Thursday, May 30, 2013

Game Changer, Part 2

by Mary Ruth Pursselley -

Ash storms blasted Adagio all through the night, hissing and scratching against the window of Robin’s room, but he barely noticed. Morning came and went in similar fashion. He hadn’t slept or eaten since starting work on the angel disk the previous afternoon.

“Incredible,” he said aloud for what must have been the three-hundredth time—not that he was keeping track of that, either. He’d completely forgotten everything but the disk. He had a stack of paper covered with translations, notes, and corrections, most of which were scrawled so haphazardly that even he would have trouble reading it later. But that didn’t matter. All that mattered was the revolutionary information flowing from the disk’s inscription.

It was a Founding-by-Founding record of an angel civilization’s attempt to colonize land. If it was to be believed—and at this point Robin had no reason not to believe it—the angels had actually built a water-filled city, like a giant aquarium, on a peninsula that, according to the descriptions, wasn’t far from where the fishermen had found the disk.

A good portion of the inscription was taken up with growth records of the city’s population, descriptions of the algae and fish they raised for food, and a few incredible passages describing technological developments or cultural practices. There was scarcely a sentence in the entire thing that wouldn’t rock the academic world all by itself.

There were also several passages alluding to light and dark, and Robin had been at a loss for hours trying to decipher them. Finally, he had realized that the references to light and dark weren’t literal: the angels had named their city “Light”.

The name carried some literal connotation in that there was more light from the Whale on the surface than undersea, but most of it seemed to stem from the angels’ relief at having escaped the “dark ones” and what Robin took to be some kind of undersea war.

If he was interpreting the information correctly, Robin realized that this disk proved more than the fact that angels were sentient and intelligent. It proved that they were moral—creatures with understanding of right and wrong, and the means and will to fight about it.

The implications of that were staggering. Even Robin, whose love of revolutionary discoveries was unrivaled, had to wonder if Eclectia was ready to face this.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Encoded Vellum: Part 5

by Jeff Chapman -

Brother Peter stopped in the doorway. “Would a glass of water refresh you, Brother Anthony? I’m afraid Brother Sebastian is in for a very long story.”

“Not as long as you think,” said the Abbot. “But, yes, a glass of water would be most kind.”

“I live to serve.” The director dipped his head in a bow so shallow and quick that only a member of the order would have remarked it. Displays of humility permeated the daily life of the order. One could tell a novice, the brothers joked, by the depth of his bow.

The Abbot lowered his head as he twisted his neck to look at the patient. The movement puffed out the Abbot’s jowls, adding another curve to the roundness of his corpulent form. The stubble from black and white whiskers peppered his chin and neck which sheened with sweat. His lips moved in silent prayer.

Much of the literature brought from Earth on the Avenir had been lost in the core collapses, with one particularly notable exception: a folder of English stories including Robinson Crusoe; Moll Flanders; A Journal of the Plague Year; King Lear; Macbeth; fragments of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and a number of other works. Sebastian had read them all again and again and marvelled that such an alien world had ever existed except in man’s fancy. Among those literary castaways survived the story of Robin Hood. Friar Tuck came to mind whenever Sebastian passed the Abbot clicking through the halls with his staff. Friar Tuck wielded his stout stick as a weapon. Could Abbot Anthony do the same? Sebastian grinned.

“You are amused, Brother Sebastian?”

“No.” The medico resumed the stony countenance he thought befitting a monk and physician. His work bore grave consequences, and the more serious his demeanour, the more confidence patients would place in his pronouncements.  “I was thinking of something else.”

“Hmm. We shall see.”

Another reproach or no? To Sebastian, the Abbot seemed to talk on some elevated plane within a context Sebastian only vaguely understood. He found the Abbot’s occasional homilies impossible to follow though others talked for days of their brilliant subtlety.

The Abbot inhaled three times, each breath deeper than the last, filling up his lungs, it appeared, as a balloon, in preparation for a long talk. His cheeks trembled with each exhalation. The younger brothers considered the Abbot’s longevity a miracle, and Sebastian tended to agree.

