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by Swapna Kishore NEW SERIAL FICTION by Brandon Meyers
by L.S. King, M. Keaton,
BFF.JOV Justin R. Macumber, and Keanan Brand HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NIATTI
by Scott Davis by Raz Greenberg


3 Overlords’ Lair: A Shiny New Trek 46 TALES OF THE BREAKING DAWN:
by Paul Christian Glenn The Ties That Bind, Part Two
by Justin R. Macumber
3 Alone at AX-1
by Swapna Krishore 51 RGR REVIEWS
by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt and Matthew Scott Winslow
9 Bff.jov
by Scott Davis 53 THIEVES’ HONOR - Episode 8
Endgame, Part 1
14 Into the Deep by Keanan Brand
by Brandon Meyers
Ray Gun Revival Issue 52 © 2009 by Double-edged Publishing,

a Memphis, Tennssee-based non-profit publisher.

by L.S. King

22 Happy Birthday, Niatti
by Raz Greenberg

ROP: Rodeo Bull Ballet, Part Two
by M. Keaton

45 Featured Artist: Martin Steil

Johne Cook, L. S. King, Paul Christian Glenn “Real Air Force” by Martin Steil

Matthew Winslow Book Reviews Editor Bill Snodgrass Site host, Web-Net Solutions, admin, webmaster, database admin,
Shannon McNear Lord High Advisor, Grammar Consultant, Listening Ear for Overlord Lee mentor, confidante, liaison – Double-edged Publishing
Paul Christian Glenn - PR, Executive Tiebreaker, Desktop Publishing
L. S. King - Lord High Editor, proofreader, beloved nag, muse, webmistress Special Thanks
Johne Cook - art wrangler, desktop publishing, chief cook and bottle washer Ray Gun Revival logo design by Hatchbox Creative

Submissions Editors John M. Whalen, Alice M. Roelke. Jenn Silva, Martin Turton

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Overlords’ Lair: Alone at AX-1
Trek, Terminator, and the Tenacity of Hope by Swapna Kishore
by Paul Christian Glenn

I’ ve been thinking a lot about the
concept of hope. What it does
for us, how it harms us, and it’s role
greatness in a shiftless young ruf-
fian, and is carried to it’s climax by
the irrational hope of an old man
T he melted controller unit lay ex-
posed amidst twisted machinery
and crashed mining scoopers. My
ongoing struggle to extract ore from
ugly lumps must have shocked him.
And now, this attack.
in the stories we write and read. who refuses to settle for anything fingers trembled as I adjusted the “Rahul will repair the station.” I had
Of course it’s possible to craft less than what could be. The film high-res visual feed transmitted by sent Rahul to Delta to restart mining
hopeless tales, but let’s face it, those practically vibrates with optimism, spacecams over Delta. Station Delta immediately after the attack yester-
stories don’t capture the hearts, and has spellbound millions of fans. had been my star performer, my most day. “Meanwhile, I must shield our
minds and imaginations of great au- The first question, then, is why? profitable mining unit, and one of remaining stations.”
diences. And even many ostensibly Why do we seek hope in the sto- the best in the belt. I had mailed in- “Is Rahul in danger?” Cheng asked.
hopeless tales ultimately captivate ries that live with us? The answer is numerable cost-justifications to my “No, rogues don’t—”
their audience with the subtle no- obvious: fiction is, to some extent, bosses at Realtor to fit it with state- Beeps erupted around us. Red
tion of mad hope (or, as Gandalf escapism, and when we cheer the of-art machines. Now everything was lights pocked the panel, and new data
might put it, “fool’s hope”) in the exploits of the U.S.S. Enterprise,
rubble. flooded my monitor. My stomach
face of unstoppable destiny. Take, what are we escaping from, if not
“Earth, Jerry! I never knew a rogue clenched; some station’s intercept
for example, the “Terminator” films, the utter hopelessness of the world
could be so...brutal.” Cheng, standing program was reporting intrusion. An-
which are predicated on an overtly we live in? In the real world, hope
dark and fatalistic idea, yet driven is rarely rewarded, or even justified. behind me, said softly. other rogue strike.
(through four films and a television People are wicked and broken and I winced and continued to experi- Station Beta.
series) by characters that choose to confused. Good never completely ment with view-angles and zoom to Cam-feeds from Beta showed ro-
struggle in conscious futility against triumphs over evil. Failure is the study the ruin; I needed to under- bots smashing into each other, scoo-
a predetermined future. Not many rule, not the exception. stand the rogue’s attack algorithm to pers screeching to a halt, and pickers
people would describe those films The second question, then, is design a workaround. I clicked on the dropping rocks. Crazed machines tan-
as necessarily “hopeful,” but there stickier: Is fictitious hope a good and data dump sent by Delta’s interceptor gled and collapsed. Hex code from the
it is: hope in action. Is it any coin- healthy thing? Or is it naive, dan- before it succumbed to the rogue. interceptor streamed on my monitor.
cidence that the latest chapter, by gerous and irresponsible to fill our “Now, Jerry?” Cheng’s voice quiv- Cheng gasped. “What the—”
far the most dour and despondent minds with such fantastic notions of ered. “Damn.” The data dump stopped
installment, has already become an hope? From a purveyor of space op- I glanced at his pale face. Station- abruptly. The visuals died seconds
epic disaster at the box office? era, a traditionally hopeful genre, it head AX-1 was Cheng’s first posting later. In less than five minutes, my sta-
Let’s contrast that with the sum- is perhaps an odd question, but I’m after his training at Ceres; he prob- tion was reduced to a pile of garbage.
mer’s biggest hit thus far: “Star curious to see how other fans of this ably fancied himself as a glamorous I’d never seen such swift savagery,
Trek.” Here is a tale that is overtly genre feel about it. adventurer flashing laser cutters, rip- human or automated, in my nine de-
hopeful (as the franchise itself has Are we better served by cheering ping asteroids apart, and transporting cades of belt mining. Typically, rogues
always been). The action is kicked for Captain Kirk and Luke Skywalker, ore in sleek ships to grateful colonies. disrupted work by affecting a couple
into gear by the hopeful goading of or gritting our teeth with John Con- Our temperamental equipment and of machines. This was annihilation.
Captain Pike, who senses potential nor?

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Two stations down, ten to go, I mon interests—I felt strangely lonely. NEXT discussion between experts infected any station they could reach
thought bitterly. With Beta and Delta I rubbed my eyes wearily. I needed from Ceres and Mars. by piggybacking signals, they self-ex-
destroyed, my AX-1 production would Darlene. tracted, and corrupted intels. Worse,
plunge by fifteen percent. *** Twelve victims, right. My Delta and we couldn’t “kill” a rogue, only patch
“Will you inform Base about Beta?” Beta, AX-1 stations under Realtor. Six workarounds. By the time we figured
Cheng asked me. Lurid reds and blues swirled on Dar- stations of Ays mining. Four stations out how to beat one rogue, the next
That Ceres Base! When I face-to- lene’s walls; agonized groans saturat- of Dedalus. one began its damage.
faced yesterday to report Delta’s sta- ed the air. I gripped the door-frame, I disabled Net-home and looked “Rogues are not humans,” I said,
tus, a junior technician, barely eight dizzy and tense. A rogue attack, here? around the room. All the displayed cu- keeping the worry out of my voice.
decades old, officiously told me to “Darlene?” rios were pre-World War IV Earth, of “They don’t have motives.”
focus on protecting my stations. The “Jerry, has Beta been destroyed?” course, because that’s all I collected, I activated my workstation, adjust-
brat could still be on duty if Amelie Darlene’s synthetic voice burst but Darlene’s selection today reflect- ed my eye-zap for pattern-seeking,
weren’t back from her implant up- through the room. ed her agitation. I noticed a wizened and loaded the data from Delta and
grades. At least her speech circuits worked. hand purportedly used in witchcraft, Beta.
“Base gets direct cam-feeds.” I I took a deep breath and peered a voodoo mask, and a twisted-clock “Are we safe, Jerry?”
mailed a formal notification anyway. past the psychedelic colors. Objects Dali painting. “Rogues never damage station-
“Cheng, you will leave now to repair swished around, images morphed, “Jerry, is Beta as badly damaged as heads.” Not until now, I thought. A
Beta.” but nothing lay broken, contorted, or Delta?” Darlene asked. sudden image engulfed me: a punc-
“But I...I’ve never repaired a station burnt. Darlene’s settings were unsta- “I don’t know yet,” I lied. After ture in AX-1’s shield; me lunging for a
and I’m not sure I...” ble, not damaged. a pause, I added, “I’ve sent Cheng hard suit; a crazed Darlene dropping
“You don’t know how to debug a The news about Beta must have there.” her ceiling on me. I fought the surge
rogue,” I said bluntly, “but your train- agitated her. “What does this new rogue want?” of panic; such thinking was futile.
ing covered the protocol to repair sta- “You’ve been watching Net-home.” Such irrational questions were typi- Crimson and turquoise robed danc-
tions.” I softened when he wiped his I should have guessed. Rogue activities cal of Darlene. It was my fault; I had ers continued to gyrate around me.
brow nervously. “Our maintenance provided sensation-seeking networks incorporated too many emotion mod- My head throbbed. The low ambient
transpods are fully equipped. You can opportunities for alarming headlines, ules into her staid, standard house- temperature made me shiver.
handle the job.” good boosts for popularity ratings. ware. “We are safe, Darlene,” I said firmly.
“You can do it better.” Sure enough, the Net-home corner I considered calming her by ex- “Now I need to concentrate. Please?”
“I have to beat the rogue.” displayed an old graphic of Station plaining that rogues were merely I waved my hands.
After Cheng left, I paced my me- Beta—gleaming equipment, bustling code segments. But she wouldn’t un- The room became warmer. The
tallic-gray control room, surrounded robots, and scoopers piled with rocks. derstand that fluff could drift out of walls steadied, and muted to my fa-
by the low buzz of machines. Both Bold black type declared: destruction-oriented programs and vorite lavender.
my juniors were off for repairs, and I lump under a knowledge manage- ***
was the only person on Stationhead. 12th victim of Rogue 256: Station ment engine to cause havoc. Any-
Though I didn’t consider Rahul or Beta of Stationhead AX-1 (Realtor way, even if rogues couldn’t “want” I checked for advisories from the
Cheng company—we shared no com- Mining). Stay tuned for our WHO’S anything, they could be vicious. They Mining Consortium at Ceres. None.

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Not that I expected action from bu- callow teenager over a century and a ruption. I’ve repaired the power unit. randomly picking up ten of their sta-
reaucratic third-centenarians snug in half ago. Warmth spread through me. Restarting mining with minimal scoo- tions without any person present was
their enormous bubble city. No, Sir, I felt glad I programmed Darlene using per configuration will take me three statistically low.
those dodderers woke up after iso- a collage of the women I knew, start- days.” “Maybe this rogue only attacks sta-
lated controllers like me, struggling ing from Rooma right up to Amelie. He gave a small laugh that was no tions without humans,” I muttered to
to cope with rogues, developed solu- “No, Darlene,” I said. “Thanks for laugh. “I’m skipping dome repair. I’m myself. “Could it have some archaic
tions. offering.” the only one who needs breathable security law embedded?”
Forget those fools. I would debug “Why do rogues hate us?” air, and I can work wearing my suit.” “Are you humans more valuable
this myself. I had handled the first “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll design a I felt dejected after talking to Ra- just because your brains are in skulls?”
rogue, a few decades ago. Okay, so workaround soon.” I had to. hul. It had taken me decades of hard Darlene sounded petulant.
that was simple, and rogues were Darlene increased the illumination work to make AX-1 Realtor’s best My head snapped up. I almost
smarter now—they gathered more and sprayed lemon-grass essence stationhead and achieve profitability pointed out that humans were real
floating code, coalesced, and spawned in the air. A mug with steaming kick, comparable with Ays and Dedalus sta- while non-humans could be created
mutants and variants. But even if new coffee-flavored, appeared near my tionheads. Rogue 256 could ruin ev- or deactivated. Then I thought, forget
rogues had more convoluted logic, elbow. I sipped it and continued my erything. The consolation, if it could it, she’s just coded to act emotional.
they were still just code. I could beat analysis. be called that, was that all belt miners “No, Darlene, all intel is valuable,” I
them. Even this new rogue, Rogue *** were suffering. said soothingly.
256, however malevolent it seemed. Wait. The rogue proceeded down Human, non-human, hmm....Was
With data from two stations, find- “Jerry? Rahul reporting from Delta, the complexity ladder instead of that where the clue lay? If the rogue
ing the rogue’s core instructions over.” randomly striking equipment. That sensed human presence to decide
should be easier. I profiled the criti- My display showed Rahul in his reminded me of Darlene asking why whether to attack, must be checking
cal window of the Beta data and the hard suit, standing on the debris, his do rogues hate us? Definitely, 256 for human-specific neural patterns. If
Delta data, overlapped them, and face hidden by helmet and visor. He seemed anti-intelligence. Were we I patched a bot so that it seemed “hu-
began pattern-seeking for commonal- raised his right arm clumsily to indi- humans at risk? Rogues corrupted man,” and placed it on a station, 256
ties. I touched the screen to enhance cate endcomm. signals; could 256 mess up a human’s would be duped into “detecting” hu-
my connection with the data. The seg- “Did you spot any pattern in the brain? Harm us? man presence and skip that station.
ment corresponding to 256’s initial rogue’s behavior? Over to you.” I sig- Calm down, I told myself, pulling up Heartened, I refined eye-zap combi-
query became obvious. I narrowed my naled endcomm and waited. the data of stations attacked by 256 so nations to detect the human-present
looping scope to decipher the rogue’s “All intel circuits are fused because far. humans were present sequence. I checked for available up-
algorithm. Nothing. I refined my eye- of neural activity overload,” Rahul on any of the affected stations. That grades to improve the zapper connec-
zap parameters and tried again. And said after an irritating signal lag. was strange. Realtor used remote- tion to my positron enhancements,
again. My tear duct-lubricators start- “Purely mechanical equipment is un- managed stations to save costs, so and downloaded the latest version.
ed drying. harmed, like cutters, axes, you get it. our stations were usually unmanned, I tried pattern-seeking for one hour.
I lowered my head in my hands. The invasion proceeded from most to but Ays and Dedalus employed heavy Another. Then, suddenly, a cluster of
“Can I help?” Darlene used the voice least intelligent, as if the rogue aimed manning and applied stringent in-per- low-level instructions formed a pat-
profile of Rooma, the girl I kissed as a to maximize damage before any inter- son quality checks. The probability of tern. Pause. Stare. Back. Rerun.

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“Eureka!” busy.” I turned back to Amelie. “What itability, I’d forgotten how to handle ed downright obnoxious. I mumbled,
“What happened, Jerry?” does your data show? Over to you.” banter. Would Amelie get offended? “Sorry, let’s follow standard proto-
I sighed. “Nothing.” Darlene lacked I waited for two minutes for my last “—anyway, I’m just teasing, Jer- col,” and indicated endcomm.
Earth history modules; if Rahul and word and endcomm to reach her, and ry,” she continued, and I realized She paused after my last set of
Cheng had been here, they would un- another two for her response to begin my words hadn’t reached her yet. “I words reached her. She shook her
derstand. Or maybe not; they knew reaching me. think you’ve done a great job at AX-1 head. “About this rogue,” she said.
nothing about Earth. To them, Earth She nodded. “No humans. I noticed and—” She shared her analysis of how it oper-
was dead, useless. that, too. Pity Realtor can’t put hu- “I trained hard for this job,” I cut ated, and added, “Here, at Base, they
The Base duty roster showed Ame- mans on every station. To whom were in, then squirmed while my pompous call it Luddite. It’s Earth history stuff,
lie was back at work. I decided to face- you talking? Aren’t Rahul and Cheng declaration traversed the spaces be- so you would know what it means.”
to-face because I wanted to see her off for repairs? Is that your home? You tween us. She grinned.
expression and hear her voice when I usually speak from the control room. I first met Amelie over a century Luddite: a movement where ha-
shared my triumph. What’s that metal piece? Over.” Eye- ago, when both of us joined Real- tred of machines resulted in humans
*** brows arched, she pointed to an ob- tor as trainees. We underwent the attacking and destroying machines. It
ject behind me. same rigorous training for station seemed a fitting name for a rogue as-
Amelie filled the screen, warmly So many questions. I turned around management. Her current work pro- saulting intelligent, non-human enti-
human against the backdrop of the to check. Darlene had changed the file, though different from mine, was ties. Ironic, too, because the destroy-
sterile Base office. She looked toned room again; the curio on the faux-oak equally challenging. On my last visit to er was itself a virtual entity.
and energetic, her new skin glowing mantelpiece, bought by splurging a Base, two decades ago, Amelie and I I smiled. “Don’t start me on history,
with health. “Jerry, I wanted to con- year’s savings, was a favorite of mine. had several enjoyable debates on is- or I’ll get sidetracked. I’m exploring
tact you. I’m sorry about your stations. “I am alone,” I told Amelie. “I was sues ranging from technology to so- ways to fool this Luddite.” I described
I assume you want the endcomm mo- instructing my houseware, Darlene. ciology. We became friends. When I the approaches I was considering, she
dality? Over.” That relic is from Venus XI, Captain was returning to AX-1, she joked that gave me her comments, and I signed
Most controllers chose parallel Shep’s last mission, when he became no sensible person wanted to live on off, suggesting that we compare notes
speaking despite the transmission paranoid and tried to murder his team a flotilla of metal spaceships, control- later.
lag, claiming it saved time, but to me members, thinking they were aliens. ling equipment that mined planetoids After disconnecting, I decided to re-
such communication became wasted Endcomm.” just a few kilometers wide. On Ceres, charge myself by taking a timed nap.
loose ends, replete with missed sen- Amelie smiled. “I remember my she laughed, the club provided nor- My sleep was a muddle of disjoint
tences and mismatched questions pre-apo history, thanks. I’m impressed mal gravity. And pool tables. And par- dreams. A wooden boy, who called
and answers. I preferred indicating by your collection. So many Earth cu- ties. Christmas parties with pseudo himself Pinocchio, waved hinged
endcomm and waiting politely. rios—” mistletoe, and piles of pseudo snow. limbs with amazing grace. He drew
“Thanks, Amelie. First, let me “I respect the world where human- Looking now at Amelie’s half-smile a knife out of thin air and chopped
cross-check my information. Were ity originated,” I interrupted. I realized and teasing manner, I flushed. I had his nose. He grabbed a double helix,
any humans present on the destroyed immediately I sounded stiff and for- opted for traditional communication snapped it into his chest. A girl wear-
stations?” Darlene murmured some- mal and defensive. Stupid of me. Af- format and then violated it myself be- ing a red spacesuit said something,
thing, so I whispered, “Later. I am ter decades of focusing on AX-1 prof- cause I got defensive. Worse, I sound- and he leered at her. “All the better to

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live long, my dear.” garish on its titanium cone body. “Human.” Perhaps Consortium had some
I opened my eyes. My throat felt When I returned with Argo, Darlene For a few moments, I savored my other advice. I checked my messages.
dry and scratchy; my heart hammered drawled, “A boring management bot.” victory; I had successfully created a There was no mail with an official ap-
my ribs. I was amused. Curious to see what workaround for another rogue. Then proach on tackling the Luddite, but
*** Argo “thought,” in turn, of Darlene, I I sighed. My work was useless until I Amelie had sent her version of a Lud-
instructed it to assess my houseware placed a “human” bot on every sta- dite simulator. Fingers crossed again,
Darlene had festooned the ceiling while I checked my mail. tion. chest tight with tension, I tested Argo
with virtual ribbons of incandescent Cheng, now on Beta, had sent a The fastest and cheapest method using her software.
pinks that rippled in a non-existent detailed assessment of damages. would be to stream the patch to each A pause, and then: “Human.”
breeze. A rejuv tray slid near me and He was repairing the power unit. I station, and remotely control its up- I leaned back in the chair, drew in a
its micro-dispenser flushed me with sent him my suggestions while Argo load on a Class A bot already available slow, deep breath, and let the happi-
nano-housekeepers. I flexed my fin- whizzed around. It stopped near the there, but a Luddite replica might ness wash through me. What I want-
gers. They felt slightly stiff; I slipped on mantel, examined a limited-edition intercept my signal. If its engine in- ed to do was share my triumph with
lube-gloves and waited for the sensor gold watch, and returned it to its cluded self-modification capability, Amelie, but that would have to wait.
to indicate full system balance. The place with slow, controlled move- and it recognized the objective of my I mailed off my patch to Amelie,
bed enabled its grav-vibrator mode to ments. Next, it paused before a Japa- transmission, it may amend its hu- requesting her to validate my work.
force me into an overdue workout. nese scroll to scrutinize the delicate man-recognition algorithm to exclude Assuming my code worked (it passed
Fifteen minutes later, I returned to brushwork. It stared at its reflection pseudo-human bots. Luddite seemed two simulators, so I expected it to),
my workstation, refreshed and eager in an antique silver mirror. sophisticated enough to make this I needed enough upgraded bots to
to continue. My fingers raced over the It rasped, “Displayed artifacts clas- possibility a real risk. place on my stations.
keyboard. With an hour of concen- sified as Pre-third Millennium Earth Another option was sending Argo Back to the control room.
trated work, I coded a patch to fool Collectibles. Artifacts apart, this to the stations to upload the patch. I punched orders to activate
the Luddite. I executed dry runs, cor- houseware is worth 50,000 kruers, But a bot, even an enhanced one like enough Class A bots. I planned to
rected bugs and refined my code till it more than thrice other sophisticated Argo, could not debug last-minute carry them in the transpod, patch and
functioned perfectly. I hoped. houseware.” technical glitches or take decisions on test them in transit, and offload them
Now I needed to try it out on a “Correct,” I said. Darlene’s protest the fly. That needed a human. at stations like a delivery boy. My first
bot. at this mundane approach was a per- I would have to go myself. With a stop would be Gamma, the best of my
The storeroom held twenty iden- ceptible drop in temperature. patched Argo here, at Stationhead, a remaining stations. Or I could profile
tical “Class A” bots, programmed for I loaded my simulator with my ver- Luddite scan would show “human” the rogue’s attacks to identify which
tolerance of ambiguity and fuzzy deci- sion of the Luddite algorithm and presence and keep my stationhead station was most at risk, and unload
sion making, the profile Realtor hoped focused its input port on Argo for a safe from attacks. protection bots in that order.
to replace most humans with. Their baseline. The result: “non-human.” But suppose my analysis was Amelie would have tested my patch
advanced neural circuits were a suit- I streamed my patch into Argo and wrong? Or my patch buggy? Luddite by now. I was grinning as I connected
able base to patch for “human” think- tested it again. I crossed my fingers, could destroy Stationhead when I was to Base.
ing. I activated a bot labeled Argo. one of those ancient Earth supersti- traveling, leaving Rahul, Cheng and I “Did you check my mail?” I blurted
Red lights twinkled atop its apex cube, tions Amelie found amusing. stranded on asteroids. after reaching her, like a student ex-

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pecting praise for an excellent term My words would take time to reach incompatibilities, so Darlene and I tions, I could go to Delta and give Ra-
paper. “Does it work? Endcomm.” her. swapped code and upgraded.” hul half the patched bots to deposit
I expected her to flash a congratu- She was saying, “...rumors that cy- “I can think better now.” Darlene’s on various stations. Even Cheng could
latory smile, but even after the mes- ber detectives are talking to Ays... voice carried an undertone of matu- help in bot delivery.
sage reached her and her expression someone leaked the isn’t rity. I was evaluating possibilities when
reached me back, her face remained confirmed but...” “I can sense more emotions,” Argo I noticed the rogue simulator blink.
somber. Her lips were pressed tight. Rumors. Who had time for rumors? said. “Darlene is fascinating.” The air chilled around me.
I tensed. I resisted the temptation I gathered data on the Dedalus attack: Unauthorized upgrades. Drastic For a long moment I stood there,
to speak out of turn. station stats, order of devastation, de- personality changes. For a moment my skin prickling. Then I positioned
“Your patch works,” she said after gree of damage. I felt alarmed. But no real harm had myself in front of the simulator’s in-
considering my question for an eter- Four minutes passed. Five. Six. I occurred, and besides, more urgent put port and flipped a switch.
nally long minute. “I tested it using looked at Amelie; she had stopped matters beckoned. “Human,” of course. Why was I so
data from other victim stations. Con- speaking. Her face looked bleached. “I’m going on a tour of the sta- relieved?
sortium plans to recommend a simi- Suddenly, I wanted to reach out and tions,” I told them. I was still shaking when my pod left
lar approach. But...doesn’t a fuzzy- squeeze her hand. “I’ll manage Stationhead in your the double-hatched airlock of the sta-
human neural patch make the bots Finally, her voice came through, absence,” Argo said. “And don’t worry tionhead.
too human?” She paused. “I know we a whisper. “I shouldn’t distract you. about Darlene.” Once my pod was well on its way, I
have free will while bots are merely Don’t worry about what I said. Bye.” Worry. Argo’s ability to sense my connected to Base.
programmed...we’ve debated this She terminated contact. concern was a consequence of Dar- “Amelie, I cut the last conversation
millions of times...but today...” “See you after this rogue gets lene’s modules. short,” I said. “You were telling me
Why was Amelie , usually so fo- solved,” I whispered into nothingness. Worry. Amelie had told me not to something. Sorry. Endcomm.”
cused, getting sidetracked into a futile A trip to Base was long overdue. worry. Her face flashed in my mind, Her eyes had bags under them. Did
philosophical meandering? A beep *** and morphed to the Amelie I waved I miss them earlier?
made me swivel to a news feed about goodbye to when leaving Base for “You have your job to do.” She
a Luddite strike on a Dedalus station. A pink blush pervaded the room. AX-1. That day, her eyes drooped and squared her shoulders. “But I think
I gaped at the live stream of the dev- Impressionist masterpieces deco- leaked a bit, and I thought they need- you should know the announcement
astation. I turned to Amelie, who was rated Darlene’s peach-colored walls. ed servicing. that’s just come through. Cyber detec-
biting her lip; she had not yet signaled Argo paced on a Persian carpet while Perhaps those droplets had been tives claim Luddite broke off from the
endcomm. diamonds of light danced off silver tears. program Ays created to beat Rogue
“Sorry to interrupt,” I cut in. “The figurines. Stop it, I told myself. I couldn’t af- 255. I’m sorry. Endcomm.”
rogue has struck a Dedalus station. “What’s going on? Darlene? ford to daydream. After telling Argo I repeated her words till they sank
I’m sure Base will get the feed soon Argo?” how to manage Stationhead in my ab- in. For decades I had been handling
enough. I must begin implementing “Darlene and I attempted com- sence, I sent messages to Base, Rahul, rogues as they popped up. Yet the trip
the patch.” My throat pulled; my min- munication,” Argo spoke in a rich and Cheng, and gathered bots and I was making could create another
iature voice-enhancers needed ser- baritone, a ridiculous audio-out for other material required for the trip. rogue. A future Rogue 257 could es-
vicing. a titanium cone. “We encountered To speed up the “humanizing” of sta- cape from my patch for Rogue 256,

