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Issue 43

May 2008

Table of Contents

Ray Gun Revival
Overlords (Founders / Editors): Johne Cook, L. S. King, Paul Christian Glenn Venerable Staff: A.M. Stickel - Managing Copyeditor Shannon McNear - Lord High Advisor, grammar consultant, listening ear/sanity saver for Overlord Lee Paul Christian Glenn - PR, sounding board, strong right hand L. S. King - Lord High Editor, proofreader, beloved nag, muse, webmistress Johne Cook - art wrangler, desktop publishing, chief cook and bottle washer Slushmasters (Submissions Editors): John M. Whalen David Wilhelms Alice M. Roelke Scott M. Sandridge Shari L. Armstrong Jack Willard Serial Authors: Sean T. M. Stiennon John M. Whalen Ben Schumacher M Keaton Lee S. King Paul Christian Glenn Johne Cook Cover Art: “Cold Planet II” by Bryan Dale Norton Without Whom... Bill Snodgrass, site host, Web-Net Solutions, admin, webmaster, database admin, mentor, confidante, liaison – Double-edged Publishing Special Thanks: Ray Gun Revival logo design by Hatchbox Creative

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Table of Contents Overlords’ Lair Golden Opportunity by Andy Heizeler The Weight of the World by Gordon Ross Lanser The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo No Good Deed An Aston West Tale by T.M.Hunter Featured Artist - Bryan Dale Norton Calamity’s ChildChapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton A Couple of Hours in Coreytown A Jack Brand Story by John M. Whalen Deuces Wild, Season Two Chapter 3: Fractured Facets, Part Three by L. S. King The Adventures of the Sky Pirate Chapter 22, The Confessions of Dangerous Men by Johne Cook Memory Wipe Chapter 20, On The Rails by Sean T. M. Stiennon The RGR Time Capsule - April 2008

Visit us online at http://raygunrevival.com All content copyright 2008 by Double-edged Publishing, a Memphis, Tennessee-based non-profit publisher. Rev: 200805a

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Issue 43, May 2008

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Overlords’ Lair
new artist issue ith this Ray magazine exceptions. uncovering fresh new talent from a biweekly format to Wswitchesissue, ThereGun Revivalnumber ofa you aexposingI lovewith eachfaithfulwith very few and them to our readers. monthly format. were a

reasons for that, none of which are very From a practical standpoint, going to a monthly interesting. format makes it more likely that RGR will It is true the burden to put out an original continue forward for the foreseeable future. publication every two weeks is eased, but from A monthly magazine will be more sustainable, my vantage, the most practical benefit is that and that’s good for everybody. we won’t be burning through the pool of new digital sci-fi artists at such an accelerated rate. We have one housekeeping announcement. We’ve had such a great run of talented cover We are pleased to welcome aboard a new artists that I was a little guilty of taking one of slushpile editor, or Slushmaster, as we call our primary strengths for granted. However, as them. Alice Roelke has joined the staff and will I looked around at the untapped sci-fi artists at be helping to shape what appears here in the deviantart.com, I realized that the collection pages of RGR. Please welcome her onboard. of really good sci-fi artists there is not infinite, RGR wouldn’t be what it is without the tireless and we’d already chewed through a good efforts of a lot of people who love space percentage of the ‘known’ artists. Reverting opera and golden age sci-fi. Even space opera from biweekly to monthly should give us a isn’t created in a vaccuum, heh, and RGR is a more realistic chance to continue offering the collaborative project, a joint effort produced by kind of stunning cover art that we’re known for a community of smart, passionate readers and authors and fans. If you enjoy the magazine without exhausting the well. at all, it is because of their efforts. It is a great I noticed that while there are a kabillion artists blessing and joy to take part in this project with doing fantasy artwork, there is limited pool fellow dreamers and aficionados. of really great sci-fi works and artists, and the realization frankly spooked me. As much We have a lot of content in this issue, so let’s as I love the stories of the past space opera get right to it. masters, I’d underestimated the impact of all Johne Cook those great covers. Even now, if you ask me to Overlord, RGR picture my favorite books, I am likely to think of the cover art as I think about those books. Breezeway, Wisconsin Michael Whalen is responsible for many of May, 2008 my memories, and he is one artist. We bring Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 43, May 2008

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Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Golden Opportunity by Andy Heizeler

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Golden Opportunity
by Andy Heizeler

“Y

ou can’t be serious!” said Captain Sedona, crossing her arms. Dean leaned back in the pilot’s chair of the Tachyon Valkyrie and smiled.

Dean nodded happily. “I suggest we set a course for Planet Mall first.” “Why there?” Dean looked her up and down, always a pleasurable activity. Wearing the black leather of an Echelon test pilot complemented all of her generous curves. “Because I’m going to need a suit, and you, my dear lady, are going to need a dress. Captain, we‘re going to an auction.” # One leg crossed in front of the other as she walked, stepping down on black stilettos that echoed across the marble. Her dress was a swirl of violet lace against smooth dark skin that left no heads unturned, which made Dean nearly invisible on her arm. The lavish auction hall was crowded with the rich and famous from every corner of the galaxy: nobles from the Pure Human Coalition, representatives from the Post Martian Federation, wealthy merchants from the Greater Star Republic, freeholders from the Independent Star Alliance and android avatars from the Digital Theocracy of Echelon. The event was being covered by the Galactic News Network as well as reporters from all the minor services. They had been introduced on the red carpet as Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell Von Brooklyn of New Sealyham.

When they took their seats, Dean patted Captain Sedona on her highly manicured hand. “You did excellently on the carpet, Sugarplum.” “Call me Sugarplum again and you’ll see how sharp these heels are.” she whispered, never dropping her smile. Dean tried not to think about how well Arc was getting along with spaceport surveillance, and simply waited in radio silence for the auction to begin. # “Nice to meet you Bob. Dick Evans, IntroSec Consulting,” said Arc, extending his hand. Bob shook it and handed back Arc’s lighter. They stood outside the main surveillance tower enjoying caffeinated cigarettes and talking shop. “So, have you guys upgraded to the UniSpy Omnipresence Twenties yet or are you still on the old Parabolics?” asked Arc, trying not to sound too patronizing. Bob was obliging. “Neither. Thanks to last week’s bomb threat, everything’s been upgraded last minute. Got the last mods installed just two days ago, and we’re working off the new Gnat-Cam series from Atom-Tech,” said Bob. “Really? I haven’t gotten to see those yet. Just between you and me my consulting company’s corporate big wigs are in bed with

“Just because it’s impossible, doesn’t mean we can’t do it,” he said, punching a few buttons to magnify the map of New Londonium on the view screen. It was the capitol city of Orson Two and was noted for having the tightest security of any neutral world. For that very reason it had been chosen as the site of the Galaxy’s most prestigious auction house. “We’ll start,” said Dean, “By calling in a bomb threat to make the security even tighter,” he finished, cycling up the transmission scrambler. “You’re insane.” “The difference between insanity and genius is defined by profit margin,” said Dean. “And you think we can actually pull this off?” she scoffed. Dean had to forgive her. This was their first job together after all. “It’ll take the whole crew, careful preparation and some good old fashioned piracy, but yes. We’ll not only pull this off, we’ll do it in style,” said Dean slyly. Captain Sedona shook her head. “We’re actually going to try to steal the Golden Record from Voyager One?” she said disbelievingly.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Golden Opportunity by Andy Heizeler
the vendors from UniSpy,” said Arc disgustedly, looked around at the thousands of ships. Their blowing his smoke high as if he didn’t care what uniforms were grey and yellow with silver happened next. Bob, as predicted, felt graced buttons and each carried heavy bags. with insider info. “You look nice in uniform, Creon,” said Cloey, “You should see the resolution on these being kind. A seven-foot-tall, scar-covered exthings,” said Bob eagerly. Arc shook his head. mercenary had a hard time looking nice in anything. She liked Creon though; he was a big “I wish I could. If they’re as good as I read teddy bear. about in GSW, I might just jump ship and become a vendor for Atom-Tech.” Arc had been “You too,” he said uncomfortably, pulling reading Galactic  Security  World  Magazine  for at the tie that was determined to choke him years and he knew that anyone else who read to death. He peered around the lot, trying not it called it GSW as well. to wish they hadn’t stashed all their weapons on an asteroid. With the inside-out searches of “I don’t know about that. They don’t tell their ship by umpteen different security teams you everything in those articles. Hey, why not from every backwater planet in the galaxy, they come up and take a look at the monitors?” couldn’t afford to have anything incriminating “I can’t. I lost my escort badge. This is our on the ship. It didn‘t mean he had to like it. last night here and I’ll never get a replacement All around them, walking through the lots, in time,” he said with resigned discontent. Bob security teams from several different worlds shook his head. patrolled. They were all hired to protect the auction from bombers. “Hey, you’re talking to a supervisor here. I’ll get Terry to grab a visitor’s badge from the Tap…tap, tap. book for you. Come on.” Creon looked at Cloey and grinned. She Arc felt a wash of relief as the surveillance looked back and nodded; she had picked up supervisor led him into the building. He slipped the micro-receiver transmission too. Arc was his hand in his pocket and tapped the lighter. A in. little voice inside him was screaming this was a trap, but he ignored the voice. It thought # everything was a trap. “Launched from Old Home Earth in # Nineteen Hundred and Seventy Seven of the Common Era, the Voyager One and Two spaceCloey adjusted the security officer ball crafts each carried one of these gorgeous cap on Creon’s head before he got up off his golden disks. Voyager Two is lost forever and knees from tightening his boot straps. They presumed destroyed by an interstellar asteroid, walked down the ramp of the Tachyon Valkyrie but Voyager One was recovered just two years into the brightly lit spaceport parking lot and

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ago on July Seventh, Twenty Nine Fifty by a salvage team working for Mr. Harvey L. Dart of Dart Industries. Today’s bidding on this fabulous time capsule will begin at two hundred million Post Martian Federation Standard Credits.” Dean felt excitement rippling through the gathered crowd. The bidding was fast, as this was one of the key items in today’s auction, along with the Voyager spacecraft itself, the remains of the Pioneer 10 and it’s dented plate, and the laser pistol carried by Sam Dodge of the Galactic Rangers. “I want Dodge’s laser pistol,” said Captain Sedona longingly. “Never mind that, get ready to drive up the bidding,” muttered Dean. The bids climbed higher and higher, with the less wealthy dropping out early. After the flurry died down, it came to the two bidders who were truly serious: Mrs. Maxwell Von Brooklyn and Lord Aaron Nigel Webster of the Pure Human Coalition. “We have three point two billion from Lord Webster. Do I hear three point three?” asked the hopeful auctioneer. Dean tugged at his sleeve. “It looks like Lord Webster has beaten us, my dear.” Captain Sedona adopted a mask of defeat and shook her head ever so slightly. “Going once…going twice..” #

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Golden Opportunity by Andy Heizeler
a carrying handle marked as a P-23 Neutron Radiation Scanner. In Creon’s was a cylinder “I like the real-time data interpolation,” marked Air Samples along with a micro-comsaid Arc enthusiastically, pointing to a bank pressor. of screens on the right. Bob crossed his arms, glowing in pride at having coordinated the “Air samples?” asked Brent. system configuration. “Hey, I just get paid to take ’em, buddy. I “So if I wanted so see the names attached don’t care what the lab does with it,” said to these space ships and their lot numbers, all I Creon. He was clearly discontent with the job, would have to do is say ’display names,’ right?” which bought him sympathy from the guards said Arc. As he finished, the names all appeared on the ramp. over the spaceships. “Okay, you guys are clear. Wipe your boots “Well, there you have it!” said Bob happily. on the mat before you go in though, would Arc nodded in genuine approval. you? The maintenance crew keeps chewing us out about it,” said Brent. “Nice, very nice,” he said, tapping the lighter in his pocket, first eight, then three times. Once on board they headed for the rear of the ship. Cloey was ‘scanning’ while Creon pretended to take air samples. They entered # the engineering bay only to find it occupied by “I’m afraid we’re going to have to inspect the chief engineer. Great, thought Cloey. your ship, gentlemen,” said Cloey politely. The help you?” asked the flustered-looktwo ship security guards standing before the ing“Can Iman from behind his goggles. little ramp of the Pure Human Coalition Star Yacht Limitless  Endeavour  in Lot 83 looked at each “Just doing a security sweep,” she said other in exasperation. cheerfully. He rolled his eyes and looked ready “Yea, yea we know. Standard procedure, to go back to wrenching on an injector. bomb threat. We’ll have to see what’s in your “Hey you! I need you remove this panel,” bags before you go aboard,” said the one on said Creon near an air duct in the corridor just the right, a young fellow with a shiny name around the bend. Cloey shrugged as the little tag. engineer grabbed his tools in exasperation. “My pleasure, Mr. Brent,” said Cloey happily, “Fine! I’m coming,” he said as if he had done opening up her bag along with Creon. These the same thing five times already that day, guys were Pure Human Coalition, which in which he had. Cloey got to work. She slid around Cloey’s eyes were no better than the Nazi’s of behind the huge oblong cylinder of the Bohm her time. Drive and knelt down near brain box—each FTL In her bag they found a blocky device with jump engine had one, all made by the same “Sold!” heard Arc in his micro-receiver.

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company. The little black cube contained what was known as the Base Fifty Thousand Coordinates, from which all jumps were calculated by the computer. Cloey unplugged it and quickly replaced it with one that looked identical from inside her Neutron Scanner. But inside that brain box was only one location. “Hey, what are you doing?” asked the engineer, coming at her quickly. She dropped the box into her bag and slipped the cover closed on her scanner as she came up. “I was just admiring this bypass array,” she said in a tone of deep reverence, which stopped him dead. “You know Bohm Drives?” he asked, sounding as if he were falling in love. Cloey smiled with deep warmth. “They’re my life,” she said honestly. “How did you compensate for energy fluctuations in the implicate-order transhifter?” Creon listened to make sure they were engrossed in techno babble before heading for the environmental systems on the other side of the engineering bay. Lined up along the wall were several super compression tanks marked Emergency Oxygen.  With the utmost care he unscrewed one of the secondary tanks and put his own tank in its place. He peeled the label off the new tank, revealing the Emergency Oxygen markings beneath. He placed it on the tank he had just taken and rubbed it to make it stick. He then took out his screwdriver and removed the valve handle, shifting it ninety degrees before putting it back on. He then

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Golden Opportunity by Andy Heizeler
opened the valve wide, with it appearing still closed. Inside the tank a hidden valve kept what was inside safely compressed. “I’ve got my samples,” announced Creon. “Oh, I’ve got to go,” said Cloey with obvious displeasure. The engineer, whose name was “D..Del..Delbert” was devastated.

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“Cloey, you ready with that valve control laughter. Some even pointed at the invaders transmitter?” asked Dean over the static-rid- as they stepped over them, searching for the dled intercom. golden record. “Sure thing, Dean. Just give me the word.” They found it in Lord Webster’s private quarters where he had been listening to it on a specially made phonograph. Dean took the entire set-up as Lord Webster laughed so hard he cried.

Dean looked over at Creon, now in battle armor and holding one of his favorite assault pulsers. Captain Sedona was back in black leather, and Dean was wearing jeans and a “So soon?” he asked, having just started in tie-dye T-Shirt bearing the logo “Save The Before they left, Dean set their original the explanation of how he had masterminded Endorphins.” On his hip he sported an ancient brain box module down on a table in the dining a way to improve frequency shift efficiency. K-Series laser pistol acquired at a pawn shop. room. There was no point in stranding them in inter-galactic space forever; without any Cloey leaned forward and whispered in his He nodded to Captain Sedona. comms relays out this far, it would have been ear. The little man turned a bright shade of red “All right, Arc. Jump!” As soon as she finished the end of them. as she walked off, trailing a finger along his speaking, the Tachyon Valkyrie vanished from chin. the explicate order and reappeared instantly in That’s when the trouble started. Dean’s another part of space, only ten meters off the heart sank as he heard Creon’s big bass voice # nose of the stranded Limitless Endeavour. break out in uncontrolled laughter. He spun just in time to see Creon with his mask seal “Now, Cloey,” shouted Dean. “Cycle up the lifters and get us out of here, broken, weaving towards him. Arc,” ordered Captain Sedona, taking off her “Take us up to their “Creon, no!” screamed Dean, but it was too heels in the cargo bay. The big ramp was closed ordered Captain Sedona. Aairlock and dock,” few minutes later late. The ex-mercenary was on top of him in a and Creon was hastily unbuttoning his shirt, the incoming transmission lamp was glowing fit of giggles, and in moments Dean’s mask was having thrown the tie up onto the railing. on the low band receiver. Dean looked to the torn off. “Now for the fun part, Captain,” said Dean, Captain. She nodded, so he flipped it. Dean and Creon were still kicking their feet carefully folding his suit jacket. Cloey was “Hahahahaha, oooh, wooooo… Hey, this is... in laughter when the heel of Captain Sedona’s already in her pink coveralls but had left the waaaa-hahahahah! Help.” laser pistol knocked them unconscious. security ball cap on. The sinister cocktail of THC gas and nitrous They all held on as the Tachyon Valkyrie oxide were having a powerful effect. Dean # lifted off, piloted by Arc, while sitting on the smiled in satisfaction as the ships perfectly old broken down couch in the mess lounge. “Friends of space, how are you all? Have you lined up due to Arc‘s precision piloting. All eaten yet? Come visit us if you have the time,” Two hours later they had all changed three members of the boarding party slipped said the Golden Record in Amoy, translated by clothes, recovered the weapons they had re-breathers over their mouths and noses the nanofibers in everyone’s ears. stashed on the asteroid, and were now getting before entering the airlock, weapons ready. ready to jump to the designated coordinates “Nice try, but I know what the restaurants Inside the Limitless Endeavor, the crew and where their prey would be waiting. passengers were rolling on the deck-plates in charge there,” said Dean, holding a bag of frozen peas on his head. Captain Sedona made a

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Issue 43, May 2008

Golden Opportunity by Andy Heizeler
shushing motion as they all sipped champagne in the mess lounge. Dean was between Cloey and Arc on the couch, while Creon sat at the table with a sandwich. The THC in the gas had given him a terrible case of the munchies.

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artillery  training  radio-plane  drones  in  the  swamps of Fort Stewart)enjoying the beauty  David  Bridgette  started  writing  at  the  age  of  our  National  Park  System,  debating  the  of ten in 1985 on a Tandy TRS-80 Computer.  nature  of  the universe, and reading  science  By  1995  he  had  enough  rejection  slips  to  fiction.    Despite the lump on his head, Dean was pleased. The mission had been a success and account for the shrinking rainforests. Off and  they already had a black market buyer lined on he continued writing in spurts, submitting  up. As it turned out, the Greater Star Repub- randomly but mostly pursuing the art of daily  lic’s Museum of Science and Industry had a living (as opposed to the art of daily starving).
long chain of underground contacts with deep pockets. “Hello to everyone. We are happy here and you be happy there.” said the Golden Record in Rajasthani. Considering how things were going, Dean didn’t think that would be hard to do at all.

Andy Heizeler

He joined the Army in 2001 after the terrorist  attacks of 9/11 and has deployed to Iraq a total  of three times. During his third deployment, at  the age of 32, he decided after a near miss— which is just as safe as a far miss, only more  personal—by  a  mortar  round  that  it  was  time to achieve his dream of being published. The pen name Andy Heizeler was created as  a  conglomeration  of  the  initials  of  his  favorite  authors,  under  which  he  created  a  series  of  stories  about  Dean  the  Space  Rogue.    The  first  Dean  the  Space  Rogue  story to be accepted will be appearing in the anthology Star Stepping by Wild Child Press.  The  second,  but  first  chronologically,  Dean the Space Rogue, appeared in Ray Gun Revival #40, with another Galactic Saviors, that is set to appear in an upcoming  issue  of  Newmyths.com  magazine. David’s  hobbies  include  amateur  drone  hunting  with  his  lovely  wife  Kit,  mostly  stumbling upon downed 1940’s anti-aircraft 

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Weight of the World by Gordon Ross Lanser

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The Weight of the World
by Gordon Ross Lanser

T

he observation station floated above patches of purple clouds, and Tiffany Marshall’s thoughts floated with the observation station. While gliding fifty kilometers above the surface of the planet, she half-listened to Neil Becker and Freedom Long debate the aesthetics of the planet below. Her mind kept drifting back to her life before this one, to the life she had left in another solar system, in another age. She peered down through thick polycarbonate shielding as Becker and Long traded jibes. Memories came to her of her father, whose journeys into space had created a longing for exploration in her. Suddenly a metallic clang thundered through the station. In its wake a persistent whine sang across the supports and struts of their craft. “What was that?” Marshall blurted. “I don’t like it,” said Long as the craft began to vibrate. “I’m initiating emergency protocol.” She started for the escalator. “But why haven’t the alarms sounded?” said Becker, following Long down the locked escalator stairs. “The alarms haven’t sounded.” “A malfunction, or a delay in a system cross-check…I don’t know. You can wait for the alarms if you want to—not me.” As the three descended into the main portion of the hull the vibrations increased until they became a raucous shuddering. The red glint of flashing alarm lights shone in Mar-

shall’s eyes as she followed the others into general bunk quarters, where they stripped and transferred into flexi-suits. The vibration of the craft worsened. They staggered against a whipping, wave-like motion that shot lengthwise down the craft. Over the blare of alarms, a general message came across the loudspeakers. “Proceed with Emergency Protocol One.” Struggling to stand against the whipping motion of the craft, Becker filled an emergency kit with food stuffs and Long grabbed atmosphere mixers. Marshall grabbed three sonic pump guns and handed out lightweight wrist beacons. They stumbled as they grabbed flares and ultra-thin heat blankets. In the commotion, several other members of the staff and crew pushed into the room and began climbing into suits. Becker, Marshall and Long moved onto the bed frames as their colleagues attempted to maintain their balance, and followed the simple illustrated texts that had brought laughter in training but were now deadly serious. Some genius at the technical university had designed them; they had never been used in a real-world situation before. Suddenly a tremendous roar shot through the air wing. There was an explosion, and the sense of once effortless floatation collapsed into a horrifying plunge. Bodies shot upward against the immediate loss of gravity; equipment pieces and parts were flung scatter-shot upward. “Get into the emergency balloons!” Marshall

cried as she watched the others struggling to regain their orientation, snap pieces together and climb into the pill-like structures made from bed cushions and frames. Already in her structure, Marshall snapped a final clip into place and pressed a button that would inflate her balloon and provide a final seal. There were several empty moments; she was deaf to the world, insulated by the inflated balloon. And then…the blow against the surface of the planet rang like a clap of thunder. Black smoke and momentary flame spat and pushed outward. Metal parts whisked upward, the sharpest shavings planting like knives into the soil when they returned to the planet’s surface. Everything for nearly half a kilometer round was blackened wasteland. # When the thunder of the crash subsided, Marshall found herself balled claustrophobically in her cocoon-like balloon. She forced herself to steady her breathing and waited for the balloon to settle. Her mind ran wild, and she remembered what her mother had said when she had departed on the mission that skipped across fantastic lengths of space—the last time she would see her mother: “You are your father’s little girl, and you always will be.” There was no doubt her mother had meant it hurtfully. She had always called her father weak and self-destructive and had said he’d gone into space to escape rather than explore. Maybe that was how she had explained away the tragedy.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Weight of the World by Gordon Ross Lanser
Marshall’s thoughts came back to the present. She caught her breath, pulled a red lever, and heard a hiss as the balloon collapsed about her. She pushed and dug at the synthetic material until her upper body was freed, and she rested momentarily, staring upward at the rusty-brown sky. The others, she wondered, the others. She scrambled heavily to her feet, feeling for the first time the full weight of the alien world. Gravity here was nearly twice earth’s, and the atmospheric pressure was greater by fifteen percent. Her flexi-suit could help with the pressure, but not with the heaviness she felt with each step, nor with the sluggishness of her every movement. “Let me,” she said, taking the tape from his shaking hands. She whipped the tape around several times, then tore the tape and flattened the end stiffly down.

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She began dazedly rummaging through the remains of the craft, searching for bits and pieces of gear that might be useful. She gathered her senses and remembered the wrist beacon. She flipped it on, and sent the weak high-frequency ping upward to the satellites. If the satellites received the faint signal, they would relay the distress call to workers on the more distant space station, who would As a science communications officer, then begin to assemble a rescue party. Marshall worked closely with both Long and Long and Becker emerged from their Becker. The two were opposites in looks and balloons, and so did Wright, a systems engineer. demeanor. Becker was a short squarely built Wright limped through the wreckage; a metal man; Long, in her mid-forties, was a tall, lean shard had sliced through his balloon and lanced woman, with a generally relaxed disposihis leg. He sat and began rapidly applying tape tion. Long usually spoke in calm even tones, to the tear in the flexi-suit, his head wobbling while Becker’s rapid, clipped speech betrayed as he fought against the toxic atmosphere a sometimes anxious mind. Long had a dry that had leaked in. Marshall trudged across sense of humor; Becker was a man who relied the hard soil and knelt beside him. Wisps of on facts. Marshall watched them examine the smoke and steam rose around them from the wreckage while their images became silhouettes in the descending light. smoldering wreckage. Her eyes drifted across the darkening

terrain. Through her suit she could feel the cold creeping in. From her studies, her mind held what her eyes were slowly losing grasp of. The crusty soil of the planet was relatively barren, but portions were carpeted by clumps “Who else?” he asked. of red, frost-dusted vegetation; hillsides were thinly spotted with flowers and gnarled fibrous “Just us, and Long and Becker, so far.” Her so large they passed for trees. Natural eyes took in the panorama, searched for weedssources were scarce and toxic, occasionwater movement. The sun was lowering, and the ally bubbling up in acidic springs and filtering purpling twilight obscured details. along in muck-ridden creeks. Infrequent rain“There should be twenty-one,” said Wright, storms spattered the surface with fat drops of acid rain, contributing to the land’s look of high “twenty-one.” desert. Yet, for all of that, the various scaveng“I know,” she said. “Can you walk?” ing beasts that inhabited the planet managed to eek out a living. “Not well,” he said. Life, after all, she considered, is defined “Okay. Okay.” She stood and clicked on her by its environment. Observing the native life helmet ‘mic’. “Hey guys,” she said, waving at here, in the midst of that environment, gave Long and Becker, “Wright’s down. We’ll have a definite sense of vulnerability. And with the to make our camp over here.” cold emerging, and with being stranded in this barren, ugly land with only two or three days There was a hiss of static, then, “Sure thing, Tiff,” said Long, “as soon as we get the rest of worth of atmosphere mix, the feeling bordered on desperation. And now it was getting dark. the gear.” She heard a rattle a hundred meters off and stood. “Becker, Long, that you?” “Over here,” came a reply. She turned slowly until she saw a hand waving far across the terrain. She turned back to scan the debris field, and saw a slab of high tension carbon fall to the soil. Something low and hunched was behind it. “We have company,” she said. “I’m getting the pump guns; and I suggest you join me.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Weight of the World by Gordon Ross Lanser
“We’ll be right there,” said Becker in his rapid, flat tone. Marshall moved heavily to the remnants of her balloon, grabbed the edge, and began dragging it back toward Wright. The beast, probably a Semolian ground hog as they referred to it, was about two feet high at the shoulder and built like a giant mole, except it was hairless, and tailless. Satellite images had revealed that the SGH’s preferred to dig and root beneath the plains of weeds, which robot explorers had shown to have deep, broad, and intricate root systems. Marshall yanked her balloon to where Wright lay, and collapsed next to him. “I didn’t realize how heavy everything would feel,” she panted, “but the heaviness is horrible down here, and in these suits, with the tanks and helmet, and dragging things around—” “Try it with a bad leg.” “No thanks,” she said, and reached up to snap open a storage hatch at one end of her balloon. She grabbed the first pump gun and a flare, snapped the flare and tossed it, then readied the gun. “I’m not taking any chances,” she said. She gave Wright a gun. Wright grimaced as he turned toward the SGH. Moments later, Long and Becker slammed down a crate with supplies in it. Marshall turned in a startled fashion, caught her breath, then turned back to where she had last seen the SGH. “It’s about time you showed up,” she said. “Fashionably late,” said Long.

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“That’s yet to be seen. It’s probably closely related to those SGH species we’ve seen, but—”

“There’s nothing fashionable about this,” The beast scuffed at the soil and scrambled said Becker. “I think we’d better drag some of forward several steps. Long raised her gun the pieces and parts we have in our vicinity and instinctively and fired a sonic wave across the make a barrier, in case it decides to charge.” field, nicking the heels of the creature, which They heard a snort and squeal from a screamed in agony and fell to its side. different direction, then others. “Why did you do that!” said Becker. “In case ‘they’ charge, you mean,” said Long. From the gloom a swarm of beasts rapidly “How many guns do we have?” fell upon their wounded comrade and began ripping it apart. Their thick and “Three,” said Marshall, “and six ammo squat legs, wicked claws and snouts little short beady eyes units.” were straight from the other side of the river Styx. “At 30 a clip, that’s 180. That should do.” “I’d rather have them eating themselves “We’ll see,” said Becker. “I was studying than us,” said Long pointedly, “Don’t you agree, these things. Their families number sometimes in the thousands. But most of them stay under- Neil?” ground.” Becker sat and put his hand to his headgear. “Of course,” he muttered, “of course.” “Are they carnivorous?” asked Wright. “We don’t think so, but that might be beside the point. This might be a territorial problem we’re encountering, which could mean some pretty vicious attacks. Nevertheless, this is a chance in a lifetime for biological observation—” “There’s one,” said Marshall, pointing to where one of the creatures dug at the soil, fifty meters away. “But that’s not an SGH,” said Becker. “What is it then?” asked Marshall. “Trouble,” blurted Long. “How soon do you think they can get a crew down here for us?” asked Marshall. “Might be a day-and-a-half, at the earliest, but probably more like two or three days,” said Wright. “They’ll have to fix their logistics, get the appropriate fuel, landers, the works.” The group fell silent, and listened to the gruff grunts of the beasts around them, knowing the beasts’ attention could not be diverted for long. # Sometime in the middle of the night,

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Weight of the World by Gordon Ross Lanser
Marshall woke. She wasn’t sure how or when she’d fallen asleep; the shrieks and grunts of the beasts were loud and consistent, but it was Wright’s screams that woke her. “What’s wrong, what’s wrong?” to fire another round and begin the violent squeals and vicious snarling all over again. # horrible death, wasn’t it.”