“What I know,” began the Abbot, “is only hearsay from brothers long dead.” He crossed himself, blessing their souls. Sebastian did likewise. “Our lives are not worthy of veneration except our works of charity and devotion in service to God and others. Even the portraits of the former abbots are cause for debate.”

Sebastian nodded in agreement.

“But I think some connection to the past is necessary or we are lost, adrift on a river of which we know not the source.”

Sebastian found himself again nodding, agreeing with the opposite view and feeling a fool.

Brother Peter entered bearing the Abbot’s water. “The meeting is arranged immediately prior to evening prayers. We may push back the start of dinner to accommodate.”

“Very good, Peter.”

“Abbot Anthony is a font of wisdom,” said the director to Sebastian. “Take note and listen carefully.” Brother Peter looked back and winked as he passed out of the room. Whether he winked at the Abbot or Sebastian, Sebastian could not tell.

“Brother Septimus was a very bright young man,” said the Abbot. “Extremely fond of puzzles. As a teenager he twice won the Avenir’s crossword competition and excelled at mathematics and cryptography. He might have been a so-called wizard. I see you nodding. Yes.” The Abbot glanced at the manuscript on the bedside table. “He has left us a puzzle to solve.”

“Something extraordinary must have happened to him,” said Sebastian. “To draw him to our life.”

“As with all of us,” answered the Abbot.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Word Carrier 8: Two by Two

by Heidi Kortman - 

Bede waited. He had yet to meet anyone who took the presence of a quarr as something ordinary. His teacher’s eyes widened slightly, and his adam’s apple bobbed.

“A most unusual creature,” Brother Charles said. He lifted one hand, then let it drop, and took a half-step away. “I’m not sure I like the way it’s looking at me.” He shook his head. “Come this way,” he gestured across the gallery. “There’s a banquet in the refectory tonight.”

“Always up for a bit of tucker, I am,” said Douay Bede’s father. “The quarr won’t hurt ye, he’s been tamed. Ruben’s been good at that since he was a little ’un.”

“Silas, it’s Douay Bede now.”

“Yes, Myrna. Come along.” He reached back, to wrap his arm around her waist and steer her along as they walked.

Just inside an arch, a stocky figure waited—Bishop Guash. The bishop’s crucifix glittered in the gallery lights as he rushed toward them.

“Brother Charles. What is that creature, and how did it get here?”

The bishop’s tone so matched his habitual bulldog scowl that if he weren’t a dangerous man to cross, Brother Charles would have broken out in laughter. Instead he made a quick gesture. Douay Bede stopped beside him. “We might as well get this out of the way.”

On the Bible’s shoulder, the quarr crouched and flattened his ears. Douay Bede reached up and tapped its muzzle. “No,” he whispered. The creature shifted, then yawned.

Ordinarily, Bishop Guash started his arguments nearly nose-to-nose with his targets, but this time he halted sooner. “What is that?”

Brother Charles drew breath. He opened his mouth, but the honorific stuck. “Your Grace,”—he forced the words out—“this is a quarr, Douay Bede’s publication gift to the Order.”

The bishop snorted. “Outrageous. Who thought that would be appropriate?”

Douay Bede’s father stepped forward, his face flushed. Instead of speaking, the man began a fit of the distinctive ash lung coughing. Douay Bede went pale, but squared his shoulders.

“Bishop Guash—Your Grace—my father is a bugherd. This quarr is the most valuable thing he could find to give. My father trapped him on the west range of the property he works.”

“Why should the Order value such a beast?”

“Pangur Ban eats spiders and their eggs. All quarr do.”

“Broken your vows already, Bede.” The bishop turned his left palm up, then clenched his fist. “You had no right to name what belongs to the Order, as though it was your possession. Bibles own nothing.”

“You don’t understand,” Myrna said, as she struggled to support her sagging husband. Brother Charles moved behind Douay Bede to help her.

