Thursday, August 29, 2013


by Fred Warren - 

John Milton’s sandals crunched on fine gravel as he walked with Jiro Sukahara along the meandering path through the chaplain’s expansive private garden. His balance was improving with each step, enough to let him savor the subtle splendor of the flowers and greenery. Feathery blossoms from a giant cherry tree at the garden’s heart filled the air and tumbled across the footpath.

In one corner, a sandy basin was dotted with angular stones arranged in a pattern that, to John, seemed orderly and random at the same time, and the white sand was raked into curving grooves that flowed into a complex spiral. A tiny brook roughly bisected the garden, its murmur punctuated by the slow metronome of a shishi-odoshi, a pivoting bamboo tube that filled and emptied itself at the base of a trickling fountain, making a pleasant wooden thunk with each cycle. Jiro explained the device’s original purpose was to startle wandering deer and discourage them from munching on the foliage.

“But mostly, I enjoy the sound it makes.”

A little bird with dull brown feathers clung to the topmost branch of the cherry tree, warbling and trilling a cascade of brilliant, liquid melody. John thought back to the riotous colors of the birds he’d seen on the tropical island where he’d met the Dreamers for the first time. “Such a beautiful song…I’d never have suspected it from such a plain bird.”

As if insulted, the tiny musician ended its concert with a sharp flourish, then vanished into the tree’s pastel depths.

“It’s called a nightingale.” Jiro sighed. “There’s an old story about a powerful emperor who befriended a nightingale he found in his garden. She perched on his windowsill and lulled him to sleep each night. All was well until the ruler of a neighboring land sent the emperor a mechanical songbird with gilded feathers and jeweled eyes as a birthday present. The emperor was so taken with the beauty of the mechanical bird that he drove the homely nightingale from his garden, only to discover the robot’s song possessed none of the nightingale’s magical charm. He never enjoyed another peaceful night’s sleep, and though he sent messengers to the nightingale with gifts and apologies, she refused to return, and their friendship was forever broken.”

“What a sad story.”

“I keep a nightingale in my garden to remind me that love is fragile, and illusion is no substitute for reality.”

“A strange sentiment from someone who lives in a virtual paradise.”

“I am a man of many contradictions.”

Monday, August 26, 2013


By Edward M. Erdelac - 

Considine stepped out of the lift, amazed he had gotten so far as Morgenstar’s personal hangar.

This was no freighter dock cluttered with utilitarian equipment and personnel in greasy coveralls.

It was much smaller than the main Avenir hangar, and contained only five craft, four sleek metallic blue one-man security fighters bearing the MM corporate logo, and a high end luxury omniyacht with a zero gravity viewing deck made from actual wood and gilded with brass rails. He had hear much about that omniyacht. It could travel in space, atmosphere, even below the ocean.

He opted for one of the fighters, though he knew the damn thing would be too fast and responsive for him to pilot safely.

He found all but one of the fighters locked, the last apparently left unsecured by a crewman who had also left his toolbox on the gantry.

As he slipped into the flight suit, Considine hoped the careless technician hadn’t left anything else undone.

He crammed himself into the pilot’s chair and lowered the canopy, buckled on the artificial air pump harness and firing up the engines just as the lift door opened and a squad of Morgenstar security spilled out.

He pulled on the exposure helmet, smelled the sour artificial air as the unit on the chest of the suit began to pump, and grabbed hold of the thrumming controls as the ship shook and lifted off the deck.

He watched the security men tumble back into the lift as the hangar door blossomed open, and with a jolt that sent the back of his head smacking against the seat, the fighter leapt out into space.

He fought the controls to turn the thing into a wide bank and angle it for the planet. Why did the damn thing have to be so fast?

He slowed his descent and fiddled with the navigational board, trying to find Zirconia, when suddenly he felt and heard a gush of liquid in his helmet.

His suit was filling with seawater.

In a panic, he felt the hose on the pump harness and realized it was leading under the pilot’s chair. He had no room to look under, but the sea water was rapidly rising to his chin in the helmet.

Of course everything had been too easy. The entire escape – the nurse laying the inoculater on the table for him to grab, the guards separating for his benefit, the unchallenged escape to the hangar, and of course the conveniently unlocked fighter craft, replete with a sabotaged air unit.

He gasped as the salty water reached his lower lip, and spat, instantly regretting it as the faceplate of his helmet spotted, making it almost impossible to see.

Warning klaxons whose purpose he couldn’t get began to flash and sound in the cockpit.

Then something slimy and tubular brushed past his ear.

Good God! Morgenstar had put one of those things under the seat and he had pumped it right into his own suit!

He felt it slithering about his throat and clenched his teeth against the maddening shriek building up in his beating chest.

Then there was a flash of light in his mind.

The thing had made contact.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


By Travis Perry - 

Zana’s mechanical left arm grabbed at the right arm of the man, who must have been Mons, who had wrestled her to the ground and had her pinned to her back, his hands pressing down on her shoulders. “You’re a woman!” he exclaimed in a surprise barely audible as the dust storm whooshed around him.