Pg. 13

Marshall’s thoughts wound sleepily back to the night her mother tossed down the papers. “He’s got an infection,” said Long, kneeling beside a quieting Wright. “I’ve doped him with “Read them,” she’d yelled at Tiffany. “Read synthetics, but …whatever it is, is eating his about your hero! Read about your father!” flesh.” “What are you talking about?” “No, oh, no. Isn’t there anything we can “These are the official transcripts of his…his do?” death. Read them. Find out what kind of a “If we had the ship’s computers, lab man your father really was.” equipment and medical chamber, yes, I think Young Tiffany had picked them up we could save him. But here? Without any of them. There had been an explosion inand read one part those things?” of the freighter—a hydrogen tank—and Jake, her father, had been blown out the shattered “How long then?” hull. “I don’t know.” His body had been recovered only twenty The last word was punctuated by a sonic minutes later, but he was asphyxiated. The blast, which ripped the air and tore up the coroners had concluded that he had feared head of one of the creatures. There was the the worst that any space traveler fears, being familiar sound of the herd attacking the victim, tossed into space and drifting forever, with no a sound which disgusted each of them. hope of any kind, waiting for his air supply to be exhausted. So he had opened his helmet. “I’ve studied something like this,” said They say the effect is like being hit in the solar Becker, lowering his pump gun. “This occurs plexus with a sledge hammer, that every bit with Carcharinidae, on Earth.” of air is lost within seconds and that you lose control of your movements by “Carcharinidae?” asked Long, a geologist by and lose consciousness by the the count of ten count of fifteen. trade. After that, after gases are expelled from every orifice, the lungs collapse, and then, at some “Sharks,” said Becker. point over the next two to three minutes, the They wrapped themselves into their foil heart seizes, and the body dies. blankets and shuddered against the night chill, Tiffany held the papers in her hands the waiting for the sound of the herd to fall silent, longest time, then looked up at her mother. “A for the subsequent scuff of clawed toe on soil,

“A coward,” her mother had said. “If he’d only been a real man—” She tore the papers from Tiffany’s hands and left the room, slamming the bedroom door behind her. # Her eyes blinked open on a muddy dawn creeping over the horizon. She looked dazedly down at the ammo counter on her gun. “I’m out,” Marshall said, ejecting her cartridge, her face drawn from an exhausting night. “That’s over half the ammo gone in one night,” said Long. “If we have to stay another, we’ll run out.” “We can’t stay here,” said Marshall. She snapped the final ammo clip into her blaster. “But we can’t leave,” said Becker, “where would we go?” “There’s an old robot lander,” said Long, “about fifteen klicks west from here.” “And what, we walk fifteen kilometers? Here, in the weight of this world?” said Becker. “Yes. We can crawl into the storage compartment, protect ourselves from these animals and whatever else this planet offers up.” “He’s right, Neil,” said Marshall. “And if the bot’s batteries are still good, we can use the bot’s beacon on top of our wrist beacons.” “I don’t know.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Weight of the World by Gordon Ross Lanser
“I’ve got a fresh thirty rounds,” said Marshall, Why had she tried to be so deliberately cruel? “but you? How many do you have?” Marshall looked up and noticed the sun “Twenty-three,” said Becker. had lifted fully overhead in the putrid brown sky. Her breathing was slow and deep, and “Nineteen,” said Long. every sixty or seventy paces she paused to let oxygen flow to her tiring muscles. Long and “We used over one hundred rounds last Becker were fifty meters ahead, Becker slightly night. We have what—” she paused briefly trailing. Suddenly Long staggered to calculate, “seventy-two remaining? Do we forward, splashed and skidded a fewand fell meters have a choice? I don’t think so. I’m leaving and then turned frantically, her arms bent and with Freedom, heading for the bot.” her hands splattering muck that was already up to her waist. In a flash she knew: Long was “But what about Wright?” stuck; she was sinking. “You didn’t notice, did you,” said Long. “He Marshall trudged forward, screaming as hasn’t moved for hours. He’s dead.” she went; Becker was ahead of her and was Becker stared at the muddy soil. “All right,” beginning to sink. As Marshall drew nearer the he said, “we stick together.” soil became soft, and suddenly became mush. She began sinking too. She looked up at the With the sun rising and the landscape others; she couldn’t reach Long, but Becker brightening, the beasts backed away into was only a few paces forward. She lifted her their burrows, and hunched and snorted and leg and plopped it down, and lifted the other, gnawed at things in their strange and dark stepping forward just far enough to reach underground homes. The survivors merged Becker, who was trapped to mid-thigh. Long the contents of Wright’s atmosphere mixer was buried to her chest and trying to turn. with their own, packed whatever small water Something whipped up from the quicksand, supplies they could, and began their hike. snapped quickly around her and tugged Long Her cries ripped The soil was sometimes slippery and hard backward. Marshall grabbedthrough Marshall’s headset. Becker under his and sometimes as soft as sand, a muddy gray armpits and yanked, collapsed backward, tone and dusted with an early morning frost, kicked, fought. They pushed backward and and in this gravity, no matter the hardness, sank some, kicked again and fell into muck of every step weakened the legs and strained the a consistency similar to wet concrete. back. And they trudged on, hoping to arrive final heave they landed on solid ground.With a Boots and secure their position at the robot lander caked with wet soil, they watched bitterly as before sundown. thick bubbles popped where Long had sunk, the echo of her gurgling voice still resonating in # their headsets. The tentacle whipped up once more, and they scrambled backward several “You’re  your  father’s  little  girl!”  she’d  said.  feet, before the arm blindly swung back under   the muck.

Pg. 14

They sat motionless for several minutes, chests heaving and throats gulping oxygen. And then Marshall curled to her knees and quietly recited that part of the common blessing she could still remember. Afterwards, there was nothing to do but get up and walk on. # Hours passed, and the sun was creeping down the ugly sky. She had used the last of her water just after the quicksand, and now her tongue was swollen and her throat dry. She clomped wearily up a steep slope behind Becker, each traveler pausing every five or ten steps to rest their leaden legs. As they crested the ridge, they spotted a dull metallic reflection on a hilltop across a narrow valley. In the valley that lay between, some yellow vegetation waved in the cold slow breeze, and there were holes. Holes like the ones that had dotted their crash site. “No, oh no,” Marshall said, collapsing onto a bed-sized stone. “Maybe we can go around—” “No,” she said abruptly. “We’ll have to walk two klicks to get around this valley. And my legs are about finished.” “Then we go across,” said Becker, his eyes fixed on the valley. “You know,” he added, in his clipped manner, “I met one of the old-timers a few years back. He said when things went south on them, during their expeditions, they used to say, ‘Do anything, but save one shot’.” “Why?”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Weight of the World by Gordon Ross Lanser
He stared at her through his clear face-mask. blasters and fired. The focused waves smashed “You’ll know when the time comes,” he said. against the monster, but did nothing to impede its movements. Marshall turned and tried her She thought of her father, her mother, best to run; Becker followed. They crossed the lowered her head. She felt ill from fatigue, final meters of valley and staggered heavily up her hands quivered, and her thoughts were the next hillside. They turned together and agonizing over the purpose—the need—of a fired, but the thing kept coming. single round in the blaster. “Hurry,” Becker yelled. “Get to the lander.” Becker started off, his boots kicking some shale ahead of him, and she lifted herself “Come with me!” she cried, but did not stop. wearily, and followed him down the hillside She heard him behind her, firing his blaster, and across the valley. cursing at the top of his lungs. She turned. The beast was nearly upon him but was oozing black bile from beneath its miserable hulking # form. The sound of their bootfalls created a stir in “Run, Neil, run!” the burrows and the nasty little beasts peered from their holes, climbed to the valley floor, He turned and started up the hill toward her, snorted, and began stalking them. They’d only then slipped and fell as shale broke away. And gone a hundred meters when Becker stopped, then he was gone. “Neil!” She whipped up her turned, and fired his sonic blaster, ripping a leg blaster and began firing, watching the ammo from one of them; the others descended upon gauge tick down, twenty-eight, twenty-seven, it like sharks pursuing chum. twenty-six, as she backed up the hill toward She fired again The screams of the beasts sent a rush of the bot. ammo cartridge and again, unloading half her front of the adrenaline into Becker and Marshall, and they charging monster, which into theto slow, and began hurried away from the melee. With every step waver. There was a deafening they could see more clearly the glint of the thenbeast trembled, rolled forward shriek and the robot lander at the top of the next hill. They cally, and collapsed. Then, below in spasmodithe valley, were nearly across the valley now, closer, closer, the snorting beasts began poking their heads when suddenly the ground shook and gravel out. Marshall turned and struggled to the spilled outward. A huge caterpillar-like beast lander, opened the was shaking loose from the soil—it was at least and began pulling hatch to the storage center, out gear. Equipment was twenty meters long, a fat, hissing monster. The piled around her feet when the first maniacal dozen short hard protrusions that passed for shriek approached her. She fired, legs kicked at the soil, and muscles in the mole- thirteen, twelve, climbed into the fourteen, storage hunter’s body curled and rolled, and it gained center, and pulled the hatch shut. ground in herks and jerks. The snorting moleanimals squealed and scattered, diving into In the darkness of the hull she tried not to their holes; Becker and Marshall lifted their cry.

Pg. 15
“He went into space to escape,” her mother had said. And what of herself? Had she left everything she had known behind forever just to explore, or had she wanted something else? Had she wanted to escape a world of unhappy love affairs, and a mother sinking deeper and deeper into a medicated insanity? Or were her intentions more pure? She only knew she wished she hadn’t come. “Save one,” Becker had said. Why not? She wondered. Why not? # After nightfall the beasts began rushing the lander, smacking their heads into the metal siding, making the entire craft wobble. Her nerves jagged and her body stiff, Marshall searched for some way out. She felt around and found a ladder, and began climbing. The craft had a small cubby hole at the top of the ladder, just large enough for her to curl into, and she found a little hatch to one side whose purpose of releasing a small aerial drone was long since served. She lifted the hatch and looked outside. The blackness was nearly complete. She could only make out faint movements moments before the crash of flesh on metal. She waited for the sound of scuffling toes on soil, raised the gun, stuck it through the hatch, and fired. The shock wave thumped against the barren ground. She heard a grunt and fired again. This time she heard the familiar terrible shrieks and squeals of the swarming beasts, and closed her eyes, waiting for them to end their butchery. # Her air was thinning. The mixer would thin and keep thinning until the tank expired. She still had twelve or fifteen hours, she thought,

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Weight of the World by Gordon Ross Lanser
but hiking was sure to have increased the rate of usage, and now…the beasts fell silent again. And then there were grunts, and then the bang of heads on metal, and the lander wobbled. She waited as long as she could manage, and picked up her gun. For a moment she held it stiffly in her hand. Her thoughts traveled great distances in that short time, but delivered little in the way of answers. The pistol was heavy, lifeless. She sighed, choked back tears, pointed the gun through the hatch and fired again. It took her three shots to hit one. And she closed her eyes, once more wishing it would end, the gun warm to her hand through the glove of her flexi-suit. # The roar of the rescue jet woke her. She blinked and stared through the blurry haze of oxygen deprivation, her mind not quite grasping her perceptions in an orderly fashion. Events passed in chunks—the sound of blasters, squeals and shrieks, banging on the compartment hatch, some light, a body, a voice, being pulled down the ladder, carried from the robot lander, set into a medical chamber in the rescue jet. Somewhere, she remembered, the blaster had fallen from her hand. And in her daze, the ammo count finally appeared: zero. No,  Mother,  I’m  not  my  daddy’s  little  girl; even with the weight of the world on my  shoulders,  I  am  my  own  woman.  I  am  a  survivor.

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Gordon Ross Lanser
Gordon  Ross  Lanser’s  writing  has  appeared  in  several  webzines  and  magazines  during  the past few years, in genres ranging from magical realism to science fiction blends.  His  work has appeared in Café Irreal, Burning Sky,  Gateway  Science  Fiction,  Dark  Moon  Rising,  C/Oasis, Ascent, and AlienSkin Magazine.  He  lives in Seattle with his wife and four children,  and works in the high technology field as a  consultant.

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The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo

Pg. 17

The One Chosen

by Robert Mancebo
ligent species out here in the big empty and they’re all humanoid, more or less.” “So, chances are, we can help this guy, right?” “If we get this sardine can open fast and get him out of the cargo bay into medical, yeah, chances are.” I looked from Norm’s pale face to Stan’s questioning eyes. I knew what Stan was thinking; I was thinking the same thing. The guy might have been floating out there in space for a century by the look of the pod, but he deserved a chance. “Right or wrong, I started the process.” I told them. “Let’s see if we can finish it.” “You should have waited for authorization,” Norm told me. “It only would’ve taken a few more hours—” “Wrong time,” I brushed off his chastisement without any consideration while I studied the object for the hundredth time. “There are no exposed hinges.” I told Stan. “Where do the scanners suggest cutting?” He hit a sequence of buttons before replying, “It’s amazingly dense. Scanners make minimal penetration but it looks…like… there…” Holographic displays overlaid the pod, marking where to cut. “Hold it!” I stopped him before he actuated the sequence. “Look at the figure inside.” The hazy blue outline of a humanoid form was curled in fetal position on the screen. Stan looked and shrugged. “Roll the pod so the cutting angle is away from his head, you doof. When the cutting laser volatilizes the cryogen, it could cook him.” “Right, sorry,” he apologized. With a flashing of keystrokes, he had the crane rotate the cryopod before initiating the cutting sequence. “How do we know he doesn’t have something catching?” Norm whined. “We don’t.” I retorted. “Go get into a vacuum suit, if you want, but shut your pie-hole if you haven’t got anything to say.” He snapped his jowly jaws shut with a frown like an overfed pug dog. I knew better than to antagonize him. The Norman Rose was never a big ship; with a member of our little crew in a bad mood, the mining scow could seem downright cramped. But sometimes my patience just wore too thin to put up with his complaining. The cutters hummed and polished swaths were cut in the strange silver metal. As the integrity of the vessel was breached, steam from the vaporizing cryogen vented almost explosively. “The beams are too hot!” Stan told me.

“G

lenn, I’m reading a malfunction on the regeneration sequence!” Stan wasn’t the kind of spacer to overreact, so I knew when he yelled there was a good reason. “I told you not to try to revive him.” Trust Norm to waste time rubbing my face in a mistake. “You’ve got no idea how intricate this alien equipment is!” “My order—my responsibility,” I cut in before he could really begin kvetching. “Stan, is it a hardware glitch or a software failure?” “Who knows?” He threw his hands up and pushed away from his monitor. “The life readings are fading. I haven’t got time to—” “Open it.” I waved a hand at the fourteen foot, egg-shaped capsule we’d picked up from amongst the geological debris orbiting Panoran VII. “But there’s someone alive inside!” Norm protested. “We don’t know if they even breathe air. Maybe they were locked in stasis because they were a criminal or have some horrible disease.” I could see his vivid imagination beginning to work. In a few moments he’d be wrapped in fantastical fears and I wouldn’t get anything helpful from him at all. “Stan?” I looked to a more stable crewman for an opinion. “It’s a crap-shoot, Boss,” he shrugged. “It’s sure not any technology we’ve ever run into in the galaxy. But then, we’ve found lots of intel-

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
“He’ll be parboiled before we can get him clear of the pod.”

Pg. 18
motors. “It rolls every time I lift. The hinges “Didn’t we just receive the authorization transaren’t cut through yet. They can still support mission from the Rock?” We always called our the full weight of the capsule.” home station on Panoran VII, ‘The Rock’. “But you didn’t know that when you started—” “But the outcome would’ve been the same.” I prompted. “Except Normy would’ve had to find something else to obsessively gripe about,” Stan cut in. “Gripe?” Norm whined. “I don’t gripe. There are legal protocols to be observed. I just—” “Shhhh!” I hushed them. “She’s waking up.” The graph on the remote sphygmomanometer was showing normal blood and heart activity returning. “Jeeze, look at the brain function!” Norm exclaimed. “It’s pegged the display!” “What does that mean?” I asked. “It means the pick-up’s faulty.” Stan banged a hand against the display, as though it would help. When the girl’s hand rose to touch the bandages covering her face, I caught it as gently as I could and held it in my own. “You were scalded,” I said in what I hoped was a reassuring voice. “You’ll be fine in a couple of days.” Since she scanned as completely humanoid, we’d given her some topical pain-killer and I knew she wasn’t in physical distress. The

“We can’t stop now that we’ve started,” Norm said with a smugness that irritated me. “Okay, look,” I told him, “lift it off the deck, “The stasis systems are failing. He’ll be dead in and then counter-rotate the forks to add minutes anyway. Captain Brilliant here couldn’t motor-power to weight and leverage.” just wait for authorization…” I swear I aged a year waiting to see if those “Shut-up, Norm,” I ordered. “Heat up hinges would break before the lifter’s motors the cargo lifter and get it over here ASAP!” I burned out. The motors screamed and smoked, grabbed a fire extinguisher, ran to the cutting but in moments the hinges popped and the area, and let it have a blast where the laser was entire pod dangled from the power-lift forks by cutting through. its lid. Smoke and steam obscured the freezing black interior and I shoved a robotic cutting “It’s not on fire.” Norm scoffed. head aside to rescue the victim of my poor judgment. “Expanding gas cools,” I snarled at him. “It doesn’t matter what I spray it with, so long as When I emerged from the gaseous cloud it cools down the metal as soon as it’s cut. Get with about a hundred and forty pounds of that lifter over here and pry open this cover!” unclad, unconscious woman draped in my even Norm “Watch the cutting heads, Glenn!” Stan arms, notto complain could manage to think of anything about. warned needlessly. “How’s the reanimation sequence?” I called as I gave it another blast from the extinguisher. #

“As usual, Glenn, you are luckier than any fool deserves,” Stan told me as we looked down “Worse,” he replied. “Norm’s right; the heat at the bandage-wrapped form sleeping in our from the cutting is making everything squir- medical compartment. “Our normal cryo-rerelly. It was bad before, but…” animation techniques are working. Other than the layers of skin she’s going to lose from the “Norm,” I didn’t wait for Stan’s gloomy cock-up prognosis. “Jam the forks into the cut and lift!” traption,of having to cut her out of that conshe’s reading perfectly fine.” At the motion of his intrusion, the cutting “Good to hear,” I mumbled. heads ceased and the computer’s safety warning announced movement of the target. “You bet it is,” Norm chimed in. “I’m not facing a manslaughter charge because my “Pry it!” captain can’t wait for proper—” “I am,” he yelled back over the whine of the “Speaking of authorization,” I cut him off.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

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The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
emotional trauma could still be devastating though. As far as we knew, there hadn’t been life or life-supporting technology anywhere in the Panoran system for thousands of years. There was just the new terraforming project on Panoran III and our little mining co-op had started working on Panoran VII. She’d probably been jettisoned by a passing star-freighter or something. There was no way to know how long ago, but the battered condition of the cryopod showed it had been a long time ago. She started to sit up but lurched and bent double, projectile vomiting a stomach full of some foul cryogenic chemical onto the floor. I caught her in my arms as she did and held her. “Whoa, the captain always gets to have all the fun,” Stan said with a laugh, and Norm snorted in disgust. “Shhhh,” I patted her back and rocked her. “You yokels knock it off.” She was still cold to the touch and probably terrified. I could feel her shivering under the blanket we’d draped her in. I wiped her unbandaged mouth with a wet rag from a bowl of water on the counter. Her breath hitched like she was crying, but I doubted any tears would’ve come out of her scalded eyes…not for a couple of days. It would take the regenerative we’d administered that long to work. “I’ve…I’ve got to get back to work,” Norm said uncomfortably. “The hold’s almost full.” “Yeah,” Stan agreed, “me too. We might

Pg. 19
as well bring her back to the Rock with a full “Glenn. My name is Glenn.” load.” “G-lenn,” she mimicked hoarsely through Biological malfunctions frightened them. parched lips. They’d been out away from people for too “Yes, Glenn. Welcome to the Norman Rose.” long. I had too, but I’d spent two years in the I couldn’t think of anything else to say. We had Dovan wars with the Mechanized Infantry. In war, the only ones you had to rely upon were no idea where she was from. I had to surmise we wouldn’t have any language in common. your buddies. “G-lenn,” she took my hand and placed it When someone had a hole ripped through against the bandages wrapping her own chest. them, you didn’t hesitate to stick your hand inside them to pinch off the artery until a medic “Vella.” could respond. When they went a little nuts you “Well, Vella, I guess you’re awake enough. calmed them down and covered for them. You You’ve been asleep for who knows how long. I did it because they were like family, because there was no real family to do it. There had suppose you’re anxious for the grand tour. only been us, a band of tired, grubby soldiers She let off a string of words I, of course, trying to survive until the war was over. couldn’t understand. But it showed she was and So I knew some of what she was feeling, and awakelittle cognizant. So I helped her off the cot in our medical her misfiring bodily functions didn’t surprise a disposable gown compartment and wrapped her bandages me. She was sick and scared—stuffed into that leading her through overrest of the ship.before the capsule, not knowing if she’d ever wake up, not knowing what she’d find if she did wake up. It wasn’t a big tour and I took it slow for her. The ship was mostly hold space, which I waited until some of the desperation went out of her grip, then pulled away and brought was full of ore from the asteroid belt we’d been The ‘Stellar-wide’ mining company had the unbandaged fingers of her left hand up to mining.the rights to Panoran III; our co-op only gotten touch my face. She was careful. She brushed had the rights to dim little Panoran VII and its her fingers delicately down my forehead, across associated asteroid belt. They got what would my trimmed moustache, hesitated, feeling the one day be a fully habitable planet, and we lines in my cheeks, and down to my chin. She got to scavenge bits of ore from a wide field of made me very aware I hadn’t shaved yet—and that I hadn’t had a woman touch me like that frozen boulders. Oh well, no one ever said the universe was fair. in a long time. I took her through the various compartI was suddenly overwhelmed by emotions ments and she seemed very comfortable I usually switched off and on as the situation moving without sight. Several times I saw her demanded. It caught me by surprise and I’m hitting a bulkhead as though sure I was blushing. I took her hand away and stop beforethe change in the sound or feelshe could hear its placed her palm against my chest telling her,

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
presence in front of her. Like an experienced I listened to her continue in a methodical blind person, her other senses seemed uncom- cadence for several moments before I told him, monly sharpened to make up for the loss of “I’ll run a diagnostic on the medi-scan system.” sight. I worked while he recorded. She never When we walked through Norm’s overwatch hesitated to stop and think, never slowed to station, he made a logical request. consider what she would say next. She just droned on, one verbal piece of linguistic infor“Have her say something I can record to mation after another. run through the computer for a linguistic break-down. We’ll see if I can’t decrypt her After a full hour she stopped, waiting. language.” I stepped up and took her hand. “Is that I began talking to her and, after playing back it?” her answer, she immediately grasped what we She coughed and raised a hand to her were trying to do. throat. Thinking back upon the incident, that’s “Oh, of course.” I pulled her to her feet. when our world really began to get strange. “That’s it for now, Norm. I’m going to get her As she sat there, orating to the computer something to drink. Run what we have through in a slow, clear voice, I didn’t know what to the computer when you get the chance.” make of it other than she was being meticuI took her back to the medical compartlously careful. Norm picked it up in just a few ment and got her a big glass of water, which minutes. she downed without hesitation. I refilled it and “She’s teaching!” he hissed to me. “Listen she emptied a second. I thought we were going to her. She began with simple sounds, her for a third, but she returned the glass and sat alphabet. Now she’s graduated to compound- down upon the cot, obviously remembering its ing those sounds into words. It’s like she’s location from when she’d woken up. reciting a dictionary.” She reached out her hand and held it there, “Her entire language?” waiting. “I told you her brain activity was off the scale,” he accused. When I took her hand, she lay down and was sleeping in less than a minute.

Pg. 20
It was chow time, and I met Stan and Norm in the mess compartment. Stan was his usual affable self, but Norm was strangely silent. That was like running a red flag up before a bull for Stan. If Norm was sulking, nothing could stop Stan from baiting him until he exploded. “Nothing to complain Normy?” Stan began. “Nothing off-hand.” “You’re not sulking because Glenn didn’t get his chops busted over waking up that little alien girl, are you?” “She’s not an alien,” Norm corrected quietly. “She’s completely human.” “Come on, no one knows what she is.” Stan argued. “She just came out of an alien cryochamber that may have been floating around here for decades.” “I know who she is.” Norm replied in an enforced calm that was so unlike him I actually quit thinking about Vella and became interested in the discussion. “How?” I knew I was going to regret asking. He’d probably drift off into some paranoid diatribe about the government or how someone was after him. Norm had conspiracy theories about everything. But I was really interested in his opinion, for entertainment value, if nothing else. “The technology of that little self-contained cryo-capsule is way beyond our 23rd century tinker-toys. She scans as human/normal in every respect, yet her brain is functioning on a level beyond anything humanly possible.” He about tonight,

“Medi-scan reports that she’s 100% human: “Yeah, I’ll bet you’re exhausted,” I told period.” I reminded him. “Maybe she’s a lin- her as I tucked her limp hand under the thin guistics professor.” medical blanket I’d covered her with. I turned on a medical link, so I’d know when she woke “Yeah? And maybe the medi-scan terminal up, and left the compartment as quietly as I is what’s broken!” could.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
was warming to the subject and getting excited. “People don’t—no. That would mean—” My His voice was getting louder. “Her language has thoughts were a whirl of erroneous timelines been identified by the computer…” trying to mesh with new facts. I freely admit to sounding like something of an idiot. “You mean deciphered.” I began. “It means,” he prompted, “that we just “I mean identified,” he insisted, “and blew out the theory of evolution and humanlanguages don’t just spring from the ity’s entire concept of our species in a single dirt. Like-languages prove associ- moment.” ation—they prove a relationship”. “Okay, so who’s she related to?” Stan was “You mean because of this girl,” Stan broke getting bored with Norm’s meandering line of in, “all those scientists who’ve been saying reasoning. man evolved from monkeys for four centuries are going to be out of a job? Man, they won’t “Us,” Norm told him. like that.” “So? Great. She’s related to us.” Stan almost “Monkeys?” Norm snapped. “I’ll tell you yawned. “She’s a normal person and she’s about monkeys. You see—oh great brainy related to us. Wow, exciting.” one—on planet earth, ten-to-twelve thousand years ago, someone went and shook her family I knew Norm better than that. He was building to something, something smug, some tree and we are the monkeys who fell out!” I-told-you-so idea that he could toss into our “Because she speaks—” faces. “Proto Indo-European, yes,” Norm insisted. “What language does she speak?” I was curious enough to feed him the line he was “No one’s spoken Proto Indo-European waiting for. in more than six thousand years.” I informed him. “The computer has positively identified her linguistic pattern,” he orated melodramatically, “If no one speaks it, then how do—” “as what’s commonly called Proto Indo-Europe“No, no one speaks it,” I admitted, not an.” waiting for him to finish, “but we have scraps “So?” Stan disappointed Norm with his and cross references throughout a hundred ignorance. other languages that indicate they all came from a single source.” “No.” I wasn’t as linguistically uninformed. “No, because people don’t speak Proto Indo“Proto Indo-European?” He looked at me European. That’s a…” and I nodded. “And she speaks it?” “It’s a positive match!” he insisted.

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ancestors. Find out where her home planet is, and you may just find the source of all human life.” “Oh, come ON,” Stan scoffed. “Maybe it’s a scam. Someone taught her this ancient language—” “No! She taught the computer.” Norm cut him off. “We only have pieces of the language. “In one hour of recording, she’s increased humanity’s information on our linguistic base more than professional linguists have in five centuries of study!” “So now we’re going to put the linguists out of business too?” Stan asked. “Man, we’re not going to be welcome anywhere, are we?” “It’s not funny!” Norm’s face began to turn purple. “This is going to rip academia wide open!” “Yeah, well I don’t care a fig about what a bunch of old professors teach in school.” Stan refused to get excited. “We can give her a lift back to the Rock and let her turn science on its ear on her own time.” “But we have to do studies. You can’t just—” “Norm,” I cut him off before he burst a blood vessel, “if you really believe it’s that important, you put what you’ve found out into a report and I’ll forward it to the Co-op Regulator, okay?

“As far as I’m concerned, she’s simply a refugee we saved while mining in the belt. She’s to be granted limited access throughout “Absolutely identified.” Norm assured him. the ship, and she’s not to be bothered with any “Her people, wherever they come from, are our weird experiments.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
“But we should test her!” “You heard the skipper, Geek-boy,” Stan was happy to chime in, “no experiments—nothing kinky, you know?” “Enough!” I had to shut Stan up before he pushed Norm’s cringing nature too far and they started a real brawl. “I’ll expect you both to treat her like a VIP aboard this ship.” “Or…?” Stan demanded mockingly. “Or I’ll kick your ass up around your ears.” I warned him quietly. her stomach to try a different motion. When she flinched at that, I mentally kicked myself.

Pg. 22
swift and precise. She made figures of fantastical animals and of people draped in clothing of forgotten fashions. Each piece seemed to “Of course, how stupid of me.” I had to have a life of its own—some happy, others remember she was 100% human. “Two big sad, no few angry or tormented. She turned glasses of water and an hour’s time.” I escorted out an army of human figures, doubtless real her to the restroom and took her hands through people whose lives had winked out on some a review of the sink knobs and toilet handle, alien world. displaying how each worked before leaving her alone. “It’s eerie.” Stan commented with as much awe as his flippant personality could muster. It was an odd feeling, her being so “Every little figure tells a story in a look or dependent. When I heard the toilet flush, I position.” knew her dependence wouldn’t last long. There was nothing slow about that woman. “They’re beautiful!” Norm exclaimed. “They’re creepy.” Stan disagreed. “We’re not getting any work done while we’re sitting here watching,” I reminded them. “Four days back to the Rock,” Stan said. “I vote we head back now, before things get any stranger.” “Have you finished that report you wanted me to send?” I asked Norm. “It’s waiting on your screen,” he replied, “ready to go.” “All right,” I told them, “I can see when I’m out of my depth. Norm, make scans of all the items she’s sculpted and include them with the report. Stan, point our nose for the Rock. Let’s get her to someone who might be qualified to figure things out.” In another day she’d turned out hundreds of figurines and taught the computer her language. With a medium of communication established, she began to question the computer about our technology. It was not wide-eyed, super-

“That’s what I thought.” he said with a # snicker. “Don’t let things get too personal, Glenn.” he continued more soberly. “About a week from now she’s off-loading. Don’t start The computer had gained the ability to something you can’t finish.” translate simple requests for her and she had asked for something to do with her hands while I don’t know what I was going to reply she continued recording her linguistic dissertabecause the medical monitor went off warning tion. me that Vella was waking up. I left without a word. Maybe I was letting it get too personal, We’d almost offered her a foam ball to but she shouldn’t wake up to a cold, empty knead...which she might’ve accepted and medical compartment. spared us another surprise. Instead, though, we powdered some rock and made her a sort I took her hand when she butchered my of porcelain clay. She sculpted with it distractname. “G-lenn?” She was swathed in a world edly while she spoke. She had smashed and of calm darkness but I knew there were still re-used it three time before we began taking alien sounds and sensations surrounding her. the finished figures away from her and giving “I’m here, Vella.” I told her, and I think she her more clay. They were masterpieces. smiled under the bandages that covered most “She’s another Michelangelo.” Norm of her face. whispered to me as he set one of the intricately “I thought you’d sleep longer. Are you at the crafted pieces on a panel to dry. “Look life hungry?” She cocked her head, so I took her each one.” and movement she’s sculpted into hand and motioned with it to her mouth. She shook her head and I didn’t know if she couldn’t Like her linguistic skills, her sculpting was understand or wasn’t hungry. I put her hand to

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
ficial questioning. She researched our science, “Bracil,” she said. “My world is Bracil. It is mathematics, engineering, biology, physics, time I returned.” software— everything. “Is there any way you can show us where “She’s like a military biological intrusion it is?” I asked. “We found you floating in an device,” Norm commented as we watched a asteroid belt, in the remains of a shattered display of her discussing physiology with the planet. Heaven only knows how you got there computer in her own language, “and she knows or how long you’ve been drifting.” exactly what questions to ask.” “The constellations I know,” she replied. “I “Maybe it’s time we asked some questions can create a map if for you wish.” She brushed of our own?” Stan suggested. a hand across her bandaged eyes and added, “But I must be able to—with my fingers see it.” “Please do.” When she replied in English, Norm’s eyes got big and Stan’s narrowed. Well, we gave it a try. We glued together some wide sheets of packing paper from a “A little now your language abides in me.” crate and hung them up from the ceiling with Her words were choppy and misconstructed, scavenged wire. Using a stylus made from a but she was clear enough. piece of sharpened scrap steel, she began poking holes in the paper. She sang a haunting “You’ve learned English already?” I asked. melody interlaced with strange words as she worked. Her voice was a resonant contralto “Some I learn, yes.” with a lyrical, hypnotic quality to it. “You’re quite brilliant,” I told her. She cocked We were so lost in listening to the mesmerher head in curiosity. She said something to the izing song, it was several minutes before we computer and it translated; then she laughed. “Ah brilliant—not light—alternative meaning. comprehended the full scope of the project Yes, I learn quickly. It is my nature. I am the she was creating. I was expecting a sort of diagram with some constellations; what she vessel.” was making was a complete map of all stars “You are the vessel?” I asked. visible from her planet. found no matching area of space.

