Friday, January 27, 2012

Red Hand Prints

by Jeff C. Carter -

The wall shimmered and its calming pink pastels faded to a blank white slate. Art therapy was usually Nosey’s favorite activity but she couldn’t think about that right now. Not while Bruzzy was in the medical ward…with Dr. Lev.

Sweet innocent Bruzzy. He never bothered anyone, never said a word. Nosey and Bruzzy both grew up below deck on the Avenir, in its dank and lawless spaces. Nosey had done her best to take care of the mute boy, and in turn she found peace in his deep and steady silence.

When Nosey’s phobia began to get worse she took him with her into St. Christina’s Clinic for the Neuro-Atypical. Things were better here. Nosey was making progress. Bruzzy was safe from the torments of the cruel street urchins.

What did Dr. Lev want with Bruzzy, anyway? The boy needed help, but she didn’t trust Dr. Lev. He gravitated towards the most troubled cases, the dangerous ones that the staff and other patients avoided. Lately he’d been taking patients into the medical ward. When they came out they were always docile, but they weren’t better. There was something sinister behind their eyes.

Nurse Vuong made an announcement over the intercom. “Art therapy is now available for the next hour. Please line up at the vid wall.”

A crowd of patients shuffled out of their rooms and across the Rec Room towards the blank wall. Nosey gave a frustrated groan as she watched them line up. Soon the patients were all side by side, standing or crouching at their own area of canvas. Hands cycled through colors and fingers dragged virtual paint across the giant touch screen.

Soon a pattern of red squiggly lines and blotches spread out across the vid wall. Art therapy was usually a riot of color and clashing images. It was rare for anyone to collaborate or copy pictures. Tonight the crowd was quiet and organized, which was eerie for a group of crazy people.

The door clicked loudly behind Nosey and she jumped. Bruzzy had emerged from the medical ward. “Bruzzy!” Nosey squealed.

The small boy ignored her and walked straight to the vid wall. Nosey followed, repeating his name.
Bruzzy reached over a crouching girl and planted his hand against the wall. When the handprint shifted to match the same crimson shade as the others he dragged his fingers up into long wavy streaks. He lifted his fingers and repeated the stroke, this time making the lines flare out wider.

Nosey stared at the bloody hand print with its stretching cluster of fingers and realized it was some kind of squid. The squid/hand prints swarmed over the vid wall in a disturbing splattered frenzy.

“What in the world is this?” Nosey said.

“Rahab,” Bruzzy intoned.

Nosey’s jaw dropped. She had never heard the sound of his voice.

“W-what…,” Nosey stammered, “what is Rahab?”

“Rahab is death.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


by Mary Ruth Pursselley -

Celeste dragged herself up the stairs to her room, her pack still on her back. A hard bulge just right of center made her muscles and kidney ache. It was the vase she’d unearthed this morning—the find that kept a smile on her face in spite of how tired she was. It was unusual to find something this size completely undamaged, aside from dirt stains and some chips in the rim. Beneath the staining, it looked like the original paint was still intact, which made it worth even more.

Celeste dug in a pocket for her key, unlocked her door, and swung it open.

Someone was already standing in her room.

Celeste felt herself going numb as she took in the shapely trousers, the aqua-colored blouse, the beaded shoulder bag. The kinky blonde hair just like her own, only cleaner and better cared-for, the big green eyes set in what Mom had called an angel face.


Celia’s grin was dazzling. She covered the room in two strides and flung herself into Celeste’s arms.

Celeste hugged her little sister tight, tears running down her ash-covered cheeks. It had been so long—too long—since they’d been together. Celia was so much taller now, so grown up! She was a young lady instead of the little girl she’d been the last time they saw each other.

Celeste silently cursed herself for not visiting Celia in Zirconia. She’d been so occupied with trying to earn enough money to keep them both alive… but that was no excuse. She should have visited. She should have kept in better contact.

“I’m so happy to see you,” Celia said.

Celeste squeezed Celia tighter and smiled, until it suddenly dawned on her: Celia was in Adagio.

Celia. Was in Adagio. Not Zirconia.