Her only answer was to vice down her hand grip on his arm. He grunted in pain as she squeezed but without hesitation rolled off her to her right, using the torque of his body twist to pull his arm free from her steely grip. She rolled onto her own right side, reaching after him with her left arm. But Mons no sooner tumbled away than he rolled back. With both hands he shoved her left hand into the ground, then her left shoulder, pushing her face down as he rolled himself back over top her body, pinning her under his greater weight.

That made Zana angry. She thrust her left arm behind her back and grabbed the first piece of his body she could reach and squeezed as hard as she could. Her mechanical side had some tactile sense, not as good as her right, but she perceived a bone breaking—which she realized was Mon’s left humerus, the bone of his upper arm. He screamed in her ear, but his credit, made no move away from his dominant position, his weight still pressing her face-down into the ground.

“Leggo!” he managed to shout. And now she could feel a cold steel blade along the right side of her throat. “Leggo, sweetheart! Or I’ll gut you like a fish!”

Zana paused for a moment, something in her wanting to tell him to go screw himself, something in her willing to die for the privilege of defying him. But something else wanted to live, if nothing else because she couldn’t stand the thought that she would die while her father still lived. She let go of the arm, the whirling dust storm surrounding them, the man’s weight crushing her face against the ground. She turned her head left to be able to breathe. The ground pressed back at her fiercely, several fist-sized rocks strewn underneath her—Ernsto was clearly a lot bigger than she was, his weight easily dominating hers.

“Jax, you idiot!” shouted Mons in pain. “Come here!  I need your help.”

The wind suddenly shifted again and seconds later died as it sometimes did, utterly unpredictable. The sky still hid itself behind high clouds but the dust storm was coming to an end nearly as fast as it had begun.

At that moment, she heard Cotton’s feet scrambling over rock. He’d somehow made it up the rock ledge and now his furious barking fast approached.

“Back him off,” growled Mons, pressing his knife a bit harder to her throat.

Zana turned her head right, the direction of the barking—Mons accommodated by backing off the knife a bit. “Sit!” she snapped, “Stay!” Cotton whined, but she could see in the dimness that he obeyed. “Good boy.” Cotton barked in frustration.

“Good move,” said Mons pained voice in her ear. “It’d be hard for me to kill a dog with only one good arm. Don’ get me wrong, I’m sure I’d still kill it. But it’d be messy. Painful—mostly for it.”

“Him!” Zana snapped back.

“Him then,” answered Mons.

“What the hell!” exclaimed Jax’s slightly slurred voice. “There’s a dog and that woman and…what the hell happened?”

“You celebrated your kill too much, that’s what happened!” Mons snapped. “Come over here and help me tie her up. And my arm is broken, I’ll need you to splint it!”

In this short time, a gap had cleared in the sky, greatly increasing the ambient light. Her head turned right, human right side of her face up, she heard Mons gasp as Jax stumbled close to help him. “By the angels,” Ernsto exclaimed, “You’re beautiful!”

“You bastard!” she shouted. She would have spat on him if she could have.

But then the two of them lashed her as she lay on the ground, using a lot of extra rope on her left arm, and then took her rifle and survival gear. Some time passed before Jax finished with Mon’s arm, before the two of them stumbled out of the area. Cotton obediently but frustratedly sat for her the entire time, barking regularly.

“Come here, boy, help me,” she said as soon as she estimated that Mons was out of rifle range from her dog. How dare he call her “beautiful”—she would escape these ropes and hunt down Ernsto Mons if was the last thing she ever did. She hated no one more than him at that moment—not even her own father.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Change Of Mind

By Edward M. Erdelac - 

Considine said nothing as the guards led him from the gyrolift to Morgenstar’s clinic, but inwardly, he cursed Kes and himself for putting all his trust in the man.

The clinic was as impressive as the rest of Morgenstar. This was no dispensary with a bored nurse standing by with bottles of aspirin and medical tape. It was a full service facility, and he felt the pit of his stomach shudder at the sight of the cold metal examination table.

“I’ve got to take a leak,” one of the faceless guards announced to the other suddenly.

“What? Now?” exclaimed the other.

“Got to. I’ve been holding it since we nabbed this one. Stay here and wait for the nurse.”

“Hurry up.”

The first guard left, but Considine’s thoughts of overpowering the other man vanished when the guard put himself in the corner and angled his three barreled hyperuzi so it would deliver a cone of fire that would redecorate the entire room. This was no moonlighting Enforcer working toward PC pension. Morgenstar could afford to hire professionals.

Considine glanced around, trying to think of some way out, when the door hissed open and a nebbish looking bald man all in white entered.

“How come there’s only one of you?” the nurse asked warily, stopping in the middle of the room.

“My partner’s taking a leak. Wanna wait for him?”

“I don’t have time for this,” the nurse snapped, annoyed. “I’m supposed to be on deck one-eighty-three in twenty minutes for a bounceball date.”