Pg. 23

“Could it be somewhere unexplored?” I asked. “Could Miss Perfect have made a mistake?” Stan needled. Vella stopped working and brushed sensitive fingers across the paper to feel her work. “No,” she said, “my rendition is correct and complete.” “Maybe the computer just needs some more data,” I suggested. “Or maybe she’s right and our current data is wrong,” Norm mumbled. “Our navigational data might be wrong?” Stan scoffed. “Maybe,” Norm replied distractedly as he typed in commands, “or maybe we’re right, and so is she.” Norm was watching the computer screen as he talked. “Maybe her constellations just aren’t in the same place anymore.” “You think the stars moved?” I asked. The computer beeped and flashed an alert that it had a match. Norm pushed away from the screen.

“My world dead. All people scattered. “This is going to take a while,” Stan “Well, where do they match?” When ice come—came—when ice came, I was whispered. chosen.” Without a word Norm pointed to the “You have something more pressing to do?” visiplate displaying the stars around us. “Chosen?” Stan asked. “Chosen to survive?” I asked. He replied with a noncommittal shrug and found a seat. “They don’t match here,” Stan insisted with “No, my people scattered through space. I a snort. was chosen to stay. I am the vessel.” When she’d finished a huge swath that covered maybe a quarter of the room, Norm “No,” agreed. “But they did twelve “What planet?” had the computer scan it and try to match. It thousandNorm ago.” years

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
“You mean Panoran III is Bracil?” I asked.

Pg. 24

to agree. “And if our people are in a bind, think getting killed over it.” of the ‘Stellar-wide’ mining company who’ve “It looks like it.” Norm said with a nod. “The put all their billions into terraforming Panoran “I’m afraid he’s right, Vella,” I told her. planet did just come out of a mini-ice age. She III? In another decade they’ll be ready to sell “There’s no way we can get you there at this said that’s what made her people leave.” it as prime real estate to five hundred million time. I’m sorry.” I could feel her disappointpeople. They’ll never risk her getting to a ment and it made my guts wilt, but there was “Well, that’s a long time to wait around for court.” nothing I could do about it. a planet to recover,” Stan mused. She didn’t sing or talk the rest of the “What do we do?” Norm asked in a panic. “Oh no,” Norm became more pale than I’d afternoon, and I found the ship very empty ever seen him. “That report we sent—” “We just don’t tell anyone.” I said. “We’ll without the sound of her voice. take her—“ “Yeah, it was okay,” I told him. “It was just # a report.” “I must go home.” Vella cut in. “I must return “If they even suspect she’s indigenous, it’s to my world.” The insistent ringing of my video-link woke a death warrant!” He looked as though he was “Not until we’re sure they’re not going to me in the middle of the night. It was Don going to vomit. try and make you disappear.” I told her. “We’ve McClaren, my supervisor back on the Rock. “Look, Glenn,” Stan smirked, “you’ve got got to think this out.” “Yeah?” I gave him a bleary greeting when Normy back onto his conspiracy theories again. I answered. “I must return,” she insisted. There’s people out to kill us because we sent a “Glenn? What the devil are you doing?” report—” “They’ll kill you,” I told her bluntly. “I was asleep until you called.” I grouched “Not us,” Norm cut him off, “her! Her! The “All people die,” she said with a shrug. “My at him. “If you mean, why are we coming in, I last survivor of the indigenous race of this world has been waiting for thousands of years. sent you a report. We found a refugee in cryo system! Don’t you see? Oh they could argue it I must go home. I am the vessel.” amongst the rubble. We’re almost full anyway, out in court, but it’d be easier to just kill her!” “What do you mean, you are ‘the vessel’?” so we’re coming back—” “What are you talking about, Norm?” She stroked a hand down the map she’d “I got that.” he cut me off. “I mean, why “This system was classified as uninhabited, been creating and explained, “I am the vessel. have you diverted toward Panoran III? Stellar you morons!” he explained. “If she’s a proven I carry the culture and knowledge of all the Wide’s been burning up the Regulator’s link survivor of the indigenous population, she has people of Bracil. If I am to die, I shall die upon with all sorts of claims about a conspiracy for prior claim! You don’t think our co-op is going the soil of my home world.” the co-op to take over the entire system.” to lose out on mining rights because we found “What’s all this talk about dying?” Norm “Panoran III?” I wasn’t quite awake yet but a lone survivor of a people scattered over demanded. “Look, we can just smuggle her that caught my attention. twelve thousand years ago, do you? “They’ll make sure she never reaches anyone who away on a transport out of the system.” He “Look, they’re might encourage her to exert her right of prior looked at Vella and added, “You can come back They’ve sent outtalking full planetary blockade. patrol ships and everything. in a year or so the same way. You show up on claim.” I know you’ve got some high-minded ideas Bracil then, and no one even knows who you “He might be right.” I could tell Stan hated are, right? You’re home and no one ends up about right and wrong, but don’t take the

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
Norman Rose into some battle over planetary sovereignty. You’d have no more chance than a candle in a hurricane!” embrace for an eternity while wandering in frozen dreams. I must go home.”

Pg. 25
gets out we’ll have Galactic Patrol troops all over this system!” “There’s no case against them if there are no witnesses.” I told him. “I’m re-transing the signal to our folks on the Rock. They may not like what’s going on, but they haven’t tried to kill us yet.” “Yet being the operative word,” Norm added. “Better get ready for a fight.” I ignored Norm. “Pressure suits all around.” “Do we have a plan?” Norm asked with big eyes. “We’ll try not to get killed.” I told him. “Other than that we’ll play it by ear.” I thought he might be inclined to wet his pants at the prospect, but Norm gave a sort of a sigh and went to go collect pressure suits with Stan. “You will fight?” Vella asked. “You will protect me?” “As best as I’m able.” I told her. “We’re an unarmed mining ship.” “Why?” She asked curiously. “They have a bigger ship, and probably more men.” “Because it’s the right thing to do.” I told her. After several moments of thought, she stood up and waved for me to follow her. As we walked through the ship, she began unwrapping the bandages that covered her eyes.

She was an almost faceless stranger, “But I didn’t— “ his accusation finally regis- bandaged up like a mummy and wrapped in tered. “Vella! She must’ve reprogrammed the an off-white disposable hospital gown, but ship’s course!” the pleading in her voice made my chest hurt. Worse still, there wasn’t a thing in the universe “How could she do that?” he demanded. I could do to help her. “This woman can pretty much do anything “Norman  Rose, this is the Fang,” a stern she puts her mind to.” I told him as I pulled on voice came over our audio system. “You are a shirt. ordered to heave-to and be boarded.” “Well you’d better redirect before she gets “What?” I looked on-screen where an old you all killed!” he ordered. class IV tug was approaching us at flank speed. It was a heap, but it out-classed “Yeah, thanks.” I hit the off switch and ran Rose in both speed and range. Ithe Norman  suppose it for the bridge. worked as well as any ship in the system as an Vella was there. She’d taken over the ship interceptor. and scrambled the computer access codes. I felt my bile rise. I slammed a hand down onto the transmit button of a comm panel. She was sitting stubbornly in a chair in front of the navigational console. Lucky for “Fang, we’re in open space; you have no right me the Norman  Rose was a crude old tub to board us!” with mechanical hatchways that the computer “We have the right of superior speed and couldn’t lock-down. firepower, sonny,” their captain replied. “You “Vella…” I came in and pulled a chair up have a passenger we’ve been ordered to escort beside her to talk. “Honey, you can’t get home out of the system. We’re taking her whether like this.” I took her hand and she let me you allow it or not.” hold it while her back remained stiff and her “This is piracy, Fang,” I warned him. “You bandaged face stared off into the darkness of want her? Try and take her!” I slammed off the her current world. “They’ll just blow us out of transmit button with a fist. the sky before we get there.” and Stan were “I was not fully asleep,” she told me, her thatBoth Norm call to heave-toon the bridge by time. The had been translanguage smoothing out through interaction. mitted all over the ship. “All the long centuries… For you, another year may not seem to make a difference. For me it “Are you crazy?” Norm demanded. is a lifetime. My world is almost close enough to reach out and touch. I have waited for its “Are they crazy?” Stan corrected. “If this

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
“Careful,” I warned her, “you’re not fully healed yet.” She ignored my concern and with dark eyes blinking at the glare of the lights, led me to the cargo bay where we’d pulled her from her cryo-capsule. She went inside the dark husk of her capsule and came out with a metallic suitcase. We hadn’t really searched the capsule since evacuating her, and I suppose I hadn’t considered that she’d have equipment stored on-board. When she ripped loose the disposable dressing gown she’d been wearing, I sort of started and turned my back in deference to the unbandaged portions of her the act displayed. She took no time for modesty though. When my curiosity piqued me to turn back, she was dressed in a sort of body suit of golden liquid metal and was strapping on a gunbelt supporting a pair of holsters. to kiss me. Instead, she pulled her left-hand weapon and fired a bolt of some sort of directed electrical plasma that blasted a hunk out of her capsule hull. “These may help. Are you familiar with their use?” she asked. “Too familiar, I’m afraid.” I assured her. “Signature-safety.” she jabbed a series of buttons on the side of the polished silver weapon, then pressed the grip firmly into my right hand. “You can use it now, but no one else can.”

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little scuffle either: good. This should be quite a surprise party for our uninvited guests.” He hefted a wicked wrecking axe he’d picked up from one of the fire stations. “How many minutes?” I asked as I slid into a pressure suit. “Five or six,” Stan reported, “and they have a boarding portal mounted forward.” “All right, you two take care of any who come through the airlock. I expect they’ll have their shock troops prepared to deploy through the boarding portal. Vella and I will stop them forward.”

I thrust the muzzle into my belt and we headed back to meet up with Stan and Norm. “Anything else?” Stan asked. Vella did some sort of a womanly flip with her “Sure, they’ll have more men than we do, hair and had it secured in a knotty-bun at the but not a squad of marines or anything like that. back of her head in a few moments. They haven’t had time to field a real warship. The crew’s conversation stalled when we The Fang is just a routine security interceptor. entered, and I was surprised It was the first time I’d really seen her a .40 caliber Davis & General to see Norm with Their HQ sent her to stop us, and she’ll give it automatic belted a good try. without a face full of smoke and steam or on over his pressure suit. covered in burn gel. She was a handsome “My idea is to board her and capture her. woman—not take-your-breath-away gorgeous “Where’d you get that?” I asked. With a faster ship, we have a chance to get like a painted-up fantasy model, but with the Vella to Panoran III.” ‘girl next door’ sort of healthy good looks that “All the time Normy’s been badgering us caught a man’s serious attention. Her black about following the letter of the law,” Stan “Now we’re taking her home?” Norm asked. hair was long and straight, and her skin had a said, “he’s had a very illegal personal side-arm “What about the planetary defensive satellites? dark, coppery tone to it. stashed aboard. Could’ve gotten us all in a What about…” world of trouble, eh Norm?” As we looked at each other, she stepped “I’m not asking you to come, Norm.” I cut forward and brushed a hand down my cheek “I…I…” Norm began, but Stan didn’t let him off. “You men will be in enough trouble asking, “Are you disappointed?” him finish whatever excuse he’d been going to with the co-op already. When we capture the give. Fang, you’ll pilot the Norman Rose back to the “In you?” It took me by surprise and I Rock while I take Vella on to Panoran III.” realized I’d been staring. “Never.” “I like this side of Norm.” Stan slapped him on the back. “Too bad we don’t see more of it. I held out a pressure suit to Vella and told For just a moment, looking into her deep, her, “There won’t be any air.” But she smiled dark eyes, I thought she was going lean forward “And I see our guest isn’t backward about a and shook her head. With a brush of a fingertip,

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
the liquid metal of her clothing swept up into a helmet.

Pg. 27

our end, I heard the boarding portal latch on unarmed miners. just behind the bridge and the cutters whine. We met Stan and Norm at the engine room There was an explosion, and a chunk of our hull “That’s amazing!” Stan said seriously. blasted inward. I nodded and Vella and I raced with a final enemy holding them off by firing from behind the cover of a bulkhead. Vella “How does that work?” Norm asked while around to meet the boarding party. touched a control on the side of her weapon— securing his helmet. I was in the lead and fired a blast into the obviously a power setting—and put a bolt right a twitching through the bulkhead end the battle. The “Your people have not gone beyond basic first soldier that dropped him in tripped over whole fight was over in to few minutes. heap on our deck. The next man a nano-technology.” she explained. “Mine him, and Vella downed the third. Rushing mastered transmutational molecular technol- forward, I gave the fallen man a heavy boot in “Clear the bodies, collect their weapons, ogy five thousand years before your world was the helmet as I fired through the hatchway to and seal the hatches.” I ordered. “I’ll make colonized. a quick scan for the police report. Let’s go, kill a fourth. Then I was aboard their ship. people. There will be more on their way. ” “This suit is not impervious to battle, but it I smoked two more in the corridor with is stronger than skin and responds to my will.” only a single shot fired wildly in return. They A roaring volley of shots resounded in the narrow hallway. We had let down our guard “I told you,” Norm said, “this is a crime were expecting a turkey shoot rather than a too soon. It was the man I’d kicked. Inside his against science! She needs to talk to our battle, and when I blasted the latch to their helmet I could see blood coming from his nose, leaders and our scientists. She could advance bridge hatchway, the pilot and captain were but he was still alive and shooting. I heard science and civilization by centuries in a single still scanning navigational panels. Norm yell and I pushed Vella out of the way conversation!” As I kicked open the hatch, they wheeled as I drew and fired. The bolt caught him dead“Well, let’s hope she gets that chance,” Stan and grabbed for their sidearms. They were center, knocking him galleywaist and dropping him to the deck like a lump of smoking clay. said earnestly. He waved to Norm and they much too slow on the draw. headed back toward the main airlock to try “You are quite a savage person, G-lenn,” I Norm was cursing, holding his arm where and hold off the boarding party. heard Vella say, but it was more of an evalu- his suit was venting air and spraying blood. I secured my helmet and called over the ation than an accusation. “I would not have “Stan, patch his suit and get these hatchways PA system, “I’ve turned up masking interfer- guessed.” sealed so we can repressurize—” I stopped as ence fields to scramble their scanners and I’m “I am what I have to be.” I told her. Philoso- Vella slid slowly down the wall she was leaning depressurizing for combat—now.” phy could be discussed another time. against. I picked up a spare pistol and waved her toward the stern. I was out of practice but I was still better than the rent-a-cops ‘Stellarwide’ mining company had hired. They’d have never lasted a day in real combat. Vella followed along watching my back. She didn’t have much to do because they came out of the woodwork like lemmings jumping off a cliff. I can only presume they were used to bullying When she hit the deck, she folded forward with her hands clutching her ribs. There was blood on the wall, but her suit had closed and resealed on its own. I picked her up carefully and carried her toward the medical compartment, shouting, “Lock-down this ship and bring Norm to medical!”

If we were divinely blessed, they’d attack thinking we had atmosphere and board without suits, but I doubted it. They latched on with both ships still roaring under full drive, a tricky combat maneuver I had to admit I could never have managed. I heard the airlock blow toward the stern and prayed Stan and Norm would be able to handle whatever might arrive from that direction. At

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
# “G-lenn?” I was there when she opened her eyes. “I’m right here, Honey, you just relax.” I took her hand and replied. “Hmmm, and more…” Stan added. Along about that time I was really glad she was human, because I couldn’t imagine feeling about some alien the way I felt about that woman. “That’s semantics!”

Pg. 28

“Anyway, call it what you like, Normy here is an A-1 hacker.” “Can you actually boggle their satellite defense network?” I asked. “For a while…” he said. “I mean, they’ll sort it out in a few hours, but I can give you a window.” “That’s a better chance than we had before,” I told him. “Yeah, now if it wasn’t for the whole fleet of pesky old ships trying to catch us before we get there,” Stan interjected with as much sarcasm as he could squeeze out, “it’d be a piece of cake.”

“Well when you two get finished,” Stan “That—that is what you call a ‘pet name,’ said, “I’ll let you know that Norm thinks he can Honey?” She asked, taking my hand. “It shows disable their satellite defense grid.” affection?” “What?” It surprised me out of my very “Yes,” I admitted, “it shows affection.” warm, trance-like state. “Good,” she sighed and relaxed back into “You see, Normy’s been holding out on us.” her pillow. “You are very savage, but I have affection for you also.” “You never asked.” Norm said defensively. I laughed and told her, “I think my mother said something like that when I was twelve.” She drew me close to wrap her arm around my shoulders, putting her cheek next to mine to whisper, “I do not have feelings like I am your mother.” I pulled back just far enough to look into her deep eyes. My heart was thundering so loud I didn’t hear Stan and Norm come in behind me. “Wow, he checked on me, what, once all the time I was in here?” Norm said loud enough to distract me. “And he’s been sitting by her bed for twelve or fourteen hours. It shows how he values his crew.” “Nawww,” Stan corrected, “it just shows she’s a better hugger than you.” “Yeah, the reason he’s hiding out here in the great inky, is, he’s running from the law.” “Nothing was ever proven in court—” he tried to interject.

“Hey,” I told him, “you had a ride right back to the Rock in the Norman Rose. No one made “He skipped out with a warrant outstand- you stay aboard the Fang.” ing.” “Yeah, well maybe I was just hoping for a plan with a little more chance for success than “It had never been served—” simply butting into these folks head-first.” “Stole a police vehicle.” “I was planning on evasive maneuvering and speed,” I told them, “but I’m open to other “I couldn’t get a cab—” suggestions if anyone has any.” “And hopped the first deepspace vessel to “I’ve got one,” Stan said. systems far-far-away.” “I like to travel—” “Go.” “I suggest Norm and I find something to use as seat belts ‘cause I’ve got a suspicion this is going to be one rough ride!” “Really, Glenn,” he became serious, “I think you might want to reconsider heading back to

Normy, Normy, Normy,” Stan said while shaking his head. “When we hack into a bank’s computer and have it transfer lots of money I started to pull away from her to reply, but into our account before we go, we don’t call it Vella took hold of the back of my neck and ‘travel,’ we call it running away.” pulled me down to kiss me.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

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The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
the Rock.” future generations will be up to posterity to judge, not Vella Deywòs of Mu.”

Pg. 29
us head-to-head and just kept coming. In the end though, he decided he wasn’t getting paid to kill himself after all, and turned off close enough for his retro-rockets to sear the paint from our hull. Then we were through, and I nosed down to break atmosphere in a spiral that would land us upon the plateau Vella said was the location of the city of Mu twelve thousand years ago. Some of the wispy cloud cover nearby steamed and cleared in oddly perfect holes. A graphic display of how close the lasers of the defense satellites were shooting at us. Norm’s hacking seemed to do the job, though. Wherever they were aiming, it wasn’t at us. The Fang hit the dirt in a perfect landing and settled down in a cloud of dust. Gravity was normal but the air was hardly enough to support human life. It would be another decade before the oxygen generators, as big as they were, could produce enough to allow humans to breathe without life support. It was a big, cold, dreary planet. Vella and I stepped down the ramp as though we owned the whole place, which in reality, she probably did. There were six spacecraft coming down right behind us, and I could make out three armored transport planes approaching across the desert landscape. “You may all go now.” she told us without turning. “I am home.” “So am I.” As I told her, I put my arm around her.

“It’s all well and good for us to get there,” Norm put in, “but how do we get away again? “You’re from Mu?” Norm broke the spell of All those ships you evade will be on our tail. her voice to ask. The satellites will eventually come back under “That is my home city,” she replied. their control. The guys with guns aren’t going to like us busting into their territory.” “On the planet Bracil—Hy-Brasil!” Norm said with a bellow of laughter. “Do you know “You can leave as soon as I am dropped off.” Vella assured them. “I do not ask you to how many human legends she explains? stay. I plead with you only to deliver me to my “Count me in! It’d be worth immanent home.” death if I can just imagine the look on my college Humanities Professor’s face when even “You won’t be safe, you know.” I told her. a fraction of what she knows gets published.” “My love—” It gave me a thrill to hear her We all stared at Stan. He shrugged his say those words. “No one in the galaxy is ever truly safe. Safety is only an illusion. I will not be shoulders and said with a sigh, “Well, I guess I dissuaded by any fear of the future. I do what wasn’t doing anything else important anyway.” I must do, regardless of the cost. I will not be And so we approached Panoran III praying safe, but I will be home.” we could outmaneuver their screen of ships, “I never had a home,” Stan said quietly, “not praying that Norm could outfox their satellite defense network, and praying we wouldn’t like that.” crash and burn before we touched down. “You will when you learn to fight for it,” she It was nerve-wracking, but I’d been through told him. plenty of those type days before. It was new to “If I’d fought to stay anywhere,” he told her, Norm and Stan, and I felt sorry for them. Vella “I’d probably be dead.” was different. The thought of death seemed to have no hold upon her. Maybe she was all “All humanity dies, but a few of us are human, but her emotional control was certainly blessed with a chance at a memorable death, more evolved than ours. a worthwhile death, a death that might mean something to future generations.” I went into the first blockade ship like screaming death. Not wanting to have anything “And you think dieing for this mud ball to do with an insane game of chicken, the is going to inspire future generations?” he captain sheered-off. The second ship, which demanded. was cutting across our bow, was a little braver collision too. The fourth “I think I am going home,” Vella replied but turned to avoidas crazy as I am. He met captain was almost quietly, “and whether my journey inspires

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
“Thank you.” She pressed her helmet against my chest. “I…I wanted you here, but I was afraid to ask.” “You don’t ever have to ask.” I assured her. “So…” Norm hitched at his gunbelt. “What’s the plan?” clothes going?” The liquid suit she’d worn was running off her skin like water, starting at her feet and sloughing off higher and higher as she walked.

Pg. 30
seemed to be where we had landed. But it was not simple volcanic activity. The volcanoes were blasting steam and oxygen, then settling back and cooling into mountain ranges.

“So your suit was the key?” Norm asked As her helmet dissolved in a golden mist and Vella. settled into droplets over her naked shoulders, she spread her arms wide in the caressing “No, I am the vessel. I hold the codes and “The plan is—” Stan hefted a scavenged breeze of her world and called to the invaders, knowledge. The suit was only a simple connecpistol in each hand. “We shoot ‘em until they tion to the transmutational molecular technolquit coming.” “Welcome to my home!” ogy embedded within the planet.” “You can’t think of anything else more When she spoke, it was not only the thin “Simple, she says.” Stan grumbled as he important to do?” Vella asked him. air of Bracil that carried her voice, it was the looked out the viewport at the world of black mountains, the canyons, and the plateaus that “I figure,” he replied, “I’ve never had spread across the whole of the face of the smoke, storm winds and glowing magma. anything more important to do in my life.” world. “And this is the rebirth of a world,” Norm said in awe as we sat safely in the eye of a She patted him on the shoulder and told The planet itself knew her!  swirling hurricane, “all condensed into…?” him, “Welcome home, Stan.” The ground shook and shattered, storm “The stored underground air will Ships were landing, encircling us. Dust winds howled, volcanic jets of magma and have been released onto the water andsurface planetary was kicking up and catching in the thin Bra- steam erupted from the landscape as far as in about forty days.” cillian breeze. Armed men were offloading in the eye could see. The surface of the planet streams. became a churning, boiling mass. Then the “Forty days and forty nights?” Norm asked hurricanes hit, roaring with a force that swept with a laugh. “Looks like they really turned out the dogs.” planes from the air and raked rising spaceships Stan said. “Yes, why?” from the sky. It all happened so quickly I barely “Well,” I told him, “those anal-ized big-shots had time to run out and grab Vella before she “You didn’t perhaps know Noah, did you?” over at ‘Stellar-wide’ always were heavy on tumbled to the ground. cash and light on guts.” “I had an Uncle Noah—” While the geological hell swirled around us, We were talking ourselves up to the fight I placed an emergency tandem breathing mask “Another time, Norm.” I stopped his queswhen Vella walked away from our group. She over her face and carried her back to the ship. tioning. “Another time.” moved slowly, almost at a stroll toward where “What about life?” Stan asked. # troops were collecting. set up “Ummm, Glenn—” Norm’s curious tone was I didn’t have to do a scan to prove we were by “A galactic resonance has been replied. the reawakening of Bracil.” Vella completely incongruous with our situation, but the last living beings upon the planet. The neither Stan nor I noticed; we were witness- entire surface was reforming in an impossible “Those people upon planets where we are ing the same thing he was. “Where are Vella’s geological upheaval. The only stable section remembered will bring seeds and animals to

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The One Chosen by Robert Mancebo
begin repopulation. This world will become a bounteous garden in a few short years. “My task is completed. I am no longer critical to the regeneration process, although my skills may be helpful.” “So what about people?” I asked. “They will come in time. I am not critical to that process either—” she leaned close and whispered, “although our skills may be helpful.”

Pg. 31

Robert Mancebo
I’m a former soldier, locksmith, and technician.    I’ve had dark and historical fantasy published  both on-line and in various magazines.  

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

No Good Deed An Aston West Tale by T.M.Hunter

No Good Deed

Pg. 32

An Aston West Tale by T.M.Hunter

“N

o new messages, Aston.” My ship’s computer sounded apologetic, except electrons and emotions didn’t mix.

What can I say? I’m a glutton for disappointment. I clasped my hands behind my neck. “Any way to tell if someone’s aboard?” “The only signal is automated. No accompanying message.” I smiled, taking it as a good sign. One of my cargo bays was still available. Maybe fate had been toying with me all along. “Move to intercept.” The aft thrusters fired and we turned away from the beacon. # I was disappointed when the ship finally came into range. Typhoons were short as far as interstellar transports go, barely capable of space travel and definitely not designed for use inside an atmosphere. It only had one bay on-board. Anyone hauling valuable cargo would have sprung for something bigger. “What a waste,” I muttered to myself. The squat hull hung between a pair of stubby wings, while two vertical fins rose up diagonally on either side of the aft end. A single exhaust nozzle stuck out, dormant against the starfield behind it. “I do not detect any life forms on the ship and see no listing of cargo in the manifest.”

I shook my head and sighed. “Just my luck.” “Shall I blow the hatch just to make sure?” “Sure, why not?” The cargo door burst open between the vertical fins, but there was no more excitement to follow. “It does not appear any cargo is on-board.” “Is the original course still laid in?” “Affirmative.” I almost uttered out my command to resume course, but a white flash filled the viewscreen before I had a chance. “What was that?” Jeanie ignored my question. “Incoming transmission.” I blinked and cleared my vision. “Put it through.” My viewscreen split into three sections. Along the left, two windows were stacked for the conversation. The other side showed me two ships had just dropped in unannounced. One was a small transport similar to mine, while the other one was an AI-5 fighter-interceptor. This couldn’t be good.

I leaned back and sighed. “Course still laid in?” “Affirmative.” A metal sphere hovered on my forward viewscreen against the backdrop of the galaxy. I’d hoped to at least find a nibble of a job to tide me over financially. That’s what I’ve come to expect from hope. Jeanie drew my attention away from the communication beacon. “I’m picking up an emergency signal.” I frowned and sighed. “How close?” “Approximately five megpars out.” It was just long enough for a hyperspeed jump, barely. I didn’t feel like wasting most of my fuel, though. My bank accounts would never forgive me. “How are we doing on time?” “Well ahead of schedule.” Out of desperation, I’d agreed to carry some family’s personal belongings to some far-off world I’d never heard of—not very valuable cargo, and the final payment would prove it. At least it would keep me afloat until I found another source of income. So I hoped.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

No Good Deed An Aston West Tale by T.M.Hunter
“Shut down your navigation computer or we’ll open fire.” I looked up at the thin, wiry pirate in the upper communication window. He sat in the fighter’s cockpit, his body covered with numerous markings and nothing else. I was glad the screen only showed his upper body, because there was no reason for me to find out whether his lower half was similarly exposed. He scratched his grey beard and growled. “Shut it down!” My ship could probably hit hyperspeed before any significant damage was done, but there was no reason to chance it. My cargo wasn’t valuable enough to sacrifice my life to these fools. “Jeanie, shut it down.” The navigation console went dark. He reached up and wiped his glistening scalp. “Now, dump your cargo.” Even though it wasn’t valuable, this cargo was still my only means of financial support for the time being. I had no intention of letting these fools deprive me of my livelihood. At least not without some effort on their part. “Don’t you even want to know what it is first?” They thought they had just ended up with a glorious payoff. I almost smiled. He snarled. “Doesn’t matter.” “Tell us anyway.”

Pg. 33
The fighter pilot became red-faced. “Are you calling me stupid?”

I looked down at the bottom window, where two more pirates sat in a cockpit which mirrored The third pirate mimicked his tone. “Are my own. The pirate in the second seat had to you calling my brother stupid?” be a relative of the one in the fighter, based on The transport pilot traded glances with his facial features and body type. Other than both of them. “I said the idea was stupid. Are ragged garments in place of the natural look, the only difference was his colored moustache you two both brain-dead?” and grey wisps of hair around his ears. I realized a window of opportunity had opened, and I needed to capitalize on the disTheir friend in the fighter became agitated. traction. I eased my hand over and muted the “It doesn’t matter!” transmission. “Jeanie, are you still hacked into The pilot of the second ship frowned. “It the stranded ship’s computer?” won’t hurt to find out.” “Yes, Aston.” He seemed reasonable, as far as pirates go. “Get ready to bring the navigation computer It was a good indicator of my chances. back up.” “A family hired me to transport three con“The flight plan has been stored in another tainers of personal belongings to their new section of my memory. I thought we might home.” need it.” “Are you kidding me?” I smirked. “Good girl.” The black stubble on top of his chubby “Fire a rocket to distract them.” head and under his multiple chins disappeared amidst a red tint of embarrassment. The stud “Shall I acquire a target?” through his nose almost glowed. He turned to his on-board partner. “We wait all this time for someone to show up, and he doesn’t even have cargo worth taking?” The one in the fighter responded. “We’ll take what we can get.” “And do what with it? Unloading the stuff won’t even cover the cost of the fuel for the jump we just made. I told you this was a stupid idea.” I thought about destroying all of them, but leaving them alive was punishment enough. Putting them out of their misery would have been too easy. “Just fire it blind. Try not to hit anyone.” I returned to the three squabbling, just as a rocket ejected out of the Typhoon’s belly. It launched out into the darkness between the two pirate ships. The fighter pilot noticed first. “What the...”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

No Good Deed An Aston West Tale by T.M.Hunter
He launched a pair of his own rockets which A rocket ejected from their belly and lit off. impacted the Typhoon moments later. A huge Without targeting information pre-loaded, it explosion ripped the ship apart and extin- guided itself toward the first contact it saw in guished itself a moment later. Debris scattered its immediate flight path. from the scene of the crime. The fighter, fortunately for me. I hadn’t expected this to happen. Sometimes “No!” The dead man’s eyes grew wide as his fate does smile on me. inevitable fate drew closer. His brother grew wide-eyed. “You just Screams were silenced as the fighter destroyed my ship!” became a second pile of scattered scrap metal. “It fired a rocket! I reacted!” The viewscreen adjusted to show only one image on the left. I watched the two remaining “I’m going to kill you!” pirates bicker and fight. I didn’t plan to stick so they could blind This was the cheapest entertainment I’d around There was only fire off another in the rocket. one other ship seen in a while; I smirked, because laughing vicinity. would have been too obvious. The reasonable pilot grabbed his partner’s arms as he scrambled for the weapons console. “Stop it. No one’s doing anything of the sort. We can still...” “Don’t try to stop me!” Mine. “Jeanie, start up the navigation computer.” “Done.” The two pirates both stopped and turned toward the screen.

