THRILLING TALES FROM BEYOND THE ETHER

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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

“Paroxysmal Incursion,” by Vitaly S Alexius

Issue 04 August 15, 2006
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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.
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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

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 usually change, making them a little easier to spot. 9. Feel free to steal great ideas and make them your  own. Nobody cares. Seriously. Just, you know, pay attention to the second part. 8.  Never  let  romance  interfere  with  the  mission. Epic, enduring love is a classic element of good space opera, but a lover who persuades you to abandon the Thing That You Must Do is a scheming villain. Your true love will stand aside (mournfully perhaps) and let you do what you know is right. The truly exceptional ones will even help you do it. 7. Always assume you’re standing on a trap door, because  you  probably  are. At first glance, this one might smack of paranoia, but if you think about it, it’s just good sense. 6. Never underestimate the cute and cuddly. Be they good or evil, those fuzzy little fellas with the big eyes and adorable mewlings will fool you every time. Chances are, beneath that innocent facade, they’re hiding unfathomable reserves of pluck, or (in less fortunate cases) six rows of razor-sharp fangs. 5.  Keep  a  mental  backlog  of  acerbic  one-liners  that are good for any occasion. Nobody likes

seriously (having space monkeys in the office makes that somewhat difficult), but we do believe it is a relevant and—dare I say it?—important genre. At its very best, space opera can inspire and enlighten us in ways that other forms of fiction cannot, because it isn’t weighed down by silly things like “believability” or “reason.” No, the sort of story we’re slinging around here will make you believe you can perform impossible feats, extinguish great evils, and deal in heroic deeds—if only you have the courage to try. Has there ever been a more ridiculous notion? Has there ever been a better one? In that spirit, I present the ten most indispensable life lessons that space opera taught me. Years of hiding under the blankets with a flashlight and a ragged paperback were not wasted on me, and now you can benefit from the wisdom I gathered thereunder. I have ranked them in order of ascending importance because that’s how David Letterman does it, and that guy seems to have a handle on the whole “list” thing. 10. Villains do not die the first time you kill them. The nastier they are, the more likely they are to return and wreak havoc with your life and loved ones. Down time varies from villain to villain, so be on your guard. Some wait only seconds to pop back up and take one last swing, while others lie low for years, waiting to unleash their vengeance when you

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

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Melpomene Run
  by Michael Merriam
hat can’t be right,” Lisa muttered. Lieutenant Lisa Cochrane checked her calculations. The ship had burned more fuel than expected accelerating to the first jump. She ran the numbers through the computer. If the rate of fuel used stayed constant, she would not have enough to accelerate to full speed for the eighth and final jump to Melpomene— never mind trying to land safely on the planet surface. Lisa performed a quick diagnostic. Her ship had been fueled properly and the sensors detected no leakage. “Stupid—” Lisa muttered, setting the auto-pilot and heading for the cargo hold. The ship was overloaded. There was too much mass. The load-master at Mars Station Five had promised her the load was carefully calculated. The small, over-powered courier vessel carried a maximum payload of emergency supplies and just enough fuel to reach the beleaguered colony of Melpomene. Lisa suspected some well-meaning

“T

stevedore, not realizing how delicate the balance between cargo and fuel was for this mission, had loaded extra supplies. Lisa unhooked the manifest pad from the wall as she stepped through the cargo hold. She started methodically checking off containers, peering around safety webbing to verify the numbers on each crate. If she could identify the extra cargo, she could jettison it and a few other items to make up the difference in the extra fuel she had burned. She found him huddled on a pile of blankets, hidden behind boxes of antibiotics and genetically enhanced wheat seeds. “Trevor?” “Hello, luv. Did you miss me?” Trevor smiled sheepishly up at her. Lisa took a deep breath. “Trevor, what are you doing here?” “You didn’t think I was going to let you go off for two years without me?” Lisa stepped back as Trevor stood from his little nest. Her entire body started to tremble, but she kept her voice calm despite the anger and panic rising in her

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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 inspectbringing 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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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 onewindow.” way trip. Fuel for a trip home would have “Why? I don’t need to see outside the sacrificed room for precious cargo. Everyship 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 atmoShe 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 attachbay, 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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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 a little bit of everything, could have serious consequences for the settlers. “What about the bathroom?” Trevor asked as he settled on his blankets behind her and opened up his bag. “Behind the door next to you. It’s a standard commode and rinse sink, pretty much like any public restroom, but the space is cramped.” Lisa stood and started for the hold. She spared Trevor a glance as she passed. He was tapping away furiously on a tiny datapad screen, his black hair half-covering his face, oblivious to his surroundings. She had seen him do this many evenings during their year together. He would focus on his current project to the exclusion of everything around him. In a few hours he would finish working and, hyper with excitement and creative energy, turn his full attention to her. He looked up at her and smiled. She nodded and continued on her way. She entered the hold and looked around at the various crates and containers. Every one was filled with either food or medicine desperately needed on Melpomene. Hundreds of thousands of people were depending on her to deliver life-saving supplies.Now she had to decide which and how much of those supplies to abandon. She had to select what items

Pg.  she thought they could possibly survive without. An hour later, tears of anger and frustration dry on her cheeks, she made her choice.
#

Lisa lay nestled in the blankets, Trevor’s head on her shoulder, his hand slowly stroking the length of her while she held him close. She idly ran her fingers through his hair: it was damp from their exertion. “So, am I forgiven?” he asked. “Yes.” She reached with her free hand toward her flight suit. “Don’t get dressed yet.” Trevor gently caressed her. She shivered. “I need to load the airlock.” “So you’ve chosen what to toss overboard?” “Yes. The sooner I get this over with, the better.” Trevor’s touch was becoming more insistent. He ran a firm hand over her stomach. “It can wait,” he whispered. Lisa flipped him over onto his back, moving so quick that Trevor let out a startled little yelp. She pressed her lips to his, firm and fierce. He tasted of sweat,

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam with a hint of garlic from the ready-meal she had liberated from one of the containers for their dinner. A series of tears, wet and salty, slid down her face. She broke their kiss off with a sob. “What’s wrong?” Trevor asked, wiping a tear away with his thumb. “I had to choose,” she whispered. Lisa rolled off of him and sat up. She picked up her flight suit and clutched it to her body. “I’m sorry I put you in this position. I know it must have been difficult to decide what to leave behind.” Lisa sniffed. “I had to choose what they would need the least. I’m sorry.” Trevor gave her a confused look from where he lay in the nest of blankets. “For what?” Lieutenant Lisa Cochrane drew the syringe from her flight suit, plunged the needle into Trevor’s heart, and pushed the drugs into him in one swift motion. Trevor’s eyes opened wide in horror. His body bucked and contorted in pain and he made a strangled gasp. His mouth opened and closed twice. “I’m so sorry,” Lisa whispered around the tears. “But...I...I...love...you,” Trevor managed to force the words past lips turned purple. “I know,” she said. She waited another

Pg. 0 minute for Trevor to exhale one final time. She rolled the blankets around his limp body, trying to ignore the accusatory stare of his wide, unseeing eyes. She placed Trevor’s bag on top of his wrapped form, took hold of his ankles and dragged her grim package to the airlock, sobbing loudly the entire way. She left him on the floor, next to a crate loaded with ship’s spare parts, and then stepped back into the cargo hold. She took a series of ragged breaths and finally pushed the cycle button. The door in front of her hissed shut. Lisa’s entire body trembled as the warning sirens sounded, alerting her that the outer airlock door was open. She counted out to sixty before she pushed the button to reseal the airlock. Lisa walked back to the bridge. She allowed herself a full ten minutes to grieve, then took two steadying breaths. She dressed in her uniform flight suit, wiping her eyes clear of tears with the sleeves. She took another deep breath and slowly exhaled. She picked up his datapad from behind the chair where it had fallen during their love-making and placed it in her pocket. Lieutenant Cochrane settled into her pilot’s chair and began preparations for her next jump.

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Pg.  calculating her jumps and burns by hand on Trevor’s datapad because her navigation computer failed after the fourth jump, things were too close for comfort. Lieutenant Cochrane was beginning to wonder what exactly she had done to the universe to warrant such a run of bad luck. You know what you did, the voice in her head said. “I didn’t have a choice,” she muttered, lying on her back and bolting the hopefully repaired coil back into place. There  are  always  choices,  Lisa.    You  chose to kill. “Stop it,” she whispered. “Just shut up.” Cold  blooded  murder.    I  wonder  what  the authorities on Melpomene will do with  you? Lisa knew she would be arrested as soon as she touched down on the colony world. She had sent a transmission back to Command immediately after her second jump, detailing what she had done. She had received orders to surrender to the local civilian authorities until Command could retrieve her for an inquest. “But...I...I...love...you,” Trevor’s muffled voice came from a pocket of her jump suit. Lisa dropped the wrench and scrambled to reach the datapad. They had accidentally triggered its voice recording function

She wiped the sweat from her forehead with her bare arm, desperate to keep the salty sting of perspiration out of her eyes. She was struggling enough, and any added distractions could prove disastrous. Lieutenant Cochrane pulled her small frame deeper into the crawl tubes of the courier ship’s engine compartment. Her jumpsuit was unzipped to her waist, leaving her t-shirt exposed. Clutching an induction coil in one hand and an allen wrench in the other, she made her way slowly toward the reactor. She hoped that she had cleaned and reassembled the piece correctly, otherwise the little ship would never accelerate to jump speed. She just needed the part to hold together for one more jump. If it did not work she could slam her ship straight into the heart of Beta Hydrae, but the alternative was to sit tight and wait for rescue. Fuel was another matter to consider. The induction coil had started to fail as she was gathering speed for her previous jump. Lisa had been forced to throttle her ship up, burning harder and longer than expected and using more precious fuel. Combined with the mass Trevor had added at the start of her journey and that she was

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam during their love-making. “I know,” she heard herself say before she managed to shut down the audio. Lisa blinked to clear her eyes of tears and sweat. For a moment she thought she saw Trevor’s face in the colorful tangle of cables and tubes above her. She had been seeing him more and more about the ship, out of the corner of her eye or in reflective surfaces. She gritted her teeth and picked up the wrench. She tightened the last bolt, careful not to over-torque it in her frustration. She reached up and reconnected the inductor coil to the manifold. Lisa screamed as a bright swarm of sparks rained down on her exposed face and arms. The vessel trembled and shook. She felt the ship begin to gather speed, starting its headlong plunge toward the fiery center of Beta Hydrae. Lisa scrambled backward through the access tube, cursing every time the loose, flopping arms of the jump suit caught on any exposed parts. She shrugged back into the one-piece suit and zipped it half-way up. She crawled out of the access tube, stood, and withdrew the datapad from her pocket. Lisa slammed the airtight door between the engine compartment and the cargo hold shut and spun it tight. She turned

