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THRILLING TALES FROM BEYOND THE ETHER Pg.

Melpomene Run
by Michael Merriam

Shan’tir’ri
by Scott M. Sandridge

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate,


“The Assassin of Patience Bay,” Part Two
by Johne Cook

Memory Wipe, Chapter Two, “Zartsi”


by Sean T. M. Stiennon

Issue 04
“Paroxysmal Incursion,”  by Vitaly S Alexius  August 15, 2006
Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006
Pg. 

Table of Contents

Overlord’s Lair: Ten Life Lessons I Learned From Space Opera,


by Paul Christian Glenn 3
Melpomene Run
by Michael Merriam 5
Shan’tir’ri
by Scott M. Sandridge 25
The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, The Assassin of Patience Bay, Part Two
by Johne Cook 32
Featured Artist: Vitaly S. Alexius 44
Memory Wipe, Chapter Two: “Zartsi”
by Sean T.M. Stiennon 45
The Jolly RGR 56
Overlords (Founders): Johne Cook, Paul Christian Glenn, L. S. King

Ray Gun Radio: Taylor Kent - founder, director, and producer, all things audio
John “JesusGeek” Wilkerson - RGR Disinformation Specialist

Venerable Staff:
A.M. Stickel - Managing Copyeditor
Mike Loos - Proofreader, Technical Lead – PocketRGR;
Walter Rosenfeld - Proofreader
Matthew McConley - Proofreader
Paul Christian Glenn - PR, sounding board, strong right hand, newshound
L. S. King - copyeditor, proofreader, beloved nag, muse, webmistress
Johne Cook - art wrangler, desktop publishing, editorials, chief, cook, and bottle washer

Slushmasters (Submissions Editors): Taylor Kent, Scott M. Sandridge, David Wilhelms

Serial Authors: Sean T. M. Stiennon, Lee S. King, Paul Christian Glenn, Johne Cook

Cover Art: “Paroxysmal Incursion,”  by Vitaly S Alexius

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

Visit us online at http://raygunrevival.com

All content copyright 2006 by Double-edged Publishing,  
a Memphis, Tennessee-based non-profit publisher.
Rev: 20060815f
Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006
Pg. 

Overlord’s Lair: 
Ten Life Lessons I Learned From Space Opera, by Paul Christian Glenn

A round here, you may have noticed, we take


our space opera seriously. Okay, not too
seriously (having space monkeys in the office makes that
least expect it (these types often return wearing
some sort of elaborate mask). The good news is
that their modi operandi (and theme music) don’t
somewhat difficult), but we do believe it is a relevant usually change, making them a little easier to spot.
and—dare I say it?—important genre. At its very best, 9. Feel free to steal great ideas and make them
space opera can inspire and enlighten us in ways that your own. Nobody cares. Seriously. Just, you
other forms of fiction cannot, because it isn’t weighed know, pay attention to the second part.
down by silly things like “believability” or “reason.” No, 8. Never let romance interfere with the mission.
the sort of story we’re slinging around here will make Epic, enduring love is a classic element of good
you believe you can perform impossible feats, extin- space opera, but a lover who persuades you
guish great evils, and deal in heroic deeds—if only you to abandon the Thing That You Must Do is a
have the courage to try. Has there ever been a more scheming villain. Your true love will stand aside
ridiculous notion? Has there ever been a better one? (mournfully perhaps) and let you do what you
In that spirit, I present the ten most indispensable know is right. The truly exceptional ones will
life lessons that space opera taught me. Years of hiding even help you do it.
under the blankets with a flashlight and a ragged 7. Always assume you’re standing on a trap door,
paperback were not wasted on me, and now you can because you probably are. At first glance, this
benefit from the wisdom I gathered thereunder. I have one might smack of paranoia, but if you think
ranked them in order of ascending importance because about it, it’s just good sense.
that’s how David Letterman does it, and that guy seems 6. Never underestimate the cute and cuddly. Be
to have a handle on the whole “list” thing. they good or evil, those fuzzy little fellas with
10. Villains do not die the first time you kill them. The the big eyes and adorable mewlings will fool you
nastier they are, the more likely they are to return every time. Chances are, beneath that innocent
and wreak havoc with your life and loved ones. facade, they’re hiding unfathomable reserves
Down time varies from villain to villain, so be on of pluck, or (in less fortunate cases) six rows of
your guard. Some wait only seconds to pop back razor-sharp fangs.
up and take one last swing, while others lie low for 5. Keep a mental backlog of acerbic one-liners
years, waiting to unleash their vengeance when you that are good for any occasion. Nobody likes

Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006


Pg. 

a stuttering, unfocused or rambling retort, and your courage will serve to inspire future genera-
you don’t want to be sent to certain doom tions.
smacking your forehead and thinking about 1. Optimism is more powerful than cynicism.
what you should have said. You’ll need all your Bad guys deal in cynicism, because it’s easier.
mental energy to escape the certain doom. Any schmoe can look around at the pervasive
4. Always, always, always listen to people who weakness of humanity and decide to exploit it.
dispense advice in the form of convoluted It takes faith to believe that humanity is worth
riddles. Yes, they’re annoying, but these people saving, that good can triumph over evil, and
are never wrong. And while it can be frustrat- that last stands are worth making. That kind
ing to try to decipher their ramblings, think of belief will inevitably bring you headache
about it from the oracle’s point of view. They’ve and heartache, and those things will make you
spent a lot of time constructing all those vague strong. When the final showdown arrives, you
metaphors and backwards sentences. After all will be more powerful than your nemesis who
that work, it would be rude to ask them to speak took the obvious path. In the end, you will
plainly like everybody else. triumph.
3. Trust your gut. Your gut is smarter than any This is what space opera taught me, and I strive
scientist. It is more intuitive than any strategist. every day to remember the tenets of my youth. Some
It is, um, bigger than any bug-eyed monster. of them are more important than others, but I’ll leave
Whatever the plan was when you first struck those for you to distinguish (see #3).
out on this crazy quest, your gut knows when Did I forget anything? If you discern any glaring
it’s time to change tack. In fact, your gut has omissions in this list, please drop us a line at overlords@
probably been nodding along as you read this raygunrevival.com, and we will compile the most
list. striking (and amusing) suggestions for a future install-
2. The greatest battles you will ever fight are the ment.
ones you can’t possibly win. Warriors of old Fortunately, dear readers, this issue of Ray
knew this one well. When victory is sure, you Gun Revival is overflowing with rip-roaring tales of
gain nothing but victory. When victory is possible, adventure, each packed with nuggets of wisdom—the
then you have only done the right thing. But space opera way. So make sure you’ve got fresh
when victory is utterly inconceivable, you gain batteries in your flashlights, cadets, and read on!
eternal glory, regardless of the outcome. If you
succeed, you will have vanquished the greatest
threat imaginable. If you fail, the strength of

Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006


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Melpomene Run
by Michael Merriam

“T hat can’t be right,” Lisa muttered.


Lieutenant Lisa Cochrane
checked her calculations. The ship had
stevedore, not realizing how delicate the
balance between cargo and fuel was for
this mission, had loaded extra supplies.
burned more fuel than expected accelerat- Lisa unhooked the manifest pad from
ing to the first jump. She ran the numbers the wall as she stepped through the cargo
through the computer. If the rate of fuel hold. She started methodically checking
used stayed constant, she would not have off containers, peering around safety
enough to accelerate to full speed for the webbing to verify the numbers on each
eighth and final jump to Melpomene— crate. If she could identify the extra cargo,
never mind trying to land safely on the she could jettison it and a few other items
planet surface. to make up the difference in the extra fuel
Lisa performed a quick diagnostic. Her she had burned.
ship had been fueled properly and the She found him huddled on a pile of
sensors detected no leakage. blankets, hidden behind boxes of antibiot-
“Stupid—” Lisa muttered, setting the ics and genetically enhanced wheat seeds.
auto-pilot and heading for the cargo hold. “Trevor?”
The ship was overloaded. There was “Hello, luv. Did you miss me?” Trevor
too much mass. smiled sheepishly up at her.
The load-master at Mars Station Five Lisa took a deep breath. “Trevor, what
had promised her the load was carefully are you doing here?”
calculated. The small, over-powered “You didn’t think I was going to let you
courier vessel carried a maximum payload go off for two years without me?”
of emergency supplies and just enough Lisa stepped back as Trevor stood from
fuel to reach the beleaguered colony of his little nest. Her entire body started
Melpomene. to tremble, but she kept her voice calm
Lisa suspected some well-meaning despite the anger and panic rising in her

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 

chest. “Do you have any idea what you’ve did you bring onboard my ship?”
done?” “I—just my bag.” He kicked aside the
Trevor took a step away from her, hurt blankets to reveal a personal jump bag. “I
and confusion in his green eyes. “I thought don’t understand what I’ve done wrong.”
you’d be happy for the company. I thought This is what I get for dating a poet, Lisa
you might prefer to be with someone during thought. He thinks that he’s being terribly
your trip and long exile on that back-water romantic.
colony.” His smiled returned and he took “You’re cutting into my fuel,” she
a step toward her, his arms outstretched. said. “Your being on board means I won’t
“I thought you’d like someone to warm have enough to make the landing on
you when the cold of space becomes too Melpomene.”
much.” “Can’t you just stop somewhere for
“This is not a pleasure cruise; this is a more?”
relief mission.” Lisa closed her eyes and “I could, but I would have to change the
drew on her training and discipline to calm jump sequence and it would add more than
herself. “A relief mission that you have a month to the trip. People on Melpomene
jeopardized.” are dying right now.”
“I’m sorry?” “I...I’m sorry, Lisa. I didn’t think—”
Lisa opened her eyes and sighed. “I’m “No, you didn’t!” She glared at him, and
sure you are,” she muttered. ran a shaking hand through her short hair.
“I don’t see what the problem—” “How did you get access to the ship?”
“The problem is that you are not He looked down at his feet, his black
supposed to be on this ship. Even if I hair falling in front of his face. “I used my
had enough rations and water to support credentials. I told security I was inspect-
bringing you along, which I don’t, you’re ing the cargo at my father’s request. Once
extra mass—mass that was not calculated on board I simply hid until they changed
into the equation.” shifts.”
Trevor looked affronted. “It’s not like Lisa nodded. Trevor’s father was a
I’m grossly obese.” ranking member of the North American
“That’s not the point! The point is you Parliament. Senator Burkes sometimes
are not supposed to be here! What else used his son as his eyes and ears, small

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 

tasks that kept Trevor in enough credits to room.”


allow him time to write his poetry instead “I don’t have a room. This ship has a
of working an ordinary job. bridge, a cargo hold, and an engine, that’s
“I—so what do we do now?” Trevor all.”
asked. “Where do you sleep?”
“You do nothing. I have to figure out how Lisa rubbed her temples. “In this chair.
I’m going to get this ship to Melpomene.” Trevor—”
Lisa strode away from the cargo “I’m sorry. I’ll be quiet.”
hold, still clutching the manifest, Trevor She listened to him walk away, toward
following in her wake like a puppy about the cargo hold where he had left his
to be punished. She entered the dimly-lit bag. With a sigh, she turned back to the
bridge and settled into her chair. computer.
“I thought you’d be able to see the stars Command had cut it as close as possible,
from the bridge,” Trevor said. “I can’t loading as much medicine, food, and other
believe you don’t have a view screen or crucial supplies as she could carry on a one-
window.” way trip. Fuel for a trip home would have
“Why? I don’t need to see outside the sacrificed room for precious cargo. Every-
ship to fly; I have instruments for naviga- thing had been calculated down to the last
tion. A window or view screen would just bit of seed. The ship had the exact amount
be one more thing to break.” of fuel needed to accelerate through eight
“But—” jumps and then maneuver in the atmo-
She turned in her chair to look at him. sphere of Melpomene for a landing.
“Look, Trevor, I really need to work out how Exactly the right amount, until Trevor
to fix this and I need to do it quickly. So, if added himself to the equation.
you please?” She knew Trevor had not meant any
“Fine. Were do I sleep? I’ll take my bag harm. He was a decent person and their
there and stay out of your way.” time together had been more than pleasant.
“You can sleep in here or in the cargo Courier pilots made few personal attach-
bay, whichever one you want.” ments: you simply never knew if the next
“Oh, I—um,” Trevor paused then forged mission might take years instead of weeks.
ahead. “I thought I might stay in your Trevor had always seemed to understand

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 

that she might be called away at any time. into the bridge made her look over her
He had filled a void in her life, making her shoulder. He carried his bag and the pile
feel less like Lt. Cochrane and more like of blankets.
Lisa, a young woman who, if not in love, “Do you mind?” he asked.
was at least in something. “No, you’re fine.”
In the end though, he was too intense She turned back toward the console
and too self-absorbed for her taste. and picked up the cargo manifest. Lisa
When the call for volunteers to transport listened with one ear as he set himself
emergency supplies to Melpomene came up behind and slightly to the right of her
down from Central Command, she had pilot’s chair. It would mean walking over
grabbed the opportunity, both to further him to reach the waste recycler, but it was
her career and to get away from Trevor. the best place to stretch out on the bridge
She knew it would be a multi-year floor.
mission. Lisa thought his interest in her, “Um—is there something I could eat?”
the novelty of dating a starship pilot, Lisa pointed distractedly toward the
would wane while she was away, and in back of the bridge, never looking up from
time he would move on to other women. the cargo manifest she was studying.
It was a cowardly way to end the relation- “There are pouches of ration paste in the
ship, but she thought it would be easiest top drawer. Water comes from the tube
on everyone involved. next to it.”
She had not expected him to do She heard him open the drawer.
something rash, like stow away in the “Is there any difference between them
cargo hold of her ship. besides color?” The disdain was clear in
Lisa looked at the calculations. She his voice.
could jettison some spare parts. She knew “Green has more fiber. Brown is higher
from experience what items were most in protein. I’m not sure about the blue.”
likely to break down on these fast couriers, “I don’t think I’m quite hungry enough.”
and the shipyard engineers had virtually You’ll be happy with colored paste soon
rebuilt the ship’s engines before she left enough, she thought.
Mars Station Five. She frowned at the cargo manifest.
The sound of Trevor walking back Anything she discarded, even if she chose

