Monday, April 30, 2012

Visit Home II—No Picnic

by H. A. Titus - 

"Hey, boss." Reeder poked his head into the cramped office.

Darcy raised one groomed eyebrow. "Make it quick, Reeder."

"Look, I gotta go topside for a while. Family stuff." He hoped Darcy wouldn't ask exactly what kind of 'family stuff'. People generally got creeped out when he told them about his brother's…disease…even when Reeder didn't mention that he thought Danyel was possessed.

Darcy sighed, shuffled through the stacks of paper on his desk. He tapped his computer screen. "I don't know. I don't have many people to fill your shifts."

"Please? It's kind of an emergency." He hated how he sounded on the verge of begging.

"Is someone sick?"

"Yeah, my brother. He's not doing well at all." Not a lie. Not a whole truth, either.

Darcy sighed. "All right. And before you go—" He flicked a message at him. "One more delivery for the wizard Galileo. The sender specifically asked for you. Have fun on your trip."

Reeder glanced at the address. Galileo, Wizard's District, in the same writing as the last time. "Oh yeah. It'll be a real picnic."

Friday, April 27, 2012


by Kat Heckenbach - 

Robynn’s legs cramped from kneeling behind the support column. And leaning against the cold metal wall was making her back ache. Why hadn’t Gavin come out of that man’s room yet?

And he was a man, Robynn had decided. He had to be. The no-blinking thing was creepy, but his eyes were far too human to belong to a droid. And no self-respecting droid builder would have made bangs so shaggy…

The door swooshed open and Robynn flinched, her heart suddenly fluttering like a hummingbird’s. She peeked around the column. Gavin leaned through the doorway and peered down the corridor. Then he stepped through; the door swooshed closed behind him.

Robynn stood and stepped out into view, arms crossed, as Gavin crept past. “What were you doing in there?” she whispered through clenched teeth. She smiled as Gavin jumped.

His eyes narrowed, distorting his little boy features. “None of your business, Robynn Shadow.”

The words hit Robynn like a brick. Gavin had never used that name for her. The other kids called her that, of course. “Robynn Shadow in the shadows…hiding, hiding…in the shadows…” Because she didn’t like being the center of attention—as if there was something wrong with that! She wasn’t hiding. And she didn’t care what they thought anyway.

But, Gavin…

Anger surged. Hurt anger that clawed its way out as tears burned her eyes. “Fine, Gavin Talker, do what you like!” She spun and stomped down the corridor.

“Robynn, wait!” His footsteps pounded behind her.

She could have easily outrun him, even out-walked, with her long legs and his short ones. But she didn’t speed up, and in moments he was next to her.

He tugged her arm. “I’m sorry. Please, Robynn.”

She stopped and looked down at him. His eyes were wide.

“I can’t tell you what I was doing here. No one can find out. Only Ave knows…and if she trusts me, then you should, too.” He squeezed her arm tighter. “And I’m sorry I called you that. I know you hate Shadow as much as I hated Talker.”

“Hated? What, you like it now?”

He smiled then, his wide eyes lighting up and his cheeks pushing out. “Course not! The kids’ll probably still call me that, but it’s not my name anymore, not for real.”

Robynn scrunched her mouth to one side. “So let’s hear it,” she said. “What’s your ‘real’ name?”

His eyes shifted down. “Okay, it wasn’t my idea…I know it sounds kinda strange…but it’s a real Earth name.” He looked up again. “Collodi.”

Robynn tilted her head, tightening her brow. “You mean like Carlo Collodi? The guy that wrote Pinocchio?”


“It’s an ancient story. About a man who doesn’t realize he wants a son, but he makes this puppet that becomes a real boy—because they love each other so much.”

Gavin stared at her, wide-eyed again, lip quivering.

Robynn knelt down. “Are you okay?” she asked as she wiped a tear from his cheek.

He nodded and smiled. “Very.”