“Celia!” Celeste found Celia’s shoulders and pushed her far enough back to look at her. “What the heck are you doing here?”

Celia smiled sheepishly and shrugged. “Uh… Surprise!”

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Waiting Game

by Pauline Creeden -

Wind blew wisps of hair into her face as Zana Black set the rifle on the back of her cybernetic hand. She couldn’t cup the barrel like she used to because fine motor control still eluded her. Through the scope her target came into range, but she couldn’t gain a clear shot. The waiting game ensued.

Zana’s breath filtered through her kerchief in visible clouds. Human prey never relied on scent for warning of a predator, so being upwind of the man she hunted made no difference. Zana continued to watch for the right moment.

“Dead or alive,” but preferably dead was how the Circuit Judges wanted the men she hunted. These small time criminals didn’t compare to the one that she had hunted for five Foundings. The man who’d stolen her arm, leg, and soul still roamed free and she’d travel to the depths of Eclectia or the heights of Avenir for him. She snickered at the thought that he’d make it that far.

A warm body came and lay next to hers, trying to conserve his warmth as well as aid in keeping her own. She pulled her face from the scope and looked down at her right hip to find liquid brown eyes staring back at her. The sand and black shepherd laid its ears back in submission when he saw her acknowledge him, and his long tail swept the ash-covered hill.

With a smile she accepted his presence and looked back through the scope. A clear shot presented itself, and she pulled the trigger.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Anjelika's Heritage: The Letter

by Caitlyn Konze –

Your mother is mad.
Your father is false.
Your soul is tainted.

Anjelika had the letter memorized, but one word pulled her eyes over it again like gravity. Is. The first line should read “your mother was mad.” Not is. She died ten Foundings ago this Macbane.

The wall she sat against blinked from prime beetle cuts to land-side job opportunities. It was an ill-conceived, anonymous note. Nothing to take seriously. Yet, something about it birthed a horror in Anjelika. As if the whole of Avenir could implode at any moment.

“Hey, hot stuff.”

Her head turned so fast her vertebrae groaned. The sour potpourri of lust settled in her sternum like a rock in a pillow. The dispenser from the vapor bar around the corner leaning over her, more red in his eyes than white.

Anjelika pushed off the grated floor, but he grabbed a lock of hair before she could rise higher than her knees.

“I love a girl with implants.”

He licked his upper lip while rolling her hair between his fingers. It phased from cyan to violet to crimson.

Anjelika's fist tightened around the letter. She would talk to her father about it. But first, she had to run.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

High Country: Bugherd

by Walt Staples -

The ancient woman moved her stethoscope to the lower right of Silas’ chest. She sat back with a grunt and a thoughtful look.

Silas coughed and asked, “So?”

Granny Gillman turned and stirred the scrubby brush fire under the pot. “Two lobes fully involved. Spot on a third.”

The old bugherd began to pull on his shirt. “When?”

She looked at him. “Candlemas, maybe Feast of Notker. I’m sorry, Silas.”

He smiled at her. “You’re doing what you can.”

“You could try the medicos at First Port.”

He shook his head. They had been through this before. “No, too expensive. Besides, what could they do that you can’t? I mean, Ash Lung? They can’t even save the rich people with that.”

She lifted the pot and poured reddish-brown liquid into a chipped cup. She held it out to him. “Here.”

He looked at it. “Medicine?”

The granny lady smiled. “Tea.”

As they sipped the tea, he considered. “Let’s see…tomorrow is Holy Innocents. All the eggs are laid. So I guess we can drive to market. Martha’s brother, Japheth, can take over with the grubs when they hatch.” He coughed some more. When he got his breath again, he continued, “The boy’s taken care of. Don’t know what to do about Martha, though.”

Granny Gillman brightened. “Oh, that reminds me. About Martha. Father was asking after her. See, my Beatrice is a good child and a hard worker, but truth to tell, she couldn’t cook her way out of a chrysalis to save her life. Anyway, Father was asking me to ask you, next time I saw you, if you thought Martha might be willing to cook at the Rectory.”