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 

a little bit of everything, could have serious she thought they could possibly survive
consequences for the settlers. without.
“What about the bathroom?” Trevor An hour later, tears of anger and frus-
asked as he settled on his blankets behind tration dry on her cheeks, she made her
her and opened up his bag. choice.
“Behind the door next to you. It’s a #

standard commode and rinse sink, pretty


Lisa lay nestled in the blankets, Trevor’s
much like any public restroom, but the
head on her shoulder, his hand slowly
space is cramped.”
stroking the length of her while she held
Lisa stood and started for the hold. She
him close. She idly ran her fingers through
spared Trevor a glance as she passed.
his hair: it was damp from their exertion.
He was tapping away furiously on a tiny
“So, am I forgiven?” he asked.
datapad screen, his black hair half-covering
“Yes.”
his face, oblivious to his surroundings. She
She reached with her free hand toward
had seen him do this many evenings during
her flight suit.
their year together. He would focus on his
“Don’t get dressed yet.” Trevor gently
current project to the exclusion of every-
caressed her.
thing around him. In a few hours he would
She shivered. “I need to load the
finish working and, hyper with excitement
airlock.”
and creative energy, turn his full attention
“So you’ve chosen what to toss
to her. He looked up at her and smiled.
overboard?”
She nodded and continued on her way.
“Yes. The sooner I get this over with,
She entered the hold and looked
the better.”
around at the various crates and con-
Trevor’s touch was becoming more
tainers. Every one was filled with either
insistent. He ran a firm hand over her
food or medicine desperately needed on
stomach. “It can wait,” he whispered.
Melpomene. Hundreds of thousands of
Lisa flipped him over onto his back,
people were depending on her to deliver
moving so quick that Trevor let out a
life-saving supplies.Now she had to decide
startled little yelp. She pressed her lips
which and how much of those supplies to
to his, firm and fierce. He tasted of sweat,
abandon. She had to select what items

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 10

with a hint of garlic from the ready-meal minute for Trevor to exhale one final time.
she had liberated from one of the contain- She rolled the blankets around his limp
ers for their dinner. A series of tears, wet body, trying to ignore the accusatory stare
and salty, slid down her face. She broke of his wide, unseeing eyes.
their kiss off with a sob. She placed Trevor’s bag on top of his
“What’s wrong?” Trevor asked, wiping a wrapped form, took hold of his ankles and
tear away with his thumb. dragged her grim package to the airlock,
“I had to choose,” she whispered. Lisa sobbing loudly the entire way. She left
rolled off of him and sat up. She picked up him on the floor, next to a crate loaded
her flight suit and clutched it to her body. with ship’s spare parts, and then stepped
“I’m sorry I put you in this position. I back into the cargo hold. She took a series
know it must have been difficult to decide of ragged breaths and finally pushed the
what to leave behind.” cycle button. The door in front of her
Lisa sniffed. “I had to choose what they hissed shut. Lisa’s entire body trembled as
would need the least. I’m sorry.” the warning sirens sounded, alerting her
Trevor gave her a confused look from that the outer airlock door was open. She
where he lay in the nest of blankets. “For counted out to sixty before she pushed
what?” the button to reseal the airlock.
Lieutenant Lisa Cochrane drew the Lisa walked back to the bridge. She
syringe from her flight suit, plunged the allowed herself a full ten minutes to grieve,
needle into Trevor’s heart, and pushed the then took two steadying breaths. She
drugs into him in one swift motion. dressed in her uniform flight suit, wiping
Trevor’s eyes opened wide in horror. His her eyes clear of tears with the sleeves.
body bucked and contorted in pain and he She took another deep breath and slowly
made a strangled gasp. His mouth opened exhaled. She picked up his datapad from
and closed twice. behind the chair where it had fallen during
“I’m so sorry,” Lisa whispered around their love-making and placed it in her
the tears. pocket.
“But...I...I...love...you,” Trevor managed Lieutenant Cochrane settled into her
to force the words past lips turned purple. pilot’s chair and began preparations for
“I know,” she said. She waited another her next jump.

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 11

# calculating her jumps and burns by hand


She wiped the sweat from her forehead on Trevor’s datapad because her naviga-
with her bare arm, desperate to keep the tion computer failed after the fourth jump,
salty sting of perspiration out of her eyes. things were too close for comfort. Lieu-
She was struggling enough, and any added tenant Cochrane was beginning to wonder
distractions could prove disastrous. what exactly she had done to the universe
Lieutenant Cochrane pulled her small to warrant such a run of bad luck.
frame deeper into the crawl tubes of You know what you did, the voice in her
the courier ship’s engine compartment. head said.
Her jumpsuit was unzipped to her waist, “I didn’t have a choice,” she muttered,
leaving her t-shirt exposed. Clutching an lying on her back and bolting the hopefully
induction coil in one hand and an allen repaired coil back into place.
wrench in the other, she made her way There are always choices, Lisa. You
slowly toward the reactor. She hoped chose to kill.
that she had cleaned and reassembled the “Stop it,” she whispered. “Just shut up.”
piece correctly, otherwise the little ship Cold blooded murder. I wonder what
would never accelerate to jump speed. the authorities on Melpomene will do with
She just needed the part to hold together you?
for one more jump. If it did not work she Lisa knew she would be arrested as
could slam her ship straight into the heart soon as she touched down on the colony
of Beta Hydrae, but the alternative was to world. She had sent a transmission back to
sit tight and wait for rescue. Command immediately after her second
Fuel was another matter to consider. jump, detailing what she had done. She
The induction coil had started to fail as had received orders to surrender to the
she was gathering speed for her previous local civilian authorities until Command
jump. Lisa had been forced to throttle her could retrieve her for an inquest.
ship up, burning harder and longer than “But...I...I...love...you,” Trevor’s muffled
expected and using more precious fuel. voice came from a pocket of her jump suit.
Combined with the mass Trevor had added Lisa dropped the wrench and scrambled
at the start of her journey and that she was to reach the datapad. They had acciden-
tally triggered its voice recording function

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during their love-making. “I know,” she and made a dash across the cold cargo
heard herself say before she managed to hold, into the cockpit, where she strapped
shut down the audio. herself into the pilot’s chair.
Lisa blinked to clear her eyes of tears The courier ship had begun to drift off-
and sweat. For a moment she thought she course as the engines powered up. The
saw Trevor’s face in the colorful tangle of autopilot had failed to make the necessary
cables and tubes above her. She had been course corrections while she was occupied
seeing him more and more about the ship, installing the induction coil. She adjusted
out of the corner of her eye or in reflective course and then gave the autopilot control
surfaces. She gritted her teeth and picked panel a solid thump with a balled-up fist
up the wrench. She tightened the last bolt, when it tried to override her changes. The
careful not to over-torque it in her frustra- lights on the panel blinked erratically, and
tion. She reached up and reconnected the then winked out.
inductor coil to the manifold. Lisa sighed. The last thing she needed
Lisa screamed as a bright swarm of was for the stupid autopilot to attempt to
sparks rained down on her exposed face wrestle control away from her in the middle
and arms. The vessel trembled and shook. of the jump. Lisa set the datapad on the
She felt the ship begin to gather speed, control console in front of her. She said a
starting its headlong plunge toward the little prayer, hoping that her instruments
fiery center of Beta Hydrae. were still working properly, and punched
Lisa scrambled backward through the the revised figures into the datapad. She
access tube, cursing every time the loose, set the timer to count down until her jump.
flopping arms of the jump suit caught on She kept careful watch on how fast she
any exposed parts. was accelerating and how quickly the tem-
She shrugged back into the one-piece perature of her ship’s hull was rising.
suit and zipped it half-way up. She The ship gave another shudder, like
crawled out of the access tube, stood, and a horse suddenly gone lame and about
withdrew the datapad from her pocket. to stumble. She heard several small
Lisa slammed the airtight door between pops and hisses behind her. Lieutenant
the engine compartment and the cargo Cochrane kept her hands on the controls,
hold shut and spun it tight. She turned watching the datapad countdown. She

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 13

spared a glance at her hull temperature: Lisa frantically checked her instruments.
it was approaching the critical point. She She had completed her jump practically on
looked at the datapad and started to count top of Melpomene and was now engaged
down. in an uncontrolled descent into the planet’s
“Five.” atmosphere. Her training kicked in and
You know no one hears your prayers, a Lisa’s fingers flew over the controls as she
little voice in her mind whispered. fought to regain control of her vessel.
“Four.” “Alliance courier: abort your approach,”
You’re going to die, burned to nothing. a male voice said through her communica-
“Three.” tion unit.
You deserve to die. You should end it Lisa managed to right the angle of
now. her descent, but was still coming in too
“Shut up! Two!” fast. She fired her landing thrusters in an
Murderer! attempt to decelerate.
“One!” “Alliance courier, this is Melpomene
Lisa triggered the jump drive. The Orbital Control: you’re coming in too fast.
sickly sensation of falling took hold of her You are ordered to abort your approach.
as everything went silent and bright. Lisa Do you copy?”
closed her eyes, but an image of Trevor, his “I’d love to,” Lisa muttered as the
eyes wide and unbelieving at her actions, datapad continued to replay the sounds of
was waiting for her, just as he had been her and Trevor making love. Lisa throttled
every time she tried to sleep. She tried to back the engines and hit the landing
hold down the green paste she had eaten thrusters again, forcing the wobbly ship
for breakfast. to shed more speed. She reached out and
The silence was broken as the ship pushed the transmit button as the ship
lurched and alarm claxons blared. Lisa continued to plummet.
pitched forward, managing to turn her “Melpomene Control, this is Alliance
head at the last moment to avoid vomiting Courier YT-128. I am declaring an in-flight
on her controls. The datapad flew off emergency. Request landing clearance
the console, struck the floor, and began and coordinates.”
replaying Lisa and Trevor’s final tryst. “Acknowledged Courier YT-128. Release

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 14

navigational control to us and we’ll bring smooth. The datapad began replaying her
you down.” and Trevor’s encounter again from the
“So, am I forgiven?” Trevor’s voice said top.
from the datapad. At twelve thousand feet the engines
“Yes,” Lisa heard herself reply. cut out suddenly, turning her courier ship
“Melpomene Control, my navigation into a glider, a state that the box-shaped
computer is non-functional. I’m flying by craft was ill-suited for. She began to
instrumentation and manual control.” plummet, her vessel corkscrewing toward
“I had to chose,” Lisa’s voice said from the surface.
the datapad. Lisa heard her voice screaming, though
And you chose murder, the voice in her she could not determine if the sound in
head said. her ears was coming from her own throat
“YT-128: if we give you verbal directions or from the datapad. Melpomene Control
can you land safely?” kept calling for her to eject.
Lisa gritted her teeth as the courier At seven thousand feet the engines
tried to shake itself into pieces. She heard screamed back to life as suddenly as they
something snap off the ship with a loud had died earlier. Lisa worked the controls,
metallic crash against the hull. The engines wrestling the ship out of its plunge by firing
had begun to sputter, whether running out her thrusters and solid fuel engines. The
of fuel or from damage she did not know. little ship slid left and down, then rolled
“Talk to me, Melpomene,” she said. twice, flinging the datapad across the
You should eject, Trevor’s ghostly voice cockpit and into the lavatory door, before
whispered in her head as his recorded Lisa managed to regain control and right
voice sputtered “I...I...love...you.” Save the vessel.
yourself, if you can. “Voice message from terminal identifica-
Lisa tried to ignore all the voices except tion number: unknown, received fourteen
the one in her ears feeding her course cor- April,” the flat, mechanical voice came
rections. from the pad.
At twenty thousand feet she started “Courier YT-128: what is your status?”
to breath easier. The engines had settled “Under control. I have control and
down and her descent was controlled and powered flight. Proceeding to landing coor-

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 15

dinated. Don’t let me fly into a mountain, before she unstrapped herself from the
Melpomene. pilot’s chair. She took a handful of wobbly
“Stay on course, YT-128. Your arrival steps toward where Trevor’s pad lay on the
at the landing pad is projected in forty deck. Her first, irrational instinct was to
minutes.” stomp on it in anger and frustration. Her
“I’ve deposited half of the agreed-upon better senses prevailed. She retrieved the
amount in your account,” a voice Lisa pad, cued up the message from Senator
recognized spoke from the pad. She had Burkes to his late son, and walked into
been introduced to Senator Burkes at a the cargo hold. She grabbed the manifest
dinner she had attended with Trevor, and and her official ship’s log, and opened the
had heard the man speak numerous times cargo bay doors to the world outside.
on the news service. “Once you’ve forced The air of Melpomene was neither
your little paramour to abort her mission, clean nor fresh. Dust hung thick, yellow
I will deposit the remainder. This must and grey, giving the buildings surrounding
appear to be an unfortunate incident, son. the landing pad a uniformly weathered
If you cannot compel her to turn away, and washed-out look. A half-dozen men
there are other, more active, measures and women, all in uniforms, carrying
in place to stop her. We would rather firearms, and wearing breathing apparatus,
avoid any kind of investigation, if possible. approached her ship.
Once the colonists are forced to abandon “Lieutenant Cochrane?” one of the
Melpomene, my friends will make sure we greeting party, an older woman, asked in
are both made financially secure for our a muffled voice. Lisa nodded her head
troubles.” and the woman handed her a mask and
“End of message. To erase—” portable oxygen recycler. “You’ll want to
Lisa paid the mechanical voice no more put this on until we get inside,” the woman
attention, instead focusing on the verbal said.
commands coming from Melpomene Lisa slipped the mask over her mouth
Flight Control. and nose. Clean, pure oxygen filled her
Thirty minutes later she touched down lungs.
outside of the capital city. “Very good,” the woman said. “If you’ll
Lisa needed several steadying breaths come with us, please.”