Pg. 34
the first time I’d stumbled across bloodthirsty pirates with only half a brain between them. There was a reason I stuck with less aggressive forms of piracy. I wasn’t psychotic, and didn’t want to become so.

They struggled some more, and the wiry little man drew on hidden strength. He shoved The pilot became a little less reasonable. the bigger pirate into the controls and thrusters “Stop right there! What’re you doing?” started firing. The ship turned. “It’s been fun.” I smiled, then turned dead Suddenly, I didn’t have a good feeling about serious. “Hyperspeed.” this. He grew wide-eyed. “No, stop.” The smaller pirate pulled an arm free and The communication window turned to stared into the screen. “You’re going to pay static, then disappeared from the viewscreen for what you’ve done.” He slammed his hand as we made the jump. I watched the trails of down. starlight race past. The fighter pilot’s eyes grew wide. It was hard to believe grown men could “Brother!” resort to brother killing brother, but this wasn’t

T. M. Hunter
T.M.Hunter  has  been  writing  space  opera  for  many  years,  and  is  currently  trying  to  break  into  publication  through  his  various  characters, the most notable being Aston West and Gabriel Peters. Look for more short  stories featuring these two coming soon.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Featured Artist: Bryan Dale Norton

Pg. 35

Featured Artist

Bryan Dale Norton

Name: Bryan Dale Norton Age: 376 months Country of residence: The Republic of California Hobbies: Studying and making concept art, sculpture, videogames, photography, history of science, science of history, poker, hiking and camping, and writing stories... Favorite Book / Author: Right now it’s The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, although I also immensely enjoyed Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars series, Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command. Before the prequels were ever announced, I was so sure Lucas was going to make these sequels to the original Star Wars saga. Hint!.... we’re still waiting for this! Michael Crichton is also a favorite such as Sphere, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Disclosure, Rising Sun, The Andromeda Strain, and The Great Train Robbery. Favorite Artist: Ashley Wood, Sparth, Craig Mullins, Ryan Church, Eric Tiemens, Dermot Power, Alphonse Mucha, John Singer Sargeant, Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth, J.C. Leyendecker, Dean Cornwell...and so many more.
Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 43, May 2008

Featured Artist: Bryan Dale Norton

Pg. 36

When did you start creating art? As long as I can remember I have always loved creating art. It was encouraged in my family so it was as natural to do as speaking. It wasn’t until I was 15 however when fate took it’s turn for the better. That is when I produced my first photorealistic pencil drawing...quite unconsciously. The discovery of that talent turned me onto to traditional drawing and later by extension, painting. What media do you work in? I have practiced nearly every medium you can think of from found object fine art pieces, to highly rendered airbrushing, to alla prima oil painting, and loose gestural watercolors and everything in between. I was trained traditionally, but as a left college, the digital revolution was already well on it’s way so more and more of my started to done digitally. Currently most of my work is digital, although I still have a love of traditional materials and aesthetics. In the end, tools are tools, and usually I end up combining the best of both worlds. Where your work has been featured? My personal work has been featured at the Carnegie Art Museum, Art Center Student Gallery, and a host of other smaller venues. I’ve had a Star Wars inspired piece featured in Stars Insider Magazine as well as the Caltech Undergraduate Reasearch Journal not to mention having “Cold Planet II” featured as a Daily Deviant on deviantart.com. Where should someone go if they wanted to view / buy some of your works? I work as a professional concept artist so my work is not really seen by the public in general. Sometimes a piece might be used for a promo spot or other marketing collateral such as websites or gaming magazines such as Game Developer Magazine. And since most of my work is for unannounced projects that take years to develop most of it has never even been seen. I would suggest my deviant space for now, even though I’m in the process of building the library of art for my print store there. My username on Deviantart.com is Nortenyo.
Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 43, May 2008

Featured Artist: Bryan Dale Norton

Pg. 37

How did you become an artist? Draw, draw, and draw some more! Artists who do not practice are critics. I love drawing, it is my passion in life. The very act of drawing is something very spiritual to me. What about painting?...well, to me painting is drawing with color. I got serious about it when I was still in highschool. It was then I discovered a hidden talent to draw photorealism. I took advanced elective courses in art all the way until junior college. By then I was working in film as a physical miniature model maker and set maker. A great friend of mine got me on my way by suggesting, no...DEMANDING, I apply to Art Center College of Design which I did and was thankful for reminding me of what I really love to do. Thanks Jason H! After design college, I got a job in the games industry making concept art and I’ve been doing it ever since. What were your early influences? I’m a very visual person, probably because my generation has been so immersed in media so it should be no surprise they have had a big impact on me. Cartoons from the 80’s, like GI JOE and Transformers, not to mention the classics from Disney, Don Bluth, Looney Tunes, and Tex Avery. As I got older I was highly influenced by the concept artists in film that were responsible for Star Wars, Jurassic  Park, Terminator 2, Aliens, Predator, and a host of other films in the fantasy or sci-fi genre. What are your current influences? I think ever since Metal Gear Solid came out for the original Playstation I have been hooked on the artist Yoji Shinkawa. And since then Ashley Wood...so naturally....I pissed my pants when I heard Ashley Wood

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Featured Artist: Bryan Dale Norton

Pg. 38

was doing a Metal Gear comic. Their influence on my actual work is not so apparent in my finished work, but in my sketches I do for myself. I’m currently creating new pieces for deviant art as well as my first graphic novel where you will most likely see that influence in the future. All in all, however, my taste in art lie generally with the more illustrative and expressionistic artist styles. That’s why I am drawn to classic illustrators and modern concept artist. There is something always visceral in their work that I love. Maybe its seeing the world from someone else’s perspective...something concept art is all about. What inspired the art for the cover? The work, “Cold Planet II” started as an attempt to clean out my photo reference files. I had this image of some clouds and just for fun, I began to paint on top of them. This quickly turned into a landscape and from there it became an alien world of dust and ice with massive colonial mining operations taking place. Now I imagine this whole story of a group of people struggling to survive across the vast expanse of space, searching for a new home while fighting with each other. All I need is a seed crystal and everything evolves from there. I have had such a great response to that piece that I have promised to make new paintings for the Cold Planet series...this time in high resolution so people can get prints this time, if they so choose. How would you describe your work? There is no singular description that would capture what I would identify as my work since I like to change gears often and try new and different approaches to my work. However with that said, I think as an artist, even though you are constantly evolving, you start to notice certain themes keep coming back. For me you might say my work can be a bit on the dark side, although not wicked, perhaps more contemplative than anything. Hopefully it is entertaining to say the least. No matter how
Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 43, May 2008

Featured Artist: Bryan Dale Norton

Pg. 39

I make my art, or what I choose as my subject, I always strive to engage the audience one way or another in a way that has some kind of lasting appeal. Sometimes you win that battle, sometimes you lose, but I find solace in knowing that I can always make new art and try again. Where do you get your inspiration / what inspires you? More like where don’t I get my inspiration or what doesn’t inspire me... I have a profound love of nature, as well as man-made things. That’s pretty much everything, right? I guess I love how things are designed either by natural means or by the logic and reason of our brains. I’m a bit of a primitive and a futurist at the same time...a complete oxymoron of self. That might come from my understanding and lack of understanding of the Tao te Ching as it were. That’s a whole topic that is unanswerable in itself but one I completely accept. Have you had any notable failures, and how has failure affected your work? To make art is to fail repeatedly as you improve with each success. Every mistake is progress in action. You never really stop learning. To that effect, failure is a part of success in my work. Sometimes you get what you are after in the first try, other times you draw it repeatedly until it feels right. Either way, I feel the artist is responsible for his work, for any of his defeats as well as his victories. I give credit to both. What have been your greatest successes? How has success impacted you / your work? Success in games has really given me the courage to continue improving my work. You reach a plateau and then a new challenge comes along and you take it on and learn something new...over and over. I love that aspect of my job as it keeps me humble

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Featured Artist: Bryan Dale Norton

Pg. 40

and keeps me on my toes. There are so many wonderfully talented artists in our industry and they are a constant source of inspiration and guidance. What are your favorite tools / equipment for producing your art? At my job I currently use Photoshop CS2 and a Wacom Cintique for almost everything. I’ll still do a traditional pen or pencil sketch now and then, but so much of my workflow is digital because I don’t like to waste time scanning and cleaning up. Recently I’ve been using Google Sketchup and am learning how to use Zbrush as well as Maya. To me, I’ll still draw everything, but those are great tools for illustrators since they simplify some of our tasks and expand what we can do within the context of making video games. What tool / equipment do you wish you had? I’m in the market for a Wacom Cintique (for my home studio) or a motion computing LE 1700 Tablet PC. I love my M1400, but it is sorely underpowered and lacking in storage, not to mention the screen can’t be used in direct daylight. I wish this technology would improve to the point where it totally replaces my desktop and sketchbook. What do you hope to accomplish with your art? A great question! Number one...entertain you! Number two...get you to think more critically, if possible. And number three...to get to the point in my career where I can teach all that I have learned to other artists so the cycle can begin for a new generation.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Calamity’s Child, Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton

Calamity’s Child
  by M. Keaton
Part Two

Pg. 41

Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch

T

hey started play with eleven. It took them well into the afternoon to get that far.

The morning was spent on technical minutia. The players were scanned for weapons and escorted into the playing room while Ivan and the five other bodyguards were forced to wait, crowded into the hallway; the only real break in the monotony came when Ivan visited the roof to meet Pharaoh’s son. The scope was beyond salvage, the boy explained, but he had stripped and cleaned the gun and everything seemed in good working order. Several players, Hoffield included, chose to forgo personal protectors, relying on hotel security and their own comparatively lowstakes style of play to shield them from danger. The gunmen studied each other as Hamatsa priests, red robed with faces hidden by veils of gold mesh, bustled through the passageway in and out of the room beyond. Ivan discounted two of the mercenaries right away, reading in their body language and mannerisms the telltale signs of hired muscle but not killers. They would still be dangerous if pressed, but predictable. The woman hovering to his left disturbed him more. He knew of her by reputation, and nothing he saw indicated that the reputation was exaggerated. Called Quicksilver Rose because of her cybernetically enhanced vision

and resultant mercury colored pupil-less eyes, she made her living as a professional duelist. Trademark flachette pistol cocked on her hip, she moved with the liquid grace and efficiency of a panther, her only wasted energy a nervous habit of pushing dark pink hair back from her face. The man leaning against the wall between the two lightweights was an unknown, young and thick-lidded like he was half-asleep. It was an affectation; the eyes behind the lids darted constantly, back and forth. He only wore one gun visibly, a simple slug-thrower in a shoulder holster. His presence bothered Ivan more than Rose’s; the last thing he needed was some hot-shot rookie trying to make a name for himself. “I tell you, my dear, you would simply love the summits of E-Three. The storm clouds match your eyes. I remember one storm...” The fossil chattering merrily at Rose was no newcomer. The old man looked like little more than a kindly, red-nosed grandfather, but Ivan knew better. He had worked with Oden before and knew the man was as unflappable as the frozen granite peaks he climbed and twice as strong. Primarily a mountaineering guide on Everest Three, Oden worked as a hired gun only sporadically during the off-season. Capable of being as cold and deadly as the ice he loved, Ivan was nonetheless relieved to see the man. If all went well, there should not be any shooting. Oden could be trusted to keep a

level head. Three pros, two amateurs, and one complete unknown—the tally did not make Ivan happy but it could have been a lot worse. Now he just needed to figure out which one went with Kor. “Excuse me, please.” Another Hamatsa priest stepped into the hallway from the playing room. Unlike the others, rather than a gold veil over his face, he wore a full headdress and mask formed to look like a bird’s head. Combined with the billowing crimson robe, it made him look like a giant cardinal. “You will be allowed to enter shortly. We’re just about to get underway. I trust you understand these delays have been necessary—before every match, the sacrifices must be verified and valued and sometimes that takes a little longer than others. We’ve been additionally delayed today awaiting our twelfth player. It appears he will not be attending.” The man folded his hands together in front of him. “Now, a brief word about your behavior. We have our own security personnel and, intending no disrespect, your presence at this function is purely a formality. I would ask you to bear that, and the well-being of your patrons, foremost in mind and act accordingly.” “Yeah, at my rate, they always hire me purely as a formality,” Oden rumbled. The priest ignored him and continued.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Calamity’s Child, Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton
“You may speak to your patrons at any point outside of a hand and about any topic not directly related to play. To be more specific—” “You may not say anything that could possibly be construed as giving advice or causing advantage for any player. Should you do so, your patron will be fined and forced to immediately withdraw from the hand in play.” Quicksilver completed the official’s sentence in a sing-song voice. “We’ve heard it before.” “Not everyone has and there must be clarity,” the priest replied patiently. “In order to stay out of the way of the recording crew, please stay behind the gold rope while play is in progress. Due to the late start and the lighting, we’ve moved the play table away from the center of the room and closer to the inside wall, so you will probably be more comfortable closer to the window. The bar, of course, is open. Do try to enjoy yourselves, but please remember that our security personnel will shoot if they have to.” Tossing off the last sentence in a joking tone, he turned, leading them into the room. The first thing Ivan noticed as he entered was security detail; six figures in the robes and veils of Hamatsa priests standing around the edges of the room, automatic rifles slung across their backs or cradled in their arms. Only the man who had led them in wore a full headdress. As the he began narrating the proceedings for the camera, Ivan assumed him the high priest or local equivalent. aloud. “Is it always like this?” Ivan asked or the lady want a drink?” Ivan shook his head and moved to stand behind Graves’ right shoulder, just behind the waist high rope. The dealer wore the same robes and corn silk shroud as the rest of the Hamatsa and moved with robot-like precision as he worked. The players were varied—men, women, young, and old—each with a portable data terminal sitting next to their chips. It seemed the only thing they had in common was money and a taste for gambling. Careful not to look directly at him, Ivan sized up Albert Kor. Photographs did not do him justice; he looked even more like a weasel in person. He was a small man who hunched over his cards like a brooding hen, staring over them from apple seed eyes stuffed into a long, weak-chinned face. Sausage fingers riffled his chips nervously. The game seemed enough like hold’em poker to follow the basics, albeit with too many cards in the hole and on the table, but with telling differences. At the beginning of the hand, the players bought their positions from the dealer. That explained how casual players like Hoffield could stay in the game for any length of time; with enough cash, a player could avoid playing first and being forced to put up a potlatch bid for quite a while. The black chips, really plaques, each had a small blue number on the back, indicating their value. From the look of things, every player would eventually be forced to potlatch before the stakes were raised, and the plaques were numbered accordingly—everyone had a one, only a few had higher numbers. Ivan noted that Kor and Graves both had markers up to seven.

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The position money went straight under the table and the take from the first hand alone was likely enough to cover the operating costs of the entire match. The Kwakiutl, and the Hamatsa in specific, obviously turned a considerable profit from their religious ceremonies. Other than the outfits, the Kwakiutl rituals were present but easily overlooked. The dealer chanted faint, indistinct prayers as he laid out the cards then revealed the final table card with a clear “Praise U’melth.” As he reached to reveal the ‘Raven’s bid,’ he solemnly stated “For Kakwas, may he be appeased.” The underside of the plaque showed a hologram of a small pile of money and Ivan watched bemused as one of the under-priests brought the cash to the table on a platter. Half was given to the winner and the other half burned to ashes right at the table before the next hand was dealt. Overhead fans whisked the smoke from the air. The actual hand being played was only a fraction of the action taking place. Ivan began to understand the game’s appeal to the hardened gambler; players were free to place side bets on anything and everything, and the frenzied activity was almost impossible to follow. Players bet between each other on the next turn of the cards, the actions other players would take, even at one point on whether a cameraman would trip over a nearby cable; everything was fair game. More money had changed hands by the end of the first deal than in the entirety of most poker tournaments. Hoffield in particular seemed more interested in the side betting and folded every hand Ivan watched. Finally he gave up trying to take it all in, retreating to join Oden at the bar. The first break came after an hour. Graves

“Oh, sure,” Oden volunteered on his way to the bar. “Pomp and stupidstance. You

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Calamity’s Child, Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton
made his way through the press of bodies, his face red and furrowed. Ivan drew him aside. “That bad?” “I’m holding my own at the table,” Graves answered. “But that empty twelfth chair was supposed to be our other player.” “I suspected as much. Any idea what happened?” Graves shook his head. “Nothing concrete. I have my guesses though.” Ivan casually lifted a hand to tap the butt of his .45. “Play the hand you’re dealt.” Play resumed with ten players then dropped to nine within minutes. There was tension in the room now and the gunmen hovered closer to the table. In the next half-hour the first non-cash potlatch saw the pepper half of a salt-and-pepper shaker set destroyed. The items had been carved from soapstone by a now-extinct alien race. “How’s business?” Ivan asked, finding himself standing next to Oden again. The older man rolled his shoulders in a slow shrug. “Lost another climber this year. Damn fool went loopy from oxygen starvation and refused to come down the mountain. Other than that, I can’t complain. You?” “I keep busy. House has been throwing a lot of work my way—” Their conversation ended abruptly as chairs crashed backward to the floor and two players surged into each other’s faces. “You bet, you pay!” barked a man sporting a pale blue suit and neatly trimmed van dyke. The other player shoved him away. “You misrepresented the state of play! I don’t owe you anything.” “And this is where we come in,” Oden said softly. “The Hamatsa will get their pound of flesh but the side stuff is not their problem.” As he spoke, Quicksilver stepped between the two men. One of the muscle twins started to lift his gun, and Rose shook her head, hair falling into her eyes. Belatedly, the man realized her flachette pistol was already in her hand. With a twitch of her wrist, the pistol muzzle moved and she shot the bodyguard twice in the stomach. As he fell, she placed the still warm barrel against the second player’s forehead. “Just a misunderstanding,” he said hoarsely. “I’ll pay.” Rose slid silently behind the yellow rope, and a pair of under priests carried the fallen bodyguard from the room. “Blue boy is hers,” Oden explained. “Who’s yours?” Ivan asked. “The Mouthbreather there,” the mountaineer answered, gesturing toward the player seated next to Kor. “If you don’t mind my saying, looks like your boy there is a bit green around the gills.” Ivan glanced at Graves and suppressed a hiss of frustration. The shooting had visibly shaken the ErSec agent. “He’s out of his depth,” Ivan agreed. “Give him time, he might get caught up.” Graves’ stack of chips took a noticeable hit before he regained his composure, and Ivan was relieved when a break was called for the evening meal.

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“You’re on tilt,” Ivan told him as they sat down to eat in the second floor restaurant. “You’ve got to settle down or you might as well cash out now.” “I’ll be fine,” Graves snapped. “Got a little rattled, that’s all.” “Cut back and play tight for a while.” “I said, I’m fine.” They ate in silence for several minutes before Graves spoke again. “She didn’t have to kill him.” “I know.” “Then why?” “Maybe to set an example, maybe to remove one more unknown from a volatile equation,” Ivan answered. “Maybe because she wanted to mix a little pleasure with her business. Let it go—that side of the rope I’ve got covered.” Graves gave a dry chuckle. “Know your role and do your job. Got it, chief.” Returning, they were down to nine players; true night had fallen outside. Graves bet small, folded early, and made headway via the side pots. Another player dropped. A quick inspection of the table told Ivan that only Hoffield and Kor remained with first round black chips. Two more hands and the round would be finished. Hoffield won, potlatched half of his own cash. Ivan was not alone hovering at the edge of the rope. The entire room was knotted around the table. “Final hand of the day,” announced the high priest as Kor slid his plaque to the center of the table. The other players folded in short order, leaving Graves head-to-head with Kor.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Calamity’s Child, Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton
The two raised each other aggressively, driven more by ego than their cards. Suddenly Kor slid his cards to the center of the table. “I fold,” he said in a satisfied tone. “It’s all yours, pick your half.” The dealer turned the black plaque. “For Kakwas, may he be appeased.” Graves stared at the embedded hologram, his face stricken. “People? You bet people?” He jerked upright. “You bastard!” he roared, exploding out of his chair. Ivan grabbed his shoulders and shoved him back into his seat. “Think!” he ordered in a fierce whisper. Graves turned away from Kor’s smirking face toward the high priest. “I challenge the bet.” The giant bird head tilted to one side. “On what grounds?” “Value.” Graves straightened in his seat, and his tone grew firmer. “Yes, value. I challenge that a bet involving human life is too valuable to be accepted as a first round potlatch.” “Your challenge has merit. We must confer.” The room emptied of red robes except for the dealer and the security detail. Graves looked at Kor, pure ice now. “I’ll kill you for this, you know,” he said flatly. Kor laughed. “Many have tried. Come now, Earth man, if not this round, then the next, I’ll get this into play. And then you’ll have to choose, who lives and who dies. If you’re too good for the game, walk away now.” “I will kill you,” Graves repeated, studying the plaque where it lay on the table. The Hamatsa officials filed back into the room, expressions invisible behind mask and veils. “I am afraid,” began the high priest, “that the original ruling must stand. Though living being are involved, their objective value is virtually nil. As per information provided to us and independently verified, these sentients are criminals, indigents, and low-skilled labor—” “Colonists, in other words,” interjected Graves. Kor smiled and bowed from the neck up mockingly. Ivan’s hand came to rest on the comfortable weight of the .45 custom. Catching his gaze, Oden gave a negative jerk of his head. “We regret the necessary ambiguity and subjectivity of this decision,” concluded the priest, “but, again, the ruling must stand.” Graves took a slow, steadying breath. “Everything on the card is the bet?” “That’s correct.” “And you maintain that these human beings are almost valueless?” “That has been our ruling.” The ErSec agent sighed in resignation and rapped the table with his knuckles. “I’ll take the people. Kakwas can have the transport there in the background. Obviously a functional transport is worth more than these worthless living beings.” Graves placed his index finger on the card, pointing to the personnel transport in the background of the hologram, the transport

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that had been used to bring the shanghaied colonists to the world to begin with. The relief among the other players was tangible when the priest finally nodded and pronounced, “Your offering is acceptable.” “Just a moment.” It was Kor’s turn to raise from his chair. “That transport is in orbit with its cargo. If the transport is destroyed, I fear its current occupants, regardless of their value, may have some difficulty breathing. Unless my esteemed colleague has a ship of his own to take these people on, I’m afraid his suggestion is unworkable.” “There is an Earth Defense cruiser currently standing by,” Graves said wearily. “Mister Kor’s captives can be off-loaded and out of the system in a matter of hours.” The golden head nodded, comically overbalanced. “This is acceptable. Mister Graves, if you will come with me, we will make the appropriate arrangements. This day’s competition is completed. We will resume in the morning.” The players began to shuffle from the room while Graves accompanied the priest through the side door behind the langer shell half-wall. Ivan moved to follow, saw Graves motion him off with a head shake, and headed for his room instead. After checking his own room, he let himself into Graves’, found a seat across from the door, and waited. “I’m in here,” Ivan said loudly as the door was unlocked, pistol aimed at the entry. Seeing it was Graves, he holstered and stood. “Dinner.” “You go ahead,” Graves answered. “I’m not

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Calamity’s Child, Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton
hungry.” “Hunger should never affect when you eat. Let’s go.” Ivan steered the agent back into the passageway and onto the elevator. He thumbed the button for the roof. “Restaurant’s on the second—” “Save it. We need to talk.” The roof was dark, unlit except for pinprick walkway lights between the fliers. The two men walked to the railed edge and stood listening to the hoots and cries of the jungle calling to them. Graves lit a cigarette, pulled on it, vented a long breath. “I blew it, compromised the whole mission by giving that cruiser away. It’ll be days before it can ferry those people out and get back into position here.” “Saved a few lives.” Ivan stared straight ahead, into the darkness. “Compared to what? How many more did I cost?” “Maybe some, maybe none. Hard to count the future.” A deep croaking repeated in the distance answered by a crash of brush and silence. “What’ve you really lost?” Graves flashed Steponovich a perplexed look. “I’ve lost the cruiser.” Ivan nodded. “Which was here to do what? Eavesdrop, try to catch some bit of transmitted data that might get ErSec a step closer to Edgar Casey.” “And to intercept Kor when he left the planet.” “We’ve got Kor. That cruiser was in place to hunt for Casey, if you failed.” “It’s a nice thought, Ivan, but I know when I’m licked. Maybe you’re right, maybe we can grab Kor before he gets off world, but I’m not good enough for plan A. I can’t outplay him.” “You don’t have a choice.” The tip of Graves’ cigarette brightened to an angry red. “He knew. He knew I was an ErSec agent, knew the cruiser would be there, knew what I’d do when he threw that hand into me. And it’s not a leak somewhere because he had to plan it, that transport was hijacked weeks ago.” “Because you’re predictable,” Ivan said. “ErDef run the transport number?” “Slo-po out of Farnham. It’s about the eighth this year—somebody’s sitting on the route and we can’t find them. Not enough ships on the frontier to do a decent search, no survivors recovered.” “Until now.” “Kor’s too smart for that. I’ll bet those people never saw anything or anyone outside of that transport from the time they left Farnham. I can’t even tie Kor to it—according to him, his people found the ship floating dead in space and rescued it. Who the hell knows what the jurisdiction is once they got tied up in this Kwakiutl religious ceremony. The nutjobs back on Earth will probably say live and let live. I’d never get a conviction on anyone.” Graves inhaled and blew the smoke out in a slow

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stream. “So I’ll kill him and then worry about Earth.” “First reasonable thing I’ve heard you say since this all started. You’ve got to stop thinking Earth and realize you’re on the frontier now. Stop relying on your precious Earth tech and start using frontier tech.” Ivan tapped a finger against his temple. “Don’t wait for the fancy machine to spit out a number, make things happen. Kor read you straight out of the book and handed you your lunch. You deserved it because you were playing by the book. Now, go downstairs, get some red meat in you, and figure out how you’re going to go post-literate on his ass.” Graves gave a bitter laugh. “Never figured you one for giving pep talks.” “Not a pep talk. You’re my only card in the game, and I’m not giving up. You were good enough to get me here—now work Kor the same way.” Graves shook his head. “You’re just as predictable as I am, probably more. That loyalty kick of yours’ll get you killed someday.” “I’ll take my chances.” Ivan put one boot on the raised lip of the roof and leaned his forearms against the railing. The low croaking began again in the shadowed foliage below. “I’ll need access to his terminal, the portable he’s using at the game table,” Graves said thoughtfully. “How long?” “Five, maybe ten seconds.” “Seconds?”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Calamity’s Child, Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton
“More Earth tech. It’s a nano-membrane, takes a flash copy of the current state of a system, where all the ones and zeros are magnetically. It’ll take them a month to reconstruct it all back on Earth, but it works. I’ve done it before—it swaps instant results for speed in the field.” “Any information you get...” “I’ll get you a copy of what they end up with. That was our agreement.” Graves finished his cigarette, flipping the butt over the edge of the roof, watching until it winked out of sight. “Let’s go get something to eat.” Ivan did not move. “You go ahead. I think I might go for a walk.” “Where? Out there?” Graves motioned toward the jungle. “Maybe,” Ivan replied casually. “There’s a few things left out there that haven’t tried to eat me yet.” # Hoffield met them on their way to breakfast, nervous but determined. “Gentlemen, I—about yesterday, some of the other players and I—what Albert did yesterday, well, it’s most unsporting. I mean, we’re not children, we know what happens late in the game. But that’s the point, it happens late in the game. We—it’s not our cup of tea, you might say. We’re out by then—it’s not right to put a man on the spot like that so early in the game. Technically acceptable or not, it’s not proper—” “That’s all right,” interrupted Graves. “I understand you had nothing to do with it.” “Yes, well, thank you. But it’s not just that. You see, even before we started playing, Albert’s been about trying to buy up all the players, offering to stake them if they’d agree to play against you, get you out early. A lot of the lads, myself included I’m ashamed to say, didn’t see any harm in going along with it, you being a stranger, new player and all. But, after yesterday—” Hoffield straightened his shoulders and pulled himself up to his full height. “It looks to a lot of us that you’ve got the best chance of putting Albert out. If nothing else, you’ve certainly got his back up. We know we’re dead money, and I wanted you to know, as much as we’re able, we’re going to be playing into you.” The biologist thrust his hand forward. Graves shook it firmly. “I appreciate that, sir. I’ll try not to let you down.” Hoffield walked out of hearing and he added, “Odd fellow, but decent enough.” “I’m not convinced anyone who plays this game can be called decent,” was Ivan’s grim reply. Seven players passed through the weapon screening and into the second day’s play. Two others had cashed out and departed during the night. With fewer players, rounds progressed more rapidly and the sacrifices to Kakwas increased just as fast. The morning saw the end of a Descallus portrait—a forgery but one of the few done in oils and, with the original lost, almost as valuable—and a three-hundred year old bottle of wine. Hoffield won the wine,