Guash glared at her. “Quiet, woman.”

“Your Grace.” Douay Bede swallowed hard. “I had to name the quarr to domesticate him. If I had not, he would be uncontrollable.”

 “Domesticated, eh?” The bishop stretched his short neck, and stared at the quarr’s head. “Can’t say I like looking at those mismatched eyes. Eats spiders?”

“Yes, Your Grace.” Douay Bede shifted his weight to his other foot as his stomach rumbled. Pangur Ban bumped Bede’s left ear, then leaped down, and stalked into the darkness under one of the stone benches.

He thrummed. After some scrabbling and one solid thump, Pangur Ban emerged head and tail high, to drop a dead metallic blue spider almost on top of Douay Bede’s sandal.

Bishop Guash staggered back. Bede sighed. “Pangur Ban, I’m not that hungry. Eat it yourself.”

The quarr blinked once before disposing of the carcass in three bites.

“Let us not forget the banquet,” Brother Charles said. Well-prepared food tended to distract Bishop Guash from his arguments. “Silas, the refectory is down the corridor and to the right. If I help, do you think you can make it?”

Silas nodded, trembling as he fought to repress the cough.

Brother Charles and Douay Bede’s parents passed the bishop, who continued to scowl and stand in Bede’s path.

“Bibles own nothing,” Guash repeated. “Tomorrow you embark for Avenir. You must leave the creature behind with me.” He shuddered.

“Forgive me, Your Grace, but it won’t work that way. Pangur Ban won’t obey you.” If this confrontation lasted much longer, he wouldn’t have another chance to speak with his parents. He wouldn’t be seated near them at the banquet. How much time did Da have?

“You said the beast was domesticated.” The bishop’s scowl deepened.

“He obeys me because during domestication, he heard my voice alone. The process only works before the first growth spurt, Your Grace.”

Brother Charles returned. “Bishop Guash, the brothers are waiting for you to bless the meal.”

The bishop made a shooing gesture. “Douay Bede and I are not finished.”

“Your Grace, the dermestid chowder will congeal if you delay much longer. Brother Trout has also prepared a dish of curried seraph nymphs. Please—” Brother Charles reached out to tug the bishop’s sleeve.

“Douay Bede, I expect to see you, and that creature, here in the Gallery after the banquet.” The bishop turned on his heel, toward the corridor and refectory.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Test of Manhood

by Kaye Jeffreys - 

Enue climbed the sharp rock slope, careful to mimic the motion of the wind so the spider would not sense him coming. He clutched his spear in his hand, careful to keep it from clanking against the rock and alerting the spider to his presence.

The spear was a prize, a gift from his father for this trial. Scavanged from a ruin, it was heavy, made of metal and sharpened to a razor point.

Enue hesitated at the edge. Even over the sound of the wind, the spider scratched and bellowed. This was not the lethal silence of the hunter they had prepared him for. He peered over the edge down into a cave. His stomach depressed with disappointment. The spider wasn't very big, only about the size of Enue himself.

The spider hobbled and swayed, scraping its head and back against jagged rock. It stopped only to bellow or screech, shaking its head and rubbing it against its leg. It must be wounded or ill. Why else would it rock and turn itself in such a strange dance?

There was an egg sac webbed to the wall that would be a prize back home among his people. But he must deal with the spider first.

Enue waited for the beast to turn its back to him while it ground its head into the floor of the cave.

Enue leapt down into the lair upon a boulder. He plunged his spear into the back of the spider, wedging it between two plates. It took all his strength to pin the beast to the floor.

The spider spun around the spear, blindly grasping all around, but it could not reach Enue. The beast slowed until finally it collapsed into a heap ending its dance with death in defeat.

Enue waited. When the death stench burned his nose, he withdrew his spear and dropped to the floor of the cave. The spider's pinchers were no longer than his middle finger, acceptable but not exceptional. Enue sawed them off with his knife and put them into his pouch. He turned to the egg sac on the wall, cut it free, and slipped it into his pouch with the pinchers.