He crossed the room and went to one of the metal cabinets, sliding his hand across the identification padlock and swinging it open.

“You’re gonna have to hold him,” the nurse said over his shoulder, snapping on a pair of tight gloves.

“Just scramble his brain,” the guard grumbled, “and get it over with.”

“I’ve got to sedate him first,” the nurse said, turning around with a gun-like inoculator and screwing in a small bottle of clear fluid.

The guard sighed behind Considine, and he heard the clatter of his hyperuzi being slung over his shoulder by the strap.

The nurse stepped forward with the inoculator, and the guard’s boots squeaked on the floor.

“Damn it,” hissed the nurse. “Just a minute.”

He set the inoculator on the table and turned back to the cabinet.

Considine snatched it up and spun as the guard’s fingers brushed his elbows. He jammed the inoculator under the man’s unprotected chin and squeezed.

There was a metallic punching sound and the guard stumbled back, gurgling.

Considine reached out and caught the hyperuzi as it slipped off the man’s shoulder.

He trained it on the guard, but the man just crumpled in the corner.

He turned to the nurse, who was standing with his back to the cabinet now, hands up, fingers splayed, eyes wide.

He tossed the inoculator to him. The man fumbled, barely catching it.

“Ready another dose of the same, if you please. Quickly.”

The nurse rummaged in the cabinet. Several bottles tumbled from the shelf and tinkled across the floor.

Considine stood sideways, ready to pepper the doorway should the second guard appear, or fire on the nurse should he try something stupid.

The nurse held the loaded inoculator.

“Butt first,” said Considine, holding out his hand. He heard boots squeaking in the hall.

The nurse handed him the inoculator and backed away.

Considine made a shushing gesture and put his back to the wall beside the doorway.

It hissed open a moment later and the second guard stepped inside.

Considine pressed the barrel of the inoculator to the side of his neck and soon he was face first on the floor.

“Now,” said Considine to the nurse. “Which way to the corporate hangar?”

“Three floors up,” stammered the nurse. “But you can’t get to it. The lift won’t work for you without an executive or pilot ID.”

Considine stooped and plucked an ID card off the fallen guard’s belt, frowning at it.

“What about security?”

“They can go anywhere,” the nurse admitted.

Considine nodded and tossed the inoculator to the nurse again.

“One more dose,” he commanded. “’Fraid you’re going to miss your bounceball date.”

The nurse sighed heavily and went into the cabinet again.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


By Travis Perry - 

Zana mounted the height around the hill in a steady stride, spiraling counterclockwise upward, moving briskly but not so fast she couldn’t hear. Cotton, who’d been well trained, didn’t bark much as a rule and wasn’t barking now. But he whined with an eagerness that told her he smelled or heard someone and it wasn’t easy for him to hold back rushing forward faster than she ever could.

“Good boy,” she said in a sub-vocal tone a dog would hear but a human never would. “Stay with me.”

With a suddenness that Zana had experienced all of her life, the calm night was suddenly and sharply broken by a harsh wind rushing in from the hinterlands. She faced into the wind and saw in the distance a darkness moving forward at a rapid pace, blocking out the stars more each passing second. A dust storm coming in. Soon.

She reached a wall of rock that formed a knob around the very top of this little mountain, a base to a climb that led steeply upward. From above, her ears received a wind-dimmed noise that by its tone had originally been shouts, “Ernsto! Ernsto! Where are you?” The voice she realized was Jax’s.

She glanced down at Cotton, who had his paws on the rock wall, scratching at it with his claws, looking as if he wanted to scramble up the little cliff, growling in a low tone. “He’s up there, is he?” Zana vocalized. Cotton replied with a single sharp bark.

She was taking a risk, but chances were fairly good that Mons would move toward Jax’s voice, giving her the opportunity to come up behind him, if she moved quietly enough. And now was the time to move, while she could still see the handholds in the rock.

Her mechanical left arm pulled her up from handhold to handhold, while she managed to keep the rifle from banging into her too badly as she tried to both help move upward and control it with her right hand. Soon, she’d mounted the little rock wall and found a ledge about a meter wide there. Above her the hill continued up steeply to the top, maybe seventy meters higher. She saw the dark shape of a torso some fifty meters above her, the lower body covered by the curvature of the hill.

She pointed the rifle that way, looking and listening as the wind rushed around her in a whistle. “Ernsto!” shouted the shape above her. “Ernsto! Hey, I brought medicine! Hey, where are you?”

At that moment, Cotton started barking furiously from down below. And the wind changed, now hurling dirt around her, the hillside offering some protection, but not enough to keep her eyes from watering and blinking. But nonetheless she was able to see well enough to notice a flash of movement registering a dark shape—a human shape—hurling itself from behind a boulder less than five meters away on the hill above her, straight down towards her. She raised the rifle to fire, but too late.

A man’s body collided into hers and she fell, losing control of the rife. The man, who had strong arms and who smelled of sweat and bug gall and blood, grappled with her as the winds whipped dust around them and Cotton’s barking transformed into a frenzy…