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declaring, after half was poured away for the King of Ghosts, that the remaining half should be shared among the players. Another player lost the last of his chips to Graves, triggering an hour break for the midday meal. As the players filed toward the elevator, Ivan snagged the elderly biologist, steering him aside for a private conversation before catching up with the others. After eating, Graves’ stack grew steadily and the next two players went quickly, one running out of chips and Hoffield dropping out to avoid another potlatch. To Ivan’s surprise, the younger gunslinger left as well, apparently not Kor’s bodyguard after all. They were down to four and four: Graves, Kor, Blueboy, and Mouthbreather—Ivan, Quicksilver, Odin, and a lump of muscle with the reactions of a tree sloth. The incongruity of the mix set Ivan’s nerves on edge; the unexpected was dangerous. Kor’s choice of guard was more than unexpected, it was irrational, out of character for the man so highly placed in Casey’s organization and known for his caution. Ivan wandered to stand near the door. Shrugging his shoulders beneath the weight of his holster, he loosened the gun. That done, he slid a hand into his pocket, pressing his thumb against a button on a tiny fob. # The rifle, really just a pistol with an add-on stock, was in his aircar right where Ivan had said it would be. Hoffield grinned as he lifted it; it was a very nice gun. And a gift, he reflected, for a favor he would have done anyway. For all his dour looks and terse disposition, the man was quite the nice fellow.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Calamity’s Child, Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton
The laser was light and lacked a scope. Fortunately, Hoffield had set up his binoculars on a tripod; he should be able to hit something as large as a langer—just line in the binoculars and use them as a rest for the gun. He did not even really have to be that close. Plus, since it was a laser, he could walk it onto his target if he were really off. He would have liked to see the results but Ivan had warned him that the hotel might be angry if he were discovered. It really was a foolish risk. He would just shoot the langer and pop into his flier. To the south there was a hunting lodge, and Ivan had promised him that the proprietor there could get Hoffield much closer to the local wildlife than he ever would staying here anyway. “Should one of those be so close?” Ivan asked as casually, motioning with a lift of his chin toward the house-sized mass of shell and muscle undulating toward the hotel. A heartbeat later, the room was awash in chaos. “Please, stay calm!” shouted the high priest. “Please! Calmly!” He glanced back over his shoulder at the rapidly approaching bulk and continued, in a shriller tone. “Get the hell out!” The players were happy to comply, sprinting toward the door as the mercenaries moved to cover their retreat. Several members of the hotel’s security detail were firing at the window, slugs ricocheting back from the bulletproof glass. The high priest tried to harangue them into some kind of order but his words were swept away on the tides of noisy confusion. With amazing presence of mind, Kor had disconnected his terminal and now pushed toward the exit with the black square clutched against his chest. Ivan shoved Graves behind him, into the hallway, and moved as if to follow, colliding painfully with Kor. Kor fell with a grunt and Ivan hauled him to his feet by the lapels of his tuxedo, knocking the computer from his hands in the process. He pushed the gambler back and the muscle surged into the gap, shoving at Ivan. Steponovich stumbled, shuffling his feet to regain his balance, shoved back. The langer hit the hotel and the building seemed to stagger. Metal screamed as giant claws swept up, cutting through beams and sending fragments of glass showering across the room like a silicon rain. Security opened up en masse now, the point-blank roar of their fire deafening, pierced by the whining of deflected bullets and the desperate cries of men caught too close to the raking claws. Kor pushed his own man to the floor, scrambling over him as Ivan pulled them both into the hallway by fists full of clothing. The trio collapsed, panting. The shooting behind them trailed off, stopping as it became apparent the langer had finally succumbed to superior firepower. Graves extended a hand, pulling Ivan to his feet. “You drop this?” he said, extending the black terminal toward Kor who snatched it greedily. “If you would, please, return to your rooms.” The high priest stood in the doorway, leaning against the jam. His headdress canted to the side at an angle and his robes were

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shredded, caked in blood and debris. “I expect it will take a few hours to, to put right whatever went wrong with the sonic field and repair the playing area. Please, remain.” His tone was strangely contrite. “I realize that your confidence in our, our facilities has been shaken and you’ve every reason to leave but I would ask that you remain and finish your game. I know that for you this is just a game but, for us, it is, it is a part of our religion.” The priest paused, his breathing ragged. “Please, honor us. Complete the ritual. Return to your rooms—I will send word as soon as possible.” He gave a shallow bow and the golden crest slide precariously forward. The priest lifted a hand to right it and stepped backward through the doorway. The players began to file toward the elevators, moving upstream against a tide of medics, hotel staff, and more cardinal robes that flowed into the room. Kor’s bodyguard started menacingly toward Ivan then veered away to follow his patron. Graves and Ivan watched them go, walking further away down the hall. “You get it?” Ivan asked softly. “You could have warned me!” Graves forced himself to suppress a shout. “Yes, I got it.” Ivan rechecked his guns, making sure nothing had been damaged in the melee. “Sometime before you leave, you should talk to the hotel. Tell them to use mines.” “For what?” “Langer. No protection is perfect—they should have a back up. Way the hotel is shaped, that main ballroom is about where the head would be on a rival langer. They wouldn’t have

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Calamity’s Child, Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton
to mine the entire approach, just a strip in front of it about halfway down the hill.” Graves gave a noncommittal grunt. “Why mines?” “Hoffield’s idea. Langer carry most of their muscle mass under the shell. Blow a directed charge under one and, if it didn’t kill it, it would at least slow it down.” Ivan paused, then added, “Shouldn’t take long to fix the sonics.” “Only a little sabotage?” Graves asked caustically. Ivan shrugged and headed for the elevators. “For a man who gets his way, you complain a lot.” # Play resumed the next morning with all four men back at the table—same room and same table, only the heavy plastic tarp that covered the outer wall gave any hint to the previous day’s interruption. They played slower, taking more time to place each bet, longer to study each turn of the card before acting, but the steady pace of “Praise  U’melth.  For  Kakwas,  may he be appeased” ground steadily forward, destruction in its wake. Video piped directly to each player’s terminal confirmed diamonds lowered into nuclear reactors and the explosive demolition of a city block of office buildings a dozen worlds away. Challenges to value rulings came more frequently and were more heated—when a single branch was broken off of a century old bonsai, when the Mouthbreather bet the ashes of his late wife, her only remaining picture, and his wedding ring, when Graves bet odd cylinders of wax that he claimed could play music—but the Hamatsa remained consistent. It was the magnitude of the loss, not the amount of possible gain, that determined an item’s value. “How long does this go on?” Ivan asked Oden. The mountaineer shrugged and refilled his glass. “Until someone gives up. I’ve seen ‘em go a whole week. Supposedly, thirteen days is the record but—” He shrugged again. “Never seen a game go past seven Ravens though.” “Why’s that?” “What’s left to bet?” Oden chuckled and walked back to the rope. Ivan followed. They all stayed close now. The side betting had dried up but the tension in the room was palpable. “I fold.” Blueboy slid his cards to the dealer. “Me too,” followed the Mouthbreather, looking at Kor. Kor stared at Graves, riffling his chips. He licked his lips, looked down at his cards again. “I’d better—” “You want this hand,” interrupted Graves. Kor raised his eyebrows. “Really? And why would that be?” Graves reached out and flipped over the black plaque of his potlatch. “That’s why.” Ivan leaned in, trying to make out the details of the hologram. “That legal?” Oden asked aloud.

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The golden head nodded. “Unusual, but permitted. There is no requirement that the sacrifices be kept secret, merely no requirement that they be made public in advance of the giving.” Kor prodded the edge of the plaque with a finger, turning it to face him. “Weapon system,” he muttered. “ErDef missile system,” Graves elaborated. “Two sets, one for the winner, one goes away. Ultra-light mount—it can go anyplace on a ship you could mount a laser. Think about it, Albert,” Graves smiled. “You could have Earth tech on your own ship.” “Installed? Immediately?” The question was directed at the high priest. “That is part of the offering, yes.” Kor wiped his face with a hand, looked at his cards, pinched his thin lips. If he lost, he would be down to his last stack but, if he won— “I call.” Both men revealed their cards, Graves with an ill-concealed smirk, and Kor with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. The dealer turned another card, and Kor turned greener. “Praise U’melth.” The last card turned. Kor raked chips and giggled like a child on Christmas. “I win. I really win.” Graves leaned back in his chair, scratching at the corner of his eye tiredly. “Everybody’s lucky once.” “And we install it now?”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Calamity’s Child, Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton
“Arrangements will be made immediately,” replied the priest. “There is the matter of your ship, however.” Kor bobbed his head. “I’ll call it down now, just tell me where.” He froze, hand poised above his terminal’s keyboard. “How can I be certain there won’t be any sabotage?” “As with all things, our own inspectors will be in place. The entire procedure will be monitored.” The priest’s voice took on an edge. “I trust that this will be sufficient?” Kor snorted. “Your crazy religion—you couldn’t cheat me if you wanted, not without losing your immortal soul or whatever.” “Eternal spirit,” Graves said wearily. “If the boy wants his toy right now, it’s going to be hard to keep playing. I have to do part of the installation.” “We will begin our midday break early and reconvene following the evening meal. Is this satisfactory to all parties?” With no argument forthcoming, the priest gestured toward the control room behind the curtains. “Let’s get our arrangements underway.” Graves stood and looked at Ivan with a grimace. “This will take me a while. On the upside, the people that make certain I don’t gimmick Kor’s ship also have to make sure nothing happens to me. You get an afternoon off.” Ivan saw him off with a glare, decided he had a point, and slept until Graves rapped on his door that evening. “Don’t say it,” Graves said, walking toward the elevators. “It was a good hand and a good risk. I had a chance to put him away, and I took it.” “And lost. And now he’s got technology that nobody else on the frontier will even know exists for another decade.” Graves smiled. “Earth tech. Perfect and exact Earth tech, right down to the IFFT. Identification Friend Foe Transponder,” he said in a mocking tone. “Just like every good little piece of Earth tech, it announces itself and locks itself out. Seriously though, Kor doesn’t realize it yet but, with the lockout, it can’t fire on any Earth or Earth-friendly vessel. It was a risk I was authorized to take.” “That helps the rest of us out just fine. I’d almost forgot your masters,” Ivan said sourly. “You were starting to act downright human.” “It won’t matter if he doesn’t leave the planet,” Graves countered. “No harm in giving flowers to a dead man.” Ivan was grateful for the sleep; the others were tired and tempers short. Twice in as many hands the Mouthbreather and Blueboy had to be separated, and the second time Ivan half-expected Rose and Oden to start fighting themselves. Bridges burned—both suspension bridges to an island on Australeus were sacrificed when Blueboy won ownership of the island itself. The Mouthbreather was remaining in the game by the merest charity of sadistic fate. Blueboy folded out of the third hand, and Quicksilver motioned him away from the table. Ivan tried to split his attention between the game, and Rose as she spoke with her patron.

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They were too far away to hear, but they were obviously arguing, heatedly. Blueboy broke under Rose’s metallic glare and stomped back to the table. “Cash me out,” he said bitterly. Kor laughed and let the pot go to the Mouthbreather as the dealer silently dealt the final cards and displayed the sacrifice. Ivan felt rather than saw Quicksilver at his shoulder. “Whipsaw,” she said in a hissing whisper and was gone, sweeping her patron from the room. Graves looked up from the table, eyebrow raised. “Does she smell like strawberries to you?” Ivan asked him in lieu of answering, moving to stand next to Oden. He watched the next two hands closely. Rose was right; both of the other gamblers were playing into each other, whipsawing Graves between them, trying to drain his reserves. Impressively, the ErSec agent was holding his own. Another hand passed, along with an unusually mundane sacrifice of some form of statuary carved from diamonds. Ivan tried to catch Graves’ attention, but the man was completely absorbed in his cards. Unless Graves could put the Mouthbreather away soon and play Kor straight up, it would become impossible for him to win. He considered interrupting the game, decided against it. Another hand was dealt, bids made. Kor bet heavily, forcing Graves to match, playing into the Mouthbreather’s hand rather than to his own. Graves matched chip for chip until Kor melted, leaving the pot for

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Calamity’s Child, Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton
his partner. The entire room seemed to hold its breath. Wordlessly, the dealer laid the final card. Ivan shot him, the force of the slug sending the dealer’s body pitching backward. He let the pistol’s kick carry his arm, turning to smash the heavy barrel into Oden’s face, sending the other man staggering back. The sound of thunder cracked the room, and Kor’s hired muscle collapsed, a surprised look on his face and a hole in his chest. Graves cursed, throwing the blistering hot remains of his shattered glass derringer. Kor jerked to his feet, fell across his own chair. Ivan kicked Oden in the head before he could recover. As Oden dropped, he spun back toward Kor, free hand digging for the sonic pistol in his waistband. Kor was up, running. Ivan thumbed the sonic just as the gambler barreled into him, both collapsing in a tangle of limbs. Graves was shouting at him as he crawled free. The ErSec agent put his shoulder against the table and fought it onto its side. Catching a swirl of crimson and a glint of gunmetal from the corner of his eye, Ivan dove forward, scrambling on hands and knees to get behind the table, the Mouthbreather climbing over him headed the other way. Graves threw an arm over the Hamatsa high priest, pulling him to the ground. Automatic weapons fire ripped the surrounding drapery to shreds and pounded hot slag into the walls beyond. Ivan cringed next to Graves and the priest as the booming continued in a long, unrelenting roll like the crashing of surf on shore. The priest had lost his headdress and stared bedazzled as splinters from the table’s edge sprinkled the gray of his balding head. “Swapped dealers!” Ivan shouted. “Swapped everyone!” Graves mouthed, extending his hand. The palm was bright red and swelling. Ivan passed him the sonic pistol then pulled another slug thrower from his boot and handed that over as well. The ballistic drum roll stopped. Ivan fired, straight up, and it began again. “How many?” “Can’t tell!” Graves answered. “Running out of table!” “Stay down!” Ivan told the priest. The man answered by trying to draw himself into a tighter ball. They dove from opposite sides of the table, Ivan toward the langer shell wall, Graves toward the bar. Half crawling, half sliding, Ivan made it, snapping off shots blindly as he went. Bodies littered the room; apparently not all of the security detail had been switched. The crack of a pistol shot told Ivan that Graves had reached cover, he hoped. Laying on his back, he began to push himself along behind the half-wall with his heels. He was beyond the midpoint of the room when he heard voices through the splatter of gunfire. “You got to get me out of here. I’m dying— I’ve got to be bleeding to death internally.” Kor’s wheedling voice was harsh with pain that brought a smile to Ivan’s face. “Shut up.” The sound of Oden’s voice was not the surprise it would have been an hour ago. “You got hit with sonic. You’re hurt, not dying. This’ll be over soon enough.”

Pg. 50

“How? They’re not hitting anything.” Oden muttered something about suppression fire, but Ivan did not wait to listen. He rolled to his side, cocked his legs against his chest, rolled onto them. One deep breath and he was exploding up, .45 held in both hands. His first shot took Oden in the thigh, the second found his shoulder. For a split second, Ivan hesitated at the top of his surge. He fired and a slug tore through a red-robed shooter. He let his legs go limp, dropping, fired twice more. At least one more shooter died, maybe two. The floor rose up, striking him brutally. Not as brutal as the torrent of bullets that shattered the air he had occupied moments before. Even as they did, he could hear the higher pitched crack of his other gun—Graves firing now under the cover of Ivan’s distraction, enfilading fire. Ivan crawled forward, burning his knees and elbows on the carpet, surging into a crouching run as the shooters turned their attention toward the bar. Not all of them had turned. Ivan shot one of the men staring at him before the other two opened up, bullets slapping into langer shell and whining past him. He shot another and dove flat, the impact knocking his gun from his hand. He scrabbled after it in something like panic, but far more urgent. Got it. Stood again. They fired at the same time, but Ivan was several feet away from where he had fallen. The shooter did not have time to walk his fire onto his target. With icy patience, Ivan sighted the final gunman still firing at Graves and shot him in the back.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Calamity’s Child, Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton
“Graves?” he shouted, scanning the room, gun tracking along with his eyes. “I’ll live.” Graves stood slowly from behind the bar, his hair and clothing dusted with glass, tiny scratches welling blood across his hands and face. The Mouthbreather’s body lay sprawled partway across the bar. “Where’s Kor? You hit him. He can’t go far—at that range, sonic powders bone.” Ivan’s eyes swept the room again. “Was Oden wearing a vest?” “What? No, yeah.” Graves started across the room. “Like a light duster maybe.” The plastic covering the shattered window was shredded and streaked with blood. Ivan cursed, running toward it. “What’s the closest entrance back to the hotel?” “One on either end and one in the center,” said the high priest in a quavering voice, crawling out from behind the remnants of the table. “About fifty feet that way.” Ivan spun and headed toward the other end of the room. “Cut him off at the roof,” he snapped aloud. “Him who?” Graves demanded. “Oden. If he was wearing a vest, I must have just hurt him. Carrying Kor, he could—” “Let him go.” Graves sagged against the bar, shaking his head, and Ivan finally registered the other man’s exhaustion. “Just let him go.” He let himself slide to the floor and sat there, guns in his lap. “What, what happened?” the priest asked tentatively. “Someone swapped out your dealer and most of your security people. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the real ones tied up in a closet. If not—what kind of fool idea was it to wear masks to begin with?” groused Ivan. “So that the ghosts cannot see our faces, otherwise they would haunt us.” The explanation was matter of fact. “But, how did you know?” Graves answered. “No praise Um’leth.” “You noticed?” Ivan asked. “Ever since the break.” “I thought it was just the tension,” the priest said. “I was going to speak to him later about it.” “He’s been spoken to,” Graves said and began to laugh. “Stop it,” Ivan snapped. “But you don’t understand,” gasped Graves, pulling himself up just short of hysteria. “I did what you said. Forced the issue. Frontier tech.” He laughed again, choking to a stop. “I gave him an ErDef IFFT.” “What does—” Graves waved him to silence. “What do you think the chances are that Casey, or even Kor himself for that matter, uses an automated defense system to protect their sensitive bases?” “About 100 percent.”

Pg. 51
“You think they’re set to be Earth friendly?” Ivan barked a laugh of his own. “And there he is with a ship screaming to anyone who’ll hear that it’s an Earth Defense ship. That’ll leave a bruise.” “I told him I’d kill him,” Graves sighed. “I didn’t specify whose gun I’d use.” Ivan walked to the cratered bar, gently took the guns from Graves. “Ain’t a damn thing left to drink.” “I could use one, Mister Steponovich, I surely could,” whispered the ErSec agent. They waited in silence as the high priest wandered the room, moving gingerly from body to body, separating the just from the unjust. “A great tragedy,” he said at last. “You men have done a great and holy thing this day.” “How’d you figure that, padre?” Graves asked from the floor. “You have cleansed the temple of U’melth. We were lax—I was lax—and our sanctity was compromised. You two this day were the claws of the Raven. You have done us a great service. We are in your debt. Ask and if it is in our power, we will repay you.” “Anything?” Ivan asked, his tone suspicious. “Ignore him. You don’t owe us anything.” The priest shook his head. “But we do, Earth man, we do.” “A future favor then,” Graves said.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Calamity’s Child, Chapter Two, Part Two: Potlatch by M. Keaton
Ivan walked to the broken remains of the large camera. With a fingernail, he pried out the recording crystal. “Mind if I take this? I’ve got a friend might like to have it.”

Pg. 52

M Keaton

Growing up in a family with a history  of military service, M. Keaton cut his  “It is yours.” linguistic  and  philosophical  teeth  on  the bones of his elders through games  “Graves, you ready to go home?” of strategy and debates at the dinner table.  He  began  his  writing  career  “What’re you talking about?” over 20 years ago as a newspaper rat Ivan slid a communicator from his pocket. in Springdale, Arkansas, U.S.A. before  “Max, you there?” pursuing formal studies in chemistry,  mathematics, and medieval literature  “Right here,” crackled the speaker. at  John  Brown  University.  A  student  “You get everything?” of politics, military history, forteana, and game design, his renaissance “Every bit and byte of data and every little education inspired the short television  message, oh crazy one.” series: These Teeth Are Real (TTAR).
“Come pick us up, smart alec.” Ivan dropped the comm back into his pocket.

His literary “mentors” are as diverse as  his  experiences.  Most  powerfully,  “You’ve had somebody out there recording the  author  has  been  affected  by  the  the entire time?” Graves asked. “Why didn’t works and writers of the “ancient” you tell me—forget I asked that.” world,  including  the  Bible,  Socrates,  Ivan reached down and pulled Graves to his and (more modern) Machiavelli, Tsun  feet. 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.)

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

A Couple of Hours in Coreytown , A Jack Brand Story by John M. Whalen

Pg. 53

A Couple of Hours in Coreytown
A Jack Brand Story

by John M. Whalen
“Don’t mind if you do,” Wilson said. He smiled and Brand noticed a tooth missing. “Hey, Fred, another glass,” he shouted at the barkeep. “You still working for the Trans-Exxon people?” “Off and on,” Brand answered. The bartender brought a glass and Wilson poured some whiskey into it for him. “Right now it’s on. I’ve got to deliver some pink slips to the foreman of a new oil field out at Shyman. It’s going to hurt them. The company’s shutting the project down. The demand for new oil is dropping fast. Looks like the company wants to cut its losses.” “That’s business,” Wilson said. “Here’s to business,” Brand said sarcastically. The two men clinked glasses. “What have you been doing since you quit the Security Force?” Brand asked. “Not much,” the old man said. “Drifting mostly. Right now I got me a spot right here. Sort of keep the peace in this dump during the night hours. They get a pretty unruly crowd in here most nights. Just came on my shift.” Brand gave him a look. Wilson shrugged. “I know. It ain’t much but it gets me by.” Brand turned to his left and saw the young man in the straw hat standing with his back to the bar, his elbows on the edge. The white shirt and black vest he wore, combined with the straw hat, gave him the look of a dandy. He was openly staring at the two men at the table. “You know that boy at the bar, Ran?” Brand asked. The old man glanced over at him and snorted. “Yeah,” he said. “Young punk. Comes in here most every night. Fancies himself good with a laser pistol. A wannabe. You’ll find him amusin’.” “I don’t like being stared at,” Brand said. He took another drink. They resumed their conversation, but Brand could feel the young man’s eyes all over his back. He was tired and half baked-out from a long ride in the Tulon desert sun. He half-turned around. “Hey, boy, there something you want? The way you’re looking at me, seems like there’s something on your mind.” The young man took his elbows off the bar and strutted toward the table. He was blonde and blue-eyed and had what some might call baby-face good looks. He walked with a bit of a swagger and kept his right hand low, close to the pistol on his leg. “You talkin’ to me?” he asked. “I don’t see anybody else standing in the space you’re taking up,” Brand said. The boy came up to near a foot or two from Brand’s chair and stopped, folding his arms across his chest. He half-chuckled at Brand’s

oreytown was little more than a collection of ramshackle buildings scattered along a wide dirt road that ran four miles south of the Jordeen oil fields. The fields were still in operation but only on a reduced production basis. The Big Shutdown of the oil industry on Tulon had only just begun. Virtual atomic fuel had been discovered back on Earth and the price of oil was plummeting. It would be only a matter of months until the Shutdown closed all the fields. Jack Brand swung in through the batwing doors of the Coreytown Saloon and looked the place over. Only half a dozen people occupied the place. It was about four in the afternoon. The lunch trade had all gone back to work and the nighttime crowd hadn’t started to show up yet. There was a fresh-faced kid in blue jeans and a straw hat standing at the bar. He had a laser pistol strapped down on his leg, in a way that was supposed to mean something. Brand looked over at a table in the corner and saw a much older man in a black coat sitting alone, playing solitaire and drinking synth-whiskey. “Ran Wilson,” Brand called out. The man looked up from his cards with a frown and then smiled through a thick black and grey beard. “Brand?” He shook his head. “What are you doing in this hell-hole of a town?” “Just passing through on my way to Shyman’s Bluff,” Brand said. “Mind if I sit a spell?” He noticed the way the kid at the bar kept eyeballing him.

C

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

A Couple of Hours in Coreytown , A Jack Brand Story by John M. Whalen
last statement. “That’s a good line, I’ll have to use it sometime.” Brand looked up at him with a frown. Wilson rocked back in his chair watching the exchange between the two, a bemused expression on his bearded countenance. “Don’t you know it’s not polite to stare at people?” Brand asked. The boy’s blue eyes gave him an icy look, and then he laughed. “Sorry, Mr. Brand,” he said. “I didn’t mean no offense. You are Jack Brand, aren’t you?” “That’s right.” “You’re a pretty famous man on this godforsaken planet,” the boy said. “Stories of your exploits over the last ten years have almost grown to legendary proportions. I never thought I’d ever get the chance to meet you. I’m Rafe Jordeen.” He held his hand out eagerly. “I’d just like to shake your hand, Mr. Brand. It’s a real privilege to meet you.” Brand glanced over at Wilson, whose amusement seemed to have grown even further. “Son,” Brand said. “I’ve had a long hot trip all the way from Tulon Central to his jerkwater, I don’t cotton to being stared at while I’m trying to have a private conversation. Why don’t you go on back over to that bar and have yourself a nice quiet little drink and leave us alone.” The boy’s smile disappeared. He pulled his hand back and looked like he’d been slapped. “Sorry, Mr. Brand. Didn’t mean nothing. All I wanted to do was say hello. Tell you how much I admire a man like you. You and Ran Wilson, there. Why it’s unbelievable. Maybe most folks don’t know it, but you’re both legends. Between the two of you, I figure you must have killed at least fifty men. Maybe more.” “That’s pure exaggeration, boy,” Brand said. “And anyway, you think that’s something to be proud of?” “Damn straight!” Jordeen said. “If I live long enough to have even half that tally, I’d die a proud and happy man.” Brand looked across the table at Wilson. “You hear that, Ran?” he said. “You’re a legend in these parts. The kid thinks you’re a hero.” “No,” Wilson said. “I think he’s got his eyes set on being more like you. I’m just a grizzled old man now. But you’re something he can still look up to. Ain’t that it, kid?” The boy nodded sheepishly. “I reckon so,” he said. “You see I’ve been following your career, Mr. Brand. I know every gunfight you been in. I know the story of every town you cleaned up. I know the story of Black Creek and Jason Burnett. How you turned the town into a black pile of cinders and destroyed Burnett and his whole lousy gang just to rescue the daughter of an old friend. I heard about how you saved a town full of religious people from Cal Thorson and his men. I heard it all. And I heard about how you lost your sister in that ambush by the Wilkerson gang. I’m sure sorry about that. I hope you track them coyotes down someday.”

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Brand’s frown grew even deeper as he listened to Jordeen. “How is it you know so much about what I’ve done? Somebody write a book about me?” “No,” the boy said. “Maybe I will someday, if I live a long life and become an old man. Somebody should. I just know all this from reading the papers. Watching the telenews when I can. I don’t know why, but from the first time I read your name in a news story, I just became fascinated by you.” He raised a finger and jabbed the air for emphasis. “I’d almost have to say you probably have been the most influential man in my life,” he said. “Notice how I wear my gun tied down on my leg, low like that. Just like you. I saw how you did it in pictures. Course I use a Smith & Wesson Laser Pistol, not the Beretta Electro Gun you always carry. The S&W is a more modern weapon, lighter weight, faster. That Beretta is old technology, still good, but not as good as this.” Jordeen’s right hand flashed down and up and the bore of the laser pistol’s muzzle gaped a few inches from Brand’s face. “See that?” Jordeen said. His arm moved and the gun was back in its holster. “And now?” The gun was out, twirling around his finger, again only inches from Brand’s face. Jordeen twirled the gun four times and reholstered it, the gunmetal slapping softly into the leather. “You shouldn’t pull a gun unless you mean to use it,” Brand said. “Some people might get

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

A Couple of Hours in Coreytown , A Jack Brand Story by John M. Whalen
the wrong idea. And if you mean to use it, you shouldn’t stand so close. Somebody could just reach right out and grab it from you.” “Oh,” Jordeen said. “You mean like this?” He backed away several steps, his hand hovering over the pistols’ ivory grips. He drew again and aimed the gun at Brand. “How’s that? Better?” he asked. “Think I’m fast? Think I’m as fast as you? Think that Beretta could come out quicker than my laser?” “Sonny.” It was Wilson who spoke now. “Don’t go waving that gun around in people’s faces. It’s damn annoying. Put it away.” Jordeen stood for a moment looking at Wilson, the weapon still in his hands. “What’s that, old man?” he said. “You say something?” “I said put that pea shooter away.” Wilson’s voice had gotten a hard edge to it. “Before I take it off you and make you eat it.” “You know, Wilson,” the kid said. “I don’t have to take that kind of talk from you. I know you killed a lot of men. But that was back in the day. You ain’t as young as you used to be. You can’t be half as good as you once were. Not like Brand, here. He’s still in his prime. I don’t reckon you fit that description. Otherwise you wouldn’t be settling for a job like the one you got here. Maybe you ought not talk to me that way. Especially not in front of Brand here.” “Listen, you wannabe son of a bitch,” Wilson said, his voice low, not nervous sounding at all, and still with an edge to it. “You got a play to make, why don’t you make it? Put that gun back in the holster, and we’ll see how good you are.” “That’s enough, Rafe,” a female voice said. “Quit bothering the customers.” Brand turned around further in his chair and saw a woman standing on the steps leading up to the private rooms on the second floor. She was in her thirties, had dark hair, a heartshaped face, wore a bright red dress and a lot of makeup. The kid stayed where he was, still holding the gun. “This old man disrespected me,” he said. “Thinks he can get by on his laurels.” The woman came down the steps and walked along the bar to him. The barkeep and the few other patrons in the place sat or stood still, eyes watching, waiting to see what would happen. The woman stopped next to Jordeen and picked up the synth-whiskey bottle he’d been pouring from. She poured a drink into a glass and held it out to him. “Have a drink, Rafe,” she said. “Cool off.” Jordeen glared at Wilson. “I know he works for you, Crystal,” he said. “But that don’t give him no right.” “I said have a drink,” the woman said. Her hand moved fast and the booze splashed into the kid’s eyes. She threw the glass down, slapped him across the face several times, and grabbed the gun out of his hand. “Go on,” she barked. “Get out of here. You can have this back when you settle down.” The kid wiped the synth-whiskey off his

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face with the back of his hand. His lips quivered in rage. “You shouldn’t oughta done that,” he said. He looked down at the gun in her hand. Crystal had it pointed at his stomach. “Just go out and cool off,” the woman said. The kid glared over at the men at the table and then stomped out of the saloon. Wilson chuckled dryly. “Nice move, Crystal,” he said. The woman strode over to the table, twirled the gun so that it ended butt first in her hand and set it on the table. “Ain’t that what I’m paying you for?” she said. She looked down at Brand. “Who’s your friend?” “This here’s Jack Brand,” Wilson said. She gave him an appraising look. “So you’re Jack Brand,” she said. “I’d thought you’d be older. I’m pleased to meet you.” “Always a pleasure to meet a lady,” Brand said. She eyeballed him to see if he was trying to be funny. Brand sat straight-faced. She pulled a chair out and sat down. “Fred, bring me my special bottle and a glass,” she yelled at the bartender. “So what brings you to Coreytown, Brand?” “Afraid it won’t be good news for you,” he said. “If you get any trade from Shyman’s Bluff, looks like you may lose it. It’s being shut down.” “Not surprised,” Crystal said. “Price of oil

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

A Couple of Hours in Coreytown , A Jack Brand Story by John M. Whalen
down to $20 a barrel and falling. Pretty soon won’t be nothing left on this big sandbox. With so many men laid off, business is down to nothing. It’s gotten so bad, we used to keep Nomad scum out of here, but now we’ll even serve them if they want a drink. “ Fred the bartender set a fresh bottle and a glass down on the table. She poured herself a drink and freshened up the two glasses already on the table. “Well, anyway, that doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of what is still left. Here’s to progress and to those who get mowed down by it.” The three of them raised their glasses and drank. # “Hope Rafe didn’t bother you too much,” Crystal said, smiling at Brand. “He’s just a kid on the prod. Trying to be a man.” “He keeps acting that way, he might kill himself trying,” Brand said. “Who is he?” “His daddy’s owner of the Jordeen,” she said. “Kind of a spoiled kid. Neglected mostly by his old man. Maybe that’s why he’s always trying to get somebody’s attention.” “He gets enough of your attention,” Wilson said. She grinned. “He’s a good looking boy,” she said. “You jealous, you old walrus? You know I’ll always have a place for you in my heart, Ran.” “Me and just about every other male walking on two feet. Even old Fred there’s had a favor or two from you.” She poured another drink. “Can I help it if I like men, and they like me?” She lifted the glass to her lips and tossed it down, then threw her eyes on Brand. She set the glass down and reached out and touched him on the sleeve. “You’re pretty likeable yourself,” she said. “See what I mean, Brand?” Wilson asked. “No need to fuss over me,” Brand said. “I won’t here more than a couple of hours.” “That’s long enough for what I have in mind,” Crystal said. A loud commotion erupted out in the street. The sound of combustion engines. “Damn!” Crystal said. “Nomads. Get ready for a show, Brand.” Brand knew all about Nomads. The Wilkersons were a Nomad gang. They’d ambushed him five years ago, left him for dead, and kidnapped his sister. He knew about Nomads. Tulon was full of them. Some were the original settlers of the planet who had been displaced by the oil companies. Others were oil field workers who’d been laid off and left to survive on their own. They were a dirty, savage bunch and he’d as soon fire a blast of his Electro-Pistol into one of them as look at them. The batwings swung back and four scruffylooking men dressed in jeans, torn, black T-shirts, and motorcycle boots stomped into the Coreytown saloon. Two of them had shaved heads. One with a Mohawk came up to the bar