He climbed out of the cave to escape the foul odor and descended the slope to stand amidst gurgling geysers that warmed him and steamed his nostrils clean of the smell. Pulling the pinchers again from his pouch, he examined them with a clearer head away from the stink of the cave. The pinchers looked even smaller out in the open than what they did in the cave. He shook his head and put them back in the pouch. He'd hold onto them in case he did not cross the path of another spider, then at least he wouldn't go back empty handed. But this little spider was too easy, and diseased, not a true test.

Enue pulled out the egg sac. It would not keep until he could get back. It neared the time of expulsion when hundreds of little spiders would stream out. Enue held the sac over a bubbling geyser and dropped it.

Then he turned his face toward the deep wilderness, away from home and safety. He had to find a bigger spider, a true test. Then it would be proven that he was a man.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


by Fred Warren -  

“Let me in!”


“I need your help! Open up! Now!”

The narrow corridor that dead-ended at Carson’s room was deserted, a welcome relief after Melanie’s flight through the smoke and chaos of the ring sector beyond, choked with fleeing colonists and swarming spiders. She figured she had only a few minutes, at best, before the spiders decided to investigate this passage. Her palms were already fiery red from banging on the door. Why was he being so stubborn?

Her brother’s voice was maddeningly calm, a bored drone of indifference magnified by the commbox’s tinny vibration. “You know the rules, Sis. That door opens for nothing and no one. If you want to talk, log yourself into the game net or message me.”

There was a rumbling sound in the distance, followed by a long, warbling shriek that climbed slowly in both pitch and volume, then stopped, as if it had been cut off with a knife.

Melanie swallowed hard and fought to keep her voice steady. “Do you have any idea what’s happening out here?”

“Don’t know, don’t care. This is a really inconvenient time to pester me. My guild’s getting ready to run the Fathomless Catacombs in Wizard’s Realm, and I still have to equip.”

“Carson…I…am…in…trouble! The whole station’s gone haywire. Things are exploding, and there are spiders everywhere!”

“How do you expect me to help? Go back to your apartment, or call an Enforcer.”

“The corridors to my apartment are sealed off, and the only Enforcers I’ve seen are running as fast as they can in the opposite direction. These spiders are aggressive…the brown ones are attracted to motion, the gray ones move in packs, and the red ones go straight for the throat. I need a safe place to hide. You’re all I’ve got.”

“Don’t be such a baby. They’re bugs. One-shot kills.”

“This isn’t a game, idiot. I don’t have a gun.”

“Fine. Step on them. Hit ’em with…with a book or something.”

“Aaggh! Would you please link into the public cam server and actually look at what I’m dealing with here?”

“Will it shut you up?”


“Oh, all right. Hold your water.”

The corridor was still empty. Melanie stared at the commbox, wishing she could pull words from it by sheer force of will. “Carson? Are you there? Do you see it?”

Silence, then a metallic hiss. “Yeah, yeah, I see it. What a mess. This is the sort of thing that started me gaming in the first place. I still don’t understand how you can bear living outside.”

Something tugged at the edge of her awareness, a faint crackling—or scratching. She checked the corridor again. It was clear, but a whiff of acrid smoke tickled her nostrils. “Understand it later. For now, just open the door and let me in.”

“I can’t do that.”

“I don’t believe this. You’re going to leave me out here to be eaten by…by who-knows-what, while you go scamper through some infantile fairyland with your pathetic friends?”

“Is that what you think of me?” The boredom was gone. Even through the commbox, his voice was soft, almost plaintive.

She stiffened. “No…I’m sorry…I didn’t mean…” The scratching sound was louder now, and her hands pounded a staccato drumbeat on the door. “Carson, this is not the moment for this particular argument! Let me in, and we can spend all the time you want debating the pros and cons of your lifestyle choices!”

