Thursday, August 30, 2012


by Joseph H. Ficor

After leaving the elevator, Stotter and Shouhei went to the Governor’s quarters.

The Governor listened to the story told by Stotter—with Shouhei’s attempted execution omitted. After Stotter finished, the bulk of the Governor lifted from behind his desk. He smiled. “Fiko, my boy. You are a credit to the Corps—and especially to me. Now go and see the medics for your shoulder and get some rest. The Major and I have some business to discuss.”

Shouhei got his shoulder fixed and returned to his room and collapsed on his bed. He slept for twelve hours.

He was awakened by a knock on his door. He straightened his uniform as best as he could. Enforcer Second Class Yuri Jao stood at the door.

He was scowling more than usual. This scared Shouhei because Jao was one of the most vocal in his contempt for Shouhei.

“Come on,” Jao shouted. “We need to hurry. You don’t want to miss the ceremony.”

“Excuse me?” Shouhei was still half-asleep and bewildered by Jao’s sudden appearance. “What ceremony?”

Jao sneered. “Your award ceremony.”


Shouhei and Jao entered the large auditorium on the fifteenth level. The auditorium was large—three hundred seats. It was usually for live entertainment like plays or—as in this case—pomp and ceremony.

The seats were full of the elites of Carleston’s Cove and Sheba. The Governor’s entire security attachment had been assembled also. The Peacekeepers and Enforcers stood in two neat lines down the aisle leading to the main stage.

Shouhei stood confused and dumbfounded. Jao indicated for Shouhei to go to the main stage by jabbing him in the back.

As Shouhei walked down the aisle, the Enforcers and Peacekeepers saluted him as he passed. The young Enforcer searched for signs of genuine respect in the faces of his comrades, uncertain if he saw any. Peacekeeper Second Level Stalinsky—one of the Peacekeepers who had been standing in the front of the Governor’s office when he first reported for duty—smiled as he passed.

On the main stage were the Governor and Major Stotter.

Shouhei stepped onto the main stage and stood before them.

The Governor grinned, showing all of his teeth. Stotter remained utterly stoic and unreadable. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the hero who not only stopped the piracy of Artimus Rawlings, but also the assassin Jing Laforsé. We are greatly indebted to you Enforcer Fiko.”

Applause thundered in the auditorium. Apparently genuine.

Governor Bokkasa waited for a few minutes before putting his hand up as a signal for the applause to stop so that he could continue. “So it is with great honor that I bestow upon you the silver Avenir for bravery. Congratulations.”

Applause broke forth again as the silver award, in the shape of Avenir Station, was pinned just above Shouhei’s left breast pocket. Shouhei felt his pulse pound at the honor of getting the award. But he couldn’t help but wonder if this was another of the Governor’s little games.

After the applause died down, Bokkasa broke into a long and dry speech entailing duty and honor. Shouhei hardly heard a word. Fear gripped him as he looked at the icy cold face of Stotter. The Major’s words in the docking bay resounded in his mind: “…on Carlston’s Cove: Your life span is equal to your usefulness.”

Shouhei silently—and desperately—prayed for future courage and divine protection. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


by Fred Warren

“Move the colony.”

It was a throwaway line, something John would toss out for a few cheap laughs at a cocktail party, a bit of cynical commentary on the state of Avenir Eclectia. It wasn't a call to action. No one but the lunatic fringe would seriously consider it. The Avenir space station might have been born an interstellar transport, but in the hundreds of Foundings since its arrival at 94 Ceti, it had added a panoply of pods and modules and bays and docks, like a hermit crab adorning its seashell home with bits of flotsam and jetsam, until its spacefaring origins were obscured beyond recognition.

But the Dreamers had not forgotten, and they were working patiently, incrementally, and invisibly to make Avenir a spaceship once again. John had no doubt they would succeed, and his business instincts screamed at him to seize their invitation to unlimited power and leverage. They controlled the nanofactories, the computer network, and who knew how many key government officials. Their virtual world was amazing, even when experienced through an obsolete interface. Part of him longed for the full experience. Sensations, smells, tastes, sights beyond his wildest imaginings, so vivid as to make the distinction between real and virtual irrelevant. Islands, and birds.

And there was Anya.

Something still held him back. All dreams came at a cost, and this one was no exception. He'd never thought much about his fellow colonists, other than as human resources or business competitors, but now as he wandered the station, ranging farther than he ever had before, he found himself looking at their faces, pondering their fate. From the idle rich of the upper levels to the desperate poor begging for scraps in its depths. Aristocrats and merchants, Peacekeepers and Enforcers, dockworkers and technicians, fishmongers and beetle butchers, pickpockets and orphans. Who would be taken when Avenir shed its encrustations and blasted away to a more hospitable star? Who would be left behind? Would they find a way to survive without the station's technical resources? Would the colony devolve into barbarism, a handful of scattered tribes clinging to life as both hunters and prey of Eclectia's giant insects, slowly suffocated by the planet's corrosive atmosphere?