Silas’ forehead furrowed. “Don’t see why she shouldn’t be. She loves to cook and she likes Father Mack.” He shot the healer a look. “What about Beatrice?”

Granny Gillman laughed. “The child is always going on about how it keeps her hopping just trying to keep up with the ash in the church and rectory. ‘Sides, I ‘spect she’d like to eat something edible herself once in a while. And, she’s the one who carried word to me from Father.”

The bugherd smiled. “Yep, that would likely do for Martha.” He took another sip of his tea.

The granny lady poured herself another cup. “By the way, how’s Ruben doing?”

Silas broke into a wide grin. “He doing tolerable. We just got back from his Publication on Sheba. You know, they take a new name when they enter holy orders. His is 'Bede,' after Saint Bede the Venerable.”

The other raised her eyebrows. “Which one was he?”

“Oh, he was a writer or something.” Silas’ brows knitted. “History? Well, some such anyway. Way back before settlement sometime.” He launched into a coughing fit. He wiped his eyes with a piece of rag after it ended and drained his cup. “Well, I guess I’d better be getting down the road. I’ll ask Japheth to have one of his youngins bring you over a nice dermestid. One of the gentle ones.” He rose to his feet and, before putting his mask in place, smiled. “You know, it makes a body feel good when things are lined up straight.”

Monday, January 16, 2012


by H. A. Titus -

Pieter leaned back in his bed and closed his eyes.

In a way, night was a relief. It meant Pieter could go back to his cubbyhole of a living space and disappear from the world for a while. Away from the prying eyes of the Enforcers. Out of range of the stares from people in the docking bays who recognized his picture from the news reports.

It meant a break from Cara. He liked the girl, but sometimes her incessant questions grated on him. You had so much money, why did you get bored? Do the rich people really have cyborgs to serve them? Do you know where Avenir came from?

Lately, her questions had been taking a disturbingly spiritual turn. Who was Jesus? Why do you think the book you gave me talks about 'living water'? He didn't want the reminders of his mother.

But when he shoved away the cares of the day, she always took their place.

Chocolate-hazel eyes, silk-straight black hair pulled in an elegant knot at the nape of her neck. A fierce temper and even fiercer devotion. Jokes and small talk late into the night, a glass of wine while watching stars out the glass-fronted captain's deck.

Much worse than a few distrustful stares or never-ending chatter.

Her heart-shaped face was always in his mind, that playful fire dancing in her eyes. Even in the heat of battle, she had that spark, that vivacity, that filled his empty heart with hope and love.

She had been another mistake in the thousands that weighed on his chest. If he thought about her too long, his brain would start reciting his other mistakes. It was like she was a piece of fruit in the bottom corner of a large orange pyramid, and if he took out his memories of her, the rest came tumbling down on top of him.

Pieter groaned and rolled onto his side, squeezing his eyes shut so tightly that his head started to pound. "Go away, Amaris. Please, please go away."

Friday, January 13, 2012


by Edward M. Erdelac -

Considine settled in front of the console and keyed in the call to Chief Inspector Gorsh on the Peace Council.

After a moment the screen flickered and the ‘Connecting’ icon appeared.

Considine stared at his reflection in the dark screen. Broad, meaty old face, sharp, squinty blue eyes, graying hair. The bronze badge pinned to the lapel of his drab topcoat.

Then his own visage was replaced by the head and shoulders of another man, scrawny, balding, wearing a dress uniform.

“Stanlon,” Gorsh acknowledged, then went back to sifting through something on his desk just out of frame. “Been waiting for your report. What’s the word on the incident in the habitation ring?”

“We extracted Croix without any casualties aside from his cabin seal. I understand the engineers are already reattaching it to the outer seal. Croix’s in custody, but I can’t get a thing out of him. He’s a lunatic apparently.”


“I’m letting the psychs have him once the doctor’s finished sewing him up.”

“No that won’t be necessary. Peace Council wants him in relation to another matter. What about the pilot…what’s her name?”

Considine raised his eyebrows, but continued.