“Stay where you are. You’ll be fine. I’ll watch you on the door camera. There’s nothing in this corridor that would interest a spider. Once the Enforcers get a handle on the situation, you can go home.”

The skittering of a million fingernails across aluminum plate preceded a fuzzy river of tiny grey spiders that surged into the corridor and flowed toward Melanie.

She flattened herself against the door’s cold, unyielding metal. “Carson!”

No answer.

Then something gave, and she tumbled backward into darkness. Her right foot barely cleared the threshold as the door cycled shut again, and myriad tiny nails clicked and scraped outside.

It took a few moments to figure out which way was up.  There was light—dim, but sufficient to begin making sense of her surroundings. She groaned and rubbed her shoulder, stifling a yelp as she found herself flanked by two tall, black-clad cyborgs, faces blank, eyes empty. They made no motion to assist her.

Carson’s voice whispered behind her, thin and reedy. “Stay there. Don’t look at me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I visit Hamsa all the time. I know what the nutrient feeds do to you guys. It’s no big deal. I understand.”

Melanie turned, and her brother was there. Her hands flew of their own accord to cover her mouth, to stop the sharp intake of breath and the pungent, antiseptic tang that knifed into her lungs.


Oh, Carson.


Monday, May 13, 2013

The Rahab Conspiracy #24 - Tangled

by Jeff C. Carter

Dros slouched behind his menu and scratched the yellow fuzz sprouting from his scalp.  A perky waitress skipped over and he shooed her away.  The bright, airy food court on the lower cordeck was a great place to hide in plain sight, but he’d take a dark smuggler's cove and an air gun at his side any day.  He pulled a hat back onto his prickling head.  Constant scratching was the only giveaway of a good bio-disguise, and Dros knew that he was being watched.  He could feel eyes upon him from some unseen corner.  The walls were closing in.

Smuggling contraband spider eggs onto Avenir had been risky, but the offer had made it worth any risk.  Or so he thought.  The first time he tried to return to Port X his travel credentials were denied without explanation.  When he saw the alert out for his backup identity, he knew he was in serious trouble.  Then his contact at Customs turned up dead.

Someone was trying to keep Dros from getting off this station.  He didn't know who.  He didn’t want to find out.  He just needed to lay low for one more hour.  There was a shuttle leaving with a reservation for his name to match his new biometrics.

A fresh-faced enforcer in a crisp uniform strolled past the mammoth viewport window that lined one side of the dining area.  Dros clenched his teeth as a burning itch crawled across his scalp.  The waitress waved at the rookie officer and he sauntered over.  Dros buried his face in the menu. 

The sudden clatter of plates made him jump.  Someone on the far side of the dining area was shouting.  Dros tried to see who it was, but the enforcer was blocking his line of sight.

"The end is coming!  Ragnorok!  They're heeeere!"

A sweaty dark skinned man loped off down a hallway, flailing his arms.  The enforcer turned to follow him and froze.  His head slowly turned back to the entrance where the maniac had appeared.
Dros looked over the enforcer's shoulder and saw it too.  

A monstrous black spider blocked the entire arched entry space.  Dros' heart sank.  The young enforcer grasped for the air gun in his holster but it was gone.  Dros had slipped it free and started running.  

Dros looked back and saw the rookie slammed beneath a pouncing spider.  Dros’ finger twitched towards the trigger for an instant before he resumed his flight towards the exit.  As he reached the exit tunnel another spider appeared, forelegs thrusting out in a threatening display.  Dros skidded to a halt and frantically back-pedaled.  He raised the stolen air gun and took aim.

Dros’ foot rolled off something and he went down hard.  He caught a glimpse of the blinking metal canister as it spun away.  He knew an enforcer stunfoam grenade when he saw it, so he pulled himself into a tight fetal position.

The grenade detonated with a crackling thump, spraying high voltage foam in all directions.  Dros crawled beneath scattered tables, careful to avoid the sparking globs of quivering black foam.  He snatched up the air gun and scanned the courtyard.  A terrified mob of people collided into each other as they scrambled away from clouds of stunfoam and the spiders lurking in every tunnel. 