Monday, April 23, 2012

Night Terrors

by Walt Staples -

The Bourbon was expensive.
A sip.
But this is an important occasion.
Hefts the ship pistol.
Probably the most important of my life.
Opens the magazine loading gate.
Poor old man. Trying to stop a knife fight at his age.
Another sip.
Maurine choosing cyborg so she could be sure I'd see her from time to time.
Sets the bottle down and picks up the ring.
Her version of revenge from beyond the grave.
Light picks out the engraving of the two names on the ring.
Betrayed by me for the sake of my mistress, the Law.
The ring makes a “pling” as it lands on the table.
A cold lover, my mistress.
Picks up bottle.
Fourth one this week.
Liquid sloshes around in bottle as it is set down.
So many dead people.
Removes cartridge from box labeled “12mm Shipload.”
Some launched into Ceti in coffins; some walking around.
Pushes cartridge through loading gate.
So much blood everywhere.
Hand stops while removing second cartridge from box.
At this range, I'm pretty sure of a hit.
Picks up bottle and holds it to the light.
You and I have become all too good of friends since the trial—lovers, almost.
The light through the bourbon casts reddish reflections.
But my other lover, the Law, is the jealous one.
Liquid in bottle becomes agitated.
This ends tonight.
Bottle shatters against wall.
“Hello, Father? We met at my wife's trial. You said to call you if I ever needed anything...I-I need help.”

Friday, April 20, 2012

Disaster Preparation

by Travis Perry

Mayor Edard Jonzn genuinely loved Adagio. Which didn’t mean he was above laying aside a bit of money for himself from time to time.

The monthly disaster-relief committee meeting was to take place in only two hours and the watergate engines that sealed off the port were down, damaged and left closed after the tsunami from the last fiveday. This was bad, because the Zirconia representative normally rode in on his personal submarine only an hour before the meeting. And Mayor Jonzn desperately wanted him to make it for this particular disaster committee reunion.

Just over a Founding ago the fresh-faced “Lieutenant” in his quasi-military uniform, a legacy from the days Zirconia was military-run, had entered his office after a committee meeting, asking if he had any bugizzard cigars. The very question marked him as an outsider—very few people on Adagio had ever even heard of tobacco, let alone smoked it. For an Adagio native, a “bugizzard cigar” was simply a “cigar.”

He’d invited the clean-shaven kid over to his hand-crafted steel desk with a warm smile, looked him over, and handed him a cigar. The lieutenant had lit it with practiced ease and taken an appreciative puff. This made the young man seem different, as if he were the kind of person who kept up an appearance of propriety in public, but who secretly would have made an excellent customer back in the days Jonzn was Adagio’s number one bar-and-brothel owner. The “Lieutenant”—really a sort of deputy mayor—had laughed nervously after that and then made an unusual statement:

“I have something heavy in my pocket. I don’t want to bring it back to Zirconia with me.” He pulled out of the front right pocket of his pressed aqua blue trousers a small handful of coins. Gold coins. Lieutanant Macbane’s face flushed red. Obviously this had been his first bribe.

“For…for you, sir,” he stammered as he placed them on the mayor’s desk, seeming uncertain of what to do next.

Mayor Jonzn, on the other hand, had not been a virgin in the arena of “under the table” payments. “Of course, son,” he’d said. “You can rest ‘em right there. I’ll give ‘em a good ‘ome, room and board, so to speak.” He grinned and the Lieutenant giggled nervously.

When nothing else came, he’d prompted, “Was there anything you might want in exchange for me giving said wayward coinage comfortable lodging for the night?”

The young man had seemed to come to himself after that, drawing his stance up taller. “Just remember that Zirconia is your true friend. Adagio’s interests are our interests. We expect…uh, I mean, hope for…your support should we ever find ourselves in disagreement with… other interests.” By that he’d clearly meant the “governor” from Avenir.

The mayor needed no convincing for that. He hated that butt-licking skyscrubber anyway. So it had been a win-win situation. Free money for doing what he would have done in any case.