What did it matter? The colony was dying anyway. The Dreamers knew this. The only way to save any of it was to move along with whatever they could salvage. From that perspective, his choice was either to remain as he was, gathering wealth and gilding his own pleasures as best he could until the end, or to join the Dreamers, where he would have a voting stake in the colony's future--and the power to shape it.

When John thought about it that way, there wasn't any choice at all. He found an observation gallery in an obscure corner of one of the station's lower levels and gazed out at the feverish countenance of Eclectia and beyond to shattered Sheba and the leering glow of the Whale Star itself. It might be the last time he saw them face to face, with his own eyes.

“You've made up your mind.” The image of Anya Sherikov stood beside him in her shimmering red dress, her eyes merry.

“I can't even have the privilege of a quiet moment with my own thoughts?”

“You will succeed me as Communications Officer. No one can intrude upon your privacy without permission, save Captain Aziz. Even he must knock first.”

“That's reassuring.”

“We wagered among ourselves how long it would take you to deliberate. Captain Aziz thought you would decide within the first day. Victoria was less optimistic.”

“How much less?”

“She said I'd probably find you dead drunk in a dockside bar two weeks from now.”

“Vicky is one scary little girl. What about you? What was your guess?”

Anya smiled. “You're right on time.”

“Congratulations. So, what now?”

“Look over there.” She pointed toward the window. A Hawthorne-class VIP shuttle had just cleared its moorings and was falling away from the station toward Eclectia.

It exploded in soundless flash of white light.

“The official records will state that all occupants, including one John Milton, were lost when their spacecraft suffered catastrophic engine failure en route to Adagio. Your personal assets have been dispersed and controlling interests in your various business ventures transferred to your partners. It's time to take up residence in Paradise, John. Welcome to your afterlife.”


Melanie checked the address again. It had taken a little digging, but she was certain this was where he lived. She smoothed her tunic and trousers and brushed a stray wisp of hair from her eyes before ringing the chime.

A thin, pale man wearing a plain black suit opened the door. His face was void of any emotion as he examined her. “May I help you, Miss?”

“ name is Melanie Hunt. Are you Mr. Milton?”

“No, this unit served as Mr. Milton's valet. I await re-purposing.”

It was a Frank. Melanie swallowed hard. She had to see this through, for Carson's sake. “I need to speak with Mr. Milton. It's urgent. Tell him it's about the Dreamers.”

The cyborg butler was still for a moment, then it blinked twice. When it spoke again, its voice was higher in pitch, almost feminine. “Mr. Milton died early this morning.”

“What? Oh...oh, no. I'm so sorry. I had no idea. Thank you. I...I hope they find you a good job.” She had to fight an impulse to flee. Turn away, and take one step at a time, like a sane person.


She spun around. The impassive face wore a softer expression. It was smiling. There was just enough curve in the mouth to make it certain. Franks weren't supposed to feel emotion. Was this a new feature, special for rich owners?

It opened the door wider and bowed. “Come in, Miss. Perhaps I may be of assistance.”

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Blowout 3: John Law

by Walt Staples

Reichter was conscious of the crowded feeling the four environment suited figures gave the battered, but still expensive looking living room. Before them, a large rectangular hole gaped blackly. With Ceti 94 on the other side of Eclectia, sunfilters were unnecessary, which suited the Investigating Peacekeeper just fine. He liked to be able to watch the eyes of people when he talked with them. This carried over to all his contacts with his fellow man; something that probably explained his lack of second dates. At the moment, he watched the black eyes of the firefighter whose bunker gear displayed the name, “’Dollman’ Takku.” “Okay, Dollman, you were first on the scene, right?” It was a habit of the peacekeeper that he used the first or nickname of the person he talked with. The easy camaraderie had caused more than one slip on the other’s part.

Dollman nodded. “Yes, sir. I was on ‘suited watch’ at the station. So, I got out the door first. ‘Gamecock’ Pelman from 53rd was my number two coming in.”

“How long did it take you to rig the emergency airlock?”

Dollan grinned. “Took us 38 seconds, sir.”

Stony Oreman, the local Enforcer whistled. “Not too shabby, Ty.”

Dollman’s grin widened and he sketched a mock stage bow. “Thank you, thank you. I’ll be appearing all week.”

Reichter made a mental note that the two knew each other. He also agreed that the smoke-eater had reason to be proud. He continued, “And what’s changed since you came in, Dollman?”

“Absolutely nothing, sir—other than us standing here, of course.”

The peacekeeper glanced around. “When did you turn the lights on?”

The firefighter raised his eyebrows. “Didn’t, sir. They were all on when I got here.” He made a sweeping gesture toward the open doors with his hand. “They were all open too, when I got here.”

Yoshi Takai, Reichter’s enforcer, asked, “Why didn’t they close when the window blew out?”

Stony spoke up, “The Cleaner, DuPont, had them overridden.”

“Why’d he do that?”
The local enforcer was short and broad in contrast to Yoshi, who was tall, broad, and blond. Stony was also clean shaven, where Yoshi wore a handlebar mustache. He shook his head. “Don’t know, sir. He was pretty much of a wreck when they took him away. The medicos had to sedate him. Want me to go see him?”