Dros slid along the wall with the air gun extended in front of him.  He reached an exit and saw thick hairy legs slashing the air.  He silently closed the last few inches.  His stomach fluttered and his body felt weightless.  His finger closed around the trigger as a piece of glass floated past his nose.

By the time his mind registered the loss of artificial gravity he had clenched the trigger.  The air gun drilled back into his chest and sent him tumbling.  Storm clouds of floating stunfoam silenced the shrieks of people as they flailed helplessly through the air.

The lights of the food court flickered and died.  The only light was the hellish glow of Sheba’s volcanic sea cast through the viewport window.  Dros bounced off a table and twisted to get his bearings.  Flashing wisps of stunfoam illuminated the spiders.  They had left their posts and were crawling effortlessly along the walls.

Dros waited to hit the ceiling and then shoved off towards an open exit.  His body snapped back, trapped in something viscous.  He realized in a flash of hysteria that he was caught in a spider web that covered the vaulted ceiling.  He squirmed out of his sweaty clothing and began to shimmy free.  His bare skin snagged on the sticky cables and ripped away in sheets.  He whimpered and thrashed, sending tremors through the giant web. 

Dros felt eyes upon him.  He craned his head and saw the spiders slinking onto the web.  He writhed and fought, but his bonds only became tighter.  The spiders began closing in.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Where Angels Sing 1: Wizard's Recruit

by Peter H. Solomon - 

"So what's the job?" Tayla asked. She sipped her drink and gazed casually about before moving to leave when the thin wizard hesitated at her question.

His slender hand covered Tayla's and she paused. The sounds of the pub pulsed around them. Songs rang in her ears. She relaxed in her seat.

"Time is money for someone in my line of work," said Tayla. "So let's get to the point, shall we, wizard?"

"I’m Creston," he murmured.

"Creston it is," Tayla answered, though she doubted this was his real name. She drummed her fingers and looked at her glass, catching a warped reflection of her dark eyes; she sought sign of anyone spying in other images captured there. Tayla raised her gaze to the wizard, but neither asked for his full name nor gave her own, just in case questions were ever asked.

The wizard sighed, glanced sidelong at the nearest patrons and said, "I have – sponsors – who want something done. They have provided a ship…"

As a smuggler, Tayla understood the hesitance but her body tensed for action anyway. "I don't need to know what it is…just how much, how dangerous and where to get it. I have my own ship, and I like to use it."

Creston shook his head and waved his long hand, saying, "There are no goods. But you must use our ship. It's for scanning, special scanning."

Tayla's eyes narrowed. There had to be more. "I have sensors. What are you studying?"

The clatter of cups and murmur of voices melded with the song, a strangely eerie melody Tayla found it impossible to ignore. The wizard licked his thin lips and leaned closer to speak, "There are rumors my clients want confirmed. Rumors about angels." His sunken cheeks flushed, contrasting with pale hair.

Tayla eased her right hand to a hidden weapon and leaned closer to Creston. Her voice rang with challenge. "What rumors? You want to scan for angels from a ship?"

Creston motioned for quiet and whispered harshly, "Shh, shh. Not so loud. I need to know something first." He paused again to check whether anyone was watching, although Tayla supposed anyone could use a listening device. He continued, "Do you hear them? Angels – do you hear their song from here? There are rumors some people can…"

Tayla shrank back, heart thumping. Surely he couldn’t… She took a sip of her golden drink that turned into several long gulps. Then she slammed the cup down, blinked at the wizard as she wiped foam from her mouth and then said, "This will cost you big time, wizard."

It took a few moments for her meaning to register on the wizard's face, but when it did, a smile spread wide. "We expected as much." He slid a small note to Tayla.

The smuggler peeked under the note. She held onto her poker-face – they really wanted to know something. Tayla grinned sly agreement.

Creston downed the shot of sweaty, purple alcohol and stuck out his hand.