Pg.  and made a dash across the cold cargo hold, into the cockpit, where she strapped herself into the pilot’s chair. The courier ship had begun to drift offcourse as the engines powered up. The autopilot had failed to make the necessary course corrections while she was occupied installing the induction coil. She adjusted course and then gave the autopilot control panel a solid thump with a balled-up fist when it tried to override her changes. The lights on the panel blinked erratically, and then winked out. Lisa sighed. The last thing she needed was for the stupid autopilot to attempt to wrestle control away from her in the middle of the jump. Lisa set the datapad on the control console in front of her. She said a little prayer, hoping that her instruments were still working properly, and punched the revised figures into the datapad. She set the timer to count down until her jump. She kept careful watch on how fast she was accelerating and how quickly the temperature of her ship’s hull was rising. The ship gave another shudder, like a horse suddenly gone lame and about to stumble. She heard several small pops and hisses behind her. Lieutenant Cochrane kept her hands on the controls, watching the datapad countdown. She

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam spared a glance at her hull temperature: it was approaching the critical point. She looked at the datapad and started to count down. “Five.” You know no one hears your prayers, a little voice in her mind whispered. “Four.” You’re going to die, burned to nothing. “Three.” You  deserve  to  die.    You  should  end  it  now. “Shut up! Two!” Murderer! “One!” Lisa triggered the jump drive. The sickly sensation of falling took hold of her as everything went silent and bright. Lisa closed her eyes, but an image of Trevor, his eyes wide and unbelieving at her actions, was waiting for her, just as he had been every time she tried to sleep. She tried to hold down the green paste she had eaten for breakfast. The silence was broken as the ship lurched and alarm claxons blared. Lisa pitched forward, managing to turn her head at the last moment to avoid vomiting on her controls. The datapad flew off the console, struck the floor, and began replaying Lisa and Trevor’s final tryst.

Pg.  Lisa frantically checked her instruments. She had completed her jump practically on top of Melpomene and was now engaged in an uncontrolled descent into the planet’s atmosphere. Her training kicked in and Lisa’s fingers flew over the controls as she fought to regain control of her vessel. “Alliance courier: abort your approach,” a male voice said through her communication unit. Lisa managed to right the angle of her descent, but was still coming in too fast. She fired her landing thrusters in an attempt to decelerate. “Alliance courier, this is Melpomene Orbital Control: you’re coming in too fast. You are ordered to abort your approach. Do you copy?” “I’d love to,” Lisa muttered as the datapad continued to replay the sounds of her and Trevor making love. Lisa throttled back the engines and hit the landing thrusters again, forcing the wobbly ship to shed more speed. She reached out and pushed the transmit button as the ship continued to plummet. “Melpomene Control, this is Alliance Courier YT-128. I am declaring an in-flight emergency. Request landing clearance and coordinates.” “Acknowledged Courier YT-128. Release

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam navigational control to us and we’ll bring you down.” “So, am I forgiven?” Trevor’s voice said from the datapad. “Yes,” Lisa heard herself reply. “Melpomene Control, my navigation computer is non-functional. I’m flying by instrumentation and manual control.” “I had to chose,” Lisa’s voice said from the datapad. And you chose murder, the voice in her head said. “YT-128: if we give you verbal directions can you land safely?” Lisa gritted her teeth as the courier tried to shake itself into pieces. She heard something snap off the ship with a loud metallic crash against the hull. The engines had begun to sputter, whether running out of fuel or from damage she did not know. “Talk to me, Melpomene,” she said. You should eject, Trevor’s ghostly voice whispered in her head as his recorded voice sputtered “I...I...love...you.” Save  yourself, if you can. Lisa tried to ignore all the voices except the one in her ears feeding her course corrections. At twenty thousand feet she started to breath easier. The engines had settled down and her descent was controlled and

Pg. 4 smooth. The datapad began replaying her and Trevor’s encounter again from the top. At twelve thousand feet the engines cut out suddenly, turning her courier ship into a glider, a state that the box-shaped craft was ill-suited for. She began to plummet, her vessel corkscrewing toward the surface. Lisa heard her voice screaming, though she could not determine if the sound in her ears was coming from her own throat or from the datapad. Melpomene Control kept calling for her to eject. At seven thousand feet the engines screamed back to life as suddenly as they had died earlier. Lisa worked the controls, wrestling the ship out of its plunge by firing her thrusters and solid fuel engines. The little ship slid left and down, then rolled twice, flinging the datapad across the cockpit and into the lavatory door, before Lisa managed to regain control and right the vessel. “Voice message from terminal identification  number:  unknown,  received  fourteen  April,” the flat, mechanical voice came from the pad. “Courier YT-128: what is your status?” “Under control. I have control and powered flight. Proceeding to landing coor-

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Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam dinated. Don’t let me fly into a mountain, Melpomene. “Stay on course, YT-128. Your arrival at the landing pad is projected in forty minutes.” “I’ve deposited half of the agreed-upon amount in your account,” a voice Lisa recognized spoke from the pad. She had been introduced to Senator Burkes at a dinner she had attended with Trevor, and had heard the man speak numerous times on the news service. “Once you’ve forced your little paramour to abort her mission, I will deposit the remainder. This must appear to be an unfortunate incident, son. If you cannot compel her to turn away, there are other, more active, measures in place to stop her. We would rather avoid any kind of investigation, if possible. Once the colonists are forced to abandon Melpomene, my friends will make sure we are both made financially secure for our troubles.” “End of message. To erase—” Lisa paid the mechanical voice no more attention, instead focusing on the verbal commands coming from Melpomene Flight Control. Thirty minutes later she touched down outside of the capital city. Lisa needed several steadying breaths

Pg. 5 before she unstrapped herself from the pilot’s chair. She took a handful of wobbly steps toward where Trevor’s pad lay on the deck. Her first, irrational instinct was to stomp on it in anger and frustration. Her better senses prevailed. She retrieved the pad, cued up the message from Senator Burkes to his late son, and walked into the cargo hold. She grabbed the manifest and her official ship’s log, and opened the cargo bay doors to the world outside. The air of Melpomene was neither clean nor fresh. Dust hung thick, yellow and grey, giving the buildings surrounding the landing pad a uniformly weathered and washed-out look. A half-dozen men and women, all in uniforms, carrying firearms, and wearing breathing apparatus, approached her ship. “Lieutenant Cochrane?” one of the greeting party, an older woman, asked in a muffled voice. Lisa nodded her head and the woman handed her a mask and portable oxygen recycler. “You’ll want to put this on until we get inside,” the woman said. Lisa slipped the mask over her mouth and nose. Clean, pure oxygen filled her lungs. “Very good,” the woman said. “If you’ll come with us, please.”

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Lisa fell into step behind the woman while two of the party entered her ship. The others formed up around her, insuring she did not attempt to flee. She followed the woman through the grey twilight of outside into a low, solid brick building. Once through the door and safely cut-off from the outside air, Lisa’s escort stopped and removed their masks. Lisa followed their example. The woman turned to Lisa and stuck out a hand. “Welcome to Melpomene, Lieutenant Cochrane.” Lisa took the offered hand, giving the woman a closer inspection now that the breathing equipment was no longer hiding their features. Lieutenant Cochrane found herself looking at a woman who was probably in her early fifties judging by the amount of grey in her still mostly brown hair. “I’m glad to be here, everything considered,” Lisa said. The older woman chuckled. “According to flight control, you had quite the exciting trip down through the ash clouds.” “Yes, quite,” Lisa murmured. “So, um...” Lisa gave the woman what she hoped was an expectant look. The woman seemed to understand what Lisa wanted to know. “First off: I’m

Pg.  Marshall Cynthia Greyson. I’m in charge of security on this lovely planet. Second: we are very  happy to see both you and your cargo arrive intact, Lieutenant Cochrane. Finally: we have been asked to arrest you and keep you incarcerated until such a time as the Alliance can spare someone to come and retrieve you.” “I see.” “However, since you’ve brought our planet everything we need to keep us alive, my government is willing to hear your side in the matter.” Marshall Greyson smiled. “You see, Lieutenant, you’re going to be something of a hero here on Melpomene. We prefer to give you the benefit of a doubt.” “I appreciate that.” Greyson nodded. “We will let you cleaned up, sleep, have a hot meal, and get settled. Tomorrow I’ll conduct your debriefing.” Lisa offered Trevor’s datapad to the woman. “I think everything you’ll need is available on this.” The older woman took the pad and raised an eyebrow. “We’ll go over it.” She nodded toward one of the escorting soldiers, a slim, red-haired man bearing a smile and an automatic rifle. “In the meantime, Corporal Windsor will show

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam you to your quarters.” “Thank you,” Lisa said. She allowed the guard to guide her to a dormitory-like room deep underneath the building. The room was only slightly larger than the cockpit on the ship. The corporal pointed out the restroom and showers at the far end of a hallway lined with doors exactly like the one her room was behind. He told her that she was to stay within this hallway and that guards were posted at all the exit points if she needed something. Lisa thanked him and, once he was gone, headed for the shower. She found towels and a large terry-cloth robe hanging from hooks in the room. She turned the water on as hot as she could stand it and let the water wash away the dirt, grime, and tears of the last three months of her mission. Once back in her room, she discovered someone had delivered her personal items from the ship and left her dinner on the low table next to the one chair in the room. She ate, and then stretched out on the narrow bed. She had been asleep for two hours when Marshall Greyson came and fetched her personally. Lisa dressed in one of her flight suits and followed the stern woman. Greyson escorted her to a meeting of the colony’s governing body. She answered

Pg.  all their questions calmly and truthfully, and was escorted by armed guard to the hospital, where she was give a thorough examination by a doctor who kept thanking her for delivering the needed drugs to combat the respiratory plague that had decimated the population after a supposed dormant volcano had erupted. Lieutenant Cochrane was escorted back to her room. Ten hours later Marshall Greyson summoned her to another debriefing, this time involving only the two of them. Lisa was surprised to learn that her ship had been sabotaged. It was mostly a combination of Lisa’s on-the-fly repairs and dumb-luck that she had reached Melpomene at all. She was also shocked to learn that her supply of food paste had been laced with a drug designed to make her slowly begin to hallucinate and become paranoid. Greyson opined that the drug was supposed to break down her ability to think clearly in the hope that, if Trevor failed to convince her to abort the mission, her slowly growing paranoia and psychosis would cause her to destroy the ship. What surprised Lisa the most was the discovery that she was pregnant.
#

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam

Pg. 8

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 communiso 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

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam regimen of inoculations. She passed away shortly after and her body was cremated, the same as all the other victims.” The Lieutenant frowned. “I’ve been ordered to obtain her ashes for return to her family.” “I’m afraid that’s impossible,” Greyson said. “Marshall Greyson, I’m sure you realize that Lieutenant Cochrane’s family has a legal right to her remains,” the captain said, stepping back into the conversation. “We just want to take our officer home.” Yeah,  Lisa thought,  you  just  want  to  run tests on those ashes to see if I’m really  dead. “I’m sorry,” Greyson replied. “I think you misunderstood. When I said that would be impossible, I was not implying that the Colonial Government of Melpomene was in any way attempting to withhold the remains of Lieutenant Cochrane from her family. What I meant was we don’t have the ashes to give you. Lieutenant Cochrane made it clear before her death that she wished her remains to be scattered in space. The grateful people of Melpomene honored that wish. We can, of course, turn over her personal effects.” The captain frowned. “I see.” Lisa watched the younger officer. He

Pg.  seemed to have lost interest in the conversation between the captain and Greyson as they haggled over other matters. Instead, he was giving the complex an appraising look, while trying to appear as if he was oblivious to everything around him. His eyes lit on the security camera that was feeding Lisa images of the meeting. They lingered over it for several seconds before he leaned over and whispered into his superior officer’s ear. The senior man made a great show of attempting to prolong the conversation while trying to end it. Lisa watched as the Alliance party returned to their shuttle under the watchful eyes of the Melpomene security forces. Lisa waited for her commanding officer to send for her. When she did arrive at Greyson’s rather spartan office, the Marshall was her usual blunt self. “They suspect something.” Lieutenant-Commander Cochrane shook her head. “No. I think they might actually know.” “That would imply they have intelligence in the matter, which would mean someone on the inside is feeding them information.” Lisa nodded. “Yes, ma’am. Did you notice how the junior officer was the one who actually brought the meeting to an end?”