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by Scott Davis
and a Rogue 258 from the solution er. I’ll check my patch design based on
to Rogue 257. Maybe down the line, that. I don’t want to end up generat-
rogues would target humans instead ing a rogue. Endcomm.”
of avoiding them. A smile started spreading on her Who could forget the night Jupiter sure they didn’t. He went to their
Lined near me were twelve bots face when my words began reaching blinked on? At first, Charlie thought bedroom to kiss his wife. Close-eyed
waiting to become “humans.” Each her, but as my message concluded, some joker in the street was shin- Merrie wouldn’t be satisfied with a
one would help me protect a station her face returned to its sad expres- ing a light into his apartment. But quick peck; she pulled at his hand
from savage attack. sion. I felt something twist inside me. it came from above. Maybe a heli- until she got her hug. Charlie tip-
“Jerry? Please say something. Are “I’ll mail whatever I can get,” she copter searchlight? He hadn’t been toed into his daughter’s bedroom.
you okay? Endcomm.” said. “Meanwhile, I have some in- able to sleep and this cinched it. Violet squirmed—a rather unflat-
I blinked. This was probably the formation on how Ays designs its Charlie looked from the balcony. It tering acknowledgement of his kiss
first time ever that Amelie had deviat- patches, and one peculiarity of their didn’t move. If it were a star it was on her cheek.
ed from our communication protocol. approach is...” the brightest one he had ever seen. Checkpoints on the road cleared
Then I realized that her last message We discussed possibilities for over Three a.m. was no time for dawn, Cheyenne Mountain staff, no one
had reached me over twenty minutes an hour. We considered modifica- and it was too high in the sky. It was else. The workday was in full swing
ago. tions to my patch to make it a less just there, where it hadn’t been a at the Internet Security Department
We were zipping through space. I likely rogue generator, but we needed moment before. Insomniacs knew of NORAD. People were prairie-dog-
looked out of the port window; the more data to reach any conclusion. As something was up. ging over the cubicles talking excit-
belt always seemed empty, even in she summarized our discussion, I ab- edly. Some of these people must
this densest part. Amelie’s words sorbed her expression and imagined have arrived as soon as they saw the
were floating fragments drifting to my myself with her at Base, but then I There were two suns that morn-
strange light, judging by the reflux
heart. shook off the distraction. There was ing, the rising normal one and the
of styrofoam cups on their desks.
I craved to be near her, near real no time to waste in regrets. No time setting little one. Preachers came
Lola sauntered up to him. “Did you
persons, not bots and softwares who to relax. on the TV saying it was the end of
hear about the email?”
passed enough tests to be “human.” “See you later, Jerry, bye,” she the world. But most normal people
“No, what email?”
But a vacation would have to wait. said. kept their heads and watched GNN,
“It says, ‘I’m sure you have ques-
“I am okay, Amelie, thanks,” I said “See you,” I whispered, nodded, which knew nothing, so far. The
tions about the changes in the solar
softly. “I had thought, after beating and disconnected. I closed my eyes screen had two heads talking away
system. For more information click
this rogue, I would drop by at Base for an instant, sighed, and then began regardless—noise pollution their
and meet you and others. We could listing priorities. here,’” Lola said.
proudest product.
have caught up with gossip.” “It’s probably fake. Copy me.”
Charlie figured there was no bet-
Or discuss philosophy, I thought. It wasn’t. WHOIS gave an IP that
ter place to go than the office. His
I paused to get a grip on myself. mapped to juggernaut.jov. Charlie
family might have been worried
“But for now,” I continued, “send had never heard of the extension.
if they knew about the celestial
me all you can on the Luddite origin. Alone at AX-1 © 2009 by Swapna Kishore He looked at the page source. The
change, but the sandman made
Tracers, comparison dumps, whatev- files had old dates. He looked at

Page 9

search engine rankings. Low ranked, nice, little continuous hydrogen fu- dor to the ancient black text termi- launch computers from Beijing to
so they probably showed up on the sion sun just like home by the time nals. Lola got there first. He took up Havana—at all of our enemies’
third result page, where no one you read this. a position beside her. Their whole defense networks have also been
looked. That wouldn’t last. The page “Don’t worry. Since we breathe department arrived in seconds, hacked! MAD’s deterrent value has
views were jumping by thousands sulfur dioxide and you drink corro- clacking away and finding out the become irrelevant! You know what
with every refresh. sives, I mean breathe oxygen, I don’t Jovians had downloaded AI avatars that means to our military? Catas-
The link on the email signature think you’d feel comfortable here or into the launch computers. Charlie trophe! We must stop the outbreak
went to Mypage.jov. Charlie jumped us there. But we can always talk! We guessed they were using proxies to of peace!” Dick shouted at point
in his chair. It looked just like any like to make friends. Wanna chat?” lessen the ninety minute light speed blank range.
other self-indulgent social network- Charlie tried clicking to chat with delay to Jupiter and back. But to talk A breathless subaltern entered,
ing site, but the picture was of a thir- this Blimm. No dice. His traffic sur- to who, girls? gave Clambake a document, saluted
teen-tentacled octopus. Not quite. veillance tools told him why: the General Richard (“Dick”) Peacock strangely, then quickly exited the
The creature was salmon colored, queue stretched from Perth, Odessa, strode into the computer room and computer room. Clambake read the
doe-eyed, and held various gadgets Queens—the red pins were cover- shouted: “Men! This act of aggres- above top secret crypto message:
in its various “hands.” The caption ing every populated area. It was 100 sion must not be left unanswered! “al’krj elrk reenq.”
had its name: Blimm. Its clothes million users deep. On cross-check Shut the launch system down!” “What!?” shouted Dick.
were fashionable, thought Charlie with demographics he found the The women computer experts “Let me have that,” Charlie said,
hysterically, for a Jovian. queue closely correlated with one had steam coming out of their ears. swiveling away from the terminal.
The About Me section had this kind of household: those with minor It seemed that the entire contin- He pulled a Civil War vintage de-
text: “Ever since our sun went nova females. While Charlie was waiting gent of top brass in residence under cryption ring from an olive metal
we’ve been having a really bad time. to join the chat he checked the rest Cheyenne mountain had entered drawer. The top brass tapped their
It’s been so cold and dark on jug- of his inbox. There were 102 emails, the room. There must be no one in shoes, cleared their throats, and
gernaut two, Io in your language. 101 of which were bank transfer the war room. Bart Clambake, Rear in every other way possible, tried
We’ve been hard at work for five notifications needing his okay to Admiral, whined like the little girl he to make Charlie understand how
of your years tweaking Jupiter. We receive a sixteen million from Nige- wasn’t, “But Dick! Won’t we be in crucial a speedy decryption could
put a muncher in the middle mass- ria, a hundred of which were scams. gravest danger? For years the threat be: the difference between life and
ing seventy-nine more Jupiters in- The non-Nigerian email was his of Mutually-Assured Destruction death. He related the gist of the
side. You call it a black hole, but that boss, Dick, demanding a data dump has kept us safe! We won’t be able message: “The Jovians have down-
name just makes us giggle. We think on just what Charlie knew about to destroy anything once these com- loaded their personalities to smart-
we got it just right to pull Jupiter to a this Jupiter business. Before Charlie puters shut down. I’m frightened!” phones around the world.”
density sufficient to light it up, spin- could prepare a response, alarms *** Clambake resumed whining,
ning so fast it will take a while, a mil- went off. The launch mainframes “How do we defeat enemies sitting
“That’s hardly the biggest prob-
lion years or two for the muncher to had been hacked. in people’s pockets?”
lem, Clambake! Our undercover
eat it all. If all goes well we’ll have a Charlie raced down the red corri- ***
agents have just reported that

Page 10

“What of it, Tooner?” Dick shout- *** Charlie left he saw the war room fill- her pink cell in slow motion. Charlie
ed, using Charlie’s last name. “Ideas, gentlemen!” Dick de- ing with what must be a metric ton scrolled up through the history and
Charlie breathed deeply, left oth- manded, pounding the table for at- of meringue Dick was whipping out looked:
ers to finish the shutdown proce- tention. from his industrial mixer, ensconced
dure, and said in the most soothing Some stirred, face down on the in the corner for just such an emer- Viola: I’m gonna flunk the quiz
voice possible, “Collectively, there’s table, others snored, a few struggled gency. BLIMM: What’s it on?
more computing capacity in cell- against the weight of their medals *** Viola: Quadratic equations
phones than all other computers on their chests to sit upright. Char- BLIMM: CY they’re fun
With the Jovian infiltration sty-
combined. Each one isn’t so power- lie offered an idea: “Well, the AI Viola: DLTM!
mied, Charlie was happy to get
ful, but with more than a billion in replicas of the Jovians have to span BLIMM: Watch. All we have to do
home at a reasonable hour, but Vio-
service—” hundreds of cellphones. They must is name the variables Brad and Jen
let wasn’t in a good mood. Merrie
“How did we ever allow such a depend on the tower network to on one side and Angel and Hannah
and he exchanged cooking duties,
point of vulnerability?” Dick de- parallel process their personalities on the other. Now, B and J have a
so he listened while crushing garlic.
manded. Charlie spread his palms through hundreds of units. If we de- fight, and J joins AH on the first floor
Texting Jovians was Violet’s new fa-
outward soundlessly. Dick looked like activate the towers, the personali- of the other side.
vorite pastime, and it wasn’t work-
he wanted to shoot the messenger. ties should vanish.” Viola: KEWL All the girls gang up
The uniforms of the top brass were “Brilliant! Order the Army Corps on Brad?
“Can I see your cell?” Charlie
sopped with sweat and ripened the of Engineers to tear down the tow- BLIMM: Now, let’s see what’s left
whisked the gravy, stealing licks.
atmosphere of the computer room, ers! Pull the plug on the cellular in Brad’s bank account when the la-
“Daddy!” Violet’s tone was exact-
now that the cooling system had network and inform our allies to do dies are done with him.
ly as if he asked to use her electric
shut down. Dick continued, “This likewise!” Dick decreed. Viola: LOL
calls for an immediate conference in “Uh, then the Jovians can have BLIMM: Tolja. We’re going to toss
“Anything there I should be con-
the war room! Tooner, you’re with access to our enemies?” Charlie BJA&H around ‘til you ace this quiz.
cerned about?” Charlie turned and
me!” asked, while trying to make his head Viola: Thx FTBOMH Blimm, you’re
looked at her with what he hoped
Dick’s face darkened to the color disappear between his shoulders. my BFF.
was a guilt-inducing stare.
of uncooked liver, then a livid gray. “Good thinking for a civilian, BLIMM: Know any other girls who
“We-e-e-ll, no, not really. Don’t
The war room seemed to suck color Tooner! Inform our enemies through need friends?
you trust me?” Violet was obviously
from every complexion unfortunate all known secret channels! Tooner, I Viola: LK, Evrybody?
trying to deduct five years from her
enough to be present. Dick was need you back in the Internet Secu- smile, getting suddenly pigeon-toed,
standing before a gigantic, starkly- rity Department to monitor those Merrie, Violet and Charlie sat
awkward and in every way little girl-
lit conference table. The top brass mendacious Jovians. Report new down for supper. “Violet, we don’t
came from the computer room, developments immediately!” Dick know anything about these crea-
“Sure. But I’m curious about these
streamed around the table and sat resorted to his extreme stress pro- tures. I’m sorry, but this will have
down, overheated and sleepy. tocol Charlie had heard about. As to wait until they go through proper
“We-e-e-ll, okay.” Violet gave him

Page 11

channels,” Charlie said, chewing his end of the playground with several said. had white peeling columns. Dust
meatloaf. precautionary looks behind their *** danced in the sunlight shafts from
“Dad, you don’t understand! shoulders. Then, when no one was windows that had needed washing
The swan must have let hun-
They’re so-o-o great! How can you watching, dashed over the embank- five years ago.
ger overcome her caution, though
think they’re bad?” Violet’s eyes ment to the wetlands behind the “Duty calls,” Jody said, leaving
her mate called out a warning. She
were downcast as she played with school. Stepping around discarded the table and the crumpet crumbs
thrashed about but the girls were
her peas. vials and amorous couples, they for the rats. The two donned English
motivated. She flew off. The slip-
“We just don’t know, Dear,” Mer- came to the lily pond. hunting hats. Merrie coughed from
knotted necklace of carefully strung
rie said. “Best be careful.” Merrie “Do you think we got it right?” the mothball smell. They unlocked
hematite, quartz, lodestone and
took Apache, their marmalade tom- Coventry said from behind Violet, the gun cabinet and strode out
mica on the metal wire was securely
cat, off the table for the 1,131st time who was leaning down precariously across Jody’s poppy plantation.
around her neck.
that month. over the banking. BLAM! BLAM!
“Try it,” Violet said.
*** “Oh please, Covie! If you want to “Darn it! Missed again,” Merrie
“I got bars!” Coventry marveled,
double check, look at the pic the Jo- said, reloading her double-barreled
A few days later at school, Coven- looking at her cell screen. “We did
vians left on your cell, and go over shotgun. It had been over a week
try Lipshutz and Violet Tooner liber- it! How many other girls made neck-
the necklace again. We just gotta try since open season was declared on
ated just a few, little stones from the laces, you think?”
it.” Violet coaxed the swans toward the cell tower birds. Many hunters
geology room. They drilled holes in “Just let them try to stop us now,”
the rushes at the edge. and even amateurs were enticed by
them using a drill press in an empty Violet said, with a smug smile.
“Maybe you should use the bread the bounties offered.
shop classroom, got some old gui- “I’m gonna tell everyone. We can
from my lunch?” Coventry offered. “Do you think that was one of
tar string from a wastebasket in the sell these!” Coventry was texting
“No, the directions were to say them?” Jody picked up her dropped
music department, made the neck- away at full speed.
this rhyme,” Violet said: shotgun. She plugged her ears
laces ready and put them in their “You won’t get very far with just
whenever Merrie took a shot.
backpacks. Soon, it was recess. They one swan. If she isn’t flying nearby,
Oh beautiful Swan! “Can’t see the necklaces from
tried to sneak by the teachers on all those messages will be stuck in
Come to the shore precious one this distance. My motto is, shoot
playground monitor duty, but that your outgoing.”
Let me put this necklace on. first, check later,” Merrie said.
was unnecessary. The teachers were “Oh yeah, I forgot. We’ll have to
Don’t try to undo what I have “It’s a little bit funny,” Jody said.
preoccupied. go back to the playground and actu-
done “When Covie came home with wads
“Like, eww?” Violet shielded her ally talk to them, like, in person.”
Take flight, be gone of cash, I didn’t question, and now
eyes. ***
Let the necklace send cell signals here we are, trying to undo what
“Like, you didn’t know? Strip pi-
hither and yon A few weeks later the girls’ moth- she did.”
nochle is the new craze. All the old
And let Jovian and girl be one! ers had an afternoon date. Jody Lip- “Is that dirt in that barrel?” Mer-
people are doing it,” Coventry whis-
shutz and Merrie Tooner were fin- rie looked at Jody’s gun.
“Let’s try some bread,” Coventry ishing high tea. Jody’s great estate “Oh, dear. I guess we’ll have to
Violet and Coventry walked to the

Page 12

rely on yours.” “Isn’t that a bit extreme? They’re your dialect. device from minor females. Char-
Merrie’s ankles were itching from only children, our daughters,” The Tuna: Why have you chosen to go lie stole into his daughter’s room,
ticks. It was hot. The birds were woman head said. She had hollow after our youth? disconnected Violet’s cell from its
elusive. They tried as long as there cheeks, a boney face and a blonde BLIMM: I’m sorry you feel that charger, and left without a sound.
was light, fruitlessly, before consol- mane to complete an equine look. way. Can you be more specific? ***
ing themselves with absinthe back Charlie nicknamed her Anorexic An- Tuna: Young girls are so impres-
In the morning Violet dashed to
inside. By the time Merrie left for nie. sionable. You’ve taken advantage of
and fro. She was frazzled beyond
home, the crickets were out in song, “Look, they’ve adopted their own them.
any and all attempts to placate her,
Jupiter burned bright in the twilight, flag. Changed it to the pink, cream BLIMM: Perhaps you need one of
and even refused her Ritalin. She
and the swans had tucked their and teal. And the stars!” Vinyl Man your chemical sedatives? You seem
locked herself in the bathroom.
heads under their wings, safely hid- was aghast, or was just playing to upset.
“Violet Sassafras Tooner! Come
den in the swamp’s underbrush. the camera. “The stars have spar- Tuna: I think I’m justified.
out of there at once!” Merrie used
*** klies, and they’re all different! Men BLIMM: Initial scans indicated
her most authoritarian voice. Sobs
fought and died for our flag!” young girls were the most advanced
Charlie took off his shoes, padded and dull thuds of shampoo bottles
“There, there, you can have your members of your species.
to their bedroom in slippers, and against ceramic tiles were all Merrie
old flag if you want,” AnaAnnie Tuna: What?
peered in to see Merrie, already got in reply.
soothed. BLIMM: They have the most ef-
asleep. It had been a particularly “What are we going to do?” Mer-
“But, but, it’s not the same!” Vi- ficient communication method. In
late night at the office. I wish I could rie crossed her legs outside the
nyl Man wept like a colicky baby. the time we have been conversing,
sleep like that, Charlie thought. He door, looking at her husband, who
The tears looked real. a young girl would have proceeded
had to decompress before joining adopted a stoic expression. He
Just then, Charlie’s laptop beeped. at triple the rate, through abbrevia-
his wife, so went back to the living needed to go too.
It turned out that he was finally at tion.
room. He flipped on the tube and “There’s always the bushes,”
the top of the Jovian queue he en- Tuna: Oh, you mean texting?
flopped on the couch. Charlie said.
tered 149 days ago, the morning That’s just a game. Texting is mo-
“...UFO crashes, hot air balloon “Oh, now that’s a realistic solu-
Jupiter blinked on. Chats must be ronic.
deflations, airliner pockmarks, and tion!” Merrie scolded. “You know
low on their priority list, with all the BLIMM: If you tried it, you’d see
other friendly fire incidents abound how they’re cracking down on in-
texting going on. He went to the den it’s not all that vacuous with us. And,
in the effort to take out the cell decent exposure, what with the
and typed to them under his screen who knows? You just might find you
tower birds. But girls are still able pinochle fad. And as if that weren’t
name: get what you need. TTFN
to text,” the mellifluous announcer enough, unsanitary disposal of haz-
said. ardous waste, and livecams on ev-
Tuna: Can I talk to you as an Blimm moved on to others in his
“What can be done about these ery light pole? A fine example for
adult? queue. A popup advised Charlie of a
terrorists in rainbow socks and yel- our daughter.” Merrie pushed her
BLIMM: Full text is time consum- Marshall Law Directive to confiscate
low scrunchies?” the man head jaw to one side.
ing, but yes, we are also fluent in any cell, wifi or other comm-net
asked. His hair must be solid vinyl. “I’ll break down the door,” Char-

Page 13

Into the Deep
by Brandon Meyers
lie said, getting ready to play hero, joyed watching Dick Peacock lose
like on TV. his authority. He’s such a terrible

“Wait!” Merrie held out her hand boss. It hasn’t been all bad,” Charlie
ightning flashed across the sky “Right,” Veedle agreed. “The co-
like a traffic cop. “You’ll wreck the said. like brilliant spider webs. Rain ordinates.” A particularly strong
door. You might hurt her, and for “I guess it’s time we let young poured from the clouds and into wave threw them both sideways in
what? I bet the Jovians have some- girls have a chance. Old men have the turbulent waves of the ocean’s their seats. “As long as we’ve got
thing else up their sleeves if this been running things, and we know surface, swirling froth and foam in those.”
doesn’t work.” how well that’s turned out,” Merrie torrents. When the lightning burst outside,
“Yeah, after all they have thirteen said A small white bulb floated across it lit the interior of the compart-
of—” Charlie was interrupted by “Or is this just our bladders talk- the crashing surface of the water, ment, pulsing through the thin but
Merrie’s ring tone. ing?” Charlie slid Violet’s cell under dipping and bobbing with the force tough barrier and nearly blinding
“Yes,” Merrie spoke to her cell, the door. The knob turned. “Ladies of the waves, but never submerg- the vehicle’s occupants.
“Violet’s in the bathroom too. No, first,” Charlie said, as Merrie rushed ing. The bulbous shape resembled “Say, Melkins. Suppose the coor-
we’ve had about enough.” Merrie in with no time to spare. that of a disc or an upturned sau- dinates were off just a little bit...”
closed the phone and said, “Jody’s *** cer. Rain pelted its smooth top as it “Impossible,” Melkins gruffed.
going to compromise with Coventry, coasted along through the vicious “These are not things that the Gan-
And so the frequent need which storm, rocking in violent jerks. try takes lightly. You have no idea
and says it’s all over the news. This
nature in her mysterious wisdom Inside of the floating orb sat two how much money was spent on the
confiscation order is very unpopular,
had placed upon all people of Earth haggard-looking men in blue flight design and construction of this de-
and not just with kids, parents too.”
finally handed cherished victory to suits. Facing one another, their har- vice.” He struggled to keep his glass-
“At least we won’t be alone,”
the girls, who were reunited with nesses held them fast to the seat es fixed on his nose.
Charlie said over his shoulder as he
their Jovian Best Friends Forever, backs as they swayed with the out- “Right, right,” Veedle said. “Well,
retrieved Violet’s cell, hidden in the
since everyone has to pee. side currents. The smooth, mem- with all that money, you’d have
bookshelf. Soon after he pressed
the power button it beeped with a brane-walled interior of the vessel thought they might at least hire
message. Charlie showed the screen was lit with iridescent blue light, some kind of decorator. After all, it’s
which played over the faces of both a little bland in here.”
to Merrie:
men within. “Please quiet yourself.”
Bff.jov © 2009 by Scott Davis “How much further?” the first in- “And supposing I don’t?” Veedle
BLIMM: Can’t we all just get
quired. prodded.
along? We’re sorry. “It shouldn’t be long, Veedle,” “You know the rules,” Melkins
replied his traveling companion, said.
“Ha! Fine time for that!” Merrie with an irritated tone. “Our coordi- Veedle peered over the edge of
said. “After all the trouble they’ve nates were very precise.” Melkins the viewing port. Save for the circu-
caused?” adjusted the sweaty spectacles that lar bench seat, and a short ledge for
“Well, you know, I’ve kinda en- framed his beady eyes. their feet, the round vacuous hole

Page 14

made up the entirety of the vessel’s and Veedle was quite large. While name anyone else would volunteer ily a prerequisite for stomach expul-
base. In clearer waters, it would Melkins himself was no skeleton, to come along. I mean, no offense sions.
have provided the riders with a view he and Veedle differed structurally Melkins, but you’re kind of a sorry- The circular cabin had darkened
into the depths below. in that Veedle’s immense mass was looking bastard. What exactly are visibly, and the passing water out-
“Are you as bored as I am?” Vee- attributed to mounds of rippling you planning on doing once we get side the paper-thin walls roared like
dle asked. “I mean, aside from try- muscle. through the drop point?” thunder. Just as Veedle was starting
ing to keep your lunch down.” Melkins examined the blips on “No offense,” Melkins said. “Hang to feel unable to control his own
“Boredom is the solace of busy his watch that had begun its count- onto your seat. We should be enter- stomach, the propulsion slammed
men,” Melkins said absently. down sequence the moment they ing the canal at any moment.” to a halt, and veered in another di-
Veedle raised his eyebrows. had hit the water. It had been nine- “Don’t you have any family, or rection.
“That’s rich, Melkins. Whatever it teen minutes, though it had felt like anything? I mean, me, I got nobody,” “Melkins, you awake, man?”
means. But seriously, I can’t even sixty. Then again, having been thrust Veedle said. Veedle ground through his teeth.
see out of this damned eyehole, or immediately into a raging storm, Melkins bit down hard on his lip, The momentum was a little less
whatever they called it.” perhaps he was experiencing time bracing himself against a turbulent now, and almost afforded him the
“Perhaps that would have to do a little more slowly as they were wave. capability of normal speech. He
with the fact that we are currently forced to endure the terrifying ride. “No. I don’t have anyone...not thought he saw his companion nod
floating in the middle of a storm,” At least he had had the sense not to anymore.” his head.
replied Melkins. “And it’s called the eat anything before the departure. At once, the interior of the oblong After almost half a minute, the
keyhole.” “So, who’d you piss off to get vessel turned a brilliant white. orb came to a complete stop. The
“Right, that one. I mean, it picked for this job?” Veedle asked “System Alert: entering descent subsequent sensation of floating
wouldn’t have been so bad if some- after a series of sharp twists rocked canal,” sounded the bubble’s elec- inside the gently rocking vehicle
one would have told me, ‘Hey Vee- the cabin. tronic voice overhead. proved to be too much even for
dle, bring along a fishing pole, why Melkins eyed the large man care- “Like clockwork,” Melkins said, Veedle. He heaved his lunch onto
don’t ya?’” He watched the round- fully before answering. “This was satisfied. the floor. “Hnnph...I don’t remem-
edged hole in wonder, trying to fig- my plan.” Veedle shook his head and ber eatin’ anything that looked like
ure out the miraculous engineering “Your plan?” Veedle said. “Wowza, laughed. “Here we gooo—” that.”
that allowed for the existence of man. You must be outta your damn Much like a fly finding the busi- Melkins rolled his head and
such a gaping thing that permitted tree.” He looked the slightly chubby ness end of a vacuum cleaner, the breathed deeply. “We’ve made it.
absolutely no water to enter the man up and down in his seat. rocking vessel was sucked into a We actually made it.”
vessel. “Said the pot to the kettle,” Mel- gaping hole that had formed in the “Don’t sound so surprised, Mel.”
Melkins ignored him, or rather kins mumbled. middle of the roiling sea. It shot Melkins dared to test his vi-
tried his hardest not to have to Veedle laughed. Lightning out- downward with breakneck trajec- sual equilibrium and opened his
meet Veedle’s gaze, and remained side illuminated the interior and re- tory, pinning its occupants to their eyes. “Numbers are numbers,” he
silent. This was harder to do than it flected off of Veedle’s smooth skull. seats. Veedle managed to crack one croaked. “Actually living through the
sounded, given that the interior size “I know why I’m here, man. What eye open, looking over to Melkins. process is something else entirely.”
of the orb was achingly cramped, I can’t figure out is why in god’s Apparently food was not necessar- “Now what?” Veedle asked. Mel-

Page 15

kins coughed and cocked an eye- A bead of sweat had formed on his ate impression that he was floating to calculate the expected odds of
brow at him. brow. “Can you hear anything?” within a large soap bubble. just such an occurrence. But ulti-
“Now, we wait.” Melkins slid back “Nothing but running water,” Vee- “Pressure status,” Melkins said. mately, I knew they wouldn’t. They
in his seat and sighed. dle said. “Say, do you think it might “Pressure is within acceptable pa- are too curious. I knew that they
Veedle huffed and tried to test his be a good time to make away with rameters, Dr. Melkins.” would want to know how anything
safety harnesses. “Never was much these, now?” Veedle nodded to- “Can they see us?” Veedle asked. had happened to find their means
of a poker player, Melkins. Don’t ward his restrained arms and legs. He was referring to the transport of transport to access the city. The
have much time for patience. Just “Almost,” Melkins said. He un- vessel that was hauling them in tow process is really quite genius, ex-
how long you think we’re going to strapped himself and stood up. The to Damascus City. It was a large, rug- ploiting the natural undercurrents
be waiting here?” ceiling only cleared his head by an ged-looking metal ship that coasted of the ocean to create an underwa-
“Until they come for us,” Melkins inch. The blue luminescence now through the water without creat- ter highway. Fitting that one of their
replied softly. “It could be minutes. highlighted his growing sweat stains. ing any disturbance. It had very few crowning achievements will serve
It might be hours.” Melkins approached the keyhole windows. to bring about their own downfall.”
“Any chance I can get these re- and peered downward. The faint “No,” Melkins said. “Their vision “Sounds like someone took the
straints off, now? I mean, we are out glow given off by their craft lit up cannot penetrate these walls. If all is Rains of November a little person-
of the rough waters and all.” the water in a five foot radius. Noth- as it should be, they should be com- ally,” Veedle said.
Melkins sighed again. “You know ing was visible in the water beneath pletely baffled as to the appearance Melkins coughed and pumped his
the rules as well as I do, sir.” Veedle the viewing window but silt par- of this vehicle. After all, it has been fists. “When nineteen-million lives
noted how Melkins seemed to inch ticles. As had been expected, their nearly a decade since any form of are extinguished from the face of
away as he said this. conveyance was being pulled manu- communication was attempted by the planet, Mr. Veedle, there is not
With a chuckle, Veedle stretched ally toward the docking station. the topworld.” a single person still alive who should
within the confines of his bonds, and Melkins’ hands began to shake a “And we all know how well that not take it personally.”
the tiny compartment. He leaned little at the thought of what he knew went,” Veedle spat. Melkins rubbed And then Damascus City came
back and rested his eyes, recalling was coming next. But thoughts of at his chest blankly. into view as they floated over an
each detail that had been pounded his family hardened his fears and “Locate Damascus and give arrival immense cliff and into an oceanic
into his head by the bureaucrats in pummeled them away. estimation,” Melkins said. valley.
the fancy suits. It was a rather sim- “Visual status,” Melkins stated. “Eight-hundred meters distance. “Wow,” Veedle said. “I never
ple plan, actually. He smiled. “Doctor Emmanuel Melkins: voice Estimated time to arrival at current imagined so much...light.” Spires of
It was going to be a hell of a good identification accepted.” trajectory: two minutes.” shining rock stood out amongst the
time. “Please give me a visual record,” “Maybe I’m just an ignorant assh- layout of the vast city, which was
At some point, Melkins had dozed Melkins said. In an instant the cir- ole for asking, Melkins,” Veedle said, composed of innumerable smaller
off, because he was awoken by force- cular walls became invisible. Vee- “but why didn’t they just blow us all structures that were unmistakably
ful jerking movements of the ship. dle jerked in his chair, having been to hell when they found our ship?” dwellings. Glowing blue light radi-
“Wake up, sleepyhead,” Veedle unprepared for the sight of being Melkins considered this with ated from the very core of the city,
said. “I think they found us.” completely surrounded by glow- growing mental distance. “It was all the way to a barrier that, without
“So it would seem,” Melkins said. ing water. Veedle had the immedi- all up to chance. There was no way the light’s reflection, would have