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first and said, “We want some drinks, barkeep.” The fourth one had long braids of brown hair hanging down on his chest and sided the man with the Mohawk. All four of the Nomads had weapons. Brand took note of gun the man with the Mohawk carried. It was old technology; a Colt .45, the kind they used back on Earth in the previous century. Many of the desert scavengers wore guns like that. They were cheaper to get and lasted longer out in the desert where plasma charges and laser refills were hard to come by. The other three had beat-up looking laser pistols. The man with the braids wore a shoulder rig, and from the snake embossed on the black grip of the pistol, Brand knew it to be a Python X-2. The bartender looked over at Crystal. She gave him a nod and he pulled a bottle and four shot glasses out from under the counter. He poured the synthetic whiskey and set the bottle down. “That’ll be four even,” he said. The man with the Mohawk picked up the shot glass and held it out. “Put it on a tab,” he said, and slugged the booze down. “And give me another.” Fred the bartender glanced over at Crystal. “It’s all right,” she said. The four Nomads turned and looked over at her. The man with the Mohawk raised the refilled glass and toasted her. “Much obliged, ma’am.” The man with the braids and the shaved heads did the same, their eyes moving over her like hungry wolves. Crystal got out of her chair and walked over to them. Brand lowered his hand under

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

A Couple of Hours in Coreytown , A Jack Brand Story by John M. Whalen
the table and surreptitiously undid the leather restraining strap that kept the Beretta secure in its holster. Wilson picked up the deck of cards and resumed his game of Solitaire. “You’re good for it,” Crystal said to the man with the Mohawk. “Aren’t you?” He looked down at her with a toothy grin. “I’m good for a lot of things,” he said. “Who’s askin’?” “Name’s Crystal,” she said. “I own this place.” “Oh, a lady proprietor,” he said. “My name’s Chino. Pleased to meet you.” The man with the braids walked around the two of them and came to rest on the other side of the woman. He leaned his back against the bar and looked over at Brand and Wilson. Brand returned the look, and the man with the braids turned away and leaned forward on the bar. “The reason I ask,” Crystal said, “is that we get some trash in here sometimes that ain’t got no money. You don’t look like that kind. A man with enough money can have a good time in this place. If he behaves himself.” “And what if he don’t,” Chino asked. “Wouldn’t be a smart thing to do,” Ran Wilson said from the table. In his hand was a sawed-off Ruger Plasma Rifle that he’d pulled from a special rig holster Velcroed to his right leg. The man with the braids turned to look at Wilson. The two shaved heads put their drinks down and gaped at the old man with the gun too. “And who might you be?” Chino asked. “Ran Wilson.” “I heard of you,” Chino said. “So you’re the bouncer in this place, old man? Thought you’d be dead by now.” He looked at Brand, who sat back, relaxed in his chair. “What about you? You in this too?” “That’s Jack Brand,” Crystal said. “He’s just visiting.” Chino looked at the man with the braids. “I’m impressed,” he said. “You impressed?” The man with the braids smiled but said nothing. “We got four girls working here,” Crystal said. “All upstairs just waiting for the right type of customer to come along.” She smiled up at Chino and reached a fingertip up to his jutting, stubble-covered chin, and stroked it. “You’re kind of cute, in a low-down sort of way.” Chino chuckled. “We come in here to have a good time,” he said. “We ain’t looking for any trouble.” He reached into the pocket of his jeans and threw two large gold coins down on the bar. “Fred, give them whatever they want,” Crystal said. “And have those girls come down here. Time they went to work.” Brand moved his hand away from his holster and let it rest on the table top. Wilson put the sawed-off away and went back to his solitaire. #

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An hour went by. It was still daylight outside, but it would soon be quitting time out at the oil fields, and the drillers, and riggers, and derrick monkeys would be pouring into the place. Brand had some slum gullion stew to eat along with the whiskey and was feeling pretty satisfied. He debated whether to move on to Shyman’s Bluff before it got dark, or just get a room over at the hotel and leave in the morning. The four Nomads had been loud and boisterous but hadn’t caused any real trouble. They’d taken turns running upstairs with the working girls and were now sitting at a table drinking with them at the other end of the saloon from Brand, Wilson, and Crystal. “You remember Blue Mountain Pete?” Wilson asked. “Sure I do,” Brand said. “Whatever happened to that old reprobate?” “In jail,” Wilson answered. “Seems he—” The batwings crashed open loudly and Brand looked up to see Rafe Jordeen in the doorway. He still had his straw hat on his head and Brand noticed he wore a fresh laser pistol in the holster that was down low on his leg. Jordeen stood there a minute sort of swaying, peering across the saloon like a man trying to see through a fog. “Wilson!” he shouted. “Ran Wilson!” “Bad news is back,” Wilson muttered. “He’s drunk,” Crystal said.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

A Couple of Hours in Coreytown , A Jack Brand Story by John M. Whalen
“Wilson!” The room got quiet. The Nomads who’d been chattering among themselves, hadn’t noticed Jordeen before, but watched him interest now. “I’m here to call you out, Wilson. Get up out of that chair.” One of the Nomad skinheads giggled. “Whooee, listen to that.” Crystal got out of her chair. “Didn’t I send you out of here once, Rafe,” she said. She walked over to him. “Why you have to come back and try making trouble?” “You shut up!” Jordeen snarled. The Nomads cackled behind Jordeen’s back like a pack of drunken crows. “That’s tellin’ her, boy,” one of the shaved heads hollered. They all laughed. Jordeen turned and gawked at the four desert trash not fully cognizant of what he was looking at. “Rafe, be a nice boy and get out of here.” Jordeen turned. His arm swung and he backhanded the woman hard across the face. She went to the floor with a yelp. “Did you see that?” Chino asked the man with the brown braids. The man nodded his head. Wilson was on his feet. He hadn’t pulled the sawed-off yet, but his hand dangled down near the butt of the plasma gun fastened to his leg. He raised a hand and started to say something, but was interrupted. “Now that ain’t no way to treat a lady,” Chino said. Jordeen turned around to face the Nomads. “Wha—Who asked you to butt in?” “What’s that, boy?” Chino got up from his chair. The painted girl sitting on his lap nearly fell on the floor. “You say something to me?” Brand hoped the boy had the good sense to back off. “Who-who are you?” Jordeen asked. “Don’t make no difference who I am,” Chino answered. “I seen you knock that woman down. That ain’t a right thing to do. Now why don’t you help her up and tell her you’re sorry.” “No need,” Crystal said, getting up by herself. “This is just a private quarrel. Why don’t you go back to your table and—” “Sorry, ma’am,” Chino said. “Where I come from we don’t treat a lady like that. I can’t just let it go, especially since you treated us so good in here.” He stood cold-eyeing the kid, a twisted grin on his thick lips. “Why, you ain’t nothing but Nomad scum,” Jordeen said. “Who you think you are talking to me that way? You know who I am?” “Now how would I know that, when I ain’t never laid eyes on you before, boy?” The two skin heads laughed at that remark. The man with the braids sat half drunk watching with a dreamy expression on his face, his arm around the bare shoulder of a redhead. Chino had taken several steps from the table and stood only four or five feet from the kid. His grey eyes looked the boy up and down.

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“I’m Rafe Jordeen,” the boy said. “My father owns the Jordeen oil fields. I could buy and sell you a hundred times over and not even use up my lunch money. So why don’t you run along? I got no quarrel with you. I came here to settle something with that old man over there.” Chino glared at him. He moved a little closer to him. He outweighed Jordeen by at least fifty pounds and stood several inches taller. “I don’t much like the way you talk, Rafe Jordeen,” he said. “And I sure don’t like the way you treat a lady. Looks like I’ll have to teach you a lesson.” “I teach the lessons around here, Chino,” Wilson said. He moved around the table. Brand wondered why he hadn’t pulled the sawed-off yet. It seemed a careless thing to do. “You stay out of this, old man,” Jordeen hollered. “I don’t need your help.” “He’s right, Wilson,” Chino said. “You’d best stay out of it.” “Can’t do that,” Wilson said. He stood a few feet to the side of Jordeen now. “This boy may be a damn fool but he’s drunk. He ain’t no match for you. Why don’t you forget it?” “What I tell you, Wilson?” Jordeen shouted. “Shut your mouth, you wet-nosed mule. Or do you want to die?” “I ain’t afraid of no Nomad gutter trash,” Jordeen said. He backed up a few steps. “You’re wearing a sidearm,” he told Chino. “Why don’t you use it? I’ll take you on. And then I’ll deal with this old man here. The old bastard

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

A Couple of Hours in Coreytown , A Jack Brand Story by John M. Whalen
shamed me in front of this lady and that man over there. The one man who I would never want to let see me shamed.” “I’ll be most happy to oblige you,” Chino said. He looked at Wilson. “And if you want in on it, happy to oblige you too. And that goes for your friend over there. Mr. Jack Brand, famous Nomad-hater. Right, boys?” The three at the table were on their feet and moved around Chino. It stood four against two. Brand remained seated at the table. “Yeah, I heard about you, Brand,” Chino said. “Heard how you got it in for us Nomads. It’s because of what happened to your sister. Some Nomads grabbed her. Nearly finished you. And what I hear you go around looking for Nomads to kill just to see if they know anything about that damn sister of yours. Well, we’re Nomads. Why don’t you get out of that chair and see if we know anything?” “You hear that, Mr. Brand?” Jordeen said. He suddenly seemed sober. His eyes were clear and bright. “I know you’re not going to take that kind of talk from this scumbag. Not Jack Brand. Man, oh, man. This is going to be the greatest day of my life. The day Jack Brand and me stood up to four Nomad killers and made them sorry they were ever born. Right, Mr. Brand?” Brand sat slouched in his chair looking at the tableau in the middle of the bar. He shook his head. “No thanks, sonny,” he said. “Believe I’ll pass.” “What!” the kid was shocked. “What do you mean? You’re not going to stand up to them? You’re going to back down?” “Not my fight, kid,” Brand said. “You started it with your big mouth. And old Ran there, this is his job. He gets paid for throwing these dirt bags out. And these particular Nomad dung heaps aren’t the ones I’m looking for. I got no reason to mix in it. You got yourself into it. You were throwing that gun of yours all over the place earlier. Let’s see what you can do with it.” The kid paled. His mouth hung open in disbelief. “I ain’t got all day, kid,” Chino said. “How about just you and me then? Leave the rest of them out of it?” “Damn you, Brand,” the kid shouted. “You ain’t nothing but a coward.” “I’m waiting,” Chino said. The kid recovered himself. “I ain’t afraid of you,” he said. The fingers of his right hand flexed over the butt of his laser pistol. He licked his lips nervously, his eyes were two blue orbs of intense concentration. “Let’s get it on,” he said. Chino’s hand moved for the Colt. Jordeen went for his pistol. Wilson lunged forward with the sawed-off suddenly in his hand. He brought the barrel down on the kid’s head. Jordeen fell to the floor and Wilson spun, the nose of the plasma gun aimed at the Nomad gang leader’s chest. Chino was crouched, his Colt half out of the holster. The other three Nomads stood tensed, waiting, their hands ready to clutch their weapons. “Let go of it,” Wilson said.

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Chino froze. A slow, wide grin crept across his weather-beaten face. “You’re still pretty fast,” he said. “For an old timer. But there’s four of us. You may get some of us, but you won’t live to know about it.” “I don’t know which is worse,” Wilson said, moving the sawed-off back and forth over the four of them. “Wannabe’s like the kid there, or drunken desert garbage that don’t have no respect for their elders. Drop your guns on the floor or start using them.” Nomads, Brand thought. They were the product of their times. Human refuse created by the oil companies that had pillaged Tulon. The instinct for survival had turned them into savage animals. He already had the Beretta loose in its holster under the table. He was ready, whatever happened. It was the man with the long braids who moved first. His hand swept the Python out of the shoulder sling and aimed it at Wilson. The old man swiveled. The laser pistol and plasma gun fired at the same time, a purple ray zapping out of Wilson’s gun, a white beam crackling from the X-2. The man with the braids flew back and landed on the table where he’d been sitting. Glasses crashed and shattered. The women screamed and ran to get behind the bar. Wilson yelled in pain and took two steps back. He’d been hit in his left arm. Chino had the Colt in his hand and aimed it at him. “Chino,” Brand yelled. He was on his feet, the Beretta held waist high. The Nomad turned the gun towards him. Brand saw his finger squeeze the Colt’s trigger. Saw the iron hammer rise and fall. There was a burst of flame and a

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

A Couple of Hours in Coreytown , A Jack Brand Story by John M. Whalen
loud explosion. Brand fired the Beretta. He saw the blue electric arc dart across the room and hit Wilson in the side. Brand felt the lead slug from the .45 hit him in the thigh. It was like a blow from a hammer. His leg went out from under him and he went down on one knee. The two skin heads fired at Wilson. Wilson sprayed Plasma rays in their direction. One of them crumbled to the floor but the other kept firing at the old man. Crazy, Brand thought. The Nomad couldn’t shoot. He kept missing Wilson. Chino stood wobbling, looking down at the burnt flesh in his side. He glared at Brand and raised his Colt. “You’ll pay for that,” he said. The pain in Brand’s leg was numbing. He gritted his teeth and jerked the Beretta up from his kneeling position and got off another blast. It hit Chino dead center of his chest. The Nomad fired the Colt down into the floorboards, an acrid cloud of blue smoke rising around him. He paled and stood for a moment looking at Brand as his eyes began to fill up with empty. The gun dropped from his fingers and clattered to the floor. His knees buckled and he fell down. The last Nomad kept squeezing the trigger of his laser pistol at Wilson, but nothing happened. The gun had run out of fuel. He stood clicking the trigger, as if by some magic he could make it fire. Wilson lowered his plasma gun, shaking his head. “Get out of here,” he said. The Nomad threw the gun away and ran out the door. Wilson turned and looked down at Brand. The smoke from Chino’s revolver still curled in the air. Three bodies lay bleeding. Rafe Jordeen lay where Wilson had dropped him. “You all right,” Ran Wilson asked, walking over to Brand. “Doesn’t feel like it hit the bone,” he said. Wilson helped him to get up. They could hear the skinhead’s motorcycle taking off outside. “Had been a laser, I’d have lost the leg,” he said. “Didn’t know that Chino was so fast.” “We best get you over to the doc’s,” Wilson said, draping Brand’s right arm over his shoulders. “How’s yours?” “Ain’t nothin’,” Wilson said. “Don’t hardly feel it.” They started for the batwings. “Like the old days, ain’t it, Ran?” Brand said. “It’s always the old days,” Wilson answered. “Things don’t change. Just the faces.” They pushed the batwings open. “No, you don’t.” It was Rafe Jordeen’s voice. Brand and Wilson turned around. The kid stood in the middle of the saloon floor, the laser pistol in his hand. “I’m going to kill you two sons of bitches. Wilson, you shamed me, hit me on the head with that sawed-off. Brand you would have let that scum kill me. You just ain’t the man I thought you was. I always thought I wanted to be like you. When you showed up here, I thought maybe we could be friends. But you just ain’t fit to live. I hate the both of you.”

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Brand saw the kid’s hand tighten around the Smith and Wesson laser automatic. There was no stopping what was going to happen now. He spun, pushing Wilson away from him. The Beretta was in his hand. He had no choice. The kid was drunk, and he meant to kill them. The kid fired. A red laser beam cracked out of the barrel. Brand dove to the side and squeezed the trigger on the Electro-Pistol. The blue bolt of electricity hit Jordeen in the chest and knocked him to the floor. His straw hat rolled and stopped when it hit the brass foot rail in front of the bar. Brand saw Crystal and her girls standing behind the bar looking down wide-eyed at his sprawled body. “Wannabe’s,” Brand said in disgust. He thrust the Beretta back into its holster. Wilson helped him outside and they crossed the street to the doc’s office. It was 5:30 and the whistle had blown at the Jordeen oil field. The oil field crews were pouring into town, some in vehicles, most on foot. It was going to be just another night in Coreytown.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

A Couple of Hours in Coreytown , A Jack Brand Story by John M. Whalen

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John M. Whalen
John M. Whalen’s stories have appeared  in the Flashing Swords E-zine, pulpanddagger.com, and Universe Pathways magazine.  His Jack Brand stories are a  staple here at Ray Gun Revival magazine. Contact the author here.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Deuces Wild, Fractured Facets, Part Three by L. S. King

Deuces Wild, Season Two

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Chapter 3: Fractured Facets, Part Three by L. S. King
Slap chewed his nails as Carter drummed his fingers on the console. The engineer was as frustrated as he was. Did he see Addie as a little girl who needed big brothers as Slap did? Perhaps. He studied the thin, lined face. Carter’d had some tough times, from the little he knew of him, and undoubtedly worried about the Confeds getting him back. Did he have family? Part of him wanted to ask, but Carter seemed about as willing to talk about his past as Tristan. He stared at the comm panel, willing Tristan to call so they could leave—oh no! Slap sat bolt upright. “Brago’s Bands! We’re in trouble!” “What?” Carter spun to stare at him. “How?” “Tristan wants us ready to go, to meet with him.” Carter nodded. “Yes. So?” “Customs. They make you go through the wait and search every time you leave the space port. Tristan forgot.” Carter frowned, running a hand through his silvering blond hair. “It’s not like Tristan to forget things...” His eyes shone with fresh concern as he met Slap’s. “He’s doing this alone.” “We can’t let him! We have to do something.” Carter shook his head. “I don’t know what we can do. We don’t know where he is, or what he’s doing.” “Where’s he likely to go? To where they have Addie, right? The Confeds are here to buy and transport arms and stuff for the war, so wouldn’t they have a ship?” Carter’s crooked smile slid onto his face, and he regarded Slap with an amused expression, finally saying, “Yes. Yes, they would. And the location of their freighters is information I do have, among other interesting tidbits I want to pass on to Tristan.” “Freighters? How’d you find out about them?” “I’ve been monitoring their communications and doing traces. And I...I really was worried that Addie might already be dead.” “What!” “The Confeds don’t play games, and they wouldn’t let her live if they got us, so I wondered if they were keeping her alive until they do. But from what I’ve been hearing, I think she’s all right.” Slap slumped in his chair in relief. “I hope you’re right. So...what did you hear?” “To summarize, they’ve got locals guarding a warehouse—locals meaning natives.” “The Medan natives? Those three-legged aliens?” “I think we’re the aliens on this planet,” Carter said with a chuckle. “But yeah. And their men are already setting up something near the docks’ west gate market.” “For an ambush, I take it? I ain’t surprised.” “But there’s been some chatter about cargo that needs watching on the freighter Yangtze.” “Why would cargo need to be watched?” “Exactly—since livestock.” they aren’t exporting

Slap jumped to his feet. “I think Tristan needs to know this.” “But where do we find him?” “I don’t know, but we can’t look from here. We need to be outside the space port.” Carter rose, a contemplative look on his face. “I...I think you might be right. Let me grab a few things, and I’ll meet you at the hatch.” # “So do you have a plan?” Slap asked as they headed toward the city after clearing customs. “Not really.” Carter sighed. “I’ve thought

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Deuces Wild, Fractured Facets, Part Three by L. S. King
and thought, but I’m not Tristan. I can’t think on my feet like he can. I really don’t know where he might be.” “Scheme on his feet, you mean.” Slap’s attention riveted to the glow at the edge of the city to their left. His mind filled in what he couldn’t see at this distance, the huge multicolored dome, the holo-banner, the bright lights. “Tristan was looking for Polk, and he said Polk worked for the circus. Think we’d find him there?” “I guess it can’t hurt to look around.” # Tristan took a slow deep breath, his eyes and Zvi’s locked. He dared not show emotion, dared not show weakness. Zvi put a hand out toward the two youths, palm down, gesturing to lower their weapons. “You may go. This is a personal matter.” As their guns dropped to their sides, Polk squealed, “Zvi, he’s going to murder me!” The penetrating gaze switched to Polk. “Jacek, shut up.” Before Zvi could say anything else, Tristan cut in, “He’s involved in a young girl being kidnapped and is my only card to play in getting her back safely.” “Cards. Such talk from you.” Zvi’s chin lifted, and he sighed. “So go. Save this girl.” Tristan hesitated, surprised Zvi would just let him leave like this. The old man waved a hand in permission as he had a million times, making Tristan’s heart ache for his past, for all that was lost. “Go.” Zvi said. “Go!” Keeping a death grip on Polk’s arm, Tristan shoved him past Zvi. Polk’s objections and wails brought him no sympathy or help. He wanted desperately to look behind, to see Zvi’s face just once again, but he dared not. As they crossed the backyard, Polk squirmed to get out of Tristan’s grip, but a twist on the man’s wrist stopped any struggling. “You forget who trained me to fight—and to kill.” “Y-you said you need me, you can’t kill me.” “I can do anything I want,” Tristan hissed, then whispered more softly in Polk’s ear. “How I fell...this all brings it back—from the heights of the Big Top to being Dray’s slave.” He jerked Polk’s arm, making him grunt. “And it puts me in a particularly sour mood. So you’re going to help me get that girl out of the Confeds’ hands before their planned ambush at midnight.” “They’ll kill me if I help you!” “I’ll kill you if you don’t.” Sweat seeped through Polk’s shirt and ran down his face. “I don’t see what I can do.” “Get me in where they’re holding Addie. I’m going to take her from them.” Tristan began moving again, pushing Polk into a high-stepping trot. “That’s suicide.” “You’d better hope it’s not, because at one o’clock, an hour after their scheduled rendezvous with us, my message goes out to Dray

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about you. Do you get me back to the ship in time to stop that?” “You think you have all the cards, don’t you?” “Unlike you, I’m not a gambler, I’m a card sharp. I use false shuffles, false cuts, I deal from the bottom and the middle, I cull, I stack the deck—whatever it takes to make sure I’m in control. So...” Tristan loosened Polk’s arm enough to turn him around. “Are you going to bet on me, or against me?” Polk snatched free and rubbed his shoulder. “You’ve...won against the Confeds before, that’s why they want you and your friend both.” Ah. “Who? Who do they want?” The gambler frowned. “Donegal, the demented genius. I don’t know the name he’s using now.” Carter. So they didn’t know Slap was along? Should he assume Polk was telling the truth—or knew everything the Confeds were up to? “And you said there’s three Confed agents here? That’s all?” “Yes, see, they’re only here to move merchandise along—Xanthus doesn’t like them much, and they have to be on the q.t.” “So I imagine.” “But they hired some local thugs, so I’m not sure how many will be at the warehouse.” “And you know for certain this warehouse is where they’re holding her?” “Yes. It’s where they’re storing the goods

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Deuces Wild, Fractured Facets, Part Three by L. S. King
while waiting for their ship.” Tristan blew his breath out slowly. “Give me the layout, and it had better be accurate because you’re going in the door with me.” After Polk gave Tristan details and answered questions, they exited the backyard and skirted the edge of the almost-deserted midway, Polk’s arm in Tristan’s firm grasp. An older man with greying hair and a slight stoop strode across grounds, and with a desperate cry, Polk yelled in Polish, “Evžen! Help! He’ll kill me!” Tristan peered hard at the figure before recognizing the aged man. This was Walczyk? Yes, of course. Time was no man’s friend. But still, he remembered the man as tall, forbidding, frightening—in truth, Walczyk wasn’t much taller than Tristan. His one-time tormentor straightened a bit with a frown. “What trouble have you gotten yourself into now, Jacek?” “Bigger trouble than you know, Walczyk,” Tristan replied in their language. “Stay out of the way.” Walczyk’s frown deepened; echoes of old memories, old fears from childhood nightmares returned to Tristan. But now...he saw the reality—this man was nothing. “Who are you to know me?” Walczyk asked. Hatred welled up in Tristan, boiled out before he could stop it. “Do you wish to abandon me on a planet now, hein? Or shove me out an airlock? Zvi is not here. It is you and me. Can you bully a man as you did a baby boy?” The blood drained from Walczyk’s face. “You!” Polk twisted his arm and bolted away. Tristan broke into a run, and in seconds closed the distance. He dove through the air, hands around Polk’s waist, and the two smashed into the sawdust. As Tristan wrestled Polk into a hold, the gambler began blubbering. He dragged Polk to his feet, then sharp pain crashed into the back of his head. Tristan fell to his knees, stars dancing before his eyes. He didn’t need to see that Polk was getting away, he could hear the pounding footsteps as the man ran off. Rising and spinning, Tristan made out Walczyk’s face and aimed his fist at it with all his might. Glass jaw, old age, lucky hit—or all three, but Walczyk fell, crumpled unconscious to the ground. The moment of satisfaction faded, and Tristan turned to the direction Polk had run, but the gambler was out of sight already. Tristan sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He had the urge to kick Walczyk, but that would solve nothing. He took a deep breath, trying to decide what to do next, and saw Zvi walking slowly toward him across the midway. “He’s not dead,” he said in Russian before Zvi could say anything. “I know. I saw.” His mentor nodded in the direction Polk had gone. “So now, what about this girl? What are you going to do?” Tristan exhaled slowly. “Whatever I can.” Zvi’s eyes held his for a long moment. Did he

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see a longing there? No, he was most certainly projecting his own. “Is there any way we can help?” We?  “The Cirque?  Mon  Dieu, I am a murderer, remember? And worse, a groundie. What would the Cirque do for me?” “Ah, boy...” Zvi shook his head slowly. “You don’t—” A shriek cut off what Zvi started to say. Tristan spun to see Slap and Carter walking toward him, Polk ensnared in the cowboy’s arms, one around his neck, the other around his waist. The engineer looked a bit smug, hands shoved into the pockets of his old, worn jacket. “Lose something, Tristan?” Slap called, grinning. Tristan glared in lieu of letting his mouth drop open and switched languages. “I said for you to wait until I contacted you.” “Yeah, but we wouldn’t have gotten through customs in time.” Slap’s innocent face didn’t fool Tristan. And Carter’s told the story anyway; they’d figured it out. So much for his original plan—he furiously began revising his strategy as his gaze bored into Polk, another variable changed in his calculations. “We’re running out of time. Let’s go.” He strode forward, but Zvi’s voice arrested him. “Boy?” He stopped and half-turned, his gaze on the ground for a moment, but Zvi taught him

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Deuces Wild, Fractured Facets, Part Three by L. S. King
better than that. Lifting his chin, he met those dark eyes. Pain shone there, and it nearly broke Tristan’s reserve. He’d never seen such open emotion from the man. “Be careful,” Zvi murmured, his voice breaking. Tristan swallowed twice and, finally, trusted his voice would remain steady. “Always.” With a nod to his companions, he said again, “Let’s go.” # Slap looked back over his shoulder at the silver-haired man with the cane as they hurried away, a million questions running through his mind. “So what are your plans?” Carter asked. “Polk, here, claims they’re holding Addie at a warehouse.” Slap glanced down at the pale, sweaty man still trapped in his arms, feet dangling off the ground. How could he tell his buddy the man was lying without letting on what Carter had found out? “Aw, Tristan, you gonna believe anything this slimy lizard says?” His friend snorted. “The question is, will the Confeds think we believe him?” Tristan turned to Carter. “You know these people better than I do.” The engineer pursed his lips. “The men here are mere smugglers, not their top agents, so I wouldn’t credit them with too much in the way of brains.” Carter hesitated before continuing. “I’d bet they received orders about you and me from high up. I’m certain they don’t realize how much they’re underestimating you.” Tristan, as usual, seemed to know what was really going on, and from his knowing nod, had picked up that Carter wasn’t betting, but had facts. They proceeded across the midway in silence, unless you included Polk’s occasional grunts as Slap hefted him to shift position. A sack of grain was much less trouble; it didn’t have legs to kick out at people. A few people stared at them, and Tristan said, “Set him down before anyone asks questions.” Slap obeyed, but still kept a grip on Polk’s neck—not an easy task; did the man sweat due to some medical condition or because of nerves? As they left the midway and entered the city proper, Polk tried to twist out of Slap’s hold, but squeaked and went still when he found himself lifted from the ground by his collar. “You’re getting very annoying, you know that?” Slap muttered. “If Tristan doesn’t think we need you anymore, I might use you for wit toss practice.” “What’s wit toss?” Polk asked, trying to twist to face Slap. “A game on my planet. You pick up a sack with a large rock in it and whirl around a few times to pick up speed then let go and see how far away the rock lands.” Slap smiled broadly. “I usually win.” Polk’s eyes grew large, and he wilted. “Wh-where are we going?”

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“To the warehouse—where else?” In the dim lighting along the street, Slap couldn’t really see Tristan’s face, but his teeth gleamed. “You are going to lead the way in the rescue.” “Lead the way? I don’t know how—I can’t...” Tristan pulled Polk away from Slap and companionably dropped an arm around his shoulders. “Certainly you can. You’re going to walk in the door—a task none of us could safely do—and announce they are to give up the girl, or the whole building will be blown sky-high within five minutes.” “Blown up!” Rivulets poured down Polk’s face now, glistening in the street lights. He tried to stop walking, but Tristan kept his momentum moving forcibly forward. Slap bit his lips together and swallowed hard to keep from laughing. From Carter’s pursed lips, he was fighting to keep a straight face too. The two men exchanged glances as their little procession continued on. # Slap squinted into the dark as he placed the blast-disk Carter had given him on the wall of the warehouse. He slunk along the edge and set another at the other corner, then ran in the shadows to where Tristan waited. His two buddies assured him they were reasonably certain Addie was on the one freighter, the Yangtze, not here. He hoped they were right, although Polk would certainly let everyone inside know the place was going to blow up.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Deuces Wild, Fractured Facets, Part Three by L. S. King
He joined Carter when his side of the building was done, and the two squatted behind a large dumpster. Tristan had gone ahead. “What if they kill Addie when they hear we’ve blown up their warehouse?” “Tristan feels—and I agree with him—that if she’s not already dead, they want her alive as a bargaining token until they have us.” “But what if you’re wrong?” “Slap, look, this whole thing is full of ifs and maybes. We’re playing it this way, believing it’s the best way to get Addie back alive. But there are no guarantees. The girl drives me crazy, but I don’t want her dead any more than you do. And Tristan does want her back alive.” “I really wonder about that.” “He may not care for her, but he does have his reputation, and what would his failure here do to that?” Slap nodded. That he could hold onto. “Well, now we have to brave customs again.” “There are usually longer lines for entry, and at this time of night, probably no lines at all going either way.” Carter rose and began walking, and Slap fell into step with him. “We hope. Folks will be leaving the circus soon.” “Those are mostly locals from the city. But we’d better hurry—I don’t want to take any chances. We have to be in place when Tristan needs us.” “What does he have planned?” “Who knows? He didn’t say, just to head for the Yangtze.” “He’s not going to try to leave us out again, is he?” Carter shrugged. “Let’s not let him.” Three Medan natives with PB rifles stepped into their path, making the two men halt. “Hold it right there,” ordered one, his voice understandable despite a strange alien-guttural quality. # Tristan scrutinized the Yangtze, visible in the hardstand lights shining up on the hull. She was a true, full-sized freighter, not the personal cargo ship the Giselle was. Many places to store living—or dead—merchandise. But now she was quiet, slumbering in the night, no workmen loading or unloading, no hatches open for easy access. He glanced at his chrono. It would soon be time for Carter to send the signal to detonate the blast-disks at the warehouse. He had to get inside the ship quickly. Luckily, getting inside places was one of his specialties. He adjusted the collar of the dock worker’s coverall he’d appropriated and donned, and approached the rear hatch. Overriding the lock was easy. He jumped onto the ramp before it had completely lowered to find a Medani guard waiting for him, PBG in hand.