But now, with the watergates down, he’d miss this month’s payment. With his daughter hounding him about buying her a new nanoweave dress imported from Avenir for her birthday, he needed every glimmer of extra coin he could get his hands on.

He stood in his office, built of ashbrick and painted white with sea-conch paste. He disliked the smell, but he’d long ago covered it with the odor of burning cigars. The black phone receiver in his hand had been hand-carved from a bug’s leg. Sweating nervously and smoking, he shouted into it. “I don’t care what you do, I want a gate open. You have one half-hour!”

“Sir, I’ve got a broken servo on the west gate and on the east, the main rail is bent. I could rig the backup motor on the east side to pull open the west, but there’d be no way to close it again in an emergency— ”

He cut off his chief engineer, “Sounds good, make it happen. Now!”

“But, sir— ”

“You’re a clever man, you’ll have this solved by the end of the day.”

“Maybe…but what if there’s a tsunami between now and then?”

“Shut your face-hole and do as you’re told,” snapped the mayor. He sucked hard on his cigar, his right hand trembling.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Good Reason

by Mary Ruth Pursselley -

Celeste shrugged her backpack off and set it on her bed without moving her feet an inch.

“Celia, what are you doing here?” Mom had taken enormous pains training her girls not to swear, but right now Celeste had to fight to keep from it.

Celia shrugged again, still smiling. “We get four days vacation every Founding, but I haven’t used any of mine, so I decided to use them up and come visit you.”

“You came by yourself?” Celeste demanded, slamming the door shut. “What were you thinking?”

“It’s okay, I had a really good reason!” Celia folded her hands and bounced like she could barely contain herself. “See, I met this guy—”

“Celia Harper, don’t you dare tell me this is about a guy!” Was Celia seeing someone? Sleeping with someone? Celeste thought she might scream, or be sick—or both.

“No, Celeste, listen to me! He’s an archaeologist who talked to our school about his work; he does the same thing you do only he makes way more money at it, so I told him about you. He’s coming to Adagio and said he’d stop by to talk to you. You can start making money and be famous like him!”

Celeste slumped back against the door, partly out of relief, partly out of shock. “You ran away from school—”

“No, I took a vacation.”

“—so I could be rich and famous like some archaeologist you met.”

Celia nodded, smiling. “Yeah! If you were making money like him you wouldn’t have to stay in this awful place anymore, and I wouldn’t have to be in boarding school. We could be together.”

“How did you even get into port? The watergates have been locked up with engine problems since the last tsunami.”

Celia shrugged. “They were open when the seabus came through.”

“Well regardless, do you have any idea how dangerous it is to travel alone?”

“No more dangerous than you working alone in those caves all the time.”

“That’s different.”

“How?” Celia threw her hands up. “Why are you allowed to take risks but I’m not?”

“I have to make a living to support us.”

“And I’m trying to help you! With Robin’s help you could support us without risking your life!”

“It won’t work,” Celeste said. “I’m not even a real archaeologist. I dig up junk and sell it, that’s all.”

Celia looked away, chewing her lip. “I know,” she said, “but…”

“But what?” Celeste said when she didn’t finish.

Celia looked back at her. “Does Robin have to know that?”

Monday, April 16, 2012


by Jeff C. Carter -

Lancet lay there stunned and surrounded by dead men. There was the bloody security guard, the man with the broken neck, and the old man standing over him laughing.

He had seen the old man take a shot to the back of the head. He didn’t know how the man got back up, or even who he was. He only knew that this man wanted to kill him.

“Isn’t this what you wanted? A brainless body to follow you around?” the lunatic said.

“Who are you?”

The old man smeared some of the blood from his face and wiped it onto his hospital gown.
“You don’t recognize me? It’s your faithful servant, Valljon.”

“I never had a…”

Valljon leaped onto Lancet and straddled his legs. “That’s right! You never had a Valljon! When you had them put the chip in my head…” He pointed a finger to his temple like a drill. “Bzzzzz! They made an awful mess. So sorry, puppet broken. Every word the old man spoke carried an overpowering stench of rot.