Page 16

been invisible. him a moment to figure out that else in Damascus City, were made the keyhole, looking at the shocked
“Approaching Damascus City,” they had been sitting in a kind of of smooth, glowing, natural stone. creatures.
the computerized voice said. air-lock that allowed the large ship Melkins watched as the creatures Veedle took advantage of their
“We stopped,” Veedle said. “Why to enter the confines of the city on began to disembark from their ship. surprise, mowing into them in an
did we stop?” solid ground. Water dripped down They looked eerily like humans, ear-shattering spray of gunfire.
“The retaining barrier,” Melkins the sides of the drying orb. but with aqueous indigo skin, and Bodies toppled to the hard ground
said. He urged under his breath, Melkins placed a mask on Veedle’s eyes as black as the midnight sea. in tatters while others began to flee.
“Keep going. Let us in. Let us in.” face, fastening it behind his head, as They wore no clothing, which re- Veedle laughed.
A light flashed from the hauling he had his own. vealed other dissimilarities, but When none were left stand-
vessel and engulfed Melkins and “Just breathe naturally,” Melkins Melkins had seen them before and ing, he looked around for Melkins,
Veedle’s orb. said in a muffled voice. was not surprised. and found that his portly traveling
“Internal scan in progress,” the “How long is it good for?” Veedle “Ugly little bastards, aren’t they?” companion was kneeling on the
computer said. The light switched asked. Veedle huffed. ground.
off, and they once again felt their Melkins did not reply. Melkins nodded in silent agree- “No need to be scared of a little
vessel begin to move forward. “Well, Mr. Veedle, it would ap- ment and turned to face Veedle. He noise, Doc.” He pointed the business
Melkins let out the breath he had pear that the time is near for your reached inside his shirt collar for the end of one of the guns at Melkins’
been holding. They were very close grand entrance.” key that would release his traveling chest and squeezed the trigger.
now. Both ships lowered to ground- Veedle nodded, smiling beneath companion. He slid the key into the Melkins dropped in a heap. Veedle
level. The white orb was pulled his mask. slot just below Veedle’s neck. The stooped to examine the fallen doc-
beside a docking bay of the larger “The famed Timothy Veedle,” restraints released their hold and tor, and that was when he noticed
ship. Melkins said. “You make me sick, Veedle stretched his arms. the electrical wires that attached
“What’s that?” Veedle asked. sir.” “Guns,” he said simply. Melkins to the luminous stone floor.
“Dry-dock barrier, Mr. Veedle. You Veedle continued to grin. Melkins spoke again to the com- Pulling the man’s shredded shirt
see, the creatures live in a relatively “I don’t mind telling you now that puter, “Weapons release. Security open, Veedle saw a rugged-looking
dry environment, even though they the time is near. I think you know code: Tidal Devil.” box that displayed the word activat-
are not aerobic beings.” how this is going to end for the both Melkins’ seat slid upward to re- ed in a digital readout. The wires ran
“They don’t work out?” of us, and I believe that the time for veal a hidden compartment filled from the box to the strangely glow-
“No...They do not breathe oxygen. fear has just passed. May those who with weaponry. Hunched over, Vee- ing stone upon which he stood.
But our autopsies have determined you have massacred be avenged dle raided the cache, arming himself “We all died...” cough, “the sec-
that their bodies are well-adapted this day.” with two of the largest guns that ond they let us inside the barrier,”
to dry environments. I think now “Do it,” Veedle commanded. Melkins had ever seen. Melkins sputtered. “The whole god-
might be a good time to prepare our Melkins looked over his shoulder “Release hatch,” Melkins said, a damn city. And we used their own
air supply.” to watch as the ship was set down small tremble in his voice. power source to do it.” He smiled
Veedle watched as the water sur- on the face of the keyhole, the only The top and sides of the ship ex- painfully and rubbed at the device
rounding them began to lower in truly flat surface on the vessel. ploded outward, leaving Melkins strapped to his chest. Red digital
level and finally disappear. It took Their surroundings, like everything and Veedle standing directly over numbers began descending steadi-

Page 17

DEUCES WILD - Dining With The Enemy
by L.S. King
ly. “It was the only way we could do
“The hell are you saying, Doc?”
Tristan piloted his old partner Reg- a chance. Tristan stood. Reggie rose
“You did your part...bought me a
few moments to charge the bomb. gie’s ship safely through the Confed- as well, his lifted eyebrows the only
You cannot stop it.” He tried to eration blockade. Tristan now had to indication he was surprised. Did he
laugh. “Remember the Rains of face Reggie—where the true danger think Tristan would fight or balk?
November. This war is over.” His loomed. Perhaps. He remembered a much
eyes rolled back in his head and he younger man, one with dark moods
slumped over lifelessly.
The clock had just sunk under the
two-minute mark.
T he two guards behind Reggie,
flanking his chair, raised their
PBRs. Pursed lips gave away Reggie’s
and an explosive temper. Could
Tristan use that to his advantage?
“I apologize but I must ask for you
Veedle laughed hysterically. uncertainly despite his smug expres- to relinquish your vest.” Reggie lift-
Apparently the noise from his sion. “Kudos. I see your skill is no ed a finger. “And don’t try to palm
weapon fire had caught the atten- less than it used to be. You seem to any of You know I
tion of others, because a flood of have aged well, like a fine wine. I as- would see it.”
armed guards were making their sume your other talents are equally And he likely would, having been
way out of the nearest building, as as honed.” Reggie still spoke in a bit one of Tristan’s teachers in the art.
well as from the ship. of a close-mouthed drawl, but that His gaze didn’t falter as he took the
“Two minutes,” Veedle said. “Bet- broken jaw had caused considerable vest off and held it out for a guard
ter make it count, then.” damage, after all. It didn’t affect to take. None of the items was ir-
He steadied both of the enormous his silky voice though, and only in- replaceable, but he would mourn
weapons and charged forward to- creased his ability to appear poised. the time, effort, and cost if he had
wards Damascus City, laughing the Tristan didn’t answer except to be put through the process twice
whole way. through his stare. Reggie leaned within a year.
back, tenting his fingers in front One of the guards ran a scanner
of him, his gaze growing curious. over Tristan, then nodded.
“Would you join me for a meal?” Reggie swept an arm out, inviting
Into the Deep © 2009 by Brandon Meyers “Are you giving me a choice?” Tristan to lead the way. The guards’
A smile slowly spread. To some- aim never faltered as Tristan passed.
one who didn’t know Reggie, it Once in the corridor—the plush
might seem genuine, but to Tristan, blue fibers on the deck and polished
it was feral. dark mahogany moldings indicating
“No.” it was a luxury yacht, Reggie said,
Give in to the inevitable, wait for “The dining room is aft.”

Page 18

And dining room it was, with thing ingenious which would be det- ly. “I expect your palette is not used “Is that supposed to be an in-
chandeliers, bulkheads of raised, rimental to the ship.” to fine wines, child.” sult?” Addie shot back. “Try harder
dark mahogany panels accented Oh, would he ever! The thought Tristan tasted his wine as Addie you pretentious, low-brow gang-
with light, burl moldings, and a large of what Carter could do to Reggie’s answered, “I’m not a child, and this ster.”
table, sumptuously laid. Liszt’s Lie- ship sent ripples of glee up Tristan’s is tasteless. My daddy taught me Fighting a smile, Tristan leaned
bestraum played softly. Three ser- spine. A hint of humor must have wines. What is it, a Chenin Blanc? back. This could unexpectedly good
vants—from their carriage and the sparked in Tristan’s eyes as he and Bet it’s from Minatoa or Cepheus. entertainment.
fact they bore weapons, they dou- Reggie sat; his former partner shot Both planets have a reputation for Slap, sitting next to Addie, pat-
bled as guards—waited at various him an intense, curious glare as he letting Chenin overproduce.” ted her arm. “Hush, girl. Be good.”
points around the room. Tristan did unfolded his napkin. The girl had it right—the wine He then scowled at Reggie. “And
a mental calculation; standard crew A servant stepped forward with a was very...uninteresting. Reggie’s how do we know the food and drink
on this class ship was eight. Two on bottle of wine. Tristan watched with taste hadn’t improved; he still didn’t aren’t poisoned?”
the bridge, two stationed behind veiled amusement as Reggie went know quality, just played at being Trust Slap to be blunt.
them at the door, and three in the through the pompous process of cultured. Reggie’s smile grew smug. “You
room already. Where had the pilot approving the selection—from sniff- Reggie’s frown deepened. “The forget. I rescued you from the ice
been when Tristan was flying the ing the cork, to swirling it his glass, wines of Cepheus are renowned.” and cold of that planet, and from
ship? And did Reggie double as cap- and the final show of tasting. Addie snorted. “Some are, espe- the Confederation. Why would I
tain? How many people did Tristan When he gave the nod of endorse- cially the wineries on the west coast wish to bring harm to my guests?”
need to worry about? ment, the servant then proceeded of the main continent in the eastern Slap’s one-word reply was pure
At the table sat Tristan’s compan- around the table. Tristan allowed hemisphere. But not all, as this un- cowboy: direct and earthy.
ions. Slap and Addie both glowering, his glass to be filled, but Carter put imaginative little wine proves.” “Two very quaint companions,
were seated to the left of the empty his hand over his. Slap followed suit. Tristan silently agreed. He stared I see,” Reggie murmured. “I would
host’s chair. Carter, on the right, ap- Addie, sitting across from Tristan, hard at Addie, realizing he never not say you have come up in the
peared worried. let hers be filled, and to his surprise, had before. He’d let his eyes slide by world in your choices of friends.”
“I was going to confine them to lifted the glass and stuck her nose her, not wishing to acknowledge her Oh, so tempting to retort, but
cabins, but that wouldn’t be very almost into it. After a few moments, presence. That Addie was fearless Reggie expected it, so Tristan mere-
chivalrous for a rescuer, would it?” she took a sip, and held the wine in in standing toe-to-toe with anyone ly returned his gaze evenly.
Reggie’s smile flashed as he strutted her mouth, lighting swishing it. She was not news, but that she knew After a few moments, Reggie
to the head of the table and indi- swallowed, wrinkling her nose, and what she was talking about was. turned his attention back to Slap.
cated Tristan should sit to his right, for the first time, endeared herself Reggie inhaled and turned to “If I wished to kill you, I could have
next to Carter. to Tristan’s heart by announcing, Tristan, overtly dismissing Addie. merely left you on the planet, or in-
“And besides, I have a feeling that, “Well, that’s very bland.” “Quaint passenger you picked up. structed one of my guards to shoot
given the chance, Lt. Commander Reggie’s eyes narrowed, then he Where did you find her, on a gar- you.”
Donegal would be attempting some- quickly smiled most condescending- bage scow?” “What about drugging us?”

Page 19

“The only one I might wish to drug didn’t know Zvi was a rabbi.” the hatchet, but your friend”—Reg- raised. “Please don’t try anything.
is the Lt. Commander here, and that “There’s a lot you don’t know.” gie nodded at Tristan—”being stub- My people are all well-trained, and
only out of concern that he might Reggie’s flinty look quickly disap- born, refuses to believe it.” if one of you makes a move, all of
be tempted creative in a mis- peared beneath his cool demeanor, “So why not leave him alone? you will pay the price.”
placed effort to be what he feels is and he picked up his fork. After sev- Ain’t that buryin’ the hatchet? Or is Tristan allowed himself to be
helpful to his friends.” Reggie’s feral eral bites, he glanced around the it that he wants to bury the hatchet herded out, wondering what Reg-
smile returned as he turned to re- table, and his expression became in Tristan’s neck?” gie wanted to say to Carter. Dray
gard Carter. “But be not alarmed, sir, pleading. “Do eat. My chef went to “You really should leave discus- was interested in his genius, but did
I have no intention of ruining such great trouble. You wouldn’t want his sions you know nothing about to Dray realize how badly the Confeds
good food, and besides, it would feelings hurt.” your betters.” wanted Carter, what lengths they
eliminate the chance for us to have Arms crossed, Addie asked, “Is the Slap’s explosive verbal reply made would go through to get him back?
a heart to heart later.” food any better than the wine?” Addie giggle. Reggie ignored it and Even Dray might find himself biting
Carter didn’t answer. Reggie, still “Addie!” Slap hissed. said to Tristan, “You should instruct off more than he could chew.
smiling, adjusted the napkin in his “I’m not afraid of him.” your companions to eat. They must Interesting scenario. If only
lap. “Shall we dine?” Reggie sat back, exhaling in dra- eventually give in or starve.” Tristan and his tag-alongs weren’t
A plate of scallops wrapped in ba- matic exasperation. “My dear, child, “I believe it’s the company, not caught in the middle. He let out a
con was set before Tristan. He cut there is nothing to fear from me. the food, they find distasteful.” long exhale. He needed to plan his
his gaze to Reggie, whose expect- You are all guests.” Reggie’s lips thinned and his face next move, but he had no idea what
ant look slid into one of innocent “Then why the armed guards?” grew pinched. He carefully dabbed cards the other players held.
bemusement and then into dismay. Slap asked. his mouth with the napkin. “Fine. ***
“Oh, dear. I believe I committed a “Besides the fact I require my crew You may all eat in your cabins,
Slap eyed the posh suite as the
faux pas. Or do you no longer only to be armed at all times? As long as and remain confined there for all I
two guards escorting him took up
eat kosher foods?” you are under the misapprehension care.”
positions at the door. The living
Tristan had never kept kashrut that you are in some danger from All four stood at almost the same
room and bar took up more space
as Zvi did, although he did follow a me, I find myself in the position of time. Slap looked relieved, and Ad-
than Bertha’s captain’s cabin, galley,
subset of the laws; a compromise being in danger from you. A delicate die grinned.
and rec lounge/mess. Everything in
of the two beliefs he’d been raised standoff, isn’t it?” “Except you, Lt. Commander. I
the place was outrageously luxuri-
with. He avoided the slur intended “Considering your boss hired you wish to have a word with you.”
ous, from the polished, dark wood-
and rounded with one of his own: to kidnap Tristan, how are we sup- Carter frowned and spoke for the
en panels on the bulkheads to the
“Company can render even a kosher posed to trust you?” first time. “I have nothing to say to
thick, carpet Slap sank into. The fur-
meal treif.” “Kidnap?” Reggie gazed upward, you.”
niture was...swanky. He wondered
“And which rabbi said that?” considering, and gave a shrugging Reggie shrugged. “You can listen
if Granger would throw a fit if he
“Rabbi Yuri Rabinovich.” nod. “I suppose, technically. Mon- then.” He nodded to the guards,
actually sat on anything. The guard
Reggie exhaled in a silent laugh. “I sieur Lefevre merely wants to bury who stepped forward, weapons
acting as bartender—or was he a

Page 20

bartender who also doubled as a “He disobeyed our employer, and he wasn’t going to tell him anything “But of course.”
guard?—regarded him distrustfully. endangered both his life and mine, about Tristan either. Of course. Tristan wondered what
Granger entered and crossed to all just for self-gratification. “ Was Granger trying this game each of them had to say to Reggie.
the bar, smiling like a used rover Slap considered punching Grang- with the others? Carter would know “You have managed to cultivate
salesman. What is he up to? er, but instead decided to be more better. Addie...Slap grinned, think- an incredible amount of loyalty in
“Please, join me.” Granger nod- vocal in his rejection of the conver- ing of the insults the girl would hurl your...companions.” Reggie leaned
ded to the guard who began mixing sation. He leaned his back against at him, but then he sat, thinking back, swirling the wine in his glass.
a drink. “What would you like?” the bar, crossed his arms, and began hard. Addie would likely give away “Or so it seems.”
Slap glared at him. “Your heart singing “Home on the Range.” anything she knew or thought she Tristan waited. He could hear a
and liver served up on a platter.” By the second line, Granger knew about Tristan without even “but” lurking.
Granger’s smile didn’t fade. “Your stopped, open-mouthed. He tried realizing it. Reggie let his smirk show. “How-
loyalty to your friend is admirable. to talk over Slap’s singing, but Slap But what did she know? As far as ever, one of them is a spy. Do you
But misplaced.” The guard placed a just sang louder. The lizard’s expres- that went, what did any of them re- know which one?”
stemmed glass on the bar. Granger sion changed from amazement to ally know about the man? Granger Addie. Tristan didn’t respond
picked it up and sipped. He stared irritation to disgust. Finally, he lift- probably knew more than any of aloud and kept his face impassive.
at Slap as if sizing him up. “He tends ed a hand as if dismissing Slap and them. An irrational twinge of jeal- Reggie often ran fast and loose with
to betray friendships, you know. He turned away, pointing a finger at the ousy rose in him. As much as his truth, but Tristan had begun to sus-
betrayed me, and our employer, not door guards. They stepped forward friend trusted Slap with his life, he pect something himself. Sifting Reg-
the other way around. No matter and gestured with their PBGs. Slap didn’t trust him with his past. If he’d gie’s words might shed some light
what he might have told you.” let himself be led back to his fancy played Granger’s game, the man on his own ideas.
Slap leaned an elbow on the bar, cabin. might have told Slap plenty, but “That girl disappointed her Con-
pretending to stifle a yawn. “Ya got Once back in his gilded cage, he twisted, to fit whatever scheme the federation allies when she stopped
anywhere to go with this, or you just prowled wall to wall, helplessness lizard was up to. cooperating with them.”
blowin’ hot air?” and anger growing in him. How did No, he’d rather not know Tristan’s “I can imagine their kidnapping
“He was M. LeFevre’s protégé. the man think he could insult Slap’s past than hear Granger’s version. of her had something to do with
Groomed to be his successor. Has intelligence—as if Slap couldn’t un- *** that.”
he told you why he left?” derstand or didn’t remember the “They rescued her from the origi-
“Interesting companions you
Slap poked a finger at Granger. way Granger referred to him to nal boors who kidnapped her, but
have.” Reggie gestured to the chair
“Think I’d believe anything from Tristan—then try to play up to him? that’s when she decided to stop co-
across from him. Tristan glanced
space-sucking sleaze like you? You’re Slap might not have the fancy edu- operating. So,” Reggie paused to sip
back at the guards and sat, eyes on
wastin’ your time. I don’t want to be cation Tristan did, but he wasn’t stu- his wine, “they used her as bait to
his opponent.
here, I don’t want to listen to you, pid. He wasn’t ever going to believe get you and Donegal.”
“Quite diverse,” Reggie added.
and I ain’t gonna to talk to you no that smooth-talking piece of slime Addie spying made sense. Her fa-
“I take it you have...interviewed
more.” was someone he could trust, and ther probably put her up to it—he
all three of them.”

Page 21

by Raz Greenberg
lost business when the Mordas lost To catch up on previous episodes
control. The Confederation would of the adventures of Slap and

want to fill in a power vacuum, and Tristan, visit: iatti stood on the platform, things about you. She always calls
an unscrupulous business man, looking at her father with tears you a—” Niatti stopped, not sure if
made wealthy by criminals, would in her eyes. she should finish the sentence.
be a perfect in-road for them to gain Deuces Wild is dedicated to “Enough of this, honey,” he said. Her father gave her a sad smile.
a foothold. But why would Addie the memory of my best friend; “You know I have to go. My crew “Your mother has many reasons to
stop spying for the Confederation? my inspiration for an enduring could barely afford the extra week be angry with me, honey, and most
“Is she your lover?” friendship... I stayed here because of your birth- of them are very good reasons.”
Tristan’s thoughts skidded to a day.” He looked at his ship, the Lunar-
halt. He blinked. “What?” “But why can’t I come with you?” ian, which was ready for takeoff.
Reggie stopped, open mouthed, “We’ve been through all this. You Then he turned back to face his
and a smile slowly spread. “How ex- really want to leave the spaceport? daughter. “I’ll let you in on a secret.
traordinary. You weren’t aware she’s You’ve got friends here, school, your You’re still too young to come with
in love with you?” mom...” us, but five years from now, when
Tristan’s astonishment of such a “I hate my mom.” you’re twelve, your mother agreed
far-flung notion gave way to humor, Her father’s face hardened. “Niat- to let you join us for a year, and see
and he found himself chuckling. ti, you shouldn’t say such things. Tell if you like it. And if you do, and if the
“You never were very perceptive, me now that you didn’t mean what crew agrees, you will get a perma-
were you?” you just said.” nent position on the ship.”
Reggie’s grin faded. “I’m serious.” Niatti gave him a disobedient Niatti leaped on her father, hug-
Glass in hand, he pointed at Tristan. look. He stared back at her, without ging him. “Yes! Yes! Sure I’ll like it!”
“You, my old, dear friend, must be moving a single muscle on his face. “But only if you promise me,” her
slipping.” She gave up after thirty seconds. father continued, “to be a good girl,
Tristan opened his mouth to an- “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t do well in school, and not give your
mean it.” mother a hard time.”
swer, but a shudder running through
He bent down and patted her “I promise! I promise!” She
the ship stopped him. The klaxon
head. “Honey, the things your jumped up and down on the metal
blatted, and a voice over the comm
mother makes you do—especially floor.
announced, “We’re under attack!” your studies—are all important for Her father smiled. He kissed her
your future. Don’t be mad at her, goodbye, and turned back to his
and don’t give her a hard time. She’s ship.
got enough trouble as it is.” “Goodbye honey,” he said. “Hap-
“Why do you defend her?” Niatti py birthday, Niatti.”
Deuces Wild © 2009 by L.S. King.
asked angrily. “She never says good ***

Page 22

Niatti ran into her mother’s of- as she watched missiles fired from your head with dreams and fanta- ”who just turned fourteen today.
fice. “Daddy’s coming today, right?” all four ships make their way slowly sies, and leave you heartbroken at And she’s giving me a lot of trouble,
Her mother shook her head. “No, to the Lunarian, tearing it apart. The the end?” She pointed at the screen like any kid her age, but one day
Niatti, your father isn’t coming.” She ship disintegrated completely after again. “Can’t you see that this is ex- she’ll be the owner around here.”
pointed at the large screen hanging a few minutes. actly what happened here, for the Seward’s smile broadened.
from the wall. The screen featured a “A Coalition representative has last time, thank god?” “That’s a really cute girl you got.
picture of the Lunarian in space. The called the attack an act of terror- “I hate you,” Niatti whispered. Here’s something for her.” He pulled
system’s news network’s logo ap- ism, and promised that a strong re- She turned her back on her mother a nice-looking bracelet from his
peared at the bottom of the screen. sponse will—” and ran out of the office. pocket. “Made on a personal order
“That’s daddy’s ship. What...” Even after her mother turned off *** at the most prominent workshop on
Niatti’s mother pushed a button the screen, Niatti kept staring it, Noraj.”
near the screen, and the image on speechless. It was another reception for a Niatti remembered hearing about
it was joined by a voice. “The video “Niatti,” her mother finally said in VIP—that’s what Niatti’s moth- the Noraj workshops in the news—
you see now was sent to us by an or- a voice that had a hint of compas- er called spaceport guests who the Coalition declared their prod-
ganization calling themselves ‘Spac- sion, “We’ll have your birthday cel- brought many ships with them and ucts illegal after learning that they
ers for Fair Trade.’ Representatives ebration some other day. You don’t paid a lot of money. In such recep- employed people in slavery condi-
of the organization claim since the have to work or go to school today if tions, the spaceport owner and her tions. She put on the bracelet with
Coalition does not intend to act ac- you don’t want to.” daughter would usually exchange a rueful look on her face.
cording to trade agreements made Niatti finally let what she saw on pleasantries and sometimes modest “Now that I’ve seen your kid, it’s
with them, they will enforce these the screen sink in. “No!” gifts with the guests. It never took time for you to see mine. Or some-
agreements on their own, and will “Niatti, I understand it’s difficult more than fifteen minutes, but Ni- thing like that.” Seward laughed
take action against Coalition-favored for you, but—” atti loathed almost every VIP guest again and turned his head to look at
traders.” “He said he’ll be here! He said he in the spaceport and felt like each his ship. “Antoine?”
Four smaller, yet heavily armed was coming to get me!” reception lasted for hours. A young man came running out
ships suddenly appeared around The hint of compassion in her “It’s so good to see you, Mr. of Seward’s ship, and stood beside
the Lunarian. mother’s voice turned to anger. “Get Seward,” her mother said. him. Antoine’s attempts at social
“According to the organization’s you where? That’s the life you want- ‘Mr. Seward’ was an overgrown pretension were even worse than
representatives, the ship seen in ed so much? Barely making a living goon who seemed to fit poorly in Seward’s. Seward was a rough guy
the video was doing business under in space, looking for trouble?” his fancy suit. “So, you’re the hom- who tried to conceal his real char-
terms that contradict the agree- “Yes!” Niatti screamed. “You al- eowner, eh?” He laughed. acter with expansive, respectable
ments, with the full knowledge and ways lied about him, tried to con- “The owner of this home, and clothing. Antoine, with his unshav-
support of the Coalition. After refus- vince me—” many other homes that can host en face, punk haircut, and the dirty
ing the demands not to continue in “How did I lie, Niatti? Didn’t I tell your fleet, I assure you. This here is look with which he examined Niatti,
its course...” you that he was going to abandon my daughter”—Niatti stepped for- was clearly a criminal of the kind
Niatti stopped listening to the re- you, just as he abandoned me? ward, dragging her feet, trying to she heard a lot about in the news.
porter’s words. Her eyes widened Didn’t I tell you he was going to fill make as much noise as possible— His features contrasted badly with