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Greyson nodded. “I think he might be from Intelligence Services. Watch the tapes of the meeting. When he’s not speaking, he’s making mental notes about the complex.” Greyson frowned and picked up a datapad from her desktop. “Commander, right now I have to assess whether or not Captain McClure and his task force are going to attempt to forcibly expel us from Melpomene colony, and whether or not we can stop them should they try. “It seems ridiculous for them to start a war over this planet.” Greyson peered at her over the datapad. “Historically speaking, wars typically start because one group has a resource that another group wants and thinks they can take by force. If the Alliance and its corporate masters want Melpomene bad enough, they’ll certainly try and take it.” Greyson set the pad down and folded her hands together. “Commander, I’m going to place a few extra guards around your apartment until our guests are gone.” Lisa nodded. Even if the Alliance did not want to start a shooting war over Melpomene, if their Intelligence Services thought she was alive, they would want to know what, if anything, she had discovered about Senator Burke’s attempt to sabotage

Pg. 0 her mission. Lisa did not feel like trusting anyone in the Alliance at the moment, not when a powerful Senator wanted her arrested for the death of his son. Her next thought made a chill slither down her body: if the Alliance suspected she was alive and could capture her, they could publicly brand her a traitor, deserter, and murderer. She was regarded as a hero on Melpomene. Her capture would provoke an incident between the Alliance and Melpomene Colony. Lisa glanced up to find Marshall Greyson regarding her as if the older woman understood exactly what Lisa was thinking. Greyson nodded. “Is there anything else you’d like to discuss with me, Commander?” “No, ma’am.” “Very well. Dismissed. Go home and give Mitchell a kiss from his godmother.” “Yes, ma’am.” Lisa’s hand was on the doorknob when Greyson’s voice stopped her. “Lisa, I think you should stay home and out of sight until this blows over.” Lisa turned and gave her friend and commanding officer an affirming nod before stepping out of the office.
#

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam Lisa sat in a comfortable chair in a corner of her dark apartment, facing out into the room, a semi-automatic shotgun across her knees. She had sent her two-year-old son to stay with his godmother’s parents and was alone in the residence. After six days of radio silence from the three Alliance cruisers that were conducting combat exercises just out of range of the colony’s orbital defense platform’s weapons, but well within sensor range of Melpomene, everyone’s nerves were on edge, including Lisa’s. Marshall Greyson had calmly explained to the governing council that the Alliance commander was engaging in the timehonored tactic of “showing the flag” in an effort to remind the colonists that, while they may hold Melpomene by charter and that the Alliance tended to ignore them, they were still technically an Alliance territory. She then informed the Council that the Alliance had an operative embedded in the military, but they had discovered the person’s identity. Which had done nothing to make Lisa feel better. You  don’t  really  think  you’re  going  to  get away with murder, do you?  It doesn’t  matter what kind of hero these people think  you are, we both know the truth, Trevor’s

Pg.  voice said softly in her mind. “I’m  having  a  hard  time  feeling  bad,  everything considered,” Lisa whispered to herself. These  people  are  squatting  on  the  largest deposits of Cesium, Deuterium, and  Uranium ever discovered and what are they  doing?  Planting wheat and herding sheep.    The  Alliance  needs  to  control  and  exploit  those  resources  to  protect  its  holdings.    You should show loyalty to the people you  swore to defend.  “Not everything is about powering starships or making the rich even richer.” You’re  a  traitor  and  a  failure,  Lisa.    They’re coming for you.  You need to answer  for everything you’ve done.  Lisa could no longer determine if the accusatory voice in her head sounded like Trevor or herself. “Yes, I know I do,” she murmured, lifting the shotgun as the security light outside winked out and the soft tinkling of glass came from her bathroom. Lisa pointed the barrel of the shotgun toward the short hallway leading to the back bedroom. The soft crunch of someone stepping on the glass shards she had strewn on the hallway floor reached her ears. Lisa fired two rounds. The shot ripped through the thin walls as she rolled off the chair, moving toward the hallway. Lisa

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam came up in a crouch and fired two more rounds down the hallways as a series of feathered barbs struck her protective vest. The tranquilizer darts could not pierce her protective armor. She was glad that they wanted her alive: her vest would have stopped live rounds, but she would have been knocked flat and left helpless if she had taken that many hits from real bullets. She heard the front door burst open and turned to face the new threat. She fired her fifth and final round at the intruder, knocking him backward and causing the flash grenade he was carrying to detonate among his teammates. Lisa dived behind her couch and drew her sidearm. She tried to blink back the sudden feeling of dizziness and nausea. Lisa looked down and found one of the darts sticking out from her unprotected arm. She pulled the offending barb out and took a deep breath. The room was starting to spin and her body was going numb, refusing to obey her frantic command to rise over her couch and keep fighting. This  is  how  it  ends, Trevor’s voice whispered. A muffled blast from the back of her apartment and the sound of small arms fire from the hallway filled her ears. Lisa

Pg.  breathed a relieved sigh. The cavalry had arrived on schedule. No, Trevor, this is how it ends.  Now get  out of my head! she thought as her body went limp and collapsed on the floor. The last thing she saw before darkness took her was Master-Corporal Windsor’s worried face peering down at her.
#

Lieutenant-Commander Cochrane watched as the Alliance ships completed their jump out of Melpomene’s system and disappeared from her scope. There had been several tense moments when Marshall Greyson had signaled Captain McClure that a team of Alliance Special Operations commandos had been caught engaging in an illegal operation against a member of the Melpomene Defense Forces. Captain McClure had attempted to disavow any knowledge of the failed raid. Marshall Greyson had told him to send a shuttle to pick up his people, including the three fatalities. The Alliance captain had again acted as if Marshall Greyson was fabricating an incident. Greyson told him in a cold, steely voice that if the captured commandos where not Alliance soldiers, then they would be considered mercenar-

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam

Pg. 

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-thetheir 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

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Melpomene Run, by Michael Merriam

Pg. 4

station. Michael Merriam As Lisa walked toward the designated 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.    He lives in Minneapolis,Minnesota with his wife    asked.   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.

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Pg. 5

Shan’tir’ri  
by Scott M. Sandridge

sensors failed to detect the energy discharge in time to activate its anti-gravity generators, or the owners were too poor or too cheap to have the standard safety devices installed. Whichever, I didn’t care. I was too busy saving my own life. Another blast grazed the top of my skimmer. On instinct I dove and avoided the follow-up blast. Burning wreckage followed me down through the thick orange clouds. So much for retirement. All because I missed my target by three millimeters. I knew I should’ve refused this job. Hindsight sucks… # “It’s a simple job, Merc,” said Administrator Gelv. Those four words always make me suspicious, especially when spoken by a greedy, smoke-stem toting, bug that chuckles like a lunatic. Unfortunately, he or she or it (you just can’t tell with these K’rit’iks) followed up with the magic words I always like to hear, “And the pay is high.” “How high?” I asked. “And the name’s

I

turned the corner just in time. The shop to my right wasn’t so fortunate. Its

Mark, not Merc.” “Whatever. Four million credits, your pick of our latest military toys, and fifty thousand cubic acres of air space with your own floating mansion.” “Nobody pays that much for an easy job.” “I never said it was easy.” This was the part that made being a mercenary so interesting: smug clients who think they’re smart. “So, what’s the job?” I asked. Gelv punched a button on his desk, and a holograph appeared. The sight of the hairless female humanoid with blue skin sent a shiver down my spine. Gelv said, “I heard you were 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 eight months. According to our sources, this little she-monster is kidnapping drone younglings.” “Never knew they had a thing for bugs,” I said. “I thought they kept to humanoids for their pleasure slaves.” Gelv sent a cloud of smoke-stem excretion into my face. I held my breath.

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Shan’tir’ri, by Scott M. Sandridge
“Watch who you’re calling bugs,” he said. “I’ll be more specific. She’s not kidnapping just any drone younglings. She’s taking our warrior drones and selling them to our enemies.” “You said simple.” “Yes.” “When do you get to the simple part?” “I want her dead as dead can be and her remains brought to me. Is that simple enough for you?” My grin was all Gelv needed. “You leave for Morvarr tomorrow morning. Your pay is half if you take longer than a week. Damages incurred will be billed to you, and your contract is forfeited if you don’t bring back proof of death.” “Just make sure you have my money when I get back,” I said. I shook his three-pronged pincer after adding, “I’ll take my choice of weapon as my advance.” “Nice doing business with you, Merc.” “Mark.” “Whatever. Just don’t try to cheat me. You wouldn’t want me as your enemy.” Why do they always say that? # The biggest problem about assassination jobs is that the wolf can become the deer if he’s not careful, and careful doesn’t always cut it. In less than a second my target did just

Pg. 
that when I missed my mark. The sight of seeing silver liquid seep out of her pores to harden into armor, and weaponry grow from the same alloy, is a sight that can freeze the most hardened predator. Good thing I was already accustomed to seeing their bio-armor conversion process. I beat feet faster than ever before and hopped into my skimmer. The one thought on my mind as I weaved between two cargo barges was about how nice it would be if, just once, something would actually go according to plan. I dove down to where the clouds changed from orange to red. My skimmer was designed to slice through the thick, lower atmosphere. Her cyber-wings weren’t. This would force her to rely primarily on her armor’s thrusters, and that would give me the maneuverability advantage. At least I hoped it would. When I looked back and saw that she was no longer behind me, I realized my mistake. All I saw was a flash of silver before the impact knocked me out of the pilot seat, 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 thing I saw was a jagged cliff spinning in my front view screen. Call it skill, call it luck, call it anything you want. I managed to grab the stick in time

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Shan’tir’ri, by Scott M. Sandridge
to stop the spin and set the bottom of the skimmer onto the top of the cliff. Two skips, a hop, and a quick reverse thrust stopped the skimmer before it smashed into the rock wall. I popped open the emergency hatch, grabbed my gear, and bolted out of the cockpit. I managed twenty steps before the skimmer exploded and sent me sailing into the wall. I thought I was dead when everything blurred and faded to black. When I came to, I realized that death would have been preferable to what the avenging angel standing over me may have planned. I couldn’t move my left arm without searing waves of pain. The combat armor that had saved me from the explosion was shredded from the shrapnel, and I could feel burns and lacerations all over. The first thought in my head to form coherently was, Where’s  my  damn rifle? That’s when I noticed the Shan’tir’ri held it—my nice new gun: part of the reward for her head. The incongruity made me smile. “It’s good to see you meeting death with a smile,” she said. “I taught you well, my little escaped pet.” “It’s ironic when you think about it,” I said, managing to get up on my knees. “I get killed with my own gun.” “Indeed.”

