Thursday, June 28, 2012


by Jeff C. Carter

Councilman Moab placed a sheet over two bodies.  The third, a bloody man in a hospital gown, he left exposed.

Lancet held a gel pack to his bruised face and neck. “Is it over?”
“My men haven’t reported any other attacks.  We’ll have to review the vids and body counts before we know for sure,” Moab sighed.  “Two good men, dead for nothing.  What a waste.”

“And my family’s koto,” Lancet added.  He knelt down and picked through the wreckage of a shattered musical instrument on the floor of his chamber.

“Let me see the telemetry from your sword,” Moab said.

Lancet stood and slipped off a black silk sash, a priceless creation from the nanoforges of Avenir.  It snapped into the shape of a long blade.  Lancet turned it downward and a crisp holographic display mushroomed up from the butt of the sword’s handle.

In the floating movie, a scaled down version of Lancet darted down a hallway and severed an attacker’s arm. “Notice how he felt no pain,” Lancet said. The other man continued to lunge and swing.  A blur of information speckled the hologram as facial recognition software and DNA analysis overlapped.

A file photo of the man appeared along with his I.D. and personal history. “This says he was a patient at St. Christina’s Clinic for the Neuro-Atypical,” Lancet read. With a twist of the sword’s grip the playback streaked forward through Lancet’s other battles, completing a grid of I.D. photos in the air. 

“All from the clinic,” Lancet said.

“Do you think it was some kind of mass psychosis?” Moab wondered.

Lancet pulled his shirt taut, revealing a bloody handprint with smeared fingers that the killer had imprinted there. “No.  They seemed too orchestrated.  They rallied around this symbol.  The mark of Rahab.”

Moab nodded. “I saw that on the walls.  They had a battle cry, too.  ‘Rahab is death’.  It seems too organized to be psychosis but too sloppy for proper terrorism.  Perhaps they belonged to a cult?”  

Lancet pulled the sword to his chest and it slithered back into a sash and fastened around his ribs.  He walked over to the uncovered body. “This one claimed to have been a former servant of mine.  He had just killed my guard when your man arrived and put a round in the back of his head.  I thought it was over, but somehow he managed to get back up and kill your man, too.”

Moab rolled the body over with his boot and peered into the deep gunshot wound. “It sounds like he was unstoppable.  So then…why did he stop?”

Lancet grinned. “His old control chip kicked in.  A servant cannot kill his master.”

Moab walked to the transparent wall and peered into space. “What a senseless act.  And two good men, dead.  What a waste,” Moab sighed. He looked down at the broken instrument at their feet. “And your koto as well, of course. I know you wanted to pass that on to your heirs.”

Lancet scowled down at the barren, hostile planet below. “The only thing I want to give my heirs is a world worth having.”

Flashback: Undertow

by Pauline Creeden

Zana struggled to reach the surface.  The memories enveloped and dragged her to the depths of despair.  She wanted--needed to wake up.

Acid filled the air and rushed toward her face, and Zana squeezed her eyes shut against the pain. White spots danced behind her lids.  She heard nothing but high pitched ringing as she turned her head. The screaming came from her throat. Her face burned as though on fire.

Not again.

The ground slammed against her shoulder as she landed on her right side, but the pain focused on her left side instead. Her body turned from the momentum to her back and the pain renewed, dizziness threatened to pull her into unconsciousness.  She struggled; knowing that if she passed out, her brother would be in danger.  Clenching her jaw she forced her eyes open.


A red dust cloud surrounded Zana, but the sun still sifted through.  She squinted, the white dots fluttering like annoying flies.  Her mouth was closed, but she tasted dust and her left cheek moved in and out each time she took a ragged breath.

She tried to pull her left hand up to touch her cheek, but nothing happened.  Her arm didn’t follow her mind’s command.  Is it broken? She thought through the pain, unsure and unable to locate her arm.  The ringing subsided so that she could hear the giant cannonbeetle’s legs thumping the ground in a scurrying motion as it retreated.  She wondered at how it didn’t finish her. 
Fear seized her.  Where was her little brother?

Don’t look.

“Zane?”  She cried, afraid that if she moved she’d pass out.  Zana’s voice cracked lower than she intended and sounded foreign to her.  It was deep, groggy, and echoed funny.  Her tongue felt dry, swollen, and strange in her mouth.

“Zane?”  She called louder, but the force of the word caused the white spots to crowd her vision and increase tenfold.  Blackness seeped in to the corners of her sight, tunneling her vision.  She tried to get up, but her left arm did nothing and her right arm had no strength.  Tears-filled her eyes as she stared at the red sky.