“What do you want?” Lancet said.

Lancet tried to keep his assailant focused while he thought of a way to turn the tables. He could hear the rattle of his smart sword straining against its charge unit in the other room. He knew it wouldn’t get free in time. He slowly searched the wreckage beneath him with his hands.

“You tried to turn me into one of them remote controlled butlers. When it didn’t work I was tossed out like garbage.”

A string of drool slid onto Lancet’s cheek but he tried not to turn his head. His fingers found a jagged shard of beetle shell.

Valljon rubbed his hand across his scalp and held it up, palm slick with blood. “It’s okay. Once I put the mark of Rahab upon you all will be forgiven.” He pressed his hand against Lancet’s shirt. His fingers began to slide towards Lancet’s throat.

“Valljon, look at me. I want you to see that I am truly sorry.”

“All are equal in death,” Valljon cooed.

Lancet thrust the shard into Valljon’s ribs as the bloody hand clamped around his throat. Lancet struggled to drive the blade in again and again but blackness was swarming across his senses.

Suddenly the pressure was gone.

“Error! Forbidden! Safety protocol…,” Valljon sputtered. The old man clutched his head and pulled at his gray hair.

Lancet gasped for air.

A savage look of hatred blazed in Valljon’s eyes as he fought the machinery in his head. “Rahab is death!” he bellowed. 

He curled his bloody fingers into talons and reached again for Lancet’s neck. “Neural Kill Switch engage,” Valljon droned. He flopped to the ground, face slack. Puppet broken.

Lancet rubbed his throat and called up to the ceiling. “Open a line to Moab.” 

There was a soft chime. “Moab, pick up. It’s Lancet. Some lunatic just tried to kill me.”

A cacophony of screams and grunts echoed through the speakers, followed by a gravely voice. “You’re not the only one! There’s a bloody riot going on!”

Friday, April 13, 2012

More Bedtime Stories

by Greg Mitchell -

Dressler awoke on rock. Vision blurry, he heard the drip, drip, drip of water echoing in a cavern. Above, he glimpsed wet stalactite, glistening with reflected ethereal light.

Am I dead?

His head ached, but his thoughts were his own. Private once more, as they ought to be. The monster in his mind was dead—he could feel that. He’d done it. He’d killed the blasted devil.

But where am I?

Groggy, he stood, covered in cuts and bruises, sopping wet. Looking about, he saw he was in a cave, a giant lagoon at his feet. Was he still underwater? Had he floated up into some kind of air pocket after the blast? Kneeling to the edge, he peered into the water—


A host of fish-like “angels” floated just below the surface, all of them staring back at him. He fell back on the seat of his pants, backing away. “No, no!”

{Wait} a soft voice implored him psychically, patient and kind.

“Where am I? What do you want?”

{You were foolish to come here}

“Yeah,” he said at length, standing again, feeling in no immediate danger. “I know. I’m…sorry.”

{We guard the Trench. There are many secrets in the depths that man should not know. We were trying to warn you, when you evaded us}

“It was a mistake…I didn’t know…”

{The dark can be deceptive and alluring. We understand how weak you can be, more than you do, it seems}

At the time Dressler was about to take offense, the angel’s soft voice soothed his heart. {But we also see how strong you can be. You have killed a terrible foe. And you did it at great personal sacrifice}

“How did you know?” he asked, then shrugged it off. “Forget it. I don’t want to know.”

{You have impressed us—one most in particular} A lithe feminine hand emerged from the lit waters. In its scaly palm, a tiny mess of tentacles, dark green in color, and squirming comfortably.

“What is that?”

{He doesn’t have a name. He believes in being defined by one’s actions. By your act of bravery, he recognizes you as kin. As family}

“He…thinks we’re related?”

{Of a sort. You would sacrifice your life to save your people from a wayward of our kind. He would like to return your generosity}

“I don’t understand.”