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To catch up on previous episodes of the adventures of Slap and Tristan, visit:

http://loriendil.com/DW.php

Deuces Wild is dedicated to the memory of my best friend; my inspiration for an enduring friendship...http://loriendil.com/Starsky/

L. S. King
L.S. began martial arts training over thirty  years ago, and owned a karate school for a  decade.  When  on  the  planet,  she  lives  in Delaware with her husband, Steve, and  their  youngest  child.  She  enjoys  gardening, soap making, reading, and all things Myst.  She  also  likes  Looney  Tunes,  the  color  purple,  and  is  a  Zorro  aficionado,  which might explain her love for swords and cloaks. Like Londo Mollari, she wants to know if the Hokey Pokey is really what it’s all about.
Issue 43, May 2008

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
The story so far:

Chapter 22, The Confessions of Dangerous Men by Johne Cook
something startling. As I went about performing the duties of a cleric of Cyl, the supposed Alacrity’s  R&R  was  interrupted  by  an  over- omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign god of this whelming  fleet  of  Sylvan  warships.  Flynn  sold  world, some force was actually assisting me. the local merchant captains on a bold plan, but the cleric did what clerics do, and Bola did  It is understandable that Flynn doesn’t what  Bola  does.    What  happened  next  was  understand who I am, but it is particularly clearly folly and possibly a miracle, but no less  vexing that I don’t understand who I am. Now a legend.  It left Bola with her own mercenary  my motivations are even an enigma to myself. army and the cleric with some hard questions  That can’t continue. about the nature of his ‘faith.’ I’ve seen and done many things I’m not proud of, and I’ve been involved with more than my share of death. But I’ve never seen Part One anything like this, and despite my best intenSplash Down tions and my deepest thinking, I’m alarmed. y motivations have always been a mystery Part of me wants to say “Cyl help me.” And to captain Cooper Flynn. therein lies the conflict. From the moment he laid eyes on me, he # heard the title I used and saw the way I was dressed and thought he knew what to expect It was dawn and I stood at the railing as with regard to me. When he brought me Eggplant brought Alacrity into port and as we aboard—a euphemism for kidnapped—the Haddirron airship Alacrity, he didn’t have the descended, I watched the approaching dock, first idea the kind of trouble he was inviting the visual demarcation of land and water. There onboard his quaint little gadget craft. Whether was always a moment when Eggplant shut off that trouble followed me or cursed me or was the power and the ship settled into the water. I me didn’t faze him in the slightest in his naïveté both anticipated it and feared that moment for reasons I can’t quite name. and ignorance. But that’s not what I was thinking about at He didn’t simply invite lethal trouble aboard, he insisted on it. He asked for it. I could that moment. There is knowledge, and there is thought. I knew Alacrity would splash down. keep that trouble at bay for only so long. However, my thoughts were about a topic But as events unfolded and battles occurred, much closer to me. in my assumed guise, I started to perceive “Well you’re deep in thought.” The voice was lyrical and wise, young but mature. It was becoming a comfort. To me, of all people. I looked over to see Dr. Deena Prentiss approach. She stood by the railing next to me and watched our descent. “Hello, Doctor,” I said. “Preparing your thoughts for Holy Day service?” I could have left her to her misconception, but chose not to, for there is an equilibrium to falsehood, and I did not want to lose my sense of balance. It was a personal point of honor that most would not understand, but the ones who give me pause are not those who don’t understand, but rather those who do. I smiled gently. “My good doctor, I have a far more serious demeanor when my musing is preparation for official discourse. On this occasion, I am simply thinking for the pleasure of thinking.” She nodded, playing along. “Grave frown— discourse. Peaceful gaze—musing for fun. Seems clear enough.” She smiled. “What is the nature of your musing on this occasion?” “I’ve been thinking about identity, about what makes us who we are.” “Oh?” I gestured to the dock workers lining up to carry and cart things on and off the ship. “If I

M

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate , Chapter 22, The Confessions of Dangerous Men by Johne Cook
am one man when I leave the ship, who will I be when I return? I will be wearing the same clothes, and people will address me with the same greeting, but who is to say I will actually be the same man who left? It haunts me at night sometimes.” She shrugged. “If you are hale and whole, I shall welcome you back with a smile. If you are not, I will bind your wounds.” I looked at her guileless silhouette, the very soul of common sense. “If I return wounded, you will heal me, whoever I am at that moment? Can it be so simple?” “It is that simple for me, yes.” She watched Mr. Pitt pass without comment, neither of them meeting the others’ eyes. Her voice grew distant. “Other things, however, are not so simple for me to heal.” I nodded. “Some things are not yet simple, but everything changes over time. Some things get harder. Some get easier. And others...we won’t know about them until we get there and take in the lay of the coast.” She said, “What about me, then? Am I a doctor right now, or am I just a woman adrift amongst dangerous men?” I thought about it. We were both stranded, in a way, although the method of my estrangement was looking more complex all the time. Finally, I said, “What is important is that when you need to be a doctor, you will be, and that is enough for me.” She turned to face me and smiled triumphantly, and I knew she had trapped me. “Very well, then. When we have something to confess, you will be a cleric, and that is enough for me.” I concealed the troubled shadow that flitted across my heart. “I’m not sure the...skills I have are suitable for the crew on this ship.” She was having none of it. “Your contributions to this crew are immeasurable. I saw you pray for the dying and the dead. We know you prayed for Bola, for the captain through this last battle. And you can’t argue that something unexplainable happened. Everyone knows what you did, even if we don’t know how it works.” I had no answer to any of that. She bumped my shoulder with hers. “Cleric, absolve yourself,” she said. I looked at her in alarm, for what she said made perfect sense to me. Or would have, had I been an actual cleric. So much for maintaining equilibrium after all. And speaking of which... A sailor at the bow yelled out. “Fifty feet! Twenty five feet! On your mark!” Eggplant stepped out of the wheelhouse. “Last warning! Cutting power!” We grabbed the railing and the bottom dropped out beneath us. The ship dropped into the water with a heavy, wooden sploosh, water shooting up between the ship and the dock and raining back down on us. Deena squealed and we fell a couple of feet to the deck. I landed lightly on the balls of my feet. She landed awkwardly and started to fall. Without thinking, my arm shot out, and I grabbed her around the waist and pulled her to me to stabilize her.

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The ship rocked a little and then settled in. Deena turned in my arm to face me, her face looking up to me. I could feel her breasts pressed against my chest as we regained our balance. At that distance, she smelled slightly of sunshine and island flowers. “I will never get used to that,” she said, her voice strangely husky. “Some things get easier with the passage of time,” I said by way of reprise, and lightly brushed a stray strand of hair from her face with fingers. She didn’t tremble. I took a half a step back. “Thank you for the discussion. I have business on shore.” I half-bowed, not so low to be earnest, nor so shallow to be ironic. It was gesture of an old friend, one to another. “Doctor.” I turned and saw Mr. Pitt watching the exchange, and knew the bow had been just right to stay him. For now. My eyes flicked away as I demonstrated to him I wasn’t putting on an act for his benefit, and went below. Yes, it was a falsehood, but it was for his benefit, not his detriment, and I didn’t give it a second thought. Apparently, Mr. Pitt wasn’t getting used to the splash down at port that any more than Deena was, but that wasn’t my problem. I had enough crises of my own to attend to. And I knew who was responsible for those crises, and who I had to see next. # I served breakfast to Captain Flynn in the

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate , Chapter 22, The Confessions of Dangerous Men by Johne Cook
galley that morning and quietly asked him if we could speak privately after the meal. He looked guarded, but agreed to meet. That pretty much sums up our relationship. He tracked me down in the ship’s library afterward, closing the door behind him. “Cleric Vaneras. What can I do for you?” I closed The Paradox of the Ship of the Seus and looked up. “Captain, I am a student of people’s motivations. You might call it an occupational hazard. Therefore, I’m very interested when somebody does something they’ve never done before. And the corollary is likewise true, when they stop doing something they’ve always done before for no obvious.” “What are you getting at?” “There is a loose information network among the churches on the islands around the great Mendaran Ocean. And part of the duties that go along with my line of work is listening to the confessions of dangerous men. Such is the effectiveness of this network that we frequently know things even before the navy.” Flynn gestured for me to go on. He was either aware of that network, or at least could be convinced that such a network might exist. Interesting. Despite our sometimes tense relationship, he was learning to trust me. I tucked that insight away, as is the way of my kind. I continued. “During our recent liberty on Parrot Bay, I went ashore and spoke at length with my peers at the local temple. Something came up in conversation that arrested my attention. The activity of that network has gone curiously quiet in recent months.” Flynn leaned forward. “I initially thought it was an anomaly, and then I thought it was a coincidence. However, the more time that passes without normal activity, the more certain I am that something is up, something so big they want to mask its existence with artificial quiescence.” “What are they talking about, then?” “The usual—court politics, who’s sleeping with whom, the relative sanity of monarchs.” He might have looked amused at this point, but he didn’t. He was taking me seriously. “Because there is a lack of violent crime and a wave of relative peace around the Mendaran, you’re suspicious? And not just a little curious, but suspicious to the point of genuine concern?” I nodded. Flynn’s eyes were twinkling furiously. However, to his credit, he didn’t take it any further, and when I said I wanted to take a quick tour of the nearby islands to speak to my fellow clerics, he waved his hand negligently and told me to return before they lifted off to do battle at Yempher. He left the study, and I smiled to myself. His curiosity was at least as large as mine, and I had his attention. My smile faded, perhaps a trifle wistfully. A normal cleric might have felt a twinge of conscience for lying to his captain, but I was not a normal cleric. #

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I changed into something innocuous, slipped the leather strap of the small leather bag over my neck to rest on my chest under my casual bloused shirt, and left the ship shortly afterward. It was time to return to my past, even if just for little while. I had the strangest feeling my future just might depend on it. Part Two The Hail, the Feint, and the Ambush On making landfall, I didn’t go to the local temple as I’d suggested. Instead, I borrowed a horse, rode to the far side of the island, and there commissioned a catamaran, known for its speed, and left Roarke’s Island far behind. We bypassed a number of medium-sized islands before spotting a tiny island between a loose group of other nearby islands. There was a well known, well-trafficked tavern there that served as a central hub for the area. I wasn’t going there. We docked there, and I left instructions for the catamaran to wait for me, just as the horse was waiting for me back on the west side of Roarke’s Island. I found a one-person kayak that wasn’t in use at the moment and appropriated it. I paddled to the furthest of the group of islands with the scraggliest beaches and no dock at all. There was nothing much of note there except for a rather derelict watering hole known more for who didn’t frequent it than anything, and a large, impassable ruins behind it. There were some good reasons to come

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate , Chapter 22, The Confessions of Dangerous Men by Johne Cook
to this group of islands, but no good reason to come to this one in particular, nor this...establishment. Which, as it turns, was perfect for what I was looking for. There was no door, nor really any walls. It was essentially just a medium thatched roof and some chairs and tables sitting uneasily on sandy soil. I surveyed the place. It could not be more humble. This would be it. It is true there is a legitimate information network available through the island temples, but as far as crime is concerned, why go to a scroll vendor on the street when you can go right to the crime lord? And ironically enough, if I was interested in petty crime, I’d have gone to Flynn’s clandestine contact, the Friar of Briar Island. However, I wasn’t interested in just any average crime, I was interested in one specific advanced discipline, and that was a different organization entirely. # I didn’t know who I was looking for, or what they looked like, but I knew how to find them. In this organization, I could count on three things—the hail, the feint, and the ambush. There were at least two reasons for that. The first was to make it easy to keep the guild hidden in plain sight, a decentralized group with no obvious head. The second was to keep your wits sharp, keep your reflexes steady but ready for action at any moment. The third reason was simple arrogance, but none of us spoke of that. The hail is interesting; it’s never the same, and there are no lists of things to memorize. The concept is simple, but the implementation can be tricky. Fortunately, these people are a naturally tricky lot, so the challenge is garden-path-easy to them. I took in the patrons of the bar with one surreptitious glance; two nearly identical beefy sailors who were doing more drinking than dicing, a beautiful woman in expensive silks, a peg-legged man with a faded hat, a savvy-looking native bartrendress, and a ragged looking widow-in-mourning. If that went too fast for you, the cast were not one, but two bouncers—interesting for this place, a merchant woman—not a madam, a captain of a tramp freighter that had seen better decades, somebody who owed someone something working the bar, and, well, a widow. I mentally labeled the two peas-in-a-pod bouncers as ‘Pints’ and ‘Quarts,’ although they looked enough like each other that they could have been twins. I walked up to the bar—two heavy planks suspended over two heavy crates—and ordered without preamble. “Blamoonian Mist,” I said. The bartendress looked at me in disbelief. “You’ll have rum or ale. The rum doesn’t suffer by being room temperature.” I might normally have snickered at her use

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of the word ‘room,’ but I was busy listening. It was the widow who spoke. “Blamoonian fronds are out of season right now. She’s right about the rum—that’s what I’m having.” I collected a hollowed out coconut shell of rum and walked over to the widow. I couldn’t believe my eyes, or didn’t, at least. “Will there be some arriving in another shipment? Should I come back another time?” The widow laughed, a husky cackle that sounded of dried leaves and withered branches, completely out of place in these lush tropical environs. “There is no other time. It’s rum or ale, and trust me, you don’t want the ale.” She gestured to take a seat, and I did, thus completing the hail. It’s never who I think, which is precisely the point. # She looked at me carefully, her intelligent eyes betraying her disguise. “What can I do for you?” The best lies have an element of truth, and my quandary involved that very intersection between dark and light, lie and truth. “Things have gotten very quiet, too quiet. I came in to find out why myself.” “You came in,” she said, repeating my words as if I’d said something profound. “How did you find us?” Us?

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate , Chapter 22, The Confessions of Dangerous Men by Johne Cook
“You can speak freely,” she said, as if that would change everything. I could? Maybe it would. I just wish I knew what we were talking about here. It struck me at that moment how odd it was that I was only in the dark in my role as a cleric. That seemed backwards somehow, and the dissonance was threatening to tear me apart. I looked back around at the motley bunch lounging around, and noticed they were all looking at me. Hungrily. I never would have missed that transition “before.” Another wave of identity confusion passed over me. This was not the time to lose focus. I started to think about what I was seeing right in front of me. The two big guys were Qantiinate, not just big, but smart. And another thing...I realized they weren’t just smart, they were also twins. And not just twins, but sons. And those weren’t dice, they were nasty things waiting to be thrown. I took a sip of my rum, not tasting it, as the truth of the rest of the room came into focus. The woman in silks was Qantrent—essentially a gymnast assassin, as deadly as she was beautiful. Her silks were flowing for easy movement. She was a slayer of kings. But what was she doing here, of all places? I looked again at the captain, and placed him without even meeting his eyes. He was Captain Solo Diamante. He was a Qantiin legend. His leg had been caught in a trap as he was pursuing a mark. The mark stopped and laughed at him. Diamante didn’t stop to free himself, but threw a dagger, pinning the mark to a tree. Then Diamante drew his sword, sliced off his own leg above the ankle, bound the wound with his shirt, and limped over and finished the contract. Or so they said. And that’s when he looked at me. Looking at him gave me the once-over, I wouldn’t put it past him—he was a completely humorless, serious customer. I’ve never seen someone with deader eyes. I looked again at the bartender. “Still want that Blamoonian Mist?” she said, eyes twinkling, and pulled out a bottle of perfectly good whiskey, the sort you’d never expect in an out-of-the-way dive like this. The widow in black stood. “You pass. Grab a glass and follow me.” I did, wondering if I would live long enough to discover I was the mark here. “Where are we going?” “As long as you came to the trouble to track down the inner sanctum and passed the hail, you may as well meet him.” “Him?” I said, my carefully-crafted plan falling to pieces around my head. “The Black Widower, of course. If you’ve gone to the trouble to track down the Qantiin field headquarters, you may as well enjoy the benefits of being at court.” The realization hit me in that moment like the striking of the purest bronze gong. This was either the most colossal coincidence of all time, or yet another indication that the vow I’d taken as part of my cover as a cleric was being

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taken very seriously, whether I intended it or not. I had the strangest feeling yet, that I hadn’t known this all was here, but Someone did, and had led me straight here. Oh, Cyl, I thought, you will be the death of  me. Part Three The Black Widower The Widow—for that’s who she was, another legend in the organization—led the way. Pints and Quarts gestured. Their silence was scintillating. One preceded me and the other followed. As I was being ushered into the abandoned temple—which wasn’t abandoned at all—Pints and Quarts patted me down again, thoroughly, and only uncovered the leather bag tied around my neck and resting underneath my shirt. “What’s this?” “A sweetener that is completely organic and which is one hundred times sweeter than sugar but which only grows on the Sylvan continent. It is a rare treat, made even more rare by the misfortunes of war.” Quarts was outright skeptical. “You wear sugar around your neck?” “Not just sugar, but a super-concentrated, super-rare, super-expensive sweetener that few have ever tasted. This is my nest egg. When I sell it, I will be able to retire. So I keep it close to me until I decide I want to liquidate my

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate , Chapter 22, The Confessions of Dangerous Men by Johne Cook
holdings and take up the quiet life for good.” “What’s your cover now?” “A cleric.” “What’s quieter than that?” “A restaurant owner and chef,” I said. Pints and Quarts looked at each other expressively. “A chef,” said Quarts. “Come with us,” said Pints. We walked out back to a vine-covered boulder. I was instructed to avert my eyes, so I stared at the one behind me until he gestured that I could look again. A vine-covered door had been opened and there were steps carved into rock going forward into shadow. I followed Pints down the steps. # I expected to face the Black Widower in a great room on a great stone throne, but they led me to a long banquet room with teak tables and individual chairs with a grand kitchen on an elevated platform overlooking the tables. Light streamed through great curved arched windows and overgrown foliage, created a muted green effect. Free-standing bamboo torches were set around the kitchen at strategic places to provide area lighting. There was a small spherical table on the kitchen dais level, and I was shown to one of the chairs there. My first view of the Black Widower was a small, stocky man with a black cotton apron tied behind him around the waist. It was a bit incongruous. He was facing the other way, slicing something on a teak cutting board on magnificent granite countertops. The Widow said, “We have a visitor.” The Black Widower turned, a ray of filtered light lighting up half his face, leaving the rest in shadow. Quarts stepped forward without being bid and whispered for a long moment. The Black Widower nodded. “Thank you,” he said. She bowed deeply, turned, and left. He looked at me with knowing eyes. That sort of scrutiny was unsettling. “What brings you to the Temple?” I thought about it. “What if I said I wasn’t sure?” He nodded as if I’d said a great truth. “You were sure at one time, however, yes? What was the last thing you were sure about?” “There was the usual silence, and then there was a deeper silence. I wanted to find out what happened. I didn’t mind being undercover, but I didn’t want to be forgotten, if that makes sense.” “You’ve heard of me,” he said. “Of course,” I said. “Your exploits are legendary.” “What is your name?” I told him.

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He shook his head. “I’ve never heard of you,” he said. “Does that make me worse,” I asked, “or better?” He looked at me with flinty eyes, and then grinned with grim amusement. “We shall see,” he said, and the chill that went down my back was both unwelcome and all too familiar. “What was your cover?” “I was mistaken for a cleric. I did not dissuade them from that misconception.” “You are Qantiin, an assassin of the brotherhood. How did you find working undercover as a holy man?” I shrugged. “The requirements of the two are diametrically opposed. It was easy to hide in plain sight.” “How do you keep the two clear?” “The needs of the moment dictate that. As an assassin, I need to know who to kill. As a cleric, I need to know who to save.” He nodded. “When you wear the assassin’s garb, who do you kill?” “Only the mark.” “When you wear the cleric’s garb, who do you save?” I looked at him levelly. “Everyone I can.” “You are a strange man,” he said, but the way he said it was a compliment.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate , Chapter 22, The Confessions of Dangerous Men by Johne Cook
“I have a strange wardrobe,” I corrected. He thought about that, and then pointed the knife at me. “And what happens when you wear no garb at all?” “They tell me I snore.” The Black Widower put his head back and laughed long and loud, and the sound echoed throughout the old, stone hall. I waited him out, wondering where all this would go next, and how long I could keep up the charade in the face of the most dangerous man I’d met yet in my colorful, complicated life. One thing was sure—it was time to act instead of react. “I told those around me that there is a loose information network among the clerics in the islands. The best stories have at least a kernel of truth. I said the chatter had gone quiet, and that I wanted to investigate why.” “It’s true,” he said. “I put out the word to go dark for awhile, to stay the hand, no more assassinations for awhile. No Qantiin will lift a lethal finger until I give the word.” Oho. I nodded calmly as a shadow of dread flitted around in front of me, chased by the husk of a brainstorm. “Would it be too impudent of me to ask why?” He answered my question with another question. “Why do assassins kill people?” I recognized the strategy. “A variety of reasons,” I said. “It can be for ideological or political motivation. It can be for moral conviction. It can be for revenge. But at the heart of it, assassination is mostly about changing the balance of power in some way.” The Black Widower nodded. “So what would be the point of an organization of assassins deliberately ceasing their assassinations?” I thought it through. “If the primary purpose of conducting surgical assassinations was to change the balance of power, the only reason not to continue with assassinations would be if you found a more effective way to change the balance of power by not assassinating people for a season.” He smiled, and in that moment, I had it. “The regent of Haddirron City,” I said. The Black Widower tapped his temple with the flat of his blade affirming my epiphany. Her Majesty the Queen was rumored to be flirting with bouts of insanity as she aged, but her new regent was said to be a calming influence on her, a stable hand at court. I was stunned. Why kill people to change the balance of power when you have the ear of the Queen and the authority to speak in her name when she’s not Herself? Putting a temporary halt to assassinations gave the false impression of order and peace in the kingdom, and created a false sense of security and approval for the regent. It was a quiet coup, and other than those in the temple and the regent themselves, I was the only one to know anything about it. # The Black Widower pointed the chopping knife at my chest. “Sentha tells me you do a little cooking of your own.”

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And just like that, we were at the moment of truth. I had no more time to debate who I was. I had to become the new identity, or I had to embrace the death of the old one. There was no more time to straddle the line. I had time to wonder if this epiphany was what Cyl intended for me. If He was behind this, that tended to answer questions I wasn’t bold enough to even ask. The Black Widower laid the blade down on the chopping board and gestured for me to pick it up. Pints and Quarts both stiffened imperceptibly. I grinned and stepped forward. “Easy, brothers,” I said. “I’m just chopping some vegetables for a nice salad.” I looked at what had been made, at what was laid out. I carefully picked the blade up, correctly squeezing the top back of the blade between my thumb and forefinger. The Black Widower looked on approvingly, and I knew I’d passed his test. What remained to be seen was whether he would pass mine. “Have you ever tried sweet mango tea,” I asked. He shook his head. “What’s that?” I grinned secretively and bustled around for fifteen minutes, boiling tea over a brazier, slicing and mashing fresh mango slices, and making a big production out of what is really a very simple drink. And then I pulled out the leather bag from around my neck. Quarts stepped forward. “It’s an exotic sweetener from the Reach, very rare,

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate , Chapter 22, The Confessions of Dangerous Men by Johne Cook
very expensive. A small amount of this will make for a taste sensation you’ve never had.” I wet my forefinger and dabbed it into the bag, licking the sweet grains, rolling my eyes in pleasure. Quarts stepped forward and cautiously copied me. He was impressed despite himself. “It’s good,” he said. “Like sugar granules, only richer, more natural somehow.” Pints wanted in, so I let him sample it as well. He nodded. “I like it.” I measured a small amount into the tea, swirled it around, and poured a small mug for myself. I took a sip, smiled, and drank it all down. The two brothers held out mugs of their own, and I filled them halfway. They downed them and wiped their sleeves, asking for more. Instead, I filled a mug and passed it to the Black Widower, topping my own off in the process before filling the other mugs thrust in front of me. I held up my mug. “To a cunning peace!” I toasted. They clonked mugs with me, and we all drank up. I sat down as the Black Widower made a plate of fruits and sliced sweetbreads. Sometimes, you have a lot of time to carefully and deliberately plan out your strategies. Sometimes, you have only the barest moment of opportunity to make a decision that will change history. “I’ve been thinking,” I said, sampling a nice apple cinnamon dessert bread. “Have you been watching the rapid development of the Haddirron Naval airship presence?” The Black Widower was inscrutable. “I’ve heard rumors but haven’t seen more than a couple, myself, and that from a distance.” I said, “So far, all the airships have been staffed by Navy crews, all except for one.” He shrugged, and stabbed a piece of banana with his knife. I leaned back. “That ship is not crewed, as is widely thought, by privateers.” That got his interest. “Who has the audacity to defy Her Majesty in that fashion?” I said, “The Qantiin has been trying to get Cooper Flynn for years, now. It should come as no surprise that it is he who flaunts his possession of an airship and gets away with it by pretending to be a privateer. If the Queen knew what he was doing in Her name, She would recall him to Haddirron City forthwith.” I had him. His eyes were alight with the idea of it. “Just think—all this time, the Qantiin have been trying to kill Cooper Flynn. In this time of strategic quiescence, you can be rid of him once-and-for-all without having to sully your hands. Just drop a word into the right ear, and Her Majesty’s Navy will pick him up for you and put him quietly away in a dungeon in Haddirron City. You will have done worse than kill him, you will have disgraced him and banished him to a lifetime of derision and ignominy. It will be a kind of living death.” The Black Widower refilled his mug and

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raised it to me. “Remind me never to cross you,” he said, grinning. “That’s not only brilliant, it is simplicity itself to accomplish.” He drained the mug, smacking his lips. “Delightful. Sentha, bring me a messenger bird!” I thanked him for meeting with me, sampled another dessert bread, and returned through the rock tunnel to the little island bar where everything—and everybody—was more than they appeared. Well, so was I. I stopped long enough to make a round of sweet mango tea for those assembled before I left. I left the island without a second thought, secure in the knowledge that they’d all fallen for my own ambush disguised as a feint. Of course, my private satisfaction was mitigated by the knowledge that I’d just fully committed to the crew of Alacrity, and then betrayed us all to return us to Haddirron City as quickly as possible. I wondered if all clerics wrestled with such weighty choices. I decided that they likely did, but probably felt some remorse about it. I wondered if that would ever come for me, or if my conscience was as scalded as my sense of taste. # I backtracked to the canoe, and then the catamaran, and then the airship I’d just betrayed. I made it aboard in time to lift off with the deck full of island warriors preparing for the assault on Yempher. I made sure something was simmering in the galley and then I went to crawl into my hammock.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate , Chapter 22, The Confessions of Dangerous Men by Johne Cook
Sleep was a long time coming, and when it finally arrived, my dark dreams, gone since my moment of deliverance, had returned, proving that even dreams condemned me. It was little wonder—I left Alacrity confused, a man of death posing as a man of peace. I returned confident, a man of peace posing as a man of death, leaving a trail of death behind me, and preparing to embrace a betrayal of my own doing. I was sick as a dog for a day, which I expected, but I was alive, which was more than I could say for everybody on that little island. Flynn tracked me down my first morning back in the galley. “How did it go?” I snorted humorlessly. I’d been thinking about this moment ever since I’d returned, and I was too tired to lie anymore. “You know how I said I’ve listened to the confessions of dangerous men.” He nodded. “Well, Captain, I have a confession of my own.” His black eyes did that they did do when he gets angry. It’s like they become bottomless pits, sucking you down. It’s a singularly spooky effect. “I haven’t always been a cleric,” I said. “Everybody was something before they found their calling,” he said, carefully. “Not like this,” I said, carefully folding my hands in plain view in front of me. # I told him my story. He stared at a place on the deck and listened to the whole telling without interrupting. When I finished, he sat and thought for a long time before speaking. “Why are you telling me this now?” “Because I’ve made my choice. I know who I am, now, and what I will do with the rest of my life.” He snorted. “I thought you had an awfully extensive knowledge of death for a lifegiver.” “You don’t know the half of it,” I said. “So that brings us back to the trip I just took. Something happened that directly impacts you, and the contract on your life.” “Oh?” ”I’ve done something that will spare you from the Qantiin from here on out.” “Do tell.” “When I told you things were quiet, that was true. However, instead of seeking out the answer from the clerics, I went to the source and sought out the answer from the Qantiin.” He stiffened imperceptibly. I plowed ahead with my story. “But Cyl had other ideas. Instead of finding the local brood, I stumbled onto the secret ruins, the hidden headquarters of the head man himself.” That got happened?” Flynn’s attention. “What

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there’s something else about my training I haven’t told you yet.” He was eating this stuff up. “My secret is this—my taste buds are completely deadened, an unfortunate byproduct of my dark art.” He was mystified. “But how can that be? I’ve eaten your food. You are a gifted cook.” “There is a scientific component to cooking. I cook by watching others and carefully mimicking their formulas. I make great food based on the feedback of others, not by any olfactory ability of my own.” “You mean...” I said, “The delightful grains in the leather bag around my neck which tastes like a superconcentrated form of organic sugar is a poison so toxic that five grains can damage your taste buds, and a small but consistent dose over some years can destroy your sense of smell forever. A half teaspoonful will bring about death 24 hours. I’d developed immunity to it over a period of fifteen years as an apprentice to Chalendron, the Master Poisoner. I’d learned everything he had to teach, and ‘graduated’ by turning his dark art on himself. He’d known it would happen—he just didn’t know when.” “What happened in the ruins?” “I met the Black Widower, the head of the Qantiin. He’d put a gag order out to put in motion another plan he was working on. I gained his confidence, and discovered we had a mutual passion for cooking.” “You mean you...”