Please don’t.

Dizziness seized her.  The world seemed to spin.  Zana closed her eyes again and turned her head.  The movement caused pain to shoot through her body and the blackness closed in.  When she opened her eyes, half her vision had gone dark.  She fought it again.  When the spots retreated, her brother’s face appeared.  

“Zane!  Thank God, I thought…” She stopped as a black fly landed on his open eye.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wild Card

by Mary Ruth Pursselley -

Robin Corpsman had been told that the Steakhouse Arjentina was the best place to have dinner in Zirconia, so he headed there. This was his last night in town, and he planned to enjoy it.

The restaurant doors swung inwards, injecting him into a U-shaped room glowing with neon blues and greens. Wait staff dressed in black moved among the tables, their steps matching the beat of rhythmic music flowing from hidden speakers.

Robin made his way to the obsidian-top bar and pulled a stool out for himself. The waiter behind the counter offered him a good evening.

“What can I get you?”

“Dinner and a drink,” Robin said, “whatever’s best here.”

“Coming right up.” The waiter smiled, a look that promised an excellent meal, but with an exorbitant ticket attached.

Robin didn’t mind. Why not splurge on his last night in town and the school’s tab? Tomorrow morning he’d be heading landside, back to bland food, gritty water, ash, earthquakes, and lava. Back to his quest.

He’d have to spend enough time at one of the already-established digs to keep Trinity’s archaeology department directors happy, but as long as they had something new to brag about and display in the museum, they didn’t usually complain about the time Robin spent chasing legends. His quest, should he ever succeed, would benefit them too.

The waiter brought a glass flute of something that sparkled silvery-green. Robin lifted the flute and took a sip; the taste was exquisite, like nothing he’d had before.

Seeing the waiter watching him, he nodded his approval and raised the flute as if in a toast. The waiter smiled and nodded as he walked back into the kitchens.

Robin took another sip and swirled the drink slowly in the glass. If he ever succeeded in his quest, the whole of Trinity University, the entire Christchurch community, and even the high-ups on the Avenir would be toasting him. His discoveries would be the greatest in Eclectian history. He would be guaranteed a relatively easy life and substantial income for as long as he lived.

If he failed, he’d likely keep working as an archaeologist until age or ash lung disabled him. Then Trinity’s darling poster child would be left to fend for himself on a planet that was far from merciful to the weak.

The two potential futures were always standing over him, taunting him with suspense about which one would become reality. Reality hinged on the chances of him drawing the wildcard from a deck shuffled by fate and volcanoes.

The wildcard was Empathia.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


by Edward M. Erdelac

“You sure this is a good idea, Inspector?” Brendermeyer asked for the fourth time.

“The Peace Council is expecting me to arrive with a passenger, Brendermeyer. It’ll look fishy if the compliment scan only shows up one life form,” Considine explained for the fourth time.

The police shuttle rose through the upper atmosphere and shuddered as the fiery sky turned black and starry.

“Never been up to Avenir,” Brendermeyer muttered, his eyes wide and full of stars. “Never even been in space before. Is it true you used to work up there?”

“I did. A while ago.”

“Why the hell would you transfer down to Zirconia?”

“I liked the view better.”

“You can’t see a damn thing down there.”

“Precisely.” Considine said, angling the shuttle for the huge ship. “It’s not all stars up here, Brendermeyer. There’s all that blackness in between.”

“I hear the women are choice, though.”

Considine pursed his lips. Brendermeyer wasn’t listening. There was a hell of a lot of politics on Avenir. A lot of clean fingernails with dirty palms. It had got to him. He had been ordered to overlook one too many shady deals, ordered to let one too many cases cool. Avenir was a stagnant place, with its unchanging air, its never shifting castes.

He much preferred Zirconia. He saw the underwater city as a happy medium between Avenir’s static, festering rot, and the violent upheaval of the surface of Eclectica. He liked the leaky hallways and the shifting light that played on the floors, filtered through fathoms of ocean and the thick viewing ports, chilling the raging red skies far above until they were no more than a placid shimmer. 

He liked the glimpses of sea life in all its forms, from the flitterfish to the ethereal angels themselves, going about their alien, inscrutable business on the edge of the Boatic Trench.

The dark waters. Dark waters. Croix had said he was sinking into the dark waters. Then something about the wardens, rising, and freedom.