Reichter thought for a moment, then shook his head. “Nope. Guess maybe I’ll take care of that. What I want you to do is work the scene with Yoshi here. I’ve cleared with your peacekeeper.” He turned to the firefighter. “Dollman, you can take off now. Thank you for walking us through this thing. I’ll mention the 38 seconds in my report and when I run into your chief next.”

The smoke-eater grinned. “Thank you, sir.” Reichter watched him go and turned to the two enforcers. “One more thing; get a hold of an engineer and see what he comes up with.”

Stony said, “Jill Forman is on duty. Should I get her?”

The peacekeeper tipped his head and squinted one eye. “No…I think I want someone independent.”

Yoshi looked at him questioningly. “Is there a problem with her?”

Reichter made a face and shook his head. “No, I don’t know her. I just want somebody from outside the system. Something just doesn’t smell right.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Sickening Plunge Part 2

by Jeff C. Carter

Lancet immediately recognized the body on the slab.  It was his old ‘servant’, Valljon, the man who had tried to kill him.  He didn’t know the skinny man in the rubber smock.  He appeared to be some sort of doctor.  He understood now why they were meeting in the damp gray morgue, but not why they had been made to travel to a morgue on the dark side of Sheba.


The soothing voice came from a speaker in the ceiling.  Lancet recognized the voice – it belonged to Beebe, the mysterious man who had been his long-distance mentor for most of his life.  They had never met face to face, and he was beginning to doubt that they ever would.  He was even beginning to doubt if Beebe had a face at all.

“Please allow me to make a few introductions.  Councilman Dresden Moab you surely know.  He is a long serving and distinguished member of the Peace Council,” Beebe said.

Beebe didn’t introduce himself, which indicated that everyone there knew him well enough that they would travel to Sheba without asking why.  It was a small group and introductions didn’t take long.  

Lancet began to understand what role each person was there to play. 

Anansi Tolliver, the stylish dark skinned man with the big smile.  Confidence man.  Smooth operator.  Trickster.

Pavlovon Neumann, the pale woman in the goggles staring off at something no one else could see.  Distributed intelligence engineer.  Lancet knew better than to think he understood what wizards did or what they were capable of.

The one in the smock was Dr. Kes.  Beebe had brought him up from Zirconia because he had made some important discovery.

Dr. Kes asked everyone to come closer to Valljon’s corpse on the gurney. “A short while ago I performed a detailed scan on a smuggler named Almer Croix. There was something unusual with his nervous system that a lot of physicians would have missed.  I was able to refine the image and find a separate life form.  The patient’s immune system was ravaged and failing and this life form was to blame.  It was actually a highly evolved alien parasite that had taken root in the poor man’s spinal cord.  

Lancet couldn’t see what a sick Zirco had to do with the St. Christina’s Riot and the Rahab murders that had precipitated this secret meeting.

“Dr. Kes graciously agreed to perform the autopsies on the inmates of St. Christina’s clinic.  They all shared the same parasitic infestation, which I believe is linked to the recent wave of criminal insanity,” Beebe said.

Dr. Kes proudly held up a pair of tongs and dangled a long, oily ribbon of flesh.

Councilman Moab cleared his throat.  He awkwardly looked at the speaker on the ceiling, unused to addressing someone he could not hold in his glare. “Are you saying that the riots happened without a leader?  There was no agenda?”

“Quite the opposite, Councilman.  I have uncovered patterns of association between individuals on Avenir and Zirconia that suggest a loose organization.  When combined with the parasite cases an unmistakable network emerges.  There has been almost no communication between these individuals, however.  All of which leads me to believe that this network is coordinated through psychic transmissions,” Beebe said.

Lancet’s stomach dropped.  Was there going to be a war with the aliens?  Had it already begun?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Disaster Visitation

by Travis Perry

Lieutenant MacBane showed up for the meeting just in time, ushered quickly into the building adjoining the mayor’s, taking his seat among half-dozen key players at the conference table. He was too late in fact to hand off his “package” to Mayor Jonzn prior to the disaster-relief committee meeting. This put the mayor in a rather foul mood.

After  what “up abovers” in Avenir, in space, and on Sheba and Quatermain called “The War” (because it had been their only one), which the landsiders and undersea dwellers called “The Great War” (because there had been others on Eclectia), the Peace Council had been established to provide for a common legal system, with common police and military service, throughout all the diverse settlements in the system. Since Avenir had won the war with the help of the spacers, naturally the Peace Council met there and represented Avenir and spacer interests more than any of the people dwelling “down under.” All combined undersea colonies had exactly one representative on the council, the same number all landside colonies had. One.

The Peace Council directly controlled peacekeepers and through them, the enforcers. They also appointed governors to each significant individual location, in all regions: on the ground, underwater, and in space. The governors employed “ministers” to assist them. But these appointees did not replace native local governments and institutions where they had already existed...

“Our first item for the agenda should be the Avenir Gratitude School. Avenir has paid over two hundred thousand credits to establish this groundbreaking institution, yet all we’ve got for our troubles is a floor, four walls with doorways and windows, and a ceiling. We’ve gone through three contractors, and costs keep overrunning—”

“Hey, first off, this is bidness for the education committee, which meets next fiveday,” snarled Jonzn. “Second, maybe if you paid in real coin like everyone else uses, you’d get better results than you do with your useless Avenir credits!”