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 16

Lisa fell into step behind the woman Marshall Cynthia Greyson. I’m in charge of
while two of the party entered her ship. security on this lovely planet. Second: we
The others formed up around her, insuring are very happy to see both you and your
she did not attempt to flee. She followed cargo arrive intact, Lieutenant Cochrane.
the woman through the grey twilight of Finally: we have been asked to arrest you
outside into a low, solid brick building. and keep you incarcerated until such a
Once through the door and safely cut-off time as the Alliance can spare someone to
from the outside air, Lisa’s escort stopped come and retrieve you.”
and removed their masks. Lisa followed “I see.”
their example. “However, since you’ve brought our
The woman turned to Lisa and stuck out planet everything we need to keep us alive,
a hand. “Welcome to Melpomene, Lieu- my government is willing to hear your side
tenant Cochrane.” in the matter.” Marshall Greyson smiled.
Lisa took the offered hand, giving the “You see, Lieutenant, you’re going to be
woman a closer inspection now that the something of a hero here on Melpomene.
breathing equipment was no longer hiding We prefer to give you the benefit of a
their features. Lieutenant Cochrane found doubt.”
herself looking at a woman who was “I appreciate that.”
probably in her early fifties judging by the Greyson nodded. “We will let you
amount of grey in her still mostly brown cleaned up, sleep, have a hot meal, and
hair. get settled. Tomorrow I’ll conduct your
“I’m glad to be here, everything consid- debriefing.”
ered,” Lisa said. Lisa offered Trevor’s datapad to the
The older woman chuckled. “According woman. “I think everything you’ll need is
to flight control, you had quite the exciting available on this.”
trip down through the ash clouds.” The older woman took the pad and
“Yes, quite,” Lisa murmured. “So, um...” raised an eyebrow. “We’ll go over it.”
Lisa gave the woman what she hoped was She nodded toward one of the escorting
an expectant look. soldiers, a slim, red-haired man bearing
The woman seemed to understand a smile and an automatic rifle. “In the
what Lisa wanted to know. “First off: I’m meantime, Corporal Windsor will show

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 17

you to your quarters.” all their questions calmly and truthfully,


“Thank you,” Lisa said. and was escorted by armed guard to the
She allowed the guard to guide her to a hospital, where she was give a thorough
dormitory-like room deep underneath the examination by a doctor who kept thanking
building. The room was only slightly larger her for delivering the needed drugs to
than the cockpit on the ship. The corporal combat the respiratory plague that had
pointed out the restroom and showers at decimated the population after a supposed
the far end of a hallway lined with doors dormant volcano had erupted.
exactly like the one her room was behind. Lieutenant Cochrane was escorted back
He told her that she was to stay within this to her room. Ten hours later Marshall
hallway and that guards were posted at all Greyson summoned her to another
the exit points if she needed something. debriefing, this time involving only the
Lisa thanked him and, once he was gone, two of them.
headed for the shower. She found towels Lisa was surprised to learn that her
and a large terry-cloth robe hanging from ship had been sabotaged. It was mostly
hooks in the room. She turned the water a combination of Lisa’s on-the-fly repairs
on as hot as she could stand it and let the and dumb-luck that she had reached
water wash away the dirt, grime, and tears Melpomene at all. She was also shocked
of the last three months of her mission. to learn that her supply of food paste had
Once back in her room, she discovered been laced with a drug designed to make
someone had delivered her personal her slowly begin to hallucinate and become
items from the ship and left her dinner on paranoid. Greyson opined that the drug
the low table next to the one chair in the was supposed to break down her ability
room. She ate, and then stretched out on to think clearly in the hope that, if Trevor
the narrow bed. failed to convince her to abort the mission,
She had been asleep for two hours her slowly growing paranoia and psychosis
when Marshall Greyson came and fetched would cause her to destroy the ship.
her personally. Lisa dressed in one of her What surprised Lisa the most was the
flight suits and followed the stern woman. discovery that she was pregnant.
Greyson escorted her to a meeting of the #

colony’s governing body. She answered

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 18

Lieutenant-Commander Lisa Cochrane taking it was to send three cruisers and a


of the Melpomene Defense Forces, former super-transport all this way.
Lieutenant of the North American Alliance “That is quite the allocation of resources,”
Space Fleet, studied the security camera Greyson replied, her tone even and flat
feed of the meeting happening in the in Lisa’s ears. Lisa thought she detected
landing yard. She turned her earpiece her new commanding officer give a small
volume to a comfortable level as she smile. “Sorry about the confusion earlier.
watched the scene play out before her. Having three warships suddenly appear in
“Sorry you came all this way for nothing, our system...well...you understand why my
Captain,” Marshall Greyson, flanked by gun crews on the orbital platforms fired
four grim-looking security officers, refused those warning shots.”
the offered hand of either of the Alliance “Yes, perhaps we should have made our
officers. intentions clearer. Your crews responded
The senior Alliance officer gave her a very quickly to a perceived threat.” Lisa
rueful smile. “I was assured by my superiors wished she could see the look in the man’s
that Melpomene Colony had requested eyes.
evacuation.” “They know their jobs.”
“You were misinformed, I’m afraid. As “About the other matter,” the second
you can see, we constructed our own officer said. Lisa gave him a closer look.
atmospheric purifiers from the terrafor- The man was lean and fit, more so than his
ming equipment the original colonists commanding officer. Lisa noted the way
brought along. Thanks to the bravery of he took in everything around him without
your courier pilot, we had enough seed to drawing any attention to himself.
replant our crops and enough medicine Lisa watched Marshall Greyson turn her
to save most of the population. We can attention to the junior officer. “I believe
produce our own supply of the drug now, we explained everything in our communi-
so you see, we are still a self-sufficient qué. Lieutenant Cochrane was seriously
colony.” injured during her emergency landing. She
“You understand, Marshall Greyson, that fell victim to the respiratory disease that
I will need to contact my superiors. I’m claimed a fifth of the colonists before our
sure you can appreciate what an under- doctors could administer the complete

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 19

regimen of inoculations. She passed away seemed to have lost interest in the conver-
shortly after and her body was cremated, sation between the captain and Greyson as
the same as all the other victims.” they haggled over other matters. Instead,
The Lieutenant frowned. “I’ve been he was giving the complex an appraising
ordered to obtain her ashes for return to look, while trying to appear as if he was
her family.” oblivious to everything around him. His
“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” Greyson eyes lit on the security camera that was
said. feeding Lisa images of the meeting. They
“Marshall Greyson, I’m sure you realize lingered over it for several seconds before
that Lieutenant Cochrane’s family has a he leaned over and whispered into his
legal right to her remains,” the captain superior officer’s ear. The senior man made
said, stepping back into the conversation. a great show of attempting to prolong the
“We just want to take our officer home.” conversation while trying to end it. Lisa
Yeah, Lisa thought, you just want to watched as the Alliance party returned to
run tests on those ashes to see if I’m really their shuttle under the watchful eyes of
dead. the Melpomene security forces.
“I’m sorry,” Greyson replied. “I think you Lisa waited for her commanding officer
misunderstood. When I said that would to send for her. When she did arrive
be impossible, I was not implying that the at Greyson’s rather spartan office, the
Colonial Government of Melpomene was Marshall was her usual blunt self.
in any way attempting to withhold the “They suspect something.”
remains of Lieutenant Cochrane from her Lieutenant-Commander Cochrane
family. What I meant was we don’t have shook her head. “No. I think they might
the ashes to give you. Lieutenant Cochrane actually know.”
made it clear before her death that she “That would imply they have intelligence
wished her remains to be scattered in in the matter, which would mean someone
space. The grateful people of Melpomene on the inside is feeding them information.”
honored that wish. We can, of course, turn Lisa nodded. “Yes, ma’am. Did you
over her personal effects.” notice how the junior officer was the one
The captain frowned. “I see.” who actually brought the meeting to an
Lisa watched the younger officer. He end?”

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 20

Greyson nodded. her mission. Lisa did not feel like trusting
“I think he might be from Intelligence anyone in the Alliance at the moment,
Services. Watch the tapes of the meeting. not when a powerful Senator wanted her
When he’s not speaking, he’s making arrested for the death of his son.
mental notes about the complex.” Her next thought made a chill slither
Greyson frowned and picked up a down her body: if the Alliance suspected
datapad from her desktop. “Commander, she was alive and could capture her, they
right now I have to assess whether or not could publicly brand her a traitor, deserter,
Captain McClure and his task force are and murderer. She was regarded as a
going to attempt to forcibly expel us from hero on Melpomene. Her capture would
Melpomene colony, and whether or not provoke an incident between the Alliance
we can stop them should they try. and Melpomene Colony. Lisa glanced up
“It seems ridiculous for them to start a to find Marshall Greyson regarding her as
war over this planet.” if the older woman understood exactly
Greyson peered at her over the datapad. what Lisa was thinking.
“Historically speaking, wars typically start Greyson nodded. “Is there anything
because one group has a resource that else you’d like to discuss with me,
another group wants and thinks they Commander?”
can take by force. If the Alliance and its “No, ma’am.”
corporate masters want Melpomene bad “Very well. Dismissed. Go home and
enough, they’ll certainly try and take it.” give Mitchell a kiss from his godmother.”
Greyson set the pad down and folded her “Yes, ma’am.”
hands together. “Commander, I’m going Lisa’s hand was on the doorknob when
to place a few extra guards around your Greyson’s voice stopped her.
apartment until our guests are gone.” “Lisa, I think you should stay home and
Lisa nodded. Even if the Alliance did out of sight until this blows over.”
not want to start a shooting war over Lisa turned and gave her friend and
Melpomene, if their Intelligence Services commanding officer an affirming nod
thought she was alive, they would want to before stepping out of the office.
know what, if anything, she had discovered #

about Senator Burke’s attempt to sabotage

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 21

Lisa sat in a comfortable chair in a corner voice said softly in her mind.
of her dark apartment, facing out into the “I’m having a hard time feeling bad,
room, a semi-automatic shotgun across everything considered,” Lisa whispered to
her knees. She had sent her two-year-old herself.
son to stay with his godmother’s parents These people are squatting on the
and was alone in the residence. largest deposits of Cesium, Deuterium, and
After six days of radio silence from the Uranium ever discovered and what are they
three Alliance cruisers that were conduct- doing? Planting wheat and herding sheep.
ing combat exercises just out of range of The Alliance needs to control and exploit
the colony’s orbital defense platform’s those resources to protect its holdings.
weapons, but well within sensor range of You should show loyalty to the people you
Melpomene, everyone’s nerves were on swore to defend.
edge, including Lisa’s. “Not everything is about powering
Marshall Greyson had calmly explained starships or making the rich even richer.”
to the governing council that the Alliance You’re a traitor and a failure, Lisa.
commander was engaging in the time- They’re coming for you. You need to answer
honored tactic of “showing the flag” in for everything you’ve done. Lisa could no
an effort to remind the colonists that, longer determine if the accusatory voice in
while they may hold Melpomene by her head sounded like Trevor or herself.
charter and that the Alliance tended to “Yes, I know I do,” she murmured, lifting
ignore them, they were still technically an the shotgun as the security light outside
Alliance territory. She then informed the winked out and the soft tinkling of glass
Council that the Alliance had an operative came from her bathroom. Lisa pointed
embedded in the military, but they had the barrel of the shotgun toward the short
discovered the person’s identity. hallway leading to the back bedroom. The
Which had done nothing to make Lisa soft crunch of someone stepping on the
feel better. glass shards she had strewn on the hallway
You don’t really think you’re going to floor reached her ears.
get away with murder, do you? It doesn’t Lisa fired two rounds. The shot ripped
matter what kind of hero these people think through the thin walls as she rolled off the
you are, we both know the truth, Trevor’s chair, moving toward the hallway. Lisa

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 22

came up in a crouch and fired two more breathed a relieved sigh. The cavalry had
rounds down the hallways as a series of arrived on schedule.
feathered barbs struck her protective vest. No, Trevor, this is how it ends. Now get
The tranquilizer darts could not pierce out of my head! she thought as her body
her protective armor. She was glad that went limp and collapsed on the floor. The
they wanted her alive: her vest would last thing she saw before darkness took her
have stopped live rounds, but she would was Master-Corporal Windsor’s worried
have been knocked flat and left helpless face peering down at her.
if she had taken that many hits from real #

bullets.
Lieutenant-Commander Cochrane
She heard the front door burst open and
watched as the Alliance ships completed
turned to face the new threat. She fired
their jump out of Melpomene’s system
her fifth and final round at the intruder,
and disappeared from her scope.
knocking him backward and causing the
There had been several tense moments
flash grenade he was carrying to detonate
when Marshall Greyson had signaled
among his teammates. Lisa dived behind
Captain McClure that a team of Alliance
her couch and drew her sidearm.
Special Operations commandos had been
She tried to blink back the sudden
caught engaging in an illegal operation
feeling of dizziness and nausea. Lisa looked
against a member of the Melpomene
down and found one of the darts sticking
Defense Forces.
out from her unprotected arm. She pulled
Captain McClure had attempted to
the offending barb out and took a deep
disavow any knowledge of the failed raid.
breath. The room was starting to spin
Marshall Greyson had told him to send a
and her body was going numb, refusing to
shuttle to pick up his people, including the
obey her frantic command to rise over her
three fatalities. The Alliance captain had
couch and keep fighting.
again acted as if Marshall Greyson was
This is how it ends, Trevor’s voice
fabricating an incident. Greyson told him
whispered.
in a cold, steely voice that if the captured
A muffled blast from the back of her
commandos where not Alliance soldiers,
apartment and the sound of small arms
then they would be considered mercenar-
fire from the hallway filled her ears. Lisa