He puzzled over this when the panel began to blink and Brandermeyer nudged his arm.

He keyed the receiver.

“Zirconia Peacekeeper Shuttle ZP-40, you are cleared to land in docking bay 882.”

“Understood, control,” Considine answered. “882.”

They’re certainly putting us in the proverbial boondocks. Why hadn’t they been directed to the police bay, or even the Peace Council?

“Keep sharp, Brendermeyer.”

Brendermeyer took his sidearm out from under the passenger’s chair and belted it on.

“You expecting trouble?”

“Just keep sharp.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


by Fred Warren

Smith’s escape route twisted through a maze of corridors, maintenance tunnels, and ventilation shafts—a jumble of vectors pointing, in their summation, downward and inward. Any pursuers not intimately familiar with the bowels of Avenir would become disoriented in short order.

He hoped.

…through this hatch, bypass that one, up the ladder here, onto the catwalk— nearly rusted out; it won’t take many more of these trips—there’s the gap in the deck, mind the edges, ease down and through the structure, hang on a moment, quick drop to the deck below, now move, move, move—don’t slow down, never look back…

Fifteen minutes later, confident he’d left any trailing Enforcers far behind and hopelessly confused, he staggered into a vacant utility alcove and slumped to the greasy floor. Cold, dry air flavored with oil and iron knifed into his lungs and returned to the surrounding atmosphere with an asthmatic wheeze. His temples throbbed, echoing the drumbeat of pain pounding in his chest. One hand brushed his knee, and came away wet and sticky. A shard of metal had slit his trouser leg somewhere along the way and bit into his flesh. He wiped the blood onto his coat-tail, then turned his hand back and forth in the dim light to inspect an angry red laceration on the wrist, left by the cyborg that had caught him picking its master’s pocket.

“You’re losing your touch, mate.”

Smith scrambled to his feet, only to be shoved down hard by a heavy hand on his shoulder. He didn’t need to see the face. The gravelly voice was enough. Wallace Beadle.

The thug bent close enough to reveal a gap-toothed grin with blistered lips framed by three-day’s growth of wiry black stubble. The nauseating odor of decayed insect flesh filled Smith’s nostrils. “Comes of too much time spent wet-nursing the wee foundlings and not enough keeping your edges honed. You never would have gotten pinched like that in the old days.”

“As soon as I catch my breath, Wallace, I’m going to twist your head off. I warned you to stay clear of my territory.”

“Out of shape, too. Tsk, tsk.”

“How did you find me?”

“Silly boy. Nobody knows you better than I do. Every single bolt-hole is a fond memory of our old partnership, those profitable, carefree days before you met dear Ave and went soft in the head. I’d rather focus on the future, though. Your blunder has become my opportunity. I have a proposition for you.”

Smith smiled up at him. “Eat grit.”

“Oh, that’s a fine attitude for a penniless sod who can’t protect himself, much less the dear little tots depending on him for their livelihood. Yes, I know where they’re hiding. And let’s not forget the winsome Miss Kate, all alone, so delicate and vulnerable…”

“You’ve made your point. What do you want?”

“I have a friend in need of your peculiar resources. He has a number of parcels that require, shall we say, discreet handling.”

“I’m no smuggler, Wallace. You should know at least that much about me. You want a delivery boy, press one of your own goons into service.”

“Ah, but there’s the rub. These items demand unobtrusive couriers with a delicate touch. Your poppets displayed remarkable skill in the marketplace today, despite the failings of their ham-handed tutor. We think they’ll do nicely.”

Smith spat at Wallace’s boots. “Never.”

Wallace chuckled and wiped the left boot, then the right, on Smith’s injured leg. “As I expected. Let me introduce my client, so you’ll know I’m in earnest.”

A second figure emerged from the shadows to stand behind Wallace. He was a giant of a man, with a swarthy, scarred face, crooked nose, and deep-set eyes, but Smith’s blood froze when he saw what the big man was wearing.

Peacekeeper blues.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Loose End

by Kaye Jeffreys

The bustle of the circuit office in Spring Plant Valley had died down for the night. Jereth sat in the darkened office alone. The closer they got to Last Stop the less ready he was to face whatever he found there. Soon it would be time to jump. He hoped there was a place to land.

The light flicked on. Carter stood in the door. An expression of confused disdain played his face. "Why are you sitting in the dark?"

"Just thinking."

"Are you packed for tomorrow?"

Jereth nodded.

"Then go to bed."

"We need to talk."

"About what."

"I think Lessie is onto me."