Pg. 
The Kr-9 Laser Assault Rifle is an interesting weapon. The first laser weapon designed for automatic burst firing, it also includes the most advanced sighting systems. The most appealing part about it is the fingerprint scanner installed in the trigger. A microcomputer inside the stock contains the fingerprints of all authorized personnel. If the fingerprint from the scanner matches the one in the computer, fire away. If not… The Shan’tir’ri pulled the trigger. The energy cells inside exploded and both of us were flung backward. I might’ve heard her screams if I hadn’t gone deaf for a few seconds. My back smacked into the wall, and she went over the cliff. I found her left hand near what remained of my skimmer, unarmored blue flesh once again. I called in for a pickup and returned to Gelv’s office. His first words to me were, “You look like ground beef.” An understatement if ever there was one. I expected half my pay would end up in some doctor’s bank account. I tossed the hand onto his desk and said, “Job’s finished. Where’s my pay?” He poked at the hand, then looked up at me. His mandibles clacked together with a total lack of rhythm. Then he said, “How do I know this isn’t some other Shan’tir’ri’s?” “Look,” I said, one hand held up. “You

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Shan’tir’ri, by Scott M. Sandridge
wanted her dead; she’s dead, blown up by your own damn gun. If you want what’s left of her, go down to this hellhole’s surface and find it yourself. I’m not about to go down there and implode from the atmospheric density. I’m collecting my pay and checking into the nearest hospital. I’m sure you have ways to learn if that’s really her hand or not.” Gelv sat back, silent at first, nodded once and said, “I’ll transfer the assets to your account within the hour, but if she pops back up—.” “Yeah, yeah; you’ll have every hunter from here to the Calivrin System on my tail. I know the drill.” “Pleasure Mark.” “Merc.” “What?” “Nevermind.” I walked out the door and took the elevator to the ground floor. When I stepped outside I saw a ball of blue flame erupt from Gelv’s office window. A cell-bomb? She had a cell-bomb implanted? Either the trigger had malfunctioned or she had set it on a timed delay. But why would—? Wonderful. She just set me up. No pay, and being the last person in his office made me suspect number one. Yep, it was time to lay low for a while, maybe think about retiredoing business with you, ment. Like I said, hindsight sucks. #

Pg. 8

There’s one small problem about laying low. It’s one long, boring wait for the inevitable, especially on a secluded mud ball like Calivrin. It gave me plenty of time to ponder my fate. Would the Shan’tir’ri find me and, after a series of severe “punishments” put me back in captivity? Or would the K’rit’ik hunter drones find me, devour me, and spit out my remains before the feet of some Administrator? Personally, I would prefer the latter. Too bad my luck is about as good as my foresight. “Hello Mark.” Hearing the silky female voice told me I had been found. I started running, knowing it was fruitless but in too much panic to care. In three seconds she grabbed me by the shoulders and lifted me high above the adobe buildings like a hawk taking its prey. She dropped me down onto a mountaintop, then landed, her image surrounded by the blue sun like a silver avenging angel complete with crimson vibro-claws and particle beam arm cannon. When her feet touched the ground, the armored shell and cannon liquefied and entered into her body through the pores. She stood before me, oblivious to the freezing cold common to

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Shan’tir’ri, by Scott M. Sandridge
such heights. The stinging feeling in my shoulders made me glad those claws weren’t on; otherwise, I’d have no arms now. Not that it would matter much if I didn’t get off this mountaintop before I froze to death. But first, I had to deal with the Shan’tir’ri. I pulled out my sidearm and aimed, only to see the damn thing get sliced by one swipe from her deadly little humming nails. I shut my eyes and braced for the death I knew was coming. “Open your eyes, pet. I’m not going to kill you,” she said. I obeyed, and the first thing I saw after opening them was her sensuous lips part to add, “Yet.” I looked down her left arm and said, “I see you grew a new hand. I’d tell you it’s nice to see you’re still alive, but I’d be lying.” “It was very rude of you to blow me off that cliff.” “Well, you were trying to kill me.” “Only because you shot at me first,” she said as she circled around me like a preying feline. The red pupils in her black eyes looked me over like I was some kind of product. I admit it; I looked her over too, but what do you expect from a guy? “So, what now?” My body started shivering, my plain wool clothes little protection against the cold. I held my arms against me to try to .” stay warm.

Pg. 

“I offer you a choice,” she said. “You can return to us and regain your place at my side—.” “In short, be your sex slave again.” “Or you can freeze to death.” “I can always climb down.” “And I can lift you back up here again.” Yeah, my luck just keeps getting better. “I’d rather freeze to death if you don’t mind.” That stopped her in her place. Her eyes widened, and then she blinked. “Why? Why would you choose death over being my consort? Life with us can’t be so bad.” “You think?” “We feed you, we give you comfort, we— “Rape us? Beat us and worse when we don’t grovel at your feet? Treat us like animals? Work us to death? Yeah, sure, some guys like that sort of stuff, but still—.” I was on the ground with her claws at my throat before I even knew she attacked. Her snarl made me shake more than the cold could. “You are animals compared to us! Your continued assumption that any species should be considered equal to ours is blasphemous!” “There you go again with that us/our crap. At least I’m an individual and not taking orders from some Queen Mo—.”

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Shan’tir’ri, by Scott M. Sandridge
“Silence!” The volume regulators in her voice raised her scream to a level that made the ground shake. The sound waves reverberated through my body, and the pain told me something shook loose in me somewhere. Fortunately, she lowered the volume when she added, “We are not worker drones like the K’rit’ik. We possess individual thought. Why else would I be here? Any other consort would’ve died immediately for what you’ve done if I—.” “If you what?” She released my throat, and stepped back. “If I were obeying my orders, you’d be dead now. No consort who fled from us and murdered our kind was ever given a second chance, but we—I—had hoped you would see the logic in returning to me.” “A little late to start getting mushy on me, isn’t it?” I regretted flashing my cocky grin the second her fist put me back on the ground. It felt like I had been smacked by a Taurusian. “Always blaspheming, little pet,” she said. “You have worthy genes. That’s all.” It was my turn to get confused, “But…your race doesn’t reproduce sexually. Why would you care about my genes?” “The Queen Mother still requires genetic material to create us with. Our cells are still half organic.” “And you want me to donate to your gene

Pg. 0
pool?” I stood back up and shrugged. “Then why don’t you just take a sample and leave me the hell alone?” “It doesn’t work that way,” she said. She placed a hand on her hip and smiled, “Did you think we take mates for enjoyment alone? Our bodies are designed to select and process the best samples, and preserve them for the Queen to use.” I squatted down and placed my arms around my knees to stay warm. If I didn’t find a way off this mountain soon…. But I’d be damned if I was ever going to be a slave again. No weapon, and hand-to-hand against her would be suicide. I could jump off the cliff and end it, but she’d probably just sweep me up and, worse yet, chastise me for my stupidity. “Why must you be so stubborn?” she asked. She began to pace again. “I treated you better than any consort we ever had. I even waived punishment when I shouldn’t. I thought you liked being my consort. Did I not bring you pleasure?” I couldn’t hold back my smile no matter how much I wanted to. “It’s not that, honey. Believe me.” “Then what?” Her voice rose again. Thankfully, she kept better control of the volume this time. “Because we do not see you as equal?”

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Shan’tir’ri, by Scott M. Sandridge
I rose, fists clenched. I glared at her as my body shook, not from the cold, and this time not from fear. “Because I’m a man, damn it! I have pride! I yearn to strive for something, to work for myself, to have something I can call my own! And to sometimes have something to fight and die for! “Can you give that to me? Can you give that to anyone?” She stood there and stared at me like I was a complete, total stranger and she had just now noticed. I figured once her shock wore off that my life would end. But when she finally moved, she did something I thought was never possible for her kind to do. 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.

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Scott M. Sandridge
Scott  M.  Sandridge  was  born  in  Hot  Springs,  Arkansas, and grew up in Corbin, Kentucky. He  now resides in Holland, Ohio, where everybody  talks funny. He has loved writing since early childhood, but  didn’t get serious with it until 2000. He enrolled  in Long Ridge Writers’ Group in February 2001.  His first short story, “Treecutter,” was published  in  Issue  4  of  The  Sword  Review  in  July  2005.  He  has  since  gone  on  to  publish  more  short  stories  and  write  reviews  for  Tangent Online.  He  is  also  a  member  of  the  Critters Writers’ Workshop, a columnist for The Sword Review,  and  is  a  Slushmaster  (Submissions  Editor)  for  Ray Gun Revival.