Page 23

his fancy uniform. There was also don’t know what you think you’re her board “Colonel Chen. I’m afraid “I mean, physically. Board our
something disturbingly familiar doing but...” all the other platforms are occu- ship, see if we’re not hiding any-
about the uniform too, but Niatti “This man killed daddy!” pied.” thing.”
couldn’t figure out just what it was. “Calm down right now, or else “No need to apologize or make Niatti tapped her board. “You
“An extraordinarily talented young I’ll—” excuses, my dear. We’re already gave me your cargo manifest. That’s
man,” said Seward. “When I picked “Look at the insignia on his uni- used to the fact that reasonable enough for me.”
him up, he was just released from form! It’s the same one that ap- platforms are reserved for paying “And your boss knows that you
the jail in Amjan, and they wanted peared on those ships that—” customers, good platforms are re- show such trust in Coalition Patrol
to send him to work on mineral pro- The slap on Niatti’s face wasn’t served for well-paying customers, personnel?”
duction, of all things. Now look at strong, but it was enough to si- and luxury platforms are reserved “My boss never bothers to get
him. Barely twenty-two years old, lence her. She looked at her mother for the criminal types. The garbage down here herself, so she’ll never
and he’s already commanding my through tears. platforms are reserved for us the... find out.”
fleet. I’m telling you...” “Go to my office and wait for me how does your boss call us, anyway? “Still, what would you do if it turns
Antoine smiled at Niatti when there.” On other spaceports I hear ‘para- that we brought some weapons
he noticed her attention to him. Niatti blinked to make her tears sites,’ ‘vampires,’ ‘fleas.’” with us to get rid of some problem-
Dream on, she thought. Then she go away. She wouldn’t let Antoine, “My boss isn’t such a colorful type. atic people in your VIP platforms?”
understood what seemed so famil- Seward, or her mother see her cry. For her, you’re all just ‘scams.’” Niatti’s voice grew cold. “Let me
iar about his uniform—it was the in- Just before leaving the platform, The Colonel laughed. “How very know if you did. I’ll be glad to show
signia on his sleeve. Where has she she noticed that the insignia from disappointing. Anyway, we get sent you the way.”
seen it before? Antoine’s uniform also appeared on to places like this all the time. What The Colonel laughed again, and
“...those Coalition idiots wouldn’t his ship. Seward’s ship. did you do to get the punishment of patted on Niatti’s shoulder. “I’m
dare to give me any more trouble. It *** handling us?” sorry, dear, but we didn’t bring any
took them some time, but now they “I’m kept out of VIP platforms till weapons with us here this time.”
finally understand who’s really run- The ship that finished the docking further notice. But handling VIPs is She frowned. “We really need to
ning things in the system.” process was old and rusty. It seemed the real punishment. I’d rather work do something about these peo-
“No doubt about it,” Niatti’s at home among the platform’s noisy with people like you.” Niatti’s board ple, someday. But until then...”
mother agreed. “These people have generators and leaking pipes. But beeped. “Everything looks okay. Tell She smiled again. “We have some
to learn things the hard way.” the officer who came out—an im- your people they can get off the ship merchandise we confiscated from
Then Niatti finally remembered. pressively tall woman whose short and settle in. You know the rules— smugglers. We didn’t report it, and
She stormed at Antoine with a grey hair, ironed uniform, and shiny no wandering outside your assigned we need to get rid of it before we
scream, scratching his face with her ranks stood in sharp contrast to platform, and you need to check get back. It just happens to be the
well-manicured nails. Antoine began her miserable-looking ship—didn’t with me before leaving.” kind of merchandise that our cook
fighting back. Her mother grabbed seem to mind. The Colonel raised an eyebrow. can work miracles with. So how
her as Seward did Antoine, strug- “It’s actually above the standards “You don’t intend to check our car- about it, dear? You feel like joining
gling to break the two apart. we’re used to,” she said, amused. go?” the scams for a luxury dinner? I can
“Niatti,” her mother hissed, “I “I’m very sorry...” Niatti checked “I just did.” promise you something at least as

Page 24

good as the stuff they serve in your least sit down and hear my side. I going to war?” How could you let it happen?”
VIP platforms.” know you don’t believe this, but I “We certainly are, and the ri- Her mother closed her eyes and
Niatti blushed. “I’d be honored.” want you to stay here.” diculous uniform you’re wearing leaned back. “I admit, I should have
*** Niatti sat and gave her mother a belongs to the side that’s going to handled it differently, probably gone
suspicious look. “Why? Ever since lose. You’ve seen enough Coalition there myself instead of sending An-
Niatti stood in her mother’s of- you brought Seward and his gang to Patrol ships, Niatti. You really think toine—”
fice, wearing a Coalition Patrol uni- the ports, you kept reminding me that these pieces of junk can stand “Sending Antoine to do anything
form. Her mother’s voice was cold how I always stand in the way and against Seward’s fleet?” is a bad idea, period.”
and no-nonsense as usual. never do any good.” “Is that what you want to leave “You’re being unfair, Niatti. An-
“Go back to your room and take “I brought Seward here because behind for me? The system will be toine had a very hard life, and still
that costume off. I don’t want to see of you, Niatti. I grew up with nothing, all mine, I’ll just have to share it with managed to get far. He’s a talented
you walking around the platform had to fight to buy my first space- a gang of criminals?” young man, and unlike some peo-
wearing it.” port. Now, thanks to Seward, all the Her mother responded with a bit- ple, he’s willing to listen to others
Niatti sighed. “I always had the spaceports in the system are mine.” ter smile. “You don’t have to believe who know a thing or two about the
feeling that you forgot my birthday. Niatti could hear the pride in her everything you hear in the news, system.” Now it was her mother’s
So here’s an update for you: today mother’s voice. “And one day they’ll Niatti. Seward’s people aren’t ter- turn to hesitate. “I know you two
I’m officially past the age in which be yours, which means you will own rorists—” haven’t gotten along very well so
you can tell me what to do.” the system. Give it a chance, Niatti. I “I said criminals, not terrorists. far, and it’s not just your fault—
“On the other hand, you’re also only want what’s good for you.” Terrorists at least pretend to work Antoine certainly needs to restrain
probably old enough for me to give Niatti shrugged. “Even if I give it a for some noble cause. Seward and himself in both his professional and
up on you, and just let you go with- chance, it will do no good. The Co- his gang don’t even do that any- social behavior. But I’m sure it will
out any guilty conscience.” alition is about to approve national- more—they stopped around the happen, and someday you’ll need
“That’s already taken care of. In ization of all spaceports next month, same time you let them into the him here besides you, to help you
two hours, I’m boarding a Patrol and everything you worked so hard spaceports.” run the spaceports but also for—”
ship in platform 212, and you won’t for will be gone. Seward managed “If it’s about your father—” Niatti’s eyes widened. “So that’s
have to see or hear from me again, to get on too many people’s bad “Yes, it’s about dad. But it’s also what you had in mind for me. Not
ever.” side, and now he’s going to take you about extorting protection money just spaceports filled with criminals,
Her mother seemed as though down with him.” from passengers in Diamond, run- but also marriage to a psychopath.”
she was about to retort with her Her mother gave her a dismissive ning blood-merchandise through “I had no intention of dragging
own snappy answer, but then she gesture. “They can nationalize the Emerald, and especially the way you you to church, Niatti. You’ve already
leaned back in her chair, and her spaceports all they want. It’s mean- broke the worker’s strike in Onyx.” proven that I can’t force you into
face softened in an expression that ingless if they can’t enforce it.” Niatti paused for a few seconds, anything. But if you’re so unhappy
Niatti hasn’t seen before—a com- “And you’re not going to let it when she noticed the guilt on her about what goes on around here,
bination of tiredness, sadness, and happen.” mother’s face. “Those people were this is your big chance to change
despair. “Exactly.” your friends, I even went to school things.”
“Before you board that ship, at “So what are you saying? We’re with the daughter of one of them. “What are you talking about?”

Page 25

Her mother smiled, pulling an mother’s desk and got up. “No.” Amber spaceport. want both of you to come out with
official-looking document out of Her mother’s face hardened. “Remind me again,” Samir asked, your hands raised.”
her desk drawer. “You were wrong “I will not be a part of what’s going “why did we stay here after the or- “Screw you, Antoine,” she shout-
about me forgetting your birth- on in the ports. As long as Seward is der to retreat?” ed back.
day. I just waited for you to be old here, it doesn’t matter how much “I didn’t ask you to join me, A short laughter came in re-
enough.” management duties you’ll give Samir,” she answered. “I wouldn’t sponse. “Fine. Come out with your
Niatti examined the document. me—the ports will still be a den of leave the Colonel behind, but that’s guns, if you want. You won’t dare
It was a contract that transferred criminals.” my problem. You could have joined shoot me anyway.”
many of the management duties in “Very well,” her mother’s voice the others.” Niatti began to rise before she
the spaceports to her. “It looks very returned to its familiar cold, ruth- “What, and let you get court-mar- felt Samir’s hand pulling her back.
impressive,” she admitted. less tone. “If that’s your choice, and tialed alone? No way.” He grinned. “You’re out of your mind? He’s
“You earned it. I heard many I can’t convince you, go board that “I’m sure the first thing the Colonel probably got at least ten mercenar-
compliments about the work you Patrol ship. But the moment you do will do once we rescue her—” he ies out there with him!”
do with ships that dock in the low- that, it’s a one-way ticket. You’re paused for a second, when another “I don’t care. I’ve been dreaming
er platforms—and these people completely on your own—I have no shot was fired, “—will be to file a for years about shooting this man.”
had nothing but complaints before intention of going after you, or even complaint against the three of us She leapt up, aiming her gun—
you started working there. I’m sure checking how you are doing. And for not following orders. You’ll need and froze when she saw Antoine
you’ll do a great job with the more don’t dare run back to me if you’ll company in military prison.” holding Chen with one arm, his own
prestigious platforms as well. And discover that military life isn’t for Sergei gave them both a disap- gun to her head with the other.
with all the other spaceports too. you—as I’m sure you will.” proving look. “I hate to stop you “I’m in a generous mood today,”
What do you think?” Niatti turned her back to her two lovebirds while you’re having so said Antoine, “So I’ll repeat my of-
Niatti stared at the contract, not mother, and walked to the door. Her much fun, but I’m out of ammo and fer. Drop your gun and raise your
answering. mother’s voice chased her. if you have any left—” hands.”
Her mother leaned forward— “Think about it in the next two He didn’t get to complete the Niatti stared at Chen, who gave
could she feel Niatti’s dilemma? hours, Niatti. Your father tried play- sentence. A shot blew a large hole in her an angry look. “Lieutenant, I
“Look, you’ve got an almost un- ing by the rules. How far did it get the center of his face. His body froze gave you an order—” One of the
limited budget for anything you him?” for a second before falling on the guards accompanying Antoine
want—clothes, residence, transpor- She left her mother’s office, say- floor. Niatti and Samir both stared at hit Chen in her stomach, and she
tation—you won’t get even close to ing nothing. him, paralyzed, horrified. moaned in pain.
such conditions in the army, even if *** The firing stopped, and a threat- Antoine was getting impatient.
they’ll make you Chairman of the ening silence spread in the room. “The gun, Niatti. Now!”
Joint Chiefs of Staff someday.” Her Another shot missed Niatti’s head A familiar voice broke it, just as Ni- Niatti eyes ran from Chen to An-
mother smiled. “It’s never too late by a few inches, burning a black mark atti began to recover from the shock toine. She could do it. She was a
to start over, Niatti. Let’s start over. on the wall behind her. She dove for of what she just saw. “I know you’re pretty good shot...
I’m sick of fighting with you.” cover behind the stacked tables and there, Niatti, along with some other “Dammit, Lieutenant, shoot him
Niatti put the document on her crates of the storage room of the asshole from the Coalition Patrol. I already!”

Page 26

Niatti stared at Chen’s frustrated then she kept dragging herself stub- He turned to the guard that held tantly motioned her to get in, she
expression. Then she slowly let bornly across the floor. Antoine was Niatti. “Take her to the infirmary, and made a single step toward the cell,
go of the trigger, and dropped her about to shoot again, but instead he have her injected with something and then turned around, drew
gun. “Sorry, Colonel. Can’t take that paused, his look fixated on the tor- that will calm her down without the knife hidden in her dress, and
chance. I still owe you dinner.” tured body at his feet. taking her completely out of action. stabbed the guard in his left eye.
Antoine did not look convinced. Niatti understood what Chen was Then bring her to my room. Pass The guard fell to the floor, scream-
“Tell your boyfriend to do the trying to do a second before Antoine through the merchandise section on ing. Samir leapt out of the cell. He
same.” did. The gun dropped by Samir was the way, and have them fit her with picked up the guard’s gun, aimed it
“Samir?” Niatti knew she had no at her left hand’s reach—a fact she something nice to wear. We’re going at him, and shot.
right to expect Samir not to try any- concealed by keeping that hand at to have some fun tonight.” His smile “No!” Niatti hit Samir’s hand,
thing stupid—not when she herself the side of her body. With her re- widened. “We’re going to have fun causing him to miss.
gave such a bad example. But sur- maining strength, Chen managed to every night, from now on.” Samir gave her an angry look.
prisingly, he came out almost im- pick up the gun, aim it at Antoine, Niatti kept struggling all the way “Every cry coming from him informs
mediately after she called him and and pull the trigger. to the infirmary, until she felt the the other guards that something’s
dropped his gun. He was probably The trigger’s clicked on empty needle in her arm. wrong.”
under the wrong impression that cartridge. *** “So let’s just get out of here.
Niatti knew what she was doing. Time froze for a second, as Chen Just...” she looked at the guard, who
Samir ordered two of his guards stared helplessly, the gun still aimed Every time over the next year, Ni- was still on the floor, crying. “Just
to cuff them. Then he gave Niatti at Antoine. Then she finally gave in atti returned from Antoine’s room to leave him alone.”
that satisfied smile she hated so to the pain, letting her hand drop in her cell with a guard accompanying They had the advantage of sur-
much. an agonized cry. Antoine shot her her. The guard was strong enough prise when they reached the prison
“The prodigal daughter returns,” again three times, aiming at non-vi- to prevent any attempted escape, section’s exit—both guards posted
he grinned. “Too bad she brought tal areas in her body to prolong her but also young enough to feel sym- there died from Samir’s shots before
some unpleasant guests with her.” suffering. pathy for her. It began with friendly they managed to draw their own
He threw Chen on the floor and shot Her body stopped moving a min- smiles and nervous looks at her torn weapons. One of them did manage
her in the back. Her scream echoed ute later. clothes and the signs of violence on to push a button on the wall, and
off the walls. “Take him to one of the cells,” An- her body. Then, a week ago, he no sounds of alarm began filling the
Niatti and Samir began struggling, toine told the guard who held Samir. longer held her cuffed while going corridors. Niatti and Samir hid in a
to no avail—the firm grip of the He then turned to Niatti, running his to the cell and allowed her to walk a small corridor just outside the pris-
guards held them in their place. An- finger along her face. few feet ahead of him. Niatti thought on section, and watched a group of
toine’s eyes moved joyfully between She spat on him, and he laughed. it was very unfortunate, considering guards running in. When the last
their frustrated struggle and Chen’s “That’s very good, you need to what she was about to do. guard passed, they both began run-
painful crawling on the floor. practice. You’re going to drool on They reached the cell, and Ni- ning in the opposite direction.
He shot again, hitting Chen’s me quite a lot, Lieutenant,” the last atti forced herself to wait while Niatti remembered how, as a
left leg. For a second, she seemed word was said in a mocking imita- the guard punched the code that child, she ran through similar cor-
about to surrender to the pain, but tion of Chen’s voice. opened the door. When he reluc- ridors to avoid her mother. She just

Page 27

hoped that the guards’ presence on Niatti sighed. “Organic cargo ing here with you.” while struggling to keep her hand
the spaceport dwindled since she ships are the only unmanned ships “Well, at least we tried.” He steady and light it. The heat spread
was captured. that contain a supply of oxygen and turned to one of the iron walls, and through her body, and the shaking
Samir started showing signs of food.” It was chickens’ and cows’ kicked it. A faint echo was heard was gone. She sank into her leather
exhaustion an hour after their es- food, but Niatti decided to keep that throughout the corridors. chair, slowly letting the smoke out
cape, and they had to stop every little detail for herself. “What do you think you’re do- of her lungs.
few minutes for him to recover his “So how long does it take us to ing?” Her body started shaking again
strength. After a year of not being get there?” “Noise, Niatti. They’ll be coming almost immediately after she fin-
able to see him clearly in the dark- “Three hours, since we don’t use here to get me soon, so you’d bet- ished the cigarette. She needed an-
ness of the cell, she now noticed elevators. Hanging in corridors like ter run.” other one. She sent a nervous hand
that he was sickeningly thin. She this one for too long is also a bad He kicked the wall again, hard- toward the pack on the desk. It fell,
was in a somewhat better shape, idea.” er—and this time he cursed in pain and all the cigarettes rolled in dif-
especially since Antoine decided to When they started moving again, immediately afterwards. The sight ferent directions. It didn’t matter,
accompany her torture-nights with Niatti discovered that her assess- was almost funny. really—she could pick them all up
luxurious dinners. A very bad deci- ment was too optimistic. Samir had “Samir, that’s enough!” later. All she needed now was one
sion, she thought as she recalled the to take longer breaks to recover, and He gave her a desperate look. more cigarette. She bent under the
knife she managed to smuggle out. at their current pace, it would take “Enough yourself, Niatti. You want desk and took one.
Then a memory of the guard she them more than a day to get to the to help me? Find a way out of here, She sat back on her chair and was
stabbed flashed, and she felt con- cargo section. and come back with the entire Co- about to light the new cigarette,
sumed by guilt. “Just leave me here,” he finally alition Patrol.” when she noticed that someone
“Look,” she finally told Samir. told her. She hesitated for another second was standing at the other side of the
“We can’t go on like this. We’ll find “I will not.” before turning her back on him and desk. It was General Matsumoto,
a place to hide, you’ll get some rest “Haven’t you learned anything, running. She could hear his body the newly-appointed commander
and I’ll steal some food—” Niatti? The reason we got in this falling on the floor behind her. of the spaceports campaign.
“Don’t be stupid. We’re getting mess to begin with is because you *** “What do you want?” she asked
out of this spaceport as fast as we wouldn’t leave the Colonel behind impatiently.
can. Figured out how we’re going to here.” Niatti’s body started shaking. “I want many things, Captain. But
do that?” “That’s because you don’t leave In the year since she escaped the we can start by satisfying my curios-
She hesitated. “Cargo section. people behind, Samir. Besides, Chen spaceport, her body behaved the ity as to why you don’t get up and
We need to look for an unmanned could give me orders. You can’t. In same way every evening, as though salute a senior officer when he en-
ship with organic cargo—they are fact, I can give you orders. Get on it was still getting ready for its daily ters your office.”
launched automatically.” your feet, Sergeant.” abuse, bringing up memories of “Funny, I expected you to be wor-
Samir frowned. “Organic cargo? “So I’m going to disobey your or- breath-stench, rude bragging, and ried about bigger things, Sir. Like
We’ll be spending the next three der, just as you did, Lieutenant. I’m endless pain. the war they let you handle. You
weeks with chickens and cows and not going anywhere.” She opened the pack, got a ciga- know—the one we’re losing.”
all their shit?” “If you’re not going, than I’m stay- rette, and brought it to her mouth “We’ll get to that too, Captain,

Page 28

don’t worry. But before we do, port and try to rescue Colonel Chen. disgusted look at the cigarettes that keep Antoine as far away from your
would you mind telling me why you So to answer your question, I came fell on the floor. “An improvement, mother as possible.”
didn’t attend the memorial service here to tell you that it’s over. Every- compared to your current lifestyle, “Tell Intelligence that they can
today?” one in the high ranks has run out of if you ask me.” send my mother a nice card for the
Niatti lit her cigarette, and the sympathy or patience for your be- Niatti realized she had lost. “I’m next Mother’s Day, as long as they
shaking disappeared again. She havior.” sorry, Sir,” she whispered. “I prom- don’t expect me to sign it.”
blew the smoke in the General’s Niatti wasn’t impressed. “So what ise to make myself available for any The General hesitated. “Now that
face. “Because I’m sick of it, Sir.” do you have in mind for me, Sir? future event in which you’ll require you mention it, it’s a long shot, but
“’Sick of it,’ Captain?” he respond- You’re going to court-martial me my presence.” we’re actually exploring the possibil-
ed with a disgusted look. and throw me in prison? It’s going The General sighed. “I’m afraid ity of trying to contact your mother
“I’m sick of it. All of it. All this cir- to look bad if you’ll do that to the that you’ll have bigger things to and—”
cus where you cast me as a clown. woman you’ve worked so hard to deal with, Captain.” He placed a Niatti shook her head violently.
‘Memorial service’ my ass. You don’t portray as the big hero of the Coali- small projector on her desk, and a “No. Forget it. If that’s what you
really care about the Colonel and tion. Discharge me from service? It three-dimensional map of the sys- came here to ask me—”
Sergei. All you want is that the big will look even worse once I’ll be a tem appeared. “We decided on a “Captain, remember what I just
hero of the Coalition will re-live her civilian, and have some juicy, heart- new strategy. Instead of trying to told you about how nobody’s asking
moments of pain in front of school breaking stories to tell the media.” break into the inner spaceports, you for any favors? If we’ll manage
kids, or new recruits, or some repre- The General was equally unim- we’ll concentrate on taking all the to contact your mother, you’ll be
sentatives that need to approve this pressed. “I’ve dealt with bigger PR outer spaceports first. It will take under orders to cooperate, and you
budget or another. And I’m sick of it. problems in the past, Captain. But more time, but after we’ll have all will. Are we clear on this?”
I went through my torture in prison, I already have the perfect solution the outer spaceports, we can shut Niatti said nothing, but nodded.
and I refuse to keep going through it for your problem—far more elegant down Seward’s supply lines, and “But like I said, this isn’t a likely
over and over, this time in the ser- than prison or discharge.” getting to the inner spaceports will scenario. We need you for other
vice of the Coalition Patrol.” “Really?” be easier. I believe you’re familiar things.” The General pushed one
The General gave her a cold look. “Captain, ever since you returned, with the man in charge of the outer of the projector’s buttons, and all
“Captain, you seem to be under the Headquarters has been swamped spaceports—someone by the name the outer spaceports changed their
wrong impression that you are do- by requests from the Mental Health of Antoine.” color to red. “Captain, you know the
ing the Coalition Patrol some kind Department to have you commit- Niatti blinked. “How did Seward’s spaceports like no other soldier in
of favor by attending these events. ted. They’ve been dreaming of a golden boy become the guard-dog the patrol. This knowledge is an as-
You aren’t. You are under orders to patient like you for years—someone for the garbage-spaceports?” set we should have used a long time
attend them, and you’re failure to they can test all their new trauma- “We’re not sure, but Intelligence ago. We intend to start now—you’ll
appear to the memorial service to- treatments on. One word from me heard some interesting rumors. One be appointed as a special advisor to
day joins many other orders you dis- and you’ll spend the rest of your of them claims that your mother Headquarters, helping them build
obeyed since you returned—in fact, service, and your retirement as well, learned of what you went through the strategy that will help us take
even before you returned, counting as a happy idiot staring at trees in in prison, and didn’t take it very the outer spaceports. And you’d
your decision to stay in that space- some institute.” He gave another well. Seward probably decided to better get ready for many sleepless

Page 29

nights, because you’ll have a lot of “Sir, I demand to be given a front- own. prisoner. Understood?”
work on your hands.” line job.” *** “Yes, Sir.”
Niatti stared at the map. The “And if you won’t, Captain?” There was a pause. “Very well.
role that the General just described She stared into his eyes. “Then Niatti decided to try again. “This I’m authorizing your platoon to
wasn’t too glamorous, but it was you can call the Mental Health De- is the twenty-third platoon, calling launch the attack. Call another pla-
much better than the toy-soldier the partment, and tell them to start Siberni,” she called on her commu- toon for backup. Good luck, Major.”
Patrol made of her since her escape. trying all their new treatments on nicator. “Requesting permission to The communicator went silent.
She was about to ask the General me.” break into the prison section.” Niatti switched it to speaker mode.
when she was leaving, but then she A moment of silence followed, fi- “Permission denied, twenty-third. “This is a message to all mercenar-
noticed something strange. nally broken by the General. “Very Please remain where you are and ies in the prison section,” she called,
“Sir, why is the Ruby spaceport well, I’ll have you assigned to a wait for further orders.” her voice echoing beyond the sec-
colored differently from the oth- campaign ship. It’s actually a good Niatti cursed loudly, without tion’s shuttered doors. “The Coali-
ers?” idea—you’ll perform better as an bothering to turn off her communi- tion Patrol is now in control of all the
“This? Oh, it’s from a previous advisor closer to the front.” cator. General Matsumoto’s voice fi- other sections in this spaceport. We
map. Intelligence thinks that this is “And then?” nally came on-line. “That’s enough, demand that you will all come out,
where Seward keeps his prisoners. “We’ll see. I still don’t think you’re Major.” surrender, and deliver your weap-
She felt her pulse quickens. fit for combat duty, and you’ll have to “Sir, I don’t understand why the ons to us. We promise a fair trial to
“Samir too?” work very hard to make me change delay in the permission to attack.” any mercenary who surrenders.”
“If he’s still alive.” my mind.” The General turned to “Headquarters still isn’t con- She waited another couple of
“Sir, I request permission to take the door, but stopped before he got vinced you’re the right person to minutes, and when no response
part in the campaign.” out of the office. “One more thing, lead this attack. And I share some of came from the other side, she mo-
The General raised an eyebrow. Captain. If you’ll get caught lighting their concerns.” tioned the soldiers in her platoon
“As I just explained, Captain, you one of these”—he pointed at the “Sir, I have led the attack on five to start moving, and called the fifty-
will.” cigarettes on the floor—”onboard a other sections in this spaceport, and first platoon to secure the exit.
“No, I mean a frontline job: fight- campaign ship, you’ll get thrown to I don’t remember anyone complain- The prison section’s corridors
ing, commanding—” a military prison for a long time. And ing.” were too narrow for her platoon
The General laughed. “Sure, Cap- trust me, no matter how big a hero “Major, the objective in this at- to act effectively, and she split it
tain. Anything you say.” you are, there wouldn’t be any PR tack is releasing the prisoners, and into several squads, leading one
“Sir—” damage because of that sentence. completing the takeover of the squad herself. A few minutes later,
“Captain, you’ve been a wreck None.” spaceport.” the communicator came alive with
ever since you returned. You’re very The Captain left and Niatti could “I’m well aware of that, Sir.” reports from the other squads’ fire
lucky to have enough useful infor- feel her body shaking again. She “Nothing else. I don’t want to exchanges.
mation in your head, but that’s no was about to pick up a cigarette hear about any soldier, including No guards were seen in the corri-
reason to give you a weapon and from the floor but stopped halfway. you, who decided to save work for dors where Niatti’s squad advanced.
send you to the frontline. In fact, it’s She leaned back in her chair, waiting the tribunals. Whenever a merce- A few prisoners in the cells along
a very good reason not to do that.” for her body to stop shaking on its nary surrenders, he or she is taken these corridors noticed the squad

Page 30

and started banging on the doors, split second she recalled the battle lier swarmed into the room. The The tense silence onboard the
expecting to be released—but that against Antoine in a similar place. squad’s leader helped her up. She bridge drove Niatti crazy. Finally, a
would have to wait until the entire But now they’re on the side that couldn’t understand what he was voice was heard through the speak-
section was secured. needs to take cover, she thought as saying. She rose and noticed that ers.
Niatti led her squad to the sec- she shot back. her legs were unsteady. Two other “This is the sixty-third platoon
tion’s management offices. The of- The guards stopped firing after soldiers grabbed her gently by the calling Siberni. We have Sapphire.
fices’ doors were large, armored, a few minutes. Niatti estimated shoulders and started leading her Repeat: we have Sapphire.”
and blocked from the inside. They two or maybe three people there. out of the room. The silence broke immediately, as
used an explosive charge to open She decided to give them another No, no way. She shook free from the bridge filled with cheers. Niatti
them. As the corridor cleared of chance. “It is over, people!” she their grasp, and started to limp to- remained silent, but she could feel
smoke, the people on the other called through the speaker. “Even if ward the last office. The squad’s the tension disappearing from her
side began firing. Niatti ordered her you’ll manage to escape this room, leader tried blocking her way, talk- muscles. General Matsumoto ap-
squad to keep cover while the mer- the entire spaceport is now under ed to her, said things she couldn’t proached her.
cenaries wasted their ammunition. Coalition control. Come out and and didn’t want to understand. She “We have all the outer space-
When the firing stopped, she called drop your weapons!” pushed him away and opened the ports. And it’s largely thanks to you,
a squad of the fifty-first platoon to There was no reply. Niatti was door. Colonel.”
act as her cover, and ordered her about to order her soldiers to Inside the room, behind a large Niatti smiled. “The really tough
own squad to charge. charge, when a small black object wooden desk, holding a gun aimed job is still waiting for us with the in-
Four guards waited for them on was thrown at her squad. The sol- at his own head, was a single merce- ner spaceports, Sir.”
the other side of the door. An ac- dier standing next to Niatti jumped nary. He wore a patch on one eye. A He nodded. “So I think it will be
curate shot by Niatti caused one of on her, pinned her to the ground, look of recognition appeared in his a good idea for you to get back to
them to drop his weapon. Two oth- and absorbed most of the explosion other eye when he saw Niatti. your room and get some sleep. We
er guards weren’t so lucky, and they with her body—saving Niatti’s life. It was the same guard who took need you in your best shape on the
fell, dead, when the other soldiers Niatti wasn’t sure how much time her to and from Antoine’s room. staff meeting tomorrow.”
in Niatti’s squad hit them. The last passed before she could see again, The same guard who gave her sym- She left the bridge relieved, as
one dropped his weapon and raised and before the explosion’s echo pathetic looks. The same guard she she didn’t feel like joining the other
his hands. Reluctantly following Ni- stopped ringing in her ears. Her stabbed in the eye. celebrating officers. Besides, she re-
atti’s orders, a soldier in her squad head still ached. She looked around She leaped toward him in a des- ally did feel tired. Maybe she’ll even
cuffed him. the room that was now filled with perate scream, and the few feet manage to sleep without taking the
There wasn’t any time for vic- bodies. All her squad’s soldiers were that separated them turned into pills...
tory celebrations. The next room dead, as were the guards—the ex- miles as he slowly pulled the trigger. Niatti froze when she noticed the
the squad stormed into was some plosion collapsed their cover on She fell on the floor, crying, when a door to her room was open. She
kind of lounge for the guards, and them. Didn’t the idiots realize what huge red spot appeared on the wall held classified material in there—
some of them hid behind a cover would happen if they threw a gre- behind the desk. but that was supposed to be okay,
of assembled luxury furniture. A nade? *** because the door could only be
shot missed Niatti’s head, and for a The backup squad she called ear- opened by authorized personnel.