The governor’s eyes opened wide. “Useless! My dear mayor, any of the over two hundred and thirty merchants and vendors on Avenir will fully redeem all payments made in credits, plus your local money market allows transfer to your backward hard currency, if your contractors insist—”

“At a substantial loss!”

“This is by no means our fault, Mayor. If the Avenir Investment Ministry’s help is of no interest to you, AIM can just as well send monies to other backward areas. Such the Zirconia orphanage, for example—”

“Not that Avenir has an orphan problem,” said MacBane, rolling his eyes, chewing an unlit cigar.

The governor didn’t even glance at the official from Zirconia—his eyes remained fixed firmly on Jonzn’s. “Are you saying I should recommend to the Peace Council that AIM withdraw its assistance?” The governor leaned back in his aluminum frame padded chair that he’d brought with him to the meeting. Apparently the wrought iron chairs around the mayor’s polished brass conference table weren’t good enough for him…

Jonzn hastily changed his sneer into the best smile he could manage. Avenir credits were unfair—they benefitted the up-above economy at the expense of everyone else—and they didn’t amount to all that much real money. But they were a lot better than nothing and his people needed everything he could get for them. “Look, I’m sorry, Gov’ner. Had a bad mornin’. Didn’t get my lava tea this day. Of course we both want and need your help down ‘ere.” In the back of his mind Jonzn was wondering if he could start a rumor that would work its way up to the council and get this skyscrubber of a governor fired.

“In my opinion—” said MacBane. He didn’t finish, because at that moment the tsunami warning siren sounded over the city of Adagio, the signal to close the watergates, the only things protecting the city from certain destruction.

Jonzn squeezed his round belly out from underneath the table and ran for the door to his office. There, panting from the short sprint, he picked up his landline phone and dialed the main engineer house at the gates. Sweat drenched his head for reasons that had little to do with running.

“Tell me you got the gates fixed!”

“No, sir! The west gate is still open and won’t close. I repeat, the west gate is still open!”

Sunday, August 19, 2012


by Joseph H. Ficor

Stotter stood shocked. Shouhei’s shot came close, but missed. Stotter fired his own weapon. He hit Fiko in the left shoulder. His sudden surprise at the Governor’s prize puppy suddenly turning aggressive ruined his aim.

Shouhei had collapsed on the ground. He was holding his bleeding shoulder.

An eternity passed before Stotter heard the thud behind him.

Stotter turned to see who had been Shouhei’s true target.

There was not much left of the face, but the slim body and the curved, saw toothed knife in the corpse’s right hand was enough to identify him. Jing Laforsé. Even more wanted than the smuggler. He was a professional hitman who favored stealth and his knife to any sort of firearm. He sometimes traveled with Rawlings on runs.

Stotter’s hard exterior returned. He kicked at Shouhei. He held his pistol at the young Enforcer’s head. But he could not bring himself to pull the trigger. He lowered his weapon.

“Get up Fiko!”

Shouhei obeyed and the two walked past the corpses to the elevator.

The only speech in the elevator was Stotter using his communicator to request a clean-up crew to come and collect the bodies.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


by Fred Warren

Melanie stood in the shadow of the obsidian mountains, alone this time. No ninja outfit, no dodging and weaving her way from boulder to bush, trying to hide from an enemy that wasn't there. Most of all, there was no Carson and no Hamsa. She'd catch hell later for doing the retrieval without them, but they'd just slow her down.

This place, deserted or not, gave her the creeps. It felt haunted. The twisted drill bit embedded in the fractured cliff ahead was Jumbo's Folly, the headstone of a reckless gamer who died trying to break into whatever was protected by the mysterious black wall. Carson thought it was Paradise, the fabled home of the legendary Dreamers. Melanie thought he was nuts.

He'd abandoned life beyond his simulation couch, but he was her brother. She'd never abandon him.

Whatever it was, it didn't want visitors. Two days ago, Carson and his friends had detected a data leak here, and she'd sent a reconnaissance AI into a crack in the firewall. By now, the chameleon program should have filled its memory with the information they'd need to penetrate the enclave without triggering a lethal response.

It was time to recover Flat Audrey and get out of here.

“Audrey, return.”

The slender black ribbon that dropped from the gash in the cliff lay in the grass for a moment, then curled up on itself like a tiny serpent, whistling in a reedy voice, *MISSION COMPLETE.*

Melanie picked it up and set it in the palm of her right hand. “Welcome back, Audrey. How are you?”


This was an odd status report, even from Audrey. “What don't you like about it?”


“No argument here. Were you detected?”


“Yes, you are. Let's go home.”

It was a relief to get out of the gaming rig. Melanie used the suite's interface to transfer Audrey from the network into a memory stick, then she returned to her own room and plugged the stick into a stand-alone workstation. She didn't want anybody else seeing what Audrey had discovered behind the firewall.

She opened the first archive and groaned. It was encrypted.

“Audrey, why didn't you decrypt this data?”