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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  Flynn and his best friend Sandle are playing  at  swords  when  a  stranger  visits  Patience  finds one of them dead and leaves the other  to pick up the pieces.    And as difficult as that seems, in the events  leading up to the funeral, Flynn can’t shake  a gathering feeling of dread, as if inexorable  into  motion.    He  is  now  alone,  he  doesn’t  know how to deal with his grief, and a storm  is brewing. rocky hilltop didn’t interrupt Cooper Flynn’s solitary vigil. After a respectful pause, the Abbot’s assistant cleared his throat and said, nodded absently, and turned to join the others. They buried Sandle on the hill from where he and Flynn first espied Tuy Meklanek’s arrival. The Abbot’s assistant put his hand on speak in the Abbot’s absence?” Tuy nodded, and stepped forward. “I have no prepared speech,” he said. “I suspect Sandle would have preferred something simple anyway...” He cleared his throat and spoke up. “You, who knew Sandle best, know his history—I do not. You know Sandle’s stories—I do not. You know his idiosyncrasies, his quirks, his strengths. I know only one thing of Sandle; he demonstrated great character in his moment of truth at the risk of his own life.” Tuy looked around brewing somewhere. at those assembled. “That’s enough for me.” Tuy’s voice dropped, and he confided, “I pray I may be half as brave at that moment.” He drew his sword, its metal-on-metal
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Bay, setting in motion a chain of events that  “It’s time.” Flynn looked back at the man,

forces  outside  of  his  control  have  been  set  Tuy’s shoulder. “Ven Meklanek, would you

high above a pristine South Sea island bay. If the weather mirrored the tumult in his eyes, the heavens would blacken and the rain would pound the earth like tears, but the skies were as bright and clear as the halfgrin on his face. And just as false. A storm was Somewhere close. The shuffle of approaching feet on the

A

shadow passed over the young man on the hilltop. He faced the ocean

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook
rasp loud in the quiet of the moment, and drove the tip firmly into the rocky soil. He knelt on his right knee and grasped the hilt with his right fist. Witnessing his homage, those assembled followed his example. Tuy solemnly spoke: “Sandle Grawnsden, I remember you.” The others repeated: “I remember you.” Tuy bowed his head, traced the sacred four-sided mark of Cyl upon his chest. Raising his head, he rose, sheathed his sword, and stepped back. An awkward silence fell over the little group, and then Flynn stepped forward. His infamously unruly black hair was corralled and tied in a nape-knot; his black eyes were set wide apart on a face perpetually on the verge of breaking into a grin. Flynn’s face shone in the bright mid-afternoon sunlight; the prevailing wind whipped dust into his dry eyes. No sorrow showed thereon, and a careless observer might have mistaken his demeanor as casual, except for one thing—the eyes. On closer inspection, those black eyes revealed a deliberate, intelligent rage. His voice was clear and controlled, almost soft-spoken. “He was my first and best friend, and he deserved more. He deserved better. The architect of Sandle’s unjust death will answer for his crime.” “That’s it.” Flynn’s gaze flickered over to the Abbot’s He looked around. assistant.

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They locked eyes and the young

cleric gasped. He only had strength to stammer the benediction, “Serreh,” before he ducked his head and scuttled quickly back toward the Abbey. His retreat ended the ceremony. # Flynn appeared bright and early for his fencing practice the following morning. “I wasn’t sure you’d want to meet today,” observed Weapons Master Thannon, playing idly with his sword sheath. “Have you slept?” Flynn shook his head negligently. “I’m fine. I might have been more effective against Sandle’s killer with better training.” He bowed with a flourish. “Here I am; teach your eager pupil, Master.” Thannon nodded, a grudging half-smile coming to his face. He released the catch and flipped his sheath into the corner, where it lodged, quivering. “Very well,” said the Weapons Master. “Let’s see what you’re really made of.” # After a fierce morning practice, Flynn took his sword, along with some bread and meat, and disappeared into the jungle. He told no one where he was going, and didn’t explain himself when he returned that night. He shadow-dueled late into the evening and literally fell into bed, but was back up again at daybreak to start all over again,

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

Five

minutes passed…ten. “Who killed Sandle?

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook
“And what did you say?” Flynn looked stricken. “I berated him for reading too much into it and for waking me when we should both be sleeping.” Tuy looked pensive. “Did you tell anybody else about that?” “No. I ate a quick breakfast and had weapons practice with Master Thannon, and was then introduced to you the same morning. That’s all” Tuy stroked his beard. “There’s more to this than meets the eye. How is it possible to have a clandestine information network on an island so remote and so sparsely populated? The assassin moved too fast for a complete stranger,” Tuy mused, half to himself, “…faster than I would have expected.” Flynn mulled this over, blinked, and cocked his head. “So how do we know this assassin, this Qantiin, was here for Sandle at all? What if he was actually here to target someone else?” He turned and looked at Tuy. “If Sandle wasn’t the ultimate target, who was? Oh, wait! If there was an ultimate target, will the Qantiin send another assassin?” Tuy nodded his head and smiled grimly. “That’s the right question.” He stood. “Let’s take a walk. It’s time I told you what brought me to Patience Bay.” Flynn’s eyes grew wide with alarm. “What? What brought you here?” he asked. Tuy turned and looked Flynn in the eye for the first time that day. “You.”
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# They walked out to the Abbot’s Watch, a

rocky point overlooking the ocean to the west. High forerunner clouds started to obscure the sun, making the afternoon prematurely dark. A storm was visible against the horizon, but was still some distance away. Its brilliant white towers reached toward the sky, rising from a base that was dark and expanding. Flynn said, “Sandle was perceptive. When you sailed in, he noted your weatherworn boat and shabby clothes. I saw only the way you carried yourself, and imagined your boat as my opportunity to finally leave this rock. He was looking out for everyone else, but I only thought of myself.” Tuy nodded. “I’ve been searching the islands for many months. When I started, I felt I was searching by request of Her Majesty, but later, to fulfill a quest for a friend of mine. However, I’d only recently come to grips with the possibility I might not find you at all, and then discovered to my surprise that I was questing for myself.” He looked at Flynn. “At first, I was charged with a mission to you at the behest of the Crown, but as time passed, I realized the truth of it: I was searching for what might be called ‘redemption.’ I don’t know what you know of your father, but he was a quietly great man, and I don’t bestow such praise lightly. As you discovered with Sandle, I didn’t appreciate your father fully until he was gone. I came
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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook
to value his loyalty and friendship more than my loyalty to my country, and I don’t say that lightly, either. “There’s a story I should tell you about us eventually, which I’m only now beginning to understand fully, and can’t bring myself to tell anyone at the moment. I have come to believe that I owe him a life-debt. With your father no longer around to repay it to, I started to look around for his surviving family; that inspired my journey here.” At this revelation, Flynn’s expression made him look every bit the fifteen-year-old boy. “But seeking you and finding you were two different things. I have spent a considerable fortune to tease out clues of your existence, much less your whereabouts, and started to discover a pattern.” Tuy looked at Flynn. “Your father was more proud of you than I can ever convey, and went to extraordinary measures to obscure your location. That, incidentally, is why we haven’t seen any other assassins around here until I arrived, because they didn’t know where you were any more than I did.” Flynn blanched. “So how…?” “As I hinted, I’ve been looking for a long, long time. I started out, in fact, with a fleet of ships working in concert. However, as we continued to burn through time and money, my ships started to encounter… issues. Sometimes it was weather, sometimes piracy, sometimes Sylvan raiders. One issue
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was clear: someone didn’t want you found.” Tuy cleared his throat. “Either that, or they wanted to find you themselves.” “But why?” asked Flynn, adding, “I have dim memories of my father, my mother, of being content, of everything making sense. I think I remember our cottage, then a boat, and then arriving here. I’ve never gotten an answer as to where my family went, or why I’m here. I think the Abbot knows, but won’t tell me. I think he’s hiding the full story from me!” Flynn swallowed. “I have always had this feeling of being special, that, perhaps, I was the forgotten son of royalty, and, at the very least, expected to find out why I was here, what I was waiting for, what I was meant to do. I felt like a prince in hiding, even while I picked grapes and cleared dirty dishes. But as much as I wanted those things to be true, I didn’t believe them.” Flynn turned and addressed Tuy directly. “Who am I? Why do I feel there is more to this life, and I’m missing truths everybody else knows?” Tuy stared at a small rock by his worn leather boot. “Those questions haunt all thinkers,” Tuy said softly. With a stronger voice, he added, “I’d love to tell you you’re a long-lost prince kept safe here on a remote island for your own protection until you are of age to go out into the world, right great wrongs and lead our people into a new age of
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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook
enlightenment and prosperity.” Tuy kicked the pebble out and watched it fall out of view over the cliff. Then he turned and looked Flynn in the eye. “But that’s not true. I think you realize it, too.” Flynn tried to look away, but couldn’t. “The truth is that you’re the orphaned son of a man I called friend a long time ago. The truth is that my life is drawing to a close and I have no family. The truth is that I’ve been so busy with my own life ‘serving the monarchy’ that I never bothered to set old scores aright, never bothered to make a difference to one person.” Tuy cleared his throat, fighting unexpected emotion. “I’ve done everything else I wanted to do, and none of it really mattered. After much thought, I realized I didn’t want to go to the bottom without passing something along to one actual person.” He looked at Flynn. “…which, ultimately, brought me to you.” Tuy looked back out at the panorama and took a sip from the water skin attached to his leather belt. “The good news is: you can be whatever you set yourself to be—the man in the gap, a great hero, one who fights for self or for good. You can obey your liege or your own conscience, see the entire world, or stay here on this quiet little rock.” He returned the water skin to his belt. “If you ask me, it matters not who you really are, just that you have the awareness to wonder

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about it. I can’t answer if you’re special right now, but I can tell you: you might be. Whether you in fact become great or not depends on what you decide, and on what you then say and do.” A ray of light broke through the gathering storm and, in the wonder of the moment as he watched the display in front of him, Flynn wept. Some time later, Flynn took a deep breath, blinked, and furrowed his brow. When he turned to Tuy, his tone was light again. “So, how did you actually find me?” Tuy laughed. “I finally gave up and came to the one place where I thought I could beg wisdom from almighty Cyl Himself with the help of the unique library here and the assistance of another old friend, the Abbott. Imagine my surprise when I arrived to see the spitting image of your father running around, playing at swords, frolicking on an island hilltop as innocent as a newborn lamb. Well, after sparring with a Qantiin assassin, you are a lamb no longer. I think you, now, are The  Lone Wolf.” Flynn snorted and smiled. “I think, I, now, am hungry as a wolf,” he said, standing. Tuy rose and clapped him on the shoulder. “Stop by my room later tonight. I have something your father wanted you to have.” With that, Flynn turned his back to the approaching storm and returned with Tuy to

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

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook
Tuy spoke. “So the boat that came in after me belonged to the other assassin. It appears clear that you both are Qantiin: he the assassin-of-record and you the sleeper. I’ve got a question bothering me, though. If you are ‘family,’ how did you decide to kill your fellow assassin, and why did he go along with it?” “His task was to take out his target…” and here Thannon indicated Tuy. “When the Qantiin was exposed, I killed Sandle to keep him quiet, and next my brother Qantiin, assuming his bounty-duty. He breathed his blessing to me before he died.” “You… killed Sandle,” said Flynn, and his voice was studiously neutral. Thannon waved his left hand as if shooing away an insect. “I flipped my sword’s sheath toward the Qantiin, who blocked it toward Sandle, completing the kill. It is the move of two Masters—you were fortunate to have witnessed a rare maneuver.” Flynn pushed himself back in the chair until he was leaning back on two legs. “So the offer to teach me swordsmanship was a front to recruit me to become Qantiin?” “Yes,” said Thannon, smiling largely, “and the offer is still open. All you have to do is kill a man tonight and you will be sworn in and taken under my wing. You will enjoy wealth, power, arcane knowledge, challenging assignments, and brotherhood with bold men.”

