dr. Singh’s words.

“The planet began to crack. The ground shattered with a furious thunder! Steam hissed into the icy blackness in a vast dying breath.”

The patients jumped and thrashed under the pale light of the vid screen. Their collective madness strained against its leash, lashed into frenzy by visions of destruction and the malignant will watching behind their eyes.

Dr. Lev smiled. Something terrible was about to happen.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Your Mother's People (FLASHBACK)

by Kaye Jeffreys -

With graduation from tertiary school in a week it was hard for Jereth to take this last Seacology field trip seriously. It was hard to take anything serious that wacky Professor Bonswarzick taught either in the classroom or here on the observation decks of Zirconia. Others hung on his every word. His eyewitness stories concerning angels had half the class mesmerized including Lessie who scanned the sea held back by glass as though an angel would appear any minute. Of course, Lessie also had an eyewitness account concerning an angel.

All Jereth ever saw was oppressive amounts of water that filtered and colored the sunlight, causing dull and splotchy patterns on everyone. Oh, and the occasional floaty thing that meandered in the sea without enthusiasm.

Jereth whispered in Lessie's ear, "Kind of romantic, huh?" At least he hoped she thought so. All he felt was boredom and was looking for a diversion.

Lessie leaned into Jereth's whisper, a smile pulled at her lips.

"Let's go find a quiet corner somewhere and you can tell me about your angel sighting again." He pulled her away from the center of the room and she came willingly, even as she kept searching the sea.

In the corner Jereth put his arms around her and pressed his cheek against hers. It was all right that she searched over his shoulder for angels. She snuggled more when she thought of them.

"So tell me again what that angel said to you," he whispered in her ear.

Lessie whispered back. "She told me go landside and help the less fortunate."

"She said all that?"

"Not in those words. Not in any words. It just felt like she said something like that. She thought it to me."

"Fascinating." He pulled her tighter.

"There she is." Lessie broke free and rushed back to the middle of the observation area amidst the other spectators who gasped and spoke in hushed tones to each other.

Jereth stood alone in the corner glaring at the thing that hung suspended in the water out beyond the glass. He missed Lessie's warmth already. Why did it show up now?

It looked like it smiled at him. Then he felt it enter inside his thoughts. Your mother's people.

Jereth could not breathe. A weight on his chest kept him from getting air. He had to get away from it. So he turned and left.


In the rest area, Jereth supported his weight with one hand on the sink and rubbed water on his face with the other. He could not shut out the alien voice in his head.

Your mother's people.

What about them?
he thought back at it.

Release Lessie and go find them.

Why would I look for filthy grit breathers on a God-forsaken vol...?


Then Jereth understood. It was never his place to decide who or what God had forsaken. But he asked-thought again. Why should I look for them?

If you don't you will turn into your father.

Jereth covered his eyes and nose with one hand while he continued to support his weight with the other on the sink. His mouth turned dry as it silently formed the words, "I don't want to be weak."

If you find your mother's people, you will also find strength.

Jereth's resistance drained away with the cold water down the sink.

The feeling of the angel's presence backed away. The weight on Jereth's chest lifted. He took in a deep breath. And then another.

A custodian walked in, "There's a young lady out here worried about you."

Jereth stood up straight. "Yeah." He wiped his hands on his clothes and checked to see if all the pain of his life had leaked out down his front. It hadn't. At least the angel had left him a little dignity. "I'll take my girlfriend to a nice place to eat, then take her home."

"Good, treat your lady right."

Jereth managed a meager smile. "I will."

Friday, March 2, 2012

Reality Kills

by Pauline Creeden -

“Cotton,” Dr. Lee called the shepherd over from Zana’s side as she approached his house. The dog loped toward the tall, thin, old man as he kneeled. He rubbed the dog on the head and looked up at her asking, “How has he been? Any coughing?”

Zana shook her head and pulled down her kerchief as she smiled, “Nope. Not a one.”

Dr. Lee’s family worked toward producing mammals that could withstand Eclectia’s harsh climate. The typical lifespan of dogs had been two Foundings, but through selective breeding the Lees developed a shepherd hardy enough to live as much as five. The Lee’s gave Cotton to Zana at her visit last year. Now two Foundings old, Cotton was the first of the Lee Shepherds to try to live outside of their breeding facility.

Dr. Lee stood, his soft blue eyes fixing on Zana’s as he said, “How much abuse have your cybernetic parts been put through this year?”

Zana shrugged and followed the old man back to the house for her yearly check-up and adjustments with Cotton trotting in the lead. Mrs. Lee met them at the door with a smile, wiping her hands on an apron. The Lee house felt like home to Zana, and it gave her a heartwarming feeling. Mrs. Lee held out her arms for a hug and Zana slipped into them feeling a little awkward as she stood almost six inches taller than the round-faced woman.

“So what have you been up to this year? Meet any husband prospects?” Mrs. Lee asked, just like a mother with a spinster daughter.

Zana furrowed her brow and clenched her jaw. Even if a man could look past her robotic half, she just couldn’t see herself in the domestic capacity. For now her focus remained on catching the man who haunted her every nightmare. She pulled away from the cheerful woman’s grip and shook her head.

“Well, there’s a nice young man who just moved into town…”

“Lucinda, leave Zana alone. She’ll fix herself up with a man when she’s ready.” Dr. Lee’s sympathetic blue eyes apologized for his wife.

“Besides,” Zana said as she kneeled down and hugged the shepherd, “Who needs a man when I’ve got Cotton to keep me company?”

Lucinda Lee shook her head but left the subject alone, “Well dear, your room’s been made ready for you. I’m sure you’ll want a hot bath before dinner. I made bugloaf for dinner along with Summer Mint Cookies for later.”

Zana’s smile returned. She could smell the mint cookies as she entered the door. The smell of home. Zana wondered what applications Dr. Lee might have to add to her cybernetic parts this year, and how long they would take. Zana and Cotton remained the most public of Dr. Lee’s experiments.

After her bath, Zana stood almost naked in front of the full-length mirror while her long wavy dark hair dripped down her back. Her robotic arm and leg were light and as feminine as they could be, but still overpowered her human half. When she stuck her tongue over to her left cheek, she could taste the flexible titanium that covered the holes she felt in her skin. Her own green eyes stared back at her and she shook her head as she remembered princess wishes and happily-ever-after daydreams. Reality killed them all. She sat on the bed and wrangled her wet hair into a braid.

When she came into the dining area, Zana sat next to the air purifier that pulled in the warmth of home and spit out the “fresh” air that smelled faintly of ozone. Cotton settled on top of her bare feet as she sat in the upright wooden chair. Smiling, Lucinda came in and set the Bugloaf on the table.

“Be a dear and get Rob for me?”

Zana pushed the chair back and stood. She started to feel like a teenager again. Cotton looked up at her with red-rimmed eyes, but got up to follow regardless of his fatigue. When she came to the door that separated the main house from the doctor’s lab, Zana knocked and then opened the door before a response issued.

She peeked her head in and smiled as she saw the welding sparks fly into the air. She called out to Dr. Lee, “Dinner’s ready!”

The doctor pulled up his face mask and looked at Zana with a grin that she knew well. He pointed down at the large robotic wheeled contraption he’d been welding. “Know what this is?”

Zana shook her head and made a mock frown. “Nope.”

“It’s your new ride.”