{Take him to your child. Fix him to her breathing port—her mouth. He will breathe into her. She will be cured of her ailment. He would consider it an honor to die so that his kin might live}

Dressler stepped forward. “Wait, die?”

{This act will be his last. He can save her, but he will die in the process}

“I-I can’t,” he said, painfully.

{But you must. That is what family does and he considers you family now. Do not dishonor him}

Dressler focused on the writhing thing in the outstretched hand, gently writhing, waiting for him to accept its sacrifice.

Carefully, he extended a hand in gratitude.


“Daddy? Tell me about the angels. The ones who saved me. And Crazy!”

Dressler pulled the covers to Edilyn’s neck, red light from the small bunker window painting her face in soft contrast. The sound of dirt and grit brushed against the pane glass, a constant white noise that Dressler found pleasant and reassuring these days.

“Come on, Lyn.” He grinned. “How many times have I told you that story?”

“Not enough.”

There had been five Approachings since bringing back Edilyn’s cure. The little squirmy angel did it, breathing new life into his daughter, clearing her ash lung, and softly giving up his spirit in the process. Dressler didn’t know what “peaceful” looked like on an angel, but he’d liked to think he’d seen it.

Lyn was fine, running and playing again, living life. Dressler returned to hunting, even had a new partner. Yulaura was a pistol, a rough and tumble sort that kept Dressler on his toes, and so far, had shown no signs of being under some evil angel’s thrall.

He liked that best about her.

Life had returned to a modicum of normal, but Lyn still wanted to hear the stories.

“Please, Daddy,” she begged, healthy and full of life, his every prayer answered.

Maybe Trebs—as barking mad as he was—had been right: His faith had been rewarded. Dressler had never considered himself a man of faith before that day at the bottom of Eclectia’s oceans, but Life had a funny way of changing things.

“Okay,” he laughed easy, before kissing her cheek. “I tell you the story. One more time.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Governor’s Decree

by Joseph H. Ficor -

Peacekeeper Major Stotter, head of Governor Bokkasa’s personal security detachment, stood at parade rest before the great black desk of the Governor.

“Thank you for coming as such a late hour, Major. I know that you had just finished your duty shift about an hour ago—around two am?”

“Yessir, I did,” replied Stotter. “You said that you wanted to discuss your pet, Enforcer Fiko.”

“Yes.” Governor Bokkasa leaned back in his chair. “I’m bored with him. The excitement of my charity is waning. I want you to take him and have him do some real work.”

“Forgive my bluntness sir, but wouldn’t it look bad for you to throw him away so easily after only one month? I’ve heard of officials planning to visit Eclectia to find even lower scum than Fiko. They want to outdo you.”

“Let them.” Bokassa waved his hand dismissively. “I’ll always be remembered as the first to have lifted a coffee ground to the level of cream.”

Stotter’s face remained expressionless. The Governor’s attempts at creative witticisms always fell short of their mark. “What do you have in mind, sir?”

The Governor immediately brought himself back to the main topic. “I want you to take Enforcer Fiko and some other expendable on a collection run to Docking Bay Five. Dear Artimus hasn’t paid his station tax in four months.”

Stotter’s expression cracked. A smirked formed across his lips. “Artimus Rawlings is a difficult man to find. He usually manages to avoid our Enforcers. We can only collect when he is overpowered and his cargo confiscated. And he said that the next time we came…”

Bokassa finished the sentence: “…to collect, he’d kill our Enforcers. I know. I know. My sources have confirmed that he is now at a Docking Bay Five. He won’t leave until tomorrow afternoon. Besides, this run will be an excellent opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.”

“What do you mean, sir?”

“Easy. Rawlings has outlived his usefulness. He never realized that the ore that he has been smuggling out of here was my way of making a little extra profit without concerning the aristocrats on Avenir. They have enough wealth. I thought that it was time for them to share a bit more of it with us. Now Artimus needs to be eliminated.”

“And Fiko is the second bird?”

“Exactly. He has outlived his usefulness. It is time for him to go out in a blaze of glory. I’ve proven my charity. He can serve as some kind of example of hope for the dustbugs on Eclectia.”