"Lessie? Onto you?" Disdain won out over confusion. "We are all onto you. We all know that you are using us to burn your old man and prove to him that he can't control you."

Jereth resisted the urge to defend himself. It would just prolong Carter's tirade. Better to let him run out of fuel.

"You are a user and you will never be anything else. Why Lessie and Kinsee put up with you, I'll never understand." Carter dropped into a chair by the door. Fortunately, Carter ran out of fuel quickly.

"Now that you've had your say, listen to me."

Carter put up his hands like he didn't care.

"I don't want Lessie to worry."

"Worry about what?"

"If I were to disappear suddenly, it would upset her. But I don't want to warn her before I go because she'll question me to death. You know Lessie."

"Disappear? What are you talking about?"

"I have a connection to make."

"What connection? There is nothing out here but tumble brush and spring weed. Are you coming down with High Country Hysteria?"

"Just promise me, Carter. If I make that connection, you make sure Lessie knows that I'm okay?"

Carter threw up his hands again and looked away.

"If I make that connection, I'll be gone. I'll leave you alone with Lessie once and for all. Promise me you'll talk to her."

Carter shook his head slowly like he didn't understand.

"Talk to her!"

"Okay! I'll talk to her."

Jereth sat back in his chair. Carter was a man of his word even if he gave it begrudgingly. The last loose end was tied up. Still, it didn't steady the uneasiness in Jereth's gut as he prepared to turn away from everything and everyone he had ever known.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rockstars: Lion Killers

by Walt Staples

I knew it was time to drink up and leave when Choice Ranson pushed in through the doors. Crazy Eddie's isn't the most high-toned place in Heartbreak Pass. The fact that Eddie hasn't picked Ranson up by the scruff and seat and pitched him back out the door is proof of this.

Ranson is a troll. He likes to pick at people. On the whole, he's a pretty fair geologist, which is why Survey keeps him on—that and they don't have to look at him in the home office. That no one's shot the creature yet is put down to people's basic law-abidingness here on Sheba, or the general opinion that Ranson isn't worth the waste of powder.

The bridge game conversation had turned to Admin's latest publicity blitz to try to attract more settlers to Sheba. Old Ed Grinder was saying, “They been tryin' to make it safe an' borin' fer years.”

Ranson loomed over the table with his beer. “Boring? You find settling this place boring? You old coot, this is the greatest adventure in the system! And you sit there and call it boring! Madness!”

The four of them sat looking up at him in silence. Dick Ewell, George Topolopis, and Harty Gunther were old enough to be his father. Ed, old enough to be their father.

Ed carefully laid his cards face-down on the table as the color rose in his neck and face. His voice, though low and even, betrayed strain, “Admin up on Avenir's doin' their dangest to sanitize life here on this rock. They want to convince ever'body that livin' and workin' here is safe, routine, an' borin' as bein' up on Avenir.”

The others put their cards down as he warmed to his subject. Ed's stringy muscles knotted as he gripped the edge of the table and continued, “One reason is to sucker people into sellin' ever'thing they've got to come down here—that's good fer gettin' rid of the troublemakers, extra mouths, an' relievin' crowdin'. It's also good fer their buddies who buy up the stuff fer next to nothin'. But the main reason”--he raised an index finger--”is that they are bureaucrats. An' the knee-jerk reaction of a bureaucrat is to cover his butt. No matter what might happen, he's scared he's the one who's gonna be tossed out the airlock—so nothin' ever happens, ever'thing is always A-OK an'”

He swallowed. “But it ain't safe. It ain't routine. An' things happen.” He looked at the others at the table, then back up at Ranson. “We come here before there was a hole in the ground. I was lucky; I partnered with my missus. Hoppers weren't invented yet; you yomped ever' single kilo in on yer back. It took a generation to get rockhead environment suits to the point they sorta work. Like I say, I was lucky—the missus wasn't. I buried her three years to the day we made planetfall.

“Way back when sometime, they was a critter called a lion—some kind of mantid maybe—that ate people. A boy became a man by killin' one.” He swept a hand to include the others at the table. “These men killed their lion. They went through it. They survived it. They ain't quit. They won't.

“Now, let me ask you a question.” He pointed up at the younger man. “Who are you partnered with? Anybody?” At Ranson's silence, he continued. “No, I figured not. That, maybe, suggest somethin' to you? Man don't live out here long without somebody to watch his back. Somebody who cares about him.” Ed hooked a thumb at George. “Now George, here, is my bunkie. He puts up with my feet an' I puts up with his wind. Are we cuddle-bunnies? Nope, but we're partners an', generally, friends.” He picked up his cards and the others followed suit. The old man didn't bother to look up from his cards as he dismissed Ranson, “Boy, you come back after you kill your lion.”