“Arden Pacoy. She’s just a hauler trying to make a little dosh on the side. Had no idea what she was carrying. Didn’t even know her contact’s name on Avenir. But she did say the perp wore a Morgenstar company cap. I’ve got her sifting through personnel pix, looking for a match.”

“So you make it to be an inside job?”

“Like we expected.”

“Alright. Good show as always, Stanlon. Forward me your findings and we’ll take over up here. Oh and, you can prepare Croix for extradition in about two hours. I’ll scramble a shuttle.”


Considine watched the image of his old partner wink out. Gorsh had done well for himself. They’d all thought him mad to request duty on Zirconia, but there’d been too much politics on Avenir mucking about. Still were, apparently. Why did they want to extradite a nobody like Croix? His records showed he’d never set foot on Avenir, and he was further removed from the higher ups in the bomb plot than even his clueless courier, Arden Pacoy.

Arden. Time to check on her. He rose from the telecam and exited the booth to see Jelly standing there.

“Doctor wants a word, Inspector,” he said.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Personal War, Part 3

by Travis Perry -

Ernsto grabbed the third pipe bomb, its fuse half burnt and still burning. The contents of the first, the one he’d opened, had caught fire, adding to the flames without exploding. He frantically searched for the knife to cut the fuse of the bomb in his hand, his eyes not picking it out among the flaming and shrapnel-pitted carnage of his cubical room.

A glance at the pipe showed the fuse down to only two centimeters. He jammed the end of the pipe between his lips and bit off the fuse with his teeth. Its flaming end singed his tongue.

Spitting it out, he finally glimpsed the knife blade reflecting a yellow glint of fire and snatched it up, pocketing it. Glancing at the damaged metal mattress frame, one of the legs caught Ernsto’s eye. The blast had nearly detached it from the bed.

He wrenched it free, put the pipe bomb under his arm, and charged the door with the bed leg held to his chest like a battering ram. He dove forward and smashed into the concave door curve left by the exploded bomb. The impact of the leg hurt his ribs and pectoral muscle more than the shrapnel wounds in his back had hurt. But the already-damaged metal at the bottom of door split open about ten centimeters.

His ears, still ringing, heard a faint shout from the other side. He spun back and lit the short-fused pipe bomb in the nearest piece of flaming mattress and threw it through the opening in the door. He flinched to the side but didn’t have time to plug his eardrums before the blast. This time, at least, he did not black out.

He stood up, aware that fluid poured down his left earlobe, the side of his face that had been closest to the door. His lungs ached from the smoke but he’d responded without thinking by taking shallow breaths and living without gulping air as long as he could.

The door had split open down the middle from about the height of his chin to the gash he already made near the floor. With the bed leg he pried the gap open and slipped out of his room. Right at the doorway were the fragmented pulpy remains of two cyborgs, who had a mostly intact metallic tank with them of some kind, of the gas they’d been pouring into his room, perhaps nitrous oxide. Apparently one of the cyborgs had shut it down before death, maybe because N2O is an oxidizer—not safe around flames.

Ten meters away, Nasir lay on the couch of this common room that adjoined his sleeping area. His eyes were open and glazed over, a look of surprise permanently pasted onto his dead face. His chest and neck were punctured with shrapnel wounds.

Ernsto took the plasma pistol clutched in Nasir’s still-warm right hand. Hobson, who might have been near his door at one point, was nowhere in sight now.

Deliberately projecting a bloodthirsty determination, he said out loud, “Stay away from the angel, old man. Or I will kill you.”

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Waitress

by Kat Heckenbach -

Xavia tapped one manicured fingernail on the cloth-covered tabletop. Conversation buzzed around her, mixed with the clinking of glasses and the tink-tink-scrape of utensils. Everyone else seemed to be happily enjoying their meals while Xavia’s food had not arrived yet. She breathed deeply through her nose.

Unacceptable. There’s no excuse for a restaurant on this level to—

“Here you go, ma’am.”

Xavia lifted her head and gazed at the waitress—the one who had finally returned. The girl brushed back her purple-streaked blond hair, revealing a piercing in her eyebrow. She smiled as if everything was just perfect.