“I made sweet mango tea,” I said, “but

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate , Chapter 22, The Confessions of Dangerous Men by Johne Cook
I smiled. “It was a perfect opportunity to use the perfect assassination skill on the head assassin himself, and cut the head off the snake in its own lair.” He hooted. “You killed the master assassin, the head of the Qantiin, in his seat of power?” I mock-bowed from where I sat. Flynn was rocked with the news. I said, “I’ve been conflicted since the battle of Roarke’s Island. Cyl delivered me into the lair of the serpent, and I walked into the lair as a conflicted assassin. My last official kill was to take off the head of the snake.” He looked at me with a critical eye. “What will you do now?” I snorted. “I’ve been hearing that question frequently as of late. I sit before you a reformed assassin, a true cleric. If Cyl can use one such as me, I will be His instrument. Maybe now I can be an instrument of life instead of death.” Flynn nodded and clapped me on the back. “I sensed in the beginning you were the right man for the spiritual needs of Alacrity, such as they may be. I still believe that, if you still want the job.” I didn’t have to think about it, as I’d thought about nothing else since leaving the Black Widower to die. “I have seen the power of Cyl here on Alacrity. I feel I can do some good here.” “Welcome aboard, Cleric,” he said warmly, and then walked off. I felt cold as I watched him walk away. I Stay tuned for The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Chapter 23, In the Hall of the Crimson Queen would have to wait to share my final confession for a short while. To be fair, I’d laid it all out for him. All the clues were there, but he didn’t pick up on them. As I said, my motivations have always been a mystery to captain Cooper Flynn. The difference is that I now know exactly what I’m doing, and why. Cyl help us all.

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Johne Cook
Johne is a technical writer, help author,  creative writer, and editor. He likes prog rock, space opera, film noir, and the Green Bay Packers.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 20, On The Rails by Sean T. M. Stiennon

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Memory Wipe

Chapter 20, On The Rails by Sean T. M. Stiennon
he thick bone of Esheera’s heel connected solidly with Rizzik’s jaw, and a thunderous crack echoed from the gray stone of the council chamber. Esheera swiveled on her stationary foot, letting momentum turn her while the male Vitai sprawled to one side. Esheera brought her foot down and faced him just as he rolled to his feet, lips contorted in a snarl. Strikes were discouraged in these contests, but this wasn’t a sporting bout—there were no judges to call on foul strikes, no points to be won or lost. Just the Suto council on their shelf to award a final victory. Both shoulders pinned to the ground for three seconds. Any wounds or bruises that didn’t kill or cripple wouldn’t matter. If Esheera won, she would have permission to use the enclave scrap yard—the raw materials to build a new ship. If Rizzik, a warrior from the Enclave Council, managed to beat her...the last thing she felt would be vacuum sucking the air out of her lungs. Rizzik spat blood onto the stone of their arena—a depression in the floor twenty feet in diameter, smooth and gleaming with flecks of quartz. Lanterns hanging above their heads cast golden light over the council, guards, Zartsi, and the rich hangings smoothing the rough walls. “So the woman has some fight in her,” Rizzik said. “Good. I hate easy fights.” He spread his muscular arms and crept sideways around the circle’s carved perimeter,

T

more cautious now. Esheera took the loose stance her husband Jaggo had taught her, arms extended but relaxed, knees slightly bent and toes curled to grip the floor. She struggled to breathe evenly. Rizzik closed the distance between them in two bounds. Then his torso rolled back while his legs shot forward, kicking for Esheera’s kneecaps. She hopped to one side, but not quite fast enough—he caught himself on his hands and his heel collided with her shin hard enough to knock her off-balance. Rizzik took the opening. He pushed himself forward, hooked Esheera’s foot with one of his, and pulled her down. She was instantly grateful for her thick hair—it was the only thing cushioning her skull as it slammed into the stone floor. She still felt as if someone had pounded a nail into her skull, and flashes of green light burst in her eyes. Up, she thought. Keep shoulders up. She pushed herself on both hands and hit Rizzik as he came down on top of her, hands clawing for her arms. Her head slammed into his shoulder, and her world exploded in a fresh wave of pain as they rolled over together. His arms were like iron as they grasped her shoulders and pressed down. Cold stone. Three seconds and she would be dead. She curled her hands into claws. Vitai females grew pointed nails in their puberty that males lacked, hard spikes of gray enamel. She raked them through the silky skin of Rizzik’s

wingflaps, near where they connected to his ribs—the most sensitive region. Hot blood poured over her fingers, Rizzik screamed, and his grip on her shoulders loosened. Esheera used the muscles in her back and shoulders to throw him off, then rolled to the right and scrambled up to her feet. Rizzik hissed through clenched teeth. Torn skin hung in slender folds from his wingflaps, dribbling red onto the circle’s polished floor. One of the Council shouted, “Nii bitch!” but Rizzik was silent. His eyes burned. He charged again, ignoring what Esheera knew must be intense pain from his wingflaps. Esheera leapt to meet him, arms extended. Rizzik was stronger and heavier, with a longer reach, and animal panic swelled in Esheera’s heart as he crashed into her and forced her back. She kept her feet under her only by retreating, foot claws scraping on the hard stone. Then her heels struck the edge of the arena, and Rizzik’s strength bent her over, arching her spine. She gritted her teeth and pushed against him with muscles fueled by fear and rage. She could feel her joints popping. Zartsi’s voice snarled something she didn’t catch. She felt herself begin to fall, locked in his iron grip. Her own arms weren’t strong enough to push him back. So she pushed off with her feet and bent her knees, letting Rizzik force her back. As she fell she swung her legs up, buried them

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 20, On The Rails by Sean T. M. Stiennon
in Rizzik’s bare stomach, and extended them with all her strength. She hit Rizzik just below his lungs, forcing out his air, and his hands tore away from her shoulders as they flew in opposite directions. Esheera hit rough stone and rolled with the impact, scraping her shoulders raw. The pain helped her focus, helped her claw her way back to her feet. Rizzik lay inside the circle, sucking for breath. Esheera was on her feet before he could recover, and the electric pain in her skull wasn’t enough to hold her back. She bounded back into the ring, threw herself face down on Rizzik, pinning his shoulders while she kept his hips down with her feet. Her legs were strong. She hadn’t gotten across the deserts of Nihil with pure force of will. With them anchored on his hip-bones, she could throw all her weight and strength onto his shoulders. He recovered enough breath and strength to strain against her. She absorbed the force of his struggle on her arched back and rooted legs. She held him for Jaggo. For the Nii clan. For Takeda. Even for Zartsi, who would probably slice several Suto to pieces before they got him out the airlock. If Rizzik threw her off she would lose—she wouldn’t have enough strength to defend herself. Rizzik was strong, and his strength was augmented by rage. Esheera thought her spine would crack before three seconds had rolled past. Milsu’s quiet voice almost didn’t register in her ears. “Victory to the Nii.” Her strength gave out and Rizzik hurled her off a moment later. She landed on her belly and slid across stone that felt smoother than ice. Her head pounded and her limbs ached, but she rolled over and hauled herself to her feet. Her back protested with a twinge of agony. A cold silence had fallen over the council chamber. Esheera waited on her knees as the eyes of the eight council members and several guards drilled into her, and her heart seized up for a moment. Could she trust Suto to honor an agreement? Or had she just sealed her death by publicly shaming a council member? “Victory to the Nii,” Milsu repeated. “I move we grant her the Jallinza right.” Esheera turned to look up at them. One of the warrior councilmen looked as if he could barely restrain himself from launching a blade into Esheera’s skull from his volgi. None of them looked happy. Milsu’s expression was no better than resigned. Esheera had expected nothing more. She could hardly bring herself to celebrate her own victory. Under the terms of the Jallinza right she would have to fly her new ship under the Suto clan name, with a substantial portion of any profits due back to this enclave. Her clansmen might never accept her again. Rizzik interrupted her thoughts. He got to his feet, blood still dribbling from his torn wingflaps. It took Esheera a moment to notice the saw-edged knife in his hand. In the next instant he lunged for her. Another second and he was on the floor again with nearly two hundred pounds of Lithrallian crouched on top of him, ivory daggers poised to scissor his throat open. Zartsi’s pointed teeth opened in a long, low hiss. “Do you wish to die?”

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Milsu clapped her hands. “Enough. Lithrallian, let him rise. If you kill him your friend’s victory is abrogated, and your lives are forfeit.” Esheera had spent enough time with Zartsi to see his reluctance as he stood, still holding his blades ready to strike. He knocked Rizzik’s knife away with a sullen kick before sheathing his own daggers and stepping back to stand beside Esheera. She couldn’t help smiling at the way he hovered over her, like a bodyguard. Milsu narrowed her eyes and looked Esheera up and down. “Councilors? Is the right granted?” Silence answered her motion. One Suto—his golden scarves and chains marking him as a successful merchant—croaked loudly. “A fight, and a dirty one at that. It means nothing. As much as I like to see Rizzik torn up...we don’t owe a shit to any Nii.” Fear tightened on Esheera’s heart for a moment. Then she saw Milsu’s eyes narrow to slits as her head turned towards the merchant. “I can’t hear you, Pulqi. Repeat what you said.” Her words had all the hardness and effectiveness of a blade held against his throat. The merchant quailed, chains rattling, and defensively curled his arms around his substantial belly. “I said...nothing, Councilor. You must be mistaken.” Milsu looked back to Esheera. “Is the right granted?” she asked again. Despite herself, Esheera felt her smile broaden as she heard the reactions of the

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 20, On The Rails by Sean T. M. Stiennon
seven other councilors still seated. Muted affirmations all around. Milsu seemed to hold iron authority over the entire enclave. She nodded, satisfied. “The Jallinza right is granted to Esheera Nii. Ratch?” The warrior stepped forward, his expression stony, as if he were fighting to hide his true feelings. Esheera thought she knew what they were. “Ratch,” Milsu continued, “I believe I can trust you as a warrior of the Suto clan. Take four warriors you, in turn, can trust. I command you with the authority of the enclave council to ensure Esheera’s full access to our scrap yard and protect her against any harassment. With your lives if necessary. Am I understood?” Rizzik’s jaw clenched. “Understood.” As she was led out of the council chamber, soaked in sweat and with blood growing cold on her claws, Esheera nearly collapsed against the tunnel wall. Zartsi looped an arm around her shoulders for support. “You are all right?” She breathed deeply to control her hammering heart. “Well enough. But that was easily the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.” Zartsi cocked his head, blue eyes intent. “But you won. And fighting was...impressive.” She smiled weakly. “Thank you, Zartsi.” That got nothing more than a grunt. As they continued down the passage, following Ratch, Esheera asked, quietly, “You don’t think less of me, do you?” “Why would I?” “I just betrayed my clan. I’ll have to fly under the Suto name now.” Zartsi shrugged. “You did what was necessary for Takeda. For Empire, as well, if Takeda told us truth. Rovers would have few places to retreat if Empire fell.” He spread his claws in the air before him. “My respect for you is not decreased.” Esheera smiled. Now all she had to do was build a workable interstellar ship from scrap parts with her own hands and whatever help she could get from Zartsi. He could do the heavy lifting, but she doubted a Lithrallian prince would have received much instruction on how a ship’s bowels were put together. She prayed to all the kind stars she could do it in time to save Takeda’s life. # Takeda’s first days on Caulthor were agonizingly similar to the long weeks he had spent underneath the Gallant Snatch’s cargo bay floor. He sat in complete darkness or slept on David’s bed. The bed was a hard slab with a foam mattress, a pillow that felt like it was filled with sand, and a couple ragged blankets. The place was too hot for the blankets. Occasionally he groped his way into the other room to eat and drink, but could never satisfy his thirst— David’s water ration was just barely enough to keep both of them alive. His food consisted largely of dry, tasteless bread, slightly spicy pieces of some gummy protein, and similar stuff, all filling but not quite satisfying. David stumbled in every night with gray

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and red rock dust staining his clothing and his hands. He brought new rations sometimes, ate, said a few words, and then slumped down onto his bed and fell asleep. He rarely turned on his vidscreen, and when he did the programs were oddly horrifying. News reports delivered by grim-faced men in gray suits that centered around mining, production levels, honors given to particularly hard workers. Others programs showed the surface of Caulthor: a wasteland of red stone, smoldering volcanic craters, and bleached white salt pans. There was apparently a lot of water deep in the planet’s crust, but it took enormous drilling rigs to bring it up. There were also wrestling matches between miners dressed much like David—brutal ones with blood spilled. Takeda saw a second or two of one involving sledgehammers. Another time he saw a few seconds of a fight between three men armed with spears and something that looked like a spider pieced together from shards of glass. Takeda caught flashes of pornography as David flipped through the dozen or so channels. David never watched them. The miner occasionally asked questions about him, about his past. Takeda decided that, with what he already told David, there was information which couldn’t hurt him—that he had worked at the colony casino on Belar, that he liked reading, that he had spent some time on Freedan and Coalsmoke, that he had known a Lithrallian and a Vitai. He only withheld his missing memories, his powers, and the battles he had been through. David was voracious for whatever Takeda could tell him about other worlds. About the moist jungles and green plants of Belar, about the functioning of casino games and the logging

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 20, On The Rails by Sean T. M. Stiennon
industry, about the rain-slicked streets and smoky taverns of Freesail, about the crowds of beings in hundreds of styles of clothing. Experiences Takeda considered commonplace—the feeling of rain on his face, the taste of beef, the hum of hovercars gliding overhead—were new and strange to David. Takeda had only really lived for three years, and yet his experience vastly dwarfed David’s. He had known nothing except the domes, concrete towns, and black mines of Caulthor. About two weeks after Takeda had first arrived, David came home smiling. “Ready to leave?” he asked. Takeda had been dozing on the bed, and he blinked in the dull glow of the apartment’s lights. “Now?” “The train leaves in five hours, and if we’re not on it, they’ll send a Hand looking for us.” Takeda stared at him. “Leaves for where?” “Installation 91. An iron-mining city eighty miles from the Lord’s fortress. I’ve mentioned it to you, haven’t I?” “Yeah.” “Well, I’ve been transferred. And I’m taking you with me. Come on—I’ll explain your identity along the way.” David took a battered satchel down from its hook and threw his remaining food and water, three polished pieces of blue stone, his tools, four printed books, and a bundle of clothes into it. He tossed Takeda a shirt and pants. “Change. Stuff your old rags under the bed.” The shirt and pants were a coarse cloth colored dark gray, snugly fitting but not uncomfortable. Takeda was almost glad to leave behind the sweat soaked shirt, vest, and pants he had been wearing for nearly a month. David grunted and shouldered his pack. Then they stepped out into the street. Puffs of bone-dry dust rose whenever Takeda set his feet down, and the sky—no, the dome covering the settlement—was a uniform pitchblack. They had come out during Caulthor’s long night. Scarlet light panels mounted on iron poles cast red shadows against the concrete dwellings lining the narrow roads. Deep ruts had been worn into the ground by decades of vehicles grinding along the same paths. David kicked the steel door of his apartment, once. “Eleven years,” he grunted. “Eleven years since my Marta died, and I’ve spent every one in that hole. I won’t miss it.” Then he turned and began to walk up the street with a quick, deliberate pace. Takeda jogged to catch up with him and walked at his side. It felt strange to stretch his legs, to walk farther than the distance from David’s bed to his cupboard. “How did you manage this?” he asked. “Well, two main things. I know one of the men in charge of my work zone—not a Hand, but he works with them breathing down his neck. I’ve been suggesting to him that I’d like to die pretty soon.” “I don’t blame you,” Takeda said. The dome felt like a massive oven, slowly roasting every man and woman beneath it. A smile split David’s cracked lips. “Well,

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things have been boring since I lost Marta, and I’m too old for them to give me another wife. It’s not implausible. My friend is cozy enough with the Hands that he occasionally recommends transfers. I suggested to him that I might like to go to Installation 91 because of its high casualty rate.” “And that convinced him?” “Maybe it would have. The kicker is how I’m getting you aboard the train down to 91. I told him you were a Hand bastard who’d been keeping yourself hidden for twenty-odd years by drifting from one settlement to the next. Call yourself Jack.” “Jack...all right, sure. Why Jack?” David shrugged. “Common name. The sort a bastard would take.” He walked on for a few minutes before he added, “You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?” “I’d be lying if I said I did.” “Right. Well, the Hands...they don’t have much compunction what they do with our women, although they tend to stay away from the married ones. They’re not half as fertile as normal men, though—children from them are rare. When they do sire a child, he has Hand powers...or, at least, some of them. So generally they sweep them up and ship them to the Lord.” Takeda grunted. “But it would be hard to catch every pregnancy, especially among married women...” “Right. So now and then they turn up a

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 20, On The Rails by Sean T. M. Stiennon
Hand bastard who got loose, usually when his powers come through somehow. Maybe they’re more unstable than the full-blooded Hands. You’re one who’s spent thirty years evading notice.” They rounded a corner, and on the street ahead Takeda could see a horizon where the dome curved down to meet the ground. Takeda made out a patch of some lighter color against the midnight black of the dome. It took him several minutes to realize that, for the first time in nearly a month, he was seeing open sky through yawning gate set in the dome’s base. Brighter yellow lights shone at the gate’s base. “How does that get me onto a train?” David scratched his roughly shaved chin. “Well, the Lord is picky about Hand bastards. I think he sees it as a failure when one turns up after staying hidden for decades, and it doesn’t go well for the men in charge—I mean regular men, not Hands. So when I told my friend that I had one nearly thirty years old on my hands... he wants you out, and fast, so someone else can deal with it.” David pressed a rectangular card of warm, smooth plastic into Takeda’s palm. “Swipe it through the reader. Try to look natural.” A ten-foot steel fence with deep wheel ruts running under it stretched across most of the open gateway. David led him to one side, where a bulky card reader stood beside a narrower opening in the mesh gate. There was also a guard post, lit up by the brightest lights Takeda had yet seen on Caulthor. Two men in black uniforms manned it. Automatic weapons, black as skitter chitin, gleamed in their shoulder holsters. David nodded brusquely to them as he slashed his card through a slot between two red glow-strips. “What’s the bag for?” one of the guards shouted. Takeda hesitated for a moment, but David kept walking, not looking back. “I’m getting transferred. Eat dust for me, Nate.” Takeda swiped his own card. Neither of the guards made any objection. He kept his eyes down and followed David out into the Caulthori night. The night sky was blacker than any Takeda had ever seen, and the stars were almost painfully bright against it, gleaming like beads of mercury scattered across a plate of black strome. He could see color in some of them, tinges of red or cold blue or eerie yellow. He paused for a moment, enjoying the feeling of open air and sky stretching above him. He realized only then how imprisoned he had been, first by the darkness and confined spaces of his voyage and then by David’s tiny apartment. The air was warm, but cooler than he had expected. “Keep up,” David called back. “We need to arrive early.” They walked along a broad stone path lined on both sides with tiny red lights. It went steadily downwards into the black landscape all around them. Takeda’s footsteps sounded painfully loud to him in the dry, still air. A slight breeze stung his eyes and lips with flecks of dust. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw more of Caulthor’s surface laid out beneath the intensely bright stars. The ground

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fell away in a jagged cliff to his right, and far across a flat expanse of stone a range of dark mountains shattered the horizon. Ahead and to the left he saw faint lights like power indicators in a dark room, and faint outlines of mine shafts and towering cranes and machinery and sheds. Farther away, towards the horizon, he made out more domes, black lumps rising up from the surrounding rock. And more mines. Mines stretching to the horizon. “Nothing but bare rock and sand for miles,” David said, quietly. “Some plants grow in the cracks, but rain doesn’t happen often... sometimes during winter nights. Not much lives around here except rockworms and some spiders. And it gets damned hot during the days. That’s why we have domes.” The track they followed took them straight through the mines. Takeda couldn’t see much on the surface: deep shafts drilled into the stone, with cranes crouched over them, ready to heave up crates of raw ore. There didn’t seem to be much activity, but the wind carried faint grinding and crushing noises to Takeda’s ears. Some sort of crawler rumbled by a couple hundred feet to their left. “This is where I’ve worked for twenty-one years,” David said. “These mines are older and deeper than you can probably imagine. They’ve grown by miles of tunnel since I’ve been here, and we’ve pulled thousands of tons of iron out of the rock. Refineries are on the other side of the town.” “You walk every day?” “They’ve got crawlers for some of the workers farther out, along with temporary accommodations for the ones who do day-long

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 20, On The Rails by Sean T. M. Stiennon
shifts at the outlying mines. And the workers at the hydroponic farms live on site.” They turned to the left, skirting a hole in the stone the size of a trans-Imperial cargo ship. Pale yellow lights trailed away down the side of the shaft, lighting up two elevator lines bolted into the rock. The mines seemed to go on forever, broken up by occasional buildings of rough-cut stone and sheet iron. This was David’s life. Stone, iron, darkness, and the cramped confines of his sparse apartment. Nothing but dry, bland food and lukewarm, bitter water. An endless cycle of work and exhausted sleep, boredom alternating with intensely hard work in the mines and fear of Tong’s Hands. Even his wife had been assigned to him. The life Takeda had led on Belar had been a paradise by comparison. As far as Takeda knew, the entire planet was like this, with men and women laboring in virtual slavery to pull metal and gems up from Caulthor’s unforgiving crust. And Sherri was in the clutches of the man responsible for this hell. Count Jezai Tong. The train lay between two massive loading docks. Heaps of metal crates piled in blocky pyramids stood out against the night sky, and Takeda spotted a handful of men driving gravity lifters to load some of the cars toward the train’s rear end. A few dim lights showed Takeda that the cars were purely utilitarian, with only long slits near the top of the wall to serve as windows. “Where are we riding?” Takeda asked. Before David could answer, a man in a pale uniform ran out of the darkness ahead of him. A dark bandana covered his entire face except for a narrow slit exposing his eyes. Steel plates covered his shoulders and he wore a sidearm, with a rifle strapped onto his back. His eyes flicked nervously across Takeda. “This him?” David nodded. “Yeah.” “He showed you his power?” “He melted solid iron with his bare hands.” The man grimaced. “Good enough. You didn’t tell him my name or rank?” “Nope. Nothing the Lord could trace.” The man looked up at Takeda. He narrowed his eyes slightly. “This is a borrowed uniform. I’m not actually a border guard, so you have nothing to tell anyone. Understood?” Takeda nodded. “I don’t plan to get caught.” “You have been successful so far.” The man looked back to David. “Car Seventy-five is listed on the manifests as loaded, but its half-empty. Get him back there while I grab some water.” The man jogged away in one direction while David led Takeda in another. “To answer your question,” he said, “I’ll be riding in the passenger car up front. You’ll be packed in with the cargo. Sorry I couldn’t do better, but it beats three thousand miles of desert and glasspiders.” Takeda cringed inwardly, dreading the thought of returning to close spaces and intolerable heat after this glimpse at the open sky.

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But he had already been through so much, from Belar to Nihil to here, and with any luck it wouldn’t be the last thing he would endure for Sherri’s sake. Car Seventy-five was near the end of the train, some distance away from those currently being loaded. David tried the door and found it unlocked. He slid it open, straining with both arms, and a blast of stale air washed over Takeda’s face. David pulled a small light out of his bag and flicked it on. The beam whipped over more crates, labeled with spray paint. “Get in and stay down,” David said. “My friend should be by with some water for you, but you’ll have to do without food.” Takeda chuckled dryly. “Don’t worry. I’m used to it. I’ve been in deserts before.” David clapped him on the shoulder. “Good luck, mate. Hopefully I’ll see you on the other end, but if not, I wish you all the best as far as rescuing your friend and crushing the Lord’s rotten skull.” Takeda stepped forward into the darkness, his footsteps alarmingly loud on the metal floor of the train. “Thanks, David,” he said. “No matter how stupid I am, it seems like there’s always someone there to help me out.” David shrugged. “You’re still going to die. But then, all of us keel over eventually... whether it be from a rock fall, the Lord’s men, or just our own bodies giving out. Good luck again, Takeda.” David’s friend handed him a cube-shaped jug of water which he passed in to Takeda. It weighed maybe six pounds, with enough

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 20, On The Rails by Sean T. M. Stiennon
empty room for the liquid to slosh around. The officer muttered a few words to David, the two exchanged a handshake, and then he vanished. “Can’t say I’ll be sorry never to see him again,” David said. “Try not to move around much. Save your water. My friend is going to try and keep this car from being searched, but if there is an inspection anywhere along the line, just lay low—they won’t search every car thoroughly unless they’re looking for someone in particular. And they probably won’t bring Hands.” Takeda looked up at the stars one last time as the door slammed shut, leaving him in hot, dry darkness once again. # The woman came to Sherri’s cell again, some infinite time after the first brief visit. The light of the hall outside blinded Sherri once again, and she frantically rubbed her streaming eyes with the heels of her hands, hoping for a brief glimpse of her visitor. “I’m sorry it’s been so long,” the woman said, her voice soft and sweet. “But I think I can stay a little longer now.” Sherri blinked her eyes. Hot tears still blocked out her vision, but she got a glimpse of a figure in colored cloth descending the dark surface of the wall. Color—Sherri had almost forgotten that color existed, here in the eternal blackness. Blue, she thought, deep, dark blue. Feet that weren’t Sherri’s stepped lightly on the polished floor. “What’s your name?” It took her a few moments to understand the question, and another moment to remember. Her first attempt at an answer came out as a raw croak. She swallowed heavily, wetting her throat with saliva, and made another attempt. “Sherri,” she said, able to understand herself. The faint noise of fabric rustling on stone came from just in front of her. She lowered her hands again, and this time she was able to make out a woman with flowing black hair sitting in front of her, deep blue skirts spreading around her like a pool of still water. Sherri sobbed at the sight of that dress. It seemed like the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. “Sherri,” the woman asked. “Will you promise not to tell my name to anyone else?” Sherri jerked her stiff neck in a nod. The woman’s face smiled. “Very well. I’m Liun. I...I suppose you could say that I live here.” She waited a moment, as if expecting a response from Sherri. When none came, she asked, “Where are you from?” “Belar,” Sherri croaked. “Casino. I was... waitress.” “Belar...that’s a colony planet in the Canghi province, isn’t it? Only limited development for now, but two or three substantial towns.” “Yes. I lived there.” The woman was silent for another long moment, and for a moment Sherri was afraid she would leave. Then she felt a cool hand grip her bare shoulder. She recoiled from the touch, alarmed, pressing her naked back into the wall. “Please don’t be afraid,” the woman said, voice low and soft. “I wish there was more I could do for you.”

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Her fingers gently kneaded Sherri’s flesh, her touch gentle, comforting. “Do you know why...Count Tong has you?” Sherri shook her head, feeling fresh tears well up. They had shaved her head again, preventing her hair from growing longer than a fuzz. “I don’t know him. Who?” “The ruler of the Vodrune province. He is... he’s the man holding you now.” “Hate him.” The woman laughed softly, but even Sherri could tell there wasn’t any real humor there. “I think everyone who knows his name hates him. I think he hates himself.” “Do you know why?” “I don’t. I can’t understand most of what he does. But if he were going to kill you or hurt you, he would have done it already.” She stood up then. “I’ll come back later, and we’ll talk more. I’ll see...maybe I can see that you get more food.” Sherri wiped her eyes again to see the woman climbing a set of rungs that had emerged from the stone wall beside the high-set door. As she left, Sherri finally got a good look at her face. She was gorgeous—pale skin the color of ivory, blue eyes like stars captured in flesh, gentle features. The woman turned and smiled to Sherri. Then the door closed again, and darkness resumed its reign.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 20, On The Rails by Sean T. M. Stiennon

Pg. 84

Sean is an author of fantasy and science fiction novels and short stories, with many publications  under  his  belt.  His  first  short  story  collection,  Six with Flinteye, was recently released from Silver Lake Publishing, and he  won  2nd  place  in  both  the  2004  SFReader. com Short Story Contest and the Storn Cook Razor-Edged Fiction Contest with his stories  “Asp” and “The Sultan’s Well,”  respectively.  “The Sultan’s Well”  has  been  published  in the anthology Sages and Swords.  Sean’s  short story “Flinteye’s Duel” was published  in Ray Gun Revival, Issue 01, and “Flinteye’s Sabotage” was published in Issue 35. Sean’s work tends to contain lots of action and  adventure, but he often includes elements of  tragedy and loss alongside roaring battles.  A  lot  of  his  work  centers  around  continuing  characters,  the  most  prominent  of whom is Jalazar Flinteye (Six with Flinteye).  He  also  writes  tales  of  Shabak  of  Talon Point (“Death Marks,”  in  issue  #9  of  Amazing Journeys Magazine), Blademaster (“Asp,” 2nd place winner in the 2004 SFReader.com Contest), and others who have yet to see publication. Sean  loves  to  read  fantasy  and  science  fiction  alongside  some  history,  mysteries,  and  historical  novels.  His  favorites  include  Declare by Tim Powers, the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy by Tad Williams, Stephen Lawhead’s Song of Albion trilogy, and King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard. He has reviewed  books for Deep Magic: The E-zine of High Fantasy and Science Fiction,  and  currently  reviews books at SFReader.com.

Sean T. M. Stiennon

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

The RGR Time Capsule
RGR Date: April 09, 2008
http://raygunrevival.com/Forum/viewtopic.php?t=1880

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Sci-Fi news from the Ray Gun Revival forums
RGR Date: April 10, 2008
Getting closer to more V projects?
http://raygunrevival.com/Forum/viewtopic.php?t=1883

April 2008

To get rich off pirates, copy them

RGR Date: April 18, 2008
Ender’s Game film news
http://raygunrevival.com/Forum/viewtopic.php?t=1892

http://www.boingboing.net/2008/04/09/ pirates-dilemma-auth.html Matt’s spiel is great, and for the first 30or-so minutes, I found myself just nodding along as he expressed -- eloquently  and delightfully -- things I’d heard others  like Lessig, Barlow (and me!) say. But  then he got to his kicker, and I sat up,  electrified: “The best way to profit from  pirates is to copy them.” This is one of those eloquent little aphorisms -- like Tim O’Reilly’s “The problem for artists isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity” --  that just nails it. Pirates are out there figuring out all the ways that products and  services might catch on, outside of the realm  of the managed, slow-moving corporate environment. It turns out that there’s a market  for DVDs sold on blankets on Canal Street;  that the public likes using BitTorrent even if it  starts slow and doesn’t stream; that there’s a bottomless appetite for short, embeddable  clips, and that the audience wants to do all  the work of selecting, converting, uploading  and tagging them. Maybe we should be hosting BitTorrent versions of RGR. I put the torrent for the Deep Magic library out there years ago, and see it’s still floating around.

http://io9.com/381714/wolfgang-peterson-off-enders-game You can forget your dreams of a Das  Boot/Enemy Mine-style version of Orson  Scott Card’s classic novel Ender’s Game.  Director Wolfgang Peterson, previously  attached to the project, has moved on,  producers tell io9. Chartoff Productions is  busy meeting with a slew of potential directors for the Ender’s movie, which they hope will start filming by early 2009. But  who will play child prodigy Ender? Producer Lynn Hendee was mum on possible casting for the movie’s lead role.  “We all have our favorites, but it is crucial  for the new director to weigh in on that.” But  she did reveal that author Card has finished  a draft of the script and is “already working to make it even better.” Hendee predicts  that much of the film will be shot on a sound  stage. “Ender’s Game requires an extended  pre-production due to the many visual effects.” And by visual effects we hope they  mean shooting the off-the-wall battle school  zero gravity scenes.

We’re in the process to do a remake of the original mini-series first as a theatrical feature, which I’m so jazzed about because it  will give me an opportunity to really realize  it and execute it in a way that was impossible to do back then. Then that will lead to  the obvious sequel, because it is a franchise,  and then we’ll get into The Second Generation and I’m hoping we’ll be able to do two  movies, because there’s certainly enough  material in the novel to warrant two separate sequels. That’s my goal at this point and  that’s what we’re in the process of doing. I  just literally came from a meeting, 15-20  minutes ago with a fellow in Beverly Hills  who really says that we’re gonna do it.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 43, May 2008

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