Melanie chuckled. There weren't many AIs that could make a synthesized voice sound sad. The developers usually didn't bother. Audrey, however, was a labor of love.

“It's not your fault, baby. I programmed you.”


“Saucy girl.” Melanie could still hack the encrypted files, but she'd have to call in a favor from one of her tech school classmates who had a bone to pick with the Peacekeepers. “Is anything you collected not encrypted?”


“Do tell. This must be the guy who lit up Jumbo's Folly. Let's take a look.” Her fingers flew across the touchpad, and lines of data, readable data, flowed across the screen. Technical specifications of the user's simulation rig. Network addresses. Data volume and rate of flow. At the end of it all was a standard colonist identification code cluster. And a name.

Melanie blinked. “John Milton?”

She knew the name. Milton was a celebrity, a big-shot businessman, an import-export broker. It didn't make sense. This guy was too busy making money to waste any time on sims. He played his games in the real world with real people. What possible connection could he have with the Dreamers? Why would he care?

He wouldn't.

Melanie smiled. That was the answer. There weren't any Dreamers. The obsidian firewall was there to protect records of shady business deals, or embezzlement, or bribes paid to government officials. That would make a lot more sense than a play world for disembodied relics of a bygone age. If she could prove it, her brother would lose interest in Jumbo's Folly, and the firewall, and the missing memory blocks in the network servers. He'd go back to his friends and his games and stop risking his life sticking his nose where it didn't belong.

It was time to pay a visit to Mr. John Milton.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Blowout: A Breath of Fresh Vacuum

by Walt Staples

While many women wore tiger stripes, Emily Shore was one of the few who wore their hair in that fashion so naturally as to not arouse notice. What did arouse notice and comment was the way she moved when in a hurry or on a mission. Many likened it to that a house cat, though only because few were aware of the genus of extinct large Felidae named Panthera. In the present case, she was both in a hurry and on a mission.

Myron DuPont took a drink from the bottle of soft drink he kept on his cleaning cart. He paced himself. 231 was finished. A break of a minute or two, then 233. The other side of the corridor was done. Four more and he’d be done for the day. That was the trick, pacing oneself. He capped the bottle and set it back on the cart. He glanced up and smiled as the lady from 233 hurried down the hall. While they had never really spoken to each other, the apartment’s resident always smiled if she happened to pass. This time was different as the tall, austere women with the tiger stripes stopped and held out a hand. “Give me your master pass.”

Myron blinked at her. “Pardon?”

There was impatience and an undertone of—Myron looked at her—fear?—in her voice as she repeated, “Give me your master pass.” She almost barked, “Now, boy.”

The cleaner fumbled with his pass as he unclipped it from his worksuit pocket. “But, ma’am, I’ve got the apartment set for cleaning.”

The woman snatched the pass from him. “I don’t care. This is important.” She turned to the door and held the pass to it. The entrance obediently dilated for her as she swept in. She stopped just for a moment, surprised to see all the lights on and the doors to the dining and kitchenette, the guest refresher, her office, and the bedroom standing open. She shrugged and stepped further into the apartment. The door closed behind her. Suddenly loose objects flew into the air and pain lanced her ears. She opened her mouth to scream and there came a sensation of a “pop” in her tortured ears as the pressure tried to equalize. There was a shattering sound as the large plastisheet window before her bowed out, fragmented, and disappeared in a loud whoosh of escaping atmosphere. She, along with all the other loose furnishings, went out the empty window into the vacuum and blackness that surrounded the habitat. A mercy was extended as she crashed into one of the support struts of Avenir’s solar array.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Sickening Plunge Part 1

by Jeff C. Carter

Lancet watched the other people in the bleak bare elevator with him.  Councilman Moab he already knew quite well.  The well dressed man with the dark skin and the easy smile looked familiar, but Lancet couldn’t place him.  He didn’t buy the vapid smile; not when he could feel the dark eyes above it assessing him in return.  The pale woman with the slack face framed by thick goggles and wild gray hair he had never seen before, yet he recognized her as a wizard all the same.

The elevator squealed open at a dim sub-floor below the Sheba Forced Labor Penal Colony.  The wizard wandered off without a word down a poorly lit hallway.  They did their best to follow but the passage was choked with mounds of battered old equipment.   The wizard stared at her feet as she walked through the claustrophobic maze, yet she managed to skirt every obstacle.

Lancet looked around and noticed deep gouges and dents on every surface of the hallway.  The wizard stopped at a row of pipes along the wall.

“Hang on,” she murmured.

Suddenly, gravity quit.  Lancet and the others quickly joined the wizard at the pipes.  The equipment in the hallway drifted and smashed into the ceiling.  Soon it was spinning out of control, careening off walls and colliding into each other. 

Lancet and the others bobbed for a moment in silence.  A hefty piece of machinery pitched towards them and Lancet gave it a sharp kick down the hall.  The recoil nearly scattered them into the chaos. There was a sickening plunge in Lancet’s stomach, which he knew from experience meant that artificial gravity was about to resume.  They landed amid a deafening thunder as heavy equipment crashed to the ground.