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Flynn started rocking back and forth as he

thought. “How long have you been waiting undercover?” Thannon’s face reflected his pride. “When Ven Meklanek disappeared from Court, I killed the former Patience Bay Weapons Master on his vacation and came here to fill his vacancy myself. I communicated regularly with the Council via messenger bird. We have agents stashed all over the Empire waiting for news of Tuy’s death. Killing the prey and inducting a new recruit will be a great day for the Council!” Flynn looked at Tuy, but he was studiously watching Thannon. On cue, Thannon matterof-factly said “Time to die,” drew a sword with his gauntleted left hand, and tossed it hilt-first toward Tuy, and then drew his own blade. Tuy never took his eyes off Thannon and side-stepped the incoming weapon, letting it hit the wall and clatter to the floor. Puzzled, Flynn looked at the sword on the floor. Without taking his eyes from Thannon, Tuy replied “Poison on the hilt. The Qantiin have no end of tricks. They cannot ever be trusted.” Thannon bowed his head slightly, a mocking grin on his face, and then raised his blade in salute. A gust of wind attacked the stuttering flame, casting momentarily deep shadows. Flynn fell over backward out of his chair, hit

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook
the ground rolling, and grasped the hilt of the nearest sword hanging off the weapons table behind him. another. Thannon turned to see what the commotion was, as the sword arced over his head. He spun back around as the sword smacked into Tuy’s hand, who dropped into a defensive position. “The whelp is duplicitous,” said Thannon, eyes glinting. Flynn mock bowed and walked around by Tuy. “Even better,” grated Thannon. “He will make a glorious Qantiin when I am done with him.” Under his voice, Tuy said “So here we are fighting Qantiin again, you and I.” Flynn said “Fret not, my friend. I’d rather fight Qantiin once a day and twice on Market Day than join them.” Thannon said “That’s what we all say,” and attacked. When the two repelled his first attack, Thannon broke off. “You have learned well,” he said. “Now I will teach you something new. Know your opponent. Avoid their strength, exploit their weakness.” And then, before they had time to move, Thannon beat Flynn’s sword out of his hand with one savage blow, knocking Flynn off his feet to crumple hard into the corner. Next, in one fluid move, he spun around lightly and ran Tuy through, He lofted it, hilt first, over Thannon’s head and then scrabbled for pinning him to the wall. Tuy gasped and dropped his sword.

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Pleased with his handiwork, Thannon released the hilt of his sword and stepped back with a flourish to admire the sword handle protruding from Tuy as it vibrated back and forth. “Thus I have…” Flynn exploded out of the corner and heaved, flipping the little table over onto the flame on its top and extinguishing the fire, casting the room into darkness. A scuff on the floor and then a flash of lightning revealed Flynn’s face nose-to-nose with Thannon, whose expression changed from glee to horror in an instant. “Thank you for the lesson, Master,” said Flynn, savagely, as his hands shot to Thannon’s throat. Flynn squeezed, and all those hours spent gripping a sword were put to good use. With a gurgling roar, Tuy pulled loose from the wall and fell heavily to his knees at Thannon’s feet. Tuy grasped Thannon around his knees and lifted him off the floor. Flynn pushed forward and up, catching Thannon’s weight squarely in his hands around the Weapons Master’s throat. Thannon’s hands clawed at Flynn’s wrists, but the Weapons Master had no leverage against that steely grip. Weapons Master Thannon was helpless without his blades, and struggled for his life at the hands of his student, and in the grip of

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his prey. And then, caught up in darkness and offbalance, the real assassin of Patience Bay died. # Together, Flynn and Tuy tossed the body athwart the overturned table, and then Flynn knelt to help a gasping Tuy to his feet. “Nicely…done,” grated Tuy. “I… thought you’d go for… the dagger.” “He would have been looking for a blade, I thought, and then I remembered the chicken.” Tuy raised an eyebrow. “Killing is never exciting,” Flynn said, “especially when it is necessary.” “So you wrung his neck instead? Good thinking!” Tuy grinned painfully, and coughed. “I observe that dying…is even less exciting,” 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 said. “Hurry.” Flynn reached it in two steps and returned. “There is…a parchment…” Tuy gasped, and a red foam and spittle flew from his mouth. Flynn struggled with the satchel and finally got it open. He dug through a number of regular papers and felt around, then drew out a rolled-up parchment with a leather loop around it.
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“Hold the document closer to you than your

own name,” gasped Tuy. “It is your future. It is…the future of the world.” Flynn tucked it into his shirt. “It would be good for you to flee now,” said Tuy. “You have wanted your freedom,” he added, the rasp getting louder every time he breathed. “Beware what you wish for...” he grated. “The Lone Wolf is yours!” he said just before his eyes rolled up and he toppled over backward. A thunderclap obscured the sound of his body as it crumpled to the floor. A stricken Flynn dropped to his knees in the lightning-cut darkness. “Tuy! No. No!” He heard a noise after the thunder, and looked up as a lightning flash revealed the silhouette of another in the doorway stroking a black pigeon. Flynn froze. “You’d best come with me, lad, “ said the Abbot. # Back in his study, the Abbot gave Flynn a rag to wipe his face and walked to a corner of the room. Bending over stiffly, he removed a stone from the corner and pulled out a leather bag that jingled with coins, as well as a rolled parchment. Replacing the stone, he awkwardly regained his feet. Returning to Flynn, he stopped, backtracked, pulled a book from the shelf, and presented the items to Flynn. “These are the monies given to me for your
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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, by Johne Cook
17th birthday. I give them to you early. This is a map of the islands, which you’ll need for ports. And finally, the Jodkins. I think you will appreciate it most of all. Return it someday if you like, or pass it down to your children if you take a wife.” The Abbot looked at the bird, sadly. “I imagine you have a thousand questions, but time is short, so I must be brief. Tuy knew more of your parents than I. His papers may assist you in your search for your past. As for your present… The first assassin was sent not for Sandle, and not for you, but for Tuy. He was the target all along, for his knowledge or perhaps for what else he carried.” He stopped and examined Flynn’s face, but saw nothing helpful there. Then a hint of a smile passed over the Abbot’s face. He continued. “I visited…‘friends’…over at Briar Island. There I discovered that the Qantiin use a network of overt killers and sleeper agents to accomplish their dire work, and keep in touch in a variety of ways, including messenger birds.” Flynn nodded. “Where did you discover this one?” The Abbot stroked his beard. “This was in the possession of Thannon’s assistant. He may be naïve, but I wouldn’t count on it. I expect the chances a message will go out tonight are very high, despite my best efforts.” He looked Flynn in the eye. “For worse or

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better, we must assume that the hourglass is running. You must leave tonight, now, to stay ahead of pursuit.” He looked at Flynn, not unkindly. “I was never comfortable caring for a boy as bright as you. We have been considering an orphanage here, and may well proceed with that plan to enable us to better care for those stuck between circumstance on their way to adulthood. Perhaps you can visit us again some day when you have triumphed over covert machinations and circumstance and achieve what is prepared for you to do.” Flynn spoke with unaccustomed bluntness. “I never liked you, Abbot, and saw you as stern and unyielding. Yet, I have come to respect you, and I suspect I couldn’t have made your life and your oath any harder. He swallowed and added, “Please… forgive me,” then bowed his head in the Abbot’s presence for the first time. The Abbot leaned forward and placed a hand on his head, then sat back. Flynn looked up, smiled an awkward smile, and said, “I… Thanks, Abbot.” Then he gathered his things and strode out into the wind, the rain, and the night.. “Cyl go before you and with you, young Master Flynn,” whispered the Abbot. # It was nearly dawn by the time Flynn arrived down at the docks and looked around. The wind had abated and the lightning was
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past for now, but a steady rain soaked Flynn from head to toe. He looked out at the vessels rocking at their berths and made straight for The Lone Wolf. He stood and sized it up as the waves banged it against the dock. “Looks like freedom to me,” he said under his breath, before tossing his bags onboard; he untied the ropes, pushed the boat out of the slip, and hopped aboard. 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.

Johne Cook is a founder of Ray Gun Revival,  and has written online articles, reviews, and  short stories.  He was a 2004 winner of  NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing  Month. He is a Technical Writer and Help Author by  day and creative writer / magazine editor by  night.   Johne is an admitted fan of the Firefly  / Serenity series, and gratefully acknowledges  that influence in this serial.

Johne Cook

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

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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.

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Memory Wipe
Chapter Two: “Zartsi”  by Sean T.M. Stiennon
The story so far: Three  years  ago,  Takeda  Croster woke up in the city of Greendome on  through the leafy canopy above him, throwing the darkness into sharp relief. Trilling animal 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  and  a  feeling  of  great  exhaustion  followed  the encounter. Then,  the  next  night,  the  corrupt  leader  the magazine: eight rounds left. Enough to defend himself from Vass’ force, if they came after him again. 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  Takeda broke free of Vass and his men, killing  or  wounding  several  of  them,  and  fled  into  the jungles surrounding Greendome, an exile  from  everything  he’s  ever  known,  haunted  by  the  strange–and  lethal–powers  which  he  can’t begin to understand.... glistening black and blue vines that coiled around them and dangled from their branches made it difficult to tell where one plant ended and another began. Takeda saw small yellow insects skittering over those vines, devouring even smaller creatures that he could only see if he came within a few centimeters of them. The scents of damp foliage, moist earth, and 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
saw that the vines were squished where his shoulders had pressed against them. He vaguely remembered what had happened last night, after he had jumped out of his stolen truck: bullets flying and his legs pounding against the dirt. He had killed another cop before reaching the jungle, and he had run through the darkness, shoving branches and creepers out of his path, until he had collapsed from sheer exhaustion. Sleep hadn’t cleared away all of that fatigue. Takeda stood, but quickly had to brace himself against the tree to stay on his feet. He felt lightheaded from more than the heat–it was as if someone had sent an electric shock through his brain, frying his nerves. What had happened to him? Two days ago, his life had been going on as normal. Now he seemed to be living a nightmare–he had killed men and been forced to flee from the only home he remembered. Nothing was left except the clothes he wore–already stained– his citizenship card, the gun in his hand, and the eight bullets in its magazine. He couldn’t even remove the manacles from his wrists. And then there were the strange powers that seemed to come to him whenever he was in danger...powers as incomprehensible as they were deadly. Takeda forced his mind away from such circular thoughts. He wasn’t dead yet, and he needed to decide how to keep himself alive.