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 23

ies and, in keeping with Melpomene laws, “Incoming message for Commander
would be executed immediately. Cochrane,” the platform’s communication
The tension had mounted when specialist told her. “It’s Marshall Greyson.
the Alliance ships began to approach “Put her on.”
Melpomene while powering up their The man nodded at her when he had
weapons. Greyson had ordered her three the channel open.
aging short-range attack ships and her “This is Lieutenant-Commander
more modern orbital defense platforms to Cochrane on Platform Two.”
lock weapons on the Alliance cruisers. Greyson’s voice came over the speakers.
A two-hour silent stand-off ensued. “Commander, you are ordered to return for
Lisa sat in the command chair of the debriefing.”
lead attack ship and watched the tactical “Understood.”
display, trying to exude calm confidence “Good. Your son keeps asking me when
to her inexperienced crew while feverishly you’re going to be back. Come home,
hoping no one did anything stupid. Commander.”
When the lead cruiser launched a “Yes, ma’am. Tell Mitchell his mommy
personnel shuttle, Lisa relaxed the tiniest will be home for dinner.”
amount. When the shuttle returned Lisa nodded to the communications
to the cruiser an hour later and the big specialist to end the transmission, then
warships and super-transport turned asked him to order her a shuttle prepped.
away from Melpomene and began their She walked to the window as the man
long, slow acceleration to jump speed and placed her order and looked out at the
toward Melpomene’s sun, Lisa breathed blue-green-purple orb below her, anxious
a relieved breath. Marshall Greyson to be home, to see her son.
ordered her attack ships to withdraw: the “Ma’am?”
orbital platforms could keep watch on Lisa turned to find the officer-of-the-
their departing guests. Lisa and her crew watch addressing her.”Yes?”
docked and stayed on Platform Two for “Your shuttle’s ready and waiting on pad
the next two weeks, living in a state of three.”
constant alert until the four ships reached “Thank you, lieutenant. Carry on.”
jump speed and vanished. The man nodded and returned to his

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Pg. 24

station.
As Lisa walked toward the designated
Michael Merriam
Michael Merriam has sold fantasy and science
landing pad, she stopped at a trash and fiction stories and poetry to a variety of
recycling chute. She reached into a pocket magazines, including Andromeda Spaceways
on her uniform and withdrew Trevor’s Inflight Magazine, Beyond Centauri, Deep Magic,
datapad. Greyson had returned it to Fictitious Force, and The Shantytown Anomaly.
her after Melpomene’s tech specialists He is also a two-time semi-finalist in the L.
Ron Hubbard Writers of The Future Contest.
extracted all the information they could
Michael participates in the Online Writers
from it. She pressed an icon on its display. Workshop and is an assistant organizer of the
“So, am I forgiven?” Trevor’s voice Twin Cities Speculative Fiction Writers Network.
asked. He lives in Minneapolis,Minnesota with his wife 
Lisa tapped the pad. “Yes, I forgive and cat. Visit his homepage at 
http://home.mn.rr.com/mmerriam/
you,” she whispered, meaning it. She had
forgiven Trevor for being vain and greedy,
for allowing himself to be manipulated by
his father, for trying to stop her mission,
for forcing her to kill him. She forgave him
all of it.
Lieutenant-Commander Lisa Cochrane
opened the chute and tossed in the
datapad. She pressed the recycle button
and walked to her waiting shuttle home.

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Pg. 25

Shan’tir’ri

by Scott M. Sandridge

I turned the corner just in time. The shop


to my right wasn’t so fortunate. Its
sensors failed to detect the energy discharge
Mark, not Merc.”
“Whatever. Four million credits, your pick
of our latest military toys, and fifty thousand
in time to activate its anti-gravity generators, cubic acres of air space with your own floating
or the owners were too poor or too cheap to mansion.”
have the standard safety devices installed. “Nobody pays that much for an easy job.”
Whichever, I didn’t care. I was too busy saving “I never said it was easy.”
my own life. This was the part that made being a
Another blast grazed the top of my mercenary so interesting: smug clients who
skimmer. On instinct I dove and avoided the think they’re smart.
follow-up blast. Burning wreckage followed “So, what’s the job?” I asked.
me down through the thick orange clouds. So Gelv punched a button on his desk, and a
much for retirement. holograph appeared. The sight of the hairless
All because I missed my target by three female humanoid with blue skin sent a shiver
millimeters. I knew I should’ve refused this down my spine. Gelv said, “I heard you were
job. Hindsight sucks… acquainted with this species. That’s why I
# picked you. This particular Shan’tir’ri has
been a thorn in my Queen’s side for the past
“It’s a simple job, Merc,” said Administrator
eight months. According to our sources, this
Gelv. Those four words always make me sus-
little she-monster is kidnapping drone young-
picious, especially when spoken by a greedy,
lings.”
smoke-stem toting, bug that chuckles like a
“Never knew they had a thing for bugs,” I
lunatic. Unfortunately, he or she or it (you
said. “I thought they kept to humanoids for
just can’t tell with these K’rit’iks) followed
their pleasure slaves.”
up with the magic words I always like to hear,
Gelv sent a cloud of smoke-stem excretion
“And the pay is high.”
into my face. I held my breath.
“How high?” I asked. “And the name’s

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Shan’tir’ri, by Scott M. Sandridge Pg. 26

“Watch who you’re calling bugs,” he said. that when I missed my mark. The sight of
“I’ll be more specific. She’s not kidnapping just seeing silver liquid seep out of her pores to
any drone younglings. She’s taking our warrior harden into armor, and weaponry grow from
drones and selling them to our enemies.” the same alloy, is a sight that can freeze the
“You said simple.” most hardened predator.
“Yes.” Good thing I was already accustomed to
“When do you get to the simple part?” seeing their bio-armor conversion process. I
“I want her dead as dead can be and her beat feet faster than ever before and hopped
remains brought to me. Is that simple enough into my skimmer. The one thought on my
for you?” mind as I weaved between two cargo barges
My grin was all Gelv needed. was about how nice it would be if, just once,
“You leave for Morvarr tomorrow morning. something would actually go according to
Your pay is half if you take longer than a week. plan.
Damages incurred will be billed to you, and I dove down to where the clouds changed
your contract is forfeited if you don’t bring from orange to red. My skimmer was designed
back proof of death.” to slice through the thick, lower atmosphere.
“Just make sure you have my money when Her cyber-wings weren’t. This would force
I get back,” I said. I shook his three-pronged her to rely primarily on her armor’s thrusters,
pincer after adding, “I’ll take my choice of and that would give me the maneuverability
weapon as my advance.” advantage. At least I hoped it would. When I
“Nice doing business with you, Merc.” looked back and saw that she was no longer
“Mark.” behind me, I realized my mistake.
“Whatever. Just don’t try to cheat me. You All I saw was a flash of silver before the
wouldn’t want me as your enemy.” impact knocked me out of the pilot seat,
Why do they always say that? caused every warning light in the control
# panel to light up, and put the skimmer into a
spin that made my stomach spasm. The next
The biggest problem about assassination
thing I saw was a jagged cliff spinning in my
jobs is that the wolf can become the deer if
front view screen.
he’s not careful, and careful doesn’t always
Call it skill, call it luck, call it anything you
cut it. In less than a second my target did just
want. I managed to grab the stick in time

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Shan’tir’ri, by Scott M. Sandridge Pg. 27

to stop the spin and set the bottom of the The Kr-9 Laser Assault Rifle is an interest-
skimmer onto the top of the cliff. Two skips, ing weapon. The first laser weapon designed
a hop, and a quick reverse thrust stopped for automatic burst firing, it also includes the
the skimmer before it smashed into the rock most advanced sighting systems. The most
wall. appealing part about it is the fingerprint
I popped open the emergency hatch, scanner installed in the trigger. A microcom-
grabbed my gear, and bolted out of the cockpit. puter inside the stock contains the finger-
I managed twenty steps before the skimmer prints of all authorized personnel. If the fin-
exploded and sent me sailing into the wall. I gerprint from the scanner matches the one in
thought I was dead when everything blurred the computer, fire away. If not…
and faded to black. When I came to, I realized The Shan’tir’ri pulled the trigger. The
that death would have been preferable to energy cells inside exploded and both of us
what the avenging angel standing over me were flung backward. I might’ve heard her
may have planned. screams if I hadn’t gone deaf for a few seconds.
I couldn’t move my left arm without searing My back smacked into the wall, and she went
waves of pain. The combat armor that had over the cliff. I found her left hand near what
saved me from the explosion was shredded remained of my skimmer, unarmored blue
from the shrapnel, and I could feel burns and flesh once again.
lacerations all over. The first thought in my I called in for a pickup and returned to
head to form coherently was, Where’s my Gelv’s office. His first words to me were, “You
damn rifle? look like ground beef.”
That’s when I noticed the Shan’tir’ri held An understatement if ever there was one.
it—my nice new gun: part of the reward for I expected half my pay would end up in some
her head. The incongruity made me smile. doctor’s bank account.
“It’s good to see you meeting death with I tossed the hand onto his desk and said,
a smile,” she said. “I taught you well, my little “Job’s finished. Where’s my pay?”
escaped pet.” He poked at the hand, then looked up at
“It’s ironic when you think about it,” I said, me. His mandibles clacked together with a
managing to get up on my knees. “I get killed total lack of rhythm. Then he said, “How do I
with my own gun.” know this isn’t some other Shan’tir’ri’s?”
“Indeed.” “Look,” I said, one hand held up. “You

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Shan’tir’ri, by Scott M. Sandridge Pg. 28

wanted her dead; she’s dead, blown up by ment. Like I said, hindsight sucks.
your own damn gun. If you want what’s left #
of her, go down to this hellhole’s surface and
There’s one small problem about laying
find it yourself. I’m not about to go down there
low. It’s one long, boring wait for the inevi-
and implode from the atmospheric density.
table, especially on a secluded mud ball like
I’m collecting my pay and checking into the
Calivrin. It gave me plenty of time to ponder
nearest hospital. I’m sure you have ways to
my fate. Would the Shan’tir’ri find me and,
learn if that’s really her hand or not.”
after a series of severe “punishments” put me
Gelv sat back, silent at first, nodded once
back in captivity? Or would the K’rit’ik hunter
and said, “I’ll transfer the assets to your
drones find me, devour me, and spit out my
account within the hour, but if she pops back
remains before the feet of some Administra-
up—.”
tor? Personally, I would prefer the latter.
“Yeah, yeah; you’ll have every hunter from
Too bad my luck is about as good as my
here to the Calivrin System on my tail. I know
foresight.
the drill.”
“Hello Mark.” Hearing the silky female
“Pleasure doing business with you,
voice told me I had been found. I started
Mark.”
running, knowing it was fruitless but in too
“Merc.”
much panic to care. In three seconds she
“What?”
grabbed me by the shoulders and lifted me
“Nevermind.” I walked out the door and
high above the adobe buildings like a hawk
took the elevator to the ground floor. When
taking its prey.
I stepped outside I saw a ball of blue flame
She dropped me down onto a mountain-
erupt from Gelv’s office window.
top, then landed, her image surrounded
A cell-bomb? She had a cell-bomb
by the blue sun like a silver avenging angel
implanted? Either the trigger had malfunc-
complete with crimson vibro-claws and
tioned or she had set it on a timed delay. But
particle beam arm cannon. When her feet
why would—?
touched the ground, the armored shell and
Wonderful. She just set me up. No pay,
cannon liquefied and entered into her body
and being the last person in his office made
through the pores. She stood before me,
me suspect number one. Yep, it was time to
oblivious to the freezing cold common to
lay low for a while, maybe think about retire-

Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006


Shan’tir’ri, by Scott M. Sandridge Pg. 29

such heights. stay warm.


The stinging feeling in my shoulders made “I offer you a choice,” she said. “You can
me glad those claws weren’t on; otherwise, return to us and regain your place at my
I’d have no arms now. Not that it would side—.”
matter much if I didn’t get off this mountain- “In short, be your sex slave again.”
top before I froze to death. “Or you can freeze to death.”
But first, I had to deal with the Shan’tir’ri. “I can always climb down.”
I pulled out my sidearm and aimed, only “And I can lift you back up here again.”
to see the damn thing get sliced by one swipe Yeah, my luck just keeps getting better. “I’d
from her deadly little humming nails. I shut rather freeze to death if you don’t mind.”
my eyes and braced for the death I knew was That stopped her in her place. Her eyes
coming. widened, and then she blinked. “Why? Why
“Open your eyes, pet. I’m not going to kill would you choose death over being my
you,” she said. I obeyed, and the first thing consort? Life with us can’t be so bad.”
I saw after opening them was her sensuous “You think?”
lips part to add, “Yet.” “We feed you, we give you comfort, we—
I looked down her left arm and said, “I see .”
you grew a new hand. I’d tell you it’s nice to “Rape us? Beat us and worse when we
see you’re still alive, but I’d be lying.” don’t grovel at your feet? Treat us like animals?
“It was very rude of you to blow me off Work us to death? Yeah, sure, some guys like
that cliff.” that sort of stuff, but still—.”
“Well, you were trying to kill me.” I was on the ground with her claws at my
“Only because you shot at me first,” she throat before I even knew she attacked. Her
said as she circled around me like a preying snarl made me shake more than the cold
feline. The red pupils in her black eyes looked could. “You are animals compared to us!
me over like I was some kind of product. I Your continued assumption that any species
admit it; I looked her over too, but what do should be considered equal to ours is blas-
you expect from a guy? phemous!”
“So, what now?” My body started shivering, “There you go again with that us/our crap.
my plain wool clothes little protection against At least I’m an individual and not taking orders
the cold. I held my arms against me to try to from some Queen Mo—.”