You have got to be kidding me.

The girl placed the plate on the table, bumping Xavia’s wine glass with a tattooed forearm. The glass tumbled to the floor and shattered. Xavia’s jaw clenched. Had the glass not been empty she’d have made sure the cost of the wine came out of the little grunt’s paycheck.

“I’m so sorry,” the girl said as she knelt down to pick up the glass.

Xavia huffed. “Leave that to a sweeper bot, you fool, and get me another glass of wine.”

“Oh, yes, the bot.” The girl stood and faced Xavia, chewing her bottom lip. She shook her head. “Sorry, I’m just not used to this. I’ll be right back.”

Xavia watched the girl walk off. The back of her hair had red streaks instead of purple. Her uniform hung awkwardly, as if made for someone larger. Of course, the girl was far too skinny. And that tattoo… it looked like something a grit-breather would have.

All I can say is she’d better have not touched my food.

The girl returned with Xavia’s wine and set the glass on the table. She opened her mouth as if to speak, and then clamped it shut, eyes wide. Xavia turned around to see what had the girl so transfixed that she felt it necessary to ignore her customer.

Nik was walking toward them, weaving between tables. He smiled brightly, but his eyes were on the waitress, not Xavia.

“Hey, Mom,” he said as he stepped past Xavia and hooked his arm around the waitress’s waist. “I see you’ve met Piper.” He pulled the grinning waitress closer.


Her eyes moved back and forth, but her brain whirred as it tried to process her son’s words. Piper. He’d mentioned a girl he liked, a girl named Piper…but he’d never…

Xavia’s hand slammed the tabletop. “You’re dating a servant?

Friday, January 6, 2012

A New Voice

by Jeff C. Carter -

Nosey put her small ear to the locked door that separated the patients from the staff.

“I didn’t know whether to kick him out or have him committed!”

Dr. Loomis’ normally breathy voice was now breathless. Nosey supposed he was still upset about the riot.

“I’m sure Dr. Singh didn’t mean to cause any trouble. Besides, no one was hurt.” Nurse Vuong said.

Her high-pitched, nasal voice penetrated the door easily. Nosey liked that about her. Of course, Nurse Vuong knew better than to badmouth a doctor. You never knew who might be listening.

“It’s a miracle no one was killed. I would have held Dr. Lev personally responsible. What was he thinking?” Dr. Loomis said.

Nosey imagined she could hear Nurse Vuong shrug. When it became clear that no more gossip was left, Nosey drifted down the hallway to the Rec Room.

It was a short trip. St. Christina’s Clinic for the Neuro-Atypical was small and dingy. Smudge said that the Rich Man’s Happy Bin was a zillion times bigger and everything was fancy and clean. Nosey wished this place wasn’t quite so dirty but she was glad it wasn’t very large. Open spaces terrified her. The miles of hallways circling Avenir. The maze of tunnels twisting above and below. The bottomless void outside the hull. She pressed her back against the padded wall and shivered.

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” Smudge screamed.

Nosey peeked around the corner and saw Smudge ripping the earphones off his head. He stomped on the soft foam head set, silencing the virtual therapist program. Nosey didn’t mind the VT unless it tried to counsel her while she was eavesdropping.

Dr. Lev walked down the hallway and gave Nosey an oily smile. His black eyes always held the threat of dark empty spaces. The thin doctor brushed by and her skin crawled.

The doctor approached Smudge.

“Are the voices in your head bothering you again?"

Smudge didn’t look up, he just kept picking at the thin layers of spray-skin that covered his self inflicted wounds.

“Did you enjoy the speech by our guest, Dr. Kwame Singh?” Dr. Lev tried again.

Smudge perked up.

“Seas boiling. Volcanoes exploding. Boom!” Smudge whooped.

Dr. Lev smiled.

“That’s right, very good. Would you like to hear more?”

Smudge clutched his thin, grubby smock and nodded emphatically.

“Very good. Come with me please.”

Dr. Lev led the excited patient to the entrance of the medical ward. The heavy locks clicked loudly and the door slid open.