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The planet Belar supported four settlements: Greendome, the spaceport, a small logging camp a hundred kilometers west of the space port, and another city four hundred kilometers away that mined gemstones and gathered valuable herbs from the jungle. Greendome’s great success was making the Company consider opening several new settlements, but for now, Belar had only tiny specks of sentient population. Takeda knew he could never return to Greendome–Vass wouldn’t forget about him. In theory, he might be able to work as a lumberjack at the logging camp, but he suspected the camp administrator would be suspicious of a man stumbling out of the jungle with his clothes torn and muddy. He would contact Vass. That left the spaceport. And all that Takeda could hope for at the space port was a ship that would get him away from Belar–out into the stars. The prospect was staggering. The Empire included hundreds of worlds, including many colonies with minimal habitation. The last census had shown over three hundred billion inhabitants. He had read about many of those planets: Calthron, the capital Imperia, the harsh colony of Nihil, blue Hyderra, with its opulent resort cities, even ancient Earth, humanity’s cradle. He could travel to any one of them, with a little money–or even beyond, to the Lithrall Kingdom or the Drava worlds.

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This freedom staggered Takeda. Perhaps, somewhere among the stars, he could build a real life for himself, better than what he had possessed in Greendome. No one even had to know about his missing memories–he would be a new immigrant, with nothing to set him apart from any other. Perhaps he could join the Imperial Army–he knew he was good, even without his strange abilities, and with military training he could become even better. Someday he might be an officer with a respected identity behind his name. But first, he had to reach the spaceport. Greendome’s primary connection to it was a rail line stretching from the colony’s western end to a station where wood, sap, herbs, furs, and other jungle products were unloaded for shipping aboard the Company freighters. The train did carry passengers, but Vass would be watching it, and Takeda couldn’t pay a fare. He realized that he couldn’t pay for a berth on a starship either, but he’d solve that problem when he came to it. For now, seventy kilometers of wild jungle separated him from his destination. He would have to locate safer places to sleep–it was blind luck that had kept him from being jumped by a skitter while he lay unconscious–and find food. It had already been almost twenty-four hours since his last meal. He knew some things about the jungle–there had been plenty of material available from

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Greendome’s library banks–but he was no bushman. Takeda thrust the pistol through his belt and started walking, moving southwest to intersect the rail line. If he walked alongside it, it would show him the way to the space port. # Takeda traveled at a steady pace, occasionally eating small clusters of berries that grew from the trunks of a certain kind of tree. For the bark-stripping mammals who fed on the trees, the berries were an awareness-numbing drug, but for Takeda, they were simply a sweet and fairly harmless food. He knew too many would make him sick, though, and the small clumps weren’t enough to satisfy his hunger. He knew he would have to hunt soon to get any good quantity of edible food, and that was something with which he had no experience. Twice, he saw small animals, but they fled faster than he could pursue, and Takeda couldn’t afford to waste bullets. He began to wish that his enhanced abilities would return so that he would have no trouble tracking down and killing meat. He was able to find water in cupped leaves, but even that was scarce. There had been little rain recently. Hunger still chewed at his gut when he spotted the rail line just as the pale light of morning was becoming the deep gold of afternoon. Standing on a low hill, he saw it as
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Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon
a streak of bright silver, cutting through the dark sea of trees before him. A road for cars ran alongside it, paved with blacktop. Greendome was still visible to the east, particularly the prominent hydroponics domes. For a moment, they reminded Takeda of Sheri, with her golden hair and its fierce blue highlights. Perhaps she would miss him, but Takeda doubted it would last for long. She would find other men to dote on–ones who were both friendlier and more responsive to her. She didn’t need him. Still, Sheri stuck in his thoughts as Takeda turned and began following the rail line west. He traveled until night fell, then clambered up into the lower branches of a tree that didn’t look as if it was host to any major insect colonies. His stomach still growled with hunger pains, but with the quiet trilling of insects and the cool breeze to lull him, he fell asleep within minutes. # Takeda woke suddenly, and at first he couldn’t remember where he was. Only when he tried to sit up, feeling rough bark against his palms, and cracked his head against a branch did he come to full awareness of his location. It was the middle of the night. Takeda could see hardly anything, but he ran his hands along the bark of his sleeping place and up into the branches above him. A few small
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insects were disturbed from their perches, but he couldn’t find anything that might have woken him. The jungle was serene, and when he peered through the branches to the left, he could still see the rail line, glimmering like a syringe in the moonlight. Four meters below him, on the jungle floor, he could hear a particularly vocal variety of beetle singing its lilting mating call. Strange–he almost always slept until he was fully rested, unless something dramatic woke him. He had just lain back against a thick branch to go back to sleep when he saw something blacker than the night reach up and clench one of the tree’s upper limbs: an enormous talon, sheathed in glimmering exoskeleton. Slowly–and with complete silence–something below began to pull itself up, its armed talon bending stiffly. Takeda froze in fear, eyes locked onto that black claw, and memories 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. When its head reared up, Takeda realized that the moonlight showed him every detail– yellow eyes like mineshaft lanterns, grinding jaws large enough to enfold his torso, and interlocking plates of black armor. Another talon latched onto the bark just a few centimeters from Takeda’s foot, and the beast continued its ascent. It was amazingly silent, but Takeda could hear the faint breath sliding

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Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon
up and down its throat, could detect tiny rasps from its exoskeleton, could smell a faintly spicy odor rising from its flesh. He also heard tiny vibrations in the leaves above him, smelled a hundred scents from the jungle around him. The skitter seemed to freeze in time, moving in slow motion. Takeda spurred himself into motion, rolling out into empty space, and an instant later a powerful talon sank into the bark where his neck had been. It was so fast Takeda barely saw it moving. He fell from the tree, twisting his body to put his boots underneath him, and bent his knees to absorb the shock of the impact as he struck soft earth. He felt fear crushing his heart, but somehow it didn’t matter–he knew what to do without thinking. He glanced back to see the skitter drop behind him, moving like an oil slick on concrete now that its prey had been roused. Ten legs like stiletto blades propelled it forward, and its two foretalons were extended to seize him. A sinuous tail rose from its abdomen, and with his enhanced sight Takeda could see the hooked barb that curved down from its tip. The skitter’s legs lifted it up to the height of Takeda’s shoulders, though it couldn’t weigh more than two hundred kilograms–its build was thin and spidery. Terror swelled in Takeda’s mind, spurring his legs on. He ran through a maze of moonlight

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and shadows, seeing every tree and vine, his legs rustling as he knocked through ferns, shrubs, and young trees. Behind, he heard the skitter’s legs striking the ground like batons beating on an earthen drum. The only other sounds were the rasp of its breath and the throb of its heart. The jungle had gone silent as if Takeda ran in some private nightmare. He leapt over a tangle of vines and glanced back. The skitter was closing on him, moving over the ground like a tangible shadow. Takeda knew he couldn’t outrun this thing. Then, with a jolt, he remembered the pistol thrust through his belt. Takeda drew it, spun, and squeezed the trigger three times. The muzzle flashed and Takeda heard the sound of crunching exoskeleton–but the skitter didn’t pause, although Takeda could see dark fluid gleaming like lubricant on its carapace. He fired again and saw flecks of exoskeleton and blood spray up, but the creature didn’t even flinch. He turned and ran again, moving at a right angle to his previous course, and dodged around a tree just in time to hear the skitter’s talon rake against the plant’s bark. He fired a bullet over his shoulder, but it hurt the skitter as much as a child’s air gun might have. Takeda leapt an instant before one of its talons closed over his leg. Three bullets left. If he put them right into the beast’s eyes, it might be enough to bring it down. He knew it had a

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brain somewhere in that head. His shoulders struck the ground and ferns brushed against his sides as he rolled away. Takeda traded his pistol from his right hand to his left. Coming to his knees, he pivoted around to face the beast, and raised the gun. Metal rang as an armored talon knocked it from his grip. Takeda was able to dodge the second blow only by throwing himself backwards and landing hard on his buttocks. Still, he felt hot pain blossom on his foreleg, and when he glanced down he saw a ragged hole torn in his flesh. He managed to get on his feet again, and staggered back, but the skitter advanced towards him. He could see every crack in its armor, see the tiny black pupils hidden deep in the yellow of its eyes. Just looking at it paralyzed him, and he knew his strength wouldn’t be enough to defeat it, particularly not with a gouged leg pouring out blood. Then something dropped from the canopy. All Takeda could tell immediately was that it was dark colored. The thing landed on the skitter’s back, something bright white flashed, and, for the first time, Takeda heard the creature scream as if in pain. For an instant, Takeda saw that the thing was a man wrapped in a thick cape, wielding a blade in each hand. Then the man rolled away, becoming a blur once again, and avoided a lightning-fast strike from the skitter’s tail. Takeda clenched one hand to the wound
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on his leg, trying to staunch the blood flow, as he watched this newcomer face the skitter head-on, swaying back and forth and using his blades to fend off its talons. He moved like a snake waiting for a chance to strike. The skitter surged forward, slashing at him with both foretalons, and the man’s blades flashed. Takeda saw dark liquid spray from a wound in the armor of each talon. More blood flowed from those wounds than came from all of the bullets Takeda had shot into the creature. The skitter reared back, shocked, and the man dived forward, throwing himself flat on the ground in front of the beast. Takeda watched as he rolled over and stabbed up for the skitter’s throat just as its jaws were descending to bite into his flesh. For a moment, both blades stuck in the armor below the skitter’s jaw. Then the man twisted his arms, pulling the blades in opposite directions. Takeda heard chitin crack and flesh tear. Blood poured like a waterfall from the open wound, splashing over the man’s face and arms, and the skitter’s legs tore at the ground as it struggled in its death throes. The man rolled forward, removing his knives. He leapt away from the dying beast. Looking closer, Takeda saw that he had been mistaken. This was no man–no human. His bald head was somewhat elongated and covered in scales–darkness made it impossible to tell the color–with a ridge of hard bone running along the middle of the cranium. He
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Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon
turned towards Takeda, showing a snout filled with sharp fangs with slit nostrils on top. His eyes seemed to shine in the darkness. Takeda had only seen pictures, but he recognized a Lithrallian. “Greetings,” the alien said, speaking heavily accented Imperish. “My name is Zartsi, and this kill is mine.” “All yours,” Takeda said. “Thanks.” Zartsi glanced down at the wound on Takeda’s leg. “You want binding?” Both of his hands were soaked in blood, and the flow showed no sign of stopping. Takeda nodded. “Yes. But I don’t have any money.” “Not necessary,” said the Lithrallian. “You distracted skitter.” Zartsi sheathed his daggers somewhere beneath the sweeping cloak he wore and pulled out a strip of white bandage. He crouched down beside Takeda, who saw that the Lithrallian was several centimeters shorter than he was. Zartsi efficiently wrapped the wound, then put a patch of some stiff material over the bloody spot on the bandages. “Now,” said Zartsi, standing. “Tell me how human like you comes to this place on this night.” “I was hunting,” Takeda said, lying. He didn’t know whether he could trust this Zartsi. The Lithrallian showed his fangs in a grin. “Then you aren’t very good. Bullets don’t kill

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skitter–armor thick and organs nebulous. You have to open throat.” He narrowed his gleaming eyes and ran a long, pointed tongue over his teeth. “You look hungry. Perhaps we make fire, share meat? Don’t fear me–I could have waited until skitter killed you before striking.” Takeda wiped his bloody hands on a fern. He wasn’t in the habit of trusting people, but the Lithrallian was right. Takeda’s heightened abilities had faded–they seemed to only emerge when he was threatened, so it seemed Zartsi wasn’t an immediate menace to him. His hunger was what finally convinced him, though. It had only grown as he slept, and now his stomach felt as if it had been torn out of his body. He nodded, and Zartsi replied. “Good. You build fire. I’ll butcher.” His daggers–bright white even in the darkness–flashed out once more, and he turned back to the skitter carcass. While he peeled away plates of exoskeleton and cut into the skitter’s underbelly, Takeda found he could stand if he favored his wounded leg. “What am I going to use for fuel?” he asked. “Get vines, and we soak in fat,” Zartsi called, bending into his bloody work. “I don’t have a knife.” “No knife, human? You lied when you said you hunted,” he said, with a chuckle. “Or do you butcher with teeth?”