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Shan’tir’ri, by Scott M. Sandridge Pg. 30

“Silence!” pool?” I stood back up and shrugged. “Then


The volume regulators in her voice raised why don’t you just take a sample and leave
her scream to a level that made the ground me the hell alone?”
shake. The sound waves reverberated through “It doesn’t work that way,” she said. She
my body, and the pain told me something placed a hand on her hip and smiled, “Did you
shook loose in me somewhere. Fortunately, think we take mates for enjoyment alone?
she lowered the volume when she added, Our bodies are designed to select and process
“We are not worker drones like the K’rit’ik. We the best samples, and preserve them for the
possess individual thought. Why else would Queen to use.”
I be here? Any other consort would’ve died I squatted down and placed my arms
immediately for what you’ve done if I—.” around my knees to stay warm. If I didn’t find
“If you what?” a way off this mountain soon….
She released my throat, and stepped But I’d be damned if I was ever going to be
back. “If I were obeying my orders, you’d be a slave again. No weapon, and hand-to-hand
dead now. No consort who fled from us and against her would be suicide. I could jump off
murdered our kind was ever given a second the cliff and end it, but she’d probably just
chance, but we—I—had hoped you would sweep me up and, worse yet, chastise me for
see the logic in returning to me.” my stupidity.
“A little late to start getting mushy on me, “Why must you be so stubborn?” she
isn’t it?” I regretted flashing my cocky grin the asked. She began to pace again. “I treated
second her fist put me back on the ground. It you better than any consort we ever had. I
felt like I had been smacked by a Taurusian. even waived punishment when I shouldn’t. I
“Always blaspheming, little pet,” she said. thought you liked being my consort. Did I not
“You have worthy genes. That’s all.” bring you pleasure?”
It was my turn to get confused, “But…your I couldn’t hold back my smile no matter
race doesn’t reproduce sexually. Why would how much I wanted to. “It’s not that, honey.
you care about my genes?” Believe me.”
“The Queen Mother still requires genetic “Then what?” Her voice rose again. Thank-
material to create us with. Our cells are still fully, she kept better control of the volume
half organic.” this time. “Because we do not see you as
“And you want me to donate to your gene equal?”

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Shan’tir’ri, by Scott M. Sandridge Pg. 31

I rose, fists clenched. I glared at her as my Scott M. Sandridge


body shook, not from the cold, and this time
Scott M. Sandridge was born in Hot Springs,
not from fear. “Because I’m a man, damn it! I Arkansas, and grew up in Corbin, Kentucky. He
have pride! I yearn to strive for something, to now resides in Holland, Ohio, where everybody
work for myself, to have something I can call talks funny.
my own! And to sometimes have something
to fight and die for! He has loved writing since early childhood, but
didn’t get serious with it until 2000. He enrolled
“Can you give that to me? Can you give
in Long Ridge Writers’ Group in February 2001.
that to anyone?” His first short story, “Treecutter,” was published
She stood there and stared at me like I was in Issue 4 of The Sword Review in July 2005.
a complete, total stranger and she had just He has since gone on to publish more short
now noticed. I figured once her shock wore stories and write reviews for Tangent Online.
off that my life would end. But when she
He is also a member of the Critters Writers’
Workshop, a columnist for The Sword Review,
finally moved, she did something I thought
and is a Slushmaster (Submissions Editor) for
was never possible for her kind to do. Ray Gun Revival.
She let me go.
As she converted back into her battle form
and flew away, my thoughts were only on one
thing: I have a long climb down.

Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006


Pg. 32

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate


The Assassin of Patience Bay, Part Two 
by Johne Cook

The story so far... 15-year-old orphan Cooper rocky hilltop didn’t interrupt Cooper Flynn’s
Flynn and his best friend Sandle are playing solitary vigil. After a respectful pause, the
at swords when a stranger visits Patience Abbot’s assistant cleared his throat and said,
Bay, setting in motion a chain of events that “It’s time.” Flynn looked back at the man,
finds one of them dead and leaves the other nodded absently, and turned to join the
to pick up the pieces. others.
They buried Sandle on the hill from where
And as difficult as that seems, in the events he and Flynn first espied Tuy Meklanek’s
leading up to the funeral, Flynn can’t shake arrival.
a gathering feeling of dread, as if inexorable The Abbot’s assistant put his hand on
forces outside of his control have been set Tuy’s shoulder. “Ven Meklanek, would you
into motion. He is now alone, he doesn’t speak in the Abbot’s absence?” Tuy nodded,
know how to deal with his grief, and a storm and stepped forward.
is brewing. “I have no prepared speech,” he said.
“I suspect Sandle would have preferred

A shadow passed over the young man


on the hilltop. He faced the ocean
high above a pristine South Sea island bay.
something simple anyway...” He cleared his
throat and spoke up. “You, who knew Sandle
best, know his history—I do not. You know
If the weather mirrored the tumult in his
Sandle’s stories—I do not. You know his idio-
eyes, the heavens would blacken and the
syncrasies, his quirks, his strengths. I know
rain would pound the earth like tears, but
only one thing of Sandle; he demonstrated
the skies were as bright and clear as the half-
great character in his moment of truth at
grin on his face.
the risk of his own life.” Tuy looked around
And just as false.
at those assembled. “That’s enough for me.”
A storm was brewing somewhere.
Tuy’s voice dropped, and he confided, “I pray
Somewhere close.
I may be half as brave at that moment.”
The shuffle of approaching feet on the
He drew his sword, its metal-on-metal

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook Pg. 33

rasp loud in the quiet of the moment, and assistant. They locked eyes and the young
drove the tip firmly into the rocky soil. He cleric gasped. He only had strength to stammer
knelt on his right knee and grasped the hilt the benediction, “Serreh,” before he ducked
with his right fist. his head and scuttled quickly back toward the
Witnessing his homage, those assembled Abbey. His retreat ended the ceremony.
followed his example. Tuy solemnly spoke: #
“Sandle Grawnsden, I remember you.” The
Flynn appeared bright and early for his
others repeated: “I remember you.” Tuy
fencing practice the following morning.
bowed his head, traced the sacred four-sided
“I wasn’t sure you’d want to meet today,”
mark of Cyl upon his chest. Raising his head,
observed Weapons Master Thannon, playing
he rose, sheathed his sword, and stepped
idly with his sword sheath. “Have you slept?”
back.
Flynn shook his head negligently. “I’m
An awkward silence fell over the little
fine. I might have been more effective against
group, and then Flynn stepped forward. His
Sandle’s killer with better training.” He bowed
infamously unruly black hair was corralled and
with a flourish. “Here I am; teach your eager
tied in a nape-knot; his black eyes were set
pupil, Master.”
wide apart on a face perpetually on the verge
Thannon nodded, a grudging half-smile
of breaking into a grin. Flynn’s face shone in
coming to his face. He released the catch
the bright mid-afternoon sunlight; the pre-
and flipped his sheath into the corner, where
vailing wind whipped dust into his dry eyes.
it lodged, quivering.
No sorrow showed thereon, and a careless
“Very well,” said the Weapons Master.
observer might have mistaken his demeanor
“Let’s see what you’re really made of.”
as casual, except for one thing—the eyes. On
#
closer inspection, those black eyes revealed a
deliberate, intelligent rage. After a fierce morning practice, Flynn took
His voice was clear and controlled, almost his sword, along with some bread and meat,
soft-spoken. “He was my first and best friend, and disappeared into the jungle. He told no
and he deserved more. He deserved better. one where he was going, and didn’t explain
The architect of Sandle’s unjust death will himself when he returned that night.
answer for his crime.” He looked around. He shadow-dueled late into the evening
“That’s it.” and literally fell into bed, but was back up
Flynn’s gaze flickered over to the Abbot’s again at daybreak to start all over again,

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook Pg. 34

driving himself in solitude into excellence surface, but this wasn’t a hysterical killer, nor
with a blade. a random killing. The mystery blade was a
Tuy Meklanek remanded himself to the member of the Qantiin, the Assassin’s Guild.”
Abbot’s extensive library and stood by the “Qantiin? How do you know? Actually,
window out back, watching Flynn leave scratch that–I’ve never seen swordsmanship
each afternoon, before turning his back and like that, nor those kinds of moves.”
returning to the library. “Exactly. The Qantiin abandon their blood
Sometimes, he even read a little. relations and become members of a new
# family; this new brotherhood makes them all
the more fearsome. Kill one and you draw
Two weeks later, exhausted after the
enmity from all: for life.”
morning’s practice and the pace of his
The color left Flynn’s face. “Assassin? What
exertions, Flynn fell into a deep sleep beneath
was an assassin doing here?”
a palm tree. Startled awake by something
Tuy nodded again. “That’s a better
to his right, he blinked and jerked suddenly,
question,” he said, his eyes on the ground.
ready to scramble back, until he recognized
He started tracing in the dust with the point
the quiet figure seated nearby. Then he took
of a stick. “Let me ask you something; how
a deep breath and relaxed.
do you think Sandle happened to be in the
Tuy sat not far away, quietly looking out
rear courtyard with a real sword just then?”
over the ocean.
Flynn frowned and said, “I think that Sandle
“I didn’t hear you sit down,” said Flynn, his
was more observant than I. He noticed your
voice husky from sleep. “How did you find
arrival before I did, as well as the arrival of
me?”
the second boat, and even woke me to tell
Tuy continued gazing at the ocean. It was
me of it. Shells, there were probably other
some time before he spoke. “That’s not the
clues I missed so completely that I can’t even
right question,” he said in a low voice.
recall them to tell you now.” Frustrated, Flynn
Flynn rubbed his eyes and sat up with
threw a stick into the trees.
his back against the tree. “Why did this
“A second vessel? What did he say when
happen?”
he awakened you?”
“That’s not it, either.”
“It was a little weird. He went on about a
Flynn stood and started pacing. Five
great, black bird of calamity perched on the
minutes passed…ten. “Who killed Sandle?
second boat, claiming it was a harbinger of
Why him? “
death.”
Tuy nodded. “It may appear so on the
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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook Pg. 35

“And what did you say?” #


Flynn looked stricken. “I berated him for
They walked out to the Abbot’s Watch, a
reading too much into it and for waking me
rocky point overlooking the ocean to the west.
when we should both be sleeping.”
High forerunner clouds started to obscure
Tuy looked pensive. “Did you tell anybody
the sun, making the afternoon prematurely
else about that?”
dark. A storm was visible against the horizon,
“No. I ate a quick breakfast and had
but was still some distance away. Its brilliant
weapons practice with Master Thannon, and
white towers reached toward the sky, rising
was then introduced to you the same morning.
from a base that was dark and expanding.
That’s all”
Flynn said, “Sandle was perceptive. When
Tuy stroked his beard. “There’s more to
you sailed in, he noted your weatherworn
this than meets the eye. How is it possible to
boat and shabby clothes. I saw only the way
have a clandestine information network on an
you carried yourself, and imagined your boat
island so remote and so sparsely populated?
as my opportunity to finally leave this rock.
The assassin moved too fast for a complete
He was looking out for everyone else, but I
stranger,” Tuy mused, half to himself, “…faster
only thought of myself.”
than I would have expected.”
Tuy nodded. “I’ve been searching the
Flynn mulled this over, blinked, and cocked
islands for many months. When I started, I
his head. “So how do we know this assassin,
felt I was searching by request of Her Majesty,
this Qantiin, was here for Sandle at all? What
but later, to fulfill a quest for a friend of mine.
if he was actually here to target someone
However, I’d only recently come to grips with
else?” He turned and looked at Tuy. “If
the possibility I might not find you at all, and
Sandle wasn’t the ultimate target, who was?
then discovered to my surprise that I was
Oh, wait! If there was an ultimate target, will
questing for myself.”
the Qantiin send another assassin?”
He looked at Flynn. “At first, I was charged
Tuy nodded his head and smiled grimly.
with a mission to you at the behest of the
“That’s the right question.” He stood. “Let’s
Crown, but as time passed, I realized the truth
take a walk. It’s time I told you what brought
of it: I was searching for what might be called
me to Patience Bay.”
‘redemption.’ I don’t know what you know of
Flynn’s eyes grew wide with alarm. “What?
your father, but he was a quietly great man,
What brought you here?” he asked.
and I don’t bestow such praise lightly. As you
Tuy turned and looked Flynn in the eye for
discovered with Sandle, I didn’t appreciate
the first time that day. “You.”
your father fully until he was gone. I came
Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006
The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook Pg. 36

to value his loyalty and friendship more than was clear: someone didn’t want you found.”
my loyalty to my country, and I don’t say that Tuy cleared his throat. “Either that, or they
lightly, either. wanted to find you themselves.”
“There’s a story I should tell you about us “But why?” asked Flynn, adding, “I have
eventually, which I’m only now beginning dim memories of my father, my mother, of
to understand fully, and can’t bring myself being content, of everything making sense.
to tell anyone at the moment. I have come I think I remember our cottage, then a boat,
to believe that I owe him a life-debt. With and then arriving here. I’ve never gotten an
your father no longer around to repay it to, I answer as to where my family went, or why
started to look around for his surviving family; I’m here. I think the Abbot knows, but won’t
that inspired my journey here.” tell me. I think he’s hiding the full story from
At this revelation, Flynn’s expression made me!”
him look every bit the fifteen-year-old boy. Flynn swallowed. “I have always had this
“But seeking you and finding you were two feeling of being special, that, perhaps, I was
different things. I have spent a considerable the forgotten son of royalty, and, at the very
fortune to tease out clues of your existence, least, expected to find out why I was here,
much less your whereabouts, and started what I was waiting for, what I was meant to
to discover a pattern.” Tuy looked at Flynn. do. I felt like a prince in hiding, even while I
“Your father was more proud of you than I picked grapes and cleared dirty dishes. But
can ever convey, and went to extraordinary as much as I wanted those things to be true, I
measures to obscure your location. That, didn’t believe them.”
incidentally, is why we haven’t seen any other Flynn turned and addressed Tuy directly.
assassins around here until I arrived, because “Who am I? Why do I feel there is more to
they didn’t know where you were any more this life, and I’m missing truths everybody
than I did.” else knows?”
Flynn blanched. “So how…?” Tuy stared at a small rock by his worn
“As I hinted, I’ve been looking for a long, leather boot. “Those questions haunt all
long time. I started out, in fact, with a fleet thinkers,” Tuy said softly. With a stronger
of ships working in concert. However, as we voice, he added, “I’d love to tell you you’re a
continued to burn through time and money, long-lost prince kept safe here on a remote
my ships started to encounter… issues. island for your own protection until you are
Sometimes it was weather, sometimes of age to go out into the world, right great
piracy, sometimes Sylvan raiders. One issue wrongs and lead our people into a new age of