The wizard wandered onward, effortlessly dodging the machines as they bounced and tumbled into their new places. The well dressed man flashed a wide grin and sauntered after her.  Moab gave Lancet one of his infamous ‘unamused’ looks and followed.

They reached the end of the corridor and came to a single door. A small sign marked it as the prison morgue.  It was a fitting place to meet, Lancet mused, for they were there to plan treason.  Worse, in fact.  Much, much worse. 

Perhaps in time they would end up back where it all began.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


by Travis Perry

Burt Jonzn peered at the engraved sheet fifty centimeters by fifty, cut from bugshell—his grandfather’s almanac. He’d been fishing all his life but he still didn’t know when the complex tides of Eclectia would go in and out without studying the numbers in the tables and performing some quick computations. Of course, he took this as perfectly normal—his cousin Edard had once told him the tides of the world of their ancestors were much simpler, but God and everybody knew what a liar Edard was.

A quick glance at the sky and the position of the Whale low on the horizon confirmed the time. “Mount up, boys. She’ll be in any minute.”

His six fishermen mounted the stone steps to the berth high over this inlet to the Northern Ocean called “Funders Cove.” They stepped from there into the boat, an aluminum framer, purchased new from the vessel sales yard over Zirconia not two Foundings past. He’d heard it told the undersea city had taken up extracting metals for their building needs straight from the seawater—better to avoid paying the taxes on Avenir-refined ore. He had no idea if this bit of news from his politics-tainted cousin were true or not, but he did know he could buy quality boats at Zirconia Landing for far cheaper than he ever could from the Avenir-dominated Palmer Trading Company. And that never used to be so.

The water rushed into the cove in a torrent, rough hills covered with barren heaps of volcanic rock and powdery ash framing the left and right limits of the sea’s domain. Water rolled under the twenty-meter vessel in a boil. There were only three other berths in this isolated cove, none of the others currently occupied. Unlike Adagio, no walls protected this shore from tsunamis. All rocky homes here were high in the hills, safe from high waves, but fishermen could get killed easy enough on the way to and fro. But the fishing was much, much better here than anywhere close to Adagio…and Burt had a keen eye for signs of sudden disaster.

The Zirconian biodiesel motor roared and the aluminum hull thrust forward, taking the vessel far from the shore long before a capricious tide could strand the commercial boat. They’d sell their catch to Zirconia in exchange for good hard coin and needed goods, then time their ingress to their home cove at just the right moment to make it safely back to their berth.

After three hours at sea, Burt checked his compass and the chart he’d carved into bugshell himself ten Foundings ago. “This is the bank, boys. Cast off.” This shallow spot far out to sea teemed with scaled bluefish. Plus he’d never seen an angel in the area—and never wanted to see one either.

His crew tossed the leading edge of the net into the sea and Burt maneuvered the boat into a loop as the net continued to play out. In time, the fish trapped, four of the men in teams of two hand-cranked the two stainless steel reels that drew in each side of the net, while two of his men with hooks removed meter-long and longer blues from the net and cast them down the square gap in the deck into the fish hold.

As the net neared the point where all of it would be brought back into the vessel, Burt noticed his men struggling with the reel cranks. “What’s on, boys? Sam and Rikay not bringing in the fish fast enough?”

“No, boss,” shouted back Erik, “Most of ‘em are up. Net’s just too heavy somehow. Maybe’s scraped somethin’ up from the bottom!”

“Sam, Rikay, help with the cranks.” Burt stepped toward the rear of the boat. He took Sam’s fishhook and himself pulled blues and scraps out of the way. He saw the net strain downward with the weight of something below water. Three of them per each crank, straining hard, his brawny men were just able to raise it.

Water poured off a flat disc trapped in the net as it raised, pulling bottom mud off its surface as it ran down. Clearly the bank was shallower here than he’d thought. Burt reached out for the disc with a hook. “Help me here boys, let’s get this aboard!”

The boat was just wide enough to receive the wide but relatively thin disk he and his men just managed to get into the vessel. Three things were immediately evident about it, other than its sheer size. First, it had been crafted by someone—this was nothing found lying around in nature. Second, it was at least coated with what appeared to be pure gold. And last, it was covered on both sides in symbols spiraling in and out from the center, in a form of writing completely unlike anything Burt had ever seen before.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Last Stop

by Kaye Jeffreys

Logan came up out of his chair and leaned heavy over Tuskagin's metal desk. "Are you trying to cheat me?"

"No, no. It is a fair price." Tuskagin backed his chair against the wall.

"You think I started hunting diamonds yesterday? Give them back. I'll take them to Sring Plant Valley where they will pay me what they are worth."

"You know the market fluctuates, Logan."

"It's your devotion to drink that makes you think you can rob me. Your father would be ashamed to see you. Now there was a fair man, God rest his soul." Logan fisted his hand over his heart as a sign of respect.

"All right, I'll give you what you ask." Tuskagin counted out credits. "You will ruin me."


Reece walked at Logan's elbow down the street. "Dad, I never heard you talk to Tuskagin like that before."

"He pushed me too far. You must never let the assayers take advantage of you. It's a matter of survival."