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Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon
He tossed Takeda a fifteen-centimeter blade with a saw-edged back, and Takeda used it to cut several strips of vine from the surrounding trees. He piled them on a clearer patch of soil between two trees, and Zartsi brought a sack filled with fat from the skitter’s corpse–along with a second bag containing its meat–and used a small lighter to ignite the fire. The light was nearly blinding in the darkness. Takeda missed his enhanced vision. The Lithrallian speared chunks of dark, greasy-looking meat on small branches and set them to roast. “I didn’t know skitters were edible,” Takeda said. He had found his gun, with three bullets left in it. Enough to kill Zartsi if he became belligerent. “Sour, but it fills belly,” the Lithrallian answered. For a minute or so the two sat in silence. Everything except Zartsi’s head and clawed hands was hidden beneath his cloak, which was colored mottled green and brown for camouflage. Takeda had no way of telling Lithrallian age, but he thought this one was several years older than he was–the scales covering his head crest were significantly darker and more gnarled than the others, which were colored dusty green. “Where do you come from, if you aren’t hunter?” Zartsi asked, looking intently at Takeda. “You wear uniform.”

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“I’m from Greendome,” Takeda answered, hesitant to give too much information about himself. “Going to spaceport?” “Yes.” “Ah. So why walk? Train not so expensive.” Takeda saw a fierce intelligence in this hunter’s bright blue eyes that disconcerted him. “I’m short on cash,” he answered. “But perhaps you could have sold pistol. Police model would have been worth money.” For a moment, Takeda considered swinging the gun up and emptying his remaining rounds into Zartsi’s skull. From the sly smile which had appeared on the Lithrallian’s snout, it was obvious that he already knew a great deal. “What are police after you for?” Zartsi asked. Takeda honestly wasn’t sure which of them would have the advantage in a fight–Zartsi was good with his blades, but was he faster than Takeda’s gun? Of course, he might have a gun of his own under that cloak, and Takeda’s abilities weren’t returning to him. He decided that honesty was the best course. “I killed three cops,” he said, watching Zartsi’s face carefully for the Lithrallian’s reaction. The Lithrallian’s expression remained neutral. “Go on.”

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Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon
Takeda told his story, briefly–how he had woken up without any memories, how he had begun to manifest his increased strength and magnified senses, how Vass had tried to arrest him, and how he had fought his way out of Greendome. Zartsi nodded slowly. “I see. No memories at all?” Takeda shook his head. The Lithrallian looked contemplative for some time, staring into the fire of vines and skitter fat. Then, he said, “You probably guess I am here illegally– no non-humans allowed on colony world.” It hadn’t occurred to Takeda, but he remembered the law. Emperor Shingen III had enacted the law fifty years ago to keep alien cultures from interfering in the natural development of new colonies. Takeda had read that Shingen had been spurred to action by a colony on the Imperial fringe which had become a den for Vitai raiders who paid off the human settlers with the gains of their piracy. “I am hunter here,” the Lithrallian continued. “I kill the bodini, the treerakers, even the skitters, and many others, and trade their hides and other things to Greendome and the space port. You would not know me– I work in secret, but my hunting is valuable enough to some that they have not revealed me. But now I wish to leave.” His gaze became intent. “You are leaving.

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You have citizenship–not all do. With that, it is possible you could get me off.” “You want to come with me?” “Yes, Takeda.” “And why should I let you?” “You said yourself you have lived three years only. Empire is big place, and dangerous. You have no place to go, Takeda. I have not been on Belar forever–Lithrall is my clutchworld, and I have roamed stars. You hear I speak Imperish. I speak others, and I know ways of space and streets.” Zartsi smiled, spreading his arms. “All this, and companionship. alone.” The Lithrallian’s offer stunned Takeda. A half-hour ago, he had never even seen a non-human, and now he was faced with the prospect of having one for a traveling companion. Takeda had never really relied on anyone before–Sheri had been little more than a friendly co-worker, and Blaydra had given him a job and little else. He didn’t even know if he could trust Zartsi not to turn him in the moment they reached the spaceport. But, again, he was brought back to a simple fact: The Lithrallian had chosen to save his life when he could have let Takeda die–in fact, the skitter probably would have been easier to kill if it had been distracted with devouring him. And what Zartsi had said was true–he was venturing out into a world he had no It is not good to be

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experience with beyond what he had read, and he had already learned that knowledge from books couldn’t equal experience. Zartsi had shown that in his efficient killing of the skitter. Takeda met Zartsi’s gaze, staring into the Lithrallian’s bright blue eyes. Despite his alienness, Takeda could see nobility in his expression and bearing. Even at this moment, Zartsi was sharing food with Takeda, with no demand for payment. “All right,” he said. “As far as the space port, at least. And I’ll get you on a ship if I can.” “Then we are agreed,” Zartsi said, showing his fangs in what Takeda hoped was a smile. “Just...one question. Are those knives all you have?” “No,” Zartsi said. “Rifle is hidden nearby– burden when hunting skitter. And these not common knives.” He drew them from beneath his cloak now, and Takeda saw that they weren’t metal but bright, gleaming ivory. Intricate patterns were etched into the thirty-centimeter blades. “Gorgossish horn, from Lithrall,” Zartsi said. “Hard to get, but there is no better blade. Can gouge even strome.” The meat had finished cooking by then, and they ate–Zartsi with his claws, Takeda with the knife the Lithrallian had given him. He hadn’t asked for it back, so Takeda assumed it was a gift. As Zartsi had said, the meat was sour,

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but after more than a day of hunger Takeda couldn’t complain. “Skitter parts might be enough to buy passage,” Zartsi said when he had finished. “Venom in tail is valuable. So are fangs and bile. Sleep, Takeda. I will butcher.” He still felt somewhat hesitant about trusting Zartsi, but he remembered that he had little to steal, and he was tired–it was still the middle of the night, and he was exhausted from fear and fleeing from the skitter. Takeda fell asleep curled at the foot of a tree, one hand near the pistol through his belt. # Takeda dreamed again. He saw the same woman he had dreamt of before, her eyes shining and her hair like a sweep of the night sky. He saw only a hint of her expression, her eyes filled with hatred, before she dissolved into a nightmarish landscape of darkness and fire. Takeda’s dream self ran through rivers of liquid heat and was tugged at by flying knots of shadow as rocks like blades slashed at his feet. Then he turned his eyes to the sky and saw that it was nothing but a sheet of deep black–no clouds, no star-flecked space, nothing. Unable to look away, he saw two points of light appear in the sky, both a searing yellow color. They grew until they were like suns–but, bigger, brighter, and colder. Pupils appeared in the center of each one, even blacker than
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Ray Gun Revival

Memory Wipe, by Sean T.M. Stiennon
the sky, and both were fixed on him. Takeda felt drawn to them, and soon he was rising into the sky until yellow and black filled his vision. He saw the woman again, her image blurred and distorted. A wound upon her cheek poured red blood over her white skin. Agony lanced through Takeda, and he woke screaming. The pain wasn’t a dream–it rushed through every bone, every vein, every muscle. He rolled in the ferns, gasping and clenching his teeth, clawing at the ground. It faded suddenly, and Takeda opened his eyes to see pale lances of dawn sunlight streaming through the jungle canopy. Insects and large beetles sang their morning songs. “All right, Takeda?” Zartsi asked. Takeda turned to see the Lithrallian crouched against a tree nearby, cradling a long-barreled rifle. He nodded. “Yes. Just a dream.” Still, as Takeda crawled back to his sleeping place for a little more rest, he felt a terrible certainty that it hadn’t just been a dream.

Pg. 55

Sean T.M. Stiennon
Sean is an author of fantasy and science fiction  novels and short stories with many publications  under his belt. His first short story collection, Six with Flinteye, was recently released from Silver  Lake Publishing, and he won 2nd place in both  the 2004 SFReader.com Short Story Contest and  the Storn Cook Razor-Edged Fiction Contest with  his stories “Asp” and “The Sultan’s Well,” respectively. “The Sultan’s Well” has been published in  the anthology Sages and Swords. Sean’s short    story  “Flinteye’s Duel”  was  published  in    Ray Gun Revival, Issue 01. Sean’s work tends to contain lots of action and  adventure,  but  he  often  includes  elements  of  tragedy  and  loss  alongside  roaring  battles.  A  lot of his work centers around continuing characters, the most prominent of whom is Jalazar  Flinteye (Six with Flinteye). He also writes tales  of Shabak of Talon Point (“Death Marks,” in issue #9 of Amazing Journeys Magazine), Blademaster  (“Asp,”  2nd  place  winner  in  the  2004  SFReader.com  Contest),  and  others  who  have  yet to see publication. Sean loves to read fantasy and science fiction  alongside some history, mysteries, and historical novels. His favorites include Declare by Tim  Powers,  the  Memory,  Sorrow,  and  Thorn  trilogy by Tad Williams, Stephen Lawhead’s Song of Albion trilogy, and King Solomon’s Mines by  H.  Rider  Haggard.  He  has  reviewed  books  for  Deep Magic: The E-zine of High Fantasy and Science Fiction, and reviews books currently at  SFReader.com. To  contact  the  author,  send  an  e-mail  to  flinteye@gmail.com. The author is always glad to  receive reader feedback.

Next month...Chapter 3: “To the Stars”

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006

Pg. 5

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

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 Disinformation Specialist reading the news.

Ray Gun Radio

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 04, August 15, 2006