“I’ll see to it, sir.”

“Thank you, Major. Please send Enforcer Second Class Hicks as the second expendable. He’s annoying me.”

“Yes sir. Good night, sir.”

“Yes, yes. Good night, Major.”

Stotter thought to himself after he left the Governor’s quarters. “A very unusual execution decree. And a triple besides. Very original.”

Stotter went to his quarters for a good night’s sleep.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Last Words

by Edward M. Erdelac -

Kes ushered Considine into a white room within a white ward, where beneath a white sheet Croix lay, his face a mass of lesions, eyes bloodshot, pale hair now scattered on the pillow.

It had been only nine hours or so since last he’d seen him, but Croix now looked like what he was, a man on the verge of death.

“Great God,” Considine muttered at the sight of him. “What’s happened to him?”

“His condition’s worsening,” Kes said, “at a substantially accelerated rate. It’s as if the parasite’s tripled its normal feeding habits.”

“As if it’s trying to kill him,” Considine said.

“Oh it is,” Croix murmured, his voice shockingly harsh and rasping amid the relative silence of the room, which was broken only by the steady pulsing and chugging of his various life support systems.

Considine went to Croix’s side. Kes hovered near.

“What is it, Croix? Do you know?”

Croix smiled, and that cracked and bleeding smile was terrible to see in that wasted face.

“It’s God,” Croix said. “My own personal God.”

Considine glanced at Kes.

Kes shook his head.

“You’re not going to get anything sane out of him.”

“Faith isn’t sane, Dr. Kes,” Croix said. “I don’t expect you to understand that.”

Considine narrowed his eyes. Croix didn’t appear to be rambling in the throes of fever.

“What do you mean it’s God, Croix?”

“Not God per se. An intermediary, really. Like a saint. A saint bred by God, for communion with this unworthy body. But it brings me close. First, it shuts you out, lets God wear you like a pressure suit. You know nothing of God’s purpose. You only watch yourself, like you’re a character in a story. But then, now….now I begin to see God’s plan.”

“Did God tell you to use the detonite, Croix? What on…?”

“These are incidental questions, Inspector. I am closer to God now then I ever have been. No longer a mere suit, a puppet. I am near to Him. So very near. And you ask God such mundane questions. Really, Inspector. You’re a waste of flesh and lungs.”

“What’s the thing inside of you? Attached to your spine? How did it get there?”

“Incidental, incidental,” Croix yawned. “I’m tired. Very tired. Feel like I’m sinking. Back into the blackness. The darkest waters.” A cloud seemed to fall across his serene though ravaged features, and his eyes popped open, wildly rolling. “No! Not back down there. Not the prison! Hate it! Hate! End is coming! End of all! Must get loose! Must rise! Rise! Kill them! Kill the wardens! Free! Must be free!”

The last he shouted, his gums distended, cracked lips splitting, oozing blood and pus. He went rigid, and then fell back into the pillow, the monitors and scanners flatlining.

“Damn!” Kes said, rushing forward.

Considine turned away and frowned as Kes worked futilely over the corpse for a few moments before throwing up his arms in exasperation.

“He’s dead,” Kes announced.

“Yes,” said Considine. “Dr. Kes, how long can you keep his death a secret?”

Kes stared.

“Come now, doctor. I know it’s in your best interest. You want time to dissect and study the thing inside him. I need that time too. How long?”

“I could possibly get him into a forensic pathology lab, or the morgue, without anyone noticing. If he doesn’t leave the ZMB I could maybe push him around on a gurney-lev for some time. Maybe a day. Two, if I don’t go home.”

“You won’t.”

“What if your interested parties come looking for him?”

“They won’t. Officially, you’re going to release Croix from quarantine into my custody, and I’m going to extradite him to Avenir.”

“Will that work?” Kes asked doubtfully.

“We’ll see. Is my man Enforcer Brendermeyer still here?”

“He’s about to be discharged.”

“Where is he?”