Reece nodded his agreement then whispered, "You see the guy following us?"

Logan didn't look back, he'd already seen him. "This is turning into a really bad day."

"Do you think he's from Avenir?"

"He's too tall to be from around here. His clothes are too new. He's probably some station-slicker con man who thinks he has found an easy target in a couple of outlanders."

"Hide out in the alley?"

"Yeah, we’ll give him a surprise."


The two miners turned into an alley.

Jereth picked up his step. What he would say when he caught up with them, he didn't know. He just couldn't lose them. Not now.

Jereth made it to the corner and turned.

One of the miners grabbed his jacket, pushed him up against the wall and glared up into Jereth's eyes. "What do you want?"

"I'm... I'm looking for the miners."

"Well, you found them." The man held Jereth against the wall with compacted strength. As he studied Jereth he brought his eyebrows together. "Who are you?"

"Jereth Davis, sir. My mother  was..."

"Deirdre..." The miner's expression softened and he looked through Jereth to a far away place.

"Yes, Deirdre..." Jereth thought he better talk fast. "She was Deirdre Lewis from The Miners of the Five Rims. That's who you are, right? The Miners of the Five Rims?"

Sterness returned to the man's face. "Did your father send you?"

"He doesn't know I'm here."

The miner smiled, released Jereth's jacket, and stepped back. "Doesn't know you're here?"

"At least he didn't know when I left. Who knows what he knows now?" Jereth smoothed out his jacket.

"Well, Jereth Davis, my sister's son, welcome home. We've been watching for you."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sudden Turn

by Joseph H. Ficor

Shouhei turned to see the muzzle of Stotter’s pistol only a few centimeters away from his face.

“Sir,” Shouhei fought to keep a professional composure, “why are you threatening me with your firearm?”

Stotter tilted his head to the right in mild surprise and smiled. “Are you so naïve? I thought that your short time with us would have wizened you up to real life.”

Shouhei maintained his composure despite the fear that flooded his mind like a tsunami torrent. “No sir, I’m not naïve anymore. I guess the Governor is tired of his prize puppy?”

Stotter nodded his head in acknowledgment. “You got it. Not bad for a piece of dust.” His smiled broadened. “You see, here’s how life works on Carlston’s Cove: Your life span is equal to your usefulness. Your’s just hasn’t been very long.”

“How are you going to explain my death to my family?”

“Any spacing way that we want,” Stotter shouted. Then he relaxed and calmly resumed. “I guess we can just say you died in the gunfight. You’ll get a nice medal—posthumously, of course. And maybe a nice funeral. Maybe your parents will get a nice… What are you doing?”

Stotter stopped as Shouhei eyes widened. The young enforcer raised the pistol in his hand and aimed it at Stotter.

Stotter grinned at the sudden turn of events. “If you intend to shoot me…”

Shouhei cut him off. “I don’t intend to.” And fired.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


by Fred Warren

Vicky tugged at John’s arm as they walked up the broad, grassy slope to the clearing where a group of people sat around a long table laden with flowers and exotic food. John was still gaping at the rainbow-colored birds, swaying palm trees, and most of all, the turquoise-blue water that surrounded this tiny island. When he didn’t respond, she pulled on his ear with enough force to make him double over.

“Keep your mouth shut and smile a lot,” she whispered, “Talk only if somebody asks you a question. When you do talk, don’t be boring, if that’s possible.”

“Thanks.” John rubbed his ear and straightened his jacket. “I’ll try to remember that.”

A low burble of conversation coalesced into intelligible words as they approached the banquet table.

“In my opinion, they’ve become far too dangerous. How long do you intend to let them run on?”

“Teriyaki chicken? I’ve never heard of it.”

“Levitation? You’re joking. That’s impossible.”

“Oh, a while yet. The scheme amuses me, and their blundering draws attention away from our activities. After they’ve been exposed, it should be easier for us to proceed.”

“Take a bite. It’s one of the formulations I recovered last week. Since I incorporated my new algorithm into the core recovery utility, I’ve repaired fifteen teras of memory I thought was lost forever.”

“I watched it happen. If only I’d thought to initiate a recording. There’s more going on here than meets the eye.”

“Just don’t wait until they’ve wrecked the entire station and decimated the colony. Pineapple?”

“Mmm. It’s heavenly. I may eat nothing else for days.”

“Next you’ll claim they’re conjuring apparitions of the Holy Virgin.”

 “Don’t mind if I do. Thank you. How goes the refit? ”

“Wait ‘til you taste the lemon meringue pie.”

“Don’t scoff. You should peruse my predecessor’s archives sometime. Avenir Eclectia’s history is chock full of unexplained phenomena. He was convinced there’s a spiritual element to it.”

“Poorly. There’s nothing for it but to completely strip and resurface the radiation shield. I can jigger the nanofactories to produce the necessary materials, but I’ll have to move at a snail’s pace to avoid attracting attention. It will be at least one more Founding before we can think of proceeding to the next step.”