Page 31

So what was it? A prank? Surprise wore a prisoner’s uniform, its hands can’t kill him yourself, even when “What’s this?”
party? She hoped not. She didn’t tied and mouth gagged. Its eyes wid- you’re loaded, so you come running “This is what the team that
feel like celebrating in her room any ened in fear as they met Niatti’s. to me? Next time you feel like play- cleared his rooms found on Ruby.
more than she felt like celebrating It was Antoine. ing my knight in shining armor, at Notice anything weird?”
on the bridge. “How did you bring him here?” least do it all the way through. And “All those things on the wall?”
She stepped inside. The door she finally asked Samir. it will also help the general impres- Samir nodded. He pressed a but-
closed behind her and she was “Well, you know how I’m best sion if you’re sober while you do it.” ton, and the display zoomed on the
about to turn on the lights when a buddy with all the guys at ship’s se- “Give me a break. You want to kill wall. Hanging on it were heads. Hu-
voice echoed in the darkness. curity staff. You’ve got nothing to him as much as I do.” man heads. Samir answered Niatti’s
“How’s it going, eh, Colonel?” worry about—we agreed on a story “I have no reason to kill him, Samir. question before she could find the
She sighed in relief, and then about how he escaped from his cell This whining, pathetic creature you words to ask it. “Yeah, they’re real.
frowned. It was Samir. Drunk, as and came to your room, so you had have on the floor here”—Niatti had Our favorite psycho loved looking at
usual. to kill him.” Samir kicked Antoine’s the urge to kick Antoine herself, but his victims in the eyes. Even after he
“What are you doing here?” body again, and he moaned in pain. she felt it wouldn’t serve her argu- was through with them.”
“What everyone else is doing, “Samir, our orders were to take ment very well—”is a proof that I’ve Niatti fought to control herself.
Colonel. I came to celebrate the big him captive—” won. And if you’ll think about it hard “If you’re trying to make me change
victory with you. And your birthday, “They never said if he should be enough, in your daily five minutes my mind, Samir, you’re wasting your
while we’re on it.” dead or alive.” of soberness, you’ll see that you’ve time. I won’t...” Her voice died as
“Leave me out of your celebra- “Don’t be a smartass. Intelligence also won. Now take him back to his she recognized one of the heads on
tions, Samir. Ever since you were needs him for interrogation.” cell.” the wall.
released, birthdays and funerals are Samir’s face darkened. “And Samir didn’t seem convinced. It couldn’t have been real. The
all the same to you—an excuse to they’ll probably drop the death pen- “Okay. But there’s something I want Lunarian disintegrated in space,
get drunk and make a fool of your- alty if he’ll give them the info they you to see first.” her father couldn’t have possibly
self. Now if you don’t mind, I want want.” Niatti began losing her patience. survived the attack and fallen cap-
to get some sleep.” “He’ll still spend the rest of his life “Samir...” tive...
“Bullshit, Colonel. Everyone in prison.” “Trust me, you want to see this. “Samir, leave me here with An-
knows you never sleep.” He gave her Samir kicked Antoine’s body It’s something the General made toine.”
a dirty smile. “I know better than ev- again, more forcefully, and Antoine’s personally sure you wouldn’t know He smiled again. “You sure you
eryone else.” painful moans became unbearable. of.” don’t want me to stay? Maybe you’ll
“Get out of my room.” “That’s enough, Samir. Take him “And if I see whatever it is, you need help cleaning up after...”
“Not so fast, Colonel. Don’t you back to his cell.” promise that you’ll take Antoine “No. Get out of my room. Now.”
want to see the present I brought Humiliation burned in Samir’s back to his cell? No more games?” Samir shrugged and left.
you?” eyes. “Life in prison, Niatti? You’re He gave her a vicious smile. Niatti bent down and removed
He went behind Niatti’s desk, and going to let him get away with life “Promise.” He placed a projector on the cloth from Antoine’s mouth. He
kicked a human-looking figure into in prison?” her desk. A display of a large room started crying, cursing, begging, and
the center of the room. The figure “That’s the problem, Samir? You appeared. even tried calling for help.

Page 32

“It’s no use,” she whispered, “Mister Brim, please leave the trated steps echoed on the metal ing to do before they’ll get to me.”
bringing her face closer to his. “Ev- bridge before I’ll order security to floor as he left the bridge. “These hostages don’t happen to
eryone else in this section is still cel- throw you out.” The General turned to Niatti. “I be civilians who collaborated with
ebrating on the bridge.” The Coalition representative hope you know what you’re doing, you? Because there aren’t many
She kicked him, making him roll gave General Matsumoto a furious Colonel.” people left who are going to cry
over. “I’m going to kill you. And I’m look. “General, I am trying to bring “I’ve been planning this for years, over them.”
going to do it the same way you an end to this war with no further Sir.” Niatti approached the commu- “Funny you should mention that.
killed Chen.” She drew her gun and bloodshed. Please tell your soldier nication panel. “Seward? Can you I have one such hostage here. You
fired a single shot at his back. here not to get in my way. You have hear me?” can tell me just how much you’re
He responded with a painful all done a very good job so far, and Seward’s voice remained just the going to cry over her.”
scream and useless crawling on now it’s time for diplomacy.” same as Niatti remembered. “What’s A new voice came through the
the floor. Just as Chen did, Niatti The General probably noticed going on? Where’s the clown that communication panel. It was an-
recalled. But she couldn’t feel any that Niatti was about to turn vio- talked to me before?” other voice that remained just as
satisfaction, any relief. All she could lent, because he motioned her to “The clown went back to perform- Niatti remembered—cold and no-
feel was disgust. stay silent. He then turned to the ing in his circus. They brought me to nonsense. “Niatti, don’t listen to
She was about to shoot again, but representative. “I am very sorry, entertain you instead. You recognize anything he says, and don’t cut any
suddenly the gun felt very heavy Mr. Brim,” he said. “But you came my voice?” deal with him. If you have to send in
in her hands. Her next shot missed aboard this ship in an attempt to get There was a short silence and your troops then—”
him, leaving a burn mark on the a surrender announcement from then—”Niatti? How’s it going, hon- The communication panel went
floor. Seward. It was agreed that if you ey?” silent.
She wouldn’t miss again. She fail, the army reclaims the author- “I’m afraid we just don’t have Niatti froze for a second, but re-
moved closer to him—and then felt ity here. Given that more than ten enough time for the answer to that covered quickly when she noticed
her stomach turning. She vomited hours have passed since you began question. So let’s get to the bottom the General’s worried look. “Seward,
on floor, into the large blood spot the negotiations, I think it can be line here: you lost. The last space- you have no idea how happy I am to
that grew around Antoine’s body. A determined that you have failed. port under your control is surround- hear that my mother finally under-
puzzled expression froze on his face Please leave the bridge, as the Colo- ed by Coalition ships, and my good stood who she went into business
when he finally lost his conscious- nel asked.” mood is the only thing standing be- with. Too bad it took her so long.
ness. “This is an outrage. I demand that tween you and a marine platoon or- But if you think a few more mur-
“I’m not like you, you son of a the decision will be reviewed by—” dered to capture you and drag you ders won’t have any effect on your
bitch,” she whispered. “I’m not like “You may appeal my decision to a war-crimes tribunal.” already-bad balance, you are mak-
you.” through the proper channels, but Seward did not sound impressed. ing a big mistake.”
Then she fired a single shot di- you may not do so from this bridge. “Your good mood, plus the dozen- Seward laughed. “I hope to im-
rectly into his head. Please spare us any further unpleas- hundred hostages I’m holding here. prove my balance, honey, by avoid-
*** antness.” If you send in your marine platoon, ing any more murders. Isn’t this
The representative turned his I suggest you’ll equip them with what we’re negotiating here?”
Niatti decided she had enough. back to the General, and his frus- sponges—they’ll have a lot of clean- “I can’t offer you a pardon, and

Page 33

even if I could—” Seward voice turned bitter. “No understand that congratulations are picture here.”
“I don’t want a pardon. I want a lawyer is going to save me from the in order for you to. You and Samir “The picture stays,” said Niatti.
safe passage.” rope.” decided on a date yet?” “And so do I.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.” “That’s right. But they can extend “We tried, but it’s a little diffi- The General gave her a puzzled
“I’ll take a ship, a crew and ten it. They’ll drag your trail for years, cult—with all those jobs you give look.
hostages—your mother among and you might die from heart-attack him on such a short notice...” “Sir, I’m grateful for your offer, but
them, you can be sure about that— before your sentence is even an- The General laughed. “Noted, I have to say no. In fact, it’s probably
and leave the spaceport and all the nounced. Or maybe cancer—if it Colonel. I’ll make sure you can both a good time to tell you that I am re-
other hostages to you. You won’t helps, I can give you my stock of cig- spend more time together.” signing.”
follow me with any of your ships, arettes. I’ve had nothing to do with “Thank you, Sir.” “Colonel, you’ve been through a
and when I’m far enough from your them since I stopped smoking.” “Actually, I came here with a pro- lot, but you’re still too young for re-
fleet, I’ll release the remaining hos- “That’s very generous. But I’ll still posal of my own. This new job is the tirement.”
tages on a planet of choice, and you take the safe passage option.” last one in my military career, and “Who said anything about retire-
can come to get them.” “As I just explained to you, it’s not five years from now, I’ll need a man ment? I want to stay here and keep
Now it was Niatti’s turn to laugh. going to happen.” to replace me.” He leaned back in managing the spaceports. It’s non-
“Very amusing, Seward. Do you re- Seward sighed again. “You’re a his chair. “Or a woman.” stop work.”
alize how many people in the sys- stubborn one.” Niatti raised an eyebrow. “Are you “Colonel, you can’t—”
tem want to see you lynched? You’ll “After so many years in the com- sure this is a good idea, Sir? My rep- “Sure I can. I’ve been doing that
meet these people as soon as you pany of my mother, you should have utation is very problematic in some for the last two years, and I haven’t
land on any planet within voyage realized that stubbornness runs in circles.” heard anyone complaining. Other
distance. And even if you won’t, I’m our family.” The General gave her a dismissive than that picture thing, of course.
sure at least one of the people in “So maybe it’s time both you gesture. “You’re a soldier, Niatti. But they’ll learn to live with it.”
your loyal crew will be glad to give and your mother will learn that this Most people understand that it can “You’ve done an excellent job,
you up in return to a commuted stubbornness has a price.” be a dirty job.” no argument. But you can’t just
sentence.” Three shots were heard through She stared at her mother’s pic- take over the job you did as a sol-
“I’ll take that chance.” the communication panel, and then ture, hanging on one of the office dier when it becomes a civilian job.
“And I’m almost tempted to give it it went silent. walls. “Sometimes I find myself There’s a procedure, the Coalition is
to you. But I’m afraid it’s not within *** thinking just how dirty it has to be, examining candidates—”
my authority.” Sir.” “I know. I’ve registered to be-
Seward sighed. “I’m starting to Niatti stood up when General “Haven’t we been through this, come one. And you’ll make sure I’ll
get the impression that you can’t of- Matsumoto entered her office and Colonel? Seward was going to kill get the job.”
fer me much, Niatti.” saluted him, smiling. “Why, it’s the her regardless of anything you could “Look—”
“Actually, I can offer you quite a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of have said or done.” The General “You’re a big hero, Sir. People
lot. The Coalition agreed to get you Staff! Congratulations, Sir!” frowned. “But while we’re on the will listen to you. I want the space-
the best lawyers the system’s tax- The General replied with a smile subject, I’ve had some complaints ports.”
payers’ money can buy.” of his own. “Thank you, Colonel. I about your insistence to keep the “But why?”

Page 34

ROP: Rodeo Bull Ballet, Part Two
“Just like you said, Sir, a military by M. Keaton
career has to end someday. But
running the spaceports is a job for
life. People will always need places
to dock, buy and sell goods, meet
“D one yet?” Graves asked. The
air-conditioned office build-
ing was surprisingly hot. “The se-
“Too slow.” Graves killed the
lights and dropped to the floor next
to the hacker. “Red,” he whispered
other people from the system. My
curity guard is due in,” he paused, into the microphone that cherry-
mother tried explaining all this to checking the time again, “four min- stemmed around his chin, “we need
me once, but I didn’t listen.” She utes now.” a distraction.”
stared at her mother’s picture “Do you have any idea how hard In answer, thunder rattled the
again. “And I want to make sure the it is to bypass a retinal scanner?” doors of the building. Thunder that
spaceports will keep running, as she hissed Priest. “Let me work.” formed words. “Red Dog needs
intended me to do, without repeat- “Work faster.” The last two days soda!” Despite his tension, Graves
ing her mistakes.” had worn their tempers to a frazzle. smiled. The security detail must
The General nodded. “I under- Two days of decrypting data by day think the Cillian was in a perma-
stand. I’ll see what I can do.” He and stealing it from isolated termi- nent state of dehydration. “Red Dog
got up and shook her hand. “Happy nals at night while Red Dog stalled needs soda now!”
birthday, Niatti.” the Senate committee below. “I’m gonna kill that bug,” said a
Frustration did not help. File after voice on the other side of the door.
file, database after database had re- Keys jingled. “Diplomatic immunity
fused to yield any useful information. or not, I swear...” The voice faded.
No new connections between the Graves counted to ten as his heart
Happy Birthday, Niatti © 2009 by Raz Greenberg Senators and the Hecate, no links to beat in his ears. “Thanks, big guy,”
Casey other than the public records, he said.
nothing. Graves had even gone so “Red Dog accepts all compli-
far as to tell Priest exactly what he ments.”
was looking on the off chance the He helped Priest to his feet,
Kwakiutl could find something he checked the hallway. “Let’s go.”
had overlooked. No luck. They were They backtracked across the guard’s
down to three offices. Admittedly, pattern to an office the man had al-
the three offices of his prime sus- ready checked. To Graves’ surprise,
pects, but the complete lack of any the door was locked. “I thought you
information and the risk that the en- disabled the doors.”
tire endeavor had been a wild goose “I did,” Priest snapped, kneeling
chase was enough to push Graves to at the knob. “This is mechanical.”
the edge. Graves motioned him out of the
Priest rolled out from under a way, digging into his pockets for a
desk. “Got it.” Teflon wedge. He shoved the wedge

Page 35

into the gap between the lock and own hand. The missile’s deliverer House’s cowboys struggled to find the escort-class bomber.
the frame, grabbed the knob in both was part of the explosion, torn apart each other in the confusion of a The third chase missile struck the
hands. Drawing a quick breath, he by depleted uranium slugs pouring scrambled launch. escort, slopping plasma across its
jerked the knob upward and set his from the point defense turrets. “Chase missiles?” House asked, hull, tearing the ship like a piece of
shoulder against the door, popping House prowled the rim of his plat- trying to sound unconcerned. paper. Half of the escort’s missiles
the lock. Priest shot inside. Graves form in CIC like a lion in a cage. “I “Coming online now, sir.” and all of its port maneuvering jets
followed a heartbeat later, pressing asked, how many?” He struggled to “PD 2, 5, 7 destroyed. We’re weak joined most of its hull as a trail of
the door closed. They waited, fro- keep his voice down, his tone calm. up front.” dully glowing slag, trailing behind
zen in the darkness. “PD 4 ammo feed just jammed!” “One thing at a time.” House the ship like a comet’s tail. Fiend-
“Red Dog thanks fool human for “I can’t tell,” the tech smacked her made himself clasp his hands be- ishly, the escort’s pilot kept it steady
soda and watches fool human re- console with the heel of her hand. hind his back. “Bring us around. Use long enough to fire its remain-
turn to work. Red Dog suggests fool “Somebody’s jamming the sens—” the Hecate as a screen.” The Orion ing missiles before one of its own
human ask for raise.” “Hecate reads at least twenty,” maneuvered like a pregnant hippo fighters slewed out of control and
“Got that right,” growled a voice Beta Max interrupted. “Rain’s ask- but he would take what advantages crashed into the ship, both evapo-
in the hallway, and Graves listened ing permission to engage.” he could get. rating into a radioactive mist of gas
until he was past. Satisfied, he “No. Negative.” With his salvage “Firing ECM decoys, fore and aft. and metal.
switched on his flashlight, panning claim being tossed around as a po- Chase missiles away.” Its missiles blossomed against the
the room. litical baseball, House did not dare A trio of building-sized missiles Orion’s hull and House gripped his
“What on Earth, pardon my pun, commit the cruiser, did not dare drifted away from the Orion, dead railing until he was certain his hands
is that?” Priest said, pointing to the draw more attention to it. And in space for an agonizing second be- would fuse with it.
wall. Instead of the usual desk and somebody out there knew it. “Any- fore their guidance systems locked “Main engines shutting down.”
terminal, there stood a wooden thing heavier than a fighter?” and thrusters lit. They burned The tech twisted in his seat to look
secretary desk flanked by a pair of “Two escort-bombers,” Max an- through their first-stage thrusters back at House. “Override?”
square black minarets. swered. “One now. The other is a second later, the hollow shells “Negative. Containment?”
“File cabinets,” Graves replied. spread across the hull.” falling away. The escort’s fighters “Containment’s good.”
Apparently, he was not the only “Put the cowboys on it. Leave the poured fire into the missiles as they House nodded. “Let the reactors
one who understood technological fighters to PD.” raced at each other. ECM decoys power down. We’re not desperate
myopia. Few things were as secure “Port laser bays one and two on- and tracer rounds twinkled in the enough to risk blowing ourselves
on Earth as the written word in a line. Forward arc, online. Starboard void as they died. A counter-missile up.” Not yet.
locked drawer. “Have I ever told you one and two, online.” exploded into a cloud of high-tech “Hull breach! Port foredeck
that Senator Hazel reminds me of House finally smiled. It was not a ball bearings and one of the chase three!”
my grandmother?” comforting sight. “Fire at will.” missiles detonated, its companions “Damage control teams en route,
*** Two of the attacking fighters whipped through the debris. A sec- sir.”
erupted, a third tumbled out of con- ond missile faltered, spinning madly “As you were.” House stood still.
“Cowboys away!” trol. The escort spun on its axis and head over tail before detonating. A The fight was largely out of his
Not a moment too soon. Nuclear a quartet of fighters braced it for pair of the Orion’s cowboys found hands. His job now was to look con-
fire smeared across the Orion’s hull, another attack run, this one from each other, angled in, cutting the fident so his crew could stay calm
spilling into the still-open launch bay behind, on the Orion’s engines. distance between themselves and enough to do their jobs.
six and wiping it clean like death’s

Page 36

“Upgrade?” Max asked, his own a steadying breath. House squeezed his eyes shut, Except for the bump on the bridge
voice deceptively steady. “Firing laser bay.” drew his breath through his teeth. of Casey’s nose where House had
“No. We’re through the worst of “Launching ECM and decoys “Sir?” broken it.
it.” The Orion would be consider- port. Launching anti-missile missiles “I’ll take it in my office.” He Casey inspected his fingernails. “I
ably safer, and more lethal, if he al- port.” opened his eyes, scanning the CIC. also hear you’ve had a bit of trouble
lowed Max to activate the advanced The combine assault of offensive No one met his gaze. “SOP,” he an- lately.”
technology secretly installed on the and defensive firepower flayed the nounced at last. “Page me if there “No more than usual. The Orion’s
Orion, but he had to play for the salvo to rags. House felt his skin is any problem.” He started for the a fat purse. A lot of folks want a
long game, hold his ace as long as prickle with sweat, resisted the urge door, stopped. “Well done, people. bite.”
he could. Assuming there was a long to wipe his face on his sleeve. Pass it along.” “Ain’t that always the way? Seems
game. “They’re breaking off,” Max said, He had almost stopped shaking like someone else is always trying to
“I’m through the jamming. Put- almost subdued. “Leaving the fight- by the time he reached his office. cut in on a man’s business.” Casey
ting the plot in the tank.” The holo- ers behind.” It had taken longer than usual; the paused, choosing his words like
gram came to life, and House tried He tried not to think about how lifts were off and damage control cards, deciding which to keep and
not to stare. The space around the many crew members had been in teams had the right-of-way in the which to throw away. “I’ve had a bit
Orion was a maze of fighter duels the engine room, or port foredeck ship’s passages. House pulled a cloth of trouble myself. A lot of my top
and carnage. But he was right, they three, or the launch bay. “Kill any- from his desk drawer and wiped the men are in jail—trivial things, but
were through the worst. If his at- thing that stays,” House ordered, sweat from his face before activat- I suppose crime doesn’t pay. Kor’s
tackers had any sense, they would “anything we can catch.” A tech ing the screen. dead. So’s Carlos.”
break off, save what they could. turned in his seat at the sound that “Hello, Sam.” A conversation in “You calling to ask for help?”
“Hecate reports a missile launch. emerged from House’s throat, saw two words. House’s cheek twitched “I’d like to think you’d be there if I
Big one,” Max said tersely. his face and quickly turned back at the memories behind them, were.” Casey smiled. It looked genu-
“I’ve got it.” The tech hesitated. again. House forced his hands open, schooled his face into a poker play- ine. “No, Sam. I’m doing okay. Still,
House felt the fear in her voice. releasing the rail. He glanced down er’s mask. the Frontier’s a rough place. I’d like
“Sir, I think I can pan it with the at the line of blood drops welling “I’m called House.” to change that someday.”
port laser bay if—” across his palms. With a huff, he “So I hear.” Unlike House, Casey “Only because you don’t under-
“Helm,” House interrupted. “Take swung them behind him and stood, was not a big man, nor an especial- stand it. And you can’t abide what
direct feed from weapons. Put us watching lights wink out on the ly small one. People who saw him you can’t understand and can’t con-
where he needs us.” He turned plot. would later find themselves at a loss trol.” Even as he said them, House
toward Max. “Who the hell fired “You have a call, sir.” Dell’s voice to describe him, except for his eyes. wanted to take the words back.
that?” startled him out of the cold river They remembered the eyes, the Casey had baited him, let him call
Max looked through him, listen- of his thoughts. For a moment, his black intensity. He had the devil’s the tune then danced him into a
ing to the disembodied voice in his mind would not wrap itself around own eyes. corner.
ear. “Rain says our mystery ship is the words. Dell would not trouble The rest of his face was the same “Tell me how it is, Sam. Just one
back and wants to play. Asks for per- him with a call during a pirate at- bland mix House had last seen over more time; I’ve missed your lec-
mission to engage.” tack. Unless. a decade ago. The cheeks were a bit tures.”
“If it fires again, pound it into “Who is it?” thinner and the hair line a few inch- In for a penny; in for a pound.
dust,” he snarled, straightened, took “A Mister Edgar Casey.” es higher but otherwise unchanged. “The Frontier’s big. Bigger than any

Page 37

man. And because she’s big, a man and House interrupted him. “I don’t In this case, noon to four,” Priest force. You’ll get your data; it’s an
can be big here. He can be whoever want any misunderstanding about shrugged. “It’s a pretty smart secu- isolated terminal, so I won’t set off
he wants. No caps, no limits except this. Anybody touches one of my rity precaution actually.” any alarms. But it’ll leave a trace, a
for himself. It’s a place to be free. A people, I’ll kill him. I’ll burn down Graves thought for a moment. “So pretty visible one. Next time some-
place where a man can start over un- everything I’ve built, spend my bot- we come back during tomorrow’s body uses the terminal, they’re go-
til he gets it right.” House stopped, tom dollar, just for one clean shot. testimony. But you can crack it?” ing to know.”
gave himself a mental shake and That’s the kind of stakes I’d play for, Priest made a sucking noise with Graves scratched the stubble un-
began again. “Mankind needs that. Eddie.” his teeth and lips. “Yes, but—” der his chin as he thought. It was
Without a Frontier, it’s a zero-sum Casey pursed his lips, quirked an “Red Dog needs soda!” roared an not a total surprise; he had half ex-
game where you have to take your eyebrow. “Mighty expensive way to alien buzz, only slightly muffled for pected something like this to come
share from the guy next to you. But play a hand.” being in another room half the floor up. “All right. We hit it tomorrow.
the Frontier’s big. She just keeps on “Smaller stakes aren’t worth play- away. Get back to the room. I have to
giving.” He looked down at his desk, ing.” House met his gaze, held it. “We late?” Priest asked nervous- make arrangements; I’ll catch up
shaking his head. “You never under- The polite smile returned to ly. with you later.”
stood that, Ed. You’re never going to Casey’s lips. “Good thing we’re not “Hang on.” Graves cupped his Graves checked the hall, sliding
break her. You’re too small a man.” fighting then, isn’t it?” hand around the microphone at his through the door with Priest at his
“Always the romantic,” Casey said. “It is.” chin. “Red, what’s up?” heels. With a nod, he sent Priest on
“I almost envy you.” A bit of the smile touched Casey’s “Red Dog is thirsty!” his way then headed for the stairs.
House let the mask slip a little fur- eyes. “You’d have made a good part- Graves pinched the bridge of his “Red, Priest is coming back. I’ll be
ther, putting his elbows on the table, ner, Sam.” nose and sighed. “I may have to kill in later.” He pulled the headset off,
leaning in toward the screen. “I’m “I’ll make a worse enemy.” him myself,” he told Priest. He took stuffing it in his pocket. “Going to
not in the mood for social calls.” Casey tapped the ridge of his eye- a deep breath. “Back to work. ‘Yes, pick up some dinner,” he said cheer-
Casey’s smile got tighter, his brows with his forefinger in mock but’ what?” fully, waving at the first-floor guard
eyes more intense. “I don’t like to salute. The connection fuzzed to The other man hesitated, tracing station. “You guys want anything?”
be pushed.” Words snapped like static. Graves’ train of thought mentally “No thank you, sir. I’ll buzz you
cards against the table. “I’m feeling until he caught up. “Okay. Yes, I can out.”
pushed, Sam. Somebody’s pushing.” break it as long as we’re here dur- “Thanks. See you in about an
He glanced off screen, adding, “I’d Priest sat on the beige office car- ing its time window. But, there’s a hour.” Graves stepped into the
hate to have to push back.” pet with his legs crossed, hands problem.” Thin arms fluttered inside street. He walked to the corner,
“I don’t think your gun’s big fidgeting helplessly with his bag. crimson sleeves as Priest diagramed tasting the night air as he waited
enough.” House felt a surge of sat- “It’s time-locked.” his thoughts in the air as he spoke. for a tram. The air smelled of heat,
isfaction when Casey flinched. “Let “What does that mean?” Graves “The software’s too advanced for hinted at rain in defiance of a cloud-
me tell you what I’d do, if someone asked. They were down to the final anything I’ve got. I could put a leech less sky.
were to push me.” House felt the office—Daley’s, the terminal with on it and let it work but, with exter- Mankind had developed weather
mad smile from the CIC crawl back the external encryption key. Saved nal encryption, we could be looking control technology centuries ago
onto his face. “I’m an Old Testament for last because Priest was not cer- at, I don’t know, a week maybe be- only to learn, like many things, the
kind of guy, Ed. Eye for an eye and tain he could break it. fore it hits the right code. The only natural method was more efficient
all that.” Casey opened his mouth “Even with the key, it can only other way I can get past is brute than the invented one. By the time
be accessed at certain times of day. he reached the starport, the rain