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook Pg. 37

enlightenment and prosperity.” about it. I can’t answer if you’re special right
Tuy kicked the pebble out and watched it now, but I can tell you: you might be. Whether
fall out of view over the cliff. Then he turned you in fact become great or not depends on
and looked Flynn in the eye. “But that’s not what you decide, and on what you then say
true. I think you realize it, too.” and do.”
Flynn tried to look away, but couldn’t. A ray of light broke through the gathering
“The truth is that you’re the orphaned son storm and, in the wonder of the moment as
of a man I called friend a long time ago. The he watched the display in front of him, Flynn
truth is that my life is drawing to a close and I wept.
have no family. The truth is that I’ve been so Some time later, Flynn took a deep breath,
busy with my own life ‘serving the monarchy’ blinked, and furrowed his brow. When he
that I never bothered to set old scores aright, turned to Tuy, his tone was light again. “So,
never bothered to make a difference to one how did you actually find me?”
person.” Tuy laughed. “I finally gave up and came
Tuy cleared his throat, fighting unexpected to the one place where I thought I could
emotion. “I’ve done everything else I wanted beg wisdom from almighty Cyl Himself with
to do, and none of it really mattered. After the help of the unique library here and the
much thought, I realized I didn’t want to go to assistance of another old friend, the Abbott.
the bottom without passing something along Imagine my surprise when I arrived to see the
to one actual person.” He looked at Flynn. spitting image of your father running around,
“…which, ultimately, brought me to you.” playing at swords, frolicking on an island
Tuy looked back out at the panorama and hilltop as innocent as a newborn lamb. Well,
took a sip from the water skin attached to his after sparring with a Qantiin assassin, you are
leather belt. “The good news is: you can be a lamb no longer. I think you, now, are The
whatever you set yourself to be—the man in Lone Wolf.”
the gap, a great hero, one who fights for self Flynn snorted and smiled. “I think, I, now,
or for good. You can obey your liege or your am hungry as a wolf,” he said, standing.
own conscience, see the entire world, or stay Tuy rose and clapped him on the shoulder.
here on this quiet little rock.” “Stop by my room later tonight. I have
He returned the water skin to his belt. “If something your father wanted you to have.”
you ask me, it matters not who you really are, With that, Flynn turned his back to the
just that you have the awareness to wonder approaching storm and returned with Tuy to

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook Pg. 38

the Abbey, the thunder starting to rumble wall as he stood in the doorway. The lamp
deeply in the distance. had been knocked over and oil burned in a
# narrow strip on the table, casting a weird light
over the scene.
The storm hit while they were at table.
Flynn saw Tuy with his back against the far
Flynn saw the Abbot burst through the door
wall, standing defenseless as a figure threat-
accompanied by a rush of wind that quickly
ened him with a sword. Their eyes met, and
flowed through the great hall, causing the
Tuy shook his head once, almost impercepti-
lamps to flutter wildly. Men ran to close the
bly.
various shutters to keep out the worst of the
His attacker looked over at him and the
storm’s fury. As the Abbot strained to close
fluttering light revealed his face.
the door, men sprang to his aid to shut out
“It’s him—it’s the assassin, Master
the storm behind him.
Thannon…” Flynn said conversationally to
Flynn gestured toward the Abbott with his
those assembled. “It takes on a different con-
jaw. “He’s back,” he said. Tuy turned and saw
notation in a different context, doesn’t it?” He
him approach. Standing, he went to meet
stepped slowly into the room, where he saw
him, and the two embraced, then walked,
a table filled with various weapons.
speaking in subdued voices, to a private ante-
Flynn slowly approached the scene, until
chamber off of the main room.
the Weapons Master warned, “Stop right
Flynn dispensed with pretensions, stood,
there, if you please.”
left his plate, and wandered off to the Abbot’s
Flynn kept walking, passing the table but
library. He spent the evening there in the grip
touching nothing, until he stood six feet to
of a peculiar mood, and then started walking
the right of Tuy. “It’s all right. A wise man I
upstairs.
know taught me that the best way to survive
The wind whipped and the rain fell as Flynn
a fight is not to start one you can’t win. I want
padded along the balcony until he came to
off this rock; I’m here for a job.”
Tuy’s rooms. He looked at the door, and then
The Weapons Master smirked and said,
looked closer. The door was open a crack.
“This is a good day. Very well, take some notes
Flynn stepped forward, curious, and heard
while I finish my little task.”
a crash inside. When he started to push the
“Yes, Master,” said Flynn without irony,
door open, the wind caught it, slamming it
sitting down in a chair and putting his feet up
loudly against the wall. A flash of lightning
on a table. Tuy’s eyes grew flinty.
behind him cast Flynn’s silhouette against the

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook Pg. 39

Tuy spoke. “So the boat that came in after Flynn started rocking back and forth as he
me belonged to the other assassin. It appears thought. “How long have you been waiting
clear that you both are Qantiin: he the undercover?”
assassin-of-record and you the sleeper. I’ve Thannon’s face reflected his pride. “When
got a question bothering me, though. If you Ven Meklanek disappeared from Court, I killed
are ‘family,’ how did you decide to kill your the former Patience Bay Weapons Master on
fellow assassin, and why did he go along with his vacation and came here to fill his vacancy
it?” myself. I communicated regularly with the
“His task was to take out his target…” and Council via messenger bird. We have agents
here Thannon indicated Tuy. “When the stashed all over the Empire waiting for news
Qantiin was exposed, I killed Sandle to keep of Tuy’s death. Killing the prey and inducting
him quiet, and next my brother Qantiin, a new recruit will be a great day for the
assuming his bounty-duty. He breathed his Council!”
blessing to me before he died.” Flynn looked at Tuy, but he was studiously
“You… killed Sandle,” said Flynn, and his watching Thannon. On cue, Thannon matter-
voice was studiously neutral. of-factly said “Time to die,” drew a sword
Thannon waved his left hand as if shooing with his gauntleted left hand, and tossed it
away an insect. “I flipped my sword’s sheath hilt-first toward Tuy, and then drew his own
toward the Qantiin, who blocked it toward blade.
Sandle, completing the kill. It is the move of Tuy never took his eyes off Thannon and
two Masters—you were fortunate to have side-stepped the incoming weapon, letting it
witnessed a rare maneuver.” hit the wall and clatter to the floor.
Flynn pushed himself back in the chair Puzzled, Flynn looked at the sword on the
until he was leaning back on two legs. “So floor. Without taking his eyes from Thannon,
the offer to teach me swordsmanship was a Tuy replied “Poison on the hilt. The Qantiin
front to recruit me to become Qantiin?” have no end of tricks. They cannot ever be
“Yes,” said Thannon, smiling largely, “and trusted.” Thannon bowed his head slightly, a
the offer is still open. All you have to do is kill mocking grin on his face, and then raised his
a man tonight and you will be sworn in and blade in salute.
taken under my wing. You will enjoy wealth, A gust of wind attacked the stuttering
power, arcane knowledge, challenging assign- flame, casting momentarily deep shadows.
ments, and brotherhood with bold men.” Flynn fell over backward out of his chair, hit

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook Pg. 40

the ground rolling, and grasped the hilt of pinning him to the wall.
the nearest sword hanging off the weapons Tuy gasped and dropped his sword.
table behind him. He lofted it, hilt first, Pleased with his handiwork, Thannon
over Thannon’s head and then scrabbled for released the hilt of his sword and stepped
another. back with a flourish to admire the sword
Thannon turned to see what the commotion handle protruding from Tuy as it vibrated
was, as the sword arced over his head. He back and forth.
spun back around as the sword smacked into “Thus I have…”
Tuy’s hand, who dropped into a defensive Flynn exploded out of the corner and
position. heaved, flipping the little table over onto the
“The whelp is duplicitous,” said Thannon, flame on its top and extinguishing the fire,
eyes glinting. Flynn mock bowed and walked casting the room into darkness.
around by Tuy. “Even better,” grated Thannon. A scuff on the floor and then a flash of
“He will make a glorious Qantiin when I am lightning revealed Flynn’s face nose-to-nose
done with him.” with Thannon, whose expression changed
Under his voice, Tuy said “So here we are from glee to horror in an instant. “Thank you
fighting Qantiin again, you and I.” for the lesson, Master,” said Flynn, savagely,
Flynn said “Fret not, my friend. I’d rather as his hands shot to Thannon’s throat. Flynn
fight Qantiin once a day and twice on Market squeezed, and all those hours spent gripping
Day than join them.” a sword were put to good use.
Thannon said “That’s what we all say,” and With a gurgling roar, Tuy pulled loose
attacked. from the wall and fell heavily to his knees at
When the two repelled his first attack, Thannon’s feet. Tuy grasped Thannon around
Thannon broke off. “You have learned well,” his knees and lifted him off the floor. Flynn
he said. “Now I will teach you something pushed forward and up, catching Thannon’s
new. Know your opponent. Avoid their weight squarely in his hands around the
strength, exploit their weakness.” And then, Weapons Master’s throat. Thannon’s hands
before they had time to move, Thannon beat clawed at Flynn’s wrists, but the Weapons
Flynn’s sword out of his hand with one savage Master had no leverage against that steely
blow, knocking Flynn off his feet to crumple grip. Weapons Master Thannon was helpless
hard into the corner. Next, in one fluid move, without his blades, and struggled for his life
he spun around lightly and ran Tuy through, at the hands of his student, and in the grip of

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook Pg. 41

his prey. “Hold the document closer to you than your


And then, caught up in darkness and off- own name,” gasped Tuy. “It is your future. It
balance, the real assassin of Patience Bay is…the future of the world.”
died. Flynn tucked it into his shirt.
# “It would be good for you to flee now,” said
Tuy. “You have wanted your freedom,” he
Together, Flynn and Tuy tossed the body
added, the rasp getting louder every time he
athwart the overturned table, and then Flynn
breathed. “Beware what you wish for...” he
knelt to help a gasping Tuy to his feet.
grated. “The Lone Wolf is yours!” he said just
“Nicely…done,” grated Tuy. “I… thought
before his eyes rolled up and he toppled over
you’d go for… the dagger.”
backward. A thunderclap obscured the sound
“He would have been looking for a blade,
of his body as it crumpled to the floor.
I thought, and then I remembered the
A stricken Flynn dropped to his knees in the
chicken.”
lightning-cut darkness. “Tuy! No. No!” He
Tuy raised an eyebrow.
heard a noise after the thunder, and looked
“Killing is never exciting,” Flynn said, “espe-
up as a lightning flash revealed the silhouette
cially when it is necessary.”
of another in the doorway stroking a black
“So you wrung his neck instead? Good
pigeon. Flynn froze.
thinking!” Tuy grinned painfully, and coughed.
“You’d best come with me, lad, “ said the
“I observe that dying…is even less exciting,”
Abbot.
he said. He pressed his hands against the
#
wound in his chest and nodded toward the
edge of the bed. “The Abbot’s satchel,” he Back in his study, the Abbot gave Flynn a
said. “Hurry.” rag to wipe his face and walked to a corner of
Flynn reached it in two steps and the room. Bending over stiffly, he removed
returned. a stone from the corner and pulled out a
“There is…a parchment…” Tuy gasped, and leather bag that jingled with coins, as well
a red foam and spittle flew from his mouth. as a rolled parchment. Replacing the stone,
Flynn struggled with the satchel and he awkwardly regained his feet. Returning
finally got it open. He dug through a number to Flynn, he stopped, backtracked, pulled a
of regular papers and felt around, then drew book from the shelf, and presented the items
out a rolled-up parchment with a leather loop to Flynn.
around it. “These are the monies given to me for your

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook Pg. 42

17th birthday. I give them to you early. This better, we must assume that the hourglass is
is a map of the islands, which you’ll need for running. You must leave tonight, now, to stay
ports. And finally, the Jodkins. I think you will ahead of pursuit.”
appreciate it most of all. Return it someday He looked at Flynn, not unkindly. “I was
if you like, or pass it down to your children if never comfortable caring for a boy as bright
you take a wife.” as you. We have been considering an
The Abbot looked at the bird, sadly. “I orphanage here, and may well proceed with
imagine you have a thousand questions, but that plan to enable us to better care for those
time is short, so I must be brief. Tuy knew stuck between circumstance on their way to
more of your parents than I. His papers may adulthood. Perhaps you can visit us again
assist you in your search for your past. As for some day when you have triumphed over
your present… The first assassin was sent not covert machinations and circumstance and
for Sandle, and not for you, but for Tuy. He achieve what is prepared for you to do.”
was the target all along, for his knowledge Flynn spoke with unaccustomed bluntness.
or perhaps for what else he carried.” He “I never liked you, Abbot, and saw you as stern
stopped and examined Flynn’s face, but saw and unyielding. Yet, I have come to respect
nothing helpful there. Then a hint of a smile you, and I suspect I couldn’t have made your
passed over the Abbot’s face. life and your oath any harder. He swallowed
He continued. “I visited…‘friends’…over and added, “Please… forgive me,” then bowed
at Briar Island. There I discovered that the his head in the Abbot’s presence for the first
Qantiin use a network of overt killers and time. The Abbot leaned forward and placed
sleeper agents to accomplish their dire a hand on his head, then sat back.
work, and keep in touch in a variety of ways, Flynn looked up, smiled an awkward
including messenger birds.” smile, and said, “I… Thanks, Abbot.” Then he
Flynn nodded. “Where did you discover gathered his things and strode out into the
this one?” wind, the rain, and the night..
The Abbot stroked his beard. “This was “Cyl go before you and with you, young
in the possession of Thannon’s assistant. He Master Flynn,” whispered the Abbot.
may be naïve, but I wouldn’t count on it. I #
expect the chances a message will go out
It was nearly dawn by the time Flynn
tonight are very high, despite my best efforts.”
arrived down at the docks and looked around.
He looked Flynn in the eye. “For worse or
The wind had abated and the lightning was

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Pg. 43
past for now, but a steady rain soaked Flynn Johne Cook
from head to toe. He looked out at the vessels Johne Cook is a founder of Ray Gun Revival,
and has written online articles, reviews, and
rocking at their berths and made straight for
short stories. He was a 2004 winner of
The Lone Wolf. NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing
He stood and sized it up as the waves Month.
banged it against the dock. “Looks like
He is a Technical Writer and Help Author by
freedom to me,” he said under his breath,
day and creative writer / magazine editor by
before tossing his bags onboard; he untied night. Johne is an admitted fan of the Firefly
the ropes, pushed the boat out of the slip, / Serenity series, and gratefully acknowledges
and hopped aboard. that influence in this serial.
Then Flynn set sail out into the steady storm
and the coming dawn, oblivious to the great
black albatross perched on the assassin’s ship,
watching with unblinking green eyes.