“I’m hoping our new recruit can help us expedite that. Ah, here he is now.”  The man at the head of the table rose from his chair. He wore a white, military-styled cutaway jacket trimmed with gold braid. Wavy black hair fell almost to his shoulders, and his brown eyes and dark complexion made the brilliance of his smile that much more striking. “I am Captain Kagan Aziz, and these are my friends and advisors.”

A burly, redheaded man wearing a uniform similar to Aziz’ stood up and seized John’s hand in a crushing grip. “Otherwise known as ‘The Staff.’  I’m Colin Finn, First Officer, in charge of colony liaison and human intelligence.”

The other officers arose in turn and moved around the table to greet John.

“Girard LeBeau, Engineering.”

“Yeong Soo Min, Astrophysics and Navigation.”

“Nigel Cromwell, Security.”

“Jiro Sukahara, Chaplain.”

John nodded at each one, accepted and returned a firm handshake, and tried to maintain an expression of polite interest, the only way he could think to follow Vicky’s instructions without looking like a complete idiot. So these are the Dreamers. It beggared belief. The descendants of Avenir’s original command crew, living in a virtual world but still influencing the colony their ancestors helped found so long ago. Not a legend. Real, powerful, and active.

But there aren’t very many. Are these all of them?

Aziz finished the introductions: “You’re already well acquainted with Anya Sherikov, Communications Officer, and your lovely escort, Victoria Remsen, Medical and Life Sciences. Please, join us. I must apologize in advance…the food and drink will have little taste due to the limitations of your interface, but once you are fully integrated into our network, I promise you flavors and sensations beyond your wildest imagination.”

“So Anya has told me, but I haven’t actually decided whether…”

Cromwell interrupted in a rumbling voice that matched his scowling, craggy face. “Anya, I thought we agreed not to use the visitor interface until the firewall was repaired.”

“This is a situation of some urgency, Nigel.” She flicked her fingers in an airy wave, as if she was shooing off an annoying insect. “Don’t worry, I’m monitoring the fracture. There have been no attempts to probe or penetrate it, only some idle chatter on the Gaming net.”

He tapped the table with a stubby finger. “I will not tolerate any compromise of the firewall.”

The carefree mirth vanished from Anya’s countenance. “Oh, I’m certain all the Gamers are still shivering in terror after what you did the last time. It was excessive, and it compounded the damage. You probably drew more attention to our existence than any number of data leaks.”

“I’ll do it again, if necessary.”

Anya pushed up from her chair and slowly leaned across the table, coming almost nose-to-nose with Nigel. “The Command Network firewall is my domain. You will not apply active countermeasures without my consent.”

“I won’t need consent if I void your security clearance.”

“Ha! I’d like to see you try.”

Aziz raised a hand. “That’s enough bickering, both of you. This is no way to behave in the presence of a guest. Anya, continue to monitor for intruders. If Nigel thinks countermeasures are necessary, I would like input from the entire staff before I decide whether or not to respond. Is that clear?”

The two combatants remained silent, eyes locked.

Aziz steepled his fingers beneath his chin and sighed. “Is. That. Clear?”

 “Yessir.” Anya flopped back into her chair and turned it sideways.

“Yes…sir,” Nigel growled.

“Excellent. Now, to business. Mr. Milton, we have been observing you for some time, and are very impressed with your business acumen and technical expertise. Most of all, you appear to share our vision for the future of this colony. Anya thinks you would make a worthy replacement for her when the time comes, and I concur.”

Vicky piped up. “Miss Sherikov doesn’t need replacing. I’m going to make her well.”

“Your father spent many years studying Anya’s ailment, without success,” said Aziz. “We must prepare for the worst-case scenario.”

“Father was close to a cure. I know I can finish it.”

“Victoria, now is not the time.”

Her face flushed. She fixed her eyes on her plate, but her shoulders were trembling. “No! If I don’t figure this out, we’re all…”

Aziz’ voice cracked like a whip. “Victoria!”

There was silence all around the table for several long moments, then Vicky murmured, “I’m sorry, Captain.”

He reached across the table to grasp her hand, and John was surprised she didn’t pull away.  “We are all very fond of Anya, but we must also acknowledge the reality of her situation. It may be that you will identify an effective treatment, but we cannot risk a gap in transition for the Communications function. Many things depend on its smooth operation.”

Anya  gently encircled Vicky’s shoulders. “I have confidence in your skill, dear one, but the Captain is right. We must be prepared. Anyway, it’s a long while yet before we have to worry. In the meantime, our new friend has many things to learn.”

Vicky sniffed and rubbed her nose. “That’s for sure.”

Aziz leaned back in his chair and gestured toward John. “As you may have noticed, despite living in this virtual paradise, we are not a community of lotus eaters. We are passionate about a great many things, and it keeps life interesting, at the price of an argument or two along the way. Now, I’m sure you have many questions about us. Proceed.”

John didn’t hesitate. “I’ve at least a hundred, but there’s one thing I’m particularly curious about. You said I share your vision for the colony. I don’t understand. I don’t have a vision for Avenir Eclectia. In my opinion, it was a mistake for us to settle here.”

 “Precisely.” Aziz smiled and twiddled a tiny cocktail umbrella between his fingers. “We are convinced the colony is no longer viable. It must be relocated.”