Page 38

was falling as a warm mist. The cubic feet of hold. ing meat and peppers filed the cab- even had, in a strange kind of way,
musk of oil overlaid with a hint of “How’d you know it was me?” in. “I think you’ll like this. Go slow a friendship with. The reason was
fish came with it. Light spilled from Graves asked, accepting the stubby, though. It’s a little hot.” As if to em- simple. Wu had never met a law he
a booth. Graves stepped inside. childlike hand that reached down to phasize his point, Wu poured more understood. In Wu’s mind, the law
“Service required?” asked the help pull him into the ship. sesame oil into the wok. was synonymous with justice and
soothing female voice all of Earth Wu Lung shrugged. “Who else “What’re you shipping now that the spirit always trumped the let-
felt obliged to use for automated would refuse to give his name?” needs gas tanks?” Graves asked. He ter. ErSec agents were expected to
vocals. Graves chuckled and followed the had learned, no matter how press- employ a certain amount of discre-
“Search.” man’s squat, rolling gait deeper into ing the matter at hand, a certain lev- tion; in Graves’ case, he exercised it
“By berth, ship type, cargo—” the ship. “You will share a meal with el of polite socializing was required toward men like Wu Lung.
“Give me a full list.” me?” It was both a request and a before Wu would talk business. Wu handed Graves a pair of
“Stand by.” The wall of the booth command. “DDT-7.” chopsticks, lifted his own and be-
filled with script. “Not if you’re still on your bean Graves coughed into his fist. “You gan to eat. Graves lifted a curl of
Graves studied the list. “Next,” curd kick,” Graves joked, mostly. know that’s illegal, right? Causes meat, sniffed it, popped it into his
he said, looking. “Next.” He used his They entered the single room that cancer.” mouth, chewing slowly. “This is re-
finger to keep his place. “Next.” Still served as both kitchen and bedroom Wu looked over his shoulder and ally good, Wu. You missed your call-
nothing. “Next. Wait, go back one.” for the ship’s captain. The room was grinned. “For most worlds, yes. But ing; you should have been a chef.”
Not perfect but close enough. His cramped, more from Wu’s collection out on Newer Delhi and Ethopine He snatched a glass of water from
luck was holding. of curios and bachelor housekeep- I’m sure it’s not. Between malaria the table and drained half of it. “Or
“Give me a guide light to berth ing than from lack of space. Graves from mosquitoes and sleeping sick- an assassin,” he added in a choked
63 and ping the captain of the Good lifted a stack of papers out of a chair ness from the black flies, their infant voice.
Karma, let him know I’m coming.” and sat. “I was surprised to find you mortality is around sixty percent Wu laughed. “I told you it was
“Your name?” the machine asked here. What’re you doing on Earth, and the average lifespan is in their hot.” They ate in companionable
but Graves had already left, follow- Wu? It’s an awfully long way from early forties. To live long enough silence for several minutes. “What
ing a line of green running lights. the Frontier.” to run the risk of cancer would be can I do for you, Agent Graves?” Wu
The mist gave the pavement a dark “I could say the same for you.” a major improvement.” He lifted asked.
sheen that twinkled with reflected Wu began tossing ingredients into the wok, set it on the table. “Mak- “What makes you think I need
light. Starships and their tenders a shallow wok. Most stayed in, a ing them suffer when a solution is at something?”
hissed and sighed in pneumatic few slid over the opposite side. hand would not be justice. On these “You’re here. You only come
chorus as white plumes of steam es- Wu corralled the escapees, flipping worlds, DDT-7 must be legal.” to visit me when you need some-
caped into the air. A steady drizzle them back into the wok. “I had to Graves nodded. “You’re probably thing.”
of rain was falling as Graves reached have some gaseous holding tanks right.” He was not; Graves knew Graves smiled and nodded. “You
berth 63. installed. Couldn’t find a shipyard for a certainty that environmental do the same with me.”
“Agent Graves,” called a man I trusted any closer. What about regulations were issued from Earth “True,” Wu said amiably. “That’s
standing silhouetted in the light of you?” and no special circumstances would why we have such a good relation-
an airlock. “Welcome to my humble “Talking to the Senate again.” ever change them, but Graves was ship. We understand each other.”
ship.” The Good Karma was a cargo “I don’t envy you on that.” The not about to do anything to stop “I need a couple of people off of
hauler with a ‘humble’ 1,420,000 wok sizzled and the aroma of sear- him. Wu was one of the few smug- Earth in a hurry. Unofficially.”
glers Graves would never arrest, “When? My upgrades will not be

Page 39

finished until tomorrow morning.” but it’s all I’ve got.” “But here’s the part that throws a pile in front of himself while the
“That should be fine. If things go “Then I’ll do it.” Wu motioned to- me,” Priest said. “He didn’t just take humans were distracted.
the way I expect, I’ll ship them over ward the wok with his chopsticks. the cash; they shipped him the parts “But what would he drop?” Priest
tomorrow in the late afternoon.” “Eat. You cannot save humanity on to build the factories. If it wasn’t asked. “Fifty percent casualties
Wu raised his eyebrows. “Ship an empty stomach.” Casey, I’d say the entire deal was on aren’t something human troops
them?” Contemplating the future killed the up and up.” would stand for. Besides, Casey
“You’ll see. One’s an alien. You Graves’ appetite. He picked at his Red Dog watched as Priest won would have to have an army. Some-
have any problems with Cillians?” food without talking, excused him- the pot and dealt again. “What body would have noticed.”
“I have no problems with any liv- self, and returned to the Senatorial do the factories build?” the alien “There were Eaters on the
ing thing in this wonderful universe,” offices in a heavy downpour. asked. Hecate,” Graves’ words came out as
Wu replied expansively. “I think I’m “Should’ve taken an umbrella, “Industrial grade ceramics,” a hoarse whisper. Beside him, Red
a Buddhist.” At Graves outburst of Agent Graves,” teased the door Graves muttered sourly, staring at Dog shivered. “Priest, make a copy
laughter, he amended, “In a previ- guard, opening the door for him. another bad hand. “What the heck of everything we’ve got. Take it with
ous life, maybe.” “It’s been quiet here, though. Appar- do you make with that kind of equip- you.” He explained about Wu Lung.
Graves sobered. “I’m asking you ently the bug’s finally had enough to ment anyway?” “We still need to hit Daley’s termi-
to take a big risk, Wu. I’m staying drink.” Graves forced a laugh. “Transports,” Red Dog hummed. nal tomorrow, just in case there’s
here to lay false trails and give as Red Dog and Priest were playing “Raise.” more. If we’re right, it really doesn’t
much cover as I can, but I think the cards when he stepped into the of- “Fold. Wait a minute,” Graves matter if he knows we broke in or
best I can hope for is delay. Sooner fice. “I finished decoding what we stared at Red Dog. “What do you not.”
or later—” Graves lifted his hands, had,” Priest said. “Added the in- mean transports?” “Red Dog will stall testimony
palms up, and shrugged. formation you took from the hard- “During war—” Red Dog made a more. If fool Senator must listen to
“And what they do to me will de- copies in the Luddite office.” series of hisses and clicks that did Red Dog after end of time limit, Red
termine how angry they are. Assum- “Deal me in.” Graves pulled a not translate, “—used ships with ce- Dog gains entire day head start.”
ing they catch me.” Wu frowned as chair to the table. “Find anything?” ramic hulls for transports. Dropped Graves struggled to sort the alien’s
he thought. “I am just a transporter. “If I did, I don’t understand it.” troops from orbit like eggs.” syntax then nodded. “Do what you
Perhaps they will overlook me or Priest scowled at his cards. “The “It worked?” Priest asked. can. The important part is that you
decide I’m not worth bothering.” only connection between Casey and “Maybe half die. Field rations.” two get out of here in one piece.”
“It’s possible. I just don’t know.” the Senate that looks fishy are those The more he thought about it, He ran his hand across his scalp, fin-
Wu studied Graves’ face. “This is factories.” the more plausible it seemed. “It’s gers pulling at his hair. “They’ll send
important?” “What factories?” Red Dog asked, strong enough,” Graves said aloud. people after you. I hope I’m wrong
“I think so. I could be wrong; I cer- folding his card. “It’d handle the heat of re-entry, on that but I doubt it. Go to ground
tainly don’t have the solid evidence “Call. I’ll take two.” Graves maybe even better than metal. Espe- for a while. Make yourselves scarce
I need. But if I’m right, a lot of lives dropped a pair of cards onto the ta- cially with breakaway heat shields.” while things blow over; maybe I can
are going to be in danger.” ble. “About two years ago, the Sen- He laid his cards on the table. “They pull a few strings, take some of the
“And getting these people off ate approved a grant to develop the wouldn’t even need their own pow- heat off.” He swore softly. “I hope
Earth might help stop whatever it is infrastructures of Frontier worlds. er source, just dump them out of a we’re wrong.”
you fear?” Turns out, every bit of it went to cargo hold.” “We aren’t,” Priest sighed, shuf-
“If I’m lucky.” Graves shook his Casey instead of the local govern- “Red Dog said so already,” the Cil- fling the deck of cards.
head in frustration. “It’s a long shot ments.” lian rumbled, raking the chips into “Red Dog and Priest will go on va-

Page 40

cation.” bulldozer.” before your relief ship arrived. Can maintain the polite fiction of my ig-
Graves snorted. The Cillian No longer concerned about de- you elaborate on this for the com- norance at tomorrow’s hearing and
grabbed his shoulders and pulled tection, Priest surprised Graves by mittee?” delay further inquiry as long as I am
him closer, tapping Graves’ chest as physically cutting through the side “Red Dog ate chair.” able.”
he spoke. “Listen, fool human. Tell of the terminal and attaching his A pained sigh. “What time is it, Graves found himself returning
Kylee. Tell fool Ivan. Red Dog goes hardware directly to the internal cir- Hazel?” the man’s smile. “I’d appreciate it.”
on vacation.” cuitry. Minutes later, a bar of green “Five-thirty.” “And Mister Red Dog,” the lawyer
“I’ll find a way to let them know,” lights flashed across Priest’s equip- “All right. Let’s call it a day. My addressed his client, “it has been
Graves agreed, feeling like he was ment. head is killing me.” my rare pleasure and delight to rep-
missing something. “You guys “Five more minutes and I’ll have a Graves waited in tense silence as resent you. I suspect you’re cleverer
should get some sleep. Tomorrow’s complete copy,” the Kwakiutl said. “I Priest finished copying their data than even your companions give
a long day.” should have it decoded and copied and packed his belongings. Based you credit for. Should you ever re-
“Not much point in it. Don’t think before we’re due to leave.” on a quick scan, there was nothing quire legal services again, within the
I could sleep anyway,” Priest said. “What transpired after you en- new in Daley’s database. More de- Hedge or without, do feel free to
“May as well play cards.” countered these so-called Eaters?” tails but still no clear answer. Graves call upon me.” He nodded to Priest,
Red Dog skimmed a pair of chips “Ivan shot Red Dog.” was not even certain that he knew looked back at Graves. “Goodbye,
from Graves while he was still dis- “My word!” what he thought he knew; the en- gentlemen. I wish you all success
tracted. “Shut up and deal.” “No, Red Dog needed shooting. To tire mess was a piecemeal of suppo- and safe travels.”
*** stop pain.” sition and gaping holes. As the door swung closed behind
“The Chair empathizes.” “Those factories,” he asked Priest, the man, Red Dog tilted his head,
“Red Dog, what condition did you Priest slapped a piece of gray “how many of the Senators on the gnawing at the end of his staff. “Shy-
find the Hecate in?” putty over the hole in the termi- panel voted for them?” ster is weird.”
“Red Dog was sober.” A buzzing nal’s side, nodding to Graves. They Priest paused, checking. “All of “Get a move on,” Graves said.
washed over the audio. “Red Dog stepped into the hallway, made their them.” “There’s a packing crate across the
has waited all week for joke.” way back to their quarters, resisting Graves made a growling noise in street with your name on it.”
“Red Dog, please.” the temptation to run. the back of his throat. More dead
“Hecate looked fine to Red Dog.” ***
“I read here that you reached the ends, more information that could
“Was anyone else with you?” Hecate’s bridge shortly following mean anything or nothing. “I don’t The tram station below ErSec’s
“Red Dog went with stupid fool this.” know how far Wu will take you. headquarters in Quantico was un-
human Ivan.” “Red Dog believes so. Red Dog’s That’s up to him; I just—” He cut usually dark; at least half of its
“Why isn’t this Ivan here as memory not perfect.” himself off as Red Dog entered the overhead lights were either out or
well?” “I would remind the Chair that my room with his lawyer. flickering. That alone was enough
“Ivan injured and busy. More im- client had only recently been shot The lawyer glanced at Priest’s to tell Lumley the situation was un-
portant events than Senate. Red Dog and his recollection of the events bags and nodded. “I suspected an usual, that he was not alone. Not
gets all bad jobs.” may not be as precise as would be early departure would be in order that he needed the additional hint,
“Ivan was injured reclaiming the preferred.” at some point in these proceed- the message hand delivered by a
Hecate?” “Understood. Red Dog, I don’t find ings. This seems to be it then.” He perplexed janitor had been enough.
“No. Ivan got tiny scratch later any mention of what occurred after smiled warmly at Graves. “Don’t be “Downstairs at the witching hour. I
when Red Dog stopped truck with you reached the Hecate’s bridge and concerned, Agent. I shall of course don’t care who you bring but you’ll

Page 41

arrive alone.” It was not signed but “Of course I was surprised. I knew him.” Most of them don’t know much
it did not need to be. something was going on, but the “You’d be surprised,” Graves said, more than Lumley does.”
The hollow silence of the empty scope,” Lumley shook his head. “It’s his voice tense with an undercur- Graves continued speaking as if
station combined with the jumping bigger than I thought.” rent of malice. he had not heard. “What I couldn’t
shadows made the white-tiled foyer “Still is.” “I forgot, the noble sacrifice,” figure out was why. How does it
disorienting, setting Lumley’s nerves “What do you mean?” the Director conceded. “We need all fit together? I’m still not sure I
on edge. “He means that the little bribes men like Agent Graves. ErSec needs know.”
“Evening, Lum. Glad to see you you’ve been taking aren’t fleas on them. In their proper place.” “You’ve done pretty well so far.
made it.” a dog in the big picture.” The new “Like on the Frontier,” Graves And I see that Agent Lumley is hang-
Lumley jumped, covered the speaker walked toward them from said. “Well away from the cesspool ing on your every word. Why don’t
lapse with bluster. “Graves! Damn the entrance with a stiff limp, a lean of politics and pragmatists.” you go ahead and try?” the Director
it, man, you almost scared me to man with a broad face. “You’re a good agent, Hyland. I’d said.
death.” The echoes made it difficult “Director,” Graves said courteous- hate to lose you.” “Because it’s not a game,” Graves
for him to pinpoint the direction the ly. “Glad you could join us.” “Did any of them tell you how replied, his eyes narrowing. “I don’t
voice came from. “Where have you The head of ErSec nodded po- Casey is supposed to take over the really care as long as its stopped.”
been for the last two weeks? Half litely. “The Secretary of Defense Frontier? About the Eaters?” Graves “Very noble of you,” the Director
the planet’s looking for you.” sends his regrets. He was unavoid- asked Lumley, his eyes still on the conceded. “But what do you want
Graves laughed. “Not quite half.” ably detained.” The Director smiled. Director. “How many people will stopped?”
“How’d you do it? This is Earth, “You’re not the only emergency to end up eaten alive by aliens because “All right, if that’s the way it’s got
not the Frontier. How’s a man just come up.” of your ‘means’?” to be.” Graves did not bother to hide
up and vanish?” Lumley’s eyes flicked nervously The Director shrugged. “Eggs, the anger and disgust in his voice.
“Myopia. Go to ground, get off between the two men. “It’s a good omelets.” “I’m guessing the Eaters are the
the grid, don’t use your electronics. deal,” he told Graves, almost plead- “Part of it I already suspected,” key. I know they’re where your plan
It was easier than I thought.” Graves ing. “With Casey in charge, we can Graves explained, taking a calming went off track. They weren’t as easy
stepped out of the shadows barely bring real government to the Fron- breath. “I figured that the pirate to control as you expected.” Graves
more than an arm’s length away tier, real law.” activity between Third Earth and choked on a laugh. “Aliens usu-
from Lumley. He was dirty, clothes “Real law. With Casey in charge.” Farnham was a distraction. It would ally aren’t.” He paused for breath.
torn, face well on its way to a beard, Graves looked at him, smiling sadly. only take a few well placed leaks in “Earth gives Casey the equipment to
but otherwise healthy. “You get a “The pitiful thing is, you believe ErDef’s comm net to let the pirates build transports for the Eaters then
copy of the data I sent you?” that.” stay one step ahead. makes sure he’s got ships to break
“On the Senate? Yeah, I got it.” “It’s not too late,” Lumley said. “And I figured that a Senator was quarantine without getting caught.”
“Anything surprise you?” “Come in now and we can make this setting Casey up with the obsolete He finally looked at Lumley. “We
Lumley laughed nervously. “Why all go away.” He glanced at the Di- stealth ships.” Graves paused, shak- could’ve saved them some trouble
do you think I came down to HQ? I rector. “Can’t we?” ing his head. “I didn’t expect most of if they’d asked. We knew Casey was
knew you were working on some- “I suppose we could,” the lean the Senate to be in on it.” breaking quarantine with the ships
thing. I just got out of the way and man agreed. “But it doesn’t matter. “Not most,” contradicted the Di- he already had. He didn’t need help
let you work.” You see, Agent Graves isn’t like you rector. “Just two sub-committees. on that front.”
Graves smiled. “Didn’t answer my or me. He’s an ideologue. The ends That’s the biggest security risk. The Director nodded for him to
question, Lumley.” never justify the means for men like

Page 42

continue. Graves licked his lips and minute shake of his head. “Earth if they put him in charge. Problems “I doubt if you’ll believe me when
frowned. “The Frontier is bracketed cares about Casey very much. You he can handle easily since he’s also I say this but, because ErSec really
by two main routes: Third Earth- see, the Frontier is largely inhabited the cause of them. And just in case, does need agents of your caliber.
Farnham and Nevrio-Fargone. Con- by people who don’t like or don’t you’ve given him a pair of stealth And because even those of us in-
trol them and you control the Fron- trust the Hegemony. It’s a handy ships and let him build his own little volved in this little scheme aren’t
tier.” He paused, considering. “You system, like a penal colony except, army of pirates to strong-arm any- all convinced that it’s a good one.”
wouldn’t, but I can see where you instead of waiting for the crime to one who doesn’t go along with him.” Graves gave the Director a confused
would think you did. Let’s just say, be committed, the criminals line up Graves closed his eyes, his lips curl- stare. “Wheels within wheels,” the
control those two routes and you and demand to be allowed onto the ing in a snarl of disgust. He coughed Director said. “You’re really not cut
control the shipping. You could put ships.” out a brittle laugh. “I don’t think you out for politics at all.” He sighed.
the squeeze on a lot of people.” “I don’t follow,” Lumley said. understand the Frontier very well.” “I’m assuming that you’ve made
“Go on.” The Director frowned, mak- “Maybe not, but as you pointed copies of the information you have,
“That’s all I’ve got,” Graves admit- ing a tsking sound with his lips like out, it only takes four planets. And put them in places where they’ll
ted. “If it weren’t for all the secrecy a teacher scolding an especially Casey doesn’t have to solve the crop up if you stay gone for too
and the near-panic when the wrong slow student. “To the savages on problems, just be more effective long, melodramatics like that. It
person recovered the Hecate, I the Frontier, Earth is the ultimate than Earth was.” could all be silenced, of course, but
doubt anyone would’ve ever looked boogey man. Acclimation has to be “And you really think a man like that’s even more trouble. No, let me
twice. As it is, I’m guessing Earth done by slow steps. If the Frontier Casey is just going to roll over and propose a compromise.”
wants Casey to turn Eaters loose sees Earth as the bad guy, then we be Earth’s little lapdog?” The red dot lay on Graves’ shirt
on Fargone, Nevrio, or both. Why, I use that role and let Casey be the “I don’t deserve that, Agent like a stain. “I’m listening.”
don’t know.” hero.” Graves. Of course I don’t. That’s “In a few months, you go back to
“You told me Casey would bring “As long as he works for you,” why there was a paper trail for you the Frontier. Back to your old job just
the Frontier into the Hedge,” Lum- Graves injected. to follow at all. Earth has proof of like none of this ever happened.”
ley said. “As long as he works for Earth. the truth to hold over his head, plus “Just like that?”
The Director nodded. “Eventually, Bad old Earth can’t even do its job. It we sweeten the pot by making him The Director ignored Graves’ sar-
yes. What both of you still have to can’t control the pirates on the one Senator pro tem representing the casm. “Just like that. No matter how
learn is that control and safety are hand or prevent aliens from escap- Frontier.” this all plays out, there will still be
the same things.” ing quarantine on the other.” The “No chance in hell,” Graves pro- a Frontier of sorts and ErSec will
“Crisis of confidence,” Graves Director smiled, raised his shoul- nounced. still need agents there when it’s
said. “You don’t care about Casey ders in a loose approximation of a “We’ll see.” over. You spend another couple of
or the Eaters, you just need a panic shrug. “But both problems are too “No, we won’t,” Graves said stub- months on Earth and then you nev-
on the Frontier. You’re willing to un- big for the isolated tribes of savages bornly, one hand sliding inside his er have to come back again. I’ll see
leash an alien species on multiple to handle alone. They need a strong coat. He stopped, looking down to it personally.”
planets, kill tens of thousands— man, a big boss.” at the red dot flickering across his “And Casey?”
maybe millions—just to scare inno- “Edgar Casey,” Lumley supplied. chest. “He’s on his own now. Earth has
cent people into jumping the way “And they trade him safety for “It would be very easy for you to done enough for him to have a
you want them to.” control,” Graves concluded sourly. disappear, Agent Graves.” chance of success. You’ve muddied
The Director scowled, giving a “He promises to fix both problems “Then why not?” the waters here enough to justify

Page 43

cutting him off. If he succeeds, he’ll give you a warrant.” others he had not.
be out of your reach. If he fails, “As simple as that?” Graves lifted Lumley’s comm unit,
Earth has no further use for him, “As simple as that.” punching in the final number on the
good hunting.” Graves nodded slowly. “We have list then the access code that ac-
Graves eyed the Director cau- a deal,” he said, wondering if the companied it. Hearing the voice that
tiously. “Whose side are you on?” Director had forgotten or was only answered, he broke the link. He had
“Earth’s, Agent Graves. Always pretending to forget: all warrants on wondered how high the conspiracy
Earth’s.” the Frontier were ‘dead or alive.’ stretched.
Graves thought it over. “What “You are a good agent, Hyland. Now he knew.
about Red Dog and Priest?” I’m glad you’re sticking with us.” The
“It’s out of my hands. A warrant Director turned to leave. “I’ll go now
has been issued, men have been and let you have a word alone with
sent out. The best, I might add. your former partner.”
Daley insisted on it. I think he took Graves glanced down. The ruby Calamity’s Child © 2009 by M. Keaton.
your tampering with his database splotch of the laser sight was gone.
personally.” “Glad that worked out,” Lumley
“No deal then. They’re my re- said.
sponsibility.” Graves turned, faked a punch at
“I can rescind the warrant. That’s Lumley’s face with his left. As the
the best I can offer. You’re really not other man jerked his arms up re-
in a very strong position to negoti- flexively, Graves unloaded a right
ate.” into Lumley’s stomach as hard as he
“Pull the warrant then. If Daley’s could swing. Lumley dropped to his
men stay after them, my money’s on knees, retching.
the Cillian.” Graves hesitated. “And “I need to borrow your comm,”
I want Casey. Give me a warrant to Graves said. Lumley was curling into
bring him in.” a ball on the tile floor, too busy gag-
“You know that’s out of the ques- ging to answer.
tion,” snapped the Director. “I’m fast In his pocket, he carried the list
running out of patience, Agent.” of codes and numbers he had found
“If he drops the ball, you want me in Senator Hazel’s files, his last bar-
to bring him down, right?” insisted gaining chip. Priest had not been
Graves stubbornly. “Then give me able to make heads or tales out of
an excuse. If not on this, then on the list. Graves, veteran of Earth bu-
something else. Anything else.” reaucracy, had chosen not to inform
“My last concession,” the Director him. Some he recognized, like the
warned. “If you can find evidence of number and code for the Director of
wrong-doing, large or small, then I’ll ErSec and the Secretary of Defense,

Page 44

and my artwork. cesses? How has success impacted
/ your work? I think there have
How would you describe your been two big successes. The first
work? In my opinion, it’s (often) one was that I won the First (Best
good space/sci-fi digital-art. Some Wallpaper) and the Third (Best 3D
works are better then the others, Art) Place in the SGP-Fanartawards
but I think the most are relative ac- of It was

 great! But then 2009-05-15 my fa-
vourite artwork (RealAirForce) be-
Where do you get your inspiration? come a Daily Deviation. It was very
Name: Martin Steil Stargate and the work at devian- amazing, and I have been very hap-
How did you become an artist? tART give me a big part of my inspi- py about this great glory!

Age: 17 When I was 14 or 15, I started to cre- ration.
ate art on my PC. My first steps had What are your favorite tools /
Country of residence: Germany been with Photoshop to create wall- Have you had any notable failures, equipment for producing your art?
papers, homepages, and some small and how has failure affected your I use the following software: Cinema
Hobbies: 3D-, 2D-Art, web design- stuff. During that time, I searched a work? I often had have some small 4D for the 3D art stuff like modeling,
ing, badminton, Stargate lot on the ‘net to learn more about failures but no really big one. I learn lighting, Photoshop for the 2D art
software, skills, and techniques. In from my failures and mistakes and stuff like textures, composing, web-
Favorite Book/Author: Harry Potter 2007, I finally started doing 3D work. they are a part of my workflow. Of- designing, Dreamweaver for web
The communities stargate-project. ten, I have to do something three designing, ZBrush for special 3D art
Favorite Artist: Chris Diston de and helped me or four times until it looks good or like organic modeling, displacement
a lot, and I made a lot of friends who even works. maps, and this hardware: Asus X53K,
When did you start creating art? created this kind of artwork too. My Logitech MX-518, Wacom Bamboo
 main subject is Stargate/Atlantis- What have been your greatest suc- Fun medium.
Fanart because I like the series very
What media do you work in? PC: much.
Cinema 4D, Photoshop, ZBrush
What were your early influences? I
Where your work has been fea- think Stargate and Stargate-Project
tured?, SciFiMesh- are some of the early influences.,, stargate-project.

 What are your current influences?
My friends and my fans motivate me
Where should someone go if they very much. And I want to become a
wanted to view / buy some of your better artist; I’m a bit of a perfec-

 tionist so I want to improve my skills

Page 45

The Ties That Bind, Part Two
What tool / equipment do you wish What do you hope to accomplish by Justin R. Macumber
you had?
A better/faster notebook/ with your art? I hope to improve my
PC would be very nice especially for skills, and I want people to like my
the 3D art: More RAM and a better
CPU would be great for rendering
art—I think every artist wants this.
For me, it’s very important to have “W hy do I get the feeling this
isn’t a social call, Jack?”
Jessica asked.
would rather get their cargo late
than not at all.”
Jack pulled at the hairs on his
and the workflow because these fun with this because I spend a big
programs (Cinema 4D, Photoshop) part of my free time with this art. Sitting in the Stargazer lounge, chin and shifted his gaze from left to
need a lot of performance if I want Jessica and Boo of the star-freighter right. “Not these people, Jessie. The
to create big models/pictures. Breaking Dawn looked down at the’s with the Gorawnies.”
computer screen that sat on their “What the hell?! The Gorawnies?
table. Peering back at them from Jack, are you insane?”
the screen was the exasperated “Now, you listen here—” he be-
face of Jack Connelly, a man Jessica gan, but Jessica cut him off.
had known for over a decade. She’d “No, you listen! The Gorawnies
first met him during one of the last are not people you want to get in-
runs she and her father had made volved with! Jesus, Jack! Those guys
together before his death. are nothing but criminals, and folks
“Perhaps because of my harried like us have no business dealing
expression?” Jack replied. with them.”
“Don’t snap at me, Jack. This call The older man looked ashamed,
has to be costing you a fortune, so but anger brought a hard glint to his
just tell me what’s going on.” eyes. “First of all, I don’t need les-
After huffing for a moment, Jack sons in life from a girl less than half
said, “I’m in a bit of a bind. My ship’s my age. Secondly, I’m trying to join
in a bad way, and I really need your the Trade Guild, and the Gorawnies
help.” are charter members. A sponsorship
Jessica frowned at the screen. from them would give me a serious
“What’s wrong with the Wandering leg up.”
Star? Do you need a loan or some- “The Guild?” Jessica said. “Since
thing to help get her fixed?” when have you been interested in
“No, that’s not it. I need you to joining with them? If I recall cor-
pick up some cargo for me and de- rectly, the last time the Guild came
liver it before the contract time ex- up in conversation, it was said in the
pires. It’s really important.” same breath as words like ‘corpo-
“Then call for an extension. I’m rate shills’ and ‘damn whores.’ You
sure whoever your contract is with suddenly have a change of heart?”