Next episode,
“The Friar of Briar Island, Part One”

Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006


Pg. 44

Featured Artist
Vitaly S. Alexius
Born in Siberian Russia, where he studied to
be a painter, his family later moved to Toronto,
Canada, where he currently attends college.
He is making making a real name for himself
with his digital art, and Ray Gun Revival is proud
to feature his work “Paroxysmal Incursion”  on
the cover of this issue. Check out his site, and his
deviantART page.

Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006


Pg. 45

Memory Wipe
Chapter Two: “Zartsi” 
by Sean T.M. Stiennon
through the leafy canopy above him, throwing
The story so far: Three years ago, Takeda the darkness into sharp relief. Trilling animal
Croster woke up in the city of Greendome on calls echoed from trunk to trunk. Sticky
the colony world of Belar with no memories, warmth pressed down on him, and when he
no connections, and no possessions aside raised a sore arm to touch his face he found
from the clothes he was wearing and an it already damp with sweat. How long had he
Imperial citizenship card with his name on it. slept?
He worked at the Silver Sun casino, ignored Takeda glanced down and saw something
by most, until one night when he began dark, hairy, and many-legged crouching on his
to manifest superhuman powers in a fight shoe. He shook it off with a shudder. His gun
against two corrupt cops: enhanced senses, was still in his hand, clenched so tight it had
great strength, lightning-fast reactions. He left deep white marks in his flesh. He checked
seriously injured both cops. Strange dreams the magazine: eight rounds left. Enough to
and a feeling of great exhaustion followed defend himself from Vass’ force, if they came
the encounter. after him again.
Then, the next night, the corrupt leader He had been in the jungle a few times
of the local police force, Captain Brian Vass, before, and the sights around him were
came to the casino to arrest him, threatening somewhat familiar. Most of the trees were
him with death and torture for what he did to thick-trunked and relatively short, but the
the two officers. His abilities returned, and glistening black and blue vines that coiled
Takeda broke free of Vass and his men, killing around them and dangled from their branches
or wounding several of them, and fled into made it difficult to tell where one plant ended
the jungles surrounding Greendome, an exile and another began. Takeda saw small yellow
from everything he’s ever known, haunted insects skittering over those vines, devouring
by the strange–and lethal–powers which he even smaller creatures that he could only see
can’t begin to understand.... if he came within a few centimeters of them.
The scents of damp foliage, moist earth, and

W hen Takeda Croster awoke, rays of


golden sunlight were slanting down
pungent flowers filled his nostrils. He felt a
tree at his back, and when he pulled away, he

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Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon Pg. 46

saw that the vines were squished where his The planet Belar supported four settlements:
shoulders had pressed against them. Greendome, the spaceport, a small logging
He vaguely remembered what had camp a hundred kilometers west of the space
happened last night, after he had jumped port, and another city four hundred kilome-
out of his stolen truck: bullets flying and his ters away that mined gemstones and gathered
legs pounding against the dirt. He had killed valuable herbs from the jungle. Greendome’s
another cop before reaching the jungle, and great success was making the Company
he had run through the darkness, shoving consider opening several new settlements, but
branches and creepers out of his path, until for now, Belar had only tiny specks of sentient
he had collapsed from sheer exhaustion. population.
Sleep hadn’t cleared away all of that fatigue. Takeda knew he could never return to
Takeda stood, but quickly had to brace himself Greendome–Vass wouldn’t forget about him.
against the tree to stay on his feet. He felt light- In theory, he might be able to work as a lum-
headed from more than the heat–it was as if berjack at the logging camp, but he suspected
someone had sent an electric shock through the camp administrator would be suspicious
his brain, frying his nerves. of a man stumbling out of the jungle with his
What had happened to him? Two days ago, clothes torn and muddy. He would contact
his life had been going on as normal. Now Vass.
he seemed to be living a nightmare–he had That left the spaceport. And all that Takeda
killed men and been forced to flee from the could hope for at the space port was a ship
only home he remembered. Nothing was left that would get him away from Belar–out into
except the clothes he wore–already stained– the stars. The prospect was staggering. The
his citizenship card, the gun in his hand, and Empire included hundreds of worlds, including
the eight bullets in its magazine. He couldn’t many colonies with minimal habitation. The
even remove the manacles from his wrists. last census had shown over three hundred
And then there were the strange powers that billion inhabitants. He had read about many
seemed to come to him whenever he was in of those planets: Calthron, the capital Imperia,
danger...powers as incomprehensible as they the harsh colony of Nihil, blue Hyderra, with
were deadly. its opulent resort cities, even ancient Earth,
Takeda forced his mind away from such humanity’s cradle. He could travel to any one
circular thoughts. He wasn’t dead yet, and he of them, with a little money–or even beyond,
needed to decide how to keep himself alive. to the Lithrall Kingdom or the Drava worlds.

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Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon Pg. 47

This freedom staggered Takeda. Perhaps, Greendome’s library banks–but he was no


somewhere among the stars, he could build bushman.
a real life for himself, better than what he Takeda thrust the pistol through his belt
had possessed in Greendome. No one even and started walking, moving southwest to
had to know about his missing memories–he intersect the rail line. If he walked alongside
would be a new immigrant, with nothing to it, it would show him the way to the space
set him apart from any other. Perhaps he port.
could join the Imperial Army–he knew he was #
good, even without his strange abilities, and
Takeda traveled at a steady pace, occasion-
with military training he could become even
ally eating small clusters of berries that grew
better. Someday he might be an officer with
from the trunks of a certain kind of tree. For
a respected identity behind his name.
the bark-stripping mammals who fed on the
But first, he had to reach the spaceport.
trees, the berries were an awareness-numbing
Greendome’s primary connection to it was a
drug, but for Takeda, they were simply a sweet
rail line stretching from the colony’s western
and fairly harmless food. He knew too many
end to a station where wood, sap, herbs, furs,
would make him sick, though, and the small
and other jungle products were unloaded for
clumps weren’t enough to satisfy his hunger.
shipping aboard the Company freighters. The
He knew he would have to hunt soon to get
train did carry passengers, but Vass would be
any good quantity of edible food, and that
watching it, and Takeda couldn’t pay a fare.
was something with which he had no experi-
He realized that he couldn’t pay for a berth on
ence. Twice, he saw small animals, but they
a starship either, but he’d solve that problem
fled faster than he could pursue, and Takeda
when he came to it.
couldn’t afford to waste bullets. He began to
For now, seventy kilometers of wild jungle
wish that his enhanced abilities would return
separated him from his destination. He
so that he would have no trouble tracking
would have to locate safer places to sleep–it
down and killing meat. He was able to find
was blind luck that had kept him from being
water in cupped leaves, but even that was
jumped by a skitter while he lay uncon-
scarce. There had been little rain recently.
scious–and find food. It had already been
Hunger still chewed at his gut when he
almost twenty-four hours since his last meal.
spotted the rail line just as the pale light of
He knew some things about the jungle–there
morning was becoming the deep gold of
had been plenty of material available from
afternoon. Standing on a low hill, he saw it as

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Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon Pg. 48

a streak of bright silver, cutting through the insects were disturbed from their perches,
dark sea of trees before him. A road for cars but he couldn’t find anything that might
ran alongside it, paved with blacktop. have woken him. The jungle was serene, and
Greendome was still visible to the east, when he peered through the branches to the
particularly the prominent hydroponics left, he could still see the rail line, glimmering
domes. For a moment, they reminded Takeda like a syringe in the moonlight. Four meters
of Sheri, with her golden hair and its fierce below him, on the jungle floor, he could hear
blue highlights. Perhaps she would miss him, a particularly vocal variety of beetle singing
but Takeda doubted it would last for long. She its lilting mating call. Strange–he almost
would find other men to dote on–ones who always slept until he was fully rested, unless
were both friendlier and more responsive to something dramatic woke him.
her. She didn’t need him. He had just lain back against a thick branch
Still, Sheri stuck in his thoughts as Takeda to go back to sleep when he saw something
turned and began following the rail line west. blacker than the night reach up and clench
He traveled until night fell, then clambered one of the tree’s upper limbs: an enormous
up into the lower branches of a tree that talon, sheathed in glimmering exoskeleton.
didn’t look as if it was host to any major Slowly–and with complete silence–something
insect colonies. His stomach still growled below began to pull itself up, its armed talon
with hunger pains, but with the quiet trilling bending stiffly. Takeda froze in fear, eyes
of insects and the cool breeze to lull him, he locked onto that black claw, and memories
fell asleep within minutes. from his reading came back to him. He knew
# what was invading his perch: A skitter. The
talon alone was larger than his own hands.
Takeda woke suddenly, and at first he
When its head reared up, Takeda realized
couldn’t remember where he was. Only when
that the moonlight showed him every detail–
he tried to sit up, feeling rough bark against
yellow eyes like mineshaft lanterns, grinding
his palms, and cracked his head against a
jaws large enough to enfold his torso, and
branch did he come to full awareness of his
interlocking plates of black armor. Another
location.
talon latched onto the bark just a few cen-
It was the middle of the night. Takeda
timeters from Takeda’s foot, and the beast
could see hardly anything, but he ran his
continued its ascent. It was amazingly silent,
hands along the bark of his sleeping place and
but Takeda could hear the faint breath sliding
up into the branches above him. A few small

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Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon Pg. 49

up and down its throat, could detect tiny rasps and shadows, seeing every tree and vine, his
from its exoskeleton, could smell a faintly spicy legs rustling as he knocked through ferns,
odor rising from its flesh. He also heard tiny shrubs, and young trees. Behind, he heard the
vibrations in the leaves above him, smelled a skitter’s legs striking the ground like batons
hundred scents from the jungle around him. beating on an earthen drum. The only other
The skitter seemed to freeze in time, moving sounds were the rasp of its breath and the
in slow motion. throb of its heart. The jungle had gone silent
Takeda spurred himself into motion, rolling as if Takeda ran in some private nightmare.
out into empty space, and an instant later He leapt over a tangle of vines and glanced
a powerful talon sank into the bark where back. The skitter was closing on him, moving
his neck had been. It was so fast Takeda over the ground like a tangible shadow.
barely saw it moving. He fell from the tree, Takeda knew he couldn’t outrun this thing.
twisting his body to put his boots underneath Then, with a jolt, he remembered the pistol
him, and bent his knees to absorb the shock thrust through his belt.
of the impact as he struck soft earth. He Takeda drew it, spun, and squeezed the
felt fear crushing his heart, but somehow it trigger three times. The muzzle flashed and
didn’t matter–he knew what to do without Takeda heard the sound of crunching exoskel-
thinking. eton–but the skitter didn’t pause, although
He glanced back to see the skitter drop Takeda could see dark fluid gleaming like
behind him, moving like an oil slick on concrete lubricant on its carapace. He fired again and
now that its prey had been roused. Ten legs saw flecks of exoskeleton and blood spray up,
like stiletto blades propelled it forward, and but the creature didn’t even flinch.
its two foretalons were extended to seize him. He turned and ran again, moving at a right
A sinuous tail rose from its abdomen, and angle to his previous course, and dodged
with his enhanced sight Takeda could see the around a tree just in time to hear the skitter’s
hooked barb that curved down from its tip. talon rake against the plant’s bark. He fired
The skitter’s legs lifted it up to the height of a bullet over his shoulder, but it hurt the
Takeda’s shoulders, though it couldn’t weigh skitter as much as a child’s air gun might have.
more than two hundred kilograms–its build Takeda leapt an instant before one of its talons
was thin and spidery. closed over his leg. Three bullets left. If he
Terror swelled in Takeda’s mind, spurring his put them right into the beast’s eyes, it might
legs on. He ran through a maze of moonlight be enough to bring it down. He knew it had a

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Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon p50

brain somewhere in that head. on his leg, trying to staunch the blood flow,
His shoulders struck the ground and ferns as he watched this newcomer face the skitter
brushed against his sides as he rolled away. head-on, swaying back and forth and using
Takeda traded his pistol from his right hand his blades to fend off its talons. He moved
to his left. Coming to his knees, he pivoted like a snake waiting for a chance to strike. The
around to face the beast, and raised the gun. skitter surged forward, slashing at him with
Metal rang as an armored talon knocked both foretalons, and the man’s blades flashed.
it from his grip. Takeda was able to dodge Takeda saw dark liquid spray from a wound in
the second blow only by throwing himself the armor of each talon. More blood flowed
backwards and landing hard on his buttocks. from those wounds than came from all of the
Still, he felt hot pain blossom on his foreleg, bullets Takeda had shot into the creature.
and when he glanced down he saw a ragged The skitter reared back, shocked, and the
hole torn in his flesh. He managed to get on man dived forward, throwing himself flat
his feet again, and staggered back, but the on the ground in front of the beast. Takeda
skitter advanced towards him. He could see watched as he rolled over and stabbed up
every crack in its armor, see the tiny black for the skitter’s throat just as its jaws were
pupils hidden deep in the yellow of its eyes. descending to bite into his flesh. For a
Just looking at it paralyzed him, and he knew moment, both blades stuck in the armor
his strength wouldn’t be enough to defeat it, below the skitter’s jaw. Then the man twisted
particularly not with a gouged leg pouring out his arms, pulling the blades in opposite direc-
blood. tions. Takeda heard chitin crack and flesh
Then something dropped from the canopy. tear. Blood poured like a waterfall from the
All Takeda could tell immediately was that it open wound, splashing over the man’s face
was dark colored. The thing landed on the and arms, and the skitter’s legs tore at the
skitter’s back, something bright white flashed, ground as it struggled in its death throes. The
and, for the first time, Takeda heard the man rolled forward, removing his knives. He
creature scream as if in pain. For an instant, leapt away from the dying beast.
Takeda saw that the thing was a man wrapped Looking closer, Takeda saw that he had
in a thick cape, wielding a blade in each hand. been mistaken. This was no man–no human.
Then the man rolled away, becoming a blur His bald head was somewhat elongated and
once again, and avoided a lightning-fast strike covered in scales–darkness made it impossi-
from the skitter’s tail. ble to tell the color–with a ridge of hard bone
Takeda clenched one hand to the wound running along the middle of the cranium. He