Ranson stood looking at the bridge players, then at the rest of us. Nobody gave him any slack. Even Eddie just returned a blank look. After a couple of minutes, he sat down his glass, turned, and slowly walked out.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Wake Up Call

by Joseph H. Ficor

Shouhei struggled to stay awake in the elevator as it traveled to the docking bays of Carlston's Cove.

The loud voice—and hands—of Enforcer Second Class Damon Hicks forced him out of his rack only twenty minutes before.

The young Enforcer had just fallen asleep after serving a fourteen hour shift when Hick stormed into Shouhei's quarters. Hicks ordered him to get back into uniform and to bring his sidearm. Peacekeeper Major Mao Stotter, commander of the Governor’s personal security detachment, had personally ordered Hicks and Shouhei to accompany him on an assignment. They were to apprehend a star pilot named Artimus Rawlings.

Rawlings had not paid his station docking fees for several months. He was also suspected of smuggling large amounts of ore from Sheba. Shouhei had heard his name thrown around by the veterans of the security detachment. Rawlings had earned the nickname of “Bakemono.” It was an old Earth word for ghost. He was the given the moniker because he had always managed to avoid being tracked down by the authorities. That is, until now.

“Fiko! Wake up!” Hicks’s booming voice—and sharp slap on the back—jolted Shouhei back into conscious focus.

Even the granite face of the Major winced at the high volume in the small space of the elevator. Shouhei had the feeling that Hicks was more hated by the other members of the detachment than himself.

The elevator stopped, the display showed Docking Bay Five, and the doors opened.

Hick's hand made contact again. “Showtime, Prize Puppy.”

Shouhei swallowed hard and followed the Major and Hicks into the wide space of the docking bay.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


by Travis Perry

The shuttle trailed black smoke as it dropped toward the ocean.  Ernsto struggled with the controls to slow the landing.  Behind them, somewhere, two other vessels were hunting for them in Eclectia’s atmosphere.

He’d originally aimed for Zirconia but he realized it would be impossible to enter the city, not with enforcers chasing him.  They’d surely radio ahead.

At an unknown location on the high sea, somewhere in the Zirconia region, the shuttle hit the water hard.  It bobbed upward due to the air in the hull, but immediately afterward the fractured ship began to slowly sink.

Ernso unstrapped and seized the angel’s pressure tank and shoved it toward the airlock, which he moved to release.  Lock open, ocean water began pouring into the vehicle, hastening its doom.  Ernsto quickly released pressure, unlatched the tank, and hauled the angel out.  He shoved her into the water and plunged in after her.  Seconds later on the surface, coughing cold green water, he scrambled upward, coming to his feet on top the still-sinking shuttle.

Beneath a nearby wave he saw the angel’s glowing white light.  The low pressure at the ocean surface caused her pain, yet she looked past her own agony to project worry about what would happen to him.

“I’ll make it, get out of here!” he shouted.  There was no way for her to save him anyway—she needed to dive to the ocean depths; he could only survive on the surface.

Her mind projected understanding and regret.  She dove deeper.

At that moment it struck Ernsto that he’d never loved anyone the way he’d loved her, not even his grandmother—certainly far more than any woman who’d ever shared his bed.  Her mind had been so beautiful, so kind, so gentle and soothing.  How would he survive without her?  He fell to his knees, astonished that his heart was breaking, astonished that if he could have swum after her, he would have followed her to her underwater world and been her husband if she’d have him. 

Her mind reached out to him in pity.  He could feel her embarrassment at his gushing emotion.  It never had been like that for her.  She’d cared for him…but like a pet…

On his knees, the ocean rising, he buried his hand in his face and wept.  He’d been like a pet, like a savage dog taken in by a gentle woman who believed a little loving kindness would calm its vicious ways.  The love of his life, yet to her only a pet, an animal.  This pain—he knew he’d never overcome it.

His peripheral vision caught a vapor trail of a shuttle overhead.  It turned in a big arc across the ash-gray sky back his way, apparently having spotted him.

Ernsto Mons stood upright on the shuttle hull, water now lapping his ankles.  He pulled the plasma pistol from his belt and aimed it at the incoming shuttle, his mood hardening. 

“Come on,” he rasped.  “Come kill me.”