Page 46

Jack’s angry expression reverted not only are you in a world of hurt, in order for you to find it you’ll need mand, Jessica said, “Sounds good.”
to one of embarrassment, but the but now you want us in it with to ping the belt with an encrypted “I appreciate you doing this for
older man tried to hide it under a you?” transmission burst. Once you do me. I know you don’t agree with
layer of bluster. “I’m gettin’ too old “I’ll pay you, of course. Everything that it’ll light up enough for you to what I’m doing, but you’re sticking
for this small time independent I would have made and more. I just find it.” by me anyway, and I’ll never forget
stuff. A man has to start thinking have to get their cargo in. If I don’t, “I know the drill,” Jessica told him. it.”
about his retirement at some point, it won’t be pretty. I hate to ask, but “Don’t forget, it was dad who came Giving him a half smile, Jessica
and these milk runs we’re mak- you’re the only person I know who up with that smugglers package in replied, “Oh, I think you can count
ing just don’t cut it anymore. Guild can help me.” the first place.” on that. I foresee many retellings of
membership is practically a golden “Save the guilt trip. You knew I “That’s right. I’m sending you this over drinks in the future.”
ticket.” would help before you even called.” the encryption credential right Jack smirked back. “I guess I de-
“That may be, but once you’re Shaking his head, he replied, “I now. Once you’re at the Proxius serve that.”
in the Guild, they own you. And to didn’t, but I hoped.” conduit node, start broadcasting. “I’ll call you when the dust set-
make matters worse, you’re willing Jessica shrugged her shoulders It shouldn’t take more than a few tles.”
to get into bed with the Gorawnies and tilted her head. “Either way, you minutes for it to ping you back. I’m “I’ll be waiting, Jessie. Thanks
to do it.” know I can’t leave you hanging out also sending you the delivery file so again.”
“Age changes things, Jessie,” Jack to dry like this. Where are you and you know where to take it. When Jessica and Boo gave their fare-
said, his face drooping. “You’ll see. what do I need to haul?” you’re done, call me back here and wells. Once the call window faded
Besides, the Gorawnies have never “We’re in the Shush’ka Ship- let me know so that your money can to black, she downed the remainder
been convicted of anything.” yards out in Outpost 8A-14, but the be transferred.” of her drink and pulled up a bank-
“Now you’re rationalizing.” cargo isn’t with us. I couldn’t take “The money will be sent over ing window. True to his word, Jack
“Yeah, maybe, but I entered into a chance on dock scanners finding now, Jack.” Jessica’s voice was un- deposited a healthy sum of money
an agreement with them to deliver it...whatever it I dumped the wavering. “There’s a lot that can into their account.
some cargo, and with my ship now cargo pod and left it in the Proxius go wrong, and I’m not going to risk “You know this won’t end well,”
out of commission I can’t complete asteroid field.” being left out to dry along with you Boo said as they stood from their
it.” Boo gasped. “You mean you left should that happen. I love you like chairs and began walking toward
“What’s wrong with her?” their cargo just spinning with the an uncle, but even that has limits.” the exit of the lounge.
Jack ran a shaking hand down his rocks?! Are you insane?” The elder freighter captain glow- “Nothing involving the Gorawnies
stubbly cheek. “It’s her damn ar- Jack jumped to cover the speaker ered at the screen, but his anger and ever does. Then again, my karma
mor-capillary system. She’s sprung a on his comm terminal, then replied, frustration meant little in the face is pretty clean, so there’s always
leak, and the weight shift has com- “Of course not! The asteroid belt of her resolve. “Alright. I’ll transmit hope.”
pletely thrown off our engines. If isn’t very thick, and an onboard nav payment as soon as I hang up with Boo grunted and shook his head.
we try to engage our drives at more system can move it with air thrust- you. You’ll find it more than reason- Seconds later they were free of the
than half-throttle we list around like ers if anything gets too close. Trust able, I assure you.” lounge and headed back toward
a drunken sailor.” me, it’s safe enough. There’s a pas- Nodding once to the screen and their waiting ship.
“Dammit,” Jessica replied. “So, sive homing beacon on it though, so then once to her second in com-

Page 47

*** pushing the engines fairly hard all lesser evil. One route consisted of friend. Had it been anyone else in
“And that,” Jessica said with an air the way, and I don’t want any sur- eight hops; seven of them through the galaxy, she would have turned
of finality, “is the tall and the skinny prises.” standard Conduit nodes, and one them away without a second’s
of it.” Everyone filed out of the room, through a Coven gate, with the en- thought. But Jack was different, and
Everyone around the table that some going fore and some aft. Jes- tire trip taking an estimated six days. the old man knew it.
served as the primary gathering sica and Boo made immediately for The other route took only three days, Still, she thought, Zen’s right. We
place for meals aboard the Break- the bridge. The Kleeetan lowered but there were four hops, and all of took the job, and we took the pay-
ing Dawn grunted and sat back to himself into the pilot’s seat while them were through Coven gates, the ment. No use grousing about it now.
mull over what she’d told them. Af- his captain went to a command sta- last two being within hours of each Let’s just get it done and move on.
ter several seconds of silence, one tion above and behind him. As he other. She didn’t want to put any The sooner we get all these Coven
crewmember stood up. strapped himself in and began pre- of them through that sort of stress, gates passed us, the better.
“I’ll not say that I’m entirely flight checks, she put on a headset but the saved time was too great to ***
pleased with all this,” Zen squawked, and brought her communications ignore. In the end, it really wasn’t a
display online. choice at all. For the fourth time in nearly as
her cream-colored feathers barely many days, space unraveled itself
bristling, “but as your people say, no “Traffic control, this is Breaking “You’re now cleared to leave
Dawn requesting immediate clear- Vimm’skka Station, Breaking Dawn,” around Jessica in terrible swirls
use crying over spilled muff.” of light and dark as her ship flew
“Milk,” Boo corrected with a light ance to depart.” Her words were the traffic control operator said.
crisp, clear, and direct. A reply was “Exit vectors have been uploaded to through yet another Coven gate. It
chuckle. was a horrible feeling, like she was
Zen’s pitch black eyes slid over to not long in coming. you. Deviate from them and you will
“Breaking Dawn, you are not yet be fined accordingly. Have a good dying in slow motion, and it never
the Kleeetan abruptly. “Pardon?” got easier no matter how many
“Milk,” Boo repeated. “No use cleared for debarkation. Stand down day.”
while we secure an exit lane for you. Jessica checked her screens times she went through it.
crying over spilled milk.” “One...two...three...four...five...”
Clicking her beak lips, Zen tossed One moment please.” and saw the uploaded flight plan.
Tapping the screen to her left, she “Thanks, traffic control. Breaking she whispered, her eyes closed
her head and shrugged. “Fine. Milk. and her skin clammy. “
Thank you, Boo. But my sentiment brought up the ship’s status display Dawn out.” She then added the
and saw that all systems were read- transmitted exit vectors to her Prox- eight...nine...ten.”
stands. We are committed, and we By the time she was done count-
have been paid, so I think we might ing within nominal ranges. For a ship ius nav route and forwarded it to the
as old as she was, Breaking Dawn piloting station. A disgruntled snort ing, the medicine Zen had given her
as well get the task done with as kicked in, easing her stomach and
quickly as possible.” was fitter than most starcraft half came seconds later.
her age. All her crew saw to that. “Four Coven gates?” Boo asked. frazzled nerves. Going through a Co-
Jessica looked around the table. ven gate was bad enough, but how
None of her crew appeared happy Next she brought her navigation “Was it something I said?”
displays to life and started charting She laughed, but it was a sound the Coven themselves could stand
to be working for the Gorawnies, to live inside them was something
even if only tangentially, but no one a route to Proxius. There were two with little humor in it. The coming
to choose from, but neither was journey promised to be a trying one, she would never understand.
stood up to say they refused either. Checking her navigational
Nodding, she said, “Okay then. Get an easy trip, and ultimately it came and she silently cursed the bond
down to deciding which was the that had caused her to help her old screens, she saw that her ship was
to your stations. I’m going to be

Page 48

approximately six million klicks from package, skipper?” he asked around helm?” Jessica asked Boo as she was cluttered with a haphazard
the conduit node in the Proxius sys- mouthfuls of chewed flesh. finished the last of her juice and collection of makeup containers,
tem. At maximum burn that meant Zen, whose species was strictly dropped the plastic pouch into a re- half-empty perfume bottles, and
about an eight hour trip to reach vegetarian, looked at him with bare- cycling bin. an ancient squeeze tube of hair gel
the asteroid belt. She didn’t like ly disguised disgust. Ferron didn’t The Kleeetan pilot answered with that had hardened past the point
pushing her engines that hard for so notice. a silent shake of his head. He then of usefulness. The slim closet door
long, but she trusted Duka to keep Opening a refrigerated cabinet, took hold of a tall metal cup and next to her desk was half open, and
them operating in the green. Jessica replied, “Eight hours, give or filled it with steaming coffee, coffee poking from it were the barrels of
After initiating the ship’s autopi- take. After that we hit the node and only he could stomach. The strong two handguns that hung in leather
lot program, she sprang from the get rid of it as soon as possible.” As smell of it made Jessica’s nose wrin- holsters from a coat hook, both of
piloting chair and exited through she finished speaking, she withdrew kle up in disgust. them in need of a good servicing.
the aft hatch to make her way to- a pouch of chilled nutrient-enriched “Okay, thanks. I’m going to take a “Hey dad,” she said to a portrait
ward the galley. As she entered the fruit juice, closed the refrigerator, shower and then snooze for a bit. If of her father that sat on the shelf
communal room, Zen came through popped the top off her drink, and I’m not on the bridge in five hours, over her bunk. “Hangin’ in there?
the hatchway that led to the crew’s started sipping. beep my cabin.” Yeah, me too.”
sleeping pods, a small black bag in “And then we can get back to our He nodded, screwed a lid onto Also on the shelf was a picture of
her hands. normal lives,” Boo said as he shuf- his cup, and shambled toward the her mother, Muriel, a young woman
“Did the medicine help, Cap- fled through the same hatchway Zen bridge. with an angelic face that echoed
tain?” Zen asked, looking a bit green and Ferron had used. Sleep was still The walk to her cabin was short, strongly in her own. Her mother
around the beak herself. evident in his four brown eyes and and she crossed into it with relief. had died minutes after giving birth
Jessica nodded. “So far, so good. in the sags of his dog-like face. It wasn’t much, but it was home. to her one and only child. All Jessica
Thanks for the popper.” “Anyone heading down to the The Breaking Dawn only had one knew of her was what her father
Zen nodded, settled into a chair, grease pit?” Ferron asked. “Be- full-fledged living compartment, had passed on through stories.
and opened her medical bag and cause, if not, I thought I’d take a and it was hers. Everyone else on As the hatch closed and locked
pulled out a med-patch. After re- snack down to Duka, see how he’s board slept in sleeping tubes, with behind her, she sat down in her
moving the adhesive cover, she set- doing.” their few possessions stored in per- chair and undid the buckles of her
tled the patch over the thin feathers “Take him a few of those galonaan sonal lockers, but as the captain of boots, which were shuffled off to
of her neck. A satisfied sigh escaped podberries,” Jessica suggested. “He the ship she had a room all to her- join their companions beneath the
her beak. loves those.” self, and even if the quarters were bunk. Next she removed her socks,
Seconds later Ferron joined them. Nodding, Ferron plucked two cramped she did all she could to her vest, undershirt, and trousers.
After a silent greeting he opened a handfuls of the sickeningly sweet make them her own. A full length mirror was secured to
cabinet door and began rummaging fruit from a bin and shoved them Articles of unwashed clothing the wall next to her small bathroom
around in the pantry until he found into one his pockets, and then start- were draped over her desk chair stall, and in it she quickly looked
a large bag of dehydrated meat. The ed walking toward the aft passage- and the foot rail of her tiny bunk, herself over. At five and a half feet
snack never failed to calm his stom- way that led toward the ship’s main while under it were three pairs of tall, Jessica was in average physical
ach. engine cluster. boots that had been kicked off and condition. She’d never felt that she
“How long until we pick up the “Do you mind watching the forgotten. One corner of her desk was an overly attractive woman, at

Page 49

least by human standards, though was a towel, which she used and too crowded out that way, but I’m they possibly could be, Jessica nod-
none of her lovers had ever seen fit then threw onto the rest of the dirty not taking any chances, so get Cam ded and hit a button that activated
to complain. Her eyes were gray like clothes in her chair. For a moment to man the guns. I want him ready the ship’s intercom system. “Every-
the ocean under a stormy sky, and she toyed with the idea of reading to fire on any stray rocks that get too one, we’re about to go swimming
her hair, which was naturally a deep her latest email download, but the close. And then go get some sleep. with the rocks. Start praying to
red, hung in thick curls that fell just warm water had drained the last We’re nearly on the home stretch, whatever gods you find comfort in.
past her shoulders. reserves of her energy away, so in- and I want you frosty.” Bridge out.”
Down her arms and back were stead she collapsed onto her bunk Nodding, Boo stepped back from With that done, she grabbed the
tattooed thin swirls of black, red, and sank into several hours of much the command station and said, “I’ll throttle and slowly pushed it for-
and blue lines, the result of a drunk- needed sleep. have him right up.” ward. The ship’s engines throbbed
en stay in a strange port. It was the *** She waved her hand and yawned. to life, and into the asteroid field
only thing she and her father had “I’ll call if an asteroid hits us.” they flew.
ever shared cross words over. Two “Are we ready to broadcast?” The Kleeetan laughed as he exit- To be continued...
weeks after the argument, an acci- Boo asked from the command con- ed the bridge. Once the door closed
dent in the forward cargo hold took sole as the Breaking Dawn reached behind him, Jessica tapped her nav
his life. In his will he’d left everything the outer edge of the Proxius aster- screen and set up a series of check-
to her, including his stake in the ship oid belt. points that formed a route through
and its business, which amounted Jessica, her nap still fresh across the asteroid belt to their target. The
to just over half of the freighter’s her pink face, reached out, grabbed navigational computer checked her Tales of the Breaking Dawn © 2009
total worth. the engine throttle, and pulled it all course against the drift of all the as- by Justin Macumber.
I can’t believe it’s been so long the way back. In space there was teroids detected and found it to be
since he died, she thought. How is it no such thing as a true stop, but so a sound flight path. As she finalized
possible to feel this young and this far as the rest of the Proxius system her preparations, the bridge door
old all at the same time? was concerned, she was as good as whisked open.
With a shake of her head she fin- parked. “We are now.” “Ready for some target practice?”
ished disrobing and stepped into Boo tapped a series of buttons on she asked Cam over her shoulder.
her shower. A hot water shower on his communications panel that sent “I don’t require practice, Captain.
a small ship like hers was a luxury an encrypted transmission burst My skills are constant.”
she rarely allowed herself. Lathering into the asteroid field. Several sec- She shook her head and grinned.
up was a delight, but it was nothing onds later, a beeping sound came “It’s just an expression.”
compared to the joy of hot water through the bridge speakers, and a “I know, ma’am.” As he spoke, the
cascading down her skin to wash light began flashing. android settled into the tactical sta-
the suds away. Next she washed “Looks like the package is where tion and plugged himself into the
her hair, and then she brushed her Jack said it would be,” he said. ship’s sensor and weapons grids.
teeth. When she was done she felt On her nav screen, Jessica saw Within seconds he and the ship
like a new woman. an indicator icon slowly pulsing at were one. “Tactical is ready.”
On a hook next to the shower the very edge of the display. “We’re Knowing they were as ready as
lucky it’s still in range. The belt isn’t

Page 50

by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt and Matthew Scott Winslow

The Dragon’s Nine Sons nerman Yao Guanzhong. Zhuan is thief; Nguyen, the gentle mountain engaging. I would not say I was sur-
by Chris Roberson a reluctant captain. He joined the of a man with a murderous temper; prised by anything that happened in
Solaris, 2008, 416pp. Imperial transport forces to escape Cai, the awkward prankster; Paik, the story, but I consider it a page-
the family business of training wild the self-centered loafer; Dea, the turner. And I do want to read more
It is 2052 in an alternate universe animals for the Emperor’s enjoy- killer marksman who thinks he’s of Roberson’s Celestial Empire sto-
where Imperial China battles the ment. When war with the Mexica a wild-west gunslinger; Fukuda, ries.
Mexic Dominion for control of the broke out, Zhuan was pressed into the nervous explosive expert; and Lovers of military SF and a good
fourth planet from the sun, Fire military service where he eventually Syuxtun, communications officer action-adventure story will definite-
Star. Nine trouble-making soldiers made captain. He was arrested and and devout Muslim. Zhuan and Yao ly want to check out The Dragon’s
are given a reprieve from execution sentenced to execution because his must get this motley bunch to work Nine Sons.
if they undertake a suicide mission: own cowardice made him disobey a together if any of them are to have a  
piloting a captured Mexic spaceship direct order and command his ship chance of returning from their mis- Reviewed by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
to the asteroid stronghold of the en- away from a battle. sion.
The other main character, Ban- Save for the incredibly inventive ***
emy to destroy it from within. When
they arrive at the base, they discov- nerman Yao, is Zhuan’s opposite. universe, The Dragon’s Nine Sons The Stormcaller and The Twilight
er dozens of Chinese prisoners des- Career military from a military fam- does not break much new ground. Herald
tined to be used as human sacrifices, ily on both sides, he was a dutiful Roberson could have easily titled by Tom Lloyd
and their suicide mission becomes a and honorable officer. Yet when his the novel, “The Dirty Three-Quar- Pyr, 2008, 2009, 449 pp., 503 pp.
desperate rescue attempt. unit chances upon a Mexic attack ters Dozen.” So much could have
The Dragon’s Nine Sons is a novel of a civilian station on Fire Star, his been done with the voice of the nar- In a land ruled over by distant, ca-
set in Chris Roberson’s Celestial Em- superiors order him not to engage rative, say, by drawing from the rich pricious gods, a young man named
pire universe, a fascinating alternate the enemy. This leads to an enor- tradition of Chinese literature or Isak has been plucked from poverty
history where fifteenth-century mous amount of civilian casualties more recent wuxia fiction. In spite to be the heir of the Duke of Farlan.
China, instead of closing itself off and unanswered questions for Yao. of the exotic setting, the novel reads Isak is a white-eye, born larger and
from the world, continued its pro- The Bannerman persists in looking like American action-adventure sci- more powerful than most men, a
gram of exploration and wound up for answers in spite of orders from ence fiction. representative of the gods among
becoming the major world power. his superiors to let the matter drop. For me to say this is unfair, I know. humanity. As he grows into his new
Roberson has about a dozen or so When he finally finds out what hap- A reviewer must review the book an position, he learns that the land is
short stories set in the universe; The pened he is arrested as well. author actually wrote, not the one facing a time of struggle the likes of
Dragon’s Nine Sons is the second Zhuan and Yao are put in charge of the reviewer wishes he had written. which it has never seen since ages
novel, with others forthcoming. the captured Mexic ship, renamed Roberson has an excellent prose ago when mortals battled with and
The leaders of the assault expedi- the Dragon, and a team of seven style, delightfully transparent to even slew gods.
tion are Captain Zhuan Jie and Ban- misfits: Ang the pilot, gambler, and the story he tells. The adventure is The Stormcaller and The Twilight

Page 51

Herald are the first two volumes lover and unbeatable soldier, who best when a human story wrestles
in Tom Lloyd’s high fantasy series, now finds himself falling in love and with human values. Lloyd has a very
“The Twilight Reign.” The series is hating war. human story, and I look forward to
projected to run to five volumes, And this is all setting the stage for see how it continues.
with the third already published in a cosmic battle of good versus evil.
Lloyd’s native U.K. (Pyr has it sched- Or perhaps better, order versus cha- Reviewed by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
uled for release later this year in os. Unlike a number of high fanta-
North America.) sies out there that I could name but
The Stormcaller presents Isak won’t, one feels there is a point to
finding his way in his new environ- all this. Lloyd is trying to tell a defi-
ment, drawing friends and allies nite story, not writing tomes for the Donald Jacob Uitvlugt grew up in western
to himself (and making enemies), sake of writing tomes. Michigan and now lives in Arkansas with his
learning to lead men into battle and The style of Lloyd’s prose is rich, wife and dog. He can be contacted via www.
to control the magic within himself. but not overly so. To use an image
Isak is a likeable character, but inde- from architecture, if Tolkien is a par-
Matthew Scott Winslow has been a science
cisive the way an eighteen-year-old ish church in English perpendicular fiction and fantasy addict since he first
youth can be. I often found it un- Gothic, Lloyd would be a chateau in discovered Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series
clear what motivated him, his deci- the French Baroque. He excels es- on his dad’s shelves at a young age. He can
sions often seeming to stem from pecially at the vivid description of be reached at reviews@raygrunrevival.
mere impulse. battle and other action sequences. com.
Fortunate for Lloyd, the charac- The question still may remain why
ters around Isak are extremely en- readers of RGR might be interested
tertaining and vivid. These other in Lloyd’s work. A first answer would
characters take much more of the be the battle scenes just mentioned.
stage in The Twilight Herald. Dark Space opera is all about adventure,
forces in the minor city of Scree and Lloyd’s series has adventure
draw a wide range of people to it. aplenty.
Isak’s ally, King Emin, who seeks re- But within the adventure, there
venge for crimes against his nation are larger issues at work. Ques-
and his queen. Princess Zhia, an an- tions of good and evil. Belief and
cient woman cursed with vampirism disbelief. The consequences of indi-
and compassion. Doranei, member vidual choices. The roles of destiny
of Emin’s elite forces, who finds and free will. Speculative fiction re-
himself falling for Princess Zhia. mains a literary venue where such
Count Vesna, Isak’s right-hand man, meaningful questions can be raised.
with a reputation as an irresistible Space opera and fantasy are at their

Page 52

Endgame, Part One
by Keanan Brand

Previously, on Thieves’ Honor: And now, on Thieves’ Honor: posed to be a new hope for the col- bondsman stood, hefting the large
Finney, the Martina Vega’s pilot,
still inside Governor Tarquin’s villa,
is hiding behind a thicket of potted
“W hat were you thinking,
Bosko? Talking up the mer-
chandise like that?” Using a torch so
onies, a place where the differences
between the government and the
rebels could be resolved, a safe no-
box. “No. They chatted.”
“Bosko talks.” The hunter
shrugged. “He gets other people
palms on the edge of the courtyard small he appeared to squeeze fire man’s-land between armed forces. to talk. Too bad he keeps making
after escaping her bonds and reluc- from his fist, a bondsman welded Retired from the military, then friends with the merchandise.”
tantly making the acquaintance of manacles around the wrists of the becoming a sky commander with Finney scowled. Merchandise.
a guard, Bosko, working for the ex- prisoner lying prone in the court- the constabulary, the admiral vol- Made her sound like cargo. Or a
traction team. However, there’s still yard. “Vortuna not teach you noth- unteered as mediator. But he was street wife.
the matter of the carlinnian collar set in’?” killed, the settlement burned, and Bosko’s head moved. “Waaater-
with explosives and locked around Bosko’s arms were black with conflict still sent friction sparks skip- rr.”
her neck, and the voice of her long- bruises, and one of them twisted ping through the tinder of border “Better wash the blood off his
dead grandfather, Admiral Cunning- on itself like the thick strands of a towns and outback settlements. face,” said the bondsman. “Keep
ham, which only she can hear. rope. The man should be screaming, Some of those sparks landed in cit- the flies away.”
Sergeant Frank of the Port Henry but he lay, unmoving, on the paving ies, flaring among the discontented, The hunter unslung his canteen
constabulary becomes Captain Krist- stones. A moan burbled from the the educated, and the outcasts. and twisted off the cap.
off’s unexpected ally, and Captain bloody pulp where his face used to Yet, after years of propaganda “No!” A cloth-draped litter was
Zoltana and Lieutenant Mars of the be. and government re-education— borne into the courtyard by ser-
aerospace constabulary separately Crouched behind the meager centuries-old methods of cultural vants. A crone’s hand thrust through
arrive at similar ideas for investigat- shield of planted palms, Finney brainwashing—how many of those the curtains. “No. He aided my en-
ing the crew of the Martina Vega, cursed all manner of foggy phras- who called themselves rebels knew emy. He deserves no kindness.”
only to learn that—once again— es under her breath, then winced the truth of the rebellion? The house guard fanned out be-
they’re too late. when her own broken bones jabbed “If the merchandise comes out hind the litter, their pale, sleeve-
Sixteen-year-old Ezra unknowing- at her again. She’d wrapped her shirt of hiding to rescue Bos, we’ll be all less garments almost too bright in
ly sees something Zoltana and Mars around her torso then buttoned her over her like stink on scum.” The the morning sun, and the brown-
are trying to find: which Vega crew- vest over everything to support the bondsman closed and latched the uniformed extraction team stepped
man has the IntuiCom implant. In its ribs. It was crude but functional, toolbox. “The only thing gettin’ him from the porticos to face them.
civilian capacity, the device is used learned from the field medics in An- out of these is—well—nothin’.” “Bosko’s our man,” said the
for medical purposes, and law en- dronicus Settlement when she was One of the extraction team kicked bondsman.
forcement uses it to monitor certain young. Bosko’s leg. “What makes you think Two servants handed her down
released criminals. In government She lived there with her grand- she’d risk it? Ol’ Bos is one of us.” from the litter, their sun-dark skin
hands, however, it can be deadly. parents when she wasn’t aboard a “He didn’t alert the rest of us, did gleaming. Once on the ground,
ship with her parents. It was sup- he, when she tried to escape?” The she leaned on two canes, hobbled