Nosey inched forward to watch them go. She heard Dr. Lev say one last thing before the solid door slid shut.

“We’re going to put a new voice in your head.”

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Blowout 1: Tap

by Walt Staples -

The pointed end of the chipping hammer made a “chink” sound as the chip spalled off the plastisheet. The mouth above the hammer smiled. Perfect. All that was necessary was to set the trap and wait for routine to takes its course.

Fools! Think no one knows? I know. Just do what comes natural, and the problem’s solved. A sigh. So sad. The cosmos will weep. But tears are easy after what you’ve put me through.

The tools were collected and the incriminating chip was picked up. A watch was consulted. By the pricking of my thumbs, something dead this way comes. The lights came down. The last sound was a door dilating, then closing.

Monday, January 2, 2012


by H. A. Titus -

"Hey Cara, where ya been lately?"

Cara trotted faster. "Buzz off, Denton!"

A foot slid between her shins, nearly making her do a faceplant into the metal floor. Cara caught herself against the wall and spun to get her back to it.

Denton and Strand crowded in close, while Robynn hovered behind them. Cara crossed her arms over her chest and gave them her best glare.

"Been missin' ya around the market," Strand said. "Where ya been?"

"Busy," Cara said.

She noticed that several other orphans had stopped, listening to the conversation. A couple of them were old friends, but they didn't look too inclined to stand up against Strand and Denton.

"Busy doin' what? Someone said you made friends with a rich kid," Strand said.

Denton frowned. "You turnin' your back on us, Cara? For what, expensive toys and pretty things?"

Someone else snickered. "Little young to have a boyfriend, aren't you, Cara?"

"He's going to teach me how to fly!" she said.

They all stared at her. For a moment, Cara thought they believed her. Then Strand snorted and rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, right," Denton said.

"No one's going to trust an orphan with the controls of a ship," Strand said. "The best we can hope for is bug hunting when we get older."

"But logically, she could be telling the truth," a boy with welding goggles pushed into his mop of red hair said.

Denton glared at him. "No one asked for your logic, Cog."

"I guess you've cleaned the earwax out since we last talked, since you can obviously hear me this time," Cog said, a smile curling the left corner of his mouth.

Cara noticed that despite Denton's angry glare, he looked hesitant to even get close to Cog. Then she noticed Cog's right hand was metal. That explained it—Denton had probably tasted that metal hand once or twice before.

"Explain your logic, Cog," she challenged. "Why don't you think I'm lying?"

"Flying is so far above our status. Why would you use that for a lie if you wanted to be believed? It's like a boy with blocks claiming he's God just because he can build a tower and knock it down—outrageous. It's so outrageous that if you were lying, no one would believe you. So I think you're telling the truth."

Most of the kids had moved on by now with exaggerated sighs about the weird ways Cog's mind worked.

Denton still looked unconvinced. "I still think she's lying."

Cara shrugged. "You can think that all you want. I wasn't interested in your opinion anyway."

"Little—" Strand started.

Cog slipped in beside Cara and put his hand on her shoulder. "Since you're not interested, Denton, then why don't you move on?"

Strand and Denton both shot glares, but Robynn whispered in Denton’s ear and he slowly turned away. Cara watched the threesome disappear into the marketplace, then she looked up at Cog.

He grinned. "You were telling the truth, right? So far my logic has been right, and I don't want Denton and Strand to hear you were lying after all."

She jutted her chin. "I don't lie."

"That I believe. So is there any way I can get in on these flight lessons?"

She paused. She liked working alone with Pieter—they were a good team. But Pieter had told her to keep an eye out for any other orphans who wanted to learn to fly. And if there were other orphans around, it would cut those stupid stories flying around about Pieter being her boyfriend.


Cara jabbed her thumb over her shoulder at the hangars. "Dock Seventy-three. Tomorrow morning at eight."

"Can I bring my sister, Clock?"

Cog and Clock. Cara had heard some weird names around Avenir, but these two probably took the cake. "Sure. Just be there at eight sharp."

Cog's grin curled around to the other side of his mouth. "Got it."