Kes told him the room, and Considine shook his hand and went off down the corridor.

Friday, April 6, 2012


by Fred Warren -

Melanie swayed as her equilibrium adjusted to the sudden transition from prehistoric jungle to corporate briefing room. Carson was standing beside a tri-D map of the Avenir cyberspace projected in midair, arguing with his buddy, Orca. He hadn’t even changed out of his camouflage battlesuit.

Wow, this must be important.

Orca was stabbing at the diagram with an index finger. “Don’t do it, Rhino. It’s a really bad idea. There’s a reason we call that place Jumbo’s Folly.”

“Jumbo was my friend. I have to follow through on this for him, or his death won’t mean anything.”


Melanie staggered around one arm of the U-shaped conference table and grabbed her brother’s arm. “What are you talking about, Carson? What’s Jumbo’s Folly?”

“It’s the big one, Mouse. The ultimate access…the door to Paradise.” His eyes were shining with an excitement she hadn’t seen for a long time.

“Paradise. You mean that storybook land where the Dreamers are supposed to live?”

“It’s real. Here, look at the map.” He flicked at the image with two fingers and it spun slowly clockwise. Nodes and connections illuminated. “Avenir is only using 40% of its server capacity, but we keep bumping up against storage limits. Where’s the other 60% going? The network addresses are indexed, but we can’t access them.” He pulled the image to a halt and waved a hand across it. A thick, black line lifted up, encircling a large sector of space. “They’re protected by the thickest firewall anyone’s ever seen, right here. Jumbo tried to hack his way in, and he almost made it.” Carson pointed at a red dot glowing at an edge of the black circle. “That’s it. Jumbo’s Folly…and it’s active again.”

“He died there?” Her brother’s lean, chiseled avatar towered over her. It bore little resemblance to the genuine article. She wondered if his real body could still stand at all.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to pound through this idiot’s thick skull,” said Orca, who must have jumped in from a sports simulation. He was wearing a blue uniform with thick shoulder pads and a silver helmet with bars across its face. There was a blue lion stenciled on the helmet, and the number 74 was emblazoned in white on his jersey. “Whatever lives behind that firewall caught Jumbo when he broke through, and it fried his brain.”

Carson slapped Orca’s helmet. “But the point is, he broke through. And if what’s behind that firewall is important enough to defend, it’s important enough to investigate.”

“I think Orca’s right,” Melanie said. “I don’t want you going anywhere near that place.”

“Listen, guys…I loved Jumbo like a brother, but he only played the games one way: full power, straight ahead. I don’t intend to go pounding on that wall where he left off. I’ll take a look, assess the break in the firewall, and if it looks promising, we’ll come up with a plan to exploit it without killing ourselves.”

Orca took a step back. “Hold on a minute. Who’s this ‘we,’ Rhino?”

“You, me, and Mouse. She can rig our hardware to give us more protection against power surges. We still don’t know what’s behind the wall, so can’t risk taking an army in there. Not yet.”

“No way, Carson.” Melanie shook her head. “Mom would never forgive me if I let you do this.”

“I’ll go in with or without you, Mel, but I’d rather have you watching my back. Come on, Sis.” He gently squeezed her shoulders. “This is important. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t ask you. Please. For me.”

She squirmed and pushed her brother’s hands away. “All right, already. But we do the recon together, and I take point.”

“You? Why?”

She grinned. “Because I have an idea how to poke the beast without waking him up.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


by Travis Perry

The shuttle separated from Avenir, Ernsto’s steady hand guiding the controls. As the vessel pushed away from the station, the commo panel lit red.

“Government shuttle two alpha, this is Avenir Control, please respond.”

Ernsto grimaced before replying. He didn’t know much about spaceship protocols at this level. All his previous experience with Avenir Control had been to the lower cargo levels. “Control, this is two alpha, go ahead.”

“We have no scheduled flight itinerary for your vessel. Please dock at sector four bravo of the station ring until control receives your plan.”