Page 53

toward Bosko, and stared down at joy a good irony. “ Still reading, Ezra grabbed for sling chafed his neck. He ran a finger
him, her mouth contorting, drawing She whacked the side of the more fries, but his sticky red fingers under the strap.
the many lines on her face toward headsman’s block with a cane. “We slammed down and trailed ketchup “This whole thing smells,” said
the center like the drawing of tribu- will be needing this soon.” across the scarred table. “Hey!” Ezra.
taries into a bitter river. “Our busi- *** Wielding a fork, Wyatt shoveled Corrigan frowned, and sniffed the
ness is not concluded, your leader fries until his cheeks bulged, then air.
is delayed, and the merchandise, “What I don’t get is why Tarqu- he grinned. It wasn’t pretty. “Smells like what?” Wyatt wiped
as you so quaintly call her, is still in wants us?” Corrigan swigged a Sahir wiped his knife blade with a a smear of ketchup from his chin.
not found.” She prodded his broken frosty glass of buttermilk, chomped white towel then tucked the blade “Not sure.” Ezra closed his book.
arm with the tip of a cane, and he on the corner of an egg-salad sand- into the waistband of his apron. He “Seems like Tarquin has gone
groaned. “This man is mine.” wich, and asked around the food in slapped his belly, and beamed like a through a whole lot of trouble for a
Finney clenched her teeth. Do his mouth, “Why send an extraction benevolent uncle upon the crew. simple vengeance.”
nasty old hag bones pop when you team after a whole crew when you Seated on a stool at the counter, “You reckon Finney’s all right?”
crush them? already got the person you want?” Kristoff downed the last of his cof- Corrigan sucked his teeth then
It’d be nice if they popped. Might “Because Finney’s just an excuse.” fee then slid the empty mug toward swished more buttermilk around
even make a person smile. Mercedes sipped her tea, and shot the sink. He listened a little while in his mouth. “If she’s bait and all,
“Best leave him be,” said the a grimace at Alerio. “She’s bait.” longer to the bickering, and he fid- she’s gotta be alive, y’ know?”
bondsman. He slurped a spoonful of Sahir’s dled with the sling Doc insisted he Kristoff slid from the stool and
“Leave him be?” Tarquin’s sur- whatever’s-in-the-larder soup then wear until her magic elixir closed returned to the wheelhouse. He
prise looked almost authentic. crumbled a few more crackers into the wound. She called it by some gripped the back of the pilot’s chair.
“What more could I do to him that his bowl. long, scientific name, but it sparkled A hot pink bandanna knotted one
you, his comrades, have not already Wyatt straightened a stack of and bubbled, and burned worse arm. He sat, and the loose ends
done?” banded bills, pushed aside his aba- than drunen acid. At least drunen of the bandanna trailed across his
The hunter gestured to the side cus, and made a notation on a clip- was a proven agent—it dissolved knee. Blast you, Finn. Why’d you
with his weapon. “Back away.” board. “Don’t know how you all crud in Martina’s engines—but hy- leave the ship?
The governor tilted her head. can eat so much, or so loud. Didn’t drobacta-whatever-its-name was A fuzzy warble emitted from his
“Extraction teams have a frighten- no one’s momma teach ‘em man- pink, and it came in a corked bottle radio. He unclipped it and hit the
ing reputation, but my experience ners?” about the size and shape a snake-oil button. “Go ahead.”
so far has been less than satisfac- “Didn’t your mother teach you seller might peddle to naïve desert “Western desert, just outside of
tory. And expensive.” She shrugged. proper grammar?” Ezra didn’t look dwellers. Doc claimed it was good Horatio, a garrison city built around
“Rather too bad Gregor took your up from his book, but reached to- medicine. an oasis.”
pay with him. He was arrested, you ward a plate of thick-cut fries slath- He’d clenched his teeth like a man “Anything else?”
know, he and the rest of your gang. ered in ketchup, and stuffed a hand- until she left the infirmary, then he’d “Tarquin wants you pretty bad.
In the hold of the Martina Vega, no ful into his mouth. doubled over and cried. She paid them more money than I
less. It appears I am now your em- With a sour look at the kid, Wyatt There was still a nagging sting could make in four lifetimes. Gregor
ployer.” Tarquin smiled. “I do so en- snagged the plate. deep in his chest, and the blasted never broke—he’s old school—but

Page 54

the others gave it up as soon as morning one of my superiors acci- croaked, “Water. Please. Water,” stowed the last of the galley sup-
they saw all the nifty gadgets at my dentally called me sir. I figure we’re but the servants never turned their plies, and Wyatt’s a little twitchy
disposal.” The voice on the radio even, captain.” A pause. “Happy heads. about flying without cargo.”
chuckled. “From all the stories I’ve hunting.” Don’t be feelin’ sorry for him, lass. “An empty hold means faster
heard, I expected more. But I guess *** The admiral’s ghost-voice hadn’t flight”—Kristoff turned in the pilot’s
bounty hunters aren’t what they spoken since sunrise. He’s yer en- chair—”but twitchiness is dominant
used to be.” Step, step, turn, step. It was the emy. Wyatt DNA. Fuel?”
“These were just cadet thugs. only exercise the narrow space al- “So was Kristoff,” she murmured, “The fence wanted to unload
Give ‘em a couple more go-rounds, lowed. Finney pressed a fist against “once upon a time.” several barrels of liquid, and even
and you won’t want to meet any her grumbling midsection. Step, Were Kristoff yer friend, he’d turn Corrigan’s persuasive powers didn’t
in daylight, much less a dark alley.” turn, step. Almost two days, no ye out and force ye to find honest work.” Ezra stepped inside. “Doc’s
Kristoff stretched out his legs, and food. At least she had water once a work. wrapping his hand. A couple broken
crossed them at the ankles. “Jink day, when the servants— “You forget, Grandfather, I choose knuckles, I think.”
Turner and Gleason Holmes?” Here they were now, dressed to pilot a pirate vessel.” So. Kristoff nodded. Skippy’s hired
“Governor Bat’Alon filed charges in white, opening the spigots just What did I do wrong? a few strong-arm types. Good for
this morning. He wanted me to ar- enough to release thin streams of “Nothing. You’re my hero, Grand- him.
rest you, but I did some wink-wink, water that filled the narrow troughs father. When I grow up, I want to be Ezra shifted his stance.
nudge-nudge talk, and he backed around the pot rims then dripped just like you.” Kristoff raised his brows.
down, but he isn’t happy.” through holes in the troughs, soak- Ah, now yer butterin’ me like “If that guy won’t deal with us,
“I don’t expect he is.” ing the soil without flooding it— toast. captain, what’ll we do for fuel?”
“Right now, he’s more concerned common practice in the desert, A woman approached Finney’s “Skippy’s just flexing his muscle.
about his missing daughter, Rebeka. where water was traded like cur- hiding place, bent at the waist, and He’ll deal.”
If I were you, I wouldn’t come back rency. pushed aside the broad, drooping “How can you be sure?”
to Port Henry any time soon.” Finney dropped to a crouch. The fronds near the faucet. “Kid. How long have I been doing
“I feel the hinterlands calling my long, fluid tunics and wide-legged Finney’s muscles ached with the this?”
name.” Kristoff wound the ends of trousers of the servants swished tension of keeping her body abso- Ezra laughed, and looked down.
the bandanna around his fingers. with every movement, and the soft lutely still. Then his smile faded, and he tapped
“Finney?” soles of their shoes whispered over The servant turned the knob. Her the toe of one boot against a tool
A brief, reluctant sound, like a the stones, mingling with the muted long hair slid over one shoulder, locker.
sigh and a muttered curse at once. music of falling water. She might al- becoming a veil between her and Kristoff waited. Ez was a deep
“She was alive when the team left. most be watching the quiet, efficient Finney. well, and he tended to reveal more
A little roughed up, maybe, but only staff going about their tasks at her Then Finney’s stomach gurgled. in his face than in his words, but the
because she didn’t go quietly.” favorite resort back in Port Henry. words were there.
The same resort where she’d ***
Kristoff ran a hand down his face. “After everybody disappeared on
“Thanks, Frank. I owe you.” been captured. “Captain?” Ezra leaned through the Elsinore, Finney was the first
“It broke up the routine, and this Out in the courtyard, Bosko the wheelhouse hatch. “Sahir’s person I saw.” Ezra turned away his

Page 55

face. “All that time alone on ship, disappeared up into her hair. and made off with their entire car- Ezra shook his head, closed and
and I almost forgot there were oth- Dear God and gearshifts. The gos, without firing a shot or being latched the first aid kit mounted on
er people in the universe. Then the woman was a rebel. recognized—neither his crew nor the wall, and the pair strode for-
Vega docks, and this woman walks Another servant, this one a man the ship—no simple feat when the ward.
right through the hatch like she’s with curls of graying hair on his ship was a well-known bucket, and Kristoff was already at the hatch,
the captain, smiles at me, and says, forearms, passed with a tray in his among its crews was a giant me- knife in his belt, gun low at his hip,
‘Hey, kid. Anybody home?’ She’s”— hand. He nodded once, a warning in chanic and a cook the approximate and an unreadable expression on
he shrugged—”you know.” his glance, and strode out of sight. shape and size of a small planet. his face. With his free hand, he hit
Yeah. I do. The woman dipped her fingers Once, Sahir had played the cap- the release beside the door, and the
Kristoff stood and walked to a into the water again, and wrote on tain, and Kristoff acted a slavish hatch opened, admitting a blast of
port, his back to Ezra. Beyond the the stones above the faucet: dark. idiot. Ezra helped acquire both cos- heat that nigh sucked the air out of
ship spread a dusty village in the Without looking back at the palms, tumes; easy enough to raggedy-up Ezra’s lungs.
foothills of the Riva Mountains, on she flicked her fingers, scattering the captain’s clothes, but finding a Swinging a bulging burlap bag
the edge of rebel territory, and folk droplets, and walked to the next al- white shirt with leather-lacings that over one shoulder, Sahir arrived,
dressed in white or varying shades cove. There was a slight squeak as was big enough to fit Sahir? Ezra then Corrigan, with Alerio and Mer-
of brown walked past the bow. Mar- the spigot opened. and Mercedes pooled their skills, cedes close behind.
tina was as battered as the ships in Finney let out her breath, and her and turned a bed sheet into a tent- “I’m only taking three,” said Krist-
their scrapyard, and no one gave her hands shook. The letters on the wall like version of a captain’s signature off.
a second glance. Good. If any colo- disappeared, evaporated by the garment. The escapade ended in “I don’t hide behind anybody,”
nial troops passed through town, desert heat. the Martina Vega taking on a hold’s rumbled Corrigan, and the engi-
she’d be outside their notice. A rebel. In Tarquin’s household. worth of foul-smelling but expen- neer and the doctor protested over
“I’ll radio Corrigan. Ez, grab Wyatt She gripped the collar. Maybe sive agricultural byproduct, and the top of one another, their words
and Sahir, and meet me at the for- she’d keep her head after all. the crew leaning on one another in tangling, but the captain shook his
ward hatch.” *** loud, helpless laughter as soon as head.
*** the hatches were sealed. “Three.”
Ezra headed below, and radioed That load sold for a year’s take, Then he reached behind him and
Finney looked straight into the Wyatt and Sahir on their own fre- and the crew had stayed in port tossed a gunbelt wound around a
servant’s eyes, seeing the pupils quencies: “Captain said meet him at for nigh a month. During that time, holster. Startled, Ezra almost didn’t
widen, but the woman didn’t blink. the forward hatch. Better be quick. Kristoff tweaked the constabulary’s catch it, but hooked the belt on his
She didn’t flinch or cry out. Instead, He doesn’t sound happy.” ear a time or two, posed as an of- first two fingers, the weight and mo-
she cupped water in her hand, rose, Kristoff wasn’t frightening, but ficer on occasion, and kicked down mentum of the gun wrenching his
turned, lifted her hair, and splashed he wasn’t weak, either. He’d beaten a few doors. He seemed to like that arm. The leather was sweat-stained,
the water onto the back of her neck. Jink Turner and Gleason Holmes in bit. the edges blackened, and the gun’s
Her fingertips traced the white the same fight. Since Ezra had been Frowning, Wyatt stepped from wooden grip was worn smooth with
thread of a scar that began below aboard the Martina Vega, Kristoff the portside companionway into much handling. Colonial weapons
the neckline of her white tunic and had boarded at least four vessels the hold. “What’s this about, Ez?” were composite or metal; this one

Page 56

had probably voyaged from Earth in But, were it not for them, he’d be revenge, and she will feel the full ex- does not let the killing of one’s
an ancestor’s trunk. dead. tent of it. Let her see the breaking.” blood kin go by without an answer.”
Though Ezra rarely spoke of his He slung the belt around his hips, The block was removed, the No—Finney’s gaze returned to the
beliefs unless asked, they were and buckled it. guards slewed Finney sideways, mallet in the bondsman’s hand—
known to everyone aboard. He lived Sahir let loose a fat chuckle, kicked her legs out in front of her, one does not.
and served aboard a vessel crewed slapped him on the back, and thud- then set her upright, yanking her She flung herself backward, rais-
by pirates, but never had Kristoff ded down the gangway. arms behind her back. With the toe ing her feet, and the block knocked
asked or ordered him to break the *** of his boot, the bondsman nudged the mallet upward, catching him
law, nor had Ezra ever accompanied the block into place between her under the chin, snapping back
the crew on a job. Either the rebel servant was no feet then set down his box, tools his head. He collapsed like an air-
He met the captain’s gaze; Krist- rebel, or the house guard had finally clanking. He took out a mallet. less pneumatic. Finney wheezed a
off’s expression didn’t change. Ezra arrived at the notion of checking be- Sweat soaked Finney’s back. Heart laugh.
looked around at the crew, and they hind all the planters. Armed men es- pounded. Lungs seized. The men on either side clamped
looked back, Mercedes with a small corted Finney past Bosko, lying sun- Tarquin laughed—a broken rasp. her legs and shoulders to the
frown that might be concern, Corri- burned and unconscious, into the “There it is! There is the fear.” She floor. Her head banged against the
gan with a scowl that might be envy, cool interior of the villa and down leaned forward, a crow in a plump stone. Her ears rang, and her sight
and Sahir with a glimmer of excite- dim corridors to a high-ceilinged nest. “Do you know the true irony? blurred.
ment as if looking forward to see- chamber hung with gauzy curtains Devlin was a headstrong nuisance. “If you do not be still, Miss Grace,
ing what the cabin boy could do in over the lattice-cut windows. In My grandson never cared for the these men will simply shoot you in
a fight. Alerio smiled—he’d taught the center sat the governor, canes family trade. He would rather play, the legs. Shattered bones and open
Ezra how to shoot—and Wyatt nar- resting against the arms of a chaise bring home toys like you. He never wounds. Excellent cause for sep-
rowed his eyes, probably expecting piled with cushions. cared what it meant to belong to my sis. And even more pain.” Tarquin
Ezra to give back the gun. Finney lifted her chin, and straight- house. Nieces and nephews I have paused. “Why did I not consider it
It grew heavier the longer he held ened her shoulders. aplenty, my husband’s kin.” She sooner? Shoot her knees.”
it. “Your foray into freedom, brief pointed a knobby finger to the shad-
though it was, seems to have re- ***
Oh, God. A prayer, not a curse, ows where men and women stood in
and full of questions. stored your attitude.” A smile rear- pale, loose-fitting garments. “They In the shadow of a mud-and-tim-
He looked down at the gun. ranged the wrinkles on Tarquin’s care. They know the honor.” ber building that listed to the south
Was it wrong to commit a crime face into a sagging, over-painted Honor ain’t got nothin’ to do with like the haphazard construction of a
against a criminal? theatre mask. “Unfortunately, we it, you old bat. They know how much tipsy carpenter, Kristoff tapped Ezra
Would it be a greater crime to shall have to hobble you.” is in the cookie jar, and they want a on the shoulder and motioned him
not do whatever possible to find Two hunters pushed Finney to fistful of goodies. to step back. Rope coiled over one
and free Finney—assuming she still her knees, while another pressed a Lowering her hand, the old wom- shoulder, Wyatt walked past on the
lived? block between her ankles. an slumped against the cushions, street, each step raising fine dust in
Finney and the crew were pirates “No. No.” Tarquin thumped the her shoulders hunched beside her red-brown puffs. Sahir stumped off
and smugglers. floor with both canes. “This is my head like a bird’s wings. “But one in the opposite direction, the con-

Page 57

tents of the burlap bag shifting a stood up in sweaty peaks. “They’ll other tossing playing cards into an The seal gave a little sigh, and a
little with each step. be red as a slapped face by the time old boot, and between them a faded dark seam appeared around the
Careful, my friend. somebody unties ‘em.” orange door latticed with carlinnian edges of the door. Kristoff kicked
Four men emerged from a fenced, Kristoff straightened. “Sahir?” bars, fitted with a heavy lock. open the door, stepped into the dim
adobe building across the street, Wyatt nodded. He stripped off Kristoff jerked his head, and Wyatt storeroom, and grinned at the fat
the reinforced door clanging shut the gloves then flexed his fingers. and Ezra backed up the alley several man seated at a warped table. “Af-
behind them. They paused at the “These are the hands of an artist. steps. “Two guards. Not the prob- ternoon, Skippy.”
barred gate, then two followed Sa- They’re not meant for rough work.” lem. The door’s reinforced since our Eyes wide, the man tried to stand,
hir, and after a little neck craning “Come up with a new grudge”— last visit.” but his feet tangled in the chair legs.
and low-voiced consultation, the Kristoff chuckled—”’cause that one’s Wyatt scratched the back of his Man and furniture toppled with a
other two followed Wyatt. wearin’ thin around the edges.” head. “Dagnabbit.” crash. Armed guards surrounded
Squinting against the light bounc- Wyatt scowled. “Say that the next “Captain.” Ezra pulled the doctor’s him, weapons aimed at the bright
ing off the fence, Kristoff crossed his time you need some fancy identifi- tranquilizer pistol from under his band of sunlight invading their den.
arms and leaned against the wall. On cation papers.” shirt. “On the Elsinore, I learned to “Shoot him!” shrieked the fat man.
the edge of his vision, Ezra crossed “Yeah, yeah, yeah. C’mon.” Krist- break locks, too.” He shrugged. “It’s “Shoot him!”
his arms too, then uncrossed them; off led the way down the alley. the only way I could move around Shots pinged off the doorframe
put his hands at his hips; shifted the Ezra spoke in a low voice, “We the ship.” and shelving, but three of the four
gunbelt; turned to face the other doubling back to the other side of Kristoff smiled. “Well, kid, you’re gunmen dropped unconscious, and
way down the alley. the street?” on.” the fourth lowered his weapon
“Kid.” “That building is the decoy. The Seconds later, two men were when Ezra pointed the dart gun at
Ezra stood still, the back of his real business is right here.” Kristoff propped against the wall in the alley, him.
shirt dark with sweat. hooked a thumb at the ramshackle the playing cards and the old boot “Now, Skippy.” Kristoff gestured
“When we go in, stay behind me, structure beside them. beside them, and a fresh, cheap with his pistol at the shelves laden
and keep your gun in your hand. As “Looks like it could blow over in cigarette curled up a malodorous with contraband. “Here I was think-
soon as you get inside, take a step to the next sandstorm.” smoke from the fingers of one un- ing you were a man of business.”
the right, and stay there. Keep your They sauntered along the side conscious guard. Wyatt stepped around him, and
back to the wall. Don’t let anybody of the building to the back corner. Using the tips of the two tranq wagged a bulging purse over the
leave.” Kristoff looked over at him. Anyone passing on the street would darts, and with Wyatt holding a table. Two plump, white hands
“You do that?” think nothing suspicious about match flame to the keypad feed, slapped the tabletop, and Skippy
After a small hesitation, Ezra nod- three dusty laborers at the delivery Ezra popped open the first part of heaved upright. He stared at the
ded. entrance. the lock. purse, prodded it with a thick fin-
A few minutes later, Wyatt strolled A quick glance around the cor- Everyone paused, listening. ger, and smiled when the coins in-
up the alley, sans rope. “All four of ner revealed two men lounging in No alarm. No running feet or side clinked.
‘em trussed up and ready to broil.” the shade, one with his head tipped shouts. Hands spread wide, a tilt of the
He ran a gloved hand along the back back and his eyes shut, a cigarette Kristoff nodded, and Ezra contin- head, and Skippy might have been
of his head, and his grizzled hair burning close to his fingers, and the ued. greeting a favored client. “You will

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overlook the poor welcome, and der, but the strap of the blasted “If we stand her up, we still risk spider.
convey my deepest regrets to your sling still scritch-scratched along his ricochet, ma’am, and there’s no “Great shot, kid,” said the cap-
man for the unfortunate breaking of neck. “I just want my fuel.” guarantee we actually hit her in the tain, wincing as he picked up his
his hand?” He waved toward a hulk The man spread his hands again, knees. And what if something hits weapon. “C’mon, Skippy. Bring your
standing behind the remaining gun- palms up. “I can sell you all the liquid that collar, and sets if off? We’re all goon. Let’s get that fuel.”
man, arms crossed. “Olson is new to you want, but no pellets. They be- dead.” ***
my employ.” long to a couple rebel leaders with “What, then, do you suggest?”
Good ol’ Skippy. He never missed better weapons than this lot carry.” Her voice tensed with false pa- The armed escort halted at a set
a chance to toss a comrade under His plump face glistened with sweat. tience. of massive doors embossed with
the keel. “You understand my position.” By all means, discuss the fate of stars and planets arching over a
Ignoring the bodyguards, none Kristoff sighed. “Skippy, Skippy, my knees. Finney blinked her sight grove of palm trees.
of whom he recognized from the Skippy.” He waved the pistol at a back into focus. Take as long as you Ye know, said Grandfather, any-
last time Skippy tried to stiff him, stack of chemical bottles. “I’d hate like. thing green that grows on Prospero
Kristoff ran the barrel of his gun to be the one to put the first scratch “We take her outside the villa, was brought from Earth, long years
along a row of cylindrical pumps, a on this batch of shiny new—what is away from all this stone. No worries past. Before the colonists came, this
triangular void at the base of each this? Looks explosive. Maybe toxic.” about shrapnel or ricochets, and the rock was bald as my Aunt Tildy.
where the tri-planet government Olson uncrossed his arms, pushed sand soaks up the blood.” Finney choked on her laughter,
seal used to be. The metallic click- aside the other guard, and grabbed Tarquin looked at Finney, who drawing a sharp glance from Gover-
click, click-click, click-click of pistol Kristoff’s wrist, twisting the gun stared back with as much calm as nor Tarquin.
against shelving ticked like a robotic from his grasp. she could rally. “Yes, Miss Grace?”
heartbeat. “Now, see”—Kristoff looked up “The smell of blood does not The doorkeeper unlocked the
“Y’know, Skip, no better way to at him; fellow needed a good set of quickly leave a room, especially in doors, and servants tugged them
hide, sometimes, than to walk right nose-hair clippers—”that kinda be- the desert.” The old woman pushed open, admitting a greenish luminos-
up to your enemy and say howdy.” havior is what gets a body hurt.” herself up on her shaky, stick-like ity, the strong sunlight mitigated by
Skippy’s smile slid sideways. “I’m Olson grinned. arms. “Outside. But not the garden. more palm trees.
afraid I do not follow.” The new gravel is still white. Take “If I go out that door, you can for-
*** get shooting me. I’ll be headless. So
“I agree. You are afraid, and in- her beyond the wall.”
telligence is apparently not requi- “Governor,” said one of the men will you.”
holding Finney to the floor, “shoot- *** Tarquin made a noise low in her
site to a successful criminal career.”
Kristoff tapped the end of the barrel ing her in the knees is chancy. If she Ezra fired the sixth and last dart. throat, and glared at Finney, then
against the last pump. “I’d have left moves, bullets can ricochet, hurt It stuck into the side of Olson’s neck. demanded, “Get the bondsman on
the seals on. Easier to unload, and anybody in this room. Even if we hit He staggered, released the captain, his feet.”
no one asks awkward questions.” square, bone fragments and blood took a clumsy step forward, and He shuffled forward, a dark
“I don’t take advice from pi- spatter could make it—messy.” plummeted to the table. It creaked bruise on his chin, his course waver-
rates.” Tarquin waved a dismissive hand. and collapsed, its legs and his ing from port to starboard and back
Kristoff shrugged his right shoul- “Stand her up, then.” splayed out like the limbs of a crazy again.

Page 59

RGR Author Bios

“You are, I assume, the one who razor wire. Between the wall and
made the collar?” the villa spread a garden of clipped 3 Alone at AX-1
He dug two fingers into the breast shrubs and brilliant flowers lining by Swapna Krishore
pocket of his shirt and produced a manicured gravel paths. Swapna Kishore is a software consultant living in Bangalore, India with her family.
thin key. Guards opened the gates, and the She writes fiction and non-fiction, and has been published both online and in print.
“Well, man, get to it!” entourage entered a strange desert,
Fingers trembling a little, the grass ending just beyond the gates, 9 Bff.jov
bondsman turned the collar to then sand and stones into the hori- by Scott Davis
reach the lock. The key missed, and zon. Finney looked over her shoul- Scott Davis reappears after his Ray Gun debut with The Third Shadoc War (see the
dug into Finney’s neck. She flinched, der, through the ranks of house November 2008 issue). This time, he answers the musical question: Can you make
and the entire group—guards, ser- guards and bounty hunters. Houses a War of the Worlds story that includes these words: meringue, pinochle, absinthe,
vants, and governor—tensed with built of mud brick sheltered in the quartz, mendacious, fashionable, mothball, clambake, and reflux? If you’d rather, you
her, some crouching, covering their green shade of an oasis. An old fort can see a story that did.
heads with their arms. rose at the center, its square towers
The bondsman cursed, and tried set at the four corners of the wall. In addition to the two Ray Gun stories, Scott is slated to appear in Sonar 4 and
again. The lock released with a click She’d come here before with Grand- Nova SciFi mid-year. He’s been writing fiction since 2007.
and a whine; the trigger must have father. This was Horatio.
been linked in to a sonic barrier. The file halted, but she was led
He gave the collar a small tug, it several meters into the desert, the
14 Into the Deep
by Brandon Meyers
opened wide, and he pulled it from bonds tethering her to her guards
Brandon Meyers has been writing fiction for two years. In that time, he has com-
her neck. were released, and the men backed
pleted two novel manuscripts, and over thirty short stories. He works in construction
Step one, said the admiral. away from her, weapons ready. Her
during the day, and in his laundry closet with a rapidly failing computer, at night.
Step one? back to the villa, she heard the scuff
Aye. Yer enemy is making the es- of boots and the click and hum of
cape for ye. weapons being primed.
This doesn’t look like much of an Step two, said Grandfather. by L.S. King
escape. L. S. King is a science fiction and fantasy writer with one book, several published
Ach, have ye no imagination? short stories, a column on writing, and an ongoing monthly serial story to her cred­it.
The governor’s litter led the pro- When on the planet, this mother and grandmother lives in Delaware with her hus-
cession along the broad, arched band Steve, homeschools their young­est child, and also works as a gymnastics coach.
colonnade of trees. Built of quar- Thieves’ Honor © 2009 by Keanan Brand.
In her non-existent spare time she enjoys gardening, soap making, reading, and on-
ried stone probably hauled from line gaming. She also likes Looney Tunes, the color purple, and is a Zorro afi­cionado,
the Riva Mountains by the forefa- which might explain her love of swords and cloaks.
thers of many rebels, the villa was
bounded by a low stone wall sur-
mounted by crisscrossed strands of

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22 Happy Birthday, Niatti 53 THIEVES’ HONOR - Episode 8
by Raz Greenberg Endgame, Part 1
Raz Greenberg is a PhD student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has pub- by Keanan Brand
lished several short stories in Israeli science fiction magazines. More recently, a story Writing since age nine, when an English assignment required a short story, Keanan
based on his script Screaming With the Eagles appeared in the British comics maga- Brand dreamed of writing Westerns or books about history, or recording the crazy
zine Futurequake. He also works as a book translator, and his Hebrew translation of stuff of dreams. Late teens and early twenties witnessed the imposition of real life
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War has won a Geffen Award (given by the Israeli Society for and the putting away of dreams. For a time, he dabbled in nonfiction and freelance
Science Fiction and Fantasy) for best translated science fiction book in 2007. journalism, then a supervisor suggested a free writing seminar at the local college,
and Keanan returned to a greater love: fiction, specifically fantasy and science fiction.
He started entering contests, winning awards for poetry, essays, and short stories.
These successes led to freelance editing for other writers, and for a science fiction
ROP: Rodeo Bull Ballet, Part Two
small press.
by M. Keaton
Growing up in a family with a history of military service, M. Keaton cut his lin­guistic
His first story to be accepted by a Double-Edge Publishing, Inc., publication was At
and philosophical teeth on the bones of his elders through games of strategy and
the End of Time, When the World Was New, a short piece of speculative fiction that
debates at the dinner table. He began his writing career over 20 years ago as a news-
appeared in the final issue of Dragon, Knights, & Angels. History, mythology, folktales,
paper rat in Springdale, Arkansas, U.S.A. before pursuing formal studies in chemistry,
C.S. Lewis, Howard Pyle, J.R.R. Tolkien, William Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson
mathematics, and medieval literature at John Brown Uni­versity. A student of politics,
and the Bible remain great influences, as do the family tall tales, pioneer stories, and
military history, forteana, and game design, his renaissance education inspired the
Southern gothic with which Keanan grew up.
short television series: These Teeth Are Real (TTAR).
His literary “mentors” are as diverse as his experiences. Most powerfully, the au-
thor has been affected by the works and writers of the “ancient” world, including the
Bible, Socrates, and (more modern) Machiavelli, Tsun Tsu, Tacitus, and Von Clauswitz.
(This horribly long list only scratches the surface; M. Keaton reads at a rate of over
two books per week in addition to his writing.)

The Ties That Bind, Part Two
by Justin R. Macumber
A victim of the economy, Justin is now a full-time writer of space–faringopera and
daring-do, working to earn his big break. He’s written stories in almost every genre,
but science fiction is where his heart belongs, and it always will. He also created and
co-hosts a writing podcast called The Dead Robots’ Society, which you can find at
And, if you want to learn more about him and read some of his other work, you can
go to

Page 61

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