Tayla spit in her palm and smacked Creston's with a firm grip of her own. The wizard winced. Shutting her eyes, Tayla let the sweet whispering of angel song sweep over her through the babble of the pub.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Direct Route

Six Fathoms Down, Part 14, by Edward M. Erdelac - 

It seemed to take forever for Gorsh to finish laying out his plans for Considine’s investigation.

It took only a few moments to give the two Avenir Enforcers he was assigned as assistance the slip.

He left them scratching their heads and peering up and down a crowded passageway while he slipped into a gyrovater and instructed it to take him straightaway to Morgenstar Munitions.

“Access to Morgenstar Munitions is granted by appointment only,” the cultured voice of the gyrovater informed him gravely.

He did not slip his ID badge into the access port. Instead he used the one he’d taken off one of Gorsh’s Enforcers.

“Investigative priority,” he told the computer.

“Complying,” the computer responded as the gyrovater thrummed to life beneath his feet and began to whisk him through the various levels of Avenir.

No need for him to leave a digital trail or announce his intentions. Besides, there was probably a lock on his own credentials.

It was only a matter of time before the Avenir Enforcer’s loss of badge would be detected. He left it sitting in the slot, knowing he probably couldn’t use it on the way back anyway.

He exited the gyrovater when the doors spiraled open and found himself in a high-ceilinged, pristine white lobby with smooth silver lines and a plush blue carpet.

He approached the multi-armed service machine at the front desk.

Before the robot had done more than glance up, he had pulled his Enforcer-issue handheld directional EMP flasher. It was intended for deactivating runaway vehicles or circumventing pesky electronic locks, but it knocked out the bot’s central processor with a flick.

“No thanks, I’ll help myself,” he muttered, sliding around the console past the inert robot and calling up the company directory.

Orin Bantry’s name was listed, and if he was wearing his ID badge, he was currently in the southwest cafeteria. A swift glance at the schematics and he had the route memorized.

He’d always been good with maps.

Thursday, May 2, 2013



By Travis Perry

“You seen this man?” The woman asking had a definite no-nonsense presence—titanium patching on her face, a robotic left arm and left leg. The glossy she held in Jax’s face looked familiar.

“Uh, maybe. I see lots of people.”

“There’s a substantial bounty on this one—the biggest I’ve ever seen. If you know something leading to the arrest of Ernsto Mons, that would be worth five thousand credits to you.”

“Ernsto Mons—that’s the guy in the picture?” Jax looked up at the woman’s face. Her non-robotic parts were actually quite attractive. He felt embarrassed to notice, and it formed a painful reminder of his wife separated from him on Avenir, but in fact he hadn’t seen a lot of women of late—other than Maddie, of course, and some old hag who did cleaning. But the blaze in her eye told him she was even more no-nonsense than his first impression would indicate. Her dog eyed him with a tilted head, as if suspicious.

“Yeah, that’s him.”

“What’s he wanted for?”

“About everything—theft, smuggling, murder, human trafficking, insurrection, plotting to assassinate an Avenir government official, plotting to overthrow the Avenir government.”

Jax let out a low whistle. “Whoa. So what’s five thousand credits? Like ten percent?”

The woman nearly smiled at him. The expression sent a chill down his spine. “Why? Are you going to try to haggle for a bigger cut?”

“No—I mean, no, ma’am. Just, er, wondering…” his voice trailed off.

“Look, do you know something or not?”

Jax had already decided what to do. Whatever else he had done, Ernsto had kept a coriander beetle from attacking him from behind while another attacked from the front. Ernsto had also helped move the beetles into the trading camp, yielding a good haul, though he had insisted on staying outside himself. Jax owed him. “Er, sorry. I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

“Hmmm,” she replied, studying him. “Well, if you change your mind, ask for me at the trading post. Everyone knows my name there.”

“Which is?” When her fierce eyes met his own, Jax added, “…er, ma’am…”

“Zana. That’s all you need to know.” And then she turned away.