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Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon Pg. 51

turned towards Takeda, showing a snout filled skitter–armor thick and organs nebulous. You
with sharp fangs with slit nostrils on top. His have to open throat.”
eyes seemed to shine in the darkness. Takeda He narrowed his gleaming eyes and ran
had only seen pictures, but he recognized a a long, pointed tongue over his teeth. “You
Lithrallian. look hungry. Perhaps we make fire, share
“Greetings,” the alien said, speaking heavily meat? Don’t fear me–I could have waited
accented Imperish. “My name is Zartsi, and until skitter killed you before striking.”
this kill is mine.” Takeda wiped his bloody hands on a fern.
“All yours,” Takeda said. “Thanks.” He wasn’t in the habit of trusting people, but
Zartsi glanced down at the wound on the Lithrallian was right. Takeda’s height-
Takeda’s leg. “You want binding?” ened abilities had faded–they seemed to
Both of his hands were soaked in blood, only emerge when he was threatened, so it
and the flow showed no sign of stopping. seemed Zartsi wasn’t an immediate menace
Takeda nodded. “Yes. But I don’t have any to him. His hunger was what finally convinced
money.” him, though. It had only grown as he slept,
“Not necessary,” said the Lithrallian. “You and now his stomach felt as if it had been
distracted skitter.” torn out of his body.
Zartsi sheathed his daggers somewhere He nodded, and Zartsi replied. “Good. You
beneath the sweeping cloak he wore and build fire. I’ll butcher.”
pulled out a strip of white bandage. He His daggers–bright white even in the
crouched down beside Takeda, who saw that darkness–flashed out once more, and he
the Lithrallian was several centimeters shorter turned back to the skitter carcass. While he
than he was. Zartsi efficiently wrapped the peeled away plates of exoskeleton and cut
wound, then put a patch of some stiff material into the skitter’s underbelly, Takeda found
over the bloody spot on the bandages. he could stand if he favored his wounded leg.
“Now,” said Zartsi, standing. “Tell me how “What am I going to use for fuel?” he asked.
human like you comes to this place on this “Get vines, and we soak in fat,” Zartsi called,
night.” bending into his bloody work.
“I was hunting,” Takeda said, lying. He didn’t “I don’t have a knife.”
know whether he could trust this Zartsi. “No knife, human? You lied when you said
The Lithrallian showed his fangs in a grin. you hunted,” he said, with a chuckle. “Or do
“Then you aren’t very good. Bullets don’t kill you butcher with teeth?”

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Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon Pg. 52

He tossed Takeda a fifteen-centimeter “I’m from Greendome,” Takeda answered,


blade with a saw-edged back, and Takeda hesitant to give too much information about
used it to cut several strips of vine from himself.
the surrounding trees. He piled them on a “Going to spaceport?”
clearer patch of soil between two trees, and “Yes.”
Zartsi brought a sack filled with fat from the “Ah. So why walk? Train not so
skitter’s corpse–along with a second bag con- expensive.”
taining its meat–and used a small lighter to Takeda saw a fierce intelligence in this
ignite the fire. The light was nearly blinding hunter’s bright blue eyes that disconcerted
in the darkness. Takeda missed his enhanced him. “I’m short on cash,” he answered.
vision. “But perhaps you could have sold pistol.
The Lithrallian speared chunks of dark, Police model would have been worth money.”
greasy-looking meat on small branches and For a moment, Takeda considered swinging
set them to roast. “I didn’t know skitters were the gun up and emptying his remaining
edible,” Takeda said. He had found his gun, rounds into Zartsi’s skull. From the sly smile
with three bullets left in it. Enough to kill which had appeared on the Lithrallian’s snout,
Zartsi if he became belligerent. it was obvious that he already knew a great
“Sour, but it fills belly,” the Lithrallian deal.
answered. “What are police after you for?” Zartsi
For a minute or so the two sat in silence. asked.
Everything except Zartsi’s head and clawed Takeda honestly wasn’t sure which of them
hands was hidden beneath his cloak, which would have the advantage in a fight–Zartsi
was colored mottled green and brown for was good with his blades, but was he faster
camouflage. Takeda had no way of telling than Takeda’s gun? Of course, he might have a
Lithrallian age, but he thought this one was gun of his own under that cloak, and Takeda’s
several years older than he was–the scales abilities weren’t returning to him. He decided
covering his head crest were significantly that honesty was the best course.
darker and more gnarled than the others, “I killed three cops,” he said, watching
which were colored dusty green. Zartsi’s face carefully for the Lithrallian’s
“Where do you come from, if you aren’t reaction.
hunter?” Zartsi asked, looking intently at The Lithrallian’s expression remained
Takeda. “You wear uniform.” neutral. “Go on.”

Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006


Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon Pg. 53

Takeda told his story, briefly–how he had You have citizenship–not all do. With that, it
woken up without any memories, how he is possible you could get me off.”
had begun to manifest his increased strength “You want to come with me?”
and magnified senses, how Vass had tried to “Yes, Takeda.”
arrest him, and how he had fought his way “And why should I let you?”
out of Greendome. “You said yourself you have lived three years
Zartsi nodded slowly. “I see. No memories only. Empire is big place, and dangerous. You
at all?” have no place to go, Takeda. I have not been
Takeda shook his head. The Lithrallian on Belar forever–Lithrall is my clutchworld,
looked contemplative for some time, staring and I have roamed stars. You hear I speak
into the fire of vines and skitter fat. Then, he Imperish. I speak others, and I know ways of
said, “You probably guess I am here illegally– space and streets.”
no non-humans allowed on colony world.” Zartsi smiled, spreading his arms. “All this,
It hadn’t occurred to Takeda, but he and companionship. It is not good to be
remembered the law. Emperor Shingen III alone.”
had enacted the law fifty years ago to keep The Lithrallian’s offer stunned Takeda. A
alien cultures from interfering in the natural half-hour ago, he had never even seen a
development of new colonies. Takeda had non-human, and now he was faced with
read that Shingen had been spurred to action the prospect of having one for a traveling
by a colony on the Imperial fringe which had companion. Takeda had never really relied
become a den for Vitai raiders who paid off on anyone before–Sheri had been little more
the human settlers with the gains of their than a friendly co-worker, and Blaydra had
piracy. given him a job and little else. He didn’t even
“I am hunter here,” the Lithrallian know if he could trust Zartsi not to turn him
continued. “I kill the bodini, the treerakers, in the moment they reached the spaceport.
even the skitters, and many others, and trade But, again, he was brought back to a simple
their hides and other things to Greendome fact: The Lithrallian had chosen to save his
and the space port. You would not know me– life when he could have let Takeda die–in fact,
I work in secret, but my hunting is valuable the skitter probably would have been easier
enough to some that they have not revealed to kill if it had been distracted with devouring
me. But now I wish to leave.” him. And what Zartsi had said was true–he
His gaze became intent. “You are leaving. was venturing out into a world he had no

Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006


Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon Pg. 54

experience with beyond what he had read, but after more than a day of hunger Takeda
and he had already learned that knowledge couldn’t complain.
from books couldn’t equal experience. Zartsi “Skitter parts might be enough to buy
had shown that in his efficient killing of the passage,” Zartsi said when he had finished.
skitter. “Venom in tail is valuable. So are fangs and
Takeda met Zartsi’s gaze, staring into the bile. Sleep, Takeda. I will butcher.”
Lithrallian’s bright blue eyes. Despite his He still felt somewhat hesitant about
alienness, Takeda could see nobility in his trusting Zartsi, but he remembered that he
expression and bearing. Even at this moment, had little to steal, and he was tired–it was still
Zartsi was sharing food with Takeda, with no the middle of the night, and he was exhausted
demand for payment. from fear and fleeing from the skitter. Takeda
“All right,” he said. “As far as the space port, fell asleep curled at the foot of a tree, one
at least. And I’ll get you on a ship if I can.” hand near the pistol through his belt.
“Then we are agreed,” Zartsi said, showing #
his fangs in what Takeda hoped was a smile.
Takeda dreamed again. He saw the same
“Just...one question. Are those knives all
woman he had dreamt of before, her eyes
you have?”
shining and her hair like a sweep of the night
“No,” Zartsi said. “Rifle is hidden nearby–
sky. He saw only a hint of her expression, her
burden when hunting skitter. And these not
eyes filled with hatred, before she dissolved
common knives.”
into a nightmarish landscape of darkness and
He drew them from beneath his cloak
fire. Takeda’s dream self ran through rivers
now, and Takeda saw that they weren’t metal
of liquid heat and was tugged at by flying
but bright, gleaming ivory. Intricate patterns
knots of shadow as rocks like blades slashed
were etched into the thirty-centimeter blades.
at his feet. Then he turned his eyes to the
“Gorgossish horn, from Lithrall,” Zartsi said.
sky and saw that it was nothing but a sheet of
“Hard to get, but there is no better blade. Can
deep black–no clouds, no star-flecked space,
gouge even strome.”
nothing.
The meat had finished cooking by then, and
Unable to look away, he saw two points of
they ate–Zartsi with his claws, Takeda with the
light appear in the sky, both a searing yellow
knife the Lithrallian had given him. He hadn’t
color. They grew until they were like suns–but,
asked for it back, so Takeda assumed it was
bigger, brighter, and colder. Pupils appeared
a gift. As Zartsi had said, the meat was sour,
in the center of each one, even blacker than

Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006


Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon Pg. 55

the sky, and both were fixed on him. Takeda Sean T.M. Stiennon
felt drawn to them, and soon he was rising
Sean is an author of fantasy and science fiction
into the sky until yellow and black filled his novels and short stories with many publications
vision. He saw the woman again, her image under his belt. His first short story collection, Six
blurred and distorted. A wound upon her with Flinteye, was recently released from Silver
Lake Publishing, and he won 2nd place in both
cheek poured red blood over her white skin.
the 2004 SFReader.com Short Story Contest and
Agony lanced through Takeda, and he the Storn Cook Razor-Edged Fiction Contest with
woke screaming. The pain wasn’t a dream–it his stories “Asp” and “The Sultan’s Well,” respec-
rushed through every bone, every vein, every tively. “The Sultan’s Well” has been published in
the anthology Sages and Swords. Sean’s short 
muscle. He rolled in the ferns, gasping and
story “Flinteye’s Duel” was published in 
clenching his teeth, clawing at the ground. It Ray Gun Revival, Issue 01.
faded suddenly, and Takeda opened his eyes
to see pale lances of dawn sunlight streaming Sean’s work tends to contain lots of action and
adventure, but he often includes elements of
through the jungle canopy. Insects and large
tragedy and loss alongside roaring battles. A
beetles sang their morning songs. lot of his work centers around continuing char-
“All right, Takeda?” Zartsi asked. acters, the most prominent of whom is Jalazar
Takeda turned to see the Lithrallian Flinteye (Six with Flinteye). He also writes tales
of Shabak of Talon Point (“Death Marks,” in is-
crouched against a tree nearby, cradling a
sue #9 of Amazing Journeys Magazine), Blade-
long-barreled rifle. He nodded. “Yes. Just a master (“Asp,” 2nd place winner in the 2004
dream.” SFReader.com Contest), and others who have
Still, as Takeda crawled back to his sleeping yet to see publication.
place for a little more rest, he felt a terrible
Sean loves to read fantasy and science fiction
certainty that it hadn’t just been a dream. alongside some history, mysteries, and histori-
cal novels. His favorites include Declare by Tim
Powers, the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn tril-
ogy by Tad Williams, Stephen Lawhead’s Song
of Albion trilogy, and King Solomon’s Mines by
Next month...Chapter 3: “To the Stars” H. Rider Haggard. He has reviewed books for
Deep Magic: The E-zine of High Fantasy and
Science Fiction, and reviews books currently at
SFReader.com.

To contact the author, send an e-mail to flint-


eye@gmail.com. The author is always glad to
receive reader feedback.

Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006


Pg. 56
The Jolly RGR

Up next for Ray Gun Revival, Issue 05

Overlord’s Lair Editorial

Fiction: Ghost Ship


by Robert Mancebo
A young prisoner defies pirates, torture, and death to keep the powerful warship of an ancient
galactic empire from falling into the wrong hands.

Fiction: Tech Support


by Tim Baer
A Tech Support guru tries to assist an unhappy customer with a worker ‘bot run amok.
ctly what he appears to be.” ‐ 

Deuces Wild, Part Three


Exclusive Serial by L. S. King
by S

Featured Artist

Jasper Squad, Episode three


Exclusive Serial by Paul Christian Glenn by Sean T. M. Stiennon

Ray Gun Radio


Tune in to Ray Gun Radio on Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006. The hour-long podcast is
hosted by Taylor Kent and features John “JesusGeek” Wilkerson as your friendly Dis-
information Specialist reading the news.

Ray Gun Revival Issue 04, August 15, 2006

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