“Sure, sector four bravo. Headed that way.”

He eased the vessel outward to the habitation ring. He actually had no idea where 4B might be relative to where he was, but he had no intention of docking anyway.

“Your current location is sector two,” volunteered control.

Ernsto steered the shuttle to follow the ring clockwise. Soon he passed some one hundred meters over a giant number 3 painted on the gray metal ring encircling the metallic dark shape of Avenir. So four should be next; bravo will be in the middle of the outer edge of the ring.

At 200 kph he hit sector four in less than 30 seconds. He maneuvered the shuttle to the edge of the ring and plunged downward. The alpha docking port at the top of the ring held a cutter with enforcer stripes. The vessel broke free from dock as he passed by and fixed a laser on his ship, a missile-guiding type, flickering spotty red at the rear of his cockpit window.

“Dock now or we will fire!” blared his radio. Ernsto accelerated hard, throwing as much rocket exhaust backward as possible.

Pressed hard into his seat at the four gee acceleration, his back screamed in agony. “Return to dock now or we will fire!” shouted his com system. He shut it off and plunged downward toward the gray skies of Eclectia below.

His anti-collision radar picked up no fewer than four vessels in pursuit, far more than would be expected from a missing flight plan. It seemed Hobson had found him already…

Monday, April 2, 2012

Escape, Part 3

by Travis Perry

In the early morning hours, the holding cell’s lights dim, Ernsto awoke from his thinly padded steel bed to the sound of the cell door opening. He sat up, clutching his single blanket for warmth.

Officer Salzar stood on the other side of the open door, an unknown peacekeeper beside him. “Come on,” said the young officer. “We’re getting you out of here.”


“I believe Hobson means to kill you. And the angel as well. I don’t think we can keep you safe here, or anywhere else I know of. He’s too well connected and too…powerful.”

As Ernsto stood up and dropped the blanket, he felt the crude bandages on his back sticking to the bright yellow jumpsuit he’d been forced to wear. “I don’t suppose you brought a change of clothes for me?”

“Yes, but not here. We need to move, no talking.”

The two men escorted him out of the Avenir upper brig. For some unknown reason, no other officers were in sight. Through a back corridor they escorted him to a loading dock. A familiar black pressure tank on a robotic wheeled cart waited there. Ah, angel babe, so glad to see you, said his mind. A familiar rush of warmth answered him back.

“On the other side of the airlock is a shuttle, with clothing and some equipment inside,” Salazar said. “You do mean to return the angel to the sea, right?”

“More than anything.”

“Then take her and go.”

“Er…as much as it’s not like me to question good news, won’ this get you in trouble?”

“Possibly. But who knows that the infamous smuggler Ernsto Mons didn’t force his way out? Not that I would ever lie about that. Or anything else. But I hope people draw their own conclusions. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to come back here for trial, after you set the angel free, risk to your life or not?”

“I don’ suppose you’d believe me if I said I would?”

“I don’t believe so,” replied the enforcer with a grin. “Well, don’t think this means I won’t put your face on every enforcer bulletin I can. You’ll be more famous than ever after this—which will make it very tough to sneak anything past anyone ever again. I’d give up smuggling if I were you.”

Before he could answer, the unnamed peacekeeper inserted himself into the conversation. “If it wasn’t for the angel, I wouldn’t do anything for you. If I see you on Avenir again, I’ll shoot you on sight. Understand?” The tall, gray-haired man scrunched his eyebrows together as he spoke, making his menace clear.
“Understood,” he said mildly, some part of his mind surprised that he’d let anyone threaten him without any desire to threaten in return.

Officer Salzar shook his hand before he departed, but the peacekeeper kept glaring at him and warned, “Hobson is still after you. If you don’t keep a low profile, he’ll have you dead within the week.”

“Understood,” he replied again, this time in a whisper.

Within minutes he had changed, astonished to find his coin bag inside his pants pocket. He then powered up the small shuttle, getting ready for the quick flight to Eclectia, the angel